Friday, February 29, 2008

White Beans and Potato Cakes

Sometimes when I write stuff in here I wonder if people who aren't from...the South...look at my food like I look at Andrew Zimmerman.

Weird stuff. But if you're from here, this just makes sense.

Last night we had pork chops, greens, mashed potatoes and cornbread. The leftovers include (barely, The Nice Kid is all ABOUT some mashed potatoes) mashed potatoes and greens. The greens would be half collard and half mustard, since that's what caught my eye in the grocery store yesterday. So we're cleaning up the kitchen last night and I scrape the potatoes into a container and announce, "Tomorrow night we'll have potato cakes." And TNK asks what potato cakes are and I tell's what poor people do with leftover mashed potatoes.

Needless to say, this set off an uproar. After I calmed everyone down and explained that no, we're not poor (but truthfully, poorer than we would be if George W had never been elected) and that some of the best food on the planet is traditionally the food of poor people...we moved on to supper for tonight.

White Bean Soup

I have a cousin who married a German, and the first time he ever served White Bean Soup we all looked at each other's just white beans. He uses a different meat. But this recipe came from about three recipes...adapted and adjusted to fit what we eat and what's in the refrigerator.

1 bag white beans
Bacon grease...or olive oil if you must
1 onion, chopped
16 ounces smoked sausage
Chicken broth or water
Salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste
Bay leaves
1 bag or two cans (drained) turnip greens

Pour the white beans into a large stockpot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and let the beans soak in the water for at least one hour. Drain them (this removes a lot of the gas-forming things), return them to the stockpot and cover with water/broth. Bring to a boil again, reduce heat and leave them to simmer. (I can't seem to keep chicken broth on hand, so bouillon cubes are my friends.)

In another pan melt the bacon grease or heat the olive oil, and saute the onion until tender. Add the sliced sausage (this can be smoked, polska keilbasa or...because this is what was in the freezer last night...andouille) and saute until the flavors make friends.

Add the sausage, onions, and greens to the white beans. Add everything else, stir and cover. Here's where you can get creative...per the following recipe fresh thyme is nice. Sage would work. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender. Serve with cornbread and...

Potato Cakes
For every cup of leftover mashed potatoes, add 1/4 cup self-rising flour, one egg and 1 tablespoon diced onion. Stir to combine and season to taste...salt and pepper, Emeril's, Zatarains, whatever cranks your tractor. Fresh thyme is good, especially if you throw some into the soup. Heat some oil in a it's bacon grease and cast iron...and drop the batter into the hot grease by heaping tablespoon fulls. Tablespoons full. Tablespoons-full. Don't mash the cakes down yet...when the first side browns turn the cakes over and THEN pat them down with a spatula.

This is so feel-good it's probably a sin. Damn good thing I'm Methodist.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Buy This Book

I am not in any way financially connected to this book - I just LOVE it.

So there's something you should know about me: I do not have children, therefore MY birthday is the most important day of the year, marked in crimson on the fam-bly calendar.

(Hubster's birthday is a close second, but he doesn't make as big a deal of it as I do, so the cumulative Big Deal Factor tips in my favor).

Hub is a very good gift-giver. The BEST birthday I've had so far - sorry this year did not, could not, top it - was the year he gave me pearls and my very own full-size, do-some-serious-damage tool kit.

This year I got a gift card for a massage... mmmmm...zzzzzzzzzzzz .... and a Starbucks gift card - always much appreciated - and a book.

But not just any book. I got The Big Book of Cheese. Actually, the title is Cheese: A Connoisseur's Guide to the Very Best.

I know cheese is usually Country Girl's area of lactic passion but, kids, this book rocks.

I am a beginner in the world of cheese, and so is Hub, so this is perfect for us. Notice I said "us," as he readily admits this was a totally selfish gift - ya gotta respect his owning up to it.

It explains ripeness and the difference between the milks used, the aging process - the whole shebang. THEN, in alphabetical order, it lists the cheeses - each one gets its own page - with a photo, a description, place of origin, a stinky meter, a list of wines for pairing and a list of cheeses it is related to.

How awesome is that? So it's perfect for beginners, but it's also a good, quick reference guide for the cheese-experienced. Putting together a cheese board for company and you're not quite sure what matches with a cool-looking Cabrales you stumbled across at Sam's Club? The book will tell you.

Seriously, go to your local bookstore and just leaf through the pages. You don't have to buy the book, but it's worth spending time with this tome if for nothing other than inspiration.

(Yes we have no recipes today, but here's a tip - eat more cheese).

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Uncle Dee's Dutch Apple Cake

My mother had an aunt whose name was Mary Biffle Liles. When Mary Biffle was young, her siblings couldn't say "Mary Biffle," so often happens in the South...Mary Biffle ended up being "Titter", which was the closest the little kids could get to "Sister."

Good Lord.

Titter and Uncle Dee never had children so they thoroughly enjoyed the great-nieces and nephews. You know...feed 'em and send them home. And when we had family gatherings in Tennessee, where my mother is from, Titter and Uncle Dee would bring this cake. It was really good, the first time. So they kept bringing it, and bringing it, and bringing it and being the rude ignorant little kids that we were...we stopped eating it. Looking back, I'm gonna go to hell for this one...they were so proud of this cake!

A couple of years ago, I hunted up the recipe from a cousin and..goodness gracious! This cake is just lovely! It's good, it's easy, it's cheap and it travels well.

I actually married a man with those qualities, once.

Uncle DeWitt's Dutch Apple Cake

1-1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
3 cups self-rising flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups sliced apples
1 cup pecans

Mix oil, sugar, eggs and flour. Add vanilla and soda. Fold in apples and nuts. Bake in a greased and floured tube pan at 350 degrees for one and one-half hours.

(This is the original recipe but...hey. Look at that. Obviously, we're going to add 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg.)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Supper tonight...Banana Pudding

All my kids were we're feeding the multitudes. We had steak and shrimp...steak on the grill and the barbecued shrimp from a previous post. French bread with dippin' sauce. Salads.

But then...what shall we put out for dessert? Quickly? And good-ly? The Big Kid grew up an only child for 15 years, so she got the star treatment for a long time. And one of the old favorites, from waaay back, has to be:

Real Banana Pudding

2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup sugar
2-1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 medium bananas
1 box vanilla wafers
1 large egg
6 egg whites
2 tablespoons sugar

Spread half the box of vanilla wafers in the bottom of a two-quart casserole. Thinly slice bananas over the vanilla wafers and top with the remaining wafers. Combine flour and sugar in a heavy saucepan, add one egg and enough milk to make a smooth paste. Add remaining milk and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, just until mixture starts to bubble. Remove from heat and add butter and vanilla. Mix well and pour over bananas and wafers. Make meringue with egg whites and two tablespoons sugar, spread over pudding and bake at 350 ° until lightly browned.

Ummmm. Banana pudding. This is one of the great pleasures in life and it DOESN'T have instant pudding in it. Slice the bananas really thin, so they meld with the pudding; and WATCH IT while it's in the oven. Be sure to use a rubber spatula to spread the meringue, so that you can make those lovely peaks. If you DO burn the top, and I've heard of people doing that, you can just peel off the burned part and rebrown.

Oh, and do not use madagascar bourbon vanilla with this recipe. It clashes.

Image borrowed from:

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Feta & Olive Meatballs

One of our great pleasures in life, before all this soccer and basketball and chicken living in the garage stuff, was going to one of the two exquisite steak houses in this neck of the woods and having...the Greek tray. Given that the founder was born in Greece and his son still runs the place, we can be forgiven for forgoing the house specialty...which happens to be steak...and gorging on an appetizer. Although I kinda think we had both.

Feta & Oive Meatballs

1 pound ground lamb
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup chopped green olives
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

Preheat the oven broiler. Mix all ingredients together (yep, you gotta use your hands) and shape into 16 meatballs. Place them two inches apart on a baking sheet. Broil about three inches from the heat until browned on top, then turn them over and brown the other side.

This is NOT the recipe from our local eatery, but it works well for home cooking because the olives give it a little extra punch. To serve, cover a big round platter with lettuce leaves. Place a small bowl of your favorite dressing in the center...we stick with blue cheese. Scatter the meatballs around the dressing then arrange, in clusters around the platter:

*cucumber spears
*chunks of feta cheese
*Greek olives
*wedges of fresh tomato

Good warm bread with good butter. A fun wine. Include the anchovies even if you're not a kids eat them and once you've tasted them with the other items you might convert!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


When was the last time you made a frittata?

On weeknights, you're tired and you mill around the kitchen grousing that there's nothing to eat, so you order pizza.

But wait! Do you have a potato (or leftover rice?), a couple of eggs and some cheese?

*smacking forehead *
You could have had a Fritatta!

Also, this is an excellent way to use up leftovers.

Basic Fritatta For Two
(That probably sounds better in Italian)

Butter, oil or bacon - just some kind of fat
5 eggs, beaten
A starch - a microwaved potato, diced or leftover rice
An aromatic root - onion, shallot, scallion, leek - chopped
A veg - spinach, zucchini, leftover stir-fry, anything soft
A cheese - parmesan, gruyere, swiss, shredded, sliced - does not matter, but the more the better

In an oven-proof* skillet, over a medium flame heat the oil/butter/bacon, add onion/shallot/scallion and cook until soft about 5 minutes (remove bacon if appropriate - eat).
Add potato or rice and press into the bottom of the pan - cook for about three minutes.
Turn down heat to medium low.
Put veg on top of potato/rice, without stirring.
Pour eggs on top of veg, turning pan so that eggs get evenly to the bottom of the pan.
Put a lid on it and cook for 5 minutes. Preheat broiler.
Take lid off pan, add cheese to the top of the mostly-cooked eggs and slip under broiler.
Check after two minutes. You're looking for firm eggs and bubbly cheese.
Remove, let set up for two or three minutes, slice and serve.

*No plastic handles!

Image courtesy of
But it is exactly what my frittata looked like last night.

Monday, February 18, 2008

GoodTrue Salad Dressing

There is a word for when you hear a phrase in a song and you sing it that way for years and then one day you see the phrase written down've been doing it wrong. The Not Nice Kid sang, "Ho ho the missing toe, Hung where you can see, Somebody waits for you, Kiss her once for me," all through Christmas until we figured out what she was saying.

Turns out? It's not GoodTrue dressing. It's Gertrude's. Gertrude's Dressing. My sister-in-law, JA, has been in this family for 15 years and I always thought it was...GoodTrue. Damn.

Many years ago, the mother of a friend of JA's would go somewhere and someone would make this dressing for her. (Good guess is, it was Gertrude.) The friend's mother eventually got the recipe, and then passed it on to her daughter. And when JA grew up, she got the recipe and now she makes it for us. This is one of those trademark things and it is GOOD. No matter what you call it.

GoodTrue Salad Dressing

This is a "double" recipe...halve it for personal use. Or make the whole thing and give some to someone just to be nice.

In a small bowl combine:

1 tablespoon dried basil
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
Then...shake in some crushed red pepper flakes and tarragon.
Let this sit.

In a larger bowl whisk together:

2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 cup hot water

Then add:

1/2 cup lemon juice
3 teaspoons horseradish
2 tablespoons Worcestershire
4 teaspoons prepared mustard
2/3 cup ketchup

Then stir in the basil/vinegar mixture.

Then add:

1 cup various vinegars (garlic, red...whatever's on hand)
4 cups oil (JA uses Wesson Best Blend)

Pour the dressing into a container and put it up in a cabinet. Let it sit for at least two days and do not refrigerate. Over time it keeps getting better and better.

Friday, February 15, 2008

So, how did Valentine's Day go?

We had spaghetti, which we have every year because we don't do quiet, romantic VD's...we have Family Mayhems. More kids than adults and The Big Boy plays DJ waaaay too loud and everyone starts drinking when they get off work and so they're happy when they get here.

So, VD dinner. Spaghetti, which I won't even THINK of telling you how to make. A couple of years ago I realized that I didn't make just...GREAT...spaghetti, so I sent out a plea to all my cooking buddies and asked for tips. One that stuck was from my sister-in-law, who...after the sauce is simmered...puts a wedge of parmesan in the sauce and then simmers it while the cheese melts. Luscious. Another tip involved a tablespoon of blackberry jelly to emphasize the caraway in the Italian sausage but OMG...I HATE caraway. I hate liquorice. I hate fennel. Something in my genes just does NOT get that taste. But then, that's me.

So we had spaghetti, my SIL's salad and we're waiting on permission to share the GoodTrue dressing recipe. Parmesan bread sticks. Flourless chocolate torte. (Both in preceeding posts.) A chocolate fountain but that's another blog and another post. And then. CG and I have a friend, Mary Virginia. And MV is one hell of a cook and one HELL of a cook for a crowd. And this appetizer is one of her specialties and once you make it you'll know why. Last year for VD I put it in the den and my little brother was just sitting on the floor scooping it up. There's something about the fresh vegetables, the shrimp and the cheese...this WORKS.

Mary Virginia's Layered Shrimp Dip

1 pound grated Mozzarella cheese
1 pound shrimp, boiled, peeled and deveined and chopped
1 12 oz jar cocktail sauce
2 8 oz packages cream cheese
2 T Worcestershire sauce
1 T Tabasco
4 garlic cloves, pressed
6-8 green onions, chopped
Fresh parsley
2-3 tomatoes, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped

In a springform pan layer mozzarella evenly, then shrimp and cocktail sauce. Blend softened cream cheese, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco and garlic in a bowl. Spread evenly over the layers in the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour. When ready to serve, unhook the pan and invert onto a serving platter. Top with green onion, parsley, tomatoes and bell pepper. Serve with crackers.

I use cooked, frozen shrimp and add horseradish to the cocktail sauce. You can always tell where this is on the buffet because...that's where the crowd is.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Now see, this is how inventions are invented and wars are warred. Two people hear the same, identical words and get two totally opposite meanings from them

The way I understood the guy’s request for recipes? He wanted to get laid. (It has been pointed out to me that we are NEVER going to make Good Housekeeping’s Blog of the Month list if I don’t clean up my mouth. Next week. I promise.)

Simple as that…he needed recipes to impress. Without impressive skills. Well, honey, I am SOOOO good at this. (Ask my friend, Nameless. He’s 43 years old and his live-in girlfriend is 27. She’s Venezuelan with an MBA, hanging around this neck of the woods because she’s in luhve. Nameless has four kids and a grandkid by two ex-wives…and a wealthy, educated live-in hottie with jeans tucked into spiked heel, pointed toe boots. Trust me…this and a grill for steaks and you are IN.)

The Desperate Guy's Dinner for Getting Laid


Your shopping list:
1 bag salad (that’s how it comes…in a bag. Read the label and get one that says it has everything…dressing, croutons, dried cranberries, whatever. It’s in there.)
1 bag/box/container grated Parmesan or Romano cheese (Bag is better)
1 package fettucine (it’s pasta, in with the spaghetti)
2 cups whipping cream
1 box (with four sticks in it) butter
1 loaf French bread (don’t buy the fat loaf…get one of the skinny special-looking ones)
1 bottle Chianti wine ($15 bottle. Preferably with the straw wrapping.)
1 bottle back-up wine, red and cheap. It won’t matter after the first bottle.
Something chocolate…the bakery has it.

Dump the salad in a bowl. Put the other stuff in the bag on top of the lettuce and put the bowl in the refrigerator. Set the table…plates, silverware, bread/salad plates. (Entire sets come in a box for $19.95.) Put a serving of the chocolate dessert on two plates and set them aside.

Open the wine. Let your date watch you and explain to her that if you open the bottle now, it will have time to breathe by the time the pasta is ready (call it pasta. Not noodles, pasta.). Pour some wine into each of your two matching glasses and leave them out on the counter, breathing. Fix her a drink of something else. The overkill thing.

Fill your big pot with water and set it over high heat. Turn your oven to 350. Put one stick of butter on a salad/bread plate and set it on the table.

Put one stick of butter in your other pot and turn the heat to medium. Let the butter melt, then pour in the two cups cream and stir. Let that mixture heat up over low heat, then sprinkle the Parmesan cheese (save a couple of tablespoons for the finished dish) into the butter/cream mixture. Stir it a lot so the cheese melts, then turn it down to very low and let it sit.

When the water boils, add the pasta and read the directions to see how long it needs to cook. Put the bread in the oven. When the pasta is done, drain off the water (best way you can) and then add the pasta to the butter/cream/Parmesan pot. Stir it up.

Take the bread out of the oven and wrap it in a clean dish towel. Take the salad out of the refrigerator. Bring the breathing wine to the table. Dish the pasta straight onto the plates, and sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese you saved.

You are in. Like Flynn. Or Bogey.

There really is a great simple recipe embedded in here…this is the ultimate alfredo. If you’re old and settled, you have a block of Romano on the table, with a vegetable peeler to make shavings. And I grate fresh nutmeg into the cream sauce. But then, the request wasn’t for old and settled. The way I understood it.

The Real Recipe for Fettucine Alfredo
12 ounces fettucine
1 stick butter
2 cups cream
1 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
Freshly grated nutmeg

Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add the two cups of cream and after the cream is heated, add the grated cheese one-fourth cup at a time, stirring well as you sprinkle it over the cream. Let the cream sauce sit over very low heat while the pasta cooks, stirring occasionally. Right before the pasta is done, grate fresh nutmeg…just until you can detect the nutmeg odor…into the cream sauce. Pour the cream sauce into a deep bowl and add the cooked pasta. Fold to combine. Serve with extra cheese shavings.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Comfort in a Crockpot

It may be true that "nothin says lovin like something from the oven," but nothing says comfort like something from the slow cooker.

Last week we got a request (from a male reader, who is not exactly Gordon Ramsay in the kitchen, bless his heart) for an easy recipe.

"I don't know the difference between chop and mince."
Fair enough. We love the newbies as much as the cooks who are serious enough to be in jeopardy of losing their amature status.

So I give you: The Best Baked Mac and Cheese.

Only not baked.

There used to be a soul food restaurant in Florence, Alabama that was iconic. It actually was featured in the Travel section of the New York Times. The meatloaf, baked chicken, sweet potatoes and mac and cheese at this place were IT. Man, if something ailed you, all you needed was a plate from The Hollywood to set you right.

I found this recipe a few years ago in a great little just-for-crockpots cookbook, "Fix-It and Forget-It." It tastes exactly like Sonja's Hollywood mac and cheese.

As an old boss of mine would say, "So good it'll make you slap your Momma."
Almost Hollywood Inn Macaroni and Cheese
8 oz. package elbow macaroni, cooked but not mushy (al dente)
13 oz. can evaporated milk
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 large eggs, beaten
4 cups grated/shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 tsp. salt
pinch pepper

In the bowl of the crock pot, combine (mix up) cooked macaroni, evaporated milk, whole milk, melted butter, eggs, salt, pepper and 3 cups of the cheese.

Top with remaining 1 cup cheese. Cover.

Cook on low for 3 hours.

Serves approximately 8.
Image Credit: NYTimes

Getting ready for Valentine's Day

The Big Boy and I have been (legally) married 20 years this month...there is significant time before that. We have three kids, the oldest and youngest 20 years apart. We have parents and siblings and lots of little kid relatives running around and so Valentine's Day today is...about our family. About the people we love/hate/fight with every day of the year.

We have spaghetti, with salad and bread and chocolate desserts but then last year I bought a chocolate fountain and GOOD LORD! What did we do for entertainment before that? No idea. I have token gifts for everyone...small plants or special foods or just something that says, Fun Night. It's madness and mayhem and I was gonna SKIP IT this year but everyone nearly had a heart attack so...we're on.

These bread sticks came from somewhere, at least 20 years ago. I make an early batch, for the plunderers, and then a couple of batches for the meal. They're comfort bread, warm, yeasty, soft and just good. Really good. (And, not that it MATTERS, easy.) So there.

Parmesan Bread Sticks

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup powdered milk
3 tablespoons butter, sliced
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 package yeast
1/4 cup water
1 large egg
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup warm water. In a mixing bowl, beat one cup flour, dry milk, butter, suger, salt, egg, parmesan and yeast with enough water to make a soft dough. Add remaining two cups flour and enough water to maintain a soft dough. Knead until smooth and elastic. (Obviously, I do this with a mixer and dough hooks.)

Let rise until doubled in bulk, usually one hour. Punch down, pat out and cut into strips. Roll the strips between your palms into long rolls, then twist and lay out on lightly greased cookie sheets. Let rise until doubled again, usually 30-45 mintues. Bake at 375 degrees until light golden brown.

When I first started making these I had never heard of Asiago cheese. Then Atlanta Bread Company moved in next door and...they have a good idea. So now we use Asiago when we can get it.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

David's Crown Room Olives

(That's what olives look like on the tree. Cool.)

City Girl and I know a guy who travels alot. Several years ago he showed up at Christmas, bearing gifts, and these olives were in the basket. O. M. G. They are wonderful on buffets, at parties, as gifts, and for an eye-popping snack. Turns out, he got the recipe from a guy in a lounge in an airport. Or something like that. Doesn't matter...these should be in your repertoire, your refrigerator and your tummy. They're good.

1 jar queen olives
1 tablespoon garlic salt
1 tablespoon celery salt
6 pinches freshly ground black pepper
6 shakes Tabasco
6 dashes Worcestershire
1 bottle Frank's hot sauce

Take the olives out of the jar, drain and remove the pimientos. Mix salts, pepper, Tabasco and worcestershire in the olive jar, fill one-fourth full with Frank's and shake well. Pack the olives back into the jar and fill with remaining Frank's Sauce. Shake well. Store upside down in the refrigerator, at least 48 hours but the longer they sit the better they get.

David takes out the pimientos, I don't. I'm lazy that way.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

It's Ash Wednesday and we're not Catholic!

It takes my Methodist kids a couple of Lenten seasons to grasp the Catholic/non-Catholic modus operandi. They can’t participate in the Epiphany mass. They can’t even take communion, and where they come from everyone takes communion, whether they’re sorry or not. (See that’s one of the big differences…Protestants put all the burden on the sinner. Catholics just pass it off to the priest.) So yesterday, they come in and announce they’re giving up candy for Lent. Because.

While I did explain that it would be thoughtful to give up something for Lent, just as sort of a snuggle with God, I pointed out that because we’re not Catholic we don’t have to give up anything. Especially when it comes to food. And that’s how we got to…

Duck for dinner. Around here, wild game is a part of the culture. (Not a part of MY culture, but a part of everyone else’s.) There are Wild Game Cook-Off’s around here that bring in people from all sorts of interesting places, and spawn rivalries and competitions that go on year after year. (My little brother nearly SHOT a competitor once when the opposing dish showed up…straight from a restaurant kitchen.) And somehow a couple of years ago, I got caught up in cooking duck on a grill and saucing it. And this is what we ended up with.

Duck with Blackberry Sauce

25 ounce can blackberries
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
2 cubes beef bouillon
1 cube chicken bouillon
1-3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons sherry

Drain blackberries, reserving syrup. In a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter. Add wine, 1/3 cup blackberry syrup and vinegar. Add bouillion cubes and water and simmer until cubes are dissolved. Add drained blackberries and simmer for 25 minutes, crushing berries with the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and stir in sherry.

To roast the duck:

Quarter a small onion, halve five or six cloves of garlic and cut up some kind of fruit…an apple is good. A pear is good. An orange works well. Rinse the duck, salt and pepper it inside and out and rub it with olive oil. Carefully prick the duck all over, piercing just the skin. (This lets the fat drain out and helps crisp the skin.) Stuff it with a couple of pieces of onion, garlic and fruit. Place on a rack on a roasting pan and cook at 450 degrees for 45 minutes. Baste with juices and/or butter, reduce the heat to 350 degrees and cook for approximately another 45 minutes. I never HAVE found the thigh muscle with a thermometer, so go for a moveable drumstick.

This is the oven method. If you have the patience and a really good temperature-controlled grill, use that. But keep the duck on the rack over the roasting pan. You need those juices.

To serve, let stand for five minutes. Cut into quarters and serve with sauce and pan juices.

Wednesday night we had this with roasted garlic mashed potatoes, with extra roasted garlic cloves to squeeze on French baquettes. And salads, with bacon, blue cheese and Newman's Own...MY FAVORITE. And hot gingerbread for dessert. This doing penance stuff is rough.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

When in Pittsburgh

Our Super Bowl fete went very well, thank you.

Loads of hot appetizers provided by everyone, and ham sandwiches with good, hot soup at halftime provided by yours truly. Lordamercy we were full by the end of that boring-ass game.

The good, hot soup in question was my famous Pittsburgh Soup.

Pittsburgh Soup?

The recipe is based on "Dan's Vegetable Soup" in the Three Rivers Cookbook Volume II. The book was presented to me by my near-miss in-laws (who were lovely, lovely people - wayhay lovelier than their son) and is still inscribed, "To: (Me) From: Mom and Dad R."

The relationship died but the soup lives on. If you've ever been to Pittsburgh, this actually sounds like the city:

Pittsburgh Soup

1 lb lean ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
3 big stalks celery, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1 very large or three smallish russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 large bag (I think it's about two pounds) of frozen soup veggies*
1/2 a head of cabbage, shredded
1 46 oz. can or bottle of V8 (NOT low sodium)
2 cups chicken stock
Several good dashes of Maggi seasoning (or Worcestershire)
1 tsp celery salt (DO NOT overdo the celery salt - you'll regret it)
2 tsps kosher salt, divided
50 cranks ground pepper
OPTIONAL - Small-diced polish sausage

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed stock pot. Add the onion and celery and cook until it begins to fade, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Add beef, 1 tsp of salt and half the pepper. Break up the beef and brown it thoroughly (10-15 minutes).

While the beef browns, prepare your potatoes if you haven't already.

When meat is browned, drain off the fat. Add the remainder of the ingredients, bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and cook for at least 30 minutes.

This soup, as with so many dishes, is MUCH better the next day although it's pretty damn good right off the stove.

Serves 8-10 alone or more than a dozen with sandwiches.

*If you insist on cutting your own (out-of-season) corn from the cob, dicing your own carrots, shelling your own peas and snapping your own green beans, knock yourself out. I applaud you. However, I can't begin to tell you how much of each to add to the pot. Experiment and let me know how it turns out!

PS - Why the hell won't the Blogger Spell Check button work? HELP!

It's Fat Tuesday! Let's have a drink.

A couple of years ago The Big Boy REALLY pissed me off. (The feeling was mutual, but I wasn't worried about his side of the story.) So I called my college roomate and we got on a plane and went to New Orleans for the weekend. So there.

Breakfast at Brennan's is an international stock phrase for a DOES NOT get any better than this. We had the whole nine yards: Grillades and Grits, champagne, Bananas Foster. But the quirkiest thing was how much I enjoyed the Ramos Gin Fizz. I don't do sweets, but the richness and smoothness of this drink just made me happy. (The champagne didn't hurt.) In fact, I was sooo happy when I left that I bought their cookbook.

So, happy Fat Tuesday. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, when my little Methodist children come home from their little Catholic school with black smudges on their foreheads. And hopefully, forgiven. (Reckon that extends to the sins of the fathers?)

Ramos Gin Fizz
1-1/2 ounces gin
1/4 teaspoon orange flower water
1/8 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons simple syrup
1 egg white
1/2 cup half and half
1/4 cup crushed ice

Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend for 15 seconds. Pour into a chilled old-fashioned glass to serve.

For my parent's fiftieth wedding anniversary we had a celebration planned, but the morning of the actual date my sister and I cooked the Brennan's breakfast for our parents and the couple who were the attendants at their wedding. I could NOT find orange flower water (if you don't live in Rural Heaven like I do, it's not a problem), and tried this first with orange extract. Wrong. We ended up using about 1/2 teaspoon fresh orange juice. Not the same, but it didn't overwhelm like the extract did.

(Simple Syrup: Combine one cup water and one-half cup sugar in a small saucepan, and boil for five minutes. Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator.)

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Flourless chocolate torte (and I don't DO sweets!)

Well, in the phone conversations over the morning we have this hodgepodge of a dinner on track. I guess. But there's no dessert THAT I KNOW OF Too, too easy and this is a groaner. Which is why I'm sharing the recipe because NO. I won't make you six for a fundraiser because BEEN THERE! DONE THAT!

Flourless Chocolate Torte

11 tablespoons butter
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1-1/2 cups ground pecans
3/4 cup cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 ounces dark chocolate chips
1 cup whipping cream
2 teaspoons Madagascar vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour an eight-inch springform pan. Or cake pan. Melt butter and remove from heat. Stir in pecans, sugar, cocoa, salt and one teaspoon vanilla. Add eggs and beat well. Pour into pan and bake 25 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then remove and cool completely. Melt chocolate chips. Whip cream, fold in melted chocolate and one teaspoon vanilla. Top the torte with the whipped cream. If you have a dark chocolate candy bar somewhere in the house, either use a vegetable peeler or a grater and shave chocolate onto the top of the torte. That overkill thing, you know. Keep refrigerated.

Be careful with the pecans if you're grinding them can end up with pecan butter. Better is to buy "pecan meal" which is not only exactly what you need but costs about 1/4 of pecan halves.

You can go onto eBay and buy these...pans. They are called well, I don't know what they're called but the pan is an Ekco Baker's Secret. It says Duncan Hines/Tiara Desserts. The edges are fluted and the center is raised, so when you invert the torte the entire center is sunken and then you fill it in with the chocolate whipped cream. This works.

This keeps well...when The Child From The Defective Gene Pool got married I made 14 of these. Ahead of time. Then the caterer filled them with the whipped cream come serving time and they actually ended up saving us...THE WEDDING CAKE DIDN'T SHOW UP, and the fact that we had a dessert table saved the night. That and my lovely talented friend of The Construction Company because as soon as we realized what had happened he raided the freezer at Winn Dixie, created a cake out of thin air and fresh flowers, and no one knew but us!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Super Bowl WHAT?

Keeping in mind that we have been friends since birth, our parents went to school together and our grand+parents are buried in the same cemeteries...WTF?

The original plan for the SB menu was, according to the hostess, Mexican. We can do this. Two years ago I made tamales and we are NOT doing that, but we can do Mexican. We have a plan. We have roasted pork. I will fill in. The others can contribute according to whatever restaurant/grocery they pass on the way to the party.

Then the phone rings and we have...another plan but it's going along with the first plan and so we're having...roasted pork and a huge leg of lamb. Well. Don't THAT just crank a Center Star tractor?

So I am making Kirk's Cornbread (see preceding posts), refried beans from Hugo's grandmother, white beans with gremolata, and grilled asparagus. I've been eye-balling the barbecued shrimp recipe and...we'll just have that for supper here Saturday night. Along with maybe, what? Some TARAMASALATA AND CHOW MEIN?


1 bag kidney beans
1 cup lard and/or bacon grease
1 medium onion
5-6 fresh jalapeno peppers

Hugo is from the Guadalajaro region of Mexico. His family owns seven acres of agave. He knows what he's talking about.

Place the beans in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let sit for at least one hour. Drain the beans (a little tip here...draining the beans removes MOST of the gaseous-forming enzymes. Be kind to your guests), return the beans to the pan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and cook until REALLY tender. Drain again.

In a skillet, heat the lard. Add the chopped onion and chopped jalapeno and cook until the onion is tender. Add the beans, cover and simmer for about ten minutes. Then, start mashing. You can use one of those old multi-U shaped potato mashers. You can use the back of a spoon. You can use whatever is in your pantry that makes you happy. Just mash those beans. Season to taste, with salt, pepper and Top Hat. (If you haven't ordered Top Hat from Penderys yet, then use taco seasoning. Or cumin.)

For the party, I'll top them with shredded cheddar cheese. Or maybe cheese dip.

(And before you start? I KNOW they don't use kidney beans in Mexico. Use black beans. Use red beans. Use RABBIT PELLETS for all I care. Just use something that mashes nicely with lard. It will make you happy.)