Tuesday, December 30, 2008

If Not For The Boost of Anti-Oxidants, My Kitchen Would Be Lost...

i dare to admit that i am a bit of a slacker during the holidays when it comes to cooking. i tend to make something for whatever big day, know i've still got work to do at work, for work, surrounding work, so i know i'm going to need to leave things for my sons to eat so they won't just go off and have cereal or lots of leftover dessert throughout the day and call it lunch and i know that i'm worn out from whatever big cooking i did for whichever big day. so, i leave notes saying how there are leftovers in the fridge, buy to go or prepared foods a lot so i don't have to face the stove in the midst of chaos. that's how i HAVE BEEN in the past. i'm not a big "let's spend the dough cuz i'm just too tired" kinda chick these days. nope. and, so, i have devised a way for me to be able to adjust my holiday slackerism so i can manage my non-existent budget. here it is... ya ready? okay...

green tea

did you see that? i'll say it again...

green tea

oh, and acai berry juice (thanks to my miracle nephew, the jord-man)

i know all about how good they are for you and i've been a pretty major green tea junkie since i can recall -- one of my fave desserts is green tea ice cream -- however, it has come to be my saving grace during these tricky and rather busy times. and my older son, nicholas, is the KING of creating taste sensations for me to add to my tea. oh, man. simply delicious and spicy concoctions that add just the right flavor and has gotten quite a few of my friends up in arms with its deliciousness. here's a sampling of one of them:

1 1/2 cups raw honey
1 heaping tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tbs. fresh squeezed lime juice

what to do:
place all of these in a 1 pint mason jar and shake until combined. add to your tea as desired.

there's such a simple pleasure to having a cup of really well brewed hot tea with just the right flavoring in it. i love sitting in the quiet of the morning and enjoying the fragrance of tea wafting from my mug. it's the epitome of peace to me. i have this chunky, flowered cup that reminds me of something winnie the pooh would use that i bought on the one trip i've ever made to walmart and no way am i ever giving it up. i bought two of them, one for my office and one for my home. i live in these freakin' mugs as if my life depended on it. weird, huh? these are my tea mugs. coffee has never touched them. actually, coffee hasn't touched any cup in my house for going on two years, now, and i used to be a major coffee drinker with a french press and everything. but, i'm all about tea now. oh, i've always loved tea. it was one of those things i shared with my mom growing up, moments i got to have with her. neither of my parents drank coffee and when my gee gee would visit, my mom would stock up on her coffee for her -- she drank sanka with saccharine tablets (does anyone remember those?). my dad finally bought a Mr. Coffeemaker when we got older, just because he and my mom realized their FRIENDS drank coffee and never had it at their house when they would entertain, so he gave in. but he and my mom never drank it. but, i'm totally digressing, so forgive me.

we were talking about the saving powers of green tea, at least for me.

and it's been a really great friend to me. i don't drink energy drinks anymore, because of my complete devotion to green tea and acai berry shots -- i love the almost creamy, chocolatey taste of acai berry straight up in a shot glass. it's heavenly and i feel all clean and fabulous inside. whether i am or not is anyone's guess, but it feels good to me, so i do it and i buy it from my nephew, even though it costs A TON OF DOUGH! mainly, cuz i'm worth it, i suppose. in my little bid to keep myself healthy, happy and on the planet in a positive way.

and, so, as i was working like a fiend last night to create these Scharffenberger Chocolate based recipes to enter a chocolate contest before 04 january and hopefully win $5000 -- keep your fingers crossed -- i was suckin' down green tea with nicholas' special concoction and feeling like i could do anything... even make a chocolate roasted leg of lamb that would wow anybody. hell, my sons liked it as well as the coconut mango brownie cake i made -- even nicholas liked the cake and he's SOOOO not a chocolate person. he wanted seconds, so maybe i've got a shot. at least i do with my kids, which, let's be honest, is all that truly matters...
and winning $5000 so we can save a bit...
and buy more green tea and acai berry juice...
so i can enter more contests and win more money for us...
and we'll move to tuscany where i will cook and my friend fern will be my gardener...
a girl can dream, can't she?
and i shall.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cooking My Goose

my grandmother came to visit us when i was a kid around the holidays. i remember she'd stay with us for a reasonably long period of time each time she'd come to visit -- which wasn't often, because she had a life of her own, ya know. she was a reverend in a very small town on west virginia and i didn't realize what a big deal it was for a small, compact, very fair skinned, grey-eyed black woman to be a reverend in a southeastern town until i grew up, but that's neither here nor there. back to my gee-gee (she was called gee-gee because my cousin, barbara, who was the first grandchild, couldn't say "grandmother" when she was a baby and called her "gee-gee" -- which is really pronounced "ghee-ghee" like a double dose of indian clarified butter, to which i can relate, for sure). she came to visit us and made us a christmas goose with saurekraut dressing. i had no idea there was sauerkraut in it until i grew older and asked my mom to make it for me, to which she replied she had no idea how and "gee-gee made it with sauerkraut dressing, and i have no idea how she made it". quite a drag, quite frankly, because it was delicious and wonderful. gee-gee is long gone, but that memory has stayed with me forever and my sons have come to appreciate and demand that christmas isn't christmas unless we cook a goose. amazing.

you might wonder how you cook a goose and it's rather simple, really. prick the fatty skin (except the breast, ya know, cuz the breast is dry enough without willing all that fat to go away from it -- yikes!). some people soak it in a salted brine overnight, some people steam it first then roast it and some folks boil it to get the fat off of it before they roast it. however you choose to do it, do it with frivolity and the knowledge that charles dickens is smiling down at you.

but, anyway, we're having goose and christmas ham, another tried and true recipe passed down to me by my mom's side of the family, this time from my mom herself. this was ages ago and i've made it many a time. my son, brandon, who doesn't like ham as a general rule, tends to ask for it this time of year. go figure.

we have a rule for both thanksgiving and christmas: we choose names out of a hat and whosever name is chosen gets to pick that year's thanksgiving feast and the next person to have their name chosen gets to pick our christmas feast. this year we are doing two fabulous traditions. every christmas, actually, somehow we get a choice of goose and ham. lovely.

and, so, in our fridge right now is a goose, a ham, some good ginger, a bit of... wait a minute! these are secret recipes i can't share with the world, but i promised some low cost things to get you through, didn't i? and you shall have them... and here they are for today:


i think you'll like these. they're a fave of ours through the years and something that's easy, fast and yummy. at least those kiddles of mine think so.

Egg Pie
2-9" deep dish pie crusts, frozen (oh, yes -- i said frozen, i like Pet Ritz or Marie Calendar's, but it's up to you -- you can also make your own butter pie crust which is a cost saver if you've got the ingredients around your house and you don't fear pie crust, which many do, and i do make my own, but when it comes to cost cutting and time saving, these frozen dealies are really handy)
1-dozen eggs
1 large jar fave marinara sauce -- me, i make my own (cost saving, truly), but when i do use jarred, i choose Newman's Own or Classico
1 package shredded Monterey Jack Cheese
Salt & Pepper to taste

what to do:
1. pre-bake your two pie crusts on a baking sheet per the package instructions. if using a homemade pie crust, pre-bake for 15 minutes at 400ºF then let cool. turn the oven down to 350ºF.
2. crack 6 eggs into a bowl and a dash of salt and pepper then whisk until frothy. heat some vegetable oil spray in a (preferably) non-stick skillet until a drop of water sizzles and add the eggs. stir until just beginning to cook then transfer to one of the pie crusts, spreading across the bottom evenly. cook the rest of the eggs the same way and fill the pie crust. it will not come to the top of the crust, but should fit nicely on the bottom. note: you don't want to cook your eggs completely. you want them rather wet, but not completely raw.
3. pour about 1/2-3/4 cup of the sauce over the eggs, spread across the top. sprinkle with enough cheese to cover. continue with the other pie.
4. pop into the oven and bake until the cheese is melted and the eggs are cooked through, about 20-25 minutes. let set for about 10 minutes before serving.

okay, here's the cool thing about this: our family serves this every christmas morning with really good sausages my faboo sis-in-law gets from the butcher up the street from their place. we make about four or more pies, cuz there's a bunch of us when we all get together and it's one of those things you can eat throughout the day, reheat the next day, the whole deal. the boys and i have taken to adding stuff into the eggs while they're cooking and it's really yum. it's transformed into a lunch item and a dinner item. for example, the other night i made it for the kids -- made two more for work that morning, got snowed in, covered them up, refrigerated 'em and reheated them in the ayem and took them to my pals at my humble work space -- and i added some ground beef sauteed in garlic, herbs and mixed with sauteed potatoes and leeks. divine. the egg pies i made for work were also unique -- i made one basic one and one with leeks and potatoes (too many vegetarians or meat conscious people at my office to want to inflict beef on everyone). you could add whatever you like, in moderation, to create quite a dinner. this notoriously is to serve four people each, but you can cut the wedges smaller and get more out of each pie -- even eight pieces out of each. if you choose to add things like mushrooms, seafood, spinach or even cheese to your eggs, make sure you thoroughly cook the veggies and seafood and drain well before adding to the eggs, with the cheese, don't add too much because it'll make the eggs mealy if you do. i would use the ratio of 1/4 cup of anything you add to the eggs as they cook for each 1/2 dozen you scramble. too much is, well, too much, ya know? the versatility of this is why i like this as a cost saving alternative meal. a lot of folks already have this stuff in their fridge and if you don't feel like having to buy pie crust, then you can make it from scratch. i have another recipe we make for a lazy sorta strata, but that's for another time. you can serve this in the morning with sausage, bacon, fruit, lunch with a salad and crusty bread or soup, dinner with some great veggies like sauteed greens or zucchini, a nice viognier chilled to perfection or whatever. it's good.

this next is such a great cold weather cure all that takes no time at all, i fall in love and you can get two meals out of it. watch and learn, people. watch and learn.


1 package of chicken breast halves, skin and bones on and in
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 celery stalk (preferably with leaves still on), cut into chunks
handful of italian parsley, stalks included
1 garlic clove, smashed
enough chix broth to cover
salt & pepper, to taste
matzo ball mix -- follow directions on the package
1/2 package fine egg noodles -- cook per directions on package

1. clean your chix breast halves and place them in a dutch oven. add the onion, celery, parsley, garlic clove and cover with chicken broth. add salt and pepper to taste and bring to a boil.
2. simmer for about 20 minutes then turn off the heat and let the chix sit in the broth until cool. take the chicken out of the broth, strain the broth of the veggies, put it back in the pot and set aside.
3. take the skin off of the chicken and pull it off the bone. set aside chicken from one of the half breasts and shred the rest into a bowl, adding in a bit of the onion and a splash of the broth. season to taste with salt and pepper, add mayo to your desired amount, some chopped celery (if you're into that crunch in your chix salad), a little pinch of garlic powder and keep in fridge until ready to use.
4. chop the reserved chicken breast meat from the one remaining half into cubes and add to the broth. set on low to heat up. add the cooked egg noodles.
5. make the matzo balls per package instructions. when cooked, raise the heat on the broth until it is simmering and add the matzo balls. bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer for about 5 minutes.
6. ladle the soup into bowls allowing 1 matzo ball per person and serve along with either crackers for dipping in the chicken salad or the chicken salad on sandwiches.

here's the deal -- cooking the chix with the skin and bones gives it more flavor. just take all of that off and out when it is ready. this is one of those all purpose, great on a cold night or afternoon dishes that can be made in pretty much one pot, if you like. you can add carrots to this (i, personally, despise cooked carrots, so it takes a lot for me to do that, although i do add carrots to my bolognese sauce, so, ya know...), float a poached egg in the soup -- which, of course, i do ALL THE TIME -- not add the chicken, add the chicken, whatever you like. i like serving the chicken salad with sturdy kettle chips or tortilla chips and dipping into it with that. i'm not much for potato chips, but i am a total tortilla chip whore and will do whatever i can to eat the with whatever i can. this chix salad is super yummy on it. yep.

and, so, here are some holiday time and money savers for you. i'll be back tomorrow, cuz it's christmas eve, dontcha know, and i have one last word on 2008, if that's cool.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Holiday Hangouts (or is it Hang "ups"?)

here's the deal, it's the holidays. and, to be quite honest with you, i'm a little stressed about them. food plays a huge part in the holidays for us as well as many of the folks out there and i've been sitting around my house, coming up with schemes to make it work for us in these "tough economic times", just felt like channeling NPR for a sec., sorry. anyway, i've been coming up with things that will be yum and not feel like they're low rent in anyway.

but, beyond that, there is this extraordinary feeling of warmth for those around me who have been my friends and support. i will admit that i have yet to embrace the midwest. and i don't mean in an idealistic way, but a genuine "where's a cute bistro?" way. i don't know where anything is besides the places i've met friends in the past and part of me feels like it's my way of maintaining my "L.A. STATE OF MIND" to revise a tad Billy Joel's song.

my friends, as i've said before, are true and wonderful and i've been lucky enough to cultivate some pretty awesome male friendage that makes me smile daily even when i think i won't. i'm far away from home, so i appreciate the friendships i've developed. and, in that, comes this desire to feed my male friends at a feast meant expressly for them -- l.a. based and beyond -- cuz, truth be told, i'm more of a "guy hang out" chick than a "female bonding" babe. and don't get all up in arms about the labels i'm putting on myself. it's me, true and simple. sometimes i'm a dame, a vamp, a bitch, a lady, a girl and on and on. aren't we all? and, if we aren't than i'm alone in this and that's cool. really.
but, i digress...

and, so, holidays have a certain sort of caste to them at the moment, and, yet, i'm looking forward to them. my sons are such extraordinary little souls of wild imagination, it's cool. they roll with me however i am and love me no matter what. i actually know that and it makes me want to cook for them, show them my love through sustenance. is that crazy? and it's the thing i like to do for my male friends when i want to show them how cool they are to me. i like to cook, i think i do okay at it and if it brings joy, so be it.

like, today. i had made this carrot cake my pals like. i did it for a specific reason and it worked out well. my friends ate it and felt yummy and that's what i want. i want to make other people feel like superstars through my food. wouldn't that be cool? to make someone you care about feel like they truly matter because you put such love into something you did for them?

i'm not talking about being in love, i'm talking about just love in the abstract and in the personal without the physically intimate. cooking does that to me. it makes me feel like what i'm doing is creating amazing emotions through food. which brings us back to holidays. they may seem amazingly manufactured to others, but to me? i just overlook the commercialism, give it a wide berth and give in to it in a way that works for me. i feel like they are these ultimate excuses to indulge and give of yourself TO yourself and others. i like that and stress it. i wish i could make the time as carefree as i recall it being for myself as a kid and i hope i will one of these days. i just know how the shit is these days and wonder if i'm capable of it.

for me, through food, i can.
a great homemade spiced cranberry sauce with orange zest.
a beloved christmas goose in our honey lime ginger glaze.
a cookie baking session that lends itself to true collaboration and creation.

ah, the holidays. yes, we're broke, it's true. i'm scraping by, like so many others, but we deserve a gift. a gift of us and the bounty, the food of love that defines us. i like christmas time, even though i haven't got any affiliation or commitment around it for myself, in particular. i grew up celebrating Hanukkah with friends and supporting my beloved sister-in-law's tradition more than my own. it's just how it laid out, truly. that's why, whenever we cook for Christmas, celebrate it, feel it, we make it something so vast in scope of diversity, even my darling sons can feel comfortable (which they do). even if all we can work up are some chicken nuggets, we can treat it as if it's foi gras and caviar. dress it up, make it look glamorous so we can dive in and feel special. it's that thing that makes me want to do something warm, fuzzy and totally not scary for my male friends. holidays, for me, are very male oriented -- hell, i have two sons, you figure it out -- and i like to do for my males what makes them smile. does that make me an anti-feminist? i don't think so. i think it makes me an independent female who digs guys a lot. and if you disagree, well, whatever. i'm cool with who i am, the food i prepare, the love i put into it.

nothing else matters this time of year, does it?
stay tuned for some holiday on a budget shtuff to save sanity. i hope.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Top Ten Reasons I Love Top Chef

i love top chef. i do. i love how it makes me jump up and run into the kitchen to see if it's ever going to be possible for me to stop being a mun-daily cook to a truly great artist in the kitchen. i guess if i had a couple of -30ish or so thousand bucks, i could go the Le Cordon Bleu route or just keep it simple and take my ass back to california where i got accepted to CSCA -- california school of culinary arts -- for pastry chefing only to realize that, hey, my credit SUCKS and i can't get a student loan or find a class time that will suit the fact that i have two children, no husband, and no one to really watch them while i'm in school. but just so's you know exactly WHY i love this freakin' show, here are my TOP TEN REASONS I LOVE TOP CHEF --

just for the record? this is pronounced "Pad-MAH" not "Pad-MAY" as in Amidala, as in Star Wars: Episodes Bad to Worse (no offense to natalie portman, whom i think rocks as an actress, for the most part, but, let's get real). no, no, no, this is my girl Padma, who is seriously cool, at least to me, has my younger son all in a tizzy with her beauty and makes me want to grow my hair long and be east indian, which, of course, i will never be. can't change races in mid-stream, or so i hear, but i like her style. she's smart, a little sassy, and kind of a biznatch sometimes, which works on her.

that little bald man has probably got a serious napoleonic complex and if i met him in person i might totally hate his guts. however, i do not hate him on the show. i like his little rolling of the eyes, the way padma will say something one way and he'll negate it, how he'll point out foibles with all the finesse of a viper snake, but makes incredibly good points and gives credit where credit is due. dig it.

can you say "plan, prep and serve a wedding dinner in less time it takes for caterers to even shop for a wedding dinner"? i mean, how freakin' CRAZY was that? as a person who has had to prepare individual wedding cakes for a wedding and ended up staying up for 72 STRAIGHT HOURS (can't you go to hell or lose your mind or something for that?) to finish it, i felt their pain. oh, did i ever. some of this shit is so off the hook, i sit there with my mouth open in awe. you've GOT to be kidding. but these peeps come through, well, most of them do. and when you've got someone who doesn't who usually does and thinks really highly of themselves, well that leads me to my next one...

marcel was my favorite whiny boy from season 2 -- although, trying to shave his head while he slept was, um, probably not the best way to make the american public like you or even stay on the show. then there was dale from last season, who drove me so crazy, i thought i'd die laughing (although, if he had just taken all that passion and chilled out a bit and put it toward his food instead of trying to be the bad boy of the house, he might have gotten further). i hate reality television for the sheer volume of whiny contestant type people on shows and i have a deeply scarring memory of dealing with really whiny contestants on a reality show, but, for some reason, this just sends me into gales of laughter when i see this amazingly talented chef-types get all bent out of shape instead of focus on their craft. LOVE IT!

OMG, they give these quickfire challenges, right? and you'll hear things like "go into a supermarket, talk to 50 people in 15 seconds and create a breakfast burrito that epitomizes those 50 personalities in 20 minutes -- go!" and you'll have these people, chefs, doing their little vo while they're cooking and you'll hear, "well, i had NO IDEA what to do, then i realized there was some ancient chinese secret quail eggs and butterfly wings packed in fairy juice and thought i would create a pomegranite creme brulee burrito with a touch of quail egg for color and the butterfly wings to add whimsy while dancing on the head of a pin." how they go from a to b with their ideas i would like to do someday. really. maybe not this intensely, okay, i'm SURE not like this, but KINDA like this. the spirit of this.

i love watching these poor people who find themselves on the receiving end of some of the most outrageous combinations in food history as part of a challenge. "take the typical chicken dinner at KFC and reinvent it." me? i'd add a sprig of mint and call it a day (okay, not really, you know that's not true, but you see my point). these guys think of ways to deconstruct the freakin' chicken, fill it with the souls of small children and deliver masterpieces and scary experimental shit that just blows the mind. then these wonderful tasters who are innocent bystanders are at the effect of it all. i sure hope they're being paid a shitload of dough, cuz you'd have to give me quite a hefty sum to get me to eat avocado ice cream -- and i like avocado. trust me.

these guys get to preserve their food in such great little plastic containers for FREE, i'm just salivating.

8) GE
this needs no explanation, only the acknowledgement that i covet each and every piece in that freakin' kitchen, which then brings me to

once again, a serious covet. i sit and watch this damn show and all i can think is "my electric stove isn't calibrated and i have no idea how i'm able to cook things that aren't burnt or underdone every single day." yeah, i could go for a kitchen like that. just in case anyone was wondering what i wanted for christmas. thanks.

and, last, but by no means least, and just so's ya know, i didn't put this in any kind of order, 'kay? good. but last is...

i go into my kitchen, i sit at my laptop, i pick up yarn and two knitting needles, whatever it may be, and i am inspired to do more than i normally would or i'm able to get beyond my food block, writers block, knitting block, whatever is tripping me up and just do. it inspires me to work harder, to be better and to have fun little top chef competitions with my kids. dinner: impossible used to do that for me and as much as i like Michael Symon, i miss my buffed boy, Robert. ah, i do. so sad.

anyway, i say all this because i was inspired enough by top chef for me to complete nanowrimo -- which, in case you've never heard of it, is National Novel Writing Month, which takes place in the 30 days of november and you give yourself a goal of writing 50,000 words by november 30. on 28 november, i uploaded my novel and it came in at 52,636 words. yep, i feel pretty good about that and, as you can see, i've got my winner bling to prove it. but, even more than that is the fact that as broke as we are and we had to rework our thanksgiving dinner to accommodate it, i was able to pull off what my sons and i felt was a pretty terrific thanksgiving dinner because i was inspired. partly by top chef, partly by my sons, but i was inspired.

so thanks, top chef. thanks for giving me a reason to watch television. even if it's just for one hour during a limited time of year and once a week.

thanks, tons.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Save Money, Make Food... FROM SCRATCH

we're strapped for cash. what's new, right? i mean, i'm not the only person out here totally strapped, so i'm not fretting too deeply. i mean, i have an ex-husband who's lost another job and may be at the end of his rope, so i don't look at my situation as horrific. it's par for the financial course and we adjust to accommodate it, right? i have skills in the home that can work to our benefit and one of those is that i can cook just about anything. really. and so i have.

yesterday, i made two loaves of bread, two pints of fresh berry jam and an interesting lunch the boys devoured (nicholas took to lunch at school the other day). like the black beans, i made something from basic ingredients we keep around the house. i made something with corn tortillas, ground beef, leftover rice, spices, salsa, and cheese. it was YUM TUM... oops, wait, let's show you what we did and you'll see how it works:


1 garlic clove, minced
1 pound ground beef
2 cups leftover rice
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1 cup mixed cheese, grated (i used some yummy chevre and organic cheddar)
salt and pepper to taste
4 corn tortillas
1 jar chunky salsa (if you can get fresh salsa or make it yourself, great)
1 tbs. olive oil

what to do:
1. Preheat the oven to 350º and spray vegetable oil in a deep casserole with a lid.
1. heat the olive oil in a 12" pan. add the garlic clove and stir until it's fragrant -- about 2 minutes.
2. add the ground beef and saute until brown. add the rice and brown through.
3. add the seasonings -- oregano, coriander, cardamom, cumin, and cayenne (that's a lot of "c's"), stir until cooked through, about 2 - 3 minutes, hten set aside.
4. it's time to layer. spray the bottom of a casserole with vegetable spray and layer a spread of salsa (can be store bought, but the best and chunkiest you can get, the better) the put down one corn tortilla, lay some salsa on top, add some beef mixture then sprinkle with a little cheese, layer three more times then end with the salsa and some cheese on top. this is basically like a lasagna. Bake in a 350ºF oven for about 10-15 minutes.
5. when you take it out, the cheese should be bubbly and melted. cut as with lasagna and serve with a fresh salad with a light dressing.

what did we think: as i said, nicholas took this to school for lunch and brandon had two servings. i tasted it and it was yum. i know times are hard for everyone and i'm sorry, truly. we're in the middle of it, too. and whatever i can pass along that might help, food wise, i'll do.

cuz that's what friends are for.
thanks, Dionne, Stevie, Gladys, and Elton

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Beans are Magically Delish

i love beans. i do. i love black beans (or turtle beans, if you're into the various verbage for food), great northern beans, pinto beans, lentils, blah, blah, blah. i can be transported by a simple dish of cannelinis that are perfectly mixed with steamed, chilled baby shrimp, chopped prosciutto, some good balsamic, a quick brush with garlic and tossed with butter lettuce. it's one of my faves, so i'm easy like that. there's this place in l.a. called maple drive that makes a salad like that and i used to order it to be delivered to my house once a week. honest. and i'm not a believer in having dinner delivered to my house (i'd just rather cook it, as you can see). loved this salad. absolutely lived on it.

i can be happy with a good bowl of well-made beans on rice and nothing else. it's a complete protein when it's prepared that way. yep, it is. swear. if you pair legumes with grains -- preferrably those really great grains like brown rice, wild rice, quinoa and stuff like that -- then you're a happy, peppy (and potent) protein producer. it's good for you and they taste yummy if done right.

now, as you all may (or may not) know, i am an ardent follower of one reality show and one reality show only -- TOP CHEF. i love Project Runway, so don't get me wrong, but i watched one episode of that show this season, cuz i was way busy with other things, but when it comes to TOP CHEF, tom collechio owns me. for sure. and i will not miss my show. i'm so jazzed that it's starting, i can't even tell you. but i'm actually digressing... as i am wont to do, so let me get to the point. i watch a lot of Top Chef and in last season's top chef, one of my all time fave contestants got kicked off in the eleventh hour because she UNDERcooked her pigeon peas in puerto rico. i was heartbroken when she did that -- final cookoff jitters, i'm sure -- and especially when she gave the excuse of wanting to cook her peas al dente. um, there's no such thing as al dente in legume-ville. oh, you'll read places that talk about not cooking them to mush (i'm gonna have a tale about that at the backend of this, no worries), but beans aren't like pasta. the firmer is SOOOO not the better. uh, uh. or, at least, in my opinion. my blog, my rules. live with it.

okay, so, why am i telling you all of this? cuz i made what i am thinking is one of the greatest pots of bean feasting ever created. it is savory, it is the right consistency and it makes me happy. i do that from time to time, put up large vats of beans and freeze or can them. my kids like them over rice with tortillas, some good cheese, steak or chix and a flavorful salad. they just roll all that up together into a tortilla and down it. sometimes we do without the tortillas and there are just huge leaves of lettuce for them to wrap the whole mess in and they're happy.

i like it when my kids are happy, cuz, then, i'm happy. the sun even seems to shine a little bit more golden when my kids are happy, so i'm good with that.

but, anyway, tonight, i decided to make a big pot of black beans with chunks of sweet turkey italian sausage sauteed and dropped in them for good measure. i was going to add this to a bowl of steamed rice, a sprinkling of really good chevre left over from the obama celebration (which continues, believe me -- my friend, jonathan, who is a tres cool dude, made a JOKING suggestion for me to do a 100 days party and i'm so gonna... oh, yeah... thanks jp!) all accompanied by a good salad of romaine, japanese apple pear chunks and the smokey, spicey, sweet almonds i also made for the party. however, my eldest teen, who is the only one home tonight (my younger, at the end of tweendom kid is off partying with his "big brothers of america big brother"... and when i say partying, i mean playing video games and when i say playing video games i mean... well... playing video games), is exhausted from a day of thinking about cleaning the house and regaling the local borders bookstore with his dulcet musical tones with the rest of his middle school and he's fast asleep upstairs. has been for the last several hours. so no one is home to eat what i had hoped would be a masterpiece of comfort food other than me -- and i'm not all that hungry -- and the dog -- who is no way getting that (although i did give her some carrots and grapes earlier -- she's really into the veg thing. go figure.)

okay, so, i'm rambling and, well, i'll tell you the deal after i tell you what i concocted.

1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 1/2 tbs olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 tsp. italian seasoning (preferably organic)
1 package sweet italian sausage -- turkey
2 1/2 cups black beans (rinsed, picked through, soaked for a bit -- overnight, two hours, whichever tricks your trigger)
4 cups of cold, filtered water
1 bay leaf
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp. dried oregano, crumbled
pinch cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste

what to do:
1. soak the beans, if you're into that, and set aside.
2. heat your olive oil in a dutch oven for about 10 seconds then add the garlic, the onion and celery, sauteeing over a medium-high heat until fragrant and soft, about 3 minutes, making sure not to brown. add the salt, pepper and italian seasoning, stirring to combine. add the italian sausage, whole, and sautee until lightly brown on each side then add the drained beans and the 4 cups of water. add the bay leaf and bring to a boil. turn the heat down and bring to a simmer. DO NOT COVER.
3. simmer these little suckers. as soon as the italian sausage is cool enough to handle, cut them into medium sized chunks and add to the simmering water. simmer the entire pot for about 2 hours, check the tenderness of the beans and water level of the pot to make sure they aren't burning, adding more water if necessary. add the rest of the spices, including the salt and pepper.
4. cook the water down until the beans are creamy and tender, adding more spices if necessary (do this to your taste). remove the bay leaf and serve over steamed rice with a nice sprinkling of chevre or goat cheese on top.

i tasted this and, oh, this worked out VERY well. excellently well. i smiled. and it was just me, sitting on the couch, with my dog sleeping beside me, and tasting this in a small ramekin with a spoon as my only companion to share this. oh, man... maybe it's because it's night time, and i'm all by my lonesome, i'm getting ready to do some serious all night writing, and there's a serious comfort food thing about it, but i'm loving this recipe that's just been concocted. i could get into this.

and, now, my partying/videogame playing tween child has returned and is full of happiness about his evening, so i must, absolutely go to him and hear his joy at being able to zone out for as long as he has noticing the moon is glowing more brightly than before because of the reflection of giddy happy coming off of my kid , but, first a brief story about the al dente beans i experienced...

i have a couple of soup cookbooks. i like them and use them, often. i'm a soup girl, for sure. so, anyway, one of them has a recipe for tuscan white bean and shrimp soup, which is one of my faves, up there with Straggiatella and Pasta a Fagioli. oh, yeah. okay, so, i'm reading through the recipe first -- which one should ALWAYS DO -- and discovered this particular cookbook said they don't soak their beans first and they cook their beans just to doneness. they like having a little bite to their beans. okay, i thought. i'd never done that before, but i'm game, right?

oy... the recipe itself is fantastic, the flavor really good and the whole combo really amazing. it was the underdoneness of the beans that totally got me a little "hmm... this is one of those 'i need to think for myself' times". i still love the cookbook and i still use it, faithfully. i just do what i want with the bean soups, because i am absolutely not into al dente legumes. they don't need to be mush, so don't misunderstand me, but a little bite and not even cooked are too different things. oh, yeah.

such a little thing. a pot of beans. but a yum, happy thing just the same. and that's all right with me.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


i mentioned that last night we had a bit of a fiesta of food and friendship (nice f words are fun). i kind of skirted over it, but it was very food oriented and deserves its own blogspot of its very special own... ness.

the idea came to me awhile ago to do a happy hour with my buddies here in the red middle of the country and it was really for no particular reason, just a chance to hang and get toasted with work people, actually. but, when i had to postpone it, i realized the friday after the election would be a good day to celebrate or commiserate (yikes!) as we saw fit. i had no idea what i was going to serve, just where to do it: my friend, melissa's, party room in her condo building... as i said in the last post. so, no, i don't have short term memory loss. think of this as a television soap opera and i am recapping all of the highlights from the last episode in the first 30 seconds. sound fair?


okay, so my pal kindly agreed to work out the logistics of getting the room while i said i would do the food. she looked at me as if i had gone mad and i pointed out that, ya know, i used to do this for a living and liked doing it and got into the habit of entertaining like this, so i had to do it my way OR I WOULD GO FREAKIN' CRAZY!!! i just couldn't go and grab some wine, bread, cheese, fruit, crackers, lay it out and sit back. i had it to be what I WANTED for a happy hour that would last way past normal happy hour time -- it went from 5:30 until 11:00 at night, but pro'ly would have gone later if we'd done it on a saturday. pro'ly. anywho, so i began the process of putting together a menu for the shindig which was pretty fantastic and fun for me, cuz i hadn't done that for a long time, not since this siesta thing i had done soon after i moved here to thank the women who had welcomed me into their friendship-y kinda hearts. a total girly party with little slippers for yummy relaxation, mini-electric massagers and lots of sleepy areas to just chill the whole afternoon through.

i'm doin' that again. i LOVED getting that ready.

but, as always, i digress...

for this party, i wanted to have food that would appeal to vegans, vegetarians, non-beef AND beef eaters. men and women, boozehounds and highbrows. a good mix of yums as well as sweets that could give people lots of smiles, hopefully. when i looked at the menu i initially created i heard a voice inside of me say, in a rather sarcastic and irritating voice, "yeah, that TOTALLY makes sense. that won't stress you out AT ALL... right..." there were about 20 main course dish things on this list. how crazy i am is really my own burden to bear, i promise. i don't put it on my kids too, too much and try not to have my friends have to bear the load for me (anymore), but, yes, i'm nuts. and i'm all right with that (and i'm allowed to say things like "nuts" and "looney" when speaking of myself, because i used to work for the Mental Health Association of Los Angeles County, was a staunch advocate for mental health and focused on policies surrounding the better treatment for those suffering from it and have a deep and abiding affection for the cause, mean this in the absolutely least derogative way to those who actually suffer from mental illness and would never, in a million years, use this in serious discussion of such, so just back off). WHEW! might be some baggage there i need to clear up, but as i was saying, i needed to really shave off those dishes. i did... and i told myself that... and i did...

but not by much.

i now possess enough wine to make me able to go to book club without having to BUY a bottle of wine for a solid 2 years and that's only if we actually have book club every single month or i go every single month. if we or i skip a month, i have enough wine for much longer. i also have enough food to feed my sons without having to cook a single thing for the next full week as in 7 days... that is, if my sons weren't already taller than i, weigh more than i hope i EVER WILL and 11 and 12 1/2 size feet (and they are, as a reminder, as soap operas do, 12 and 13 years old... yep... ).

but, and i can not say this enough, that doesn't matter to me, because i loved each and every minute of putting this together, creating the list, making the food, plating it, writing what would go with what, finding the right platters, etc. i LOVED IT! it exhausted me, i am still, now, so tired, i can't close my eyes and i had to be up at 5:15 in the morning to take my older son to his last weekend of football so we could be there at 6:30 in the morning for weigh in and it was 32 degrees outside in a blustery wind (um, in case you didn't realize, they play that sport outside). i didn't go to sleep until a bit after 2:00 in the morning, because i was unloading my car of all the stuff i had taken to the party and putting away anything that could go bad if left out, which was a lot. thank the wondrous energy of faith based perfection (whatever your choice might be with that) for my having two fridges, 2 regular sized freezers and one deep freeze ( i also have a gas stove sitting in my garage waiting to be hooked up or sold, whichever becomes more vital to my existence, but that's another story for another time). i would do it again in a heartbeat, i'd do it every weekend if i could. i love feeding my friends and family in a festive atmosphere and here's why:

because it's pure joy, love, warmth, caring, passion, desire, life. food, to me, is not just sustenance. it is an event, it is beauty. when treated the right way, to me, food becomes a door opening up for new ways of talking, loving, being. i can not tell you enough how deep my affection for cooking goes. i would give everything up (except for writing, my children, my pets and my family, so not EVERYTHING, but everything else... oh, and except my friends. i like my friends a lot) to be able to cook in a great kitchen for the rest of my life and share that cooking with many people. not like in a restaurant, but in my home. cooking, eating, FEEDING is communal. i like the social aspect of it, the way of tasting something, letting it sit upon your tongue, savor it and enhance your next sentence or what you are hearing. it incorporates all of the senses and i like that about it as well.

the response last night was lovely to the food and i appreciate that, to be sure. i want to cook well so that when my friends or family taste the food it makes them feel loved, makes them feel good, so it definitely matters to me to have people enjoy my food, but that's not why i do it, so that they'll tell me how cool i am. what made the evening so great was being able to present something i felt underscored how important the occasion was simply by my desire to pull out the stops for the spread. because this is a momentous occasion in our nation's history and in my own doubts about my desire to remain in this country.

when our president was announced on tuesday night, my sons and i were ecstatic. but it wasn't until later, when i was sitting alone, that the tears came, because i realized i could feel belief in my heart again. that my love of country was something very true and real, because i didn't know, until that moment, that if the other candidate had won, i would have sold everything, packed up the kids, the pets and some cookbooks and moved to another country without a second thought. i understood then that all my talking about it wasn't just that. i meant it with all my heart.

but now i'm not. now, i am completely ready to see where life takes us and, right now, life's a bit hard for us, like so many others. but i see a light at the end of the tunnel that i feel will overtake all things in my life. and that's why i created the menu i did for the friends who matter so much in my life. here's the menu for us to check out just for giggles (but no recipes this time, sorry... those are secret and mine -- i know, what a bitch, right? get over it):

olive tapenade w/crostini
hummus w/pita chips
spicy marinated olives and caper berries
sweet and spicy cumin almonds
fresh and dried fruit basket with assorted cheeses
hot and gooey brie w/warm bread and assorted crackers
guacamole w/tortilla chips
onion dip w/kettle potato chips
marinated roasted veggies
minced tofu in won ton cups
minced chicken in won ton cups
vegetable summer rolls w/ponzu dipping sauce
shrimp summer rolls w/sweet spicy dipping sauce
bul goki bundles on warm rice cakes w/scallion dipping sauce
giant chocolate chip cookies
orange ginger oatmeal cookies
fudgy brownies
mixed berry trifle
mojitos, wine, beer, water

assortment, as they say, is the spice of life. it was fun and i can't wait to do it again. but, even more than that, this feeling inside is amazing.

last year, my younger son came up to me and told me he wanted to be the first black president of the united states. i told him then that this guy who was putting his campaign together, obama, might beat him there. he stopped, thought, then said, "well, then i'll be the first MIXED RACE president in the united states." i pointed out that obama was already mixed race. he thought another second then said, "well, i guess i better find out what he's all about." he was 10 at the time. now he's 12 and it was him and my other son who were downstairs while i was up in the kitchen cooking calling out the election results for me. it was all they watched tuesday night and when i cracked open some rather delicious spanish sparkling wine to celebrate the victory, they both cheered with me.

as for me, to quote the exquisitely haunting and subtly passionate nina simone:

it's a new dawn
it's a new day
it's a new life for me
and i'm feelin' good...

maybe that should be the anthem for the president elect's victory of 2008?
maybe so.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Spaghetti a la Greg

missing someone can take its toll. their face, their smell, their spirit, their style -- people have so many facets that when you miss them, you miss the big, the small, and the whole of them. we are complex beings and, because of that, grief comes in different packages and guises, depending on the person you have... lost? no. sounds too much like misplacing them. you have had to go on in life without. better. i don't know of one word that would describe that kind of sorrow. and i'm (supposedly) a writer.

my father died. 12 years ago, 26 august. he died. gone. never to be seen again, except in memory, pictures and, luckily or not for me, film. my father is gone and he is never coming back. and as of 12 years ago, we had said our goodbyes in the lonely, silent place he had called his home for sometime, Las Vegas. and i miss him still. i miss him always.

my dad was a hard guy. truly. he had an edge that the streets and a rough life created far younger than anyone should bear. i remember hearing stories about how his mother handed him a "no more jim crow" sign when he was 3 and made him walk the line with her. 3. when my MIXED RACE sons were three, they were playing in a sandbox (or eating the sand, depending on which kid it was) and learning about sharing. shit.

i think sometimes, late at night, about how he might view my life, the world as it is now and the fact that we now have the first black president EVER. how amazing that all is. how i wish he was here to see it. and last night, as i celebrated this extraordinary event with friends at a feast i put together in the party room my sweeter than i ever say friend, melissa, was kind enough to provide and help me set up AND break down at her condo building, i couldn't help but think about my dad and, once in awhile, i had to excuse myself to the restroom and cry it out a bit. just a bit :o)

i learned to cook because of my father AND mother. they made the kitchen an amazing place to be and their sensibilities were geared toward homey food and fine food, both. my father was a true chops/grill kind of guy -- restaurants like Tail Of The Cock and Cock 'N Bull in L.A. were his staples, along with Musso & Frank's Grill and Hamburger Hamlet. he didn't much care for steaks, actually, or food cooked with wine, but he loved pot roast and ox tails and short ribs, deeply. and it was from him or through him or because of him that i discovered a true and unabiding adoration for soup. i love to make it, eat it and have it in my life. yum.

oh, and i also got my appetite -- which sucks -- from my dad. not his body type -- all legs, shoulders and skinny -- but his appetite. thanks.

when i was a kid, and i'm sure i've mentioned, my father would bring home these italian dinners created by one of the guys on his crew's mothers -- did that even make sense? let me try that again, dinners made by the mother of one of the guys at work. better. they were sicilian and she would make chicken cacciatore, lasagna and other things. my fave, for all time, was her spaghetti with sausage and boiled eggs. in sicily, because of money, boiled eggs in pasta are the poorman's meatball and i can't eat spaghetti without it now. nope. it's amazing. i adore it. it's one way to get me to eat pasta (of which i am, unfortunately, not a fan, unless it's asian or linguini alla vongole -- with clams/white sauce, not red, please). it is a heartwarming memory and a dish i perfected to the point that my father would ask me to make it for him whenever i'd see him. and i would. because i loved him (love him still).

SPAGHETTI AND BOILED EGGS -- this is a one pot meal. trust me
1 pound good, imported spaghetti
kosher salt
2 count of fruity olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 shallot, diced
large jar of pasta sauce (or your own homemade, which is what i use)
1 package good italian sausage -- either bulk or link, cooked and set aside
dried herbs: oregano, thyme, basil
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
4 boiled eggs, peeled
parmeggiano reggiano for sprinkling
crusty bread for dipping
your appetite

what to do:
1. so easy, really, cook the spaghetti or your fave long, thinnish pasta is good for this (not angel hair, too thin, and not fettucini, too flat and thick, although buccatini is yum with it) to the package directions, with a nice, healty pinch of salt to the water for taste. drain the spaghetti reserving about 1/4 cup of pasta water and DO NOT RINSE -- the starch that clings to pasta is what helps the sauce adhere to it. fun fact, i know.
2. in the same pot in which you cooked the pasta, heat it to medium for 10 seconds then add the 2 count of olive oil to the pan. let that heat for about 10 seconds then add the garlic and shallots and let them become aromatic, not browned (about 1-2 minutes). add the pasta sauce, cooked sausage (if using the links, just cut in two. you want big chunks with this), stir to combine, then add the herbs and let simmer a bit to get the flavors to mix.
3. taste for salt and pepper then add to your liking. add a bit of the pasta water for body, taste again, then add your boiled eggs, stir and let simmer for about 5-10 minutes, getting the flavor of the sauce into the eggs.
4. take a good forkful of pasta, put it in the center of the plate, laddle some sauce, add an egg then serve with plenty of good parmeggiano reggiano passed around.

this serves four and can be made the day before and kept in the fridge to really get the flavors blended. i'm certain this is NOT the original recipe of my dad's crew guy's mom, but it's the one i began working up when i was a kid and it's stuck. what's changed for me is i make my own meatballs and add them in, my own pasta sauce and cook the sauce for a lot longer, simmer it for awhile and give extra eggs to whomever wants them. sounds odd, but the meal works.

and, as always, a little interesting history about this: the last time my father was in the hospital, my bro and i were up in vegas checking him out, taking care of his apartment, moving him from upstairs to downstairs, because he was too weak to make it up the stairs anymore and just settling him in. for the last time, it would turn out, but we didn't know that. or, really? we did know it, inside somehow. there was a gentleness to everything we did, a fulfillment of a promise that was unspoken in some way.

during the last day of our being there, helping out, my brother and my dad were going to go check on some things out on the town while i stayed behind at my dad's place and did these specifically requested things for him: he wanted me to make him some pot roast, fry him some chicken, cook him up some greens, do a lasagna and, most importantly, make my spaghetti and eggs so he could have food. now, my brother and i had rented one car for the two of us and my dad and he took that when they went out on their errands. one of my brother's best friends from the elementary school days who was now living in las vegas was going to be around and suggested he drive me to the market and help me out. our flight was leaving that night, so i had a limited time to do all the cooking i needed to, and i was grateful for the help. okay, ecstatic. that morning, my brother dropped me at my dad's while he went off with him to go erranding for the day and while i waited for my brother's friend, who was like family to us, to come and pick me up...

... and waited...
...and waited...
... then called his pager...
... and waited (this is pre-portable cellphones that didn't cost a million bucks to own)...
... called his house and left a message...
... paged him again... paged him again... called his house again...
... and waited...

i toyed with calling a cab, but didn't know when my brother would be back, how long it would take the cab to come, get me to the market, get me back, and all that. did i still have time to cook this stuff? what was i going to do?

just as my brother returned with my father, a mere hour before our plane was leaving, my brother's friend finally showed up. this is as i am hugging my father goodbye, telling him how sorry i was that i didn't get to cook his stuff, and then rushing to get into the rental to return it to the airport. this guy showed up then.

my father died 2 months later and i never saw him again.
and i never will in my lifetime see my father walk into a room again.
it took me more years than i like to think to forgive this guy for bailing on me. i don't know if i really ever have. i mean, i adore him and all his irresponsible foibles -- he is a sweet man, his heart is in the right place, but life just gets in the way sometimes, doesn't it? yes, it does. and so i do forgive him that. i forgive him the human issues that arise for all of us, because i have them myself. hey, i suck at housekeeping, still live like i'm in a dorm room and wonder why my head is so full of crap all the time. and i have two kids, all my own, who need me to be WAY more responsible about this kind of role model shit than i am, but whatcha gonna do, right? and, so, my heart is still open and full of this guy, my bro's friend who is like family.

but i never got to cook the stuff for my dad again. i didn't and that is something my mind has a bit of a hard time processing, for all my self-investigationg, inner awareness and getting to a place of peace. i'm still the little girl inside looking up at her impossibly tall father and thinking he would live forever.

last night's celebration was wonderful, exhausting and i'm so tired, i can't sleep because of it. we celebrated a new day, friendship, life in general. sometimes you just need a party. for me, i celebrated this moment in history and wept for the fact that my father had not lived to see this. a man who admitted that the reason he didn't march with martin luther king, jr. was because "the first time someone threw a rock at a child, i'd kick their ass. not very good for the passivity movement, i'm afraid." and i know, now, my father would be so incredibly proud of his country, a country he and my mother taught me to believe in and in which i had lost belief. but i found it again, and i think, more than anything, that would make my father happy. that i found a way to believe again. cuz my dad loved me. and that matters to me.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

food, how are you?

i've been working out and eating right. i want to get in shape. i moved to the midwest and let myself go. a bit. and no one sees me. i mean, no one really sees, well, me. no one looks twice at me, no one notices who i am, no one really... even... cares. oh, my kids do. they love me and tell me wonderful things. i hope they know that. i hope they know how much i appreciate how beautiful they believe i am. even when i'm being hagatha. but it's only them. i can't remember when anyone, okay, a guy, told me i was beautiful or i looked nice or looked at me more than just in passing.

and i'm lonely. in a way that makes me stay up late at night (no matter how hard i've worked out, although my insomnia isn't quite as wretched since i've been working out as i have been). in a way that makes me want to uproot myself and my children, move to europe and cook amazing food while living in some bizarre stone home, learning a totally different language and allowing my hair to go wild, free and know why truffles really are so revered (okay, i already know that, but my brother would like to understand more). in a way that makes me wonder what the hell i'm doing with my life that i feel so lonely at a point in my life when all i should be worrying about is whether my kids are happy at school and i'm living my life to the fullest, as i had always hoped.

silly, isn't it? romantic fluff, especially after so long away from the blog that you all probably haven't checked back once. no worries. i write this more for myself than anything, because i suck at keeping journals. always have. and, quite frankly, now that i've determined no one really reads this, i've figured that i can say anything i want, as long as i bring it back to food, right?

and it's getting there.

i don't eat after 7 p.m. anymore. truly. not just a hopeful thing, but really. so if i get to 7 and i haven't had dinner yet, then i won't. that's how i roll these days. at this moment, i am so hungry, i could eat my bunny food -- oh, wait, i forgot to tell you. we got two incredibly gorgeous polish dwarf black bunnies at the state fair just a couple of weeks ago. so sweet -- Cocoa and Peanut -- two girls who are just the greatest loves. they live in bugsy's old castle and are dee-vine. but, anyway, back to food -- the hunger is dissipating, but the way i figure it, i'm 45+ and if i want a healthy lifestyle along with killer abs, i better damn well ignore hunger pangs at an hour that is way too icky for me and my body.

what has this to do with cooking, you're thinking. well, i'll tell you. i have begun creating recipes more than using those out of books. although, the other night, i made a killer shrimp and scallop curry to roll over and play dead for with a base of a cook book here. brandon even ate the rice (how cool is that) and the shrimp. brandon hates shrimp. he ate the rice, the shrimp and scallops. and smiled, asking for more. nicholas devoured the shrimp and rice, but didn't like the scallops. happens, but kept complimenting me on my cooking and how "great" i was... am. my sons love me. that means more than anything. except, late at night, when the dog takes over the bed, the bunnies are hopping about and i'm watching one too many romantic comedies for my own good. blech!

the exquisite delight in my dinner blew me away, but didn't take away the need for romance. i want romance. i want the dream. i don't believe in knights in shining armor, but i do believe in love. crazy, i know, but i do. and i believe in slow, languid meals in front of a fireplace, unrushed and full of exquisite passion. i believe in that shit.

marriage? not so much.
romance? a lot more.

so i cook, and i don't clean (suck at it, hoping to get better). i have no recipes tonight, no magical cookbook insights to share. what i have is a clarity on who i am. i'm a woman who loves to write, who loves to cook and who loves to feed others with both. and i don't know who to do that for in an intimate way. or, better still, i don't have anyone to do that for and, no, this is not a call to some weird arms for all those folks out there. it's just me saying what i feel. it's not a call for help. trust me. it's just a vent.

let me vent.

it'll come, i suppose, but, in the meantime, i'll play in the kitchen and with words. i'll walk in both worlds and see just how it feels to eat life and enjoy it without worry. i'll try that.

and forget, for awhile, that... well... it doesn't matter. not here.

we'll continue our journey through food and see where we go.
i quite like that.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Long Time Gone

i have been changing. inside. searching for meaning inside of my kitchen. over the next three weeks, i shall be testing fantabulous cookie recipes to sell. to whom, i am unclear, but sell them i shall. and in my quest for cookie perfection, i realize i'm not much of a cookie person. in truth, i'm not much of a sweets person -- cakes, candy, donuts. not really my bag. however, i believe there is a way to finesse cookies and scones, actually. cakes as well. finesse them and make them marvelously delicious with a unique feel and taste.

there is beauty in desserts. mouthfuls of wonder. it can be done. by me? well, i don't know. but i'm willing to try.
my sons like the idea.
so that's cool with me.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Ode to Pizza

i do not eat pizza. perhaps i have mentioned that in the past. it does not agree with me. arguments abound between me and the saucy, cheesy dreamboat of so many people's lives -- including my own son's -- but our quarrel runs deep, long and, unfortunately, has caused us to have quite the riff.

oh, i'll make it. from scratch even. but, for me, pizza has become one of those foods that if i buy it frozen and plop it in the oven for my beloved chilly-b boys, i'm cool with that. yep. you read right. i'm cool with frozen pizza (although i also keep homemade dough in the freezer, so go figure). i'm actually not as keen on the pre-packaged pizza bready dough-like stuff that you can fashion into a pizza. for some reason that just doesn't trip my culinary trigger, but i am all about the joys and wonders of pizza, i remember it, value it, i just don't give in to it, for the most part.

when we went to chicago, that changed. at least during the trip to chicago.

there are a few places that serve the kind of pizza that stick, forever, in my heart and bring back memories of lovely, cheesy glory that dance upon my tongue and across my senses. mario's restaurant in westwood, california (which, i do believe, is gone) was one of those, along with barones, jacopo's (which my brother informed me was closed down not that long ago -- the one we grew up with on the corner of beverly drive and little santa monica in beverly hills... i cried a little over that), valentino restaurant in venice, california (a fine dining italian spot that became a fave of ours as kids and whose pizza always makes me smile), harpo's in manhattan beach (this is a place that existed for a blip in time, but had been opened by two guys from chicago, so it was chicago style pizza with this really lovely cornmeal infused crust and delicious toppings... fillings... whatever -- one of the guys also owned the manhattan beach health club for men at which i was the morning receptionist and from where i was summarily fired one late winter day, but that's a whole other story), ray's pizza in new york (and don't ask me which one, cuz they're on every freakin' street corner), this killer place my sister-in-law and, when he wasn't working, brother would invade during a stint in queensland, australia -- i would get their seafood pizza that had clams and squid on it. trust me, it was amazing just as the fresh out of the fryer and dusted with cinnamon sugar donuts we would get at this little shop in sanctuary cove, where my bro and sis-in-law and beloved jordman were living at the time (this is all pre-rachel, although rachel was certainly making a statement in my sister-in-law's ever expanding belly). kathy moriarty's place in beverly hills -- i think it's called bronx pizza where you can buy slices and it's awesome.

i now add to this list Giordano's Pizzeria in Chicago, Illinois. O... M... G. thank you, dan, and stacey for talking it up and convincing me, yes, it is worth putting aside your pizza phobia and diving in.

brandon, as you know, could live on pizza alone and be very happy. perhaps not healthy, but happy. he is well aware of chicago style pizza. we have eaten it not only here in the midwest, but also in los angeles. when he learned we would be taking a trip there, he made a point of telling me he wanted to eat pizza there and i promised him i would eat it with him (mentally shaking in my boots the whole time). and, so, i pile nicholas -- whose elementary school graduation we were celebrating with this trip -- and brandon into the tiny, gas efficient rented car, way too many distractions to really fit in this car, and make the trek to the outskirts of the windy city, Schaumberg. this is where medieval times resides, it is the attraction we were focused on for nicholas' sake -- he's a romantic, knights in shining armor kinda guy -- with every intention of making our way into the city for a day of adventure and pizza.

i won't bore you about the drive from schaumberg into chicago, because it will bore and not surprise you. fluffin' crazy, let's just say. but let me share our giordano experience, shall i?

we arrive at the pizzeria amidst a tornado warning. yep. we get there at a time pre-rush hour, which makes life VERY comfortable. we sit and look at the selections, feel the vibe of this serious chicago tradition and relax into it. after conferring with my pal, stacey, before we left for chicago, i pass along information to both nicholas and brandon that i hope will make our lives easier -- the pizza at this place is dense, full of yum and deceiving. do not buy more than you can chew. normally, curbing my sons' portions would send them into a semi-tizzy. however, as they watch the pizza go by our table and because they both adore and trust stacey, they believe me. so, we order two small, "individual" pizzas for our table -- brandon gets one with cheese, pepperoni and onions; i order one with cheese, shrimp and spinach for me and nicholas. we also get a chicken caesar salad for us all to share and nicholas orders lasagna.

the pizza came and we just sort of looked at it for a moment. no way was i gonna be able to make it through one piece, let alone the whole thing. brandon realizes the same thing, but he doesn't want to tell ME that. he grabs a slice or a deep, luscious, decadent piece, takes one fork filled bite -- yep, my son realized no way was he gonna be able to eat this just with his hands -- and stares at me. oh, man. he's in heaven. then i do the same and, truly, i was transported. this is what pizza should be -- delicious, cheesy without being TOO cheesy, saucy, tangy spicy and hot. the crust was firm, soft, crispy all at once, lovely flavor and the shrimp/spinach combo was a hit. i ate a half a piece, nicholas ate the other half then we sat back and looked at the two pizzas, realizing that the one piece each we took out of them made barely a dent and we have plenty of leftovers to take on our trip back and still have some at home. we are in heaven.

oh, i paid for it later. trust me. my stomach did back flips, forward tumbles and called the fire department. but it didn't matter. Giordano's made our day and we still talk about it. as i said, this was not our first foray into chicago style pizza. there's a place here in town that the kids like quite a bit and i'm sure it's lovely. but it's not giordano's and no amount of big eyed begging from my delightful children will get me to put the dreaded demon pizza into my mouth.

but invite me to giordano's again and i am so all about it. i'd even order my very own.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Touring Italy and Feeling Fine

we've moved into italy. yep, we made it through japan (although, trust me, we'll be back), but we are now traveling culinarily (is that a word?) through the italian countryside. i've got about ten million books (not really, but whatever) on italian cooking from pretty much every region in my house not including the shit i have amassed in my cooking mags and i figure i could cook only italian for the rest of my life and not duplicate a recipe. florence, here i come!

i love to cook. yes. i know you know. sorry to bug you again about it. however, i do truly adore it. there is this sensuous, luscious, rich sense of delicious wonder that accompanies me through my travels in the kitchen that makes me swoon sometimes over whatever mess i'm putting together on the stove. i don't claim that all are successes (k'yeah... no), but i do claim that in my heart all are worthy of living forever in my memory. even if it's to remind me why i should ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY, NEVER, EVER TRY IT AGAIN THAT WAY AS LONG AS I LIVE. no big.

i know... blah, blah, blah whatever. i'm cool with that. but, just so's ya know, i wouldn't be able to face the day sometimes if i didn't know i was going to create in the kitchen at the end of it. no shit. i like being here, learning, testing, risking with food. i like losing myself to the mastery of the stove, the control of the fridge and the call of the mixer. think what you will, but i belong to the world of the epicure.

we began in chicken cacciatore, also known as hunter's chicken. i will not bore you with the recipe, because this rustic, country dish is really left to interpretation more than anything. good olive oil, organic chicken, excellent peppers and mushrooms and beautiful tomatoes and garlic, and you've got it made. i served it with some creamy polenta mixed with mellow ricotta and sharp parmesan (ah, my love), fresh pepper, skim milk and we were happy. oh, and some really lovely red seedless grapes. yum. my sons went mad. nicholas, interestingly enough, did not like the polenta, but brandon freaked for the whole dish and beamed at me all night.

nice to see my sons are willing to appreciate italian food that has nothing to do with spaghetti or pizza.

then, as you will see, we made some of the best yummies ever. tuscan pork ribs (or as brandon calls them, ITPR -- ITALIAN TUSCAN PORK RIBS), Garlic Broccoli and Whole Wheat Spaghetti with homemade marinara. we chose from our cookbook THE ITALIAN COUNTRY TABLE: Home Cooking from Italy's Farmhouse Kitchens by Lynne Rossetto Kasper. you've seen me talk about this before. it's the book with that killer front cover with the canellinis, crumbled parmesan, julienned soppresata and more in a wooden bowl. yeah, i dream of it.
not all the time, but enough, 'kay?

so here's the deal with our ITPR:

4 lrg garlic cloves
2 tightly packed tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
1 tsp xtra virgin olive oil
3.5 pounds country-style pork ribs (if possible, hormone and antibiotic free), 1 to 2-inches thick
about 3/4 tsp.salt
freshly ground black pepper

what to do:

1. first of all, i'm writing this to you without the cookbook in front of me, but i remember it, so here goes. you take all that yummy stuff and put it into a bowl with your ribs or into a ziploc, mesh them all together and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours -- overnight'll do it.
2. heat that oven to 325ºF and place the ribs on a rack over a shallow baking pan and bake for as long as it takes (like how i'm remembering all of this so well?) you want them to be nice and juicy, not dry and overtly wooden like the pork chops of old. since what you want is a nice crusty on these guys, turn your broiler on for the last about 15 minutes of your little baking adventure and let them brown.

serve with smiling joy.

we loved these. nicholas and brandon couldn't get enough of them, so i'm going to make them again. taking this trip through italy is kinda nice, relaxed and tasty. we have yet to succumb to the pasta as main course meal that so easily could be done, however, we will probably try something rather unique with that this weekend.

i'll keep you posted.
i promise.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Walla Walla and the Big, Badass Grape

today, tonight, i went to my first wine tasting. before you say "no way!", let me assure you it is true. i learned how to taste wine from my dad and i trust my palate enough to be willing to say "ick" or "yay!" to a wine, but i have never, in my life, gone to a formal wine tasting. i've been to nappa, sonoma and australia, all good places for good vino, but, as i said before, never to a wine tasting.

there's this place here in town called CELLAR RAT. cute name, cool place, a place i got into by chance when looking for a really good bottle of scotch as an office gift for my very deserving manager. i walked in there and was enchanted. i love good wine stores. really love them. i like reading the taste notes, talking to the sommelier (my dad used to be one, so i think that's why i have a deep affection for them), and purchasing labels that intrigue me. because of my walking into this wine store and getting seduced by it, i signed up for what they call a reserve list, get little updates from them every week about the WOW (wine of the week at a killer price) and, also, little inside scoops about wines that are limited and needing maturity or way out of my price range. so, what did i do? or do i do? i go, i buy and, something i have never done before, put the wines in my basement to mature. yep, you read right. i'm maturing wines in my basement. on top of towels, leaning a tad forward so the wine stays in contact with the cork (cuz the guys at CELLAR RAT told me to) and resting there for the next, oh, five or so years... maybe even more.

last week, i got an e-mail from CELLAR RAT giving me a nudge that a washington state winemaker, nicknamed "merf" (no, not SMERF, but MERF), will be coming into the town, will be at CELLAR RAT and the first 15 folks to respond could get in. it was a private tasting for the reserve crew (of whom, i keep forgetting, i am one) and they wanted to know if i wanted to come. it took me a good half hour of focused consideration to decide whether i was going to this. it's one of those things that kind of has me giggle like a little girl when i imagine myself actually doing it. i am VERY chi-chi, poo-poo lala in my tastes when it comes to this kind of thing and i am intrigued by it, but it was also one of those things that kind of needs someone to share it with. i'm at a point in my life where i am looking at my life and wondering how i got here, in a way. how i got to be the age i am without any significant other besides my kids. and, sometimes, i am lonely. and, sometimes, i am sad, because of it. i am here in a town that still feels almost as strange as it did the day we landed at the airport to move here and i do have two children i need to spend more time with even in the best of times (these are not the best of times) and, well... i'm complaining. i need to move my rubber "complain reminder" bracelet from one wrist to the other. sorry.

what has that got to do with going to a frigging wine tasting? well, as i said about a lot of times up at the top, i've never been to a wine tasting, let alone a chi-chi, poo-poo lala private one and i took this major leap by emailing back to them telling them i wanted to be there. i pressed send and sat back in my chair wondering where i got this courage to jump into this shit without really knowing what i was doing. they said in the email that i would hear within 24 hours. when i didn't, i felt a bit of relief, because it meant i hadn't gotten my name in there in time which meant i could save myself from doing something that terrified me. i'll explain why in a second.

i got a response on friday letting me know that we were on and to be there at six o'clock. my heart raced and i responded "great!" then had the whole weekend to freak out about it. i was terrified because i knew that i was going to be walking into a room with people who absolutely knew what they were doing, would be chatting about "the nose..." and "the acid..." and talking up tannins like nobody's business. i know the general idea of tastings -- you swirl, shove your nose deep into the glass and sniff, sip and roll a little air over the wine to get a sense of its flavor, let it bloom in your mouth, fill you, swallow, do it again a couple o' times, then dump the sucker into the cute bucket in the middle of the table (or there should be a bucket, but what if i was wrong?). you're not supposed to drink the entire taste of each glass, cuz then you're getting drunk and not really tasting anymore -- not only that, we had a shit load of wines we were tasting and while i'm just as happy to have a buzz on as anybody, i'm not a philistine, ya know, and, like i said, i'm into this fa-la-la-la-la fancy stuff. i like being poised and studious and elegant in these settings. i didn't say i am those things, i just said i like to be them. people have told me i am, i hope i am, but what do i know? i'm not looking at me from the outside. my concern was i'd do something incredibly stupid and out myself as the novice i am.

i think a lot of my friends would be shocked to discover my trepidation and shivery wierdness as i prepared to surmount this challenge of the grape. i also have never had raw oysters, sitting at the bar at sushi restaurants intimidates me and i am always prepared to fail at making a really good turkey whenever i cook one. whew! that feels better getting that off my chest, so let's move on. i had a blast. a sedate, well-bred, demure and pricey blast, but a blast nonetheless. i was alone, i didn't know anyone and i decided the best thing to do was to just sit, listen and learn. and, as i had played around with at home and learned, the whole "swirl, shove, sniff, sip, sense, swallow" thing was correct. i was blown away a bit by how many of these guys (i was one of two women in the room and the other one was a chick who had come with her boyfriend/guy and wasn't tasting, just finishing his when he handed it to her) finished their glasses. when i got in the room and saw these sheets of paper with the various wines on them and a pen to write notes with, i was instantly worried i was about to be graded. yeah, don't laugh, but i was. and, of course, i wasn't. by the end of the tasting, i was writing stuff down that felt real, right and very involving.

but, truly, i went through the most extraordinary gamut of emotions you could imagine. i couldn't figure out where to sit where i wouldn't be called out for any reason. i was worried they would go around the table and ask you to define exactly what it was about the wine that appealed or didn't appeal to you. i was worried i would spill the wine, knock over the water, fart loudly, burp wetly, snort laughter or talk when i should listen. i did what i thought would be best. i just let it wash over me and not worry about it... after the first 30 minutes in the wine shop, that is, because the tasting was really at 6:30, not 6:00 and the time was misquoted. well, i take that back. i was worried about it for the first 10 minutes as i wandered the place, gazing at labels of wines, liquors, high end beers until i looked up and saw two people i really, really like -- sergio and emily -- and we began chatting. and, ya know, talking to them mellowed me out. it made me feel good about being there. not just good that i was going to be tasting some yummy wines, but good about myself for overcoming my own personal hurdle. i was proud i showed up proud i didn't rush home and hide (like i thought about doing). i was glad i had done this for myself. it makes me look forward to what other leap i might make.

i bought a few bottles. which will, once again, go onto a bunch of towels and into my basement. one day, i'll buy a wine storage thing, since i appear to be really into this collecting shit. but, for now, i'll just prop them up, take a deep breath, and figure out what other gourmet magazine, conde nast lifestyle actions i can take to enhance my chi-chi, poo-poo lala image.

i'll send you an announcement when i know.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Feeding the Soul

and so the weekend began and i had two boys who really needed more than just another "i'm on a mission and, therefore, thou shalt deal with it." ya know, being a kid is freakin' hard. i remember those days and wouldn't go back if you paid me. and i mean, serious dough. cuz, kid-dom is confusing and out of control and i don't think there are any tools on the planet that could make it all work out without copious amounts of tears and pimples (although, in the pimple area, i was really lucky -- no major vast breakouts, just the really juicy one bump in the middle of my forehead or right in the middle of my chin... nice). there was this football camp that i submitted my sons for without them knowing just in case they didn't get in. it is a free camp to the first 1000 applicants and headed by herm edwards, head coach of the KC chiefs football team. it's one of those chance of a lifetime kinda things and i figured if they didn't get in, if they didn't know about it in the first place it wouldn't be horrible. well, i got word that my older son got in, but not my younger. bummer. however, late on friday, right before the weekend began, i found out that, yep, brandon did get in and just to bring him with nicholas to the camp and all would be well. so i figured the right thing to do would be to make them a dinner that evening -- saturday, their first day of the camp which was full-on football on the chiefs' practice field with 998 other kids for 6 hours plus a break for lunch -- that would really give them strength, energy and be healthy. my choice? lean steaks, baked potatoes and salad. easy. oh, and a splurge on dessert at cold stone creamery (which is tres yum, but so rich, i can eat, maybe, two bites, and i'm completely done in -- and, no, it's not because i'm a rail and i'm really good about my food. it's because i'm a 45+ year old woman who has, for as long as i can remember, had this horrible stomach issue with really rich foods that i need to pay attention to). okay, enough about that shit and on to what i was really talking about -- a good steak, baked potatoes and salad. that was for saturday. for sunday, this evening, i splurged on good yellowtail steaks for the protein. the kids really like it and i wanted to offset the beef with something from the sea. here's what i did and ANY-ONE can do it. really. honest. i'm not just making that up.

2-12 oz rib eyes -- nicely marbled, but not overly fatty
garlic powder
fresh ground pepper
ground cumin
ground coriander
season salt
1 tbs. olive oil (really good olive oil)

what to do:
1. if you've had the steaks in the fridge, take them out about 1 hour before you plan to cook them and have them come to room temp. then, sprinkle the seasonings liberally (but not scary liberal -- for example, think 1/4 tsp of garlic powder, fresh ground pepper, cumin and coriander and 1/2 tsp season salt per steak per side. if that freaks you out, then start even smaller and season it heavier, if you wish, next time). massage the seasonings into the steaks, each side, gently and thoroughly then set aside to rest in the dry rub for about 1/2 hour to 1 hour.
2. when you're at the end of your marinating time, take a 12" skillet/saute pan (NOT NON-STICK, if you can help it) and heat it on medium to medium high, depending on your stove, for 30 seconds. add the olive oil and swirl around the bottom of the pan to coat. do not let it come to smoking. if it does. turn it off, wipe it out and start again. let heat up for about 10 seconds or until a drop of water sizzles (or dances, i like to think) across the surface.
3. when the skillet/saute pan is hot enough, put in the steak and sear it for about 5 minutes on one side. a crust will form then turn it over and sear it on the other side, about five minutes (six or seven, if you're more the medium kinda person). at this point, you can take the steak out and deglaze the pan with either some really good red wine (a nice pinot or a malbec could be nice here -- but make sure it's really good wine, if you can) or some earthy beef broth -- organic would work or some homemade which would be WAAAY better, as you know. let the sauce reduce to a sort of glaze and take off the flame. what we did, though, was to brush each side quickly with barbecue sauce just as they were coming out of the pan and let them rest, searing hot, on a plate with the sauce caramelizing naturally in the residual heat. the boys went NUTS for it and didn't even need any extra sauce at all for the steak. gotta love that.
4. serve the steaks whole with the sauce in a little dish beside it and the baked potatoes and some salad. simple, easy and way yum, if you're into steaks.

as for the yellowtail, this is what we did:
3 yellowtail filets
ground ginger
five spice powder
fresh ground pepper
kosher salt
ponzu sauce
black sesame seeds
toasted white sesame seeds
sesame oil
canola oil
1 garlic clove, pressed
granualted sugar
brown sugar
ground cinnamon

what to do:
1. sprinkle the first four ingredients onto the filets, both sides, generously, but just about two hearty pinches of the salt on both sides. not too much. set them aside to rest for about 15 minutes.
2. heat a 12" skillet/saute pan over medium to medium high heat (depending on your stove) for about 30 seconds then add 1 tbs canola oil and 1/2 tbs sesame oil (preferably toasted). heat for about 10 seconds or until a drop of water sizzles and dances across the surface.
3. sprinkle the marinated tuna with some ponzu sauce on both side (about 2 tsp. worth) then sprinkle the sesame seeds until they cover each side GENEROUSLY, like a crust, and place the tuna in the hot pan, searing it for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, then taking them out and placing to the side.
4. let them rest for at least 5 minutes, then cut against the grain and place atop a bed of white or brown or (even yummier) black rice. now, as for the last four ingredients, here's whatcha do:
mix together about 1 tbs sugar, 1 tbs brown sugar, 1/4 tsp cinnamon in a small bowl. take some sake and deglaze your pan, get up all the yummy bits then sprinkle in the sugar mixture and stir. you can serve this on the side of the tuna in a dipping bowl. taste to see if it needs some acid -- a squeeze of lime or lemon, even some rice vinegar -- add it to taste and serve.

okay, so i'm writing this and thinking "these guys probably don't give a rat's ass about my own personal recipes", but it's fun to put them down. i do have some that are super top secret i will never share here, but you may not care, so that's cool. there may be no one out there even looking at any of this anyway, and that's cool, too. because, sometimes, it just helps to send stuff out into the black, into the great unknown, because you have to. because, sometimes, our hearts are so wanting that we need to write it out of us. i always sucked at journal writing, but this blog thing, well, i don't have to hold it for me to read ages from now and realize i haven't moved an inch. i can set it out, set it free, and not even think about it later. or, well, not have to feel alone in it.

whoa, deep for a food discussion, isn't it? but, i guess, the food we create, or, better yet, i create, which i put my soul into genuinely holds my heart and represents who i am, inside, on any given day. like a poem or a painting. my food is the artistic gift i give to the ones i love most. my people and, yes, my dog, because i make her dog treats, not buy them. and when they smile at me (even my dog) or say it's good, it makes me feel worthy of their love. so stupid, right?
but, perhaps, just the same desire we all have. to not only matter, but feel we have earned that consideration of self.
perhaps not.