The Perfect Food

Before we were married, while Bill was still a bachelor, he lived in an old historic Denver Square near downtown. It had a beautiful contemporary kitchen, which HE NEVER USED. NOT ONCE.

What he did do was call Nicolo’s Pizza regularly, probably at least six times a week. When his kids were with him (they were teenagers at the time), they might order pizza twice a day. They would probably have ordered it for breakfast too if it had been open. Because I assure you, they couldn’t have leftover pizza for breakfast. There never was any left over.

In fact, one of the funniest stories about Bill’s and my courtship was when I came over for dinner soon after we started dating. It was a Friday night, his kids were visiting, and so, of course, we ordered pizza. The boxes were delivered and we went to the television room where they always ate. It was one of the first times I spent any time at all with his kids.

“How many pieces are you going to eat?” Heather asked me before the box was even opened.

Huh?

“Well, I don’t really know,” I responded tentatively, unsure if this was some sort of test. Was there a right or wrong answer?  “It depends.”

“Hmmm,” she said. Apparently there was, and I had answered incorrectly.

In actuality, she was being kind, as Heather ALWAYS is. She wanted to make sure I would get enough pizza, because once they were told “Go!” it was no holds barred. One could lose a finger. She wanted to make sure they set aside enough pieces for me.

I believe that was the same occasion that his son Dave took two pieces of pizza, and put a third piece of pizza between the other two, thereby making a pizza sandwich. Bill put a kibosh to that very quickly.

All this is to say that we take pizza very seriously. And it is causing a rift in my family, Friends.

My brother Dave insists – INSISTS – that I should make Friday Pizza Day on Nana’s Whimsies. At first he strongly suggested I eliminate the whole Friday Book Whimsy idea completely and replace it with Friday Pizza Whimsy. Who would read a book when they could eat a pizza, he apparently wonders.

I told him that there are people who LIKE my book reviews.

“Hmpfff,” he said. “But I bet they like pizza more.”

Dave shows he's got skillz by tossing the pizza in the air as he readys it for the pan.

Dave shows he’s got skillz by tossing the pizza in the air as he readys it for the pan.

Once I convinced him that I wasn’t willing to do away with my Friday Book Whimsy (the blog, after all, is called Nana’s Whimsies and not Pops’ Whimsies), he has moved on to suggesting that I review pizza places each Friday. This is all based on his notion that Friday is Pizza Day in everyone’s mind. He went so far, in fact, as having his daughter Jessie, who works at a grocery store that sells freshly baked pizza, begin counting the number she rings up so that she can compare Friday’s pizza sales to other days’. The jury is still out, though he insists he’s right. In the meantime, his daughter’s boss has suggested Jessie quit placing pizzas into people’s carts on Fridays without their consent.

And, I must admit that I love the idea of doing a pizza review on a regular basis. However, I reminded him that I have a world-wide audience (I have a committed reader who lives in Brazil!) who don’t care if Oregano’s Pizza in Gilbert, Arizona, is good when they live in Omaha, Nebraska.

Any suggestions?

In the meantime, my sister-in-law told me about a recipe she read for a pizza crust that involved two simple ingredients – Greek yogurt and self-rising flour. So I invited Dave and Sami over for pizza (though it was Sunday and not Friday).

pizza crust ingredients

kneading pizza dough

dough rolled out

pizza

Our conclusion? A home run. Or at least a triple. I might add a bit of salt to the dough, even using self-rising flour. And I might sprinkle the pan with corn meal, because I think that adds a lot of flavor. But the result was surprisingly good. And so simple to do. We even caught my brother-the-baker flipping the dough in the air.

Two item pizza

 

Forge Ahead into 2015

Maggie, Lilly, and Mark await the whistle for dinner to begin.

Maggie, Lilly, and Mark await the whistle for dinner to begin.

On New Year’s Day, the talk turned – as it was bound to – to resolutions. Did you make any? What are they? Do you keep them? And so forth.

I heard my share of “eating healthier” and “staying on a budget” and I also heard a few “I don’t make resolutions because I don’t keep them anyway.”

I’m generally in the camp of “I certainly do make resolutions but I don’t keep them anyway.” Sigh.

So this year I’m trying to look at them more along the lines of better ways to live my life day-to-day than setting myself up for failure by proclaiming big and important but unrealistic resolutions for the whole year.

Every day I should spend more time praying. I should spend less time in the afternoon watching Foyle’s War and more time doing something more constructive like cleaning or cooking or reading. I read 20 fewer books in 2014 than I did in 2013, and I’m determined to turn that around. Not because it’s some kind of a contest since no one knows but me, but because it’s better for my brain. I want to be demonstratively more generous – pick an amount and give that amount each month to a charity that God will reveal to me. Looking at life from a more positive perspective will make my life better, and also Bill’s. It is critical to Bill’s health (and mine as well) that we get back into a routine of regular exercise, something that had become more hit-and-miss in the past month-and-a-half. Wasting food is a sin, or so the nuns told us, and it costs money. So I will take greater care to use leftovers. Finally, and this one will be difficult, I will try to stay away from sex and violence in films, television, and books. I’m not a prude, nor will I be crazy about it, but I will avoid it when I can. Like, no How to Get Away With Murder this next go-around.

Jessie and Kacy were born princesses and remain princesses still...

Jessie and Kacy were born princesses and remain princesses still…

And, of course, drink more water. Or at least some water. Sigh again.

Now that I have publicly confessed to those goals, I want to tell you just how much fun we had on New Year’s Day. I have said it before and I will say it again. If you give a party, they will come. My family, I mean. Of course, a 7-bone prime rib is a good draw, but still, I’m fairly certain I could have offered salami sandwiches and had nearly as many folks at my dinner table. We like to gather as family. And the little cousins like to play together. The 45-degree temperatures didn’t stop them from playing outside like I thought it might. In Colorado, kids are wearing shorts when it’s 45 degrees; in Arizona, they are in sweats. But they spent most of the day outside.

Our house is small, but we pushed together three tables and were able to have a cooked prime 2015somewhat haphazard sit-down dinner table. The prime rib was cooked perfectly, and because of its sheer size, it took a while for Bill to carve it. Plus, he needed to keep pushing fingers away from snitchers. Mine included.

Kacy’s daughter Lexi Eve turned 2 on New Year’s Day, so in addition to an meat piled high 2015amazing chocolate brownie trifle made by Maggie, we had birthday cake. There simply is nothing cuter than seeing the face of a child being sung Happy Birthday to. They either smile or cry. In Lexi’s case, she loved being the center of attention. Being on Mommy’s lap helped, especially since that brand new baby sister was down for a nap.

I am looking forward to a wonderful 2015, and if I can make my goals last a month, I will be doing about two weeks better than last year.

Now I’m going to go get a glass of water.

Leftover Prime Rib with Pasta. Yum.

Leftover Prime Rib with Pasta. Yum.

By the way, here is a wonderful recipe that used the remains of the prime rib. Thank you to sparkpeople.com for the delicious recipe…..

 

 

 

 

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Predicting the Unpredictable

wreathesFor the most part, I live a very quiet life – the life of a 60-something retired person. Predictable and nonstressful, and definitely not funny.

Every once in a while, God throws some kinks into my life just to keep me on my toes. That happened to me last week.

It all started the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, while having lunch with Court. Our server brought the bill to our table. I opened up my billfold and couldn’t help but notice a big empty space WHERE MY CREDIT CARD SHOULD BE.

“Do you remember where you used the card last?” Court asked calmly, trying to prevent me from full-out panic.

I did. The day before, I had gone to Toys R Us to pick up a package I had ordered. I paid with the credit card. There had been a lot of excitement as another shopper had been hungrily looking at the Zoomer Dino that I was buying. Zoomer Dinos are apparently going to be one of those “Cabbage Patch Doll” phenomenons this year. (Baby Boomers will remember the Cabbage Patch craze and how parents and grandparents were tearing dolls out of other people’s hands in toy stores in the 1980s.) I was prepared to take the lady to the floor for the Zoomer Dino if necessary. It didn’t happen, but I was distracted nonetheless.

So when I noted the absence of my card, I suspected Toys R Us immediately. Particularly since after leaving Toys R Us that day, my car once again wouldn’t start. Same issue as the previous week that, almost $700 later, the car service people told me they had fixed but clearly hadn’t. I called Bill, who told me what cables I needed to jiggle and voila!, the car started.( I love being nearly 61 and having to start my car by opening up the hood and jiggling cables. I feel like I’m back in college.)

The credit card story has a happy ending, though, because when I went back to Toys R Us, the nice young man who had helped me the day before was delighted to see me. He said he had chased after me upon realizing I left my card on the counter, but couldn’t see what car I was getting into. He clearly disregarded the possibility that it could be the yellow bug with the hood up and the owner madly jiggling cables. He had placed the card in the store safe, and before long, it was back in the little space in my billfold.

But the blimps in my life weren’t over yet.

The next day (which was the day before Thanksgiving), I was – yes, I’m afraid I must tell you this – doing my last last shop before the holiday. I remembered that morning that I had thrown my old turkey baster away long ago as it was cracked. There were also a few odds and ends that I could have lived without, but as long as I was going to the store, well…..

Before even entering the store, I spotted lovely evergreen wreathes. I put two particularly pretty ones in my basket. I proceeded to do the rest of my shopping. Now, I prefer to leave my shopping cart at the end of the aisle rather than trying to maneuver it between carts in the narrow space. I did so, and picked up maybe six or seven other things. I put them in my cart and went to the check stand to pay.

The lines were predictably long, so I settled in to wait my turn. I began thinking about how lovely my wreathes were, and looked down at them. Unfortunately, rather than seeing two pretty evergreen wreathes, I instead saw a variety of wholly unfamiliar items, including two or three sacks of sweet potatoes.

Whaaaaat?

I suddenly realized what had happened. I had inadvertently confiscated someone else’s basket. I immediately worked my way past the people behind me in line. “Excuse me. Pardon me. Excuse me,” I said to several quite unfriendly shoppers.

When I got to the back of the store where I had last seen my buggy, I saw a very distraught woman who was speaking with great angst to two store employees. “I really, really don’t want to have to start over with my shopping,” she was saying.

I admitted the error of my ways and apologized profusely. She, I’m happy to say, couldn’t have been nicer. It had happened to her before, as it has to many of us. And there was my very own cart with the two evergreen wreathes.

But I’m not quite finished with my tale.

I took my groceries out to the car, and filled my trunk. I began to roll my cart over to the cart stand. As I neared the stand, suddenly the cart’s wheels froze. I tried backing up. Nothing. I tried rolling forward. Nothing. They were firmly stuck in place.

I recalled the signs on the shopping carts that tell you not to take the carts beyond the parking lot as they wheels won’t roll. I never actually believed them. I’m here to tell you that it’s true, my friends. Never mind that I wasn’t even close to being out of the parking lot. In fact, I was only about 10 feet from the cart stand. I must admit I simply abandoned the cart. I blame it on Google.

Aside from realizing on Thanksgiving morning that I had accidentally purchased a 19 lb. turkey instead of a 15 lb. turkey to feed the six people at my Thanksgiving table, everything else went as smooth as silk. As for the 19 lbs. of turkey, after sending home leftovers with my guests, there was only enough turkey left for one more meal….turkey pot pies.

Turkey Pot Pie (2)

Turkey Pot Pie 3

Big Night

Kris timpano 2014Back in 1996, there was a critically-well-received movie – called Big Night –that featured two brothers from the Abruzzo region of Italy who were trying to make a go of an Italian-American restaurant someplace in New Jersey, but were failing miserably. I have spoken before in this blog about the difference in food you eat in Italy and its Italian-American counterpart. Well, in the story, the brother who was the chef wanted to continue to make truly Italian food, but the other brother – who ran the business – saw the handwriting on the wall and knew that to be successful, they were going to have to change their cooking ways and begin offering the kinds of Italian cooking Americans want. Drama (and clever comedy) ensues.

Enough said about the plot (it’s a wonderful movie; you should rent it sometime if you can find it), but a featured event in the movie – and the single thing people who watched the movie still talk about — was the chef/brother’s (played by Tony Shalhoub) preparation of something traditionally called a timballo in Italy, but referred to as a timpano in the movie.

I had come across this domed pasta masterpiece before via Bec’s daughter Kate who had sent her mom a photo years ago and basically said, “I don’t know what this is, but I think you should make it sometime.”

That was a bunch of years ago, but it has been on my mind since. To illustrate this fact,timpano bowl please note that last winter I bought a timpano bowl (which I show here with a wine bottle in it so that you can see how large it is, 15 inches to be exact), with the intention of trying my hand at preparing a timpano.

A timpano is a domed (shaped like timpani drums) pasta extravaganza. It is literally layer after layer of everything you like at an Italian restaurant wrapped in a layer of pasta and baked. It is, as you can imagine, massive, but oh-so-beautiful when it emerges from the oven and you turn it over onto a platter and it sliced open. Abbondanza!

So I have been waiting for just the right time to prepare said timpano. It is, after all, enormous, so it had to be for a large number of people. Also, it is such a, well, thing, to prepare because of all of the various layers and kinds of food that goes into it, so it wouldn’t be anything I would want to prepare all by myself. Such an opportunity never seemed to present itself.

But leave it to my sister Jen to make it happen.

She is here in AZ visiting and it became apparent that Sunday was going to be a day when all of the female family members were going to be spouseless. Golf, football, and/or NASCAR had claimed all of the male members for the day. A gathering of the estrogen crowd seemed in order.

“Let’s do a timpano!” she cried.

“Yikes,” I responded. It seemed an overwhelming amount of work. And an overwhelming amount of food for our gathering of nine women and a scattering of kids.

But upon further research and a great deal of discussion, we decided it would be doable if we made a simplified version. Store-bought marinara, frozen meatballs, etc., and wrapped in store-bought pizza dough instead of homemade pasta dough.

Food Network chef Sandra Lee would call it semi-homemade, but then she would go off to make a matching tablescape, something we did not do. Wouldn’t happen. Not that day. Not any day.

But back to the timpano.

We followed a recipe, but we used it only as a guideline. As I said, while the traditional timpano is lined with a homemade pasta dough, we chose to line it instead with pizza dough, and storebought (from the can) at that.

Then we commenced to begin layering – a layer of cooked ziti in a marinara sauce, a layer of cooked Italian sausage, a layer of mozzarella cheese, a layer of meatballs, a layer of grated pecorino cheese, some beaten egg over it all, a layer of tomato sauce. Repeat. Your bowl is filled.

Bake at 350 degrees for an hour-and-a-half, then remove from the oven and let it sit until you can no longer stand to not see what it looks like. Turn it over onto a very large platter, and then commence patting yourself on the back. It’s beautiful. Especially when you cut it open.

And it’s delicious. Remember how I said it was going to be too much food. Well, nope. We didn’t eat the entire thing, but food was taken home, allegedly for the spouses, but I can’t confirm there wasn’t some midnight snacking. My niece is nine months pregnant, after all.

Here is a link to the recipe. The recipe is complicated as the author makes the marina, meatballs and pasta dough from scratch. I’m going to do that someday, but in the meantime, we had a delicious Italian extravaganza and a lot of fun to boot.

Here’s some photos….

I'm preparing the pizza dough in the bowl.

I’m preparing the pizza dough in the bowl.

Layer after layer of goodness.

Layer after layer of goodness.

Out of the oven. We're just about to begin the unveiling, and required everyone to knock on the bowl for good luck. Not an Italian tradition!

Out of the oven. We’re just about to begin the unveiling, and required everyone to knock on the bowl for good luck. Not an Italian tradition!

Jen and Bec begin the unveiling....

Jen and Bec begin the unveiling….

timpano 2014

Voila!

Nana’s Notes: Our pizza layer was VERY THIN, and because of this, perhaps a bit overcooked in the oven. I think if I was going to do it again and still didn’t want to make homemade pasta, I would make the pizza dough a bit thicker so that it totally encased the pasta.

Burn Burn Burn: A Bowl of Fire

Growing up in Columbus, Nebraska, I didn’t get exposed to a lot of hot foods. My mother was of Polish descent and my father was of Swiss descent, but though I ate lots of good food, the food didn’t include a lot of hot peppers. Some horseradish, certainly, but no peppers.

Somewhere in the late 60s or so, a Taco John’s moved into town. I bet I didn’t even go to Taco John’s more than a handful of times, and it would have had to have been a pretty small hand. I just didn’t eat spicy food (or even anything purporting to be Mexican in nature).

So it’s really kind of interesting that I was so immediately taken with Mexican cuisine when my family moved to Leadville, Colorado, in the early 1970s. Not just taken with it – drawn to it, really. And the spicier, the better.

I have a theory that our bodies crave what our bodies need. Perhaps the reason I am a compulsive spicy food eater is that the capcaicin in peppers is good for arthritis – at least some researchers tell me so. Frankly, I’m not sure I ever feel any different if I eat peppers or don’t eat peppers. Well, perhaps my stomach isn’t on fire if I don’t eat green chilie, but other than that…..

When I was in the hospital a couple of years ago and found out that I was going to have a foot of my colon removed, literally the first question I asked the doctor was whether or not I was going to be able to eat spicy foods. Luckily my doctor – Dr. Jose Lopez – assured me that I wouldn’t have to give up the spice I loved. He could totally relate.

All this is to tell you that I consumed what is perhaps the spiciest meal I’ve ever eaten the other evening at my nephew Erik’s house. He has been talking smack about his green chile stew, and I do love me some green chile stew. Green chile stew is my favorite thing about New Mexico. Green chile stew is pretty much green chile, a bit thicker perhaps, with the addition of potatoes.

Erik had gotten his hand on some green chiles from a friend of his – the real deal, from Hatch, New Mexico. He warned me in advance that the chiles were hot. He just didn’t tell me that smoke would come out my ears.

I ate three bowls.

I watched him clean and chop and saute and simmer, and the result was a rich, dark-colored stew brimming with pork, chiles, and potatoes. It was yummy.

He offered me my choice of meat – pork, ground beef, ground turkey. I chose pork…

chile raw meat

He cleaned the chiles…..

Erik clean chiles

Seasoned them…..

raw chiles

Cooked until it resulted in this…..

chile stew final

The chile was tremendous, if hot.

Here’s Erik’s recipe. Keep in mind, it isn’t inherently hot. Your green chiles determine the heat — both the chiles themselves, and how many you use. For less heat, make sure you remove ALL the seeds and membranes, and use fewer.

New Mexican Style Green Chile Stew

Ingredients:

10-15 roasted green chiles,chopped

Garlic Salt

Salt and pepper to taste

4-5 T. Vegetable oil

1.25 pounds of meat (pork, ground beef or ground turkey)

½ medium onion

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2-3 Tblspoons Flour

2-1/2 to 3 c. water and/or Chicken Broth

10 oz can of Rotel (Diced Tomatoes & Green Chiles)

14.5 oz can of Sliced Potatoes or 1 large potato (peeled & cut into ½ inch cubes)

Tortillas

Cheese

Process

Season meat and chile with garlic salt, and saute in vegetable oil until meat is browned and onion is translucent, about 15-20 mins. Add garlic and saute an additional 2 minutes. Shake in 2-3 heaping T. of flour, and stir. The flour should soak up the oil in the pan and lightly coat the meat. Continue to stir and allow the flour to burn off for about 5 min.

Add water, Rotel tomatoes, potatoes, and the chopped green chiles. Mix well and bring to a simmer. Add by leaf. Let cook for about an hour to an hour-and-a-half.

Serve with cheese and tortillas on the side, or serve stew over warmed tortillas in a bowl.

Nana’s Notes: Erik freezes his chiles with the skins still on. When it comes time to use them, he thaws them for a bit, then cleans them. He DOES NOT clean them under water as his friend said that washes off some of the pepper’s natural oils and removes some of the heat. After he pulls off the skin, he squeezes out the seeds, leaving a few. In the past I always cleaned the chiles before I froze them, and I used water. 

The night he made the chile, he used canned potatoes. He was somewhat sheepish, but I assured him shortcuts didn’t cause me any angst. The potatoes tasted delicious.

Also, Erik didn’t use rubber gloves when he cleaned them. If your friend was going to drive his car off a cliff, would you follow him? I use rubber gloves!

 

 

 

Chicken Dance

There’s a little cabin in the sky, Mister

For me and for you

I feel that it’s true somehow

Can’t you see that cabin in the sky, Mister

An acre or two of heavenly blue to plow

We will be oh so gay

Eat fried chicken every day

As the angels go sailing by

          -From the Broadway Musical “Cabin In The Sky” (1940) (Vernon Duke / John Latouche)

 

When my sister Jen heard that I was frying chicken for my family Sunday night, including the visiting Vermonters, she told me she thinks I might be the only remaining person in the world who still fries chicken.

“Well, there might be five or so in the entire world,” she said, “but you’re the only one I know of.”

There you have it. Fried chicken. It’s what’s for dinner.

Sunday night was the first time I was able to prepare a meal for the whole gang since they arrived.

“What would you like me to cook for you?” I asked our daughter.

“Whatever you would like,” she said. (She’s more polite than the rest of the family.)

“It doesn’t matter to me,” I said. “What sounds good to you?”

The sheepish look she got in her eye should have given me the answer immediately.

“Weeeeelllll,” she said, “I have been hungry for your fried chicken.”

Whaaaaaaaat? Heather too? She’s got celiac disease and can’t eat gluten! Doesn’t that count for something?

There isn’t a single time – not one single time – that I ask Bill McLain what he would like me to make him for a special dinner that he doesn’t say fried chicken. It runs in the family. It’s the one thing I make that will bring everyone to the table in a way that, say, eggplant and kale casserole doesn’t.

I fry chicken the way my mother fried chicken. She was taught how to fry chicken by my grandmother. I only learned as an adult that it isn’t necessarily the way everyone fries chicken. And, in fact, I only learned a couple of months ago from a Food Network program that I fry chicken the way they fry chicken in the Midwest as opposed to the South. Thanks Amy Thielen from Food Network’s Heartland Kitchen. I thought I was an anomaly. The main difference is that you fry the chicken until it’s brown, but not completely cooked, and then finish it in the oven. Instead of being really crispy, it’s more tender and falls off the bone. Yum.

Frying chicken is messy. There really is no way around that fact. The grease splatters. If I don’t get snapped by grease at least once in the chicken frying process, I’m doing something wrong. I have ruined many a shirt by frying chicken without wearing an apron. Shame on me.

By the way, I used gluten-free flour to accommodate our daughter.

So am I really the only remaining person who fries chicken? Do you or does someone you know fry chicken?

I have provided this recipe before, but it’s worth repeating……

My Family’s Fried Chickenfried chicken

Ingredients
1 frying chicken, cut into 10 pieces (my mother always cut each breast into two pieces}
1-2 c. flour, well-seasoned with salt and pepper and a pinch of cayenne pepper
Butter and vegetable oil, half and half, deep enough to fill a pan to a depth of about a quarter of an inch

Process
Preheat the butter and oil in the fry pan until it’s hot enough to sizzle if you flick a drop of water into the pan. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour, shaking off the excess. Lay the pieces skin-side-down into the hot oil. Cook until it’s nicely brown, 5-6 minutes. Turn over and do the same on the other side. It doesn’t have to be cooked all the way through. Only fry a few pieces at a time or your shortening will cool down too much and your chicken pieces won’t brown nicely.

As you remove the chicken pieces from the pan, place them into a roasting pan. (Conversely, you can place them temporarily on a plate and return all of the pieces to the pan to finish. Make sure your pan is oven-proof and has a lid if you choose this option.) Cover the roasting pan with aluminum foil and place into a preheated 350 degree oven for an hour or so until the chicken is cooked through and falls off the bone.

Nana’s Notes: I’m convinced the key to good fried chicken is a cast-iron pan. I would never fry chicken any other way. I’m a cast-iron using fried chicken snob. What can I say?

Cooking for One or Two: Going Asian

jennifer   By Jennifer Sanchez
       Maggie and I give each other a subscription to Food Network Magazine each year. I enjoy cooking and taste-testing new recipes. I found this recipe in the April 2014 edition. I would say 75% of new recipes I try, I never make again. But I knew this recipe was a winner the first time I tasted it.
     I’ll share the recipe without cutting down the quantity. The first time I made it I cut the sauce in half and cooked only a small rack of ribs for myself. I made it recently for my kids on Maggie’s first night visiting in Colorado. It was a hit. As a matter of fact, BJ and I learned quickly not to come between Maggie and this sauce! She was dipping any and all food at the table in it.
     The sauce is delicious but my best take-away from this recipe was that these cooking instructions for the ribs cooks them perfectly. Follow the timing exactly as the recipe states and you won’t be disappointed.
     I served this with the Blue Cheese Cole Slaw Bec introduced me to, sweet potato fries (frozen, I love Alexia brand) and garlic bread. If you have Maggie over for dinner, double the sauce.
Hoisin ribsHoisin Baby Back Ribs, courtesy Food Network Magazine
Ingredients
1 c. of hoisin sauce
1/3 c. rice vinegar (not seasoned)
¼ c. of honey (I never have honey at home so I used Agave Nectar. It doesn’t get hard like honey does over time)
2 T. low-sodium soy sauce
2 T.  Sriracha (Asian chili sauce
1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated with a box grater
3 cloves garlic, pressed through a garlic press
3 2-lb. racks baby back pork ribs
½ c. ketchup
Process
Combine ½ cup of the hoisin sauce, the vinegar, honey, soy sauce, Sriracha, ginger and garlic in a 6-quart slow cooker. Add the ribs and turn to coat with sauce. Cover and cook on low, 6 hours.
When the ribs are cooked, transfer 1 cup of the liquid from the slow cooker to a medium bowl; whisk in the remaining ½ cup hoisin sauce and the ketchup.
The recipe calls to transfer the ribs to a foil lined baking sheet and brush both sides generously with the sauce, then broil bone side down until browned and bubbling, 3 – 5 minutes. I did that final part on the grill.
Transfer to a cutting board and slice into individual ribs.
     If this sauce doesn’t appeal to you, substitute this cooking process with whatever sauce you prefer.

Feeling Herby

bush pickup truckI know I’ve told you this before (and let me just add that by time I post my 365th blog, there will be absolutely nothing that I haven’t told you before; bet you’re all looking forward to that), gardening is one of those things that I want to like to do, but simply don’t.

When we bought this house in Denver, the owners apparently were avid gardeners and enjoyed their backyard. One of the notable things about this house for me, in fact, was the raised garden bed in the back yard. ( Remember – I WANT to like to garden.) The homeowner told me the soil was chock full of nutrients and good for growing all sorts of vegetables, “even celery” I remember her saying. Like that meant anything to me.

But for the next three or four growing seasons, I gave it the ol’ college try. I would talk Bill into helping me turn the soil in the spring. (And by help me, I mean he would do it and I would watch.) I would plant seeds for early vegetables such as radishes and carrots and lettuce. I would push beans into the ground, thinking about all of the yummy ham and green beans I would make mid-summer. I planted five or six tomato plants, determined that I would can what we didn’t eat. Zucchini, green peppers, jalapeno peppers, even cauliflower and broccoli.

With great excitement, I would watch the little plants sprout. But pretty soon I saw weeds begin to sprout too. That’s when the trouble began. You see, I hate to weed. So before too long, there were more weeds than plants, and I could almost hear my beans gasping for air. And what wasn’t being overpowered by weeds was being eaten up by pests. Slugs? Ewwwwww.

After a few years, Bill got tired of turning over the soil for a garden that would not live to harvest. Thus ended my short-lived gardening career.

Instead, we accepted a donation of a children’s play set and had it placed right play areaon top of where my garden used to sit. The kids have had many, many hours of fun. And I’ve gotten my garden vegetables from farmers’ markets.

As sort of an aside, there is an area in our yard with a grouping of evergreen bushes. When we moved into the house, the former homeowner had carefully pruned the trees into the shape of three birds. That, too, was a short-lived experience. Here’s what the area looks like now…..

bushy pickup

At one point, Bill used his electric pruner and when he was all finished, we decided it resembled a pick-up truck. You can see the very slight resemblance even yet….

But no birds. Who do you think we are? Walt Disney?

Now I’m very happy to have three tomatoes planted in the ground – a yellow heirloom, an Early Girl hybrid, and a grape tomato. I also have one potted red heirloom tomato plant that seems to like its location on our patio. A basil plant sits in the ground amidst my petunias.

the screamI mostly focus my attention these days on my herb pots. I have one pot of Italian parsley. Another container holds dill, oregano, sage, thyme, and chives. I used to plant my herbs in a strawberry pot – you know, those tall pots that have the little pockets on the side? But each spring when I would go to empty out the dirt in order to refill the pot with fresh soil and herbs, invariably a centipede would be present and my heart would momentarily stop. I looked like the screamer in Edvard Munch’s famous painting. Now I go for a flatter pot from which I can easily dump the dirt into the garbage with my eyes closed, thereby negating the need to see a centipede and recreate The Scream.

All of the grandkids, and Kaiya in particular, love to rub their hands on the fresh herbs, thereby releasing the fragrant smell. They will sniff their fingers and excitedly pick off a piece of the herb plant and put it in their mouth to taste. My goal this summer is to teach them to cook with herbs.

Here’s one yummy recipe….

Scallopine Saltimbocca, Roman Style, courtesy Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen

Ingredients

4 portions veal, chicken, turkey, or pork scallopine

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

4 slices Italian prosciutto, cut in half crosswise

8-12 large fresh sage leaves

All-purpose flour

3 T. extra-virgin olive oil

6 T. butter

¼ c. dry white wine

1 c. chicken stock or chicken broth

Process

Season the scallopine lightly with salt and pepper, keeping in mind that the prosciutto is cured with salt. Cover each scallopine with a half-slice of the prosciutto. Tap the prosciutto with the back of a knife so it adheres well to the meat. Center a sage leaf over the prosciutto and fasten it in place with a toothpick, weaving it in and out as if you were taking a stitch.

Dredge the scallopine in the flour to coat both sides lightly. Tap off excess flour. Heat 3 T. olive oil and 2 T. butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat until the butter is foaming. Slip as many of the scallopine, prosciutto side down, into the pan as fit without touching. Cook just until the prosciutto is light golden, about 2 minutes. Turn and cook until the second side is browned, about 2 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining scallopine, adding more oil if necessary.

Remove all the scallopine from the skillet and pour off the oil. Return the pan to the heat and pour in the wine. Add the remaining 4 T. butter and cook until the wine is reduced by about half, about 3 minutes. Pour in the chicken stock and bring to a vigorous boil. Tuck the scallopine into the sauce. Simmer until the sauce is reduced and lightly thickened, about 3 – 4 minutes.

To serve, spoon the spinach in a mound in the center of each plate. Arrange the saltimboccasaltimbocca over sautéed spinach. Spoon some of the pan sauce over the scallopine and serve immediately.

 

When I Grow Up

imgresA couple of years ago, I entered a contest offered by Real Simple Magazine in which contestants wrote – in 500 words or fewer – about a memorable cooking experience they shared with a  friend. I have no idea how many people entered the contest. It could have been thousands; it could have been five. All I know is that I was selected to be one of the five finalists.

I didn’t win. The winner was selected by readers’ online votes. I launched an ambitious Facebook campaign, but seeings as I only have 62 Facebook “friends,” the campaign didn’t really pass muster. But hey, being one of the finalists was impressive, no? Well, unless only five people entered….. .

I love to write, and I think that it is something that I don’t particularly suck at. (Except that I just ended that sentence with a preposition.) Here’s the thing. From the time I was a little girl, that’s what I wanted to do for a living – write. I vividly remember my BFF and I writing stories in elementary school – not for a homework assignment, but just because we wanted to write stories. We turned them into our third grade teacher, who likely had a good laugh over them, but accepted them graciously. I would LOVE to see those stories now. I wonder if Miss Gaspers saved them? She could be a millionaire when I become a famous writer. See? I still want to be a writer when I grow up.

The funny thing is that when I was 18 and entering college, what I decided to major in was Human Development – specifically, teaching preschool. No writing. By that time, either I had forgotten that I liked to write or I simply didn’t have the slightest idea what sort of careers involved writing.

Between the time I quit the University of Nebraska (intending never to return to college) and began attending the University of Colorado (after realizing I didn’t want to be a Safeway checker my whole life), Watergate happened. Suddenly it was cool to be a journalist. I earned my degree in journalism and my advanced degree in communications. Boom. My third grade dream was finally being fulfilled. I actually did spend my entire professional life writing at least some of the time.

I bet there aren’t many people who actually have a career as an adult doing what they dreamed to do as a child. After all, there just aren’t that many openings for NBA players or princesses. I only know two: our son David always wanted to be a lawyer, and is; and my niece Maggie always wanted to be an elementary school teacher, and was a great one until she quit to be a great mom. In fact, I can picture Dave in his kindergarten class wearing a little tiny suit with a little tiny bow tie explaining torts to the rest of the class as they played with finger paints.

I began wondering what my grandchildren want to be when they grow up. So I asked. Here is the rundown:

Addie (11): Math Teacher or Business Owner

Alastair (9): Architect

Dagny (8): Entomologist

Maggie Faith (6): Teacher or “a normal mom” (as opposed to an abnormal mom?)

Kaiya (5): Teacher

Mylee (3) Doctor

Joseph (5) Fireman and superhero (not mutually exclusive I’m happy to say)

The two little boys can’t talk yet, so their dreams remain a mystery for the time being.

Impressive. They are our future, my friends.

Back to the Real Simple contest. As I said, I did not win (which would have gotten me an assignment as a guest writer for their magazine). My consolation prize? A cookbook entitled dinner tonight: done! (really with the annoying lack of capital letters and the exclamation point). I felt a little like Charlie Brown when he opened his mailbox and found only a rock. Oh well.

dinner tonight: done! was one of my cookbooks that I had never used. So annoyed wassearch I, in fact, that I had never even cracked it open until this week. Lo, and behold, it actually has some good recipes. Guess I will retrieve my ball and bat and go back to the playground. Even if it has that exclamation point in its name and the author thinks (s)he is e.e. cummings.

Out of all of the recipes, I chose ham. Random, I know. But the ham I had for Easter brunch tasted so good to me and I thought the recipe sounded good. It was. In deference to my husband who isn’t a fan of asparagus, I used green beans.

By the way, the recipe titles also don’t have capital letters. Sigh.

ham dinnerapricot-glazed ham with potatoes and asparagus, courtesy Real Simple’s dinner tonight: done!

Ingredients

1 3-lb. boneless ham

¼ c. apricot preserves

1 pound fingerling or some other small potatoes (about 12)

Kosher salt and pepper

1 pound asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces

3 T. olive oil

1 T. white wine vinegar

1 T. prepared horseradish

¼ c. fresh dill sprigs

Process

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place the ham on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and cook until heated through, 50-60 minutes, spreading the ham with the preserves after 20 minutes of cooking.

Meanwhile, place the potatoes in a large saucepan and add enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil and add 1 t. salt. Reduce heat and simmer until tender, 15-18 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the potatoes to a colander. Run under cold water to cool, then cut into quarters.

Return the water in the saucepan to a boil. Add the asparagus and cook until tender, 2-3 minutes. Drain and run under cold water to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, horseradish, ½ t. salt, and ¼ t. pepper. Add the potatoes and asparagus and toss to combine; fold in the dill. Thinly slice the ham and serve with the vegetables.

Buy dinner tonight: done! from Amazon here.

Buy dinner tonight: done! from Barnes and Noble here.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Lost Art of Cookbooking

bookshelf (1)At last count (which was about 10 minutes ago), I had 51 cookbooks. Out of those 51 cookbooks, I likely haven’t prepared a single recipe from, hmmm, probably three-fourths of them. Out of the ones from which I have cooked, I have probably only made one recipe out of all but three or four.

That leaves about 35 cookbooks that do nothing in the way of helping me prepare dinner. And only three or four that have been more than simply thumbed through.

And that’s nothing. At one point I had two bookshelves – each with two shelves – completely full of cookbooks.  Book stacked on top of one another. Books overflowing with handwritten recipes stuffed inside. One day I simply couldn’t look at the mess any longer. I was  brutal in determining whether the cookbook stayed or went to Goodwill where perhaps it would get a new home in which the cook-of-the-house would pay it some attention. Adopt-a-book.

Needless to say, I love cookbooks. I thoroughly enjoy reading recipes – even recipes for food I would never make. I particularly like cookbooks that have stories that go along with the recipes. I kept some good examples of those types of cookbooks.

I regularly comtemplate the notion of my compulsive cookbook purchasing. Recently, while still in Arizona, I began wondering if others share my love of cookbooks. I started asking my nieces and nephews the names of their favorite cookbook.

“Excuse me?” they all asked. “Favorite what?”

That’s when it became clear to me that no one uses cookbooks any longer. And if I’m being honest, including me. If I need to know how to make something, I go to the internet, just like everyone else.

A couple of my nieces told me they cut recipes out of magazines or print out recipes that they find online and keep them in a notebook. All of them use Pinterest. But no cookbooks.

I asked Bec if she had a favorite cookbook. She admitted that since she had moved so frequently – most recently from northern Virginia to Phoenix – she didn’t hang on to a lot of cookbooks. But she recalled that when she was first married, she used a Cooking for Two cookbook a great deal. I’m guessing it was  published by Betty Crocker and she probably received it as a wedding gift. All of we Baby Boomers had cookbooks published by Betty Crocker. The big Betty Crocker Cookbook is still my go-to cookbook for everyday cooking. I pull it out every single time I make homemade pancakes or biscuits-from-scratch.

Jen told me her most-used cookbook is one of Lidia Bastianich’s Italian cookbooks. I will be reviewing Lidia’s newest cookbook on Friday. I have every single one of Lidia’s cookbooks. I use some more than others. My Lidia Bastianich Italian American Cookbook is one that I still frequently use. There are red sauce or olive oil stains on many of the pages. That is the sign of a good cookbook.

This week my plan is to blow off the dust from four different cookbooks and prepare a meal from each. Some I will not have tried before; others are part of my existing repertoire.

The first cookbook I pulled off the shelf is called Screen Doors and Sweet Tea, searchby Martha Hall Foose. It is one of my favorite cookbooks, though I haven’t prepared a single recipe from it until last night, when I made Country Fried Steak and Gravy. Along with each deliciously southern recipe, Foose gives a story about the recipe’s origin or a family memory relating to the recipe. Though I grew up in the Midwest as opposed to the South, the small-town experiences she describes are nearly identical.

In fact, the name itself is the reason I bought the cookbook. To this day I am a big fan of screen doors. I vividly remember our back door being open all summer long during my youth. In the evening, we would hear the June bugs hitting the screen as they flew towards the light in the kitchen. Ewwwww. The sound of a wooden screen door slamming – thump….thump,thump – is etched in my mind and reminds me of summer.

Do you have a favorite cookbook?

Country-Fried Steak,courtesy Screen Doors and Sweet Tea, by Martha Hall Foose

Ingredients

1-1/2 lb. beef round steak, tenderized and cut into 4-inch pieces about ¼ inch thick

1 c. unbleached all-purpose flour

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pinch of cayenne pepper

1 t. baking powder

1 large egg

Vegetable oil for frying

1 small onion, thinly sliced

¼ c. cake flour

2 c. whole milk

Hot pepper sauce

Process

Pat the steak dry. In a bag, combine the all-purpose flour with 1 t. salt, 1 t. pepper, the cayenne, and baking powder. Add the steak pieces one at a time and shake in the flour to coat. Set the coated steak aside.

In a small dish, beat the egg with 2 T. water. Dip each flour-coated steak piece in the egg wash and then shake in the bag with the flour again to coat well. Set the steak on a rack for about 15 minutes to dry slightly and to help the coating adhere.

Set a wire rack over a baking sheet lined with newspaper or paper towels. In a 10-inch skillet, heat ¼ in o oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Place Country Fried Steakthe steak pieces in the skillet and cook until the sides begin to turn golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Carefully6 turn and rearrange the meat, cooking until no juices are running out and the crust is a deep brown, about 4 minutes. Set the steaks to drain on the wire rack.

Pour all but ¼ c. of drippings out of the skillet. If there is not enough oil left in the skillet, add enough to make ¼ cup. Add the onion. Heat the skillet over medium heat and scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the skillet. Sprinkle the cake flour evenly over the hot oil, stirring constantly. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until slightly brown. Slowly stir in the milk until smooth. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Season with salt, pepper and hot sauce.

Return the fried steak pieces to the skillet with the gravy and simmer for 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

Nana’s Notes: I used top round that I pounded with a tenderizing hammer. Next time I would buy cube steaks. They are already tenderized and are thinner. The round steak is plain and simply kind of tough, and it really needs to be no thicker than a quarter of an inch. With that change, this recipe was a winner.

Buy Screen Doors and Sweet Tea from Amazon here

Buy Screen Doors and Sweet Tea from Barnes and Noble here