Thursday, December 27, 2012

No gnocchi jokes today (maybe)

Gnocchi, gnocchi!
"Who's there?"
 Okay, I'm not going there, wherever that is!!! I heard it said there's no "there" there.

Yours truly drove for 8 hours yesterday, most of it in driving rain, heavy wind and increasingly lowered visibility. When I finally got in the door of our house it was to discover a serious plumbing problem that arose while we weren't even home. I am not full of the milk of human kindness this morning (as the plumber in the basement has his meter running full tilt), but I am determined to have a tasty one-dish dinner. Yes, the gnocchi are the shelf-stable kind found near the pasta at the supermarket, but they are pretty good. The shrimp are one of my specialties. I should be called "Iron Chef Shrimp." (Okay, okay, I'm bragging. But as my grandma used to say, "If you don't blow your own horn, no one's going to blow it for you.) So I've spent much of the day so far in my van, tooting to the heavens. Only consequence is the summons I got for disturbing the peace. Just cook the shrimp however you like them, wilt the arugula and/or spinach (I used both), and boil the gnocchi according to the package directions. Dress with some butter and olive oil (and maybe garlic and parsley?) and have another martini.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Jen gets me to thinkin’ about potato and cheddar soup (and then doin’)

Here's photos of the topic of the day.

Jen (Jenns food journey) is known as Tilapia Tootsie, the Sauce Maven, and Suzie Soup. She has earned these sobriquets by dint of persistent postings of excellent recipes. You probably should not assume that you are permitted to address her by these names. Better to simply address her as Jenn the Magnificent. (Gosh, I hope she’s blushing right now.) 

My holiday gift to all of you is a very inexpensive one: my congratulations and gratitude for being out there where I can find you often and regale myself with your baking (help, I’m baking and I can’t stop), your stories (all embroidered I am sure), your photos (I have to steal mine in the absence of a cooperating camera and computer), and your enthusiasm for all things culinary. 

But back to Jen. A recent post of hers was for a soup, something she does not often do. However, the important thing is that she got my attention and I’ve spent the last few hours with soup sloshing around in my brain even as I have been writing, answering emails, and plotting food Armageddon (I don’t even know what that means). Sometime very soon you will notice Jenn has used the “V” word (no, not the one that goes with “Monologues”) in a recipe. You’ll see, and you’ll know when it happens. 

As a result I now have the courage to use “CP”, as in canned potatoes. I have cooked with them many times over the years. Last night I made some potato and vegetable cakes and Peter qvelled over them. I had sneaked the canned spuds right past him. The vegetables were mushrooms, carrots, cauliflower, chayote sqash and celery, all of which had been lightly poached in broth, Shiaxing wine, olive oil and butter. Sometimes I toss them on salads, other times I snack on them right out of the fridge. The canned potatoes, sautéed whole, make for a lovely side dish when browned up in some butter. They have a unique texture and are not intended to be substituted for the real thing except when time is short and hunger is long. 

Scold me if you must. I can take it.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Wangs (or, if you're not a redneck: Wings)

Want to see my new bumper sticker? 
Well, here it is.
I can only hope it helps me gain momentum.

Then there was the chicken wing thing.
Food for a king; not from the Ming;
lacking in ping; unable to ring ...
or to sing;
can possibly zing.
Easy to cook. Easy and messy to eat.
Not too expensive if bought up in bulk.

Get a deal on a big package of them.
Roast 'em at 300 degrees for 2 hours
with a coating of salt, pepper, garlic powder,
and some brown sugar.
Turned once.
Tasty and perfect for a rainy day
when you lack motivation.

Don't make my mistake
and forget to spray the foil
before loading the things.
They stuck a bit.
Tasted quite simple and good.
Not food to garner you
dollars from adoring fans,
but guaranteed to keep at bay the
(at least until the wings
are a thing of the past).


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Gnocchi Marietta*

I found gnocchi at Whole Foods yesterday. They were with the refrigerated pastas. Not as tasty as fresh, but I'm too lazy to make them from scratch. I combined the "pillows" of potato and egg with some beef kielbasa and a homemade gravy or sauce (your choice of terms).

Inspired by my food blogger shrink, Jenn (go here and read her), I made some gravies lately - very much from scratch. It's color was more pinkish than it appears in the photo. After sauteing the kielbasa (cut into 1/2" pieces) in a bit of oil, I threw some butter and then some flour into the same pan to make a roux. Then in went 1 1/2 cups of chicken broth and a few shots of hot sauce. When thickened up the stuff was a perfect foil for the starch and meat. I ate quite a bit more than I intended.

Oh, the gnocchi boil up in salted water in no more than 5 minutes. I think I'll bookmark my own recipe.

* There is a famous operetta named "Naughty Marietta" from which comes the song "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life." 'Nuff said.

Sunday, December 9, 2012


How do you make corn muffins when you have no corn meal? Are you willing to pay for the secret? No? Okay, I feel very close to you and I'm going to give this bit of genius away.

First, let it be known that I have not been a fan of corn bread. I find it invariably dry and more or less tasteless. Second, let it be known that both of those barriers were breached by yours truly.

Peter and I threw a dinner party last evening. There were a couple of "stars" on the menu, but this one gets my vote as "Best of Show." The two tortilla components included 1 1/2 cups ground up corn tortillas and 1/2 cup ground up and toasted flour tortillas (this was in the freezer waiting to be used like bread crumbs). The proportions of other ingredients were arrived at by extensive research (I looked at two other recipes).

The most unusual corn muffins
1 1/2 cups food processed corn tortillas
1/2 cups food processed flour tortillas
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup Splenda
1 tsp salt

Whisk these ingredients together in a medium bowl.

Mix together:
1 beaten egg
1/3 cup melted butter
1 cup milk

Using a fork, incorporate these latter bits into the dry ingredients.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Use a 6 muffin tin. Line the muffin spaces with paper baking cups. Spoon the mix into them.

Bake 12-15 minutes. You know the drill - a toothpick should come out clean when inserted into one of the muffins.

All good things must come to an end

This past Thursday I was awakened at 1:30 am by Scooper, who was whimpering at the bottom of the bed. For the past month the latest he would sleep was 4:15. This time I became aware in short order that he couldn't walk; in fact, he could barely stand. Then he refused food - possibly for the first time in his 14 years. I've mentioned in my most recent blog that he was totally deaf and nearly totally blind. At 1 pm that same day a very compassionate vet came to the house and euthanized him.

In honor of Scooper and his pal Pupkiss, who pre-deceased him, I'm reprinting two stories from a couple of years ago. We're sad, but grateful to have had a good number of years of fantastic companionship with the two of them.

I'll only leave this up for one day. Then it's back to the food. 

Dog, the other white meat; and The world according to Scooper

It’s just a JOKE!

I have nothing else to post today, so I thought I’d introduce our little one, Scooper. He’s almost 12, a little deaf, but still very much the puppy at times. (In between, he sleeps most of the time.)

Scooper had a “brother,” Pupkiss, who was a year younger. Unfortunately the poor little guy developed the curse of the King Charles Spaniel, a bad heart. It didn’t affect him until last April when he went into conjestive heart failure. He got treated with drug after drug, but by October we realized we had to let him go. And so we did.

Scooper is named after the Pooper Scooper. Pup’s name had a more interesting derivation. At the time he came to us we lived in Teaneck, NJ, a community heavily populated by orthodox Jewish people. There’s a Yiddish word, “bubkes,” that sort of means “nada.” That’s what inspired Pup’s name. The first day he was with us was a Saturday and, while we were out in the side yard with the boys, along came a family walking to schul – 3 little girls with their parents. The girls came over to the fence to see the boys and of course asked what their names were. Now, mind you, we didn’t want to give offense. I started by telling them the bigger dog was Scooper. Then looking at the girls’ father I told them the wee little puppy was Pupkiss. The father got a twinkle in his eye and said (in a wonderful Yiddish accent), “Very clever.” Whew! I was relieved.

For about 3 years, after the dog food scare, I cooked chicken (boiled), rice (brown) and mixed frozen vegetables for the “boys.” I kept giving them a bit of Iams kibble along with these things. Iams was not implicated in any of the problems. So, you see, this really is an oblique way to post about food.

Say hello, Scooper.

This is Scooper, comfortably ensconced in his favorite papa-san chair right next to my computer. He’s 12 now, and happily in good health except for being quite deaf. He never listened to me anyway. I had nothing new to post this morning, so I thought I’d let him be a guest.

The world according to Scooper:My #1 daddy is generous to let me do a posting on his blog. Heaven knows, he spends plenty of time at it. I love sleeping next to him while he blathers on about his food. I don’t know much about his food as he and #2 daddy, Peter, never give me any of it. I score some dropped bits on the kitchen floor from time to time, and I have to admit it can be some pretty good stuff. I am just as happy to have my 2 squares a day – some Iams kibble and some stuff out of a can. I am not patient when it’s my meal time, and I say so. Back when that other guy, Pupkiss*, was still around, I could sometimes shoulder him out of the way and finish his food too. After a while he got wise to that and ate really, really fast. I don’t know what ever happened to him. Last fall he just wasn’t here anymore, leaving me as an only child, just the way I was before the little interloper came on the scene and began competing with me for the daddys’ affections. I understand there may be a picture of the little bugger down below. By the way, daddy #1 used to whisper in my ear (when I could still hear), “Remember, I’m your #1 daddy.” I don’t even know what that means. I have a good life. I get to sleep on the bed, snuggle in front of the tv with the guys, get petted quite regularly. AND, every day I get to poop! Well, there you have it. Try my recipe if you dare. Best regards, Scooper.

Kibble and squeak

1 handful Iams kibble

2 heaping tbsp Pedigree canned dog food with meat, or chicken

Put these in a bowl and get it on the floor ... right NOW.

*Pupkiss joined our family when Scooper was 1 year old. He was a little guy with strong opinions and a fondness for actually watching television. He developed the scourge of King Charles Spaniels, heart trouble, when he was 9 1/2. We coddled and medicated him for several months until his struggles got so bad we had him euthanized.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Mexican lasagna

It is with great reluctance that I let the soups slip back into archival limbo. I didn't conjure up this casserole in my sleep; I did so entirely awake and quite sober. Some years ago I made something like this. Now I had no need of a recipe. I would like to have submitted this as part of an episode of "The Next Iron Chef" on Food Network. I finished this masterpiece just a couple of hours ago and I still remember what's in it. I certainly remember that it has corn tortillas because, as I thought I was ready to start assemble, I realized I had neglected to buy them during my morning grocery run. I didn't use a full size lasagna dish. When I do, Peter and I get sick of it before it's gone. My dish was about half size. Here we go: (Egad, I miss those soups.)

Cut about a dozen tomatillos into 1 inch pieces. Cut up 2 cubanelle peppers about the same. Start this stuff sauteing in a bit of oil. When sizzling nicely, reduce heat to very, very low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.You don't need to add any broth to this; the veg will render a lot of water. Let it cool a bit and then puree it in your food processor.

In another saute pan cook two 8 inch pieces of Mexican chorizo. Puree it. Add it to the sauce. The sauce now turns somewhat reddish due to the annato in the meat. I added some salt, some pepper, some ground guajillo chiles, some garlic.

Don't feel you have to make homemade ricotta from buttermilk just because I did (nyuck, nyuck). Layer corn tortillas (sliced up a bit to cover the size of the casserole) with sauce, ricotta and asadero cheese. I think it took 4 layers for mine.

Bake at 350 covered with foil for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 15. Let rest for 5 or 10 and then plunge in.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A soupçon of soup's on

I went to bed completely done in by 12 hours mostly on my feet preparing, delivering, and serving a Mexican buffet for 30 persons. It was an excellent gig for my fledgling catering biz, which has had a bit of a dry spell of late. I was so tired when I got home after an hour in the van, which included getting back to DC from a distant suburb, dropping off my assistant and scooting home, that I almost could not walk from the garage to the house. To make matters more challenging, my beloved Scooper (the King Charles Spaniel, who is older than kitty litter) got me up at 4 am. His body has no clue what the end of daylight saving time means (oh, and did I mention that he's blind and deaf?) Got him out to pee, got him his breakfast, got a glass of juice, sat on the sofa for a bit and then lay down and managed to doze off. I think that hour of dozing was entirely in REM sleep and I awoke remembering that I had been dreaming of cooking and, holy cow, even what it was I was cooking: a six course meal consisting entirely of soups. Once I was fully awake I began writing down some of what I remembered. I don't think I finished the meal inside of the dream. But, no matter. The idea resonates with me and I will gather to together my squad of tasters early in 2013 for a sampling and critiquing.

Now I know that a dinner of all soups is odd enough itself, but with an international flair? Them's fightin' words. I ended up tinkering with the specifics if not with the overall concept to represent 7 countries with the 6 soups (Republican book-keeping I think it's called). Read through them and you'll get it. Even though all these soups are to be served hot (it's winter after all), I still think it's a cool idea. (And I know my witticisms are those of an eternal sophomore.)

With the exception of the first course, the broth of each soup will be poured over the other ingredients at the table, lending a certain class-oise to the occasion.

I like to begin with an amuse bouche. The one I dreamed up is to be a shooter (in a shot glass) of miso. Obviously it is representing Japan.

The next course would logically be an appetizer. I chose escarole as a component of a salad soup. It has a nice crunch and a hint of bitterness that could be counterbalanced with some paper-thin slices of radish and mushroom. In order to tie this to France I will add court bouillon to it at serving.

A soup course (of course) could precede or follow the salad. Here comes Greece with avgolemono soup, made with rice and chicken and a lemony broth.

It's time now for the main courses: I will present a meat and some seafood. Here they come:

Oxtail soup from Germany

Italy's cioppino

He's not done yet, Myrtle. There must be a dessert lurking out there.

Indeed there is a dessert. It will hint of America and Mexico. I call it ...

Fudgesicle Tres leches soup with creamsicle balls

Those who are familiar with Mexican cuisine (also known as grub), know that the "three milks" are condensed, evaporated, and heavy cream. Some years ago I re-created the beloved creamsicle flavor of my youth (with the help of some SunnyD). Believe it or not, fudgesicles are still made.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Gold Medal Pork Medallions

We have a winner!

Put these on a ribbon and hang them around my neck as the first prize awarded at the Pork Lovers Convention of Peoria/Pretoria/Pittsburgh/Pittstown and Pittsfield.

Had enough? Yea, so have I. Brine your pork tenderloin for 4 hours, rinse it, dry it and rub it with glee (and spices): equal parts cumin, espresso powder, garlic powder; and 1/2 part paprika (smoke 'em if you got 'em); 1/2 part wasabi powder. Let the pork sit at room temp for an hour if you have the time. Saute over medium high in butter and olive oil - side one til you see the sides of the medallions showing some signs of cooking coming up from the bottom; side two until 145 degrees is achieved (maybe 3 minutes) ... any higher than that and you should simply not use this recipe.

In case you are wondering, yes, this was one of the finest things I have cooked in many a moon.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fish cakes redux

No dux were hurt during the preparation of this dish.

I've made a bunch of fish cakes since my last post of them. Never, I mean never folks, have they been this good. Food process 8 oz shrimp and 10-12 oz white fish (I had swai) along with 2 egg whites, and a few chopped scallions. With wet hands, form 6 patties and coat them with the most special bread crumbs you can come up with (I made some from leftover Pillsbury buttermilk biscuits). Salt and pepper them to taste and fry in 1/4 inch oil about 2 minutes per side. They were crispy on the out ... soft and delicate at the in.

One of the things I've discovered is that I like my cakes to be less shrimp than white fish (flounder, catfish - both are good - swai is better).

Monday, November 12, 2012

Black beans - Music please, maestro

Yes, it's corny sophomoric humor, and I may not be a junior any more; but I refuse to be a senior (except in the actuarial tables).

I avoid cooking dried beans most of the time, but caved in to the idea while shopping at my favorite Hispanic market the other day. Heck, these dark-skinned little devils are cheap, nutritious and tasty. Somewhere in the Google-verse I found a recipe that included a bunch of stuff to add after the cooking is done.

I didn't write down the measurements (that would be so Food Network). I just added a lot of the stuff I knew I liked and less of anything questionable. The slightly citrus-y cast the beans took on from the orange flavor and vinegar was really nice. And with my beloved fluffy white rice as a vehicle on which to serve them, these beans made my meal.

Add some or all: garlic (while the beans are cooking is a good idea), garlic powder, cumin, black pepper, salt, dried oregano, SunnyD (or orange juice if your nose is in the air), lime juice, EVOO, rice wine vinegar.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Kimchi, a little dab'll do ya

When I espied a beautiful large head of napa cabbage at the market yesterday I knew it was destined to become kimchi. If you don't know what kimchi is, you will now understand the value of wikipedia (but only if you go there).

I was well into adulthood (I hear some friends snickering) before I could appreciate this preserved vegetable concoction. It's a perfect diet food (I know, I know, I promised not to mention the diet every day, but the early days are the easiest - you lose some water - and 4 pounds I might add). Hardly any calories to speak of, no fat, some spice (to taste), and a side dish/condiment that will last all winter in your fridge.

There are as many ways to make kimchi as there are to make chili or potato salad. I've made it maybe a dozen times, and never the same way twice. The napa is chopped and salted (maybe 2 Tbs total for the entire head), weighted down in a bowl and left overnight. (It's a good idea to cover it with a towel to keep out any detritus floating around your house.) Then drain and save the salty water that will have accumulated. Add other vegetation (scallions, carrots, and radishes for me). Add something spicy. I use chili/garlic paste. Toss the whole thing thoroughly, taste it for spice and adjust as you see fit, re-cover it and, except for tossing it once daily, leave it alone for one week. Now refrigerate it and start noshing it as you desire.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A too heavy subject

Sunday, November 4, 2012

How do I diet? Let me count the weight.
Must reduce calories by hundred times eight.
To know what to stick to, there must be a plan.
Will I glom onto it? Don’t know if I can.

In for a penny, or in for a pound;
Not an aphorism that seems awfully sound.
Were I single I’d not have a date.
Must succeed or I’ll soon be called “late.”  

How I wish this was not necessary, but since quitting smoking a bit more than 18 months ago I have steadily and slowly gained nearly 20 pounds. I’ve been eating like a wanton (better that it should have been a wonton) and of late inhaling large servings of ice cream after dinner. This afternoon I filled my shopping bag with some things I will transform into snackables tomorrow. I regret that the ice cream must go by the wayside for some time to come.

My goal is to pare away the 20 lbs over the remainder of November and then during December. I hereby make a New Year’s resolution: I will eat ice cream on Jan. 1, but not a day before.

Below I am sharing with you a few of my ideas for stuff in that snackables category I referred to.

Begin the Terrine – layers of zucchini, chayote squash and cubanelle peppers with some low fat sour cream, part-skim mozzarella, salt and pepper (paprika for color). I’ll poach the chayote and the cubanelles a bit to reduce them to a texture more or less compatible with the zucchini. Then weigh the whole thing down (in a glass loaf pan by the way) and bake it for 30-40 minutes. As I contemplate this idea I am full of the milk of human self-doubt. Will this work? (It worked.)

Splenda-id Cucumber Salad - my mother liked to slice up some cukes and douse them with vinegar and sugar. In my case I had a boatload of pickling liquid from my dills, which welcomed some Splenda as a counterbalance.

Orange Junius (my title; the Julius version is no doubt under copyright) – This will be carrot/dried apricot salad dressed sensibly, i. e. no mayonnaise. I’m thinking some rice wine vinegar, fish sauce, pepper and Chinese Shiaoxing cooking wine. My little food processor does a fine job of shredding veggies. While the photo shows raisins, I found that dried apricots have 1/2 the calories. And I love them. Do I need better reasons?

Egg flower soup - broth, egg and peas. Other than a bit of seasoning that's all this requires. When the egg is drizzled into simmering broth which has been stirred into a mini-vortex, it "flowers" beautifully.

I'm pleased with how these innocuous thingies turned out. I promise not to talk about my weight everyday for the remainder of November and during the month of December. I'll save my crowing for January 1, when I will be eating ice cream and lobster.

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