Thursday, November 27, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers: Mexican Chicken Tortilla Soup

This month's first Barefoot Blogger's Challenge is Ina Garten's Mexican Chicken Soup, as selected by Judy's Gross Eats. Her eats don't appear at all gross to me, so note to self, ask her later why she has that blog name. Surely there is a family story in there.

A pox on canned soup. Soup is probably the easiest and most satisfying thing you can create at home. It lets you play alchemist and for whatever reason (probably due to the poxed canned soup), guests, friends and family are always impressed by a big pot of homemade soup. My speciality is braised collard greens and bacon in ale. I guarantee, it will cure what ails you.
I expected to really love this month's recipe for the Barefoot Bloggers, but honestly, I just didn't. It wasn't complicated. It wasn't nasty. It wasn't terrible. It was fair. It just wasn't great.
I suppose this is best judged by one simple fact. My mother and I sat down to the finished soup, each ate a bowl, pronounced it fine, and then put the rest in a container in the fridge, and never touched it again. We never once said "Ooh, let's finish that soup." A week later, it was down the drain.
The woman who taught me to make good soup is my mother. Her soups are legendary. She was having soup and bread night, as a dinner party, long before it was ever popular. "A soup party? Really?" This was in the 1970s.
If my mother and I, soup maker and her apprentice, never once gave the soup another thought, it just wasn't interesting enough to blow our skirts up.
Now, if anyone at all can get the recipe for the White Chicken Chili with Cilantro Cream, served at La Brea Cafe in some Macy's stores in California, THAT blows my skirt up. I'd love to recreate that "soup."
About this challenge: The Barefoot Bloggers join forces and cook or bake recipes by Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten each month, chosen in order by members, and present them for discussion on two Thursdays each month. Hungry? Please join us at the table!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wordless Wednesday: Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday Homework: The 100 List

CakeSpy created the list you see, which is a convenient way for me to waste a bit of time on this Friday lunch hour. Here are your instructions:

Copy this list into your site, including these instructions:

Bold or Colour all of the sweets you've eaten.
Cross out any you'd never eat.
Consider anything that is not bold or crossed out your "To Do" List for the future.
Optional: Comment on any items you particularly love or hate!

1. Red Velvet Cake
2. Princess Torte
3. Whoopie Pie
4. Apple Pie either topped or baked with sharp cheddar
5. Beignet
6. Baklava (hated it; I don't like desserts rich with honey or overly sweet)
7. Black and white cookie
8. Seven Layer Bar (also known as the Magic Bar or Hello Dolly bars)
9. Fried Fruit pie (sometimes called hand pies)
10. Kringle
11. Just-fried (still hot) doughnut
12. Scone with clotted cream
13. Betty, Grunt, Slump, Buckle or Pandowdy
14. Halvah
15. Macarons
16. Banana pudding with nilla wafers
17. Bubble tea (with tapioca "pearls")
18. Dixie Cup
19. Rice Krispie treats
20. Alfajores
21. Blondies
22. Croquembouche
23. Girl Scout cookies
24. Moon cake (Just the description alone, makes me shudder).
25. Candy Apple
26. Baked Alaska
27. Brooklyn Egg Cream
28. Nanaimo bar
29. Baba au rhum
30. King Cake
31. Sachertorte
32. Pavlova
33. Tres Leches Cake
34. Trifle
35. Shoofly Pie
36. Key Lime Pie
37. Panna Cotta (Mmmm. I confess I love the Trader Joe's frozen version, also).
38. New York Cheesecake
39. Napoleon / mille-fueille
40. Russian Tea Cake / Mexican Wedding Cake Cookies
41. Anzac biscuits
42. Pizzelle
43. Kolache
44. Buckeyes
45. Malasadas (My family lives in Hawai'i where hot malasadas are popular)
46. Moon Pie (Meh).
47. Dutch baby (links to my recipe)
48. Boston Cream Pie (Meh).
49. Homemade chocolate chip cookies (Seriously? Has anyone not tasted or made this?)
50. Pralines (Mmm, the speciality of the house at El Cholo restaurant in Los Angeles. They bring you several with your dinner check. Screw the mints. Restaurants should always bring you pralines).
51. Gooey butter cake (I've been meaning to try one of these. I think I'll make one with pumpkin).
52. Rusks
53. Daifuku
54. Green tea cake or cookies (I'm one of those who thinks everything "green tea" flavored is overrated. Blech.)
55. Cupcakes from a cupcake shop (Seriously? Has anyone not tasted or made this?)
56. Crème brûlée (One of my favorite desserts, but I've never made it).
57. Some sort of deep fried State Fair food (Actually no. I've never even had a funnel cake).
58. Yellow cake with chocolate frosting (Most Sunday nights, growing up).
59. Jelly Roll (One of my first assignments in high school Home Economics).
60. Pop Tarts (Much ado about nothing).
61. Charlotte Russe
62. An "upside down" dessert
63. Hummingbird Cake
64. Jell-O from a mold
65. Black forest cake
66. Mock Apple Pie (Ritz Cracker Pie)
67. Kulfi
68. Linzer torte
69. Churro (Eaten at Disneyland and from the freezer aisle, would like to try to make these).
70. Stollen
71. Angel Food Cake (Meh)
72. Mincemeat pie (Just say NO to anything with that many raisins).
73. Concha
74. Opera Cake
75. Sfogliatelle (Ooooooh, that looks so goooood!)
76. Pain au chocolat
77. A piece of Gingerbread House (No. Just NO.)
78. Cassata
79. Cannoli
80. Rainbow cookies
81. Religieuse
82. Petits fours
83. Chocolate Souffle
84. Bienenstich (Bee Sting Cake)
85. Rugelach
86. Hamenstashen
87. Homemade marshmallows (SO not worth the effort).
88. Rigo Janci
89. Pie or cake made with candy bar flavors (Snickers pie, Reeses pie, etc)
90. Divinity
91. Coke or Cola cake
92. Gateau Basque
93. S'mores (My mother was my troop leader. We made these in Scouts).
94. Figgy Pudding
95. Bananas foster or other flaming dessert
96. Joe Froggers
97. Sables (Links to my chocolate sables, a Nigella recipe, probably the best cookie I've ever made, and since I'm not a chocolate fiend, that's saying something)
98. Millionaire's Shortbread
99. Animal crackers
100. Basbousa

Friday, November 14, 2008

Roasted Butternut Squash with Crispy Sage and Italian Sausage

I was inspired by Dragon's incredibly easy dish of Roasted Butternut Squash with a Sage and Balsamic Glaze, and had all the ingredients on hand. Always a nice moment when you know you can get up, go to your kitchen, and recreate someone's recipe. I wanted to add a bit of protein and make it a full meal, rather than a side dish, and after oven roasting a piece of Italian Sausage, and dicing it onto the dish, I had it. Delicious! Thank you Dragon.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Heirloom Current Tomatoes

It's California -- mid November -- cold and rainy one day, warm and sunny the next. You never know if you should wear that turtleneck sweater (I did) and carry an umbrella, or a pair of capri's and sandals. It's an odd time, but it also means my heirloom current tomatoes are still growing strong in my community garden plot. These tiny beautiful tomatoes are as sweet as candy.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

My Sister's Coleslaw


I've had non-stop family members visiting me, since late September, and you'd think, with all those people, restaurants, and meals being cooked and served, I'd have a ton of blog posts, but it's actually been the exact opposite. Too busy yakking, laughing, running errands, moving suitcases from one area to another, and pooping out at the end of every day.

I did manage to capture a close up of my sister's cole slaw recipe. She said when she brings this to any potluck or luncheon, the bowl is scraped clean. It's good -- not knock your socks off good, but good -- and better than your typical coleslaw, that's certain.

Weezie's Cole Slaw

1 bag of coleslaw with dressing packet*
1 bunch of diced green onions
1 handful of pecans
1 handful of dried cranberries
1 thinly shaved apple

*I had a bag of shredded cabbage, but no dressing package. I made my own coleslaw dressing.

Toss all together, dump in a bowl, and serve.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Blog Blossoms

There is a simple, fun tool which creates a blooming graph of the html code in your website or blog, color coding various components, tags, and links, and rendered as a gently unfolding blossom which is rather hypnotic to watch. Shown above is a graphic of my blog. Shown below is a graphic for Tastespotting.

How about yours? Comment with your blossom links!

And just what do the colored spheres mean?

Blue: links (the A tag)
Red: for tables (TABLE, TR and TD tags)
Green: for the DIV tag
Violet: for images (the IMG tag)
Yellow: for forms (FORM, INPUT, TEXTAREA, SELECT and OPTION tags)
Orange: for linebreaks and blockquotes (BR, P, and BLOCKQUOTE tags)
Black: the HTML tag, the root node
Gray: all other tags

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers: Vegetable Pot Pie

Twice a month on the Second and Fourth Thursdays, my online blogging friends the Barefoot Bloggers challenge each other with recipes chosed from the recipes of Ina Garten, formerly of the Barefoot Contessa. This week it's Vegetable Pot Pie. Regrettably, I had to use one of my "passes" for the first time since I joined, and skip making this recipe. I have out of town guests and it isn't the time to be cooking and experimenting, photographing, blogging and such (although I'm sure a lovely pot pie would be much enjoyed). Instead, I'm inviting all of you to scroll through the blog roll for the BB'ers, and smack your lips at a bunch of lovely pies.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Bread Box

I love bread in all forms. The saying "Don't fill up on bread" was coined with me in mind. "Bread is the staff of life" has personal meaning to me. I usually answer "bread" when memed with the question "What one food would you never want to be without?"

I purchase and have more on hand than I'll ever possibly use or eat in a week. I live alone, and have a boyfriend who doesn't eat much bread. It's one of his faults. As a result, my freezer is always jammed pack with a variety of bakery products and flavored butters.

I compound by the problem by wanting to bake rolls and breads on my days off, because it's pure comfort, relaxing, and tasty. I end up with bags of rolls after I eat the first few hot out of the oven, so I developed my "personal bread basket" out of necessity.

Most of my bread ends up in the freezer and it can be irritating to pry off a few frozen pieces of bread and toast it in order to use it right away, or to over-nuke a roll to serve with dinner or pack a bento lunch.

Plus, I'm fickle in my taste. What do I want today? Brioche? Rye? Wheat? Corn? Hmm. Decisions, decisions.

Enter the Food Container. I starting using this plastic vegetable and fruit container which is intended to keep your produce fresher for a longer period of time in your refrigerator (and they do work). I keep a few rolls and a few slices of each variety of bread on hand in my Bread Box, and keep that in my fridge (I realize bread should be stored at room temperature, but I simply can't use it up quickly enough to prevent staleness or mold). The remainder of each variety stays in the freezer until it's time to remove a few slices to replenish the bread box.

This week's selections are (top to bottom, left to right) Brioche, Raisin, Slider buns, Rye, Sesame Knots. Each day I can select whatever suits my fancy from my bread box. It's a simple idea, really, but it's those simple ideas that often make us the happiest.

This makes me happy.

(Pssst. I have two more and I do the same thing with sliced deli meats in one and cheeses in the other.)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Canyon Ranch Spa Cuisine: Appetite for Health

Canyon Ranch Spa's Chef Scott Uehlein is consistently recognized for his creativity and expertise in the development and preparation of healthy cuisine. Under Chef Scott's direction, Canyon Ranch has received top honors from Travel + Leisure (Top Spa for Food in the U.S.), and rated Best Spa with excellence in the food category by Gourmet and Conde Nast Traveler magazines.

Now, Chef Scott is presenting a series of 10 short, fun, instructional videos in his Appetite for Health series. After the jump, a video guide, and, links to popular text version recipes from Canyon Ranch spa.

Text Recipes:

Canyon Ranch Cocktail
Cantaloupe Orange Tofu Smoothie
Holiday Eggnog
Strawberry Daiquiri
Breakfast Bread Pudding
Lime Coffee Cake
Cold Pea Salad
Cashew Chicken Salad with Baked Wontons
Kale Soup
Mulligatawny Soup
Sweet Potato Soup
Five Onion Bisque
Spanish Onion Soup
White Bean Soup with Pesto
Fish Tacos
Roasted Lemon Chicken
Blackberry Orange Cobbler

Recipe Videos: Appetite For Health

Click Now to watch Chef Scott in a series of short, fun 5 minute videos which bring you fast and fun tips on incorporating the spa and wellness lifestyle into your daily routine. Whether you want to whip up a fast pomegranate cooler, strawberry salad, or just get a few tips for staying hydrated, Chef Scott will show you how.

Episode Guide:

Episode 1: Water Water Everywhere
Learn with Chef Scott about the importance of staying hydrated, then watch as he creates refreshing Watermelon and Pomegranate Coolers that will help you recover from those tough summer workouts.

Episode 2: All About The Organics
Chef Scott clarifies the meaning of "organic," then makes an organic Strawberry Chicken Panzanella Salad. After this episode, you'll know how organics can help change your diet to a healthier and cleaner eating plan!

Episode 3: Less Is More?
Chef Scott visits an exercise physiologist and learns how to exercise for maximum gain. Then he demonstrates making Pasta with Grilled Artichoke, Leeks, and Chicken -- a dish that's sure satisfy your post work-out cravings.

Episode 4: Fishy Business
What's the lowdown on fish? Chef Scott explores the importance of fish in your diet and which fish choices are best. Then he teaches you to make delicious Cod and Kalamata Olives.

Episode 5: 40 Winks
Having trouble sleeping? Wake up tired every morning? Learn with Chef Scott how diet and eating patterns can affect sleep. Then he demonstrates a delicious, low-fat recipe for everyone's favorite nighttime snack -- cookies and milk!

Episode 6: Pain In My Neck
Chef Scott wakes up with an excruciating pain in his neck that distracts him from his daily routine. He visits a neuromuscular therapist, who teaches him how to properly stretch his neck, and talks to him about the importance of sleeping right, sitting right, and walking right. Watch as Chef Scott prepares a healthy alternative to one of the most popular comfort foods, meatloaf.

Episode 7: Shopping Spree
Chef Scott returns home to find his kids gorging on junk food. He decides to take a family field trip to the grocery store to teach them about healthy food choices. In addition, he shows you how to make Chicken Scaloppini with Arugula Salad -- a dish the entire family is sure to enjoy.

Episode 8: The McSalmonator
Chef Scott learns about the differences among farm-raised salmon, organic farmed salmon and wild salmon, then prepares an exciting Salmon with Cucumber Lemongrass Salsa that's easy to replicate at home.

Episode 9: Feelin' Blue
All about blueberries! Chef Scott explores the tremendous health benefits of blueberries and shows you how to make savory Salmon with Blueberry Mango Salsa.

Episode 10: A Little R&R
Chef Scott realizes he is stressed-out when he absentmindedly bakes dozens of cookies with carrot chips instead of chocolate chips. Learn about ways to manage stress -- from massage to calming breathing techniques. Then watch as Chef Scott prepares easy-to-make Fruit and Nut Bars.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Beef, Egg and Onion Sandwich

This was one of my father's favorite sandwiches, when he was alive. I remember my mother made this sandwich for him for lunch, or occasionally as a brunch sandwich, in place of breakfast. It's one of those nostalgic recipes you just grow up with, and you don't really know where it came from. My mother always used Armor Chipped Beef, the same product she'd use to make Creamed Chipped Beef on Toast (my all time favorite dinner as a child), and would occasionally soak it water first to reduce the salt level. Other times not, just snipped a bit into the egg and then peppered.

For my version, above, I used a dried cured Italian beef called Breseola, which is significantly less salty. It has a different, more complex flavor. I hate to say it ... Iliked my Mom's simple version better.


1 shallot
2 slices of dried beef or Breseola
2 eggs
Salt and Pepper

Saute the shallot in butter until soft, but not browned. Add 2 slices of dried beef which you have snipped into small strips with scissors. Sautee until soft. Quickly add 2 well beaten eggs, and gently toss until the eggs are done and the onion and beef are incorporated. Serve on buttered toast, as a sandwich.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers: Butternut Squash Risotto

Butternut Squash Risotto, Step 11

I had mixed feelings about this month's selections for the Barefoot Bloggers. The first of two selections is Ina Garten's Butternut Squash Risotto as chosen by Rachel of Rachel Likes to Cook, from the Barefoot Contessa Family Style cookbook.

Oh, I was quite certain the risotto would be delicious, and I love, love, love squash. It's hearty fare, perfect for Autumn, but it's still rather warm here in Northern California, I've been working my butt off at the office, I'm cranky and tired, and I admit it ... the few times I've had risotto, I truly never understood what all the fuss was about. A fancier rice pilaf! I knew, however, I wasn't having it served under ideal conditions. The first time I had it, it was from a mix. From Target, no less. The second time I had it, it was from Whole Foods' hot dinner case, and it was hard and dry. The third time I had it, it was "to go" from a nice restaurant. It's not the kind of thing that travels well and it was just thick, heavy rice pudding when we got it home.

Honestly though, the primary reason for my reticence was simply that I've never made risotto from scratch and the thought of it intimidated me. Still, that's what these blogging groups are all about, creating dishes out of our comfort zone, with the ideas from and support of my fellow bloggers.

Having now completed the task, and I made it as close to the recipe as I possibly could, with no shortcuts other than scaling it down by half for me (with guaranteed leftovers), I can say the following:

Yes, it was a bit time consuming.
Yes, it was a bit rich and fattening.
Yes, it was worth it.
Yes, it was easier than I thought.
Yes, I will make it again. For sure.
Yes, it was Fan. Flipping. Tastic.

Rachel, I bow in your general direction, congratulate you on your guts, and blame you for the carb-fat I'm going to be gaining this coming winter.

On with the picture show, my friends.


Butternut Squash Risotto, Step 1
Assembling everything in advance (a rarety for me, but I can't afford to screw this up -- I already got the wrong kind of pancetta, so I added a bit of crumbled bacon I had on hand to make up for it). Left to right, parmesan cheese, butter, bacon, rice, shallots, saffron, and pancetta (it's actually a close cousin, but we're calling it pancetta for simplicity's sake)

Butternut Squash Risotto, Step 2
Roast the diced cubes of fresh butternut squash in olive oil, salt, and pepper, until tender.

Note: I wish I had not added the salt and pepper at the various stages called for. Pancetta, butter, bacon, parmesan cheese -- these are all salty items and I should have waited until the recipe was done, and salted to taste. It was a bit heavy on the salt, but still delicious.

Butternut Squash Risotto, Step 3
Simmer my homemade chicken stock, which is probably the most profound change in my cooking to occur this year -- I made a pot of fresh stock from a rotisserie chicken, froze it in baggies, and finally understood why all chefs tell you to make your own stock. BECAUSE YOU NEED TO. YOU REALLY, REALLY NEED TO. I can say that barring a crisis requiring canned goods, I'll never go back to store-bought stock.

Butternut Squash Risotto, Step 4
Simmer the pancetta, shallots and bacon in the butter, until soft, but not browned.

Butternut Squash Risotto, Step 5
Add the rice and stir to coat the rice in the melted butter.

Butternut Squash Risotto, Step 6
Add a splash of white wine now, and simmer the rice in the buttery wine.

Butternut Squash Risotto, Step 7
Add the saffron threads and more salt and pepper. See note above -- I wouldn't add the salt and pepper next time. Trader Joe's, I curse you for having such a crappy spice selection, but, for those few spices you DO have, I thank you for making them so affordable.

Butternut Squash Risotto, Step 8
Adding the ladle of chicken broth. Ladle, ladle, ladle. Stir, stir, stir. Look at all those pretty ingredients. Rice, shallots, saffron ... coming together nicely.

Butternut Squash Risotto, Step 9
After lading broth and cooking in installments with continual stirring, it thickened up nicely, was velvety, and, ready to take the cubed, cooked squash, parmesan cheese, both added off the heat. Look how messy my pot is. My stove was worse.

Butternut Squash Risotto, Step 10
Hello, you beautiful, fattening, sexy beast. You don't come here often, do you?

Butternut Squash Risotto, Step 12

About this challenge: The Barefoot Bloggers join forces and cook or bake recipes by Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten each month, chosen in order by members, and present them for discussion on two Thursdays each month. Hungry? Please join us at the table!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Blackberry Crostata with a dab of cream

Happy Monday, ya'll. It's cooling down up here in Northern California (we even had the slightest little rain shower this weekend, which was so pleasant), and my desire to hunker in and bake and roast is returning.

The urge to stock up on pumpkins, cake flour, nuts, fruits, spices and everything you need for a Fall Baking Frenzy is strong, but I remain committed to cleaning, organizing and using up the contents of my TWO (yes, 2) freezers: One in my fridge, and one stand-alone chest freezer.

This weekend I found a box of Trader Joe's unbaked pie crusts in my chest freezer, from last season, and the remnants of a bag of frozen raspberries. In my fridge I had a container of fresh blackberries going wonky, and voila -- all three ingredients called for a free form crostata.

The cons -- I didn't like and won't purchase the pie crust again. I know a pre-purchased pie crust isn't ideal and will never beat a scratch pie crust, but I know myself. I will not make and roll out pie dough for just one person. I'll do all sorts of specials things for myself (important for the solo diner, I believe), but scratch pastry has never been one of them. Even Pillsbury makes a better pre-purchased pie crust dough than this, which had no flake to it at all, and was akin to a giant biscuit.

The pros -- the dessert itself was simple, fast, and I think, with some decent dough on hand, I'd make a rustic crostata over a traditional pie every time. I like the rough, free-form nature of it, and the thin end-result delivered an excellent fruit-to-crust ratio (you'd think with as much as I love crust and demand a 50/50 ratio to fruit, I'd make my own, and yet ... )

Of interest, I had a bunch of those little packets of True Lemon and True Lime (pure powdered citrus in a single-serving small packet) which the manufacturer sent to me to sample in relation to a healthy cuisine food project I was working for, and I've been trying to use them up. Typically I use them in my morning fruit smoothies. The pure and intense citrus flavor adds that missing ingredient -- a tart puckery zing -- which always separates a home smoothie from a Jamba Juice smoothie. But I digress.

So I had the packets of True Lemon and decided, what the heck, I'm already mixing flour and sugar to toss with the berries, and it calls for lemon juice as well, so I made a flour mixture of a few teaspoons of sugar, a few teaspoons of flour, and one packet of True Lemon powder. Tossed it all, added the berries, and baked. The fruit mixture was excellent. Tart, sweet, tangy, no artificial flavor at all. I'd do that again, definitely.

In fact, since True Lemon and True Lime are pure (or so they promise me), I'm thinking it would be very simple to have a small container of citrus sugar available for baking and rimming glasses. I'm not advocating not having fresh lemons and limes on hand at all times -- actually I do. I love the zest. But an always-available lime or lemon sugar rim on a cocktail? Laws yes.

Finally, the cream. I really love heavy cream and whipped cream, and I prefer it unsweetened. Just the smooth texture and creamy taste is all one needs -- skip the sugar the next time you whip cream and see if you agree. I didn't even bother to whip the cream, for this crostata. I just drizzled a teaspoon of real cream over the berries and it was perfect that way.


1 layer of your favorite pie crust -- purchased or homemade
2 teaspoons of flour
2 teaspoons of sugar (I used vanilla sugar)
1 packet of True Lemon or 1 teaspoon of lemon juice
1 cup of blackberries
1 cup of raspberries
Turbinado Sugar
Orange Juice or Egg Wash

Spread pie crust over a skillet, baking pan, or pie dish (I used a cast iron griddle). Mix flour, sugar and 1 packet of True Lemon in a dish. If using lemon juice, do not add at this point -- reserve. Sprinkle a bit of the flour-sugar-citrus mixture over the center of the uncooked pie crust, and brush it slightly to evenly cover the crust, leaving a wide margin all around. Toss the berries with the remaining flour-sugar-citrus mixture to coat evenly. Pile the berries in the center of the pie crust, smoothing out slightly to leave a several inch margin all around. If using real lemon juice, sprinkle it over the berries at this point. Fold up the crust over the fruit, leaving the center exposed, but pleating the dough to form a barrier. Brush the crust with orange juice or egg wash (I used orange juice), and sprinkle with turbinado or coarse sugar. Bake until well browned and bubbly, at a temp and for a duration suitable for your own oven. Slice, serve with a teaspoon or heavy cream on each slice.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Shrimp and Crab Casserole

Shrimp and Crab Casserole.

I tried to make a quarter out of 15 cents. I recently purchased, and didn't like, a container of Costco shrimp salad. It wasn't terrible. It just lacked flavor, and they used such large shrimp that it wasn't a dainty enough salad for my taste. I didn't want to throw it out, so I doctored it up as a shrimp and crab casserole which was better than the shrimp salad it started life as, but, not good enough to make again.

I remember reading a blog post, quite some time ago, and I wish I'd bookmarked it so I could give her credit. She was expressing her confusion over the comment "I made a batch of pancakes that were terrible, I can't wait until I eat them all and they are gone, so I can try something else." Her argument was, that when you break down the cost of the ingredients of a batch of basic pancakes, you're talking about $3 at most -- why suffer for days eating something you don't like -- not to mention consume the calories from something you don't like? Arn't you worth more than $3.00?

Sure, sure, I am as mindful about waste as you are, but she did make a good point (better than I'm able to recall, here). If you don't want to eat it, don't. Take it into work, donate it to a neighbor, feed the dog. But don't make something out of sub-par ingredients and expect something extraordinary -- it's a rare and happy event when it works.

Another old adage comes to mind -- don't cook with a wine you wouldn't drink. I ignored that advice and although this casserole was adequate and was a hot meal, I didn't really love it, and it goes down the disposal. Now, I've thrown away much more than just the shrimp salad. Silly!


Shrimp Salad
Canned Crabmeat
Siracha Sauce
Cooked Rice
Half and Half
Topped with cracker crumbs

Bake until bubbly. Eat without succor. Toss the rest.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers: Mushroom Soup with Cream

I was looking forward to making this month's Barefoot Bloggers selection. It's Ina Garten's Cream of Mushroom Soup, selected by Chelle of Brown Eyed Baker.

I'm a big fan of most anything with mushrooms -- except thick, cloying, canned cream of mushroom soup. I confess I've used a can or two in my time, to thicken a post-Thanksgiving Turkey and Stuffing Casserole, but to eat as a soup? Pass.

This was my first time actually making mushroom soup, and at a glance, I knew I'd scale back on the diary (copious amounts of heavy cream and half and half) for the obvious reason -- to reduce the fat -- and for another reason. My boyfriend loves anything with mushrooms, but nothing creamy or fatty. He's forever lamenting how few restaurants make a broth based mushroom soup.

I am a well-known soup alchemist -- I add dibs and dabs of lots of things until it's just right (the result of which is that I seldom duplicate a pot of soup). Still, I followed the recipe fairly closely, with the following exceptions:

In Step One, making the mushroom broth, I used half water, and half homemade chicken stock. I just felt it needed more flavor than plain water and mushrooms. Once the veggies (mushroom cap stems, carrots, and shallots) were fully cooked, I did strain the broth, but I pureed the veggies with the broth in blender cup, until it was a thick applesauce consistency, and very golden in color from the carrots. This went back into the soup.

In Step Two, sauteing the mushrooms with butter, flour, white wine and leeks -- I was out of leeks and used shallots.

In Step Three, simmering the soup and adding the dairy, I thickened with the pureed vegetables as described above, and added probably 1/3 cup of heavy cream, at best. Nothing more was needed, and it was still very rich, buttery, and creamy. I used the thyme, but skipped the parsley.

Finally, as far as seasonings, mushrooms are just notorious for soaking up spices and needing extra seasoning and salt. I kept salting and peppering this soup but didn't hit that "note" it needed until I switched to liberal shakes of my house-made Schezwan Pepper Salt. That was the ticket!

This was a very delicious soup!

About this challenge: The Barefoot Bloggers join forces and cook or bake recipes by Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten each month, chosen in order by members, and present them for discussion on two Thursdays each month. Hungry? Please join us at the table!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Taste of Home Bonanza!

Earlier this summer, a "Taste of Home" swap was set up by Megan at Megan's Cooking, and I was paired with the best partner, Leslie of Mit, Mitter, Mittany (I don't know what that means... I keep forgetting to ask) of North Carolina.

The idea was to swap foods from our home towns or regions that the other may not have access to. The deadline to swap was wayyyy back in July, and when I say I had the best partner, I mean it. I think we were on the same schedule all summer. She was gone, then I was gone, then we gave ourselves an extension, and finally this past week, we swapped our packages.

I was SO delighted because due to the passage of the summer and a hectic schedule, I'd forgotten some of the things I mentioned to her, that "spoke of Southern Soul Food" to me. For that reason, some of my goodies were just a complete surprise, and most appreciated.

At the top of that list is White Lily Flour from soft winter wheat. SCORE!!! I recall reading a Gourmet magazine a few months back and the topic was biscuits. How to make them. How not to make them. The fact that White Lily Flour makes the only "true Southern biscuit." Almost a "don't bother if you don't have this flour" kind of throw-down. I even considered ordering the flour via mail order, but should I be that crazy? I do love a good bread, biscuit, waffle, and pancake ... and then life took over, I bought a hundred new cookbooks, and forgot about the flour.

And then the heavens opened -- Mit sent me the flour. There was much rejoicing in the household.

Not only did I receive the flour, I received ...

A copy of Culinary Kudzu, with a handwritten inscription from the author, Keetha DePriest Reed.
A jar of Kudzu blossom jam.
A tin of Old Bay Seasoning (I've actually never had any of this classic spice! Terrific!)
A bag of cornmeal -- water ground style (very important to Southerners)
A bag of cornmeal -- buttermilk style (ditto above)
A bag of Sweet Heat Pecans.

My friends, very soon you will have blog posts of the following ...

A cake made with White Lily flour and cornstarch, from my Southern Baking cookbook;
Biscuits, and then, some more biscuits. With butter. On the biscuits. With Kudzu Jam.
Cornbread (I want to try a yeast raised cornbread now)
Cornmeal Sweet Heat Pecan Waffles. With butter. and Kudzu Jam.
More biscuits.
More butter.
More jam.
And biscuits. With butter.

Thanks, Mit!

Can someone explain this?

Why is there such an idiotic obsession with being "first" in a comment field on any blog?
First! Yay!

First! Whoo hooo!

I'm talking news or "waste the day filler" blogs and such -- not necessarily food blogs where honestly, I've never seen this problem crop up. Who gives a flying donut about First Comments? Is life so meaningless for these people that typing "FIRST! WooT!" on a post asking whether we are shocked that Clay Aiken is homosexual, is cause for celebration? Invariably these people say nothing else. Have they nothing to contribute to society?

I read a "blog rule" on another site which made me nod in approval:

"On many sites, such as [omitted], it is a tradition for the first commenter on a new thread to post a message of 'First' or similar. That tradition is not followed on [omitted]. Posting a 'First' message here is likely to get your comment hidden (see Rating Comments below) and/or yelled at."
Good! By the way, the humor of anyone typing "FIRST" on this post wouldn't escape me, so I beat you to it. Stay tuned ... tonight is Cream of Mushroom Soup for the Barefoot Bloggers Group!

Monday, September 15, 2008

In Flight Snacks Available for Purchase

I put my mother on a plane today, after a lovely layover of a few days during her journey from her home in Hawaii, to see her sister in Baltimore, Maryland.

She's flying United for the entire trip, and for the first time in her many decades of flying, she's learned that everything is now alacarte -- from luggage to peanuts. She paid for every piece of luggage checked ($25.00 per bag), and, her ticket prominently stated "in flight snack available for purchase." The in flight snack typically consists of a miserable turkey sandwich, bag of chips, and commercial granola bar or cookie, and roughtly costs betwen $5.00 and $7.50 depending on which airline you're on -- some of the better United flights do offer a boxed kit with a bit more substantial and varied fare, including applesauce cups and more.

I've followed Biggie's blog for years, and recall her packing delightful bentos for her family to take on flights. She has some terrific tips for packing your own carry-on food. Even so, I hadn't thought of packing a bento for my mother, until she remarked how sweet and handy it had been, for the first leg of her flight from Hawaii to California, that my younger brother packed her a lunch bag. It was if the child was sending the parent off on a school bus, and as he took her to her plane, gave her a bag with cheese, crackers, and a steak sandwich.

For my mother's flight today, I said a silent thank you to my brother for packing her a lunch and reminding me that even though I can't send her on her way with a juice box or even a bottle of water, I CAN send her with a nice packed lunch that meets airline standards.

She wasn't in the mood for much protein -- but said she'd enjoy some sweet and savorable nibbles. Pity I didn't have time for a photograph, but in my mother's plastic disposable bento box, which I tied close with a nice raffia string, I packed:

2 slices of dark brown bread and butter
(chewy, dense squaw bread thickly buttered with unsalted butter and cut into strips)
Extra Sharp White Cheddar Cheese (sliced into small strips)
Sesame Seed Crackers
Salted, cured olives (2 cracked green olives and 2 kalamata olives)
A handful of walnut halves
A baby Fuji apple (cored and sliced, and sprayed with lemon juice)
A condiment packet of peanut butter
A bar of dark chocolate

I tried to assemble an interesting array -- a bit of cheese, olives, and crackers, a bit of bread of butter, a bit of fruit and nuts, and a piece of good, dark chocolate for dessert. I hope she enjoys it. Safe travels, Mom.

How are you packing for travel these days? Buying on board, buying at the gate, or packing snacks?
(Photo by USAToday)

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers: Grown Up Mac and Cheese

I thought to myself, today, that it's a good thing I belong to Barefoot Bloggers because were it not for the twice monthly challenge I've signed up to be a part of, I might not have blogged much at all this summer.
I've really been "off my feed" lately as the farmers would say. I've been so tired, for weeks, and have just had craptastic summer. I won't bore anyone with details, because who among us hasn't been worn to the bone at some point, with the stress of career, relationships, domestic projects, art projects, family pressures, dying relatives, blog responsibilities, and such?

Instead of sexual fantasies, I write my resume in my head daily, and pretend to give my boss notice of my imminent departure. It's much more satisfying. I can't say more than that or I'd be typing all night and you'd be saying "What a whiner."

In addition to just being too stressed to cook and bake and snap photos, I've been on a "Use It Up" kick for a few months, to try and curb my addiction to bringing home tasty groceries too frequently. Seriously, my pantry would make a genuinely hungry person on a limited income weep with joy. That's embarrassing to me.

You'd think, with all the stress going on and the kick of clearing out my pantry, that I would have loads of dishes to photograph and upload. Not so. The battery in my camera wasn't charged, and for about 3-4 weeks, I was too tired to find it and plug it in.

So ... this month's Barefoot Blogger recipes are upon us, and Heather Randomosity and the Girl chose Ina Garten's "Grown Up Mac and Cheese" which sounded both really comforting, and, really sophisticated. I had most of the necessary ingredients, and it didn't seem like a chore at all. Maybe this was just the kick in the ass I needed: pasta with Gruyere, bleu cheese and bacon in it? That's medicine right there, folks.

Ahhh, but, I had some frozen macaroni and cheese I wanted to use up -- shoot. I don't necessarily want to buy and make the same dish I swore I'd use up out of my freezer this week. I know, I know ... make your own, it's better, etc etc etc. But sometimes a single, working girl needs a bright orange box, a microwave, and a too-long cooking time to assure a blackened crusty top. Doesn't she?

Enter stage right ... Hacking Ina Garten's Mac and Cheese. Not to be confused with Semi Homemade Ina Garten. PLEASE. Please don't compare me to that color-coordinated creature -- I'd never make a Kwanzaa Cake with corn nuts (brilliantly described by one blogger as an edible hate crime). Ever.

Ina's recipe is basically a roux to which she adds three kinds of cheese (cheddar, Gruyere and bleu), pasta, bacon, and then tops with bread crumbs. Well, my frozen entree took care of the cheddar, most of the pasta, and the roux. All I needed to do was build on it with the remaining cheeses, a bit more pasta, and the toppings.

My solution to blend what I already had on hand, with Ina's recipe with unique flavors, resulted in the best tasting macaroni and cheese I've ever had to date. I say "to date" because surely I'll make this recipe again, this time from scratch, when I don't have freezer staples to use up.


1 box of frozen Macaroni and Cheese
1 box of "cheap stuff" Macaroni and Cheese in the blue box
4 oz of Gruyere, shredded
2 oz of Gorgonzola Soft Spreadable Cheese or Dip
1 oz of half and half
2 slices bacon
2 slices prosciutto
Nutmeg, Salt and Pepper
1 handful of breadcrumbs

Soften the frozen mac and cheese until it can be removed from its container and stirred, cold, into a casserole dish. Open a box of cheap-stuff pantry-stable macaroni and cheese, and discard the sauce packet. Boil that pasta in salted water. Stir into the defrosted mac and cheese, to both increase the pasta, and, vary the types of pasta (some a bit soft, some a bit firm).

Shred 4 oz of Gruyere cheese, and stir into the pasta. Scoop out 2 oz (half of the container) of a soft, spreadable Gorgonzola or Bleu Cheese dip (I used Connoisseur brand Gorgonzola Spread, which is very pungent) and add to pasta, stirring to melt the soft cheeses. Stir in a bit of half and half as needed, to remain creamy -- I didn't need much at all. Season with salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg (I skimp on a lot, but not on spices).

Meanwhile, in a pan, brown 2 slices of bacon, and 2 slices of prosciutto until crisp. When cool enough to handle, snip into small pieces, adding most to the pasta, and reserving some for garnish.

Meanwhile, in a bullet blender cup, add approximately 1 handful or cup of croutons, toasted bread or crumbs, with basil or other herbs, to make bread crumbs. I happened to have seasoned cornbread stuffing, and I added fresh basil and and pulsed that into breadcrumbs. I wouldn't do that again because it was too "fake tasting." Plain breadcrumbs would have sufficed.

When the pasta, bacon and prosciutto and cheeses are thoroughly stirred and blended, top with the crumbs, and bake for 40 minutes until bubbling. Top with reserved bacon and serve.

About this challenge: The Barefoot Bloggers join forces and cook or bake recipes by Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten each month, chosen in order by members, and present them for discussion on two Thursdays each month. Our Next Challenge: Ina's Smoked Salmon Spread. Hungry? Please join us at the table!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers: Lemon Rosemary Chicken on Panzanella Salad

Two! Two! Two mints in one!

This month the Barefoot Bloggers made Panzanella (tomato bread salad) as chosen by Melissa of It’s Melissa’s Kitchen and Butterflied Chicken chosen by Stefany of Proceed with Caution.

When this month's recipes were announced, my mind did a quick calculation:

1) a big tub of bread salad is too much for one person
2) an entire grilled butterflied chicken is too much for one person
3) I don't have a grill
4) I don't have a patio
5) None of this matters because
6) I can adapt the chicken to a serving for one because it's so basic; and
7) I can make a small portion of the salad; and
8) I can put the chicken ON the salad for a COLD chicken salad!

Jeffrey! Lunch is ready!

When you deconstruct classic and basic recipes such as these, you're left with a concept that is very easy to adapt. Ina's recipe for Grilled Butterflied Chicken is just a paste of lemon, garlic, olive oil, and rosemary, rubbed under the skin and then grilled. I had a container of recently made Moroccan preserved lemons from my bounty of meyer lemons earlier this summer and that is nothing more than lemons and salt. Add some garlic and olive oil, blend it in a blender cup, and you're good to go. I rubbed it on a chicken breast, marinated it, and then grilled it in a panini pan and let it chill.

Onto the salad. I made it almost as called for, although I typically despise cucumbers and bell peppers. Not a huge fan of capers either, but I was game because often, a dish is a success based on the sum of its parts. I made the salad and dressing as written, except I wouldn't budge on the bell peppers -- nasty.

I tossed it all, chilled, layered the grilled chicken on top, and served. This was a mighty fine tasting salad!

About this challenge:The Barefoot Bloggers join forces and cook or bake recipes by Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten each month, chosen in order by members, and present them for discussion on two Thursdays each month. Our Next Challenge: Ina's Smoked Salmon Spread. Hungry? Please join us at the table!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

PSA: Rite Aid Thifty Style Ice Cream Scoop

I'm calling this a "PSA / Public Service Announcement" for the benefit of the foodie community.

If you've ever had an ice cream cone from a Thrifty Drug Store, now known as Rite-Aid Drugstores, you know they are well-known not just for the inexpensive ice cream cones (when I was a teenager in the 1970s, a single scoop was 10 cents), but for the interesting cylindrical shape of the "scoop" -- which wasn't a scoop at all, but rather a slice of a "tube shape."

I don't know why the shape intriques so many, but I'm right with those customers who have asked many a scooper, over time, where and how they could get a Thrifty Ice Cream Scoop.

All one used to hear in reply was "They are made for and patented by Thrifty" (or Rite-Aid) and there was no further discussion. I'm sure over the years there has been many an employee who adopted one out to a family member, and now, from time to time, they show up for sale on eBay at astronomical prices. I've seen the bids open at $50.00, and it isn't unusual to sell at over $100.00, and the buyers are happy to get them. What price, nostalgia?

This PSA post is for the benefit of all. Hope is on the Horizon. Just by sheer luck I stumbled across the right search terms when I was trying to find another one of the scoops. The Thrifty version is actually a stainless steel trigger-mechanism device, not unlike an "ice cream caulk gun" as seen here.

As I said, these turn up on eBay starting at $50.00 on a fairly regular basis.

What you're looking for, however, is a reasonably priced alternative. This is called the Ice Cream Stacker. They, too, show up on eBay, but they are a reasonable facsimile, accomplish the same task in the same shape as the Rite Aid Ice Cream Scooper (see how I'm using all the right key words in my PSA?) and in keeping with Alton Brown's rule of "no single task gadgets", can be used for many things in the kitchen, from cookie and biscuit cutting to making stacked appetizers and sandwiches. Assemble your canapes or filo pastries, press, cut, and eject your stacked snack. Voila!

You can find an Ice Cream Stacker at a few sources online. I bought mine at Wrapables for $14.95. Fast shipping, I had it in 3 days. You can also find them at Nieman-Marcus, exact same product, for $15.00 each.

Now, I need to make space in my freezer for my ice cream freezer bowl, which is never ready because my freezer is always jammed. Then, I need to browse my Perfect Scoop cookbook.

Or I could just head to Rite Aid and buy a brick of ice cream to play with, which is much more likely.

Monday, August 11, 2008

SpaFlyer Sunday Brunch: Grilled Turkey Cheese Sandwiches

A simple and healthy sandwich of Swiss cheese, homegrown tomato, and smoked turkey, on hearty wheat bread, dipped in egg white and grilled until warm and toasty. Very tasty. Recipe made for SpaFlyer Sunday Brunch -- head on over for healthy spa cuisine.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Naan Pizza

In my continuing "clean out the freezer" mode I was able to whip together a tasty little morsel of pizza today for lunch, using a piece of frozen Trader Joe's Naan bread as the crust base.*

I'd also made a blender cup full of Pizza Sauce, another "use it up" task, over a month ago. I have too many cans of tomato paste. I'm not a big pasta fan and even when I make pasta, it's seldom a tomato based sauce. Still, when I see cans of paste on sale, I think I have to have it and I end up with too much of it in the pantry. I found a pizza sauce recipe that sounded tasty, adapted it for my taste, and my, it was EXCELLENT. Tomato pasta sauce, I don't like. Pizza sauce, I do. ::shrug::

Anyway, saw the sauce, saw the naan, saw the mushrooms -- pizza for lunch!

I coated the slice of defrosted naan with a thin schmear of butter, a thin schmear of pizza sauce, a few tablespoons of grated cheese, 4-5 shaved mushrooms, and baked. Voila, a mighty tasty pizza.

Kate's Pizza Sauce

1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
6 ounces hot water
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons honey
1-2 teaspoons anchovy paste
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano or one handful of fresh oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried basil or 2 teaspoons of pesto or one handful of fresh basil
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
sea salt to taste

In a small bowl, combine tomato paste, water, Parmesan cheese, garlic, honey and mix thoroughly. Begin to add anchovy paste and all spices, and mix, tasting as you go. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes to blend and adjust seasonings a second time. I added more anchovy paste and honey, for instance. This is a flavor that adds a complexity and saltiness I love. I think many people only think they don't like anchovies -- it's a salty briny flavor that is wonderful and complex, and not fishy when used in this manner.

My jar of pizza sauce has kept very well, for weeks at a time. Easy to spread on toast for a quick Po' Folks Pizza for kids (which is a slice of toast, sauce, and a slice of cheese melted in a toaster oven).

*Do not even consider buying the bakery aisle packages of Naan from Trader Joe's. They are an abomination. Thick, tough, stale, flavorless --- blech. The frozen variety, however (which still pales in comparison to fresh Naan from a restaurant) is a passable pre-made Naan.

Used up: Pizza Sauce (tomato paste), Mushrooms, Frozen Naan

Saturday, August 9, 2008

No Flap, Jack ...

... these are pancakes.

I loved the pancake square technique suggested by Robin Sue at Big Red Kitchen so much, I wanted to leave my office and go home to make them. Immediately. I restrained myself until the weekend, but knew I'd be making these come Saturday morning, and make them I did.

I may never flap my jacks again.

This is SUCH an easy method, I wonder why it's never occured to me before, or why I've never seen it before? You simply butter a baking pan, add your pancake batter, and bake until set. Cut in squares, and serve.

As Robin Sue points out, it's easy to customize these pancakes by any number of additions (fruit, nuts, chocolate chips, etc), but I'm a purist. I like butter and maple syrup, and that's about it -- another reason recipe Robin's appealed to me. It was plain and simple.

I followed her recipe almost exactly, but for using vanilla bean sugar instead of plain, and, I wanted a thinner pancake with more crust to cake ratio, so instead of using an 8x8 pan, I used an 8x12 pan for a thinner, more crusty area bar. They cooked in 20 minutes and popped out easily.

In prepping my pancake squares to eat (I buttered the top of the entire pan), I recalled I had a jar of maple butter waiting to be used, and that was a mighty fine substitution for more butter and syrup. The maple butter is really just a big jar of maple icing, truth be told, and I ended up with Maple Bars which were scrumptious.

A huge plus: Because this is really a method more than a recipe -- really you could use your favorite pancake mix and a toaster oven and have hot breakfast before your hair is dry. Just shake up some pancake batter of your choice and pour it into your buttered pan, and if you place it into a toaster oven which shuts off with the timer, you'll bake them without burning (and get some crusty tops), and they'll be ready by the time your morning shower and toilette is finished. No standing over the stove with a spatula, rebuttering the pan, making people wait their turn for a hot pancake or lamenting over the rejects. These will also freeze like a breeze and I can pop one into a bento box for breakfast at work during the week.

Thanks, Robin!

Robin's Pancake Squares

3/4 cup milk
2 T. melted butter
1 large egg
1 T. sugar
1 cup flour
2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt

Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly grease an 8x8 baking dish (for thicker bars) or 8x12 baking dish (for thinner squares). In a large mixing bowl, beat together milk, butter and egg. Add sugar, then gradually beat the flour in. Carefully stir in the baking powder and salt. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Serves 4-6.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Chili Relleno Bake

This comforting and light casserole was inspired by two things and made rather late in the evening, when my energy level was uncharacteristically high.

First, I'm clearing out my over stocked freezer, pantry and refrigerator with things gone past their prime, discovering things I'd forgotten I purchased, discovering MANY duplicates purchased because I'd forgotten I already had it, all in preparation for making a "Pantry Inventory" to post on this blog.

I seriously overshop. I think part of it is entertainment and part of it is stress reducing, but I could blog about that for pages and bore you to tears. Fellow groceryovershoppers will already know. What I plan to do is post my inventory and begin crossing off some of the items as I use them, and invite suggestions from my fellow bloggers -- e.g., Hey, Kate, did you know you have every ingredient on your list to make my Grandma Ruby's Beanie Burger Surprise?

Second, I had a package of Sargento Ultra Thin Cheese to use and I do mean ultra thin. That stuff is like "Cheese Paper" -- which appeals to my delicate sensibilities. You can see your hand through it. I wanted the calorie content of this gossamer cheese slices, so I visited the Sargento website and landed on a recipe for Chile Rellano Bake. As I scanned the recipe, it occurred to me I had every single ingredient and best of all, many of them were on my "use it up quickly" list.

In a word: Delicious.

It's a cross between a lasagne-tamale pie and a chile rellano quiche. The torn tortillas mixed throughout make a masa flavored layer which helped puff up and support the eggy quiche. The ultra thin cheese I told you about? I used three slices to lay across the top before it baked. You can see how thin it is because all the ingredients show through.

This could be breakfast, lunch or dinner -- it's so versatile. I'm hoping it freezes well, as I'll have only a slice or two myself, and then cut it into portions to freeze for portable breakfast on weekday mornings.

On with the recipe!

Chili Relleno Bake

1-1/2 cups (6 oz.) shredded reduced fat Mexican flavored cheese, divided
(I used 1 cup of reduced fat mozzerella, 1/4 cup of low fat diced cheddar, and 3 ultra thin slices of cheddar)
1 can (12 oz.) evaporated skim milk
3/4 cup (6 oz.) Egg Beaters®
6 (6-inch) corn tortillas, torn into 2-inch pieces
(I had three kinds of small, 4-5 inch soft handmade corn tortillas almost past their prime. I used two each of plain, green chili, and mild red chili flavored tortillas)
2 cans (4 oz. each) chopped green chilies
(I used 2 whole, canned, green chilis, chopped and it was plenty)
1/2 cup mild chunky-style salsa
1/4 tsp. salt (optional)
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
Fat-free or light sour cream (optional)

Coat 10-inch deep dish pie plate or 8x8-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Combine 1 cup cheese, milk, Egg Beaters, tortillas, chilies, salsa and salt, if desired, in medium bowl; pour into prepared dish. Bake in preheated 375°F oven 35 minutes or until set. Remove from oven; sprinkle with remaining cheese and cilantro. Bake 1 minute more or until cheese is melted. Serve with sour cream, if desired.

(I chose to mix all of the loose cheese in the custard, and only used 3 slices of thin cheese for the top, because the custard seemed awfully wet to me and I thought the cheese would help thicken it up. I need not have worried, the tortillas did their job. I'm not sorry I made this adaptaton, however. The filling was light and fluffy and just cheesy enough without melting into goo. I used an 8x16 inch pan so it was thinner, which made it cook and set more easily. I don't feel it required any sour cream -- skipped it).

Verdict: Seriously delicious
Skill: Not much (as if anything on this blog would require skill)
Repeat: Absolutely
Use It Up Factor: High. Used up stale tortillas, egg beaters, canned chilis, a few spoons of salsa left in a tub, and an oldish can of evaporated milk. Only the cheese was a recent purchase.

Nutritional Stats, compiled using my adaptations, and cut into 10 portions (cut the 16inch pan down the center, long direction, and then across, 4 times, for 10 pieces)

Calories 102.3 per serving
Fat 5.5 g
Cholesterol 18.2 mg
Sodium 187.4 mg
Potassium 203.4 mg
Carbohydrate 4.8 g
Dietary Fiber 0.2 g
Sugars 3.8 g
Protein 8.4 g

Saturday, July 26, 2008

French Toast and Sausage

My Mother was recently talking to my oldest brother about his high school years. I don't remember what prompted the conversation, but she asked him for his favorite or best high school memory. His answer, without hesitating first, was "The field trip lunches." Whenever we went on school outings and field trips, Mom would pack us elaborate lunches that included extra-special touches that didn't appear on normal school days. As if getting the day off to take a bus to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco or an Amusement Park or Swimming Pool wasn't fun enough, we'd unpack more than just a lunch -- it was a Child's Dream Picnic.

I remember those lunches of course, but that conversation prompted an examination of own food memories. Forget my high school memories. As soon as my brother mentioned lunches, I began to think what my favorite FOOD memories were, growing up.

My answer came just as quickly: Breakfast.

Breakfast at home, breakfast out while running errands. Breakfast next to a river for day camping, breakfast at the beach while on vacation.

Breakfast was a big deal in our family, and we had wonderful home cooked breakfasts every weekend. Weekdays were cereal and fruit, sometimes toast, but seldom the Full Monty. That came on the weekend when everyone joined in our big dining room. Eggs cooked over easy, toast, bacon, sausages, cinnamon rolls, boxed donuts, sometimes pancakes, and usually whipped orange juice. We had one of those vintage ice cream shake mixers on the counter and we'd throw in the orange juice and whip it until it was frothy.

When we went on vacation, we'd usually have a vacation rental house at the beach and my poor mother -- she gets to go on vacation and what is she doing? Making eggs and bacon in some other person's ill-equipped kitchen with funky bent frying pans and no spatula. Some mornings we'd get up early and go down to the beach and start a fire in one of those beach-side grills when it was still chilly and foggy, and make eggs and fried ham.

I remember once taking just a Day Trip up into the woods, when we lived in Colorado. We were surrounded by Aspens on a beautiful Rocky Mountain morning, and my father set up a green, folding, propane Coleman camp stove, and my mother fried eggs and ham and pancakes next to an ice cold rushing river. We placed a whole cantaloupe in a little eddy in the rocks to get it chilled, and the water washed away my Mom's melon. Off we went, trying to chase that melon down the rapids so it didn't get away from our breakfast. I remember kids screaming and laughing, chasing a bobbing melon while smelling food cooking.

Breakfast was always was a happy event for me. If we were at home, it meant the weekend was here. We'd usually run errands to thrift stores or hardware stores for Dad's weekend project supplies (which I strangely loved), go shopping or swimming, or just play. If we were on vacation, it meant the perfect start of a perfect day at a perfect beach in a perfect week.

One of the knacks my mother had, when she cooked our weekend breakfasts at home, was to give us the impression that certain entrees were Special Occasion only. I didn't really understand this until I was an adult, but I had it exactly backwards as a child. The normal breakfast was the special event -- laboriously frying up an entire pound of bacon for a family of six, an entire dozen eggs over easy, and then toasting half a loaf of bread, and bringing it all to the table at the same time, HOT -- or goodness, the sheer number of pancakes she had to make for a family of six -- that was the labor of love.

What I considered special, however, was the French Toast and Italian Sausage meal. My mother didn't take out a loaf of sandwich bread and just dip and fry perfect square slices. No, when we had French Toast, it was because she had a stale loaf of french bread -- usually a baguette -- left over from diner the night before. She'd bake these thick, small slices of eggy bread, butter and dust them with powdered sugar, and then give us a thick, brown piece of Italian Sausage. This couldn't be more simple and short-cut, because the entire pan of baguette slices and sausage baked and came to the table at the same time on a tray. EASY, right? THIS was my favorite, and I realize I overlooked how hard the others mornings had been. We'd oooh and ahhh and exclaim "French Toast! Our favorite!" and she'd must smile. Frankly, I'm glad she figured out a way to use up stale bread and give herself a much-needed break.

We didn't fuss around with silly things like Chocolate Chip Pancakes or Blueberry French Toast or Apple Cinnamon anything. That's not breakfast, that's silliness. We didn't feel neglected in any way by this. In fact, we probably felt we had better taste than anyone who would ruin French Toast by stuffing it with cream cheese or peanut butter.

When we did have French Toast or pancakes, we always had the same toppings. Butter, maple syrup, and a dusting of powdered sugar. You really don't need anything else. Leave the berries, whipped cream, and foolishness to the restaurants. In fact, even now when I see huge portions of French Toast cut into triangles from Texas Toast or large slices of bread, slathered in some gooey fruit sauce, I think it's gauche. It needs to be small, oval pieces of baguette or isn't "right."

The most remarkable thing about my mother's wonderful home cooked meals (with a few exceptions -- there are meals every child is bound to feel offended by), hearty, and cooked and served graciously, was this: My mother doesn't like to cook. She never let that affect the meals she served to her family, but she never minded taking a day off, either, if my Dad suggested we go out. Pity she got so few days off, even on vacation.

Here's to you, Mom. Breakfast with you is still my favorite meal.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers: Seafood Salad, Two Ways

This week's Barefoot Bloggers Challenge is Smoked Salmon Spread, chosen by Ashley of The Spicy Skillet . I love most seafood so I didn't have the "oh oh" feeling many of my fellow bloggers had. Plus, I knew immediately I'd be dividing it up between two seafoods, because I had some crab to use. It was an "ah hah! That's what I'll make with that crab" moment. Like one ever needs help figuring how to eat crab.

This is another recipe which proves many spreads and dips are just as easy to make as they are to buy. I only had to pick up a small package of salmon from Trader Joe’s and I had everything else, and it came together very quickly.

That said, I thought it was under-seasoned as written, and I felt it needed more of all the basic flavor — salt, pepper, lemon, horseradish and dill. I added a little bit more of each of those things. In retrospect, I should have made it as is, and then seasoned it again later, before serving, giving the dill and lemon a chance to dance. By adding more dill and lemon immediately, I came to regret it because it was too dilly later on, when it ripened.

Finally, I split the recipe between two seafoods. I made the “base” and then divided it in half. To one half, I added the minced salmon. To the other half, I added jumbo lump crab meat. Between the two, I much preferred the crab dip. That’s the one I tucked into immediately, with crackers. The salmon will go to work with me tomorrow, with some bagels if my co workers are lucky.

And away we go: Making the base.

Smoked Salmon and Dill with Smokehouse Pepper

Lump Crab Meat Spread with Chives

About this challenge:The Barefoot Bloggers join forces and cook or bake recipes by Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten each month, chosen in order by members, and present them for discussion on two Thursdays each month. Our Next Challenge: Ina's Smoked Salmon Spread. Hungry? Please join us at the table!