December 17, 2008

This Fake Hollandaise Sauce Kicks Butt

Last weekend I had a brilliant idea: Falafels Benedict. Like Eggs Benedict, only with a thin, crispy falafel in place of the ham, on a warm pita bread bed rather than the English muffin.

I screwed up the Hollandaise sauce, though, which created an emergency situation, obviously. But of course I'm real fine in an emergency.

And really, it was pretty delicious. My falafel was a little too crumbly, and could have been thinner, but overall I think with some tweaking this assembly could be a keeper. The Hollandaise was really nice, the creme fraiche making it tangy and smooth.

Here's what I did:

1/2 cup creme fraiche
1 egg yolk
1 Tablespoon melted butter
dash of Worcestershire sauce

Optional: if you haven't used all your lemons ruining your Hollandaise, add a teaspoon of fresh juice. Otherwise, the creme will give you the tang you need.

With a fork or small whisk, whip the yolk into the creme, then the butter, then the lemon juice and Worcestershire.

Warm the mixture in a small dish set over warm water, stirring frequently.


December 9, 2008

Christmas Morning Make-Ahead Breakfast Casserole

Perfect for Christmas morning! This recipe calls for the assembled dish to be refrigerated overnight. In the morning you pop it in the oven for an hour, then take out the warm, hearty result. Known in my family by the anti-hyperbolic name of Breakfast Casserole, I really think it's essentially a stratta.

Allana Kellog put out a call on twitter for make-ahead breakfast dishes for Christmas morning, it justsohappened that I'd made this most perfect and spectacularly delicious dish this weekend for company. As a matter of fact, if I had eaten breakfast this morning after looking at my facebook page I would have had a picture to post here. Alas, that last leftover piece is warming my tummy as I write.

I can tell you without reservation that this recipe is foolproof, easy, and flavorful beyond belief. The ingredients are simple. Bread, eggs, cheese, milk, sausage, scallions, a little salt. But something magic happens in the process and the thing comes out tasting marvelously complex.

This recipe comes from my mother. She doesn't know where she got it.

Breakfast Casserole

16 oz day old bread, cubed
10 eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups light cream or whole milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

1 cup Swiss cheese, shredded
1 pound sausage, cooked, crumbled and drained
1 bunch scallions, chopped

Butter 9 -by 13-inch baking pan.

Place cubed bread in the pan.

Sprinkle with cheeses.

Combine wet ingredients, and pour over the bread and cheese.

Top with sausage and scallions.

Cover tightly and refrigerate over night.

In the morning, heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Uncover the casserole, and bake for an hour, or until golden brown.



I like to use a good, firm bread.

I really, really like to use a maple sausage in this dish! This weekend I used an andoullie, which I took out of it's casing, browned, then drizzled with a little real maple syrup. Yum!

November 25, 2008

The Secrets of Natalia's Way, Bienmesabe Cake

Hold on tight to your mixers and bags of sugar, because in this post I'm revealing local St. Louis chef Natalia Penchas's secrets for her favorite dessert (and mine), the Venezualan Bienmesabe cake. And you can't do the cake justice without these secrets, believe me!

Natalia, with the finished Bienmesabe

Once upon I time, at the St. Louis Food Bloggers' Potluck, I met my Latin lover, Beinmesabe, a Venezualan pastry. She is a light, amusing sponge cake soaked in coconut milk and rum, covered in piles of cinnamon-dusted meringue; intense, unforgettable.
The only creatures in the Universes who will not like this cake are those who (still inexplicably, as far as I'm concerned) do not like coconut.
I tried making her from Natalia's recipe, and, well, my creation was adequate, but she was not my Bienmesabe. Specifically, two things went wrong: rather than a soaked sponge cake I ended up with a cake sitting in a puddle of liquid (this problem was so acute that I put the cake back in the oven and baked it off until it seemed edible); and though I followed the meringue instructions in Natalia's recipe, my meringue was just not as structured as hers, not as much a part of the cake, if you will.
And so, because of my weeping upon the internets, Natalia graciously offered to come over and teach me to make the cake of my heart, properly. Watching and listened to her, all problems were solved. It turns out there are a couple of secrets, important secrets not included in her recipe.
These are important secrets. Believe me. And Natalia has given me permission to reveal them here, to you! Natalia's recipe for the Bienmesabe is posted on her web site, Zinur.
Here I have simply reposted and edited the recipe (we must remember that English is not Natalia's first language), made some "corrections" based on what she did in her demonstrations, and inserted the secrets, which are in bold italic type.

Somewhere in the process.


Here's the basic deal: you're going to bake a sponge cake, trim off the top of that cake, pour a fabulous coconut and rum liquid into it the well, top it with tons of Italian meringue, and sprinkle it with sugar.

Instructional photo #1: sifting the flour over the egg mixture

Instructional photo #2: Cake with the top, caramelized part peeled off, leaving the side walls and an upper lip for structure

Preheat the oven to 350° F (180° C).

Sponge Cake

(Makes one 9-inch round layer cake or two 6-inch cakes; if you make the two, freeze one)

6 eggs
1 1/4 cup of Sugar
a dash Vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour (you'll need a sifter)

Butter and flour the cake pan, and tap out the extra flour.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with an electric mixer. For a long time. 7 minutes, 10 minutes. A few minutes in, all the vanilla. Beat until the eggs are fluffy and forming up as if you'd beaten the yolks and whites separately. Seriously. (If you're more comfortable you can do them separately, as Natalia says to in her instructions; I'm just telling you what she did in my kitchen).

Instructional photo #1:
Slowly sift the flour directly over the bowl of egg mixture, letting it fall like a gentle snow.

Now fold the flour into the eggs. Be very gentle, and very careful not to activate the gluten.
Spread the mixture in the prepared baking pan(s).

Do not tap the pan(s). Keep the bubbles in the batter intact.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until lightly golden and springy to the touch.

Leave the cake(s) in the pan for 5 minutes, then flip onto a sugar covered surface.

Place the cake into a nice deep round platter.

Instructional photo #2:
Now you are going to prepare the cake for the liquid by removing the caramelized top of the cake, but leaving the outer edge of the cake, and about a 1/2-inch rim of horizontal cake surface around the whole cake. This will insure the cake retains structure (see photo).

To remove the top of the cake, lightly drag a fork across the surface so that the brown part begins to peel off. At some point you can start using your fingers. But remember to leave an edge intact so the cake doesn't fall apart!


1 can of coconut milk (just the standard stuff, like you use for Thai or Indian cooking)
1 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup of dark rum (optional)

Mix these together.

In batches, and slowly, pour the milk mixture into the well of the cake, saturating evenly. Here's the trick: as you pour in batches, watch how it absorbs. When it stops absorbing, stop pouring. There will still be some liquid running out from the bottom of the cake.But you are minimizing that, and keeping the structure of the cake, by watching and regulating the liquid. We had about a 1/4 left over. But it's going to be different every time, so just trust your eyes.

Put the cake in the fridge to chill while you make the meringue. Here I am disregarding the recipe Natalia has on her site altogether, because we didn't use that one. She said she put the standard French recipe up so as not to make it all too complicated. But the Italian version is definitely what works for this cake! It's more stable and structured. Italian meringue is made by pouring hot simple syrup into beaten egg whites and continuing to beat. Here is a Tyler Florence's standard recipe. Note, however, that Natalia did not use cream of tartar. I don't see how it can hurt, though.

1 cup superfine sugar (we used regular sugar)
1/3 cup water
5 egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

In a small pot over low heat, combine sugar and water. Swirl the pot over the burner to dissolve the sugar completely. Do not stir. Increase the heat and boil to soft-ball stage (235 to 240 degrees). Use a candy thermometer for accuracy. Wash down the inside wall of the pot with a wet pastry brush. This will help prevent sugar crystals from forming around the sides, falling in and causing a chain reaction.

Prepare your meringue.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip the eggs whites on low speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar, increase the speed to medium, and beat until soft peaks form.

With the mixer running, pour the hot sugar syrup in a thin stream over fluffed egg whites. Beat until the egg whites are stiff and glossy. Spread the meringue over a hot cake or pie, and bake as directed.


Once the meringue is ready, immediately take the cake from the fridge and start piling it high with the meringue. Use a rubber spatula to make little peaks of the meringue.

Dust the top with cinnamon, through a sifter. Serve, and watch your guests just die from pleasure!
A couple of notes: Natalia has some pretty cool projects going, including a catering business with local restaurantuer Michael Johnson, and a pastry, soup, and sandwhich shop to be nestled in an antique store in my very own Lafayette Square, Rue La Fayette.

October 13, 2008

Visit Me After The Election, K?

Food blogging suspended until after the election. Working full time on the Obama campaign. First things first. This is Missouri, after all. Come on by November 8 and maybe I'll tell you about the celebration party!

October 8, 2008

Franco and The Sous Chefs

So how's Franco doing without former chef Justin Keimon? Today I decided to find out. After a blood sugar rattling deprivation trip to Mount Pleasant Valley in Augusta (fun because of the good company and the gorgeous view -- their wish to make us buy wine glasses to drink the bottle we bought? tacky) the lack of food available on a weekend? ridiculous), I decided to conclude the hours before Atonement by stopping by Franco for a much needed light supper.

I was a little worried, given Justin's recent departure. But I need not have worried. So far, the Sous Chefi are doing fabulous work without him.

I was in need of a vegetable infusion, since our picnic had consisted of cheeses, salami, braunschwager, a little fruit, and bread (yummy though). So, after consider the Caesar salad and sweet potato bisque (still kind of sad about that one), I ordered the entree of grilled zucchini, lentils, and creamed mushrooms and spinach.

Here's the thing about Franco: I've heard people complain that they weren't "wowed." But Franco isn't were you go for that. Franco is where you go for simple, classic, perfectly seasoned, perfectly prepared bistro food.

My zucchini was, indeed, the perfect temperature, had the perfect bite, was not watery or limp or too crispy; it's natural mildness was totally in evidence, and showing off like an ephemeral girl against the wall at a dance. The lentils were a very familiar stew, just the right form to softness ratio, with diced carrots and onions and a little thyme, . The crimini mushrooms and fresh spinach were just sublime, mild and salty and buttery and bright.

That the entree made me forget the chili and cheese biscuit, with the sweet butter at it's ideal just-preceding room temperature (that's the kind of detail these guys do perfectly) is a telling enough miracle in itself.

If you haven't been to Franco yet, please go. If the guys running the kitchen are still sous-chefs, sooner or later they may be called away, were surely at least one of them deserves a better title and salary.
(I know, I know. Leave me alone. I can break my own self-imposed repressive paradigm if I want to. )

September 26, 2008

Debate Night Party

So I made non-gumbo (because I didn't have the energy to make sure it was authentic); cornbread with cream, sour cream, chilis, and raw goat cheddar; steamed Swiss chard and beet "greens"; roasted beets with sour cream; forbidden rice; and warm chocolate chip cookies. We were in Mississippi, virtually, after all.

Here are our takes on the food and the debate:

Me on food: Food was good, not great. But it was Southern.
Me on politics: It's time to sit down with our enemies. That's the core of all problem resolution.

Simone on the debate: Dear John, Please stop repeating ad slogans.
Simone on food: It was poetically just to be eating cornbread and watch a black man debate his way to the Presidency.

Tim on the debate: The most vibrant thing about John Macian was his tie.
Tim on food: At least the food was satisfying.

Robin and Steve: Their quotes later, they left already.

September 17, 2008

Cupcakes Galore, and Many Frostings

By Saturday, for Poetry and Light, Cupcakes and Cocktails (to which you're welcome to come) I will make 400 mini cupcakes, and a plethora of herb and flower and fungus and fruit flavored buttercreams. The herbs will be made with herbs from the community garden (devising a method that involves simple syrups and infusing -- I'll let you know how it goes) . Trying Cupcake Project's saffron.

Also experimenting with rose, basil, lavender (but very, very mildly lavender), truffled honey, chocolate with lotus nut, rosemary mint (if it comes out tasting like Aveda shampoo it's out), and lemoncello. I would do more research on Cupcake Project but I kind of want to try these straight from my imagination.

More later.

September 7, 2008

The Pad Thai Magic Four: It's So Simple

Palm sugar
Fish sauce
Sweet dried radish
Fresh squeezed lime juice

That's the sauce, the base, the Thing That Makes Pad Thai What It Is.

You cannot make a Pad Thai sauce properly without these. You can make it wonderfully with them. And I think they also contain the magic properties that sooth my babygirl's tummy.

The thing is, there are a gazillion Pad Thai recipes, maybe one for every Pad Thai cook, so its impossible to know which one to use and you could spend the rest of your life playing around with them. Which wouldn't be that bad. But I have a feeling that a lot of people stay away from making it at all because the plethora of recipes and confusion of ingredients is just overwhelming.

Those ingredients seem to vary wildly, and of course every cook thinks theirs is the best.

Some call for galagal. Some call for lemon grass. Some call for a lot of garlic, some none. Or ginger, or not. Or teensy dried shrimp, or not.

But I've figured out something really important:

There are four basic ingredients in Pad Thai sauce that are absolutely necessary. Everything other ingredient the gazillions recipes call for in the sauce is optional.

I'm going to tell you what those four ingredients are, and once you have that information you will be able to make a good Pad Thai from pretty much any authoritative Thai cooking source. After I tell you the magic ingredients, I'll give you a couple of other basics, and you're off.

Should you doubt me, please know that I have now pleased the most difficult of Pad Thai critics, my teenage daughter. And she knows her Pad Thai. It soothes her tummy, so we've eaten a lot of it over the last year.


Palm sugar Fish sauce Sweet dried radish Fresh squeezed lime juice

That's your sauce. Those are the totally wonderful magic flavors that make the dish the mysteriously wicked taste fest that it is. And they CANNOT be substituted. Period. You must find the authentic versions. Mail order them if you have to, but you cannot use soy sauce in place of fish sauce, nor any other sugar in place of the palm. Don't leave out the sweet dried radish, and don't even consider lemon for lime.

Look at a recipe for ratios. They are just about in agreement on that.

Then add what you want to, or not, according to the recipe you've chosen.

The other basics are of course:

Rice noodles, soaked in water until they are nice and soft (45 minutes works well for the ones I use, but it will vary by noodle)
Peanut oil
Mung bean sprouts
One or two dried chilies
An egg
Tiny dried shrimp (not too many)
A protein (I use The Best Tofu Marinade in The World, of course, then oven fry it), but if you treat it right any meat will be great
Fresh cilantro
Fresh basil

I like to saute a couple cloves of garlic and the chilies (I grind these two up in a mortar and pestle first) in 1/3 cup of peanut oil, then add the scallions, the drained noodles, then the palm sugar, radish, fish sauce, and dried shrimp all quickly one after another, tossing with each, moving pretty quickly; then toss real well; then move the noodles over to fry the egg, then mix it in; turn off the heat; toss in the sprouts and lime juice and the protein and the fresh herbs, then serve with ground nuts and lime slices and some hot sauce.

That's it. But that's just my version. There is a secret ingredient, but it is so kick ass that I can't believe it, and I've never seen it in any recipes, and so I'm going to hang on to it for the cookbook. Or the noodle shop. Something that will make me some money. Any noodle shop investors out there?

I know that's not a proper recipe, but I don't mean it to be. I don't want to give you a recipe. I want to tell you how easy it is, once you know the magic sauce ingredients, and let you go from there.

One more thing I'll say: don't skimp on the oil. The noodles need it for that slipperiness that's so much fun, and that facilitates all the other flavors.

Go at it.

August 28, 2008

The Beets Are Fantastic

Maybe I like pickled beets after all.

My pickled beets. I think they look a little like very fine nigiri tuna.

These are the perfect texture. Firm, with just the right amount of bite, not too much, and not too little. There is no sense of mushiness about them at all. The spice is just right. I was worried, because the recipe I used (see yesterday's post) called for a whole T of cinnamon, some allspice and some clove. I cut back on the clove a tad and made up for it with more allspice, I'm not that fond of clove. But the spices meld wonderfully into the acid of the liquid and, most poignantly, into the red taste of the beets. And either my taste buds have evolved (become less sensitive?) or this recipe, or these beets as they come from the ground are more to my liking than what I've had in the past, primarily as a girl. But not exclusively.

I have eaten pickled beets in my adult life and not been that crazy about them.
Whatever the reason, these taste refreshing and delicious to me.

I hope my mommy likes them.

August 27, 2008

Zee beets! Fini! Oila! Finally!

Ah, God, finally. It was a labor of love, but I think it took more energy worrying about them while I was sick than it did for either round of actual canning. Today I went at it slowly and methodically, enjoying the textures and colors. Not a lot in the way of scent, barring the pickling liquid. Enjoy.
My babies. I couldn't be more proud.

A beet, the skin falling off since I'd already boiled it. They were very easy to peel.

The liquid, a fragrant mix of vinegar, water, sugar, and spices. Bring to a boil, then cool.

A beet, halved, then sliced, then cut down the middle again. Trying to keep slices as uniform as possible.

The first beet goes into the first jar. It's a moment.

Now I'm really cooking, doing them in batches; I create a beetscape. They are very pretty, aren't they, on the blue cutting board? These have been peeled, and the roots and tops cut off. They're ready for slicing.

But I got all set up this afternoon, and everything went quite well. I maintained all sterile protocol and technique, the beets did not seem mushy -- well, a couple of them did but I rejected them immediately and chose only the firm ones.

I did one jar of just tiny ones, uncut, except for the tops and roots cut off. I think they're pretty.

I'm not going to do a total blow-by-blow, since I totally used the instructions at a guy named Paul Noll's blog. (The link is underneath all the pictures. Ya, I want you to look at my photos and my pretty beets before you go over there!) My mom could not remember the recipe, and this one had lots of helpful pictures. So.

Tomorrow I will taste them. Tonight, though, they must cool. I will let you know. Here's the link to instructions:

August 25, 2008

Wherefore Art Thou, Beets?

Actually, that's more like what they're saying to me, from their refrigerated prison in the blue ceramic bowl that Leigh gave me forever ago. I just don't have it in me yet to finish canning them. I'm weak as an overcooked dumpling. I think by tomorrow maybe I'll be well enough. I'm coughing much less, maybe because Molly brought me some leftover prescription cough syrup she had that stopped the cough last night and allowed me to actually sleep for the first time since, like, I started the darn beets.

So, lets consider this an experiment called -- oh, I don't know, how about "How Long Can Beets Wait Between Initial Boil and True Pickling?"

If I do them tomorrow and they turn out well then the answer will be: at least 96 hours.

Tune in, ye curiosity seekers. We shall see.

August 24, 2008

Lemon Ginger Toddy with Hot Pepper: Recipe to sooth a cough while the beets rest.

Should the beets rest? I don't know. But they have no choice right now because I have to.

I am a cough machine, fueled by the inconvenient necessity of oxygen. I would be sad to be sick all alone if it weren't for the equally inconvenient reality that before the heartbreak I was just as alone when I was sick so screw all that. And Molly's on her way over and that will be nice. And Pam and I did go out for a mimosa this morning -- a slight trail given my feverish state, ;-) but one I entered willingly (that's meant to be an obvious understatement -- I was to get out of the house) and have a mimosa)).

So the beets are still resting in the fridge and I'll tell you what: it's hard to find a medicine to make my coughing stop long enough to sleep! I'm trying all sorts of over the counter suppressants and none of them work at all. I just get groggier. Turns out, the old stand-by works. And it works like magic. I drink this, nice and hot, and the loveliest warming happens in the top of my chest, where the persistent tickling lives, and I stop coughing. Only trouble is, it wears off and I don't have the energy to keep myself in supply, jumping up and down to make the concoction over and over again. That's the Catch-22. Unlike what's in a bottle, unless you have someone around to make it for you, it runs out. But, if you have a loved one with a chest cold here's your ticket to soothing their cough. Just be sure that if you're giving it to a child you leave out the rum and the hot pepper, duh.

Honey, lime, rum, and cup of heaven. Below are the ginger and pepper after boiling in the pan, the water poured off of them.

This recipe is based on the classic Lemon Honey Tea that I brought my children up on. It is what should be given to children sick with colds. That over-the-counter stuff is crap. I never game them that stuff.

I'll give you both recipes. First, the basic one. Then, be punched up version. Both are fantastic.

Basic Lemon Honey "Tea"

1 T honey
juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon (or lime)
hot water

Stir together and drink up. Feel Better.

K, that was the basic. Here's the ultra-enhanced grown-ups only version:

Lemon Ginger Toddy with Rum and Red Pepper

And if you don't think this will put the whammy to a cold you're just nuts.

1 1/4 cups water
1 T honey
juice of 1 lemon or lime
several slices fresh or candied ginger
1 tsp rum
1 fresh or dried red pepper, undisturbed

Boil the ginger and the whole pepper together in the water for ten minutes or so.

Put honey and lemon juice in a mug, and pour the hot ginger-pepper water in.


August 22, 2008

Sorry, Beets On Hold

I hope they'll be ok in the fridge.

I got them trimmed, cleaned, and through their initial boil when my chest cold and sadness and the compelling prospect of drinking wine with a kind friend who'd come to cheer me up due to this current romance trouble of mine did me in. So I drained them off, sealed them up in a ceramic bowl and plastic wrap, and put them in the fridge. I hope they don't get mushy.

Reminder to all: grief settles in the chest. Take a rest if you need to. Better the beets bleed.

Love & Peace,


August 21, 2008

Mojitos and the Canning of Beets for Mamma

My mother loves pickled beets. I don't so much, for I am more of a Borscht kind of woman myself, or even a shredded upon the scape of a salad sort. But I do love my mother and she is now too feeble to can and I can't stand the thought of her subsisting on whatever she gets packed in metal from The Wal-Mart and 'tis the season of her birthday and I have beets in the garden begging to be eaten and so. You get the idea.

This is stage 1. Sterilizing the cans and lids and making the mojito. Tune in a couple hours from now and I'll show you Step 2. Woo!

My mess of beets, fresh from the garden this morning and rinsed. But they still gotta be scrubbed!

The modern canner's tableaux: large canning pot, smaller pot to sterilize lids, and laptop with the instructions up!

The cans waiting to be boiled. This enameled pot takes ages to come to a boil!

And at last, the Mighty Mojito!

August 20, 2008

Beef Pizzaiolla, from Cheryl Richter

Cousin Cheryl often claims to be an inadequate cook, but every morsel of hers I've ever sampled has been delicious. She did say of late that divorcing her first husband, a controlling kind of guy who liked to hover and criticize while she cooked, had a side of effect of making her a better cook. Maybe because she could follow her own instincts without distraction from some nutty jerk? Maybe. No offense, ex-husband.

So Cheryl's mommy is Italian. Old New York family. I won't name names. Let's just say I've been told not to sit next to the restaurant window when dining out with them. There's some cooking going on there, and no matter what Cheryl says she got the gene.

Since it's tomato season, here's a little beauty from Cheryl I think you might love:

Beef Pizzaiolla

Cheryl says: This recipe an be made with beef or veal, but I prefer the beef. I suppose you could do it with pork chops or chicken, but I haven't had it that way. Save any leftover tomatoes sauce and use it on a macaroni as a side dish.


2 pounds beef -- round steak cut 3/4" thick, or veal rib or loin cut 1/2" thick
1 1/2 pounds fresh or 1 20 oz can of good plum tomatoes
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste
grated Parmesan or Romano
good olive oil

De-seed the tomatoes, and put them through a food mill (alternately, put them through a food processor, then strain) until liquid but not mushy. Set aside.

Add the garlic, oregano, parsley, salt and pepper to the tomatoes, and stir.

In a large skillet, heat 1/4 cup of olive oil over medium high heat.

Sear the meat on both sides, lower the heat and leave in the pan.

Top the meat with the tomato mixture.

Let simmer on low heat for about 45 minutes, until the meat is fork tender.

Top with the grated cheese.

Serve with a nice rusty bread and a bottle of red wine.

August 18, 2008

Where Did You Go, Aunt Margaret?

I'm right here! And presenting the last of the Zach Week reports. In these photos of him eating spaghetti you can see that he's moving so fast, twirling the spaghetti noodles around and trying to get them into his mouth, that they make this really odd digital blur or transparent impression, or something. Check it out!
Can you see it? He's holding the noodles in one hand, and trying to spear them with his fork with the other. Quite an interesting experiment in physics.
Life has continued and now I am alone again, the blissful independence, the silence, the security. It was really, and I am not kidding, a true joy/Zen challenge to spend the week with my two-year-old nephew, and I am the better for it. I hope he is, too. We forged a bond, built of repetitious food choices and much time spent in the water; of lessons learned again in how to make for a toddler a rhythm of days that's comforting, interesting, and contained enough to feel secure and his experience that here is another adult who can be counted on to be always present and responsive; and of pure proximity. A whole 'nother part of my brain it took to do this job of "mothering" that I haven't done in, well, 16 years, quite this way. So I apologize for the lapse of four days here, but things did become a mite overwhelming there at the end, and there was no real moment at which available time and creative impulse converged.

Just couldn't get a clear shot. But I think you can see the layers of sauce on his happy visage.

After exploring the MOBOT Childrens' Garden (wow -- I highly recommend it, even though I haven't liked the way it looks in the Garden, from the outside) we had our most exiting meal of the week at Mama Campisi's on The Hill. I ordered him a child's meal of chicken tenders and fires (homemade, nice looking), but he was only interested in the comp bread and my spaghetti , big shock! I loved it when he said, after picking up a piece if the pre-meal bread and taking a bite, "Dis is good. Tank you!" Smile.

Is it actually raining noodles?

Surprise! Free spumoni!

Check out the smile behind the digital blur. He was having fun! Thank goodness the waiter was understanding.
So now back to my news cycle awareness and yoga and Tony Bourdain and long periods of undisturbed time. It's bitter-sweet, actually. Kind of makes me wonder if I wouldn't make a pretty good (& expensive of course) nanny.

August 14, 2008

It's a Zoo Around Here!

The zoo! I haven't been there since my kids were little, regrettably. Not to whine, but it's getting hard to see the animals for the vendors. You can't get to any exhibit without passing junk food and kids' shops. Zach, being a water fiend, adored the fountains, and spent more time playing with the streams of water and getting soaked than he did looking at animals. Excepting the penguins, which utterly fascinated him. They, as does he, like to shriek!

These were a huge hit with the little snicky-poo! I did cheat: I showed him the box before serving him the pasta. I'm wasn't born yesterday.

The presentation.

Food-wise, the child's zoo preference went toward the red, white, and blue popsicle, which I can only conclude is a ritual when visiting with he parents, who are zoo members and presumably frequent visitors. Other items were limited to snack we'd brought: shredded carrots and Pirate's Booty and cashews.

He had no interest in the corndog I offered, which was sad to me, since I adore the corndog and would have been thrilled to share one. However, in my quest to discover food he'll ear -- he's soooooooooooo much pickier than my kids were! -- I made a hit with Annie's Arthur-shaped mac and cheese. I know. It's still processed "kid" food. But at least it's organic and come from the health food aisle! Right? That I served with sausage links, which widely he loves, and more steamed broccoli, which he didn't touch this time.

Tonight: dinner at the grandparents'. I'll photograph and report.

Note: If you're in need to adult cuisine fix, feel free to travel to my other foodie stop: Food.

August 13, 2008

Zach, Day 2: No Help From Anthony

Ya, Anth came over, but was helpful only in that he stayed all night and warded off invaders. Ha ha. Basically sat on the couch and complained. Thanks, Bubby. When will he stop acting like a teenager?

I braised some chicken breasts in water, salt, and pepper. I know, bland. That was the intention. To get the little guy to eat some quality protein. You know, that hadn't been processed into the land of the mummies. And then there was Anthony who is not eating carbs past 6PM. So that did it for sauces, more or less.

Braised chicken, steamed broccoli, corn. A meal fit for a baby.

Zack ate the corn and two pieces of broccoli. He would not touch the chicken. I set the little bowl beside his plate for the bits he didn't want, to prevent him throwing them across the room.

August 12, 2008

Zach, Day 1: Molly Helps

OK, not really Day 1. Night 1. We got here yesterday evening, around 6. Molly, my teenage daughter, took the reigns of dinner without prompting in order to avoid having to watch Zach while I cooked, looked through the fridge, found a eggplant, and proceeded to make eggplant Parmesan with just a little consultation of me. She winged it, in other words, and it was excellent.

Molly fried up the eggplant in olive oil, which she'd dredged in eggwash, then in flour seasoned with some unexpected spices, like clove.

She puts the eggplant in the baking pan, then tops with warmed marinara sauce from a jar.

Then she spread so fresh ricotta I'd brought, left over from a cheffing gig, some pre-shredded cheddar and some Swiss cheese that she found in the fridge and asked me to slice.

Baked at 350 for about half an hour, it came out bubbly and beautiful.

She served it with rotini and marinara.

Zach, however, was uninterested it and opted for pseudo-food in the form of dinosaur-shaped "chicken" and orange slices. My theory, as of today, is not hold up (see yesterday's post).

August 11, 2008

My Week With The Two-Year-Old Nephew. What Will I Cook? How Will I Survive? Tune In To See!

He's Zach. He's two. He's my Godson.

I am staying in an undisclosed suburban location with him for a week, while his parents and older sister cavort around the Virigin Islands. Which end of the stick am I holding, here. :-)

Zach's improvisational pacifier design. Germs be damned.

I haven't spent more than an hour alone with a two-year-old in 16 years (since Molly was two). And the suburbs? Don't even talk to me about it. So here's my plan: Two-year-olds have to eat, right? And I have to blog. So, I'm going to cook for him. And I'm going to post same here. What will he eat? What will he not eat?

Thought:: Wasup with people always thinking there are certain things little kids will and will not eat, anyway? I am FULL of stories about kids suddenly eating things I've cooked that caused their parents to just fall over sideways in awe. Personally, I think that kids eat what they grow up eating, and are curious little monkey scientists just waiting to put new things into their mouths to see what they're made of. It was thus with my own two, who are now grown up and proud possessors of quite fearless, diverse pallets. I mean, really, what did cave people do? Run out for Gerber's and toaster pizza when the kids didn't like the roasted boar and root vegetables? Somehow, I doubt it.

Not that I'm going to torture Zach by making totally unfamiliar foods! That would be cruel. He'll probably be missing Mommy and Daddy, anyway. And food is a big source of comfort and familiarity. I'm going to play it by ear and see what arises. Make him his favorites, and then mix it up a little to see what he does without mom's and dad's expectations.

It's a mystery, right? Will he go for my variations on familiar dishes? Will he opt for only the packaged mac & cheez? Will he try the escargot or the beer braised brats? Alright. Kidding. I know better. The real point is, this week is going to be an example of love and care and nurture, and I'm going to catalog it here.

AND -- will I survive the week?

What could be more family-recipe-oriented than me cooking for little Zach Attach? He's a wild one. If I didn't love him (and my brother and his wife), I would even consider doing this (even though they are paying me pretty well). And, well, maybe the swimming pool and the Wolf cooktop help a little.

So tune in. I may not have time to write a million words, but I will post pictures and results.

And in the mean time, will you please pray/light a candle/cast a friendly spell/dedicate your yoga practice to me? Out there, in the suburban wilds, alone with a toddler, I may need it.

Remember the Sex And The City episode where Samantha sat for Miranda's baby? And then, remember when all the women went to visit their friend, who used to be a wild city girl but then got married and moved to Connecticut or wherever? And they show up out there for her baby shower, all of them dressed in black and looking all pale but then there were all the the suburban moms in their pastel outfits. I'm just saying.

August 3, 2008

A New Blog For My Birthday

It's my birthday. I'm 49.

Fabulous gifts: a Virginia Wolf doll, new copy of Mrs. Dalloway, NIN tickets, and visits or promised visits from my darling children.

And this official launch of my new blog so that this one can go back to focusing on family recipes and stories and I'll still have a venue for my narcissistic need to share my cooking adventures and photos with you (whomever you are): Food.

August 1, 2008

Weekend Herb Blogging: Texas Tortilla Soup, Featuring Cilantro

It's my pleasure to present, in simultaneous return to the families live for food and stories theme of this blog and Kelly's at Sounding My Barbaric Gulp! hosting of Kalyn's Kitchen's Weekend Herb Blogging, my cousin Nancy's Texas Tortilla Soup.

This recipe features cilantro, an herb common in a lot of Tex-Mex and some Mexican cuisines. It's also used in Asian, Spanish and Latin American, Vietnamese, Indian, and other Southeast Asian cuisines. A lot of people like cilantro, but then a lot of people don't. There are actual groups dedicated to the hating of it. Seems odd to me, because I like it pretty well.

Why? Is it really awful? Not to me. I don't find it any stronger than most other common herbs. Maybe there's some chemical particular to cilantro that some people's tongues just react against. Anyway, I like it. It has a brightness that really sets off the Mexican flavors, too. And of course it's full of vitamin C and stuff.

Cilantro, an annual herb of the family Apiaceae, is easy to grow in most climates that have a warm growing season. It just needs well drained soil, and can take a little shade in the hot afternoon. And if you let it seed out, you get coriander (the seeds).

A note on the cilantro salmonella recalls: I'm getting to where I don't buy vegetables and herbs that I'm going to eat raw from the grocery stores. I either get them from local growers, or I grow them myself. If you notice, most of the trouble foods (if not all) come from big growers and distributors. But before I eat any raw food with the peal on it I soak it in a mix of water and vinegar, threeTablespoons to a gallon.

Here is the recipe. The story I'm associating with it is below that.

Texas Tortilla Soup
from Nancy Thompson

Nancy Says: This recipe is adapted from one published in a newspaper, by the Houston' restaurant Rotisserie for Beef & Bird.

2 tablespoons oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 fresh jalapeno, seeded and chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 large carrots, diced
6 ribs celery, diced
1 teaspoon each: ground cumin, chili powder, salt, and lemon pepper
2 teaspoons bottled liquid hot red pepper sauce (such as Tabasco)

1 pound diced, skinless, boneless chicken breasts

1 can RoTel (tomatoes with green chilies)
4 (10 1/2 ounce) cans chicken broth, or equivalent homemade stock
1/2 cup flour
1/4 to 1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

8 corn tortillas, cut in strips
oil for frying tortillas
salt to taste on tortilla strips

garnishes: diced avocados, grated cheddar cheese

  • Heat oil in large skillet

  • Saute chopped onion, jalapeno, garlic, carrots, celery, and chicken, and
  • Simmer 5 minutes

  • Add the measured spices and flour, and

  • Cook, stirring, for five minutes

  • Add RoTel, cilantro, and chicken stock, and

  • Simmer for 1 hour

  • In a heavy skillet, heat oil to medium-high

  • Carefully lay tortilla strips into the hot oil, and

  • Fry until crisp, then

  • Drain on paper towels and salt to taste

To serve, put a few tortilla strips into the bottoms of your soup bowls, ladle the soup over, and garnish with the cheese and avocado. Serve with some longnecks, and lemonade for the kiddies!

The Story: Texas Camping Masacre

Nancy Thompson is my first maternal cousin Danny Thompson's wife. Thompson is actually her birth name, which was handy when they got married, I guess. I don't know if she was like me and not into changing her name, or if she wouldn't have minded, but either way it was a non-issue, obviously. They live on a ranch right outside scenic Fredericksburg, TX. Which means they eat Tex-Mex. They're both good cooks.

I'm sorry to say that I haven't been down there to visit them. Yet. And I don't know if the email address for them I have is a good one or not, because they never answer my emails (I'm not kidding) and they don't bounce back. Therefore, I will have to give you my own Fredericksberg, TX story, to set the scene. Maybe some day it will mean something to my children, if nothing else.

And there is a helpful hint in this story that could save your butt one day, if you're attacked by a skunk. And hint is food based.

I know.

Anyway, back in the early '80s my friend Carol and I went camping by the Guadeloupe River, in those gorgeous dessert-brushy hills west of Fredericksberg. Carol drove a brand new Porsche. She worked for Exxon. (I know.) We took my dog, Missy, with us. It took some talking to get Carol to let Missy in the Porsche. I sold the idea on guard dog grounds.

Missy was a Beagle I'd found roaming around a lake in Illinois, and taken home with me out of mercy and greed. She was a sweet, good natured thing. Not very old. Innocent and energetic. When we got to the hills and starting making camp, Missy instantly lit out chasing those fabulous TX jackrabbits, with their ears as tall as their bodies. Who cold stop her? There was hardly anyone out there right then, anyway, so I just let her run.

We lit a fire, made with mesquite we gathered from the brush. The river rushed through the valley down the hill from us, reminding me of all the time I'd spent with my grandparents canoeing in the Ozarks -- to me, a sound of happiness. On the fire, I showed Carol how to make the taquitos my Mexican boyfriend Rudy had shown me how to prepare on another camping trip in the Guadeloupe mountains: slice avocado; pull cilantro leaves off the stem; in iron skillet: cook chorizo and potatoes cooked over the fire, add Chiquaqua cheese at the end; on big flat rock: heat the tortillas; put chorizo-potato-cheese yumminess into tortilla, add avocado; eat. Wow. She liked it. Missy liked the leftovers. The longnecks (that 'beer' to you non-Texans) went well with it.

Then darkness, and bedtime. The tent. Carol had big ole six-shooter with her. Some guy she was seeing talked her into bringing it, in lue of talking her into bringing himself. In the tent, a little two-man pup, we kept it there between our two heads. I was more afraid it would go off accidentally and cause I big, messy tragedy than I was that some gruesome creature-man would come in after us. Wasn't that what the dog was for? To warn and snarl and attack?

But in the end it wasn't the gun or the creature-man that got us. It was the dog and the rain the skunk, it exactly the right combination.

The night wore on past midnight. Missy chased jackrabbits. It started to rain. There was a yelp. There was a terrible smell. Missy came back and wept outside the tent, dragging with her the strongest smell of skunk I can remember smelling.

Good Lord. Now here's a mess. The dog is whining and wet and sitting outside the tent. Now it's starting to thunder and lightning. The only possible shelters for Missy are the tent and the Porsche. I look over at Carol, and she shakes her head No. She has her hand on the six-shooter. That's not really necessary, I think. But I'm quiet. I can here her thinking: I didn't want to bring the d**n dog in the first place.

There was no immediate solution. She wouldn't let me put the dog in the car until I got the smell of her, and we were miles from everything and in the middle of a huge storm.

Waiting for morning. A long wait. Whining dog and skunk smell. Carol with gun. I didn't sleep much. Finally, it's dawn.

Rocky hills, mesquite, stinky dog, air that smells like fresh linens and moving water. The river down the hill. Angry friend with fancy car, no other way home (remember kids, there were not really any cell phones in the Old Days). What am I going to do?

Then I remember! My grandma Nonie, Ozark Lady (read: nature-loving hillbilly) that she was, had given me before she died the solution to nearly every problem in the universe. And sitting there nearly crying in the golden Guadeloupe morning her visage came back to me like a glowing Virgin with her foot upon a skunk, uttering the magic words: tomato juice.

I need to borrow the car. You wait here with the dog. I said to Carol. She made me explain. She gave me the keys. I drove down the blacktop and in short order saw a little country store, went in, bought six big cans of tomato juice, drove back.

I had to hold my breath while I pulled Missy into the Guadeloupe by her collar, but the pried-open cans of tomato juice were sitting on the near back, ready to go. I poured them, all of them,. all of the cans of tomato juice over the dog, one at a time, while she stood in the clear moving water and looked at me with her giantly soft brown eyes. Whata girl. I felt like defending her from mean TX women too attached to their cars, but didn't dare, considering.
Then I rinsed her off. She smelled wonderful! Clean and perfect. Tomato juice = goodbye skunkstink!

And off we all went in the car. Carol and I explored wonderful Fredericksburg, ate a German meal, looked in shops, and then headed toward Austin in search of a hotel that would let a dog in. We found one, and went immediately to sleep.

And so, in the the theme of Fredericksburg and tortillas and Texas and cilantro, we have Nancy's Tortilla Soup. Enjoy.

A Re-Ordering, & Return to Original Purpose

Ya, ya, I know. Where's my focus gone? Why have the family recipes been supplanted by my own wanderings through the landscape of this food and that one, with only occasional, lame references to something that might, at least in my own fevered mind, qualify as a family connection? Why?


I don't know. But I'm going to fix it now. I'm unveiling a second food blog, Food, on which I'll do all the things foodyrandom that have ADDed me over here. And Smith Family Recipes and Stories will return to its purpose, Smith family recipes and stories. Now that's some rocket science for you.

Sidebar: Wonder how many meals it took to grow these kids to these sizes? Not only that, they were raised on a fairly high percentage of organic stuff and fresh produce. Just think. And on an adjunct instructor's salary, too. OK, so maybe they seem a little quirky. So what? They're cool! And they're good people.

I'll be posting my family recipes, even though, given the sad lack of "typing" my extended family appears willing to express ("Oh, we love the idea, Margaret, thank you so much for doing this! We'll be sending in lots of things, very soon! And by the way, how do you work those internets, again?" NOTE to family: no internets or googles skills required; you can put it in an envelope and mail it to me if you want! Or call me on the phone! Like I've said a million times! And anyway, if you're emailing me to tell me you don't know how to do it, you're already doing it! Just put the recipe in the email! mygaud)(OK, sorry. I weakened and allowed myself to feel the frustration there for a minute).

Most of recipes will come from our photocopied family cookbooks. But what's wrong with that? That's ok, right? Maybe I'll just have to call people when i can't remember a story for the recipe. So tune in. Maybe the new direction will cause my darling son to quit aspiring to look like he's from New Jersey, or my darling daughter to (finally) quit growling at me.

July 30, 2008

Put de Lime in de Coconut!

I'll tell you, I'm so enamoured with the lime and the coconut (and the various other Southeast Asian flavors), I can't stop putting things together randomly to see how they turn out. Here's one that's so simple, and works so well, is so refreshing and unexpected and comforting, you're just crazier than me if you don't try it.

This recipe will serve four. If you want to make it for one or two, just use fewer bananas and store the left over coconut milk in the fridge for later.

Banana Towers in Coconut Sauce

1 can coconut milk

2-4 bananas, depending on size

1/4 cup sugar

2 limes

Nut butter *-- tahini, cashew, or other favorite (optional)

  • Heat the coconut milk over medium heat.

  • Add the sugar, and wisk until disolved; set aside.

  • Slice each banana.

  • Pour about 1/3 cup of the coconut mixture into a bowl.

  • Make two "towers" of the banana slices in the pool of coconut milk.

  • Squeeze 1/4 slice of lime over the whole.

  • Drizzle on about a tablespoon of nut butter, if using.

  • Set a slice of lime on top.

  • Serve immediately.

    * If your nut butter is too thick to drizzle, thin it down by blending in a little coconut milk or citrus juice. I like to use a runny tahini, myself.

    Note: You are putting de lime in de coconut here. It may in fact settle an upset tummy.