Thursday, July 30, 2009

Why We Have Comfort Food

Okay. That's done. Now . . . what shall I eat next?

Hooboy. This child is full to the brim. I just polished off the last portion of yesterday's Pratchett Pot meal. That brought my total meals from one cooking session to four. (Count 'em, folks -- 4.) Not too shabby for a mere 2-quart pot. Especially since I added about a quarter-cup of crumbled feta cheese to the last serving just before I nuked it. The flavor explosion was fantastic. I will make a note and remember to use feta the next time I cook something like that.

I forgot to add this until later so some of you may have missed the link to Elizabeth Yarnell's web site. You can click over to here, or maybe even better, here, where you'll find all kinds of articles and recipes and there is a really good FAQ page that answers a lot of questions.

One thing you'll notice is that she pushes the Le Creuset brand of Dutch oven. While I'll agree that it's one of the top quality brands of cookware, it's also one of the more expensive. Sure, it will perform beautifully for a lifetime but you know what? After you reach a certain age, when folks try to sell you something based on "lifetime guarantee," you don't know whether to snort or laugh. There are other high-quality brands of cast iron cookware, both plain and enamel-clad, and you don't have to mortgage your first-born to swing the financing. I noticed KitchenAid has come out with both a 3 1/2 quart and a 4 1/2 quart size in a very spiffy enamel-clad dandy and the price isn't too horribly horrendous. I'm lusting a bit there but I can keep it under control as long as my Pratchett Pot continues to serve me.

Oh! If any of you decide to get the book (Glorious One-Pot Meals), Amazon has -- I think -- the best price. Be sure you get the 2009 edition, which is upgraded from my 2005 version to the tune of 60 more recipes. That's double what I've got. Sheesh.

I shouldn't be surprised. That's just one example of the Gotcha Syndrome, of which I am often the hapless victim. You know how that goes . . . you shop carefully all over the place to get the very best deal and the day after you've committed your hard-earned, the darned thang goes on sale. Or what you bought is discontinued and you will never be able to get replacement parts. Or, as with the cookbook, the new model is better and has the audacity to cost less. That kind of "gotcha."

And that, Coffee Mates, is why we have Comfort Food.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Pratchett Pot

One of my very favorite writers in the whole universe -- this or any other -- is Terry Pratchett, author of the impossibly sublime Disc World series. He is both wise and witty and possessed of the most incredibly fertile imagination it has ever been my pleasure to enjoy. Although what he writes is considered fantasy, methinks he speaks more truth than most -- and makes you laugh out loud while he's at it.

Of course Disc World is overflowing with high magic and all the wild adventures that entails, as well as some interesting effects one cannot be blamed for dismissing as imaginary. For instance, Pratchett often describes spaces that look to be small on the outside but expand to enormous dimensions inside. Perfectly normal on Disc World, the reader well knows, but patently impossible on good old Earth. At least that's what I thought before this evening. Now I find the man was not only telling the truth, I am actually in possession of an example of this strangely dimensionally flexible space. Yes, Coffee Mates. I have a genu-wine, boney-fide Pratchett Pot.

It all started when I read a most intriguiging book -- Glorious One-Pot Meals -- by Elizabeth Yarnell. She has developed a cooking method for which she actually holds Canadian and U.S. patents, wherein she cooks an entire meal in a Dutch Oven and it's NOT a casserole. What's more, she assures you that you can blithely mix both fresh and frozen foods together and they'll all come out perfectly done at the end of the cooking time.

Yeah. Riiiiight. People make remarks like that and I tend to inch discreetly away, looking at them out of the corner of my eye. Still, I kept coming back to her tantalizing claim: load the pot with layers of food that take maybe 15 minutes to prepare, put it in the oven and walk away. Relax. Have a glass of wine. Take a bubble bath. Forty-five minutes later, pull the pot out of the oven, dish up your dinner and enjoy the fact that you only have that one pot to wash up later. (Well, okay, also the dinner plate and the silverware and the ... you know what I mean.)

I was not only dubious about the fresh/frozen concept, I couldn't see how the layers of different kinds of foods could be kept separate while cooking or when dishing up later. And that was before it registered that she was saying all the recipes are for two people and will be packed into a 2-quart Dutch oven. Do you realize how small a 2-quart pot is? Look at your ruler. Put your thumb on the 2 5/8 inch mark. That's how deep it is. Slide your thumb over to the 7 1/2 inch mark. That's how wide it is from rim to rim. And you're going to feed two full-grown, presumably hungry people?

Yarnell says cast iron is best for this method of cooking but allows as how enamel-clad steel is also okay. She feels the results aren't as consistently perfect as with the cast iron but you use what you have, right? And I don't have a cast iron Dutch oven, either plain or gorgeously enameled. After hours of diligent online searching, I also discovered the 2 quart size is woefully hard to find and, hooboy, some of those little rascals are horrendously expensive, don'cha know?

Then I got to thinking about my cookware set -- the one I treated myself to back when I was working for wages. Chantal. Enamel-clad steel. Colbalt blue. (smile) Glass lids. Steel handles and knobs that won't melt in the oven. And one of the sauce pans was the 2-quart size. The only thing that worried me was the glass lid. Certainly it's tempered glass but Yarnell has you baking your meal at a whopping 450 degrees fairyheight and according to the Chantal people, the lids were safe up to 375 degrees. But another Chantal owner told me she has a dish she cooks quite a long time at 425 and has never had a problem with the lids. Hmmmm.

Okay. Chantal is probably going to give the consumer a cutoff temp that is low enough that they won't face a probable lawsuit but the glass will probably manage a bit more with safety. On the other hand, I really didn't want to push it too far. That stuff's way too expensive to be careless with it. I compromised. Instead of 45 minutes at 450 degrees, I did 1 hour at 400. As you can see above, it worked. The meal came out perfectly and it really was as easy to fix as Yarnell claimed it would be. And the layers stayed layered while they cooked. And when I began spooning out each layer for my dinner plate, the different foods still stayed separate. See below.

On the left we have the macaroni and sliced onions that went on the bottom layer. Because the macaroni was uncooked at that point, I poured in 3/4 of a cup of liquid that consisted of the juice from a can of chopped tomatoes with enough chardonnay added to make 1 cup. (basil, oregano and marjoram were added to the liquid) You'll see in the upper right position the chicken breast that was plopped down, frozen solid, for the next layer, sprinkled with coarse kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Then came a sprinkling of chopped garlic and a layer of the drained, chopped tomatoes. Then came a layer of chopped zucchini and crookneck squash (bottom half of the plate), a final sprinkle of salt and pepper and the last 1/4 cup of tomato liquid. At this point, as per instructions, the food was packed in to the absolute brim of the pot. I sprayed the lid with olive oil (also sprayed the pot before laying in the food), set it in place firmly and popped the whole shebang in the oven . . . and crossed my fingers.

It was when I'd finished dishing up my plate that I realized this was a Pratchett Pot. Coffee Mates, I barely made a dent in the contents of that pot. I'm pretty sure there is more food in there now than when I started so the pot HAS to be bigger than it looks. Yeah, I know -- the macaroni takes up more space when it swells -- but there wasn't supposed to be any more space, even if you account for the shrinkage of the veggies. I mean, one sort of evens out the other. Gee, how about that? You really can feed two hungry people this way. Or one hungry people two (or more) times. (That would be me.)

The only problem with this method of cooking is the heat factor. Summer is not the time to be firing up the regular oven for an hour, a fact for which I can stand my glistening self up and testify. However, my countertop Nesco oven goes up to 450 degrees and doesn't put out anywhere near the heat the big oven does. The long-handled Chantal pot won't fit in there but some of my Corning Ware casserole dishes do. I think I have a 2-quart one that might turn out to have Pratchett Pot tendencies. I hope so because Yarnell has a lot more recipes I want to try.

As soon as I've finished working my way through this first magically expanded meal.

Addendum: Oops! I forgot to give you this link so you'll have a better idea of how these One-Pot meals work: Elizabeth Yarnell. Check it out!

Sunday, July 26, 2009


Just when you thought it was safe, here I am with another Snickerdoodle recipe. Well, they're sorta-kinda Snickerdoodles. For one thing, I am still out of cream of tartar because, much to my dismay, Lee doesn't seem to carry it in his spice section at the market. Oh pain. Oh agony. I'm told one can substitute either vinegar or lemon juice for cream of tartar but I'm not convinced the results are the same. Close, but no banana. (I don't have any cigars, either.) That would probably be okay if you weren't as bull-headed as I am. See, as far as I'm concerned, if it doesn't have cream of tartar, it isn't a Snickerdoodle. It's just a sugar cookie. A very good sugar cookie, to be sure, but only a pretender.

The other thing about this particular recipe is that the cookies don't crackle on top. I don't know why that is. Instead of crackling, they just crumpled. Maybe they're really polite cookies so instead of snickering, they decided to chuckle. So I'm calling them Chuckledoodles, okay?

Crackled or crumpled, they still came out doggoned good. Tender crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. Which is the way they're supposed to be. That's another of my bull-headed Snickerdoodle roolz -- we're not having us any of those cakey-type cookies here, thank you very much.

I got this recipe from the Taste of Home web site, which is a really good place to go for all kinds of nummy stuff. The reason I tried it was because it was very close to my regular Snickerdoodle recipe but doesn't make as many cookies. I just wasn't in the mood to bake a whole kajillion of the little guys. I ended up with 43 cookies. Well, to be more precise, it was 42 regular-sized cookies and 1 little bitty guy. And this am the way it goes:


1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Cream together the butter and sugar. Add egg and vanilla, beat well. Add flour, soda and cream of tartar, beat well. Dough should be soft but just firm enough, if you handle it lightly, to roll teaspoon-sized blobs into something like walnut-sized balls. Roll the balls in a mixture of sugar and cinnamon (I like to add about half as much cardamom as cinnamon) and place on cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees fairyheight for 10 to 12 minutes.

Okay -- I should stress you want to test a few cookies in your oven. In my oven, 8 minutes is just right. Anything past that and the cookies would be too hard. Don't like hard cookies. Tender crunchy, that's the goal. Also, if I'd had a fresh supply of cream of tartar, I'd have put a full teaspoon in. Absolutely. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.

I should point out there is no vanilla in my regular "go to" Snickerdoodle recipe -- and I don't miss it when I do the cookies that way. But it's nice in this recipe. The presence or absence of vanilla in this venue does not fall under the scope of my bull-headed roolz.

But I'm still calling these Chuckledoodles.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Thumbs Up & Thumbs Down

I went toddling off to the market today to pick up a few groceries. Leaned over to grab a bag of flour and, when I raised up, there before my astonished eyes was the display for corn starch -- in a brand new type of container. Although I still have a goodly supply in the old style box (see above), I grabbed the new kid on the block because . . . well, just because.

I love this new container. It has a bigger footprint on the pantry shelf than the box but, as the label points out, getting the corn starch out when you want it is no longer a messy proposition. Not only that, the container is a lovely size for other things once you've used up the corn starch. Now that I'm making my own dry mixes for various and sundry food items, I tend to keep an eyeball peeled for suitable containers. And here's the kicker . . . the price is the same on the 16 ounce plastic container as it is on the 16 ounce cardboard box! Woohoo, Argo! Kudos to ya! Thumbs up.

Now that I've said the nice things, let me rant just a little. What I call my therapeutic bitching. Remember that bag of flour I just mentioned? Yeah. Five pounds of my trusty Gold Medal all purpose flour. I love their flour but I cuss every time I open one of their paper bags. I swear they must be using Gorilla Glue to seal the damned thangs. It takes saintly patience and perseverance to separate the folds of paper from the glue weld. Any time I can pry a bag open without making a mess, I feel I should pop the cork on a bottle of champagne because it's such a notably rare occasion. Why, I ask every time, why in bloody blue hell do they package their flour in such a frustrating, belligerent fashion? Do they take perverse pleasure in making me puff up with righteous indignation? Do they think just because they are selling one of the main ingredients for the staff of life (aka bread) they can test my better nature and taunt me with impunity?

Given the simple beauty of the Argo container, the question became even more urgent. So I went online and Googled for enlightenment. Well. I'll be dipped. Gold Medal has come out with a flour container that uses the zip seal type of closure. Haven't seen it myself but I guess it's been around for a little while. Investigating further, I was disheartened to find this more convenient packaging contains less product for a heftier price. That's just not even nice. Shame on you, Gold Medal. Thumbs down.

I don't know what it's like elsewhere but here in the states, more and more different kinds of food are being packaged in resealable containers. The nice thing about it is the containers are usually a heavier plastic and can be washed and reused to freeze food when the original contents have been consumed. Recycle. Recycle. Recycle. Which makes me believe Gold Medal -- and other flour companies -- could do the same thing without hurting their profit margin -- or gouging their customers.

Okay. I've stalled long enough. I have to leave you now and wrestle that flippin' sack of flour into its cannister, hopefully without poofing way too much of it all over way too much surrounding real estate. Then I'm going to fix myself a nice batch of maifun rice noodle stir fry with chicken and I'm going to have it with a nice glass of decent chardonnay. It is entirely possible that I will have managed to stop sulking by the time I'm finished. If not, well . . . heh! I'll just have to compose a serious letter to Gold Medal, that's what.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Put the Blame on James, Boys

Yes, I've been sadly remiss about posting these last few days -- but I have a really good excuse. I'm blaming my grandson James (with apologies to Rita Hayworth in her Gilda role) for the delinquency but please note it is a benign blame. James (see above) has been home on a surprise leave from Uncle Sam's Canoe Club (otherwise known as the Navy) and two of those nights he spent here.

It was great fun and, fortunately, I had whupped up a big batch of Snickerdoodles and an apple cobbler before I even knew he was home. Whew! That means I get to keep my Granny card a while longer. As we sat there at the dining table, talking until the wee hours, James inhaled the cookies and made short work of the cobbler which he artfully topped with whipped cream. Gotta keep that hollow leg of his well packed, don'cha know?

Yesterday I turned the culinary wheel in a different direction and made some soft cheese with a quart of Nancy's Plain Yogurt. Remember that trick? You just plop the yogurt in a cloth or paper towel-covered strainer and let it drain for several hours, then you use it like you would soft cream cheese. Today I decided what I was going to do with at least part of it. I got to feeling the hungries for a spicy sandwich spread to go with a freshly baked loaf of bread and the sliced ham in the fridge.

These are just rough guesstimates as far as amounts are concerned but the mixture went pretty much like this: about a cup each of yogurt cheese and finely grated cheddar cheese and a couple of tablespoons of dried onion flakes, a teaspoon of Mrs. Dash Chipotle seasoning and 2 tablespoons of ground Brazil nuts. Mixed it all together really well and taste-tested for quality control. That's when the infamous Domino Effect clicked in. You know -- as in "one thing leads to another." Instead of spreading the bread with my mix thus far and then laying the ham slices on it, I decided to run the ham through the chopper and add the ground results to the mix. So I did. Another taste test. Almost just right. Almost.

Aha! Another domino fell. I grabbed a handful of dried cherries and ran them through the chopper and mixed them in with all the other goodies. They turned out to be the perfect tart-sweet complementary accent for the savory ham and cheese combo.

I slathered generous globs of spread over two slices of bread, cut the slices into triangles and laid them out on a pizza pan. Slid them into a 400 degree oven for about 12 minutes. Enough time for the bread to nicely toast and the topping to get hot.

I dutifully snapped the above photo and then sat down and ate every single bite of every single triangle. Coffee Mates, that is righteous chow, really. And I'm thinking that filling would be great on crackers or as filling in turnovers or -- oh yeah! -- topping on a big fat baked potato. A glob smacked down on a serving of steamed veggies would be nice, too.

And healthy. Don't forget yogurt cheese is healthy. Just don't tell your grandkids that.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I Love a Mystery

Excuse me? I don't DO mystery food.

Our little bunny buddy would fit right in here. See, I finished doing the archeology project in the freezer today. Found my missing Lemon Drop chili peppers (yay!), separated a huge bag of oriental veggies and a huge bag of whole kernel corn into more reasonable pint portions, bagged up a freshly cooked batch of black beans and managed to fit everything ever so neatly on each shelf. I not only have a clue about the contents of my freezer, I can even find the different items.

Except for the mystery food.

Every now and then I pick up a 2-pint container of Nancy's Plain Yogurt. The handy thing is, after you've emptied the carton, you can use it to save leftover food in the freezer. They even have a space on the side where you can label the carton so you know what's in it. The trouble here (you know what's coming) is that I neglected to do the label thing. I remember thinking there would be no problem remembering what I'd tucked inside. I don't remember what I would have no problem remembering.

I could have popped the lid to see if I could figure out what was in there. Decided to hold off on immediate exposure because where's the challenge in that? No, I'm sure it will be a lot more fun to speculate. If there were more of me hanging out here, I could even run an office pool for guesses.

Oh, wait. The Voices are informing me they're willing to play. Well, alrighty. We have us a horse race. One Voice has already hollered out, "Taco soup!" and another Voice chimed in with, "Naw, it's a noodle casserole." Personally, I'm thinking it's a veggie soup with rice. I'll wait a bit to see if anyone else jumps in the pool and then we'll have the Grand Opening. Winner gets to eat the contents.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Clams & Clapton

Darn it. Every time I have Dalmatians for breakfast, I break out in hives!

I'm sure glad I have Lolcats to draw on because I can't think of a thing I did today that needed to be photographed for posterity. Some days are like that.

Not that I wasn't busy. And I'm not done yet. Shucky-darn. To make it all move along easier, I've been running assorted CDs through the stereo. Roy Orbison is serenading me at the moment with his cover of Blue Bayou. Linda Ronstadt made the Big Bucks with it but ol' Roy, along with a fellow named Joe Melson, wrote it. Here's an interesting piece of trivia for you . . . according to the Wikipedia entry: Because of this song, Dickson's Baseball Dictionary records that a "Linda Ronstadt" is a synonym for a fastball, a pitch that "blew by you."

The biggity-big thang I did today was process some of the horseneck clams Patti and Roger shared with me awhile back. They were cleaned and frozen but whole. Had to be peeled and minced before use. So I thawed them out and peeled until I was cross-eyed. Then I decided I'd cook them before the slice-and-dice phase of the operation. That's when I got a flash of inspiration. (Braced yourself, Wendy, I'm proselytizing again.) Clams are among the sorts of seafood that get tough if you cook them too much. But I wondered what would happen if I ran them through the pressure cooker.

It took some serious searching because most recipes were for chowder and had you putting in the minced clams after the pressure cooking part was done. I think all those recipes were referring mostly to the canned minced clams you buy in the store. Finally I found a source that suggested cooking them for 5 minutes, then letting the pressure fall off slowly. Well, I wasn't going to find out if I didn't try it, right?

Tossed the horsenecks in the steamer basket and set them in about 3 cups of water, sprinkled them generously with Chef Paul Prudhomme's seafood seasoning and locked the lid down tight. When they were done, I raised the basket out and let them drain and cool. As soon as I could handle them, they got a turn in the chopper until they were minced up nice and neat. Then I crossed my fingers and popped some of the mince in my mouth to see if I'd managed to keep them tender.

Oh yeah. Perfect! And right tasty, too, thank you, Chef Prudhomme. So I was able to divide them up between two pint-sized freezer bags and pop them the freezer for later attention. I dunno -- something like linguini with clam sauce? What do you think?

And now I think I'd best pour myself another mug of the sacred liquid and see if I can finish up my To Do list for the day. I do believe I'll have my main man, Eric Clapton, keeping me company the rest of the evening. That'll make me happy as a clam. Hmmmm . . . have you ever wondered about the person who thunk up that particular cliche? I mean, have you ever seen a clam grinning? Or even chuckling? No, I didn't think so.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Fat Round Things

Yes, I am a little tired. Why do you ask?

Boy howdy, I do believe this child is going to sleep well tonight, that's what. It's been a really busy day, including a hike up to the market so I could pick up some more butter and replenish my cheddar cheese supply. It wasn't until I got back that I realized I'd forgotten the treat I'd promised myself. After a week of overcast and occasional drizzle, today turned out so gorgeous I was going to sit at the little picnic table beside the market and indulge myself in a decadent ice cream cone -- a waffle cone, to be specific. Dayum.

Ah well. Something to look forward to on another sunny day, I guess. Besides, my culinary project for the day turned out rather well so I can't really complain. Okay, I can really complain but my heart isn't in it.

See those fat round things just below this paragraph? Those are sorta kinda mini-foccacias. Or should that be "focaccia?" Because I keep finding it spelled both ways. [Pause for Google search.] Okay, according to Merriam-Webster, it's focaccia. Fo-caw-che-ah. Of course. I knew that. I just forgot I knew it.

Anyhoo, what I did was whomp up a batch of pizza dough and seasoned it with good stuff like cumin and oregano and lemon dill. Then, after it did its rise gig, I divided it up into 8 balls and patted them out into more or less round shapes. Some of them were of the free-form persuasion but I didn't see any reason to discourage their individuality so I let 'em hang it all out. Not owning a dandy gadget like a dough docker, I forked the daylights out of them so they wouldn't rise up too terribly much in the middle. That's because they're slated to serve as fatso pizzas when I'm in the mood for a fatso pizza. I could have rolled them out really thin. Some folks like a thin, crispy crust. I happen to like a fat, chewy crust that lends itself to dipping in whatever looks tasty.

I cooked them at 375 degrees fairyheight for 10 minutes, then brushed them with olive oil when they came out of the oven. When they have completely cooled, I'll slip them in Ziploc bags and toss them in the freezer. Then, when I'm in the mood for a quick and tasty meal, I'll pull one out, top it with whatever happens to be handy and slide it into a 400 degree oven for another 10 or 15 minutes. Shazaam!

For those of you who counted the mini-focaccias on the platter and came up short a deuce, I can assure you there really were 8 of them a little while ago. The thing is, by the time they were all baked, I was so outrageously hungry I could have eaten a horse and chased the rider with a fork. I had planned to make a nice little batch of garlicky white sauce for a pizza base but my tummy didn't even want to wait for that. I just minced up some ham, slapped on a couple of slices of mozzerella and cooked those bad boys before I fainted. The one you see below is now residing in my pacified tummy. The other one is waiting for my midnight snack urge, should it happen to rear its head tonight. If I end up impersonating my feline friend above, then I can count on having a tasty breakfast. Sounds like a win-win to me.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Chili Killers

For something like 25 flippin' years, I have believed that Jack and Georgia invited me over that Sunday for Chili Killers. Jack was the chef and, oh my stars and garters, that was a wonderful brunch. I can no longer tell you exactly what was in it but Jack filled everyone's plate from a huge skillet full of chopped tomatoes and melted cheese and scrambled eggs and I don't know what all. Nor can I call up and ask, darn it. Both Jack and Georgia have gone on to dimensions that have neither phone service nor e-mail addresses.

I got to thinking about Chili Killers the other day, wistfully wishing I had written down Jack's recipe instead of foolishly believing I couldn't possibly forget the details of such fantastic food. Ah well. I have learned my mighty friend Google can alleviate much of the pain of dubious memory so I went online to sleuth my way to authentic Chili Killers. That's when I began to realize the term was either Jack's and Georgia's nickname for the dish or I had misheard the phrase. That would make the term a mondegreen on par with Gladly, the Cross-eyed Bear.

I got my first clue with a Google link to Spryte's Place, where the title of the blog entry was "Chilaquiles (aka Chili Killers)". "Ahhhhh," I said to Self. "Self, I think we need to Google another term."

And we did. And we discovered chilaquiles is pronounced chee-lah-KEE-lays and there has to be at least twenty-seven squajillion variations. That is not surprising when you consider that the concept of chilaquiles was invented to use up leftover food -- especially leftover tortillas. Inevitably, it becomes a dish that lends itself to the artful blending of pretty much all those interesting bits and pieces you don't want to waste. I must have skimmed dozens and dozens of versions and I don't believe I have yet found any two alike.

You can check out how Spryte did it if you click the link above. Lots of good photos there. I took a different tack entirely. There's no recipe to give you. It was just a matter of using all the "bits and pieces" that I thought would (a) live in harmony with each other and (b) fit in my wok-style skillet.

First I drizzled in some of that nummy olive oil. Then I sauteed about half a chopped Vidalia sweet onion and a couple of cloves of fresh garlic, minced, and about half of a big jalapeno, also minced. Inspection warned me the green Bell pepper wasn't going to hold up much longer so I stripped and chopped that, too, and added half to the mix. (The other half -- also chopped -- went into the freezer.) Then I took half a dozen stale corn tortillas and sliced them into skinny matchstick strips and tossed 'em in with the veggies. Stirred everything around until all the strips were coated with oil. Dropped in a small can of stewed tomatoes and snipped the tomatoes into small chunks with the kitchen shears. Stirred everything together and let it simmer while I whisked a couple of eggs nice and frothy. Poured the eggs over the contents of the pan and let the liquid begin to set while I rinsed off the bowl and whisk. Then I gradually worked the egg into the rest of the mixture, continuing until all the egg was cooked. Plopped a huge pile of chilaquiles into a soup bowl, sprinkled everything with a generous helping of crumbled feta cheese and sat down to enjoy.

Oh my. Yes indeedy. Some chilaquiles recipes have you fry the tortilla pieces until they're crispy but I had a different goal. My matchstick pieces absorbed the tomato juices and sort of reverse engineered themselves into what I think of as reconstituted polenta. The end result was something very like a fluffy, moist cornbread stuffing.

Got three meals out of that batch, the last one being my brunch this morning. Every bite was nummy. I may find myself keeping a supply of stale corn tortillas just to see how many different "chili killer" combos I can invent. Every time I score a new version, I can put a notch in the handle of the fry pan. You GO, Killer. Heh!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


How do those Lolcat folks know when I need an illustrative photo for the blog? And how do they always manage to come up with just the right one? This little furkid arrived in my daily Lolcat newsletter this morning and just cracked me up. Almost wiped out my tiny mad entirely.

What? Well, yeah, I'm a teensy bit miffed at myself for not posting last night. I was trying so hard not to leave gaps after my long hiatus and what do I do? I fall asleep at an unusually decent hour and miss the boat altogether. Sheesh. Adding insult to injury, after midnight came and went, I kept waking up off and on for the rest of the night.

Not that there was all that much to report yesterday. I managed to share some of the puff pastries with daughter Patti and SIL Roger Sunday, thereby saving myself from about a kajillion feral calories. Then I had the very last one for breakfast Monday morning. Since I used the last of my butter on that batch, I can't make any more until I go grocery shopping again. I'll be sure to concentrate on eating really healthy between now and then so I can indulge without guilt.

Toward that end, putting my pressure cooker back into service has made it easier to put more beans into my diet. I really do like all kinds of beans but all too often give a pass to the recipe in question because I haven't got time or inclination for the soak cycle -- not even the quick soak. And I refuse to buy canned beans, with all the sodium and mystery chemicals. Besides which, they're just that much more weight to pack up the wooden mountain and then I have to rinse and flatten the cans for the garbage and haul them back downstairs again. Pffftt!

What I do now, is, I toss a pound of beans in a bowl of water and let 'em soak for 4 hours. Then I rinse 'em off and do them in the pressure cooker for however many minutes are required for that type of bean. Once they're cooled, I spoon them into pint-sized Ziploc freezer bags and toss them in the freezer. Each bag holds 2 cups, which is just over what a can holds. Any time I need beans for a recipe, shazaam! There's a bag waiting in the freezer. What's more, the bags can be rinsed out and used again. Even though they're plastic, I'm still using them "green" so I get to feel virtuous.

Oh, yeah . . . it's a lot cheaper this way, too. So I can buy more butter to make more puff pastry. Heh. Priorities. We haz 'em.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Whirled Peas

I don't getz it either. Today I realized world peace is not possible -- if you define that concept by celebration of what we have in common and respectful tolerance for our differences. I don't "getz" how we can attain that lofty goal when you have the basic problem of potato salad. Let me 'splain . . .

It started out innocently enough. There I was, browsing through one of my favorite food blogs (see Pioneer Woman Cooks in the sidebar) and checked out Ree's version of potato salad. She always presents her recipes with scads of great photos and this one is no exception. What was unusual, though, was the tenor of the avalanche of comments in response to the recipe.

Now, you know and I know there are a kajillion different potato salad recipes out there. Everybody has their own way of doing it but, while some folks are involved in the adventure of different salad styles, others are totally committed to specifics. (The difference between involved and committed is best illustrated by an egg and ham breakfast. The hen is involved but the pig is committed.)

The point of contention began with the fact that Ree fixed a salad with potatoes that had been pushed through a food mill -- or a ricer, I forget which. Okay, mashed potatoes. Well! You'd have thunk she was advocating the advent of the antiChrist. "That's not potato salad," came the protests. "That's -- blech! -- cold mashed potatoes with stuff added."

There was a great rattling of sabers and the rumble of tanks and the thunder of artillery. It was like a religious war, with everyone declaring they had the handle on the One True Religion. Over here was the Vaunted Church of the Redeemed Peeled Potato and over there was Our Lady of the Unpeeled Red Potato. Every now and then someone with a beard and sandals strolled by wearing a sandwich board that proclaimed the need to add bacon or the End of the World would ensue.

It got more complicated as the comments rolled on. There were specialized splinter groups peeled off (you should excuse the expression) from the main churches. Some preached Mayo and called Miracle Whip a tool of the devil. The Miracle Whip folks, of course, were convinced the Mayo folks were false prophets. The Sour Cream contingent has a smaller church but their hymns have a catchy beat.

From there, we had arguments over whether or not to add pickles and how coarse or fine they should be chopped and which was best, sweet or dill. Same-same for hard boiled eggs. And for what kind and how much onion. Celery in or celery out. Likewise olives. And paprika. And mustard. Strangely, nobody responded to a minor blasphemy proclaiming the virtue of adding apples to the mix.

I hasten to point out that I am exaggerating just a bit for effect. The commentors on Ree's blog are unfailingly considerate and there was certainly no flame war going on. It's just that this particular instance displayed an unusual degree of adamant opinion about what is "right" and what is "just wrong." It got quite exciting.

Me? I don't belong to any of those churches, although I'm willing to visit. Mostly, I'm just a simple food pagan, perfectly willing to stick a fork in whatever isn't moving. If it flinches, I pass it by. My recipe for whirled peas.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Puffy Fireworks

Do I know how to celebrate the Fourth of July or what? See that plate of raspberry puff pastry turnovers? That's what I did today. And then I ate two of 'em, and all the crust scraps that I'd sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. And then I took the pictures before I went completely nuts and ate all the evidence. Because it IS puff pastry.

Yeah. Puff pastry. Light and buttery and built of nothing but tender flakes and air and unicorn magic. Okay, I know it's terribly rich and not one of the ten healthiest things you can eat but you have to let it all hang out once in awhile. Especially when it comes to pastry. Listen, puff pastry is to ordinary pastry what champagne is to Annie Greensprings wine. Trust me on this. And this is especially true when you stumble across a really easy recipe.

I already had an easy puff pastry recipe but thanks to our friends at King Arthur Flour, I now have a super-easy version. You can go here for the recipe (you can choose to read the measurements by volume or weight) for Raspberry Puff Turnovers but be sure to click on their link at the beginning of the article and go to the blog called Baker's Banter. On that page you'll find a really terrific photo tutorial that takes you step-by-step through the whole process -- with options for mixing the dough with a food processor or by hand. I noticed the hand version made use of the Danish dough whisk. She didn't mention it by name but one of the photos shows part of the business end and I know KAF sells 'em. Besides, I had already pulled out my own rug beater to do the job.

I really don't know how a recipe that simple can turn out to be so abundant in flakes. Just look at those tender layers! They just go on forever.

Yes, I know . . . there is a certain amount of filling ooze going on. My fault entirely. You're only supposed to put about a teaspoon of filling on each pastry square and I kept getting just that silly little bit more. Heck, I had stuff oozing out of the durned thangs before I even got them on the cookie sheet. It doesn't turn out to be a big problem. You don't lose much and the dribbles thicken up rapidly when you put the turnovers on the rack to cool.

Not having any of the large-crystal sugar that they used at KAF, I didn't bother putting any on the turnovers before shoving them in the oven -- although I did brush on the egg wash. Then I sprinkled a cinnamon-sugar mixture on them after they cooled. I guess you can see a little of that in the above photo. Which is not as sharp as it should be but sometimes I don't seem to hold the camera as steady as other times. But that's okay. You get the idea.

Speaking of ideas -- I was thinking how terrific these turnovers would be in a savory version. Can you imagine a filling of some kind of salmon or shrimp spread? With maybe some tasty cheese included? And some coarse crystal kosher salt on top? Oh dear. Somebody talk me down. I simply cannot allow myself another dose of puff pastry too soon. One needs to space royal treats out in a more stately fashion, pace the bliss, so to speak. I'm pretty sure that's in the fine print somewhere.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Great Sushi Throwdown

There we go, Coffee Mates. This was the scene on my dining table this afternoon -- which didn't do a lot for the lighting, I'm sorry to say. Too bright in some spots and too dark in others. (sigh) Just so you know, starting from the upper right, we have sliced avocado (dipped in lemon water so it wouldn't turn brown), strips of cucumber, strips of ham and, huddled in the shadows, a pile of coarsely chopped pineapple. Laying in front of that neat array is the first sheet of nori, rough side up, shiny side down.

Out of camera range is the bowl of sushi rice, waiting to make its stage entrance. I should have taken a picture of it because it turned out perfectly. The dressing was also excellent -- a mixture of vinegar, lime juice, sugar and salt, sprinkled over the rice and carefully folded in until each plump little grain was coated.

I said to Self, "Self, this bodes well. You can't hardly go wrong when the rice is right."

Self said, "Yay-uh," and smiled.

When I had finished slicing all the fillings and laying them out in my very best cooking show style (eat your heart out, Emeril), I said to Self, "Self, it just keeps getting better. You can't hardly go wrong when all your stuff slices up so neatly."

Self said, "Yay-uh," and licked her lips.

Then I flexed my fingers and dipped my hand in the bowl of lemon water so the rice wouldn't stick to me. Scooped up what looked to be a reasonable blob and carefully laid it on the nori, evening up the sides and using the side of my hand to make a little ditch down the middle. Put some ham strips in the center of the ditch, carefully placed an avocado slice on the right side, some pineapple chunks on the left side and a cucumber stick down the middle. Dried my hand on the towl and pulled the lower corner of the nori over its filling. Kept rolling -- gently but firmly until the whole thing was wrapped up like an ice cream cone.

Sort of. Some grains of rice and one chunk of pineapple fell out of the open end and the end that was supposed to be pointy . . . wasn't. It just sort of hung there, taunting me.

I said to Self, "Well, that was just a practice one. I'm getting the feel for it now. The next one will be better.

Self said, "Uhhhhmmmm," and raised one eyebrow.

Laid out another nori sheet and went through the same routine again, this time paying extra special attention to the angle of the roll. Some more rice and another chunk of pineapple fell out. The pointy end . . . wasn't.

After the third try with the same unfortunate result, this is what I had lined up on the platter I'd been planning to fill with neatly shaped sushi cones (see below).

I said to Self, "Self, why are we doing this?

Self said, "It seemed like a good idea at the time?" She was shaking her head and staring at the pathetic cones as though she were viewing corpses that had been prepared by a drunken undertaker.

I looked at all the rice still in the bowl. Then I looked at all the carefully sliced filling that was still artfully arrayed in front of me. There was a blessed moment of epiphany. I said to Self, "Self, there is more than one way to mix and mingle!"

Self said, "Say what?"

But I wasn't listening. I was furiously chopping up all those lovely slices and tossing them into the bowl with the rice. And tossing all those chunks and grains of rice together in a gorgeous bowlful of nummy-nummies.

I said to Self, "Self, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned Sushi Salad."

Self said, "Shazaam!" (Emeril is always saying "Bam!" but Self is into the magic stuff.)

That's how it all ended. The three pitiful sushi cones are covered with plastic wrap and waiting in the refrigerator to satisfy my midnight snack compulsion. I've enjoyed -- thoroughly -- a bowl of the sushi salad and put the rest of it in the fridge for tomorrow. Just to validate the whole thing, I went online and did some Google action. Guess what? Sushi in a bowl -- what I call sushi salad -- is enjoyed by millions. Okay, maybe thousands. Hundreds?

Whatever. The point is, there must be a lot of other people out there who like to cut to the chase, too. They even crumble some of the nori into the salad so they don't miss out on that. Besides which, the salad form allows room for a lot more magical ingredients to be added. You can't go wrong when you can add ingredients to your tummy's content.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Digging Treasure

The above picture has absolutely nothing to do with anything. It's just that I took one look at the expression of resigned desperation on Mama Tigger's face and thought to myself, "Oh yeah. I remember that." Actually, the feeling is not gender-specific. I know lots of Daddies who would stand up and testify, too.

Went on an archeological dig to organize my freezer to day. I know I'm not quite finished because I just realized I haven't dug up my stash of lemon drop chili peppers yet. That's practically the culinary equivalent of finding golden artifacts in a pharaoh's tomb. Ah well. I'll do some more excavating tomorrow. Today I got sidetracked with using some of the recovered items in a chicken and rice one-pot meal in my trusty pressure cooker.

I do loves me my pressure cooker, especially when the weather gets warm because you don't have to have the burner on very long to do the job. One cup of Arborio rice in the mixture and it still only took 6 minutes under pressure. The rice was perfect and so was everything else.

This is quite an attitude adjustment from my feelings of unease about the earlier, older models of pressure cooker. Unease? Pffft! I skipped unease and jumped straight to stark terror. When that little jigger started jiggling on top of the vent I KNEW the damned thing was going to blow up. I figured the food would be on the ceiling and thick slabs of hot metal would impale me to the far wall. Mom used to laugh at the way I'd cautiously stick my head around the corner to check the jiggle motion. I didn't care. I was way too young for impalation. And I still am.

That all changed a few years ago when I treated myself to what folks call the "new generation" of pressure cookers. Got a dandy Fagor and it doesn't jiggle even a little bit. (Fagor is made in Spain but I don't know if the factory is mainly on the plain, with or without the rain. Sorry. A little humor under pressure there. Heh.)

Okay. You're right. I'll go to my room now. I'm sure I'll be better behaved tomorrow. Right after I find my chili pepper stash.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Old Favorite -- New Style

Youngest daughter Patti is always surprising me with fun stuff. She sent down a goody package with Albert (my grandson-the-chef) that contained, among other things, a package of nori half sheets. That turned out to be both a blast from the past and an introduction to a twist that's entirely new to me.

Y'all probably know this but just in case you don't, nori is toasted seaweed in sheet form. That's the stuff you see wrapped around sushi rolls. I was first introduced to it by my late sis-in-law Betty, who was a fabulous cook. I would watch, fascinated, as she expertly made sushi rolls on the bamboo sushi mat, layering rice and colorful veggies into little round works of art.

While she was doing that, I would be nibbling away on a nori sheet, which I found to be as hard to resist as potato chips. Betty would finally have to slap my hands so I didn't short her supply of sheets. Good memories.

For some reason I never got around to making sushi myself. Always promised myself I'd get a bamboo sushi mat and then I'd forget. But now -- hooboy! When I flipped the package of nori over and read the back, I discovered there has been a new way of doing sushi that doesn't require a mat. Am I the only person in the world who has never heard of hand roll sushi? Also known as cone sushi because it's rolled up like an ice cream cone.

Well! It just so happens I have a sack of sushi rice in the pantry. I just need to trot up to the market for some assorted veggies to go in the cones -- like cucumbers and avocados and whatever else strikes my fancy. Can't do that until Friday, though, so I can't show you any photos of the adventure until then.

In the meantime, I am slapping my own hands every time they try to sneak over to the nori package and open it. If I start nibbling now, there won't be any seaweed left by Friday. I'll just have to be brave. Maybe I'll distract myself with chocolate. Note to self: lots of chocolate.