Monday, May 31, 2010

Potato Salad

I wonder how many bowls of potato salad were made over the Memorial Day weekend. Doesn't everyone love potato salad? Don't you think it is one of the defining dishes of summer? And there must be an infinite number of recipes for it. I have eaten many delicious potato salads, but this is the one I love best and the way I always make it.

The recipe is from my vintage Betty Crocker's Cookbook. I know people make fun of Betty Crocker, but Betty Crocker helped me learn to cook. The book is full of simple and straightforward recipes, using common ingredients. I am much more adventurous as a cook now, but there are a handful of recipes I always go back to this book for, and potato salad is one of them.

The secret to this recipe is the marinating of the potatoes in Italian salad dressing for at least 2 hours. I use russet potatoes which act as little sponges for the dressing and become incredibly flavorful. I have learned, from the oodles of times I have made this, to be careful when boiling whole, unpeeled russet potatoes--if they are boiled too vigorously, they will split open and become water logged. Simmer them slowly and patiently, it will be worth the wait.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Light & Crisp Baked Egg Rolls

I bought a small pork loin on sale, roasted it, and had some leftover. As I contemplated what to do with it next, I knew I wanted to include a lot of vegetables. I can only take so much meat. I suddenly thought of egg rolls. I used to make egg rolls rountinely but haven't in years. So, egg rolls it was.
If you don't have any leftover pork roast, you can fry a couple of pork chops to chop up, or you can use shredded chicken, or shrimp, or forget any kind of meat at all and use some mushrooms. Or not.

Because they are baked and not fried these egg rolls are light and crisp, almost like biting into phyllo. Also they are surprisingly tasty the next morning, cold. Not anything like leftover, soggy, and heavy fried food.

Egg Rolls
1 1/2 cups shredded roasted pork
1/2 head Napa cabbage, thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, grated
4 or more scallions, sliced
2 - 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. grated ginger
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, or to taste
Soy sauce, to taste
Eggroll wrappers
1 egg, beaten
Gomasio or sesame seeds, optional

Combine pork, cabbage, carrots, scallions, garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes in a mixing bowl. Sprinkle with soy sauce to taste.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Generously oil a baking sheet.

With an eggroll wrapper on a cutting board, one corner toward you, place a mound of the stuffing onto it and roll up.

Brush on some of the egg to seal the edge.

Place on oiled baking sheet, brush with the beaten egg, and sprinkle with Gomasio, or sesame seeds.

Bake for 15 - 20 minutes.

Serve with your favorite dipping sauce.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Life of a Meat Loaf

There's no telling where some of my menu planning ideas and inspirations will come from. Some are based on great sales at the grocery store. Some are based on yearnings and memories from the past. Some are based on items I have on hand and reworking leftovers. Some are inspired by another blog, a magazine, or a cookbook. Whatever combination of forces were at work, I decided to make a meatloaf.

I am going to give a recipe, which is really a guideline or map. Making a meatloaf is not like baking a cake. The ingredients are very flexible and it should be fearless. The recipe calls for fresh bread crumbs but I had a couple of leftover croissants and diced them up instead. The recipe does not call for bell pepper, but I had half a red one on hand, so I chopped it up and added it to the mix. The recipe asks for milk, but I had some heavy cream leftover from a dessert, so I used it. I had a couple slices of leftover cooked bacon, so crumbled it over the top before adding the topping. Oh, and I had a few tablespoons of chili sauce and added that for kicks. I think you get the idea.

House Meatloaf
1 1/2 lbs. ground sirloin
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup milk
3/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 medium onion, finely diced
1/2 cup ketchup
2 Tbsp. mustard
2 tsp. worchestershire sauce
1/4 cup fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup ketchup
1 Tbsp. mustard
2 Tbsp. brown sugar

Combine all ingredients except ground sirloin and mix well. Crumble and mix in the ground sirloin but do not overwork. Place the mixture into a greased loaf pan, smooth the top, and spread with topping mixture. Bake at 400 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes.

The next day we had meatloaf sandwiches. Buttered whole wheat bread, a generous slice of cold meatloaf, sliced Vidalia onions, crisp lettuce. Yum.

On the third day, I still had some meatloaf--we are only two people after all. That's when I came up with the kooky idea to make a meatloaf pizza! I had a leftover baked potato in the fridge and decided to slice it on the pizza as well. It came out very tasty if I do say so myself.

Back in Business

My computer had been wonky for a couple of weeks, then it crashed. Oh no. I tried to be a big girl about it and not panic. I kept reminding myself that it is just a machine. It's not like a family member got sick, it is just a machine. I found other things to do. I finished one book and started another. I did plenty of cooking, as usual, and photographing. But the fact of the matter is that I was pretty darn sad about it and realized how dependent I have gotten on the thing.

Through my husband's genius and perseverance, Old Peculiar II (that is my computer's name) is purring again, with no loss of data. Yay! Thanks, honey, you are brilliant.

My husband has a very busy schedule, and I know there were other things he needed/wanted to do, like cut the grass, for one. This is what the back of our yard looks like. It doesn't bother me, in fact I think it's pretty, but it does bother Pritchard Parker. I hope it doesn't rain this afternoon so he can get that done, then he'll feel better too.

Did you make clover chains when you were a child?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Goldy's Curried Chicken Salad

I love reading. I read many books I consider serious fiction or literary fiction, books which invite me to think seriously about life, books which cause profound emotional responses, and books I learn from, especially about other cultures.

But now and then I enjoy a book which I have always referred to as a palate cleanser. A book for sheer entertainment without that much effort on my part. A book which focuses on narrative and plot, a page-turner, if you will. And I also enjoy these as audio books while driving.

A genre I especially enjoy, while cleansing my palate, or settling my mind and emotions, are the Gourmet Mysteries. A few authors I can name are Robert B. Parker (love those Spenser novels!), Rex Stout, Nancy Fairbanks, and Diane Mott Davidson.

I just finished a Diane Mott Davidson audio book featuring caterer and amateur sleuth Goldy Schultz. The recipes in Ms. Davidson's books are featured at the end of her books. Because I was listening to the book, I didn't get exact measurements for Goldy's Curried Chicken Salad, but I did jot down all the ingredients (I think) as soon as I got back in the house. So here is my interpretation.

Goldy's Curried Chicken Salad
4 - 5 cups shredded roasted chicken
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 can mandarin oranges, drained
1 can pineapple tidbits, drained
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
2 Tbsp. mango chutney
Juice of 1 lime
1 Tbsp. best quality curry powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Salted Peanuts

Combine chicken, onion, oranges, pineapple, and raisins. In a separate bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, mango chutney, lime juice, and curry powder for the dressing. Fold the dressing into the chicken mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Chill the salad for several hours, or best overnight. Adjust seasonings if necessary and serve with salted peanuts.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Yellow Eye Pea Soup

It was a cool and rainy spring day in the mountains. At noon, I had several windows open around the house, the air was so nice, the birds were singing, it was 63 degrees, I was wearing sweatpants, and trying to figure out what to cook for supper. I kept thinking of salads and fresh spring vegetables, but my body kept reminding me that I wanted something warm. Spring is tricky that way. Shhh, don't tell anyone, but Spring is not my favorite season.

I had a ham bone in the fridge, my usual large stash of bean varieties, several jars of tomatoes I canned last summer, and decided to start there to make a soup. I chose yellow eye peas
Yellow eye peas are an heirloom bean dating back to the 1860's. They are a white bean with a yellowish-brown spot around the eye. They are a little larger than a black eye pea but smaller than a pinto bean. Their taste is milder and sweeter than either of the other beans.

I talk about my love of beans a lot. And there is a lot to love about beans. They are a healthy and inexpensive source of protein, they are a nutritional powerhouse, and they are delicious.

I always start every bean recipe by asking you to sort and pick through your beans, and this is why. Those are clods of dirt and/or small stones. If they are dirt clods, they will dissolve and you will have grit in your beans. If they are stones, they can crack a molar! I inspect my beans by pouring about a cup or so into a pie plate, spread them about, look closely, and remove any foreign matter. Then rinse thoroughly.

Yellow Eye Pea Soup

1 pound yellow eye peas

1 ham bone or ham hock

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

3 stalks celery, sliced

2 - 3 carrots, sliced

3 -4 cloves garlic, minced

1 quart tomatoes, undrained

2 Tbsp. soy sauce

1/4 tsp. (or more) cayenne pepper

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup fresh parsley

Lime for serving

After beans have been inspected and rinsed, cover with water to about 1 inch over the beans. Bring to a boil. Turn off heat, cover, and let beans set for about 1 hour. After an hour, drain and cover with fresh water. Add ham bone to the beans. Bring the beans and ham bone to a boil, then cover, reduce to simmer, and cook for about an hour, until tender.

Remove the ham bone and when cool enough to handle, remove ham pieces and add to the beans. Discard bone.

Saute onions, celery, carrots, and garlic, in the olive oil until tender but not browned. Add to the beans. Stir in tomatoes, soy sauce, cayenne, and salt and pepper. Simmer for about 30 minutes. Stir in the parsley and adjust seasonings.

Serve with a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

I suppose there is not a lot I need to say about a chocolate dipped strawberry. We all know them and love them, right?

I had a few leftover from making the strawberry muffins, and there was a partial bag of Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips looking at me. What else could I do?

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries
10 large strawberries
1/2 cup chocolate chips
3 Tbsp. half and half

Rinse strawberries, dry thoroughly, and be sure they are at room temperature. Melt chocolate chips in a bowl, over simmering water, until beginning to melt. Stir in half and half until completely combined and smooth. Dip strawberries, as desired, and place on parchment paper to cool. Eat and enjoy within a day or two. (Oh darn!)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Strawberry Muffins

Here goes another recipe from Jenny Mac's Lip Smack. This time, I followed her recipe precisely. Oh, except that I forgot to sprinkle sugar on top before baking. Which kind of made me mad at myself. When I was assembling all my ingredients--flour, sugar, baking powder, etc., I looked at that box of turbinado sugar, and told myself to go ahead and get it out of the cabinet, that it would be perfect for sprinkling. No, I answered, I'll get it when I mix the batter, and put all these other things away.

Then my husband came home and I became all excited to see him, and distracted. As we talked about our days, I filled the muffin cups. But guess what? No turbinado sugar on top. If I had just listened to me in the first place, it would have been sitting right there to not forget. When will I ever learn to listen to me?

Strawberry Muffins
2 cups flour
3/4 cups sugar
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup canola oil
2 eggs
1 1/3 cups fresh strawberries, chopped
Sugar for sprinkling on top

Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and have oven rack in the center of the oven.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl, combine the milk, oil, and eggs. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet until blended, then fold in the strawberries.

Fill paper muffin cup lined, or lightly buttered, muffin tins three-fourths full of batter. Sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for 15 - 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 5 minutes. Serve right away or cool on a wire rack.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Cuban Sandwich

I had some leftover roasted pork and decided to make some Cuban sandwiches. Of course to make a perfect Cuban sandwich, you need Cuban bread, which I did not have. For a substitute a good French bread (not baguette) or Italian loaf will work, or any other bread which is crusty on the outside and soft inside.

Cuban Sandwich
Cuban or French bread
softened butter
Sliced (not shaved) ham
Sliced, roasted pork
Dill pickle slices
Swiss cheese slices
Mustard, optional

Generously spread the bread with softened butter and mustard if using. Layer with ham slices, roasted pork, pickle slices, and Swiss cheese. Top with another slice of buttered bread. Grill and press the sandwiches until browned and cheese is melted.

Sandwich Press Hack

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Baked Vidalia Onions

For those who are not familiar, the Vidalia (Vie-dale-ya) onion is a sweet onion grown in Vidalia, Georgia and a limited number of surrounding counties, as mandated by the State of Georgia and the USDA. The sweetness of these onions is attributed to the low sulfur content in the soil of the region. Southerners and onion lovers, like me, celebrate their arrival in late spring each year.

Here is a recipe I picked up at the cash register, printed on an index card, from the iconic Mary-Mac's Tearoom in Midtown Atlanta, many years ago.

Baked Vidalia Onions
4 Vidalia onions
1 cup tomato juice
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup melted butter

Peel onions and slice off both the stem end and the blossom end. Place in a buttered baking dish. Mix together the tomato juice, honey, and butter. Pour over the onions. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, or until very tender.

So sweet! Tastes like dessert.

Mother's Day

Mother's Day Brunch
Scrambled Eggs with Smoked Gouda
Crisp Bacon
Stone Ground Grits with Butter and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Baked Vidalia Onion
Toasted Raisin Bread
Happy Mother's Day

Friday, May 7, 2010

Chocolate Banana Pudding

A traditional banana pudding, as I know it, is made with a vanilla custard layered with bananas and vanilla wafers, then topped with meringue. I decided to change things around and made chocolate pudding. Then I used animal crackers rather than vanilla wafers because, well because I really like animal crackers. And they're so cute! Lastly, I topped it with real whipped and unsweetened cream, lightly scented with vanilla.

Chocolate Pudding
3 Tbsp. cocoa
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. flour
2 cups milk
1 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix together the cocoa, sugar, and flour. Stir in milk until smooth. Stir constantly, over low heat, until the mixture comes to a boil. Add the butter and vanilla, stir to blend, then remove from heat. Cool the pudding completely before layering with bananas and animal crackers.

Stirring the pudding was one of my jobs as a girl, while my Mother made the rest of the meal. (The salad was another of my jobs.) To this day, I love the peaceful stirring and staring at the swirling pudding mixture. It is so relaxing to me and it always reminds me of those cherished days in the kitchen with my mother.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Celery Stuffed with Pimiento Cheese

I have previously blogged about Pimiento Cheese, a beloved Southern spread, which I grew up on, am very familiar with, and am comforted by. If you want to read the long version, you can here. This is the short version.
Without going into the differences of opinion about Pimiento Cheese, as I have covered that, I am simply stating the way I make it and my family prefers it. The traditional cheese used is extra sharp yellow cheddar, hand grated. Most recipes I see call for draining the pimientos and using much more mayonnaise than I do. I don't like the taste of mayonnaise so I retain the pimiento juice for added moisture and use only enough mayo to take advantage of its binding qualities.
If you let your cheese come to room temperature before grating, it will be easier to grate. Also because the cheese is softer, it is easier to judge the final texture while mixing.

Pimiento Cheese
16 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, grated
4 oz. jar chopped pimiento, undrained
1 Tbsp. dijon mustard
1/4 c. to 1/2 c. good quality mayonnaise
Freshly ground black pepper or cayenne, to taste

Mix all ingredients together until desired consistency, starting with the lesser amount of mayonnaise.
Make Pimiento Cheese sandwiches, spread on crackers, or one of our family's favorite ways, stuffed into celery.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Wild Rice Salad

Several years ago, my coworkers and I would sometimes send out for lunch from a local bakery, which baked the most delicious breads they would then use at lunch-time to make unique and tasty sandwiches. They also offered scratch made soups every day, along with an array of salads, not to mention their beautiful pastries.

We loved and always ordered the Wild Rice Salad. We were all avid cooks and food lovers but we could never figure out that salad. We would pick out all the individual components--the wild rice, of course, the red bell pepper, the scallions, the almonds, and we could tell it had a vinaigrette dressing, but there was a very distinct background flavor we simply could not identify.

A couple of years ago, through a serendipitious meeting, a woman who was once the pastry chef at this bakery gave me the recipe. As I scanned the list of ingredients, I quickly identified the elusive flavor component--Mango Chutney!

Wild Rice Salad with Mango Viniagrette
8 oz. wild rice, cooked according to package directions, and cooled
1 red bell pepper, chopped
6 green onions, sliced
1 small sweet onion, chopped
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1/2 bunch (approx. 1/2 cup) minced parsley

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Dress with the following dressing.

Mango Viniagrette
1/4 cup mango chutney
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar, or more to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Puree the chutney and vinegar, then slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Mix the dressing into the rice mixture. Adjust the vinegar, salt and pepper, to taste.

Sadly, after almost 20 years, the bakery is no longer in business. They could not compete with the two corporate bakery giants who moved into town.