Friday, October 30, 2009

My New Favorite Cookbook


Oh verily I say unto you (quietly so I don't corrupt the children) various vile and vexatious vociferations. That's uptown wiffling for downtown cussing. Yea though I walk through the valley of wild cyber children (who refuse to play well together no matter how I beggeth them), I shall fear not for my sanity for my sanity did deserteth me the day I signed on to the World Wide Web.

What brought on this tantrum, you ask? You will have noticed, of course, the decor has changed again. I really liked the looks of the last design but it simply would not do some of the things I wanted it to do and so I had to show it the door. Don't get too used to this look, either. It's strictly a temporary marriage of convenience, just until I find my own true love, the one who will agree to play nicely and not stimulate my potty mouth. (sigh)

But never mind all that silliness. What I really wanted to tell you about was a fabulous book that fell into my hot little hands today. It's a cookbook. But it's more than a cookbook. Way more. Right off the top, though, it's got to be one of the prettiest cookbooks I've ever owned. Front cover to back and every single page between is a loving work of art and almost every page showcases gorgeous photos taken by the author.

I'll have to apologize for the quality of my photos. I'm afraid I dillydallied too long and the lighting was lousy. It's no biggie but I'd rather do the lady the justice she deserves. Anyhoo, you may be familiar with Ree Drummond from her amazing web site, Pioneer Woman Cooks. (See link in sidebar.) For the food porn alone I would enjoy this woman but she's a whole lot more than just a pretty cook. In fact, I just took the trouble to look up the spelling for renaissance because that's what she is; a renaissance woman. Well, gee. She home schools her kids, feeds a bunch of hard-working cowboys and regularly updates a website with so many features it's practically a full-time job all by itself. She's a genuinely good photographer (and gives tips on her web site), a gifted writer and is smarter than the average bear. Besides which, she has a terrific sense of humor and absolutely refuses to take herself seriously. I like her so much, I don't have the heart to slap the gravy out of her.

I don't know how many recipes there are (except there are lots) but there are 248 pages in the book. Above is a sample of her photo tutorial style of presenting a recipe. Fans of her web site will recognize some of the offerings but there are plenty of new ones, just for the book. I would rate this as the best cookbook in a coon's age if the recipes were all there was to it. But, as I said, it's much more.

 Interspersed between all the glorious food pages are photos of people and cattle and horses and dogs -- oh, wait until you meet Charlie! He's just the handsomest Basset hound you ever did see. There are funny stories and poignant vignettes. It's not exactly like reading a novel. It's more like a rollicking visit with a best friend. You can't help but feel good for having the visit. And wait until you see how good you feel when you follow some of her recipes. Listen, this woman is armed with butter and she's not afraid to use it!

I put a link at the top of the sidebar if you'd like to whip over to Amazon and read more about the book. Or scroll down to the link for her web site and browse around at her place. Get a feel for what she does. If you like what you see there, I can pretty much guarantee you'll like the book as well. Heck, even if you don't cook, you'll like the book. But I'm warning you -- it'll make you hungry.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pull & Pray

"Okay, if I pull this handle, I go right. If I pull that handle I go left. No wait . . . I'm below the equator so it works the other way around. If I pull this handle, I go left, the other one goes right. Right? RIGHT?"

There are some who think the chubby koala shown above is actually asleep at the switch, so to speak. Not so. The poor thing is so confused about which switch to pull, he's earnestly asking for divine guidance. Instead of Plug & Play, it's Pull & Pray.
Some days are like that, aren't they? You go along thinking you at least have the basics of life well in hand and then some little thing sets you back on your heels and you don't know if you should turn clockwise or widdershins. It can be something as simple as a word not looking right. You've been spelling that word the same way for practically all your life but suddenly it just looks alien. So alien, in fact, you're compelled to look it up in the dictionary. Even then, instead of feeling vindicated, you've been so unsettled, you're not sure you can trust Merriam-Webster anymore.
When one finds oneself in that slightly askew moment, I believe the only sensible thing to do is to pretend you've accidentally slipped into a Terry Pratchett Discworld novel. You will immediately realize askew is actually normal and you can relax. I know this is true because I just looked at the word askew. Now, I ask you, does that look right to you? No it does not. Shouldn't it be something like ascue or asskew or . . . no, I can see those are not correct either. See what I mean? 
So, okay. It's obviously Discworld time. Aha! Now that word looks correct and I can't imagine why I thought otherwise.  Do not doubt me. You'll find that sort of thing just makes more sense once you realize your world is serenely gliding through space supported on the backs of four giant elephants who are, in turn, standing on the back of a mighty turtle, the Great A'Tuin.  
For those of you who have never read a Discworld novel, the above references must sound a bit like inside jokes, which can be very rude. I certainly didn't mean to be rude. What I hope is that your curiosity is aroused enough that you'll check out one of the series -- there are something like 32 books so far and you don't have to read them in order. Just jump in anywhere. Terry Pratchett is simply one of the most brilliant writers on the planet right now. Seriously.  

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Banana Bigot

Look, I admit it . . . I am a banana bigot. A blatant banana bigot. My upper lip curls spontaneously when I pass the banana display at the market. It isn't that I hate bananas. It's that the ubiquitous Cavendish that is about the only choice offered to most of us here in the good old U.S. is, in my not-so-humble opinion, a really blah, boring banana. Depending on your source of information, there are somewhere between 500 and 1200 varieties of bananas. You would think, out of all that, the powers-that-be could have found a tastier version that still shipped well. Wouldn't you?

I have tasted bananas that were absolutely wonderful. Little fellers with big flavor. Don't know what the variety is called but it's common in Thailand. I'm glad I got to experience them but, gee, it sure makes it harder to put up with those damned Cavendish critters. I don't mind them so terribly much when they're practically green and I slice them into a nice Caribbean stir fry, along with sweet potato and pineapple and good stuff like that. And I can tolerate them if they've been tossed with lemon juice before being added to a fruit salad. I can even deal with them in quick breads -- but I'd really rather have bread made with apples. But I've been reading about this magical one-ingredient "ice cream" that you whup up in your blender or food processor and -- brace yourself -- that ingredient is frozen banana.

Okay, we know it isn't really ice cream. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But it's creamy and cold and should hit the spot on a hot day or as topping on dessert, should it not? That's what I figured, anyway. Of course I also figured I simply wasn't gonna like it if it was just banana. Which led me to freezing up both sliced bananas and sliced peaches. I just did the flash freeze thing and then dropped the results into pint freezer bags.


I plopped roughly equal parts banana and peach into the mini-bowl of the Silver Streak. Hmmm . . . and I see I should have tossed those banana slices with lemon juice or Fruit Fresh or something to keep them from getting dark. But I didn't. (Insert sigh.) Well, next time.


I'm glad I did a lot of reading about this before I actually tried it myself. That's how I knew not to worry when this turned out to be one of those things that doesn't get done lickety-split with the food processor. At first you have to keep scraping down the sides of the bowl and then, finally, some of the chunky frozen bits begin to cream up. Gradually, oh so gradually, more and more of the frozen bits are engulfed by the creamy part until, shazaam! You pretty much have it all smooshed up. And, you know what? I think it would have gone a lot faster it I'd begun with just a little of either fruit, then added one or two chunks at a time as the processing went on. Live and learn, I reckon.


I'll say this for the concoction . . . it does clean up purty. The consistency is pretty much like soft serve ice cream and doesn't taste bad. Still too much banana flavor for my pleasure but if you are one of those who love bananas, you'll definitely love this. And I suspect, if you like the idea of mixing different frozen fruits with the frozen banana slices, you will have a ball experimenting. Me? I'm going to make some more frozen yogurt and I won't allow a banana slice anywhere near it. Because I'm a bigot.


Just wanted to update y'all on those snazzy little pecan pie muffins we did the other day. (I say "we" because I'm sure you rushed right into the kitchen and whupped up your own batch.) I added an edit to the recipe that you may have missed. Be sure to grease the muffin cups, okay? Also, I've discovered they freeze very well indeed and heat up nicely in the microwave.


The most perplexing thing has happened and I'm still shaking my head over it. For whatever reason, my otherwise splendid ISP decided to separate my e-mail into two different locations and, as near as I can figure out, they neglected to explain what they were doing. So there I was, tending to my e-mail as usual, but feeling more and more uneasy and puzzled because I wasn't getting some of the newsletters and notify mails I was used to seeing. My mail settings seemed to be okay and there didn't seem to be any horrid bugs or  slugs embedded in the hard drive innards. But I knew there was something seriously wrong yesterday when an important verification message failed to appear. That sent me to seriously checking out possibilities which, finally, included clicking on the start page mail icon I'd ignored up until then.

OMG!!! I found myself gasping at the sight of 590 messages that had been collecting since September 8th. Which is why I didn't do the banana post yesterday, Coffee Mates. I ended up working through all those messages well into the wee hours, finally saving a couple of responses until this morning because I was, for all practical purposes, comatose. (Some say that is a normal condition for me but I call it "laid back.") In any case, I just wanted you to know that is why I didn't respond from time to time when I could legitimately be expected to do so. I think I've caught up with everyone but if I've missed you, for heaven's sake, holler at me.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How to Do Clark Gable

I don't know what it is. I think you have to have been born somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line to eat pecan pie with impunity. I do love it, you understand. Really. It's just that it's so utterly, irredeemably, impossibly rich. I can't think of another thing, right off the top of my pointy head, that contains such intense, concentrated sweetness. And I don't handle that degree of sweetness well.

My tummy is such a wuss. This is the same tummy that thrives on any chili pepper that makes it past my taste buds and begs for more. But offer it something really, really sweet and it throws up its little hands and whimpers, "Don't hurt me." It's just pitiful. That's why, much to my dismay, I have to limit myself to a small portion of pecan pie once in a very great while.

Until today. Today I may have stumbled on the perfect solution, allowing me to have my pecan pie and eat it , too, just as if I owned real estate on Bourbon Street and had a season pass to Dollywood. There I was, browsing around the Tasty Kitchen section at the Pioneer Woman site and I found this deceptively simple recipe for Pecan Pie muffins. Muffins! Who'd a thunk it?

I urge you to click over there and look around but, for future reference, here's a quick take on the recipe. First, you set your oven at 350 degrees fairy height. Then you whisk together 1 cup of chopped pecans, 1 cup packed brown sugar and 1/2 cup of all purpose flour. Melt 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter. Lightly beat two eggs and add them to the butter. Stir the liquid mixture into the dry mixture. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring. Fill six muffin cups and bake 20 to 25 minutes. (I did the full 25.) Remove from pan immediately.

EDIT: I forgot to say (because this particular recipe source didn't mention it) but be sure to grease your muffin cups! Your mileage may vary but, personally, if I suspect a potential for serious "sticky," I use solid shortening instead of nonstick spray. If you wait too long to decant the muffins, just pop them back in the oven for a couple of minutes and they should drop out easily. As for using paper liners, I'd suggest not. From what I've read, most folks feel too much of that nice, crunchy crust gets lost when you peel the liners away.

Well, folks, I had a batch of those bad boys whupped up almost before you could shout, "Memphis, Mobile and Baton Rouge!" That's assuming, of course, that you'd even want to wander around your kitchen shouting the names of southern towns like you were practicing to be a train conductor.  It's just that they have such a great magnolia-scented sound to them, don't they?

As you can see, the recipe makes a tidy half-dozen muffins, which is just fine for me. Just the perfect size for one to give me a great pecan pie hit without making my tummy snivel and whine. In fact, my tummy insisted I give it a second muffin before it very politely said, "Thank you, that will be sufficient."

Just look at that tender, moist interior, will you? (If you left-click on the photo, you'll get a larger version to view.) I promise you, there is absolutely nothing you need to put on these muffins to enhance them. Nothing. The crispy-crunchie outside and the soft, caramel-like inside are perfect just as they are. Perfect, I tell you. And if anyone around you complains that you're getting the lion's share of the muffins, you'll feel southern enough by then to do a Clark Gable and say, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Coffee-sippin' Weather

With all the messin' about yesterday, trying on the new outfit and all, I plumb forgot to take pictures of the maple leaves that had started the whole thang. By the time I remembered, it was as dark outside as day-old camp coffee. It's been mostly overcast today but the light was just fine for catching the color from the dining room window.

Some of the leaves have just begun to lose their green -- see the one on the far left -- but most, I think, are in the buttery-to-pumpkin stage.

Every now and then you can spot a leaf that's trying its darndest to develop a bit of dusty rose. Just a bit. Maybe I'm stretching for that but, gee, dusty rose is such a nice color.

Some of them didn't even get a chance to finish turning before the wind shredded them up the other day. At least I think it was the wind that took the leaf surface down to a cellophane-like remnant. Maybe it was just a bug attack. Some bugs don't clean up their plates.

Most of the tree is still green but, oh my, that's really quite a lot of turning in just a week's time. Well, compared to most of the other trees in view from my window. It really hasn't been all that cold yet so green is still the predominant color hereabouts.  Not that I'm complaining. Nossir, nope, no way. It's not even officially winter yet so I'm certainly not trying to hurry things along.

Relax, little maple tree. Have another cuppa. Flaunt your finery some more. Trust me when I tell you -- naked is not your best presentation. Which is all too true for some others of us, as well. (Insert long, resigned sigh.) So here's to a languid, lazy fall and plenty of brightly colored clothes. Coffee-sippin' weather. Yeah, I know. For me, it's all coffee-sippin' weather. And your point was?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Changing Outfits

Uhmmm . . . does this outfit make my butt look fat?

Okay, tell me the truth. When you clicked in here today, did you -- for just one crazy moment -- feel like you'd stepped into a stranger's house? Sorry about that. If it's okay with you, we'll just blame Mom Nature for the confusion. See, I was looking out the window and thinking, with a certain amount of awe, about how quickly the maple tree is changing color. Last week almost every single leaf was green. Then, on the thirteenth, appropriately enough, we got our first storm of the season and, ever since, the leaves have been turning gold so fast I have to wonder if the tree has been sneaking into a tanning salon when I'm not watching. Anyway, I figure if the maple tree can change outfits, so can I.

Note to Self: Next time you decide to change the look of the blog page, let me slap you 12 or 17 times.

It's been quite an experience and, unfortunately, I ain't seen nuthin' yet. There are still some aspects of the appearance of this template that I need to tweak -- just as soon as I figure out how. Or maybe I won't even bother. (Cue hysterical laughter.) Maybe I'll just enjoy all the pretty colors that attracted me in the first place and then, when I get tired of that, I'll go hunt down a different template to make me nuts. 

Just so it doesn't make my butt look fat. 


Friday, October 16, 2009


Are you smelling the incredibobble fragrance of that gorgeous bread? Is your mouth watering copiously? Are your taste buds quivering with excited anticipation? Yeah. Me, too. I can't take credit for this lusty loaf of leavened heaven. Should you happen to wander over to the "Tasty Kitchen" section of Ree Drummond's "Pioneer Woman Cooks" website (see Ree's link in sidebar) and should you happen to cruise through the section on breads, you would soon come to this outrageously good recipe for Fast Bread. That is not the same thing as "quick bread," you understand. We're talking about a fast and easy yeast bread that comes out totally tender-tasty and loaded with the prized Wowie! factor.

While I was waiting for the bread to rise and bake (not very long), I whupped up my own version of a basic cheese spread. I say "basic" because you can go just about anywhere you want from the bare bones, adding or subtracting seasonings of choice, perhaps adding different cheeses like Parmesan and/or crumbled feta and/or bleu cheese and maybe even a generous helping of tiny canned salad shrimp or whatever lights your candle. But the first thing you want to start with is the roasted garlic.

Now, Lord knows, you don't want to fire up the big oven for one little head of garlic. Or even one big head of garlic. This is the kind of thing your microwave does very well. This is sorta-kinda the way Barbara Kafka suggests doing it in her excellent Microwave Gourmet cookbook. Whack the tips off of a head of garlic, exposing the cloves. Set it on its little bottom in a 4-cup measuring cup and drizzle with about a tablespoon of olive oil. (She suggests 2 tablespoons if you're roasting 4 heads.) Then you add about 2 ounces of chicken broth (I mixed a bit of chicken bouillon with hot water), cover with plastic wrap and nuke for 5 minutes. Let stand for about 10 minutes still covered, then cool and pop the tender, nutty-sweet cloves out of their skins. You will not believe how great your kitchen will smell while this is going on but you will probably find yourself suddenly doing a lot of deep inhaling.

Okay, that's the first part. Now comes the fun stuff -- and I apologize for forgetting to take a picture of this bit but I was undergoing creative chaos and the thought of clicking a shutter couldn't squeeze its way though the crowd.

Drop those cloves into your blender or the mini-bowl of the food processor and add about a cup of finely grated cheddar cheese, a scant tablespoon of softened butter, a bulging tablespoon of stone ground mustard (mine is blended with stout) and maybe a couple tablespoons of white wine. I have some lovely Gewurztraminer that was perfect for the job. At the last minute I tossed in about 2 tablespoons of canned, sliced jalapenos (you can use pickled or plain) and processed it until I had a creamy spread and the peppers were minced up tiny.

You'll end up with about cup of spreadable goodness that you can smear on bread or crackers. Or you can plop a glob onto the top of a hot baked potato or steamed veggies. It'll taste better the next day, after the flavors have melded a bit in the refrigerator but you don't need to wait that long for the first taste. As you can see from the above photo, I didn't. And while I was savoring that, I slathered some more on the other two slices of bread and slid them under the broiler.

This is how they looked in the time between the depths of the oven and the depths of my mouth. I wish you could smell the aroma arising therefrom. Heaven.

Okay. This needs a closeup. Just feast your eyes on those teensy bits of garlic and jalapeno and whatever those flecks from the mustard might be. Yes, I know. It's a thing of grace and beauty, is it not? Ohboyohboyohwowie! I'm just sayin'. . .

Monday, October 5, 2009

Heaven On Toast

I'm baaaaaaaack -- ready or not! Although I've been absent from this particular cyber real estate for a bit, I have certainly not been idle. There was a good visit with out-of-state families and, between then and now, lots of experimentation with the Silver Streak.

That would be the new KitchenAid food processor, of course. The KitchenAid stand mixer is otherwise known as the Blue Beast. Together they make a fantastic kitchen team, I kid you not. Happily, I can report the Silver Streak has handled everything I've thrown at it and handled it well. Even when I screw up, the Streak doesn't. Can't ask for more than that, can you?

Today isn't about kitchen tools, however. Today is about an absolutely fantastic way to enjoy the season's bounty of freshly ripe tomatoes. REAL tomatoes, thank you very much, not the cardboard imitations picked too early for flavor. Last week Patti and Roger gifted me with some from their garden. They couldn't remember what kind these were but they are a very meaty tomato and intensely flavorful.

And I know a way to make even more flavor pop out.

Tip: I can't scientifically vouch for this but, while Google-cruising for 'mater recipes, I found several references that swear tomatoes keep longer if you store them with the stem end down. Well, it can't hurt.

Have you ever roasted fresh tomatoes? I hadn't. Not until today, anyway. I'm here to tell you, there is absolutely nothing like the flavor of roasted 'maters. Nothing. The beauty of it is, this is a really easy way to fix them. Plus, once they've been roasted, there are a kajillion ways you can go with them for future use. That's assuming you haven't lost your head and gobbled them up right from the oven. All too easy to do, I assure you. If you feel shaky about your self control, get lots of 'maters for roasting. (By the way, I'm told smaller batches can be roasted in toaster ovens. I imagine the same would hold true of countertop roaster ovens.)

I only had three left from the ones the kids gave me so I used the enamel-clad cast iron baking dish for the job. You can use larger pans or cookie sheets if you have more 'maters. I sprayed the bottom of the dish with a light coating of olive oil, then laid out the sliced tomatoes. The small one was simply cut in half, the larger ones were sliced into four sections. Then I drizzled a bit of olive oil over all the slices, lightly salted them with coarse kosher salt and ground a combo-pepper mixture over them. I could have sprinkled them with minced garlic but decided to do that next time. You can sprinkle any sort of herb or seasoning over them that suits your fancy, by the way. This simple treatment was all I wanted to do for the maiden voyage.

I slid the pan into a 275 degree fairy height oven. That was a compromise temp, as I've seen suggestions for anything from 200 degrees to 450 degrees. I can't vouch for the accuracy of my particular oven but the temp I chose seemed to work just fine. The photo above shows what the tomatoes looked like after one hour. They're starting to shrink and the glorious process of caramelization is just beginning. Oh frabjous joy, if I may slightly paraphrase the Jabberwocky.

After two hours, the above looked to me to be exactly right. I didn't want them dried out but I did want them imbued with that rich smokey flavor you get from the caramelized bits. I popped one of the smaller pieces in my eager mouth just as soon as it was barely cooled enough to avoid pain. Oh my stars and garters! The extra depth of flavor will just knock you out, I'm not kidding.

Now, there are any number of things one can do with the 'maters at this point. For one thing, you can flash freeze them so they'll be available all winter and you can sneer at the cardboard tomatoes.

Tip: I always thought "flash freezing" meant food was frozen really fast. As the term is used in this sense, however, it means you lay out the food on a cookie sheet or platter, each piece separate from the next, and put them in the freezer for a couple or three hours. Now you take the frozen bits and throw them in freezer bags or containers and put back in the freezer. That way, you can always remove just the amount you need without having to thaw the whole package.

The roasted tomatoes can be used "as is" in pretty much anything to which you'd add regular tomatoes -- except now you have the flavor bonus. Soups, stews, breads, pureed with broth or juice for various tomato sauces (marinara, spaghetti, pizza, etc.) -- whatever lights your candle. What I did this time was one of those experiments that actually worked out like I knew what I was doing. Believe me, nobody could have been more surprised than me.

What I did, was, I scooped up the roasted tomatoes and plopped them in the mini-bowl for the Silver Streak. (Small food choppers or blenders will work just fine, too.) Then I poured a bit of decent Australian Shiraz into the baking dish to deglaze the pan -- which I set on medium heat on top of the stove. Using a silicone spatula, I carefully loosened all those caramelized bits and kept stirring them into the wine as it cooked down to about half. I think I ended up with about a quarter cup of liquid. (You can use fruit juice or chicken broth or even plain water to deglaze if you want.)

Then I poured the slightly thickened liquid into the bowl with the tomatoes and processed everything until I had a thick puree. Maybe 30 seconds? Now comes the reward part -- I toasted a slice of oatmeal bread (because that's what I had but any kind of bread will work) and spread it with some of the yogurt cheese I had made up. (Also known as Greek yogurt. Or you can use cream cheese.) On top of the cheese, I spread a layer of the roasted 'mater "jam."

This is what it looked like, just before I took the first dainty bite. And then the second, larger bite. And then the rapid wolf-down, complete with snarling and yipping. I didn't take any pictures of that latter. It wouldn't have been seemly.

So now you can raid your garden -- or hit the local Farmer's Market or roadside stand or just beg and snivel to a gardening neighbor -- and roast up your own Heaven On Toast. I'm just saying . . .