Thursday, January 29, 2009

Herds of buffalo mozzarella

Okay, I admit it. I do most of my grocery shopping online with Acme and have it delivered to my door. Taking the chittlins to the market has become a logistical nightmare, meaning that I can only buy as much as I can stuff under the cart because the cart itself is loaded with 80lbs of boys. And they protest mightily if you want to pile anything on top of them; there is also the risk of suffocation should anything be, say, a 20-pack of toilet paper or the 10-for-$10 sale on frozen vegetables. With the latter, frostbite is also a threat. However, I don't buy my meats or Italian goodies from Acme. Those I buy at Altomonte's. And that, my pretty people, is one of my happy happy places.

You've heard me talk obsessively about Altomonte's. It's right around the corner from me. If I weren't lazy, or buying perishables, and my county had decent sidewalks I could actually walk there and back with mass quantities of goodness. But that's not happening so, moving on.

Altomonte's is an Italian market, replete with everything you need to play Giada in the kitchen. Maybe not Mario, but definitely Giada. They even have a giant $65 jug of Nutella on the bakery counter, which would make that pretty lady very happy indeed. It's not a large place, but every single space is packed with essentials. The pasta selection alone is outstanding, all shapes, sizes, and brands, even the good artisinal ones that Michael Chiarello so dearly loves.

Next to the pasta is the olive oil. Not as vast as you might find elsewhere but an amazing selection from both Greece and Italy. This is where I discovered my favorite extra virgin brand, Iliada, from Greece, pressed from kalamata olives. They also carry their own store brand, which I keep in my kitchen as well. It's best for salads as it's sharp and peppery and wonderful with balsamic vinegar.

They have a seemingly endless supply of canned tomatoes and they carry Pomi in the little cardboard boxes--spendy but the tomato flavor is outstanding. Condiments are next to the tomatoes with so many options: pickled vegetables, spicy peppers, caponata. Beans aplenty, too, and lovely tuna canned in olive oil (I love Flott). Anchovies, clams, little tins of seafoody bits, then you turn and find yourself staring down coffee and espresso and Nutella (both Italian and American), dried beans, and a generous selection of their own homemade sauces: marinara, vodka, wild mushroom, pizza, even salsa.

Take a right and there is a refrigerated section of smoked meats like bacon, ham, guanciale, kielbasa, hot dogs. A small but very useful selection of produce is offered and you can sometimes find cardoons, which you know you're not going to get anywhere else. One more turn and you're at the freezer section with a nice variety of seafood--mussels, shrimp, fish, squid--and many of their homemade sausages and meatballs and you can even find rabbit (although I don't believe he's wascally). The standing freezers are loaded with mass quantities of their sauces and soups--all homemade--excellent stocks (their vegetable puts everyone else's to shame), demi glace, and lovely pastas. You can find ravioli in a variety of flavors from lobster to mushroom to goat's cheese, tortellini, even fresh pasta sheets for lasagne.

After staring for a while here, you can turn left for the butcher or right for the dairy. We'll go left and eye up the beautiful steaks, veal, pork, and chicken (they carry Bell & Evans, yay!). They grind their meat throughout the day so you're guaranteed it's fresh and the beef, pork, veal combo--you won't get better anywhere else.

Turn around and look. Look towards the cheese. Run towards the cheese. See the Brie, be the Brie. Gaze adoringly upon the Huntsman. Take home a wedge of Gruyere and a container of freshly grated parm. Grab a roll of pancetta. It's all so freakin' good. Pick up a stromboli or a container of sauce with meatballs so you don't have to cook too much that night. Walk over to the breads, the wonderful semolina rolls and steak rolls and beautifully crusted loaves of yum. Don't forget the croutons. My god, the croutons. They are like crack to the bairns. Stop at the deli and get some proscuitto, some home roasted turkey, a little salami. Want some sides? Salads and meals are to the left, with a beautiful selection of roasted and grilled vegetables, silky soft fresh mozzarella (the marinated bocconcini--eek!), pasta salad, chicken cutlets. Order a hoagie or grilled veggie sandwich (my personal favorite, with broccoli rabe, of course), you simply cannot go wrong.

Finally, the bakery. Forget the gun, we have cannoli. And tiramisu. And cream cakes, and cookies, and biscotti and other gorgeous, gorgeous little nibbly things that go down a treat at the end of a meal. Or for tea. Or in the middle of the night. Hell, the whole damn store is good at any time of day. While you're checking out, don't forget that they have tomato pie, by the slice, the half, or the whole. Oh so freakin' full of yum. And grab a copy of La Cucina Italia so you have something to read while you're sprawled on the couch after taste-testing everything you've brought home.

Lastly, the people. They have nice people. People who say hello when they see you, say excuse me and please and thank you. They value you as a customer. Valerie and Cindy and everyone else, yes, they want you to shop there, they want your money, but they earn it. Even if I'm just stopping in for a gallon of milk it's a pleasant experience. Waiting on line to pick up my Xmas ham there was fresh coffee and platters of tomato pie, they give lollies to my boys when I drag them along. It makes a difference. Small stores like this are valuable. And to this food geek, they are a happy happy place indeed.


There's something so damn satisfying about having 25lbs of flour delivered to your door. Why, you can use some of it to celebrate the arrival of the new Rachel Allen.

I dove right in and made the Chocolate and Vanilla Marble Cake on p. 48 as my first recipe. It's good, a little dense but not like a pound cake, and I used Dutch-process cocoa for the chocolate part, which I think made a very nice end result. I spent some time perusing the book and it's full of all kinds of good things, sweet and savory. The title refers--quite literally--to baking. For example, the sections are Sweet mouthfuls; Cakes; Puddings; Breads and savoury bites; Tarts and pies; Breakfast and patisserie; Baked meals; Holiday and celebration; Basic recipes and techniques. It's a fairly hefty book, coming in at 288pp., and worth every penny. Or pence. Or Euro. Or whatever I really paid for it. It's got gorgeous photos and would be at home in any cook's library because of the scope of the recipes. Baking is not just about cookies and cakes and muffins; it is also about a nice eggplant dish or a gratin or pizza. Also, baking should be fun. And that's what this book is, too, fun.
How do I store 25lbs of flour you may ask? I have a very large jar that holds 10lbs; the rest I roll the top down and store it on top of my fridge, hoping that it doesn't tilt forward and turn someone into a dusty mess.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Trinity of Tana

Okay, here are the Tana books I rave about. Yes, the bottom two had dust jackets but, as I have a peculiar disdain for them (the jackets, not the books), they have long since been lost.

I have mad love for these books. I came across them whilst doing a search for Gordon on Amazon UK. I got the yellow one first (Real Family Food) simply because it was cheaper than her first one. When you're paying full shipping and factoring in the exchange rate to the US it makes a difference. I fell in love with this immediately, and the first recipe I made was the one for Oat and Blueberry Muffins. They lasted two days. I've made dozens more since then. I love these muffins. I love these muffins. I freakin' love these muffins. I moved on to the Chicken and Mango Salad (excellent for summer lunches), Honey and Mustard Sticky Chicken, Rhubarb Jam (from the recipe for Rhubarb Tarts), Bang Bang Chicken, Butter Chicken (which turned out to be plate-licking delicious), Black Bean Chili, and Apricot Walnut bread. What I like about the book is that each section has a listing of recipes so you don't have to search through the index. Yes, there are family pictures throughout but there are enough photos of the finished recipe that you don't feel too deprived.

Next I got Family Kitchen. While I haven't made nearly as many recipes, again it's a solid book with lots of food photos and a really nice layout. I got this in paperback, which I prefer for cookbooks anyway, but it's very sturdy and holds up well to being knocked off a counter or getting food splotched on it. I made the Homemade Baked Beans (I love that it's in the Breakfast section!), Chocolate Chip Cookies (I'm a sucker for a new choc chip cookie recipe), Plaice with Chunky Chips and Pea Puree (I used haddock because it was on sale), and a wonderful Minestrone that I made yet again this week. There are several unusual recipes I want to get to, such as Red Pepper and Apple Meatballs with Sweet and Sour Sauce, which I think might appeal to the chittlins, and Moroccan Chicken with Couscous. It freaks me out a bit when I see cinnamon in a savory recipe so I always go slowly and start with just a tiny bit, but the rest of this recipe sounds damn yummy so I just need to get over myself and make it.

Lastly is Home Made, with a gorgeous new cover. This one follows a bit of a different format, with sections specific to the main ingredient or meal: Soups, Chicken & Duck, Vegetables, Pizza & Pasta. I must admit that I've made only the Green Minestrone; however, it's no fault of the book's; rather, I've been perusing other volumes and trying new things from those. This, too, has a listing of recipes in front of each section, making life easy, and photos of nearly all the finished dishes.

What I like so much about these cookbooks is that I think they are ideal for beginning cooks who don't want the same old rehashed roast chicken or pasta recipe. The ingredients should be easy to find in any large supermarket and preparation for each dish is minimal. I've been cooking for a very long time and, while I don't need a primer or how-to for basic meals, I like reading a new recipe and saying "Ner, why didn't I think of that?" This is what these books do for me; when I don't want to think yet want something easy, interesting, and on the table with minimal fuss, I know that I can find something in any of these that will fit the bill. However, if you are at all interested in buying British cookbooks, invest in a very good kitchen scale (I recommend the Escali digital). It makes measuring a hell of lot easier than whipping out a calculator and doing the conversions yourself. Tana does provide translated measurements for ingredients but a scale is a very good investment for those times when you don't have the luxury of an author/editor doing the work for you.
Next, I need to make something out of the eggplant that is languishing in my veg bin.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Lying gits

The weather people lied. Instead of 3 to 5 inches of snow we're getting a wintry mix tonight. I'm disappointed. I was all kinds of excited to think about a hearty meal with the snow falling outside. Oh well. The braciole I made turned out quite lovely, despite the rolling of the weather bones not falling in my favor.

I picked up a pack of beef at Altomonte's today, along with a quarter pound of domestic proscuitto. First, the oven was preheated to 325. I pounded the meat until it was about a quarter-inch thick, then sprinkled on a layer of freshly grated pecorino romano and Grana Padano, topped that with a slice of the proscuitto, then about a tablespoon of seasoned breadcrumbs (I've discussed their goodness in an earlier post), then one more layer of cheese.

Rolled each one widthwise and tied tightly with twine to prevent the filling from falling out. While this was being done, I heated several tablespoons of olive oil (not extra virgin this time) in a large pan that could be put into the oven.

Seared the rolls on all sides until nicely browned. Added four cloves of chopped garlic when the meat was on its last side. Once it was lightly cooked, I deglazed the pan with about a third cup of red wine. I had a bottle of shiraz/tempranillo open so I just used that. Turned the heat up high to boil and reduce it slightly. I rolled the braciole around to coat it completely with the garlicky wine.

Added a large can of peeled whole plum tomatoes and a sprinkling of salt and black pepper. I didn't use any herbs as I wanted the tomatoes to be flavored simply, with just the wine, meat juices, and whatever bits fell out of the rolls. Brought again to the boil, plonked on the lid, then into the oven for 2 hours. I didn't really time it as I planned on serving it when Jerry got home, so it was in the oven for the long haul.

I was going to make polenta, thinking it would make a nice base for the sauce; however, I didn't have nearly enough in my cupboard and, when I make that, I like to make a lot. So instead I sauteed some red potatoes and zucchini chunks in rosemary butter and topped them with a generous sprinkling of pecorino romano.

I thought it turned out really good and, as it counts towards my two new recipes a week challenge, I'm pleased that I have only one left to go. Last week I will admit was a wash as I only made one. However, I will admit that I am tempted to include new baked goods as I made awesome brownies from a new recipe and it's only fair that they count. I think I'll fall back on baking only as a last resort as it really is fun trying new.

Oh, we finished up a box of Godiva for dessert. Yum.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hail to the King, baby.

The King Cake is here, the King Cake is here!
Avec accoutrements!

I'll have some Chianti. Grazie.

"Peter Clemenza slept badly that night. In the morning he got up early and made his own breakfast of a glass of grappa, a thick slice of Genoa salami with a chunk of fresh Italian bread that was still delivered to his door as in the old days. Then he drank a great, plain china mug filled with hot coffee that had been lashed with anisette."

The Godfather, Mario Puzo
I was wanting meatballs so this morning I made them. Preheated oven to 325. Used two pounds total of ground beef, pork, and veal, two eggs, half cup of seasoned bread crumbs, fourth cup each of grated pecorino romano and Grana Padano parmagiana, some salt and pepper. Scooped into balls (I got two dozen). I used homemade breadcrumbs from Altomonte's and the fun in that is they don't taste the same way twice. They are always good, but the flavor depends on what bread they had leftover when they made that particular batch. Sometimes you get sesame seeds, sometimes they're more cheesy. But always, always good.

Baked for twenty minutes and removed from oven. I don't bake them at a higher temp because they dry out and get that thick crust on the bottom. Twenty minutes at 325 makes them just undercooked so they finish in the sauce. I should mention that I drizzled some extra virgin olive oil over them before they went into the oven.

Moved on to the sauce and sauteed six cloves of chopped garlic in two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil with a pinch of red pepper flakes thrown in for good measure.

Added two large cans of crushed tomatoes, the meatballs, a whole branch of basil, and about two teaspoons minced fresh rosemary. Added salt and pepper and a large pinch of sugar. Brought to a simmer and cooked slowly at a bare bubble for one hour.

Served alongside some quality reading material and a very nice semolina roll.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Buttery goodness

From Kee Kee:

Dear Queen La La, I was at a fancy schmancy grocery store last weekend and saw beautifully wrapped butters in the dairy section. As I have only been a land o lakes unsalted gal all my life, I wonder, have you ever tried the fancier butters and if so, would you recommend serving it for special dinner parties? I often serve butter along side french bread with radishes and salt in an attempt to appear french.. which I am not... but I digress. . . Is the fancy butter worth it, or should I stick with my usual land o lakes at room temperature whipped with a touch of salt?

I love, love, love me some Land O' Lakes and think it's perfect for any occasion. However, I do indulge in Kerrygold Irish sweet butter from time to time because I think it's out of this world, especially with a bit of baguette and a fresh cup of morning coffee. It's not too spendy, spreads beautifully, and the best part is that it is so damn creamy you don't need nearly as much as you might with LOL. You could serve it in little ramekins with a sprinkle of sea salt on top but, if you're already doing the Ina and putting salt on the side for the radishes, then just pot it up and let it be its own blissfully creamy self.

I hear good things about Lurpak and the French butter, Presidente I believe it's called, but I rely on Kerrygold for the price and its consistent quality.

Let me know what you end up with. :)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Throw me something, mister!

The house is not quite where I want it to be in anticipation of Mardi Gras but this'll do. I get all kinds of happy looking at my chandelier

and out my front window

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

In the Mood for Jo

Gordon Ramsay feels that "Jo's food is vibrant and fun" and who am I to argue with greatness?

This is one of the prettiest covers in my collection. My photography does not do it justice but it is very pink, very girlie, and has a flower centerpiece. Even the font is rather come-hither. However, it is a very good book, with solid recipes. The sections are a continuation of the title: In the Mood for Being Healthy, In the Mood for Something Naughty but Nice, etc., with sub-sections that are a bit cheesy but fall in line with the general spirit of the book (Does My Bum Look Big in This?, Overworked and Underfed, Hangover Hell). As you can probably tell from the word bum, this is yet another title in my ever-expanding British cook collection, so a good kitchen scale is a necessity. I got it from an Amazon marketplace seller so didn't have to go to the UK site this time.

Thus far, I've made only the brownies on p. 65. Granted, they may not seem like the best place to start, but I wanted brownies last night, I wanted a new recipe, and I must say these are pretty damn good. Unfortunately, they are not the exact recipe as it's called "Chocolate, Cherry and Walnut Brownies" and I had neither cherries nor walnuts in the house, but the important part--the actual brownie base itself--is divine. I substituted a mass quantity of freshly chopped white chocolate and can't complain at all.

The other recipe that caught my eye yesterday was one for soup, on p. 112, Cauliflower Cheese Soup. I decided to take the original and run with it, and I'm pleased to say that I've cleared this week's challenge of a new vegetarian recipe, one that I think Bridget would really enjoy. The original calls for a baking potato, peeled and chopped. In my fridge I had eight cooled, already baked potatoes, waiting to be gutted so I could freeze the skins for later use. This is what led me to spinning her recipe into something else. As below:

Jo Pratt-inspired Baked Potato Cauliflower Soup

2 tbsp butter
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 head cauliflower, chopped
Centers from eight small/medium baked potatoes*
Salt, pepper
Water (1-2 cups)
Milk (1-2 cups)
4oz really good sharp cheddar, grated or thinly sliced (I really, really like Tillamook)

Melt butter in large soup pot. Add onions and garlic, season with a good pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper, and cook gently until onions are soft but not at all brown. Add the cauliflower and potatoes. Add water halfway up the ingredients; add milk until just covering the cauliflower and potatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook at a bare bubble until everything is soft and the potatoes are nicely crumbled. If it seems dry, top up with a little milk. Start pureeing using a stick blender, adding the cheese as you go (it will melt in the hot soup, and the blender helps to amalgamate it). Once there are no lumps you're done.

*I often bake a dozen potatoes, halve them, scoop them out, and freeze the skins so I can make potato skins at a moment's notice. However, it makes for a lot of potato guts so this is a good way to use up quite a bit of them. The rest are nice fried for breakfast or a snack.

An update on last week, I made the Goan Shrimp Curry with Eggplant from Ruta's book and yeah, you really need to run out and get this book. I can't stress enough how much love I have for these recipes and reading it is a real treat.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

That's unpossible!

I had a marathon day in the kitchen yesterday. Baked a loaf of whole wheat bread, then a pear upside-down cake, moved on to a deep dish pizza, and finished up with Mexican chicken soup. Whilst I was quite pleased with the first three, the soup was just all kinds of nasty. I followed the recipe but I guess the British taste-testers have a different idea of what constitutes Mexican. Then again, I absolutey cannot stand the taste of chicken with any kind of tomato product so maybe I was biased from the get-go.

Here is the cake:

This is a very nice cake. It originally called for apples but I didn't have enough so I went with pears. The cake itself is very cinnamon-y but not overly sweet and is a perfect foil for the sugary pear topping. I'm guessing it would be awesome with vanilla ice cream, French vanilla even better. And I think it goes better with a cup of good, strong tea rather than coffee.

And here is the pizza:

I haven't made deep dish in a very, very long time. I made a batch of my usual pizza dough (1 cup water, 1 packet traditional yeast, squirt of honey, bloom. Add 2 1/2 cups Italian flour [all-purpose works fine, too], 2-3 tbsps extra virgin olive oil, mix, adding flour as necessary to create a smooth dough. Coat with oil, let rise in a bowl until doubled.) I patted it into a stone pan, pressing to keep the air out, added a layer of sharp provolone, one of hard salami, then mozzarella, then crushed tomatoes (straight from the can, enough to cover the cheese), grated pecorino romano all over the top, baked at 450 for about 45 mins. This is best left to sit for about 15 mins after it comes out of the oven to allow everything to settle. And again, let me push a mezzaluna on you. They are awesome for cutting things like pizza and biscotti and are not at all expensive. I have two, one very large, two-handled one like Nigella's and a little tiny one that can be easily used in one hand. My in-laws got it on a trip to Alaska and I must admit to it being a rather awesome souvenir.

The only thing I would not do next time is use the full amount of dough. The crust was very thick, especially along the sides. I'm guessing about 2/3 or even half the original dough would work well and the rest could be frozen or used to make little thin crust pizzas, calzones, whatever. It was very good flavor-wise, just a little doughy.

I'm beat today, still fighting this damn cold, which has now taken up residence as an alien in my chest. Today is the day I get the hot & sour soup. I'd probably feel better by now if I had done that the first time 'round. Damn me and my foolish ways!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


This week's two-new-recipe challenge is off to a good start. I made Rachel Allen's Chunky Mediterranean Pasta soup and am quite pleased with the result. It's got the lovely smokiness of chorizo, fresh tomatoes, pasta, spinach, all in a chicken broth and it's definitely good for keeping winter at bay. I absolutely love cooking with chorizo, especially as its flavors melt into warming olive oil, turning it the most amazing reddish orange. It's often I grab a small chunk of bread and take a furtive dip. I would recommend, however, when making anything with chorizo, to be mindful of salting as you go. My end result needed a shot of water to balance out the salty flavors from the sausage and the broth. I also threw in a handful of peas because the garlicky smoky paprika aroma of the chorizo reminded me of paella and I felt that peas would really add something. Lucky me, I was right.

Bridget posted a most excellent blog about tea and I want to play.

1) Please share your hot tea memories with me. Who introduced you to hot tea?

We always had tea in the house, usually whatever was on sale, including store brand. My parents drank tea, but the only hot beverage I liked when I was younger was cocoa, so the magic was lost on me until years later. I finally "got" tea when I was sixteen, on a whirlwind trip through Europe, when I had my first massive English breakfast and there were pots of freshly brewed hot tea and racks of cold toast. I was in heaven. I came home and insisted we buy Twining's, which, at the time, my local grocer didn't have, so we went down to Strawbridge & Clothier's food hall to buy boxes of it. It wasn't exactly the same but it really got me hooked.

2) Describe your perfect cuppa' hot tea. If you're like me and it depends, share as many different scenarios as you care to.

I used to love putting the bairns down for their nap and brewing a small pot of P.G. Tips to have with a sweet. I called it my afternoon tea. I'd find something to read and plop on the couch to relax a bit before tackling the messes. Now they're up until bed time but I just switched things around to include them in the ritual. The exception is that I put something on tv that they want to watch so I can still have a little reading time to myself. They like to take sips from my cup as it's got a pinch of sugar or honey and milk so it appeals to them. With Jerry working in an office now he doesn't get to play but we still have tea together on the weekends. It's a nice way to ease into the second half of the day.

I like breakfast teas--English and Irish--and darjeeling is nice on occasion. I am not a fan of green tea as, to me, it has the aroma of a gym locker and I just cannot get past it. I find Earl Grey quite frightening as it's almost like drinking cologne. Herbal teas I tried for a very long time (back when I was a veggie) but I find that, though they often smell lovely, they don't quite live up in taste. Yet I keep trying. I should not have so many boxes of Celestial Seasonings but I do. Madness.

I really enjoy the loose P.G. Tips, Twining's, and Bridget got me hooked on Red Rose. I never knew how good it really was, especially hot in summer with a little lime. Yum. I like the Chinese jasmine tea that was mentioned in her blog comments by Knitterary and used to pick up tins of it when I worked downtown. That's one of those delights that can really help you get through a nasty cold or flu.

Lastly, I can't go without mentioning a good cup of chai. I've made it from scratch myself and it's good, really good, but Twining's has its own version and it's made life so much easier. That's a real treat in the afternoon when you have nothing in the house (sweet-wise) that appeals to you. A blob of honey and some milk and it's almost dessert.

I guess, though, in the grand scheme of things, Bridget's version of "hot tea" really is the way to go. Why should coffee have all the fun?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Porcine pleasure

Well, I rounded out the week with the Rachel Allen bangers and mash dish and yes, it was freakin' incredible. The sausages were the easiest thing in the world to make (no casing required) but had the most incredible flavor from just a few ingredients. It was a pleasure opening the fridge, where they were tucked nicely under a piece of press & seal, and having the garlicky aroma waft towards me. Then I let them come to room temp before showering them with a mist of olive oil and gently roasting them in the oven. Oh my. Luscious. The colcannon--let's be real--it's mashed potatoes with cooked cabbage mixed in. But I left the cabbage a bit crunchy for a nice contrast in texture and added oodles of butter to make up for the 1% milk I used. Lovely. Homemade applesauce is a snap; in fact, it was the first solid food the bairns got so it's not like I needed a recipe. All three items on the one plate brought a fabulous mix of flavors and textures and I most definitely will make a fresh batch of the sausages for freezing and indulging at a moment's notice. I highly recommend a pint of Bass alongside and, if he's Stateside, invite DCIGeneHunt over and pick his brain about the '70s. And what he really thinks about Manchester United.

Rounding out the meal--Tanner's chocolate ice cream with some of the leftover toffee sauce I have hidden at the back of the fridge.

Is this a treadmill I see before me?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Go 'way, I wanna lick my bowl

Made the blackeye pea curry.

Oh my god. Oh so freakin' beyond incredible. So good. I mean, really, really good. The kind of veggie recipe that I wish I'd been aware of back when I was a veggie for it would have saved me from eating my way through the Morningstar Farms aisle again...and again...and again. It took about thirty total minutes and the hardest thing to do was mince some onions and grate some garlic and ginger. Made the spinach raita to go alongside; whilst I thought it quite tasty, Jerry wasn't overly fond of it, saying it was too "minty". There was no mint in it, but I think the freshly grated ginger and ground cumin may have been too heavy a flavor combination for him to enjoy. Unfortunately, the "fresh" pack of wheat pitas (whitas?) I picked up somehow became moldy and inedible en route from Tanner's to our dinner plates, and I didn't have any in the freezer but we came through that tragedy relatively unscathed. Plenty of Foster's (It's AUSTRALIAN for beer, MATE!) helped.

So, my fellow foodies, get Ruta's book and get it now. If these recipes are any indication about what's in store, it's worth every penny.

Yes, I'm going to marry a carrot

I'm going to Tanner's today. It's a dairy farm/produce market that has a huge selection of produce, awesome homemade ice cream, and stinky cows. The bairns used to like the stinky cows but have since changed their minds. They still like ice cream, though, so there is some reward for hanging out whilst I ooh and aah over what I want. They also have local honey, which is far superior to anything I've purchased in the supermarket. Granted, I am no expert, and I have no problem keeping a little plastic bear full of Acme or Sue Bee in my cupboard; however, I do like the idea of supporting local businesses and, with the whole honey bee problem these last several years, I'd hate for the smaller operations to go under. And the stuff is damn good, worth every penny.

Going to Tanner's always reminds me of my friend Bridget, aka Peaches, a most appropriate name for a veggie. She's one of the good veggies: She doesn't eat meat but she keeps it to herself. And she loves cheese. And ethnic food. She even likes my interpretation of ethnic food. One of the many things I miss about working with her was she was always willing to share in my leftovers and try my chickpea curry and spicy lentil wraps. She is also the Bridget of Holiday Cheese Ball fame. (She is the cat's mother, as my mother says. Whatever the hell that means.) Go Bridget! Go reader, meet Bridget here!

I'm drinking very good coffee right now, Starbucks Casa Cielo. Mmm...smooth. To accompany said coffee I am enjoying a bowl of Grape Nuts with vanilla yogurt. Carry on.

Tonight I'm finally going to get off my ass and make the blackeye peas in spicy goan curry for dinner. I'm also going to make the spinach raita (as suggested by the author) and, if there is time, I'll do chapatis. In the grand scheme of things, that is three new recipes, ha! Although mixing together yogurt, red onions, and spinach hardly counts, I must admit, and I am going to pick up some pitas or flatbreads today whilst I'm out just in case I don't get around to the chapatis. I'm saving the sausages for tomorrow; I'll make them tonight so the flavors blend and we'll have them during football. No, I'm not rooting for anyone in particular; I just like to have meals to go with the games and sausages are tops in my book. Plus, it's supposed to snow tomorrow, and a big meal of bangers and mash is ideal for that kind of weather.

I've already lined up several things I want to try next week but I want to expand out from the Tanas and Rachel and Nigella. Gordon will just have to wait as I simply do not have the energy to try anything from his book. I'm thinking something from Padma or maybe one of my mystery writer cookbooks as those have some weirdly wonderful recipes that really need trying. We shall see. I was going to include baked goods as part of my two-recipes-a-week challenge but, as I maked baked goods every week, that's kind of cheating. I'm sticking to the two savory recipes, one veggie, one not, as that's something that I have to work at.

Sunday the Eagles play and, although I'd love to break out the Italian grillers, that's just too much sausage in one weekend, even for me. I'm thinking more along the lines of Buffalo chicken or honey mustard sticky chicken, both of which go really well with fries or homemade potato skins. They're football-y without being sluggish and they go well with beer.

Hey, Kee Kee, how's that chick--oh, I'm sorry--how is le coq?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Cheesy moo

Man, I'm feeling it today. The approaching cold front, which has left me achy, stuffy, and all around miserable. Fortunately, the chittlins are in preschool today and I get a little break. I stopped on the way home after dropping them off, debating which kind of soup I wanted, du jour from Altomonte's or hot & sour from the Chinese takeaway next door. Chicken pastina won out. It's good, very good, but it has those creepy chicken bits that make you think you're ready to chomp down on a bone but it's only a piece of dark meat. And I'm picking my way around the celery because that's just all kinds of nasty. I have an intense dislike for cooked celery. Raw, it rocks, but cooked, damn, it just gets all kind of spooky when exposed to heat. So, it's a good soup, worth the effort, but I kinda sorta wish I had gotten the hot & sour. Much less work and the fear factor, well, if you eat Chinese you never really know what you're in for and you become immune. I might leave home a little early and snag some en route to the school, instead of my usual weekly latte treat.

Even though I feel lousy, part of me really, really wants to make cheesesteaks tonight for dinner. Now, I'm from Philly, I love me a cheesesteak. I have a certain leeriness towards fried onions (a holdover from when I was pregnant), so I always play it safe and just throw some raw on the top. And I like ketchup on the side, so I can dunk the sandwich when I choose, instead of having ketchup in every bite. Whilst getting the soup, I got some nice, fresh Italian steak rolls and provolone cheese, my favorite on cheesesteaks. Contrary to what you may see on tv, not everyone in the city of Philadelphia gets their steaks from Pat's or Geno's. Trust me, I know. I have eaten at both but it was eons ago and I can't offer a valid opinion. Tourists flock there and also to Jim's on South Street (not a fan of theirs, that much I remember), but I think I can safely say that the best cheesesteak is the one you're chowing down at that moment. Try to avoid those put out by chains such as Subway or Quiznos, etc., as those are merely impostors. Your best bet is to seek out pizza places in your area, preferably those who deliver as you never know when there might be a torrential downpour and you've tripped over the dog, spraining your ankle, unable to operate a moving vehicle, but in dire, dire need of a cheesesteak. Delis, eh, I'm not too keen on getting my hot sandwiches from a deli. Pizza places have the ovens, the grills, and I think they know better what they are doing. And don't believe that it has to have Cheez Whiz. That's really more of a South Philly thing and you may not find a place willing to do that for you. Plus, in my opinion, ugh. I love the Whiz but do not want it near my steak. Provolone or American is the way to go. Onions rock as do sweet peppers but I think adding pepperoni or any other meat is a travesty. You want cow, plain and simple, with additions that compliment the moo not compete with it. And don't even consider a cheesesteak hoagie. Man, that is just all kinds of wrong. Mayonnaise? Are you freakin' kidding me?

Side of fries, too, please. Thanks.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

That'll do, pig

I have a fridge full of porky goodness (damn, that sounds dirty): succulent hot and sweet Italian sausage grillers (Maglio's from South Philly); plump country breakfast links; and a gorgeous pack of center cut bacon. Snuggled next to them is a big chunk of pancetta, recently opened, diced, fried, and strewn atop some absolutely killer homemade potato skins, and a link or two of chorizo, which I really need to fry up with some eggs or add to a fondue. Some of the bacon was used earlier as a base for split pea soup, which is simmering on the stove now. It smells rather awesome, if I do say so myself.

I'm feeling bake-ish but lazy. I want cookies but I don't want to make them. I have some leftover savoiardi from a tiramisu I made over the holidays but I don't want those. I want, I don't know. Not chocolate. Not candy. Just some kind of lovely cookie that goes well with tea. Kee Kee's attempt at thumbprints makes me want those. I used to grab a slice of white bread and spread it with jam whenever this urge would strike but all I have is the jam. Maybe on Ritz crackers? Hell, I don't know. It would require going downstairs and facing the wreckage left by two whirling dervishes and I'm in complete denial about that.

Maybe I'll make a pound cake. Jerry isn't a fan but if I marble it he'll take a slice for lunch tomorrow. But that means it has chocolate in it. And I don't want chocolate. And I don't think I have enough butter. Damn, I'm annoying.

I think I'll go get the crackers. Maybe they'll give me the strength to conquer the carnage. If not, they'll at least taste good. And my tea is lovely. And I've got the first season of Burn Notice to watch whilst cleaning up. Hell, I've got nothing to complain about.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Buttery goodness

From Kee Kee:

Queen La La, may we also ask you cooking questions on this blog? One of the new recipes I tried last week was Barefoot Contessa's Jam Thumbprint cookies. Essentially they are shortbread cookies, have you made shortbread before? The recipe I used did not call for eggs and was literally butter (lots) and sugar and the batter never really came together at all and crumbled all around me as a I tried to work with it.. they look they would be yummy cookies, so if you have made any kind of shortbread cookies before could you let a gal in on some tips????

Let me start off by saying I am not an expert by any stretch of the imagination. Ask a question and I'll try to help with what learning I've done from my own mistakes. Shortbread, however, like pie crust, is my nemesis. It almost always disappoints when I have a crack at it.

This being said, however, I can recommend several things. One, check on the Food Network site for reviews of the recipe to see if people have had the same problem. I've learned over the years that some recipes in some books just suck and don't come together. Second, maybe decreasing the flour a bit might help or adding a little bit of milk to the finished batter would ease some of the dryness. Lastly, and I do know this is important, the dough should be cold before forming it into cookies. Take from the fridge only what you can roll quickly. I have a bad habit of not letting things chill thoroughly (I'm extremely impatient when I bake) and wind up with a mess of wasted ingredients. Remember, the thicker the dough disk, the longer it takes to chill so leave it in there for enough time.

I've had luck with shortbread but I do the Scottish method of just patting in a pan, scoring it, and breaking along the lines later. If you are having a problem with the dough, maybe that would work? Pat it into a cake pan, score it evenly into pie shapes, make a thumbprint at the wide end of each, blob in the jam, and bake. Untraditional, but I bet they'd look really cool.

Let me know how the cookies and your coq au vin turn out. I'm hoping for cottage pie tonight as the weather is just right for it.

Oh, it's on, Kee Kee. It is on.

Kee Kee recently posted in the comments that her goal was to cook 100 new recipes this year. I think this is a most excellent idea and invite everyone to play along. By everyone I mean the four people who actually read this nonsense (I somehow haven't gone Hollywood yet. Hm.). If you try something new, let me know in the comments or email. For my part, I'm hoping to do the following two recipes this week, although it's highly likely that I will only manage one, as Jerry has jiu jitsu most nights and the chittlins often stare blankly at me when presented with too much culinary goodness.

From Rachel Allen's "Rachel's Favorite Food at Home" the recipe on p. 196, Homemade Pork Sausages with Colcannon and Apple Sauce. Now, I've made something resembling homemade breakfast sausage before but this, I believe, is meant to be a somewhat traditional banger-and-mash meal. The picture is lipsmackingly gorgeous and I can't wait to tuck in.

Next is a vegetarian option from Ruta Kahate's "5 spices, 50 dishes" an Indian cookbook Jerry got me for Xmas. This book is a treat and removes the challenge from Indian cooking: simple Indian recipes using five common spices. And, as everything can be found at the supermarket, no need to spend a week's wages on shipping from Kalustyan's ( for things like amchoor or asafoetida. On page 40 is a recipe for Black-eyed Peas in a Spicy Goan Curry, which, if the accompanying picture is any indication, should be a most delicious experience.

This leads me to the idea that, if I'm going to try two recipes each week, I'm going to make one a veggie option. I have a really nice stash of veggie titles and almost every other book has something meatless that I've always wanted to try. I also subscribe to Food & Wine, which has amazing recipes, too.

Okay, Kee Kee, bring your knives, and let battle commence.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

King of cheese my Aunt Sally

I bought a giant block of pecorino romano today. Now I know that, as someone who is well-versed in cooking rather good Italian American food, I'm supposed to swoon over parmigiana reggiano, landing delicately on a chaise longue, prompting physicians to shout "Womanly vapors, remove her uterus!" However, although I appreciate is as a rather nice grating cheese, used as a finishing touch to pizza or lasagne, I find it rather grainy and not quite appealing on its own, as part of an antipasti or otherwise. Pecorino romano, ah, now that is dangerous stuff to have out in the open. I have to buy it in huge blocks simply because half of it gets eaten whilst the other (barely) makes it into dishes. I think it has a sharper taste than the parm, yet is smoother in texture and really nice broken off in chunks and eaten on its own. My favorite use is as a tester for tomato sauce: spear a chunk with a fork, dip into sauce, taste test. It usually takes, oh, maybe four, five chunks to make sure the sauce tastes just right. Yes, I know, I could use a nice piece of Italian roll or chunk of baguette but, let's be real--cheese is awesome. Any excuse to eat even more of it is all right by me. Which makes me believe that a chunk of bread speared at the same time as a chunk of cheese, both dipped into the sauce...oh, I am so going there. Now that's dinner. And let's not forget a nice glass of wine alongside.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Boiling hot toffee of doom

Well, the blondies weren't worth writing home about but the homemade toffee sauce for pouring over--man, was that ever good. It's all I can do not to sneak a spoonful or so every time I go into the fridge. It's a cross between butterscotch and caramel, a bit sweeter than either, I guess because it has that gorgeous Lyle's Golden Syrup as a primary ingredient. (And is that stuff ever good on its own!) It's one of those delicious concoctions that you don't want to wait for: You're actually willing to sear your tongue to the roof of you mouth in order to taste it, screechingly hot yet oh-so-tempting, direct from the boiling saucepan. I used the recipe from "Rachel's Favorite Food at Home" by Rachel Allen, a book that also contains an awesome whole wheat seedy bread that rocks beyond belief and is easier than any yeast bread I've ever made. I ordered it off Amazon UK and it ranks quite high on my 2008 list of fave cookbooks. Yes, that was a segue.

I admit to being a bit of a whore for British chefs, in particular Nigella. I have all her books and they are among some of my favorites. This year, however, the queen is definitely Tana Ramsay. Yes, she's the wife of Gordon and no, I really don't give a fig if he had any part in helping with her recipes: The books are utterly fantastic and worthy additions to any cookbook collection. The titles are as follows: Family Kitchen; Real Family Food; and Home Made. The last--Home Made--is a recent addition and one I'm still perusing though eager to experiment with. Her first two books had enough recipes to make my kitchen a much more interesting place--and it's already quite interesting with me in it, thank you very much. She has an amazing recipe for blueberry muffins, which creates light, fluffy muffins of the non-cakey variety, studded with berries, dusted with oat flakes, and actually quite healthy to enjoy. Even though they freeze beautifully, I must admit that I could never eat just one in a sitting so it almost wasn't worth the effort. Mango chicken salad became quite the favorite during the summer when I didn't feel like expending any effort, and I enjoy her version of minestrone at least once a month. What's nice about each of these books is that they have numerous meat-free mains and sides, none of which are complicated or make you feel at all deprived. Whilst we're not a vegetarian family, there are times when a fatted calf or plump chicken is just not what's for dinner and I want something easy and different. I got these off Amazon UK and though it may seem spendy, the exchange rate is not too diabolical and I usually get my orders within two weeks. Then again, to me, worth every penny.

Rachel Allen's book gets a nod because it's gorgeous, with family snaps and excellent recipes. I enjoy fuzzywarm cookboks sometimes, especially if the author precedes the recipe with a little anecdote or some advice. I haven't ventured much beyond the toffee and wheat bread; however, there is a sour cream cardamom cake I'm seriously considering making this weekend and she has several very enticing soups. Yes, I'm all about the soups these days. It's a paperback, which I actually prefer as I have find dust jackets on hardbacks extremely irritating (I just do) and usually toss them; this way, I get to enjoy the cover without the hassle. I'm hoping to pick up another of her titles this month as I'm on a mission.

Oh, I can also recommend her 2009 Diary. It's a kitchen diary, with very little space for daily notes but some really nice recipes and just all kinds of pink and pretty. It's a hardback and I've decided to note what I made for dinner each day, just to see if I can do it. Granted, tonight's tacos may not seem thrilling but it's something I'd like to challenge myself to do. Make sure I don't get into any cooking ruts.

I got Gordon's "Three Star Chef" for a gift and, though it's too soon to give it a nod, it's gorgeous. And quite hefty. Although I don't see me making too many of the recipes (I'm too damn lazy for cooking of his caliber), it's a huge treat to read and it's just a true pleasure to enjoy the photography.

I draw the line at the Ramsay children, though. If they come out with cookbooks, well, no. I'm not going there.