Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Sunday Afternoon

As the best husband in the world and I were leaving church on Sunday, he asked me what I wanted to do for the rest of the day. In the most sexy and sultry voice I could muster, I leaned in close and said, "I'm in the mood for something hot. Hot and sweet"

You would not believe how quickly good church going folk can scoot out of the way of a speeding vehicle as TBHITW floored it out of the church parking lot. 


As soon as we got home, we ripped our Sunday church clothes off and  (scroll down)





Wait for it....








Oh my.....




changed into our garden clothes and headed out to go our local UPICKIT Farm to go Strawberry Picking!! Yeah! The strawberries in NJ are in and ripe.


Um... what did you think I was going to say? Hmm... 

Anyway, it was a beautiful hot day and the berries were sweet. There were lots of family's picking and it did my heart good to see so many people interested in harvesting their own food. Of course, not everyone was picking as many as I insisted we pick. TBHITW, bless his heart, just kept picking even though he thought we had quite enough after 15 minutes.. We ended up with about 15 pounds of juicy, sweet berries for ONLY $2.00 per pound. That's a bargain I can live (and eat) with. 

Last night I washed and cut some up for strawberry shortcake. I also froze about 3 pounds for smoothies and strawberry margaritas (mostly margaritas). In addition, I rinsed a pound or two and put them in a bowl for eating "out of hand". They disappeared before dinner. 

Today, I am staring down at these:


I'm going to make 8 pints of strawberry jam. The promise of summer sweet jam in January drives me to do this. Imagine, a hot, freshly baked loaf of bread - right out of the oven, sliced and slathered with sweet cream butter and topped with chunky, sweet strawberry jam in the dead of winter!  Yum

Here's my recipe for shortcakes. If you are used to those yellow, sponge things you buy in the grocery store - do yourself, your tastebuds and your fresh strawberries a favor and bake some of these up. 

If you're inclined to join in the fun of picking your own, here's a website to help you find a farm near you:

http://www.pickyourown.org/index.htm

Be sure to call ahead and ask if they are picking that day. Most UPICKIT's also have a market stand so if you're not up to picking your own you can buy the same produce right there. If you find a farm that's further than you want to travel call them and ask what local markets they supply. A lot of farms also do an email newsletter to let you know what is ripe and what is being picked that day.

Your tastebuds will thank you and you'll be doing your local farmer and your community a great service. 

Strawberry Shortcakes: (makes one 8 inch round cake or eight 2-inch shortcakes)

2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Butter and lightly flour an 8-inch cake pan or cookie sheet. 

Mix the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a bowl. Cut the butter in bits (you can also use your food processor to do this). When the mixture resembles coarse meal, slowly stir in the cream. Using just enough to hold the dough together. Turn out on a lightly floured board or counter. Knead for just a minute. Pat the dough into the cake pan or pat out to 3/4 inch thick and cut into eight (8) 2-inch rounds. 

Bake for 10-12 minutes (2-inch rounds)
Bake for 12-15 minutes (cake pan)

While still warm, split with two forks, top with sugared berries and whipped cream.  

Strawberries for shortcake:

1 pint (about) fresh strawberries, washed and sliced.
2 tablespoons sugar

Sprinkle sugar over berries, crushing berries gently with the back of a fork. Let rest in refrigerator until ready to use. The sugar will help to "juice" the berries. Be sure to include juice on shortcakes. 

Whipped Cream:

1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon sugar

Put your bowl and beaters in refrigerator for 30 minutes before whipping. 

Pour cream into deep, chilled bowl. Whip on high with hand mixer. As cream begins to thicken, drizzle in the sugar. Whip until stiff. Serve immediately.

A Cook's Notes:

Be sure to pick enough berries to enjoy "out of hand". Refrigerate the berries with caps on, uncovered. Just before ready to serve or slice, rinse. This is the best way to store fresh strawberries. 

The strawberries are so good and abundant this year, I'm going back with my two grand daughters on Friday! Maybe I'll see you there. 

PS. TBHITW forgave me for my [little] deception - he LOVES homemade strawberry jam. 

Friday, May 29, 2009

My Garden Shed & Simple Greens with Lemon Vinaigrette


If I had to pick a favorite room (besides my kitchen) it would have to be my garden shed. It's not really a room at all, it's a, well, it's a shed. In my back yard and I love it. 

The best husband in the world built it for me. That's reason enough to love it. He built it for me. With his own hands. I painted it so it would bloom year round.  He spotted the pot hangers on a old barn he was driving past and stopped and bought some for me because he knew I'd like them. Hence the pots on the front.  House wrens make their home in the bird houses. I can see the shed from my kitchen window so I am always reminded of the flowers, vegetables and other plants that this shed helps bring forth every spring. 

From these double doors with a leaf shaped handle spring forth the hope and promise of red ripe tomatoes, purple sun warmed eggplants, crazy, boat sized zucchinis, crooked necked yellow squashes, cool green cucumbers, zesty mint, red, yellow, green and hot, hot, hot peppers, a menagerie of herbs, big outrageous orange pumpkins, ornamental gourds that will one day become bird houses, and anything else that the seed catalogs enticed me into spending hard cash on in late January. 

The shed houses all my garden stuff. Rakes and shovels, extra soaker hoses, a pitch fork that's about a 100 years old that TBHITW brought home one day. A small rototiller that I can handle on my own. Compost starter. Fencing, trellises, tomato cages waiting for their next plants to imprison. There are some empty pots waiting for flowers and seed trays sleeping until next year when I will sow a new crop of summer harvest dreams. There is garden twine and potting soil. But the best thing the shed houses is hope

Hope. Inside those double doors is the hope of future plants and the promise of plants now putting down their roots in fertile soil that I tended. Hope for vegetables fresh from the garden to the table. Flowers with blooms the size of dinner plates. Herbs that are so aromatic they make you want to cry for want of them. Life growing in front of my very eyes. 

That's why my garden shed is one of my favorite rooms. It offers me hope that all things can grow and prosper with a little nurturing. A garden, a family, a community, a world. 

Mixed Baby Greens with Lemon Vinaigrette ( the last of them from my spring garden) - serves 4 - this is the stuff of romance. 

6 cups mixed greens, washed and spun dry

Sauce Vinaigrette: 1 1/2 cups

The classic ratio for a basic vinaigrette is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. This ratio can vary according to your taste.  Always taste your dressing with a bit of green.  

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup red or white wine vinegar
Juice of one lemon
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2/3 cup tasteless salad oil (canola, safflower, corn - your preference)

Whisk together the mustard, salt, pepper, lemon juice and vinegar. Beat in the olive oil. Season to taste with more salt and pepper if necessary. Store in the refrigerator like any other "store" bought dressing.

Variations: (store for one week)
Garlic: crush and mix with the slat to make a paste and whisk in
Mustard: for extra zing in the salad blend 1 teaspoon or more to taste 
Fresh Herbs: Tarragon is especially nice. Chop or leave whole and mix with the salad as you toss it. 

Serve with a loaf of crusty bread, some soft, ripe cheese and a cool, crisp wine. Use the wine pairing tool on my blog, then fall in love while you're at it. 


The Dangers of Being a Food Snob


I have recently been called a food snob. I've been called worse in my life, but a food snob? Moi?

Yes, I will admit, I am particular when it comes to restaurant food. Is that a crime? I know what perfectly prepared food looks and tastes like. I'm on to the tricks restaurants use to stretch their food dollars. I have been down the road of plate coverage and I have eaten my share of "bad" food. I can spot food that has been prepared with quality ingredients, passion and love as soon as it prances out the kitchen door. And I can spot a fake at first bite.

When the best husband in the world and I go out to eat, the restaurant, pub, grill, bistro or sidewalk vendor is carefully selected. 

We can tell you (in our opinion) where the best burger joint is in a three state radius. 
French Country? No problem. Just up the street at a little place called A Toute Heurre (At Any Time) that also happens to serve only locally grown or produced foods. It is packed every night.

Best hot dog in the state? Hot Dog Johnny's in (my kids still laugh at this) Butzville, NJ.

Burger? Wertz's, Home of the Wertz Burger - across from the old Allentown Fairgrounds in Allentown, PA.

Intimate dinner for two featuring the best tapas around? Apollo Grille, Bethlehem, PA.

Favorite Micro Brewery? Bethlehem Brew Works, Bethlehem PA. 

Pizza - toss up between Emma's Brick Oven and Calabria's Sicilian Style right here in town.
 
Best Wine Bar in the state for food and wine value and sexy ambiance? The Wine Loft at the Piers in Long Branch, NJ.  

New York City - wow - I'd run out of blog space. Bobby Flay's Bar American for great food, cocktails and service. Bouley for atmosphere, gourmet excellence and a lovely little lemon cake they send home with you. TriBeCa Grill for cocktails and rack of lamb. Gotham Grill for squab.
 
Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia - a once in a lifetime treat. The Chef's Choice 9 course with wine is to die for.

Cafe TuTu Tango in Orlando Florida for roasted pear salad and other tapas meant for sharing while watching professional Flamingo Dancers whirl past your table and local artists working on their most recent creation. 

The Boat House in Bar Harbor that serves up steaming, fresh caught Maine Lobsters on hard wooden tables spread with newspapers and cold frosty mugs of beer. 

Best Mexican food north of the border? Tinga in Westfield, NJ. A little place where you order your food standing at a counter and if you're lucky they bring it to you when it's ready. 

The best meal of our life? In Bayeux France in a 11th. century manor house - the chef's choice. course after course of tiny bites of unbelievable flavor with perfectly paired French wines and Calvados made from neighboring orchards as an after dinner drink. 

We love food, all kinds of food. But a food snob, me? No way. 

The danger of being a food snob is well, just too dangerous. What would I miss out on? Pastrami and Swiss on fat sliced rye bread from a little corner deli? Funnel cake at a church bazaar, hot from the oil, still sizzling, dusted with powdered sugar? Ham , eggs and pancakes all puffed and golden at a silver diner located on a road to no where? A fresh Jersey peach picked right at the orchard, eaten immediately with juice running down your sleeves. It's too risky to be a food snob. 

AND what about my all time guilty pleasure, eaten in secret, hiding in shame and embarrassment at my lack of will power- oh the childhood memories of ... Fluffernutters on white bread - "oh sweet mystery of life I think I've found you". 

Salty JIF peanut butter with just the right amount of Marshmallow Fluff on way too fresh, soft white bread... would a bonafide food snob eat a Fluffernutter Sandwich? I think not. 

See, it doesn't matter what the main ingredients are, the ethnic background, the price tag - or where it is cooked. What matters is the freshness and quality of the ingredients, prepared with passion and attention to detail; served with pride. So walk-up window, casual neighborhood diner, 5 star rated restaurant, doesn't matter - as long as all of the above is mixed in. 

Food Snob? Moi? Never! Pass the Jif and Fluff please.

Fluffernutter Sandwich (serves one kid in you)

2 pieces white bread (crust on, because you will get curly hair if you eat your crusts)
2 tablespoons peanut butter of choice
2 tablespoons marshmallow fluff

Spread peanut butter on one slice of bread
Spread marshmallow on the other slice of bread
Moosh the two slices together. 
Eat
Smile


Cancer Sucks and Shanewiches


"Cancer Sucks, But My Son Rocks" - those are words written by my brother-in-law (Shane's Dad) on his blog site, www.teamskelcy.wordpress.com

Forgive me if I use this blog over the coming weeks and months to talk about our nephew.

When cancer strikes a loved one, the whole family gets cancer together. As a family we have weathered this storm before. With my father and the best husband in the world's father (prostate cancer). TBHITW's mom, breast cancer. My mom, colon cancer. All are survivors and we give thanks everyday for that.

But when cancer strikes a 10 year old boy - all reason flies out the window. All perspective can get lost in the battle.

Shane's journey into the world of cancer started with an innocent fall on a school playground just a few weeks ago. A bruise to his left side, above his hip was the beginning. When the "bruise" got worse, a second visit to the pediatrician was warranted. It wasn't a bruise. In a few short days of MRI's and tests, Shane was undergoing surgery to remove a tennis ball size tumor from his left side. TBHITW went to Michigan, the family rallied around Mark and Dee, Shane's parents, his sisters (the twins) just Irish Twins away in age, Kaitlin and Allyson and of course, Shane.

The surgeon felt 99.9% sure he got it all. Praise be! The tumor was not attached to the bone and had not spread. It was a "contained" tumor. Shane went home from the hospital, TBHITW came home from Michigan and we rejoiced that an angel pushed Shane down on the playground - otherwise the tumor would not have been found for months.

Then the pathology reports started coming in....

Confusing, infuriating, terrifying. The cancer is rare. Pathologists were consulted at the University of Michigan, the University of Boston and Emory University in Atlanta. A team of 20 tumor specialists was assembled. What was this? What path of treatment was needed? The verdict that came back has tried the faith and hope of everyone in this family. A rare cancer - rarely seen in adults and only seen 5 times in children. They are even loathe to name it. Myxiod Sarcoma? The doctors say it doesn't need a name. The diagnosis is enough.

The tumor team and all the pathologists have decided that the course of treatment will commence with chemotherapy beginning June 1. A full summer of it.

To be followed by radiation.

To be followed by surgery to remove even the skin that was covering the tumor. 

To be followed by a skin graft. 

We feel helpless in the face of this enormous disease that has captured our family. 

Some of us will pray. Some of us will cry. Some of us will yell. Some of us will shake our fists at the cancer gods and some at their very own God. 

Some, like Mark and Dee, will run in the NYC Marathon this fall - raising money for cancer research and honoring their son's struggle. 

Me, I'll cry a little (I call them my private cries - maybe in the shower, maybe when I'm all by myself in the kitchen). I'll google Myxoid Sarcoma - maybe. But mostly I'll cook. I'll rename old recipes for Shane and invent some new ones. I'll find the foods that soothe a chemotherapy racked body. I'll visit in July and take over someone's kitchen like an invading army. That is my therapy. That is where I find solace. In front of a pot. Creating, tasting, inventing, feeding. Feeding the family and feeding my soul. And somewhere in all that stirring and mixing and basting and sauteing is a prayer for a cure. 

ShaneWiches - formerly known as Whoopie Pies. (I can rename it because I changed the recipe somewhat in order to use whole wheat pastry flour and brown sugar instead of the traditional all white flour and sugar - feel free to change it back! I also feel free to rename it because if ten year olds can get cancer, they can have a cookie/cake named after them)

Cookies (Cakes):
1 c whole wheat pastry flour
1 c all purpose flour
2/3 c unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 c unsalted butter, softened
1 c packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 c buttermilk (if you don't have buttermilk, add 1 tablespoon lemon juice or white vinegar to one cup milk, let stand for 5 minutes)
Crystal sugar (optional)

Filling:
6 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
2 c confectioners sugar
1 jar (7 1/2 oz) marshmallow cream
2 tsp vanilla

1.  Heat oven to 350
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.  Combine flour, cocoa and baking soda.
In another bowl, beat butter and sugar until fluffy, about 3 min.  Add egg
and vanilla and beat to combine.  Alternately add flour mixture and
buttermilk beginning and ending with flour.  Mix until smooth.

2.  Drop 1-inch mounds of batter 2 inches apart onto baking sheets.
Sprinkle half of the mounds with crystal sugar (optional).  Bake until tops are puffed
and cookies spring back when touched, 15 min.
Transfer to rack and cool completely.

3.  To make filling:  Beat together butter, confect. sugar, marshmallow
cream, and vanilla until smooth, about 3 min.  Spread a rounded tablespoon of
filling on flat side of half of the cookies.  Top with other.

Make these for all the people you love in this world - just because you CAN. 

Last Night's Locavore Dinner

Spinach and Mushroom Tarts hot from the oven, all puffed up and golden. 




Pan Seared Scallops on a bed of baby lettuces with balsamic vinaigrette

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Locavore Dinner - Spinach & Mushroom Tarts with Pan Seared Scallops and Baby Greens Salad


I'm back from the market and I am psyched! This is why I love this store so much. You walk up to the front of it and BAM before you're even inside, they have this sign posted.

You can easily pick out what has been delivered and from where, complete with the Farm's name.

The produce section in this market is a thing of beauty.

So, what did I buy? Well, I have the shitake mushrooms that I grew my very own self. As soon as I walked in I spied fresh baby spinach - all bright green and crisp. I couldn't resist. I'm going to pair the spinach with the mushrooms and make a tart. They also had some lovely baby lettuces, but I have those in my garden and they need to be picked. So I'll make a small salad with a simple vinaigrette.  

Normally, a tart and a small salad would be plenty for dinner, but I wandered into the seafood department. And bless my soul - the fishmonger man was just putting out wild caught New Jersey day boat scallops. I just know they serve these lovely darlings in heaven. I could not resist and I bought a pound of them. 

So I had my main ingredients - but what about the other stuff needed to make the tart? After a little label reading I was able to buy organic, heavy cream and unsalted butter from a dairy in NJ, greek yogurt from a NY dairy and organic, free range eggs from Pennsylvania. My goal was to only buy fresh products from NY, NJ or PA; the tri-state area being about a 100 mile radius from my home. The only thing I couldn't find was locally grown and processed whole wheat flour, so I'm using Hodgson Mill's whole wheat pastry flour. Sigh - even the pioneers brought stuff with them, right? 

Before we get to the recipes let me say this, buying locally grown (organic and sustainably farmed) and produced products cost me about 10% more than buying "brand" products. Not a bad investment in our health and our community. I figure I'm still up on the green scale because I took my own reusable "green" bags to hold my purchases (which reminds me of an event that still makes me see red instead of green, see my side vent)

Side Vent: When I worked in a glass tower in the sky (ie: corporate world), one of my vendors sent my whole team green grocery bags at the holidays. They are heavy duty canvas, attractive and roomy with wide handles. I thought that was a great client gift! One of my co-workers was less than thrilled with the gesture and sent me their bag, saying that after taking the bags home and showing them to his wife "they just don't fit our lifestyle".  DON'T FIT YOUR LIFESTYLE? WTF?? We're not talking major changes here folks. It's a bag. Not like, oh, we had to give up raising llamas and emus.. it just didn't fit our lifestyle. It's a bag for the love of god. "DON'T FIT YOUR LIFESTYLE?" Does global warming fit your lifestyle? Does dependency on foreign oil fit your lifestyle? Do land fills stacked to the heavens with nonbiodegradable plastics fit your lifestyle? Every time I use one of those bags and I think of this person my normally sunny disposition turns dark and I know that people like that are the very reason this planet and this country are in trouble. Phew. 

Sorry. Now where was I? Oh, yes, the recipes. 

Spinach and Mushroom Tarts: (makes four small tarts)

Tart Crust:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (you an also use all white, all purpose flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) chilled, unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 cup greek yogurt (I know! But trust me, this is the easiest, flakiest, most delicious crust you will ever make) - you can use sour cream instead - but I'm cutting fat and calories.

Place first three ingredients into the well of your food processor. Process one or more times to lighten. Add butter and process until a coarse meal forms. Add yogurt and process until dough comes together. Turn dough out on counter, shape into disk. Cut into four equal parts. Roll out individual rounds and fit into small tart pans. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before filling. 

Mushroom & Spinach Filling:

About 12 ounces fresh spinach, steamed, drained and rough chopped. 
About 6 ounces shitake or other type mushroom
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
5 eggs
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
1/2 teaspoon each salt & pepper

Steam the spinach, squeeze any moisture from it and give it a rough chop.
Saute mushrooms in 1 teaspoon butter. Cool
Beat eggs with a whisk, add heavy cream and whisk to combine. Add thyme, salt and pepper and whisk to combine.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Lay spinach out on bottom of tart crust, dividing among tarts. Layer mushrooms the same way, dividing evenly. Pour egg mixture over spinach / mushrooms. Bake in center of oven for 30 minutes or until set. 

A Cook's Note: You can make one big tart - use a pie tin and call it a quiche. Increase bake time to about 45 minutes. 

Pan Seared Sea Scallops with baby lettuces: (serves 4)

1 pound wild, day boat sea scallops, dried
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon white balsamic or white wine vinegar
4 cups baby mixed lettuces, washed, heaped on a platter

Melt the butter in a saute pan until froth subsides. Pour off butter, reserving it in a small bowl. 
DO NOT WIPE OUT PAN. 
Dry your scallops* by patting with paper towels. Salt and pepper them on both sides.
Heat up the pan you melted the butter in. It will have some butter residue in it. When almost smoking, add scallops. Don't crowd them. Cook for 2 minutes, turn, cook for 1 to 2 minutes more. Transfer to platter with baby lettuces. 

Quickly, place reserved melted butter back in saute pan, warm. Add vinegar, salt and pepper and stir quickly to combine. Drizzle warm vinaigrette over scallops and lettuces. 

Enjoy. 

* This is important. In order to get a golden carmelization on your scallops they need to be dry. 

A Cook's Notes: you can use shrimp instead of scallops. Dry them and make the same way, increasing cooking time by about a minute. 

HEY! If you are striving to eat more local, support your community's farmers, being green, I'd love to hear about it. Be sure to leave me a comment on your triumphs, struggles, ideas. 









Home Grown Mushrooms and Three Bean Salad



I'm going to the market in a few minutes to see what's up for dinner. I need to find something to match the mushrooms that I grew myself! How much fun is fungi? I'll post a recipe later with my finds at the market - I'm shooting for my once weekly totally locally sourced dinner tonight. 

Last night I didn't feel like going to the store (again) for vegies for cole slaw. After rummaging around in my cupboards I found three cans of beans. Also had half of head of celery and a shallot so I threw this together. Even my picky eaters ate this up (with seconds):

Three Bean Salad: (makes enough for 4 with lunch leftovers)

1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed (this is important, the beans must be rinsed)
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 medium shallot, minced
6-7 stalks celery, minced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup white vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
salt & pepper to taste

Mix beans, shallot, celery and herbs in large bowl. In shaker, mix oil, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. Shake vigorously, pour over bean mixture, mixing well. Chill until ready to serve. 

A Cook's Notes:
I'm going to have some of this over baby greens for lunch. Yum - vegetarian, high fiber, low cal, high in proteins. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Organizing and Slow Cooked Baby Back Ribs

Today is one of those cloudy, gloomy days when the sky just can't decide whether to rain or not. Holly Bear and I got misted on this morning while running in the Secret Park - but that was the extent of any rainfall. I wish it would JUST POUR! I haven't watered the garden for the last 5 days in anticipation of rain and I'm a bit rusty when it comes to a rain dance. 

The other reason I'm hoping for rain is that a rainy day is the perfect time for me to organize the inside of my house. Sunny days find me outside in the one of the "patches" (vegetable, perennial, herb or annual) which means the inside goes totally untended. 

I'm going to start with the coffee table that has absolutely no room for coffee. See the picture? Photo Album that needs to be updated (yes I keep a "baby" album of Holly Bear - they grow up so fast, don't they?) cooking magazines, Reader's Digest, TV Guide, unfinished glass of wine from last night (how did that happen?), the most recent book I'm reading, the best husband in the world's last few months of Scientific America, a book on German Shepherds, People (my trash reading) hand cream, etc... kind of reminds me of my purse. Anyway, today, I organize. I also slow cook. Rainy days are perfect days to fill the house with the teasing aroma of something good in the oven. Today that aroma is Baby Back Ribs My Way. Read on:

Baby Back Ribs My Way: (feeds four normal people or two rib lovers)

1 rack of baby back ribs (about 3 pounds)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Take ribs out of refrigerator 30 minutes prior to first cooking cycle. Pat brown sugar into tops of ribs. Place on rack in roasting pan. Pour water and apple cider vinegar in bottom of roasting pan. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Place in oven on bottom rack. Bake for 4 hours. 

After 4 hours, Preheat Grill to HIGH. 

Take ribs out of pan, discard juices in bottom of pan. Grill ribs for 4-5 minutes per side, basting with your favorite BBQ sauce. We like Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ Sauce. I'm pretty sure there is crack cocaine in it because my family is addicted to this stuff. 

Serve with creamy cole slaw and hot corn bread. The ribs would also be excellent with the Missing Sibling Salad from yesterday's post.

Corn Bread: makes sixteen 2 inch squares

When you take the ribs out of the oven, crank the oven up to 425 degrees. 
Butter a 8 inch pan.

3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Mix the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Add the milk, egg and oil and mix quickly with a few quick flicks of your spoon or whisk. Spoon into pan and bake for about 20 minutes. Corn bread will be puffed and golden on top. Cool slightly, slice and serve. 

Variations: to the batter, add
Add a few sliced jalapeno peppers
Add a handful sliced, sun dried tomatoes
Add a teaspoon of red pepper flakes
Add a few strips crumbled bacon
Add 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese






Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Summer and Missing Sibling Salad

Memorial Day, as well as being a day to thank and reflect on the selfless acts of our military and war dead is also the unofficial start of summer. 

Inevitably, my family will have a picnic or other some such event that one of my siblings will be unable to attend. Time, distance, prior commitments, whatever the reason, they are missed. 

I invented this salad years ago and named it for that missing sibling so even in their absence they would have a place at the table  and be thought of. 

It's colorful, cool, refreshing, a little crazy, but GOOD for you: just like family gatherings:

Missing Sibling Salad: makes a quart and will test your knife skills

3/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola oil (or other mild tasting oil)

2 peppers (green, yellow, red combination of) diced
2 bunches scallions, sliced fine including some green part
2 10 ounce cans shoe peg corn (this is small, sweet, white corn), drained
2 cucumbers
Couple stalks celery, diced
3 carrots, shredded

Cut everything up finely - this is a test of your knife skills, but is worth it. Mix it all up. 

Whisk together the red wine vinegar, sugar and oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss all the vegetables with the vinegrette mixture. Chill and try to remember, They Are Family. 

A Cook's Note: you can umph up the vitamins in this salad by adding one or all of the following:

Kidney Beans, drained
Black Eyed Peas, drained
Black Beans, drained


Friday, May 22, 2009

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - Fiddleheads!


I recently took a class called "Living as a Locavore". And what you ask is a Locavore? 

A Locavore is any person committed to eating, and learning about food grown and produced in their local community. Local is generally considered to be anything grown or produced with products from within a 100 mile radius of "home." The class led me to buy and read  "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver. It is a true account of one family who committed to eating only locally produced or grown food for one year. 

Only 20 pages into the book it is literally changing the way I look at food. And I look at food a lot. I feel about grocery stores and farmers markets and food stands the way a senior girl feels about prom dresses. 

I LOVE to food shop. One of my favorite things to do is visit food stores, road side stands and markets while on vacation. I love to peruse aisles and vegetable bins, meat racks and fruit stands. Weird huh? 

The one question I never seriously asked myself though is where is this food coming from? Good question, and the answer is shocking. It comes from everywhere. Literally, everywhere. And it comes at a cost. A high cost. 

Some basic food facts:

1. On average, a standard grocery store food item travels over 1,500 miles before makings is way to you table. 

2. Almost 96% of the commercial vegetable varieties that were in existence in 1903 are now extinct or nearing extinction. 

3. 91 cents of each dollar spent on vegetables in a typical grocery store go to producers, processors, midddlemen and commercial agencies - leaving only 9 cents on the dollar for farmers.

4. A standard 400 calorie meal sourced from a major grocery store uses over 2800 calories of fossil fuel energy in transport.

5. On average, Americans spend only 10% of their food budget on locally sourced products.

6. According to chamber of commerce statistics, 43 cents of every dollar spent in local community stores stays in that community. In comparison, only 13 cents of every dollar remains that is spent in chain or major retailer stores.

7. The food industry burns nearly 1/5 of the petroleum consumed in the US, and only 1/5 of that total energy is spent on farms - the remainder is in processing and transportation.

8. Although Americans now spend nearly 1/4 of their food dollars on "organic" products, nearly 3/4 of those dollars are spend at large commercial chains. 

9. Shipping 1 strawberry from California to New York requires 435 calories of fossil fuel but only provides 5 calories of nutrition. 

10. The word "organic" has changed definitions. I personally worked for Rodale Inc, Robert Rodale having coined the word organic back in the 60's. Since then, major commercial operations have spent millions lobbying Washington to change the criteria for "organic". Today's "organic" food is NOT grown without the use of certain fertilizers and pesticides. 

Phew - I'm getting dizzy up here on my soap box. Can you stand just one more, this from "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" (page 5)

"...... If every US citizen ate just one meal a week [any meal, breakfast, lunch or dinner] composed of locally and orgainically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country's oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. That's not gallons, but barrels. Small changes in buying habits can make big differences. Becoming a less energy-dependent nation may just need to start with a good breakfast."

Okay - so here's my challenge to you, my readers. It is the growing season right now in many parts of the country. Here in the Northeast we are blessed with some of the most fertile farm lands in the country. They don't call New Jersey "The Garden State" for nothing. Can you join me in having just one meal a week that is totally locally sourced? 

For some help in finding locally produced fruits, vegetables, poultry, eggs and more, check out these websites:

www.localharvest.org (this is good nationwide)
www.eatwellguide.org (US & Canada)

Think about it. I'm not asking you to give up your daily banana from South America, or your New Zealand Kiwi - I'm not even asking you (or me - guilty as charged) to never buy a strawberry from California. Just commit to one meal a week and see what happens. Your tastebuds, your wallet and your local farmer will thank you. 

Fiddleheads:

YES! Fiddleheads are out, but only for a week or two. If you've ever seen these tasty little fern shoots in the store or farmer's market and had no idea what to do with them, this recipe is for you. They are local (they just can't be shipped) and they are a taste between a fresh young green bean and new asparagus. 

Buy bright green, tightly curled heads. 
In a saute pan place 1 part unsalted butter and 1 part olive oil. Heat till almost smoking. 
Add washed fiddleheads and 2 smashed garlic cloves. 
Saute quickly - just two or three minutes
Sprinkle with a pinch of Kosher Salt and a Grind of fresh black pepper. 
Amazing! 
Note: The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recommend boiling fiddleheads for 10 minutes before consuming. 

ps. If you find a vegetable or fruit at your local farm stand or CSA (community supported agriculture) and don't know what to do with it, give me a shout at thegoodcooknj@comcast.net and I will shoot you back a recipe or two within 24 hours. I promise! 






Thursday, May 21, 2009

My Big Fat Greek Taco

I have blogged before about the best husband in the world and I being from different parts of the country and how this has affected our pronunciation of certain words. Tamayto - Toemahtoe, here we go again. 

I'm making lamb tonight for dinner. I'm going to marinade it, then skewer it and TBHITW will grill it. Then we'll fill pita breads with lettuce, tomatoe, yogurt cucumber sauce and the grilled lamb. I call this a Gyro (year-ooh). TBHITW calls it a hear-ooh. The kidadults and middles call it a gi-row. 

In the interest of world peace at the local level we have agreed to call it: My Big Fat Greek Taco. 

My apologies to taco (tah-ko) lovers, any ethnic group I may have slighted, and slim Greeks everywhere. 

My Big Fat Greek Taco: (makes 5 or more)

1 1/2 pounds boneless leg of lamb cut into cubes
1 Lemon, juiced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher Salt & Freshly Ground black pepper

Note Added 2 hours after original post:
Just got back from the grocery store and the only lamb they had was a full leg of lamb, on the bone. At $43.00 too rich for my blood and more lamb than I need. But they did have very nice lean ground lamb for $4.49 per pound. No need to rethink dinner and put all my other ingredients back, I'm going to punt. 

2 pounds ground lamb
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium shallot (or small onion) minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small roll ground into fresh bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten with a fork
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
Zest of one lemon
Salt and pepper

Heat oil in small saute pan. Add onions and sweat until translucent. Add garlic and saute for 1 more minute until garlic is soft and fragrant. Cool.

Place ground lamb in large mixing bowl. Add cooled onion/garlic mixture, bread crumbs, egg, rosemary, lemon zest and salt and pepper. Mix gently to combine. Form around wooden skewers so the lamb looks like a 5 inch hot dog (slightly fatter). Squeeze meat around skewer. Grill about 8 minutes. Voila! Gyro Punting! 

Sauce:
1/2 cup greek style yogurt (if you can't get it in your area, use plain, non-fat)
1/2 medium cucumber, chopped small
1 small bunch (about 1/4 cup chopped) fresh mint
Squeeze of lemon juice

Filling:
2 cups Shredded lettuce
1 medium tomatoe, seeded and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped fine (optional)

5 or 6 loaves pita bread (or Nan, yum!) warmed in microwave or grilled lightly.

The Meat:
Mix the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper in a sealable ziplock bag. Add lamb and toss around to coat. Marinade in the fridge at least 45 minutes and up to 4 hours.*

When ready, heat grill to medium high. Take lamb out of fridge about 30 minutes before skewering. Skewer lamb on metal skewers (if using wood skewers, soak for 30 minutes in hot water**)

Grill about 8 to 10 minutes for medium, turning often. Let rest 10 minutes on skewers, tented.

The Sauce:
Mix the yogurt, cucumbers, mint and lemon. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Plating:
Give everyone a warm pita. Have them fill it with meat, then lettuce, tomatoe (onion optional) then top with sauce. 
Serve with some fresh fruit on side. Watermelon chunks tossed with Feta cheese is lovely. 

A Cook's Notes:

*Studies have shown that the largest flavor transfer when marinading occurs within the first 45 minutes. Less time with light foods like shrimp and fish fillets. Also, people use WAY too much marinade, you only need 1/4 cup per 1 pound of meat. Don't waste your expensive ingredients with using more. 

**Using HOT water when soaking your wooden skewers opens up the pores in the wood and will insure that more water is absorbed into the wood meaning your skewers are less likely to burn up. 

If you're reading this and there is no picture come back later - I'll have a photograph at dinner time EST! Enjoy

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Going Bananas


My dad must be feeling better and on the road to recovery, he sent me this tid-bit in an email and I found it interesting enough to pass on to all of you. I found it SO interesting, I'm eating a banana for breakfast! 
"A professor at CCNY for a physiological psych class told his class about bananas. He said the expression 'going bananas' is from the effects of  bananas on the brain. Read on:

Never, put your banana in the refrigerator!!!  
Bananas contain three natural sugars - sucrose, fructose and glucose combined with fiber. 
A banana gives an instant, sustained and substantial boost of energy.
Research has proven that just two bananas provide enough energy for a strenuous 90-minute workout.
No wonder the banana is the number one fruit with the world's leading athletes. But energy isn't the only way a banana can help us keep fit. It can also help overcome or prevent a substantial number of illnesses and conditions, making it a must to add to our daily diet.
Depression: According to a recent survey undertaken by MIND amongst people suffering from depression, many felt much better after eating a banana. This is because bananas contain tryptophan, a type of protein that the body converts into serotonin, known to make you relax, improve your mood and generally make you feel happier
PMS: Forget the pills - eat a banana. The vitamin B6 it contains regulates blood glucose levels, which can affect your mood.Anemia: High in iron, bananas can stimulate the production of hemoglobin in the blood and so helps in cases of anemia.
Blood Pressure: This unique tropical fruit is extremely high in potassium yet low in salt, making it perfect to beat blood pressure. So much so, the US Food and Drug Administration has just allowed the banana industry to make official claims for the fruit's ability to reduce the risk of blood pressure and stroke.
Brain Power: 200 students at a Twickenham (Middlesex) school were helped through their exams this year by eating bananas at breakfast, break, and lunch in a bid to boost their brain power. Research has shown that the potassium-packed fruit can assist learning by making pupils more alert.
Constipation: High in fiber, including bananas in the diet can help restore normal bowel action, helping to overcome the problem without resorting to laxatives.
Hangovers: One of the quickest ways of curing a hangover is to make a banana milkshake, sweetened with honey. The banana calms the stomach and, with the help of the honey, builds up depleted blood sugar levels, while the milk soothes and re-hydrates your system
Heartburn: Bananas have a natural antacid effect in the body, so if you suffer from heartburn, try eating a banana for soothing relief.
Morning Sickness: Snacking on bananas between meals helps to keep blood sugar levels up and avoid morning sickness.
Mosquito Bites: Before reaching for the insect bite cream, try rubbing the affected area with the inside of a banana skin. Many people find it amazingly successful at reducing swelling and irritation.
Nerves: Bananas are high in B vitamins that help calm the nervous system.
Overweight and at work? Studies at the Institute of Psychology in Austria found pressure at work k leads to gorging on comfort food like chocolate and crisps. Looking at 5,000 hospital patients, researchers found the most obese were more likely to be in high-pressure jobs.. The report concluded that, to avoid panic-induced food cravings, we need to control our blood sugar levels by snacking on high carbohydrate foods every two hours to keep levels steady.
Ulcers: The banana is used as the dietary food against intestinal disorders because of its soft texture and smoothness. It is the only raw fruit that can be eaten without distress in over-chronicler cases. It also neutralizes over-acidity and reduces irritation by coating the lining of the stomach.
Temperature control: Many other cultures see bananas as a 'cooling' fruit that can lower both the physical and emotional temperature of expectant mothers. In Thailand , for example, pregnant women eat bananas to ensure their baby is born with a cool temperature.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Bananas can help SAD sufferers because they contain the natural mood enhancer tryptophan.
Smoking &Tobacco Use: Bananas can also help people trying to give up smoking. The B6, B12 they contain, as well as the potassium and magnesium found in them, help the body recover from the effects of nicotine withdrawal.
Stress: Potassium is a vital mineral, which helps normalize the heartbeat, sends oxygen to the brain and regulates your body's water balance. When we are stressed, our metabolic rate rises, thereby reducing our potassium levels. These can be rebalanced with the help of a high-potassium banana snack.
Strokes: According to research in The New England Journal of Medicine, eating bananas as part of a regular diet can cut the risk of death by strokes by as much as 40%!
Warts: Those keen on natural alternatives swear that if you want to kill off a wart, take a piece of banana skin and place it on the wart, with the yellow side out. Carefully hold the skin in place with a plaster or surgical tape!
So, a banana really is a natural remedy for many ills. When you compare it to an apple, it has four times the protein, twice the carbohydrate, three times the phosphorus, five times the vitamin A and iron, and twice the other vitamins and minerals. It is also rich in potassium and is one of the best value foods around So maybe it's time to change that well-known phrase so that we say, 'A banana a day keeps the doctor away!'
I will add one here; want a quick shine on our shoes?? Take the INSIDE of the banana skin, and rub directly on the shoe...polish with dry cloth."

So, now not only have I had my breakfast, my blood pressure is 120/80, I'm cool and calm, I'm ready for an awesome workout and, my mosquito bite does not itch and my shoes are positively gleaming! 

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Don't Blame The Kitchen - Panini's


"Don't blame the kitchen, blame the cook" is an old saying in the culinary crowd. I was reminded of this quote as I navigated my way around my mother's kitchen the past few days. 

Unfamiliar electric stove (gasp!), pots and pans that were not my beloved All-Clad, one set of tongs to choose from, one size whisk, I could go on and on.. but a good cook makes do. And make do I did. 

Cooking times will be different depending on your fuel source (gas or electric). Browning, sauteeing and baking will yield various results depending on your pans - you may have to move things around a bit. 

Perhaps a pantry lacks corn starch - what do you use instead to thicken? (flour, butter or arrowroot) There are always variations and substitutions you can make if you just use your head (and your tastebuds)

Here is a recipe that will work no matter if you grill it indoors or out, use a grill pan or a frying pan, have a panini press or a brick from your patio - the visual results may be a tad different, but the flavor profile will knock your socks off everytime - no matter the tools! 

Chicken Paninis (with lots of variations and options) - makes 1 big or 6 roll size sandwiches

1 loaf ciabatta bread (or 6 medium rolls)
1 pound breast of chicken, pouched and sliced (or 1 pound chicken breast lunchmeat)
1/2 cup pesto (store bought or homemade - recipe follows)
8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced into 6 pieces
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
2 cups arugula
2 tomatoes (red or yellow) sliced (or roasted red pepper slices)
salt and pepper
drizzle of olive oil

Slice the ciabatta loaf through the center to make a big "roll". Or slice and open up the rolls
Spread pesto on inside top and bottom halves
Begin layering with sliced chicken
Top with a few basil leaves
Top with tomatoe slices
Top with arugula
Top with mozzarella cheese

Place the top half of roll on sandwich. Press down to slightly compress sandwich(es)

Preheat outdoor grill to low. OR
Heat frying pan to low OR
Heat indoor grill pan to low OR
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

Drizzle a little olive oil in your pan or brush a little olive oil on your grill or directly on the bottom of the bread. Place on hot heat source (stove, oven, grill, pan, etc)

Immediately place a panini press, a brick (covered in foil) or a cookie sheet weighted with canned goods on top. 

Cook, grill, fry, heat for 4-6 minutes. Flip over and do the same for the top, a few less minutes. If you opted to make one big sandwich, slice into serving sizes. Serve warm with chips or fresh fruit (we're having cantalope and strawberries tonight)

There you have it. Lots of options for making a panini without a panini press. No excuses. Like I said, blame the cook, not the kitchen. 

VARIATIONS: Be inventive:
Use Ham & Salami with Roasted Red Peppers
Ham & Brie, Garlic and Honey
Turkey, Sundried Tomatoes and Provolone and Watercress
Salami, Swiss and Olives
Roast Beef, onions, provolone and roasted red and green peppers
The variations are endless. Use your imagination and enjoy!

Homemade Pesto: (with options of course)

2 cups basil packed (or flat leafed parsely) (or sun dried tomatoes)
3/4 cup parmesan cheese (or pecorino romano) grated
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts (or walnuts or almonds)
1 clove garlic
olive oil as needed
salt and pepper

You will need a food processor (or a heavy duty blender). Blend the basil, garlic and cheese together until fine. Add the nuts and continue to process until fine. With processor or blender running, beginning adding olive oil in a thin stream until desired thickness (it should be spreadable, not runny). Salt and Pepper to taste. 

Tip: pesto freezes beautifully. Spoon into small freezable plastic container. Drizzle a thin film of olive oil over top to cover, cover tightly and freeze. This will keep up to 6 months. 


Monday, May 18, 2009

Back to New Jersey and Fish & Chips


I'm back in New Jersey after five days in Pennsylvania (future blogs on THAT). My dad is recovering from his surgery and is home and resting. (more about THAT in future blogs and the sorry state of health care in this country).

But for now, no ranting. Whenever I have been out of town one of the first things one of the middles or kidadults or the best husband in the world will ask me when I get home is for a specific food. I guess they miss my cooking and hopefully, a little bit of just me. 

The red-headed Middle asked me for Fish & Chips. Here is the recipe and a few tips for really great, crispy, non-greasy fish. 

Fish & Chips (American Style) - that's my apology for my across the pond friends, where Fish & Chips is a national past-time. (feeds 4-6 people easily)

2 pounds Cod
1 bag frozen "steak" cut fries
1 1/4 cup rice flour, divided
1 tablespoon kosher salt
6 grinds of fresh black pepper
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 egg
1 12 ounce can club soda
Vegetable or Canola oil for frying
2 brown paper bags

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
Take your fish out of the fridge 30 minutes before cooking. Cut into 4 inch pieces. Dry thoroughly. Shake the fish in 1/4 cup rice flour. Meanwhile:
Begin heating the oil (about 3 inches deep) in a big kettle. Oil should be 350 degrees.

Mix 1 cup rice flour with salt, pepper and baking powder. Beat egg slightly. Add to rice flour mixture and add club soda to make a thick batter. (start with 3/4 can and adjust as needed).

Take rice flour coated fish and dip into batter, place into hot oil and fry for about 10 minutes or until crisp and golden. Transfer to brown paper bag lined cookie sheet with a cooling rack placed on it. This will insure that the fish drains properly AND stays crisp. See cooks notes below. 

Place in oven to keep hot.
Add fries to same oil and fry until golden. Drain fries on brown paper bags. 

Serve fish and fries with cole slaw on the side. Lemon wedges, malt vinegar (for drizzling on fish) and store bought tartar sauce. 

A Cook's Notes: use brown paper bags to drain grease from fish. Paper towels absorb oil, and your fish will sit on grease soaked towels and become soggy. Placing the fish on a rack with brown paper bags on the bottom will insure crisp, grease free fish. 

If you don't have or can't find rice flour, use all purpose flour, sifted.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Being "Home" and Philly Cheesesteaks


Being back in Pennsylvania brings back many memories and of course with all my siblings here we have been doing our share of reminiscing. Yesterday on the way to the pharmacy to pick up my dad's pain medicine for his trip home I even drove through some of my old neighborhood haunts.

Seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. No?

All this nostalgia made me think of Philadelphia Cheese steaks. Here's an ex-pat's updated version of the classic Pennsylvania sandwich:

Not So Philly Cheese steaks: (makes 4 sandwiches)

1 pound hangar steak (also known as skirt steak)
1 sweet onion (such as Vidalia)
4 ounces blue cheese crumbles
A-1 Steak Sauce
4 Portugese rolls (or your favorite hard sandwich roll)
2 teaspoons olive oil divided
Salt and Pepper
1 tablspoon melted butter.

Heat Grill to Medium High
Trim steak of any extra fat or have your butcher do it.
Rub with 1 teas. olive oil, both sides
Rub all over with Salt and Pepper
Set aside.

Meanwhile slice onion thinly. Heat remaining teaspoon olive oil in saute pan and add onions. Slowly, sweat the onion (very low heat) until soft, then turn up heat a bit and cook until golden.

Split rolls and brush inside top and bottom with melted butter.

Grill steak about 4 minutes per side for medium. When done, tent with foil and let rest.
Place rolls, butter side down on grill and toast about 60 seconds.

To assemble:

Slice steak thinly, on the diagonal. Place 1/4 of meat on bottom of 1 roll. Top with blue cheese crumbles, then onion, then a drizzle of A-1 steak sauce. Repeat with other 3 sandwiches.

Serve with chips and an ice cold beer.

A Cook's Notes: I did not give you the "classic" recipe for a Philly Steak Sandwich because there are hundreds of variations and an ongoing war as to who has the "best", who made it first, and whether you need cheese (what kind), onions, the proper roll, sauce, etc. Suffice it to say I wouldn't even call this a Philly Cheese Steak OUT LOUD for fear of insighting a riot.

If you don't like blue cheese, try cheddar, provolone, swiss or american, but for the love of God, please don't call it a Philly Cheese Steak or even mention where you got the recipe. If you want an honest to goodness, authentic, Philly Steak - go to Philly, just don't ask me to choose the sidewalk stand, I'd like to come back to PA.
ps: If you don't believe me as to the controversy surrounding the Philadelphia Cheese Steak - google it. You will find the history, the ingredients, the authenticity [reputted] and everything you ever wanted to know about this sandwich. Pennsylvanians are serious about this sandwich!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Good News!

Finally - my dad is out of surgery. His doctors said it went really well, very little blood loss. It took a little longer than they thought because (insert a lot of doctor / medical talk here).

So now Dad goes to intensive care recovery unit. Then later to the open heart critical care unit. Hopefully, lots more good recovery news from then on.

Thank you all for thoughts and prayers. More Later....

My Dad - Always A First Defender



My dad just left for the hospital. His surgery should begin around 11:00 A.M. EST and last about 3 hours.

This is his National Guard unit's emblem. They are called The First Defenders. My dad has been active in the National Guard for over 50 years. Still is. These days he speaks at Guard functions, packs care packages for the men and women currently deployed in Iraq and Afganistan, tends to the Guard Museum and the saddest duty, attends military funerals.





My dad has always been a First Defender. Not only his country - to which he is extremely loyal and proud of, but of his family, his home, his name.


My dad taught each and every one of us (and there a lot of us) how to stand tall, be strong, loyal and proud.

Hugging him good luck (not goodbye) this morning was one of the toughest things I've had to do in a long time.


The best husband in the world keeps reminding me that he is a tough old bird.


So today I'll hold down the fort here at the homestead. Answer the phone, cook the meals, let his dog out (who hates me) ,wait for word from the hospital and like my dad taught me, be strong.

More later....

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Leaving for Pennsylvania and The Secret to Great Chicken Salad


It's a busy day today. I am getting ready to leave for Pennsylvania. My dad's surgery is scheduled for tomorrow.

This is what I have to do before I leave:

Finish the laundry - ha! What a joke. The laundry is never done in this house. I squeezed in two loads yesterday - washed and dried. I just have to fold it and put it away. I HAVE to do this because I need to take clean underwear with me. Otherwise, if I get in an accident and have to be taken to the emergency room... well, you all know the rest...

Take the dog to the vet. Holly Bear has ugg.. I hate to say this. Diarrhea. She's just 7 months old and can't seem to shake this intestinal bug. I've been feeding her chicken and rice (yes, I cook for the dog) but every time I try to wean her back to dog food, oops. So off to the vet. That will only cost me a gazillion dollars so I better go the bank too.

Take the dog for a run. Holly Bear HAS to run everyday. If she doesn't get a run in she will drive everyone crazy. Lots of puppy energy here. Yes, even though she doesn't look it, she is a puppy. I'll do this before the vet, otherwise she will drive everyone at the vet crazy too. This means I will have to wear my dog walk/run/jump mud clothes to the vet - maybe they'll think I'm indigent and give me a discount.

I guess I'll have to fit a shower in somewhere before I go. And change my clothes. Glad I have clean underwear.

Leave notes everywhere around the house for everyone. Notes like, please feed the dog. Please run the dog. Please remember the dog has Diarrhea and if she rings the bell (yes, she rings a bell when she wants to go out) leave her out immediately!! PS. She rings a jingle bell. Her name is Holly, she came to our home at Christmas - get it?? I do love a theme.

Pack my clothes - no biggy. I'm good at that and they are actually clean.

Pack some food I will be making. It's all bought, but I have to pack a cooler because it's all perishable. Yes, I will be cooking in PA.

Wrap my grand daughter's birthday present. Hannah turned three yesterday and she informed me she wants to eat at a restaurant, (wow, apples don't fall far from trees, do they?) so I'm taking KidAdult #1 and family out to dinner. Oh, so I'll bring my camera. ps. KidAdult #1 is Anthony. Last middle is Zachary. Everything from A to Z. Get it? Like I said, I do love a theme!

Kiss the best husband in the world goodbye. Even though I'm still mad at him, well, maybe not THAT mad anymore. Already kissed middles goodbye before they left for school. Hug KidAdult #2 goodbye if he is awake by then (3:00 pm??)

Call my sister, S, who is on her way from Virginia.
Call my sister M, because I call her (or she calls me) everyday.
I suppose I should also call my mother since I'm staying at her house.

Which reminds me, I think I'll pack some Old Yeller from The Cellar.

The Secret to Great Chicken Salad:
I promised I'd give you some cooking tips and tricks on this blog and so far I think I've been remiss in that promise. I've posted a lot of recipes, but anyone can put a recipe together. There are, however, secrets and tricks that really good cooks (and chefs) know that can take a recipe from good to great. Here's one:

Most people make chicken salad from leftover chicken or they quick cook up (however) some chicken, cut it up and use their favorite ingredients. This is okay. But to get really, good, tender, moist chicken, do this:

2 Whole Chicken Breasts (bone in, skin removed)

Poach the chicken breasts by putting chicken in pot big enough to add water to cover chicken by 1 inch. Gently and slowly (this is an important part) bring water to a simmer. Continue to SIMMER (do not boil) chicken until done - about 30 minutes.

Another important part coming up:

Cool chicken IN the poaching water. That's right. AND when it has cooled down enough, put it, pot and all, covered in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, remove chicken from poaching liquid, take off bone and cube. Reserve the poaching liquid - this is a nice light broth. Freeze it, or add a little to your dog's kibble. You can also reduce it (by boiling) to a stronger broth and viola! you have chicken stock.

Back to the chicken salad:

You can add whatever you like to the cubed chicken, but I like the following:

1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced (that's called a chiffonade)
1/4 cup lite sour cream or greek yogurt
1 Tablespoon mayonnaise
Salt and Pepper

This is good mounded on a large lettuce leaf (low-cal)
Great mounded in the center of mixed greens.
BEST on a buttery croissant (but not for me, because I AM ON A DIET and have will power and besides I don't have time to buy or make buttery croissants today)

Whatever you add to the chicken or however you eat it, I promise you will notice the difference. The secret is in the poaching and cooling in the liquid.

Bon Appetite. Let me know if you make this.

PS. Do not add any herbs, salt or flavoring to the poaching water. Just plain old water. And start with COLD water. It makes a difference. Phew - I almost forgot that part.

PSS. I am also making Mediterranean Seafood Stew at my mom's house. It anyone wants that recipe it is on my website, www. thegoodcooknj.com on the recipe tab.

Now I've got to fold that wash.....






Tuesday, May 12, 2009

ps: Pride and Joy and Lobster Guacomole


Oh - by the way - I have decided that my brand new Blogger Award is now my Pride and Joy. Oh boy am I going to be impossible to live with now. 

I am in such a good mood I'm going to share a brand new recipe with all of you. Isn't it amazing how some positive recognition for our efforts can just lift our spirits? So, never before seen on this blog.  It's fresh and easy and the prettiest thing you ever wanted to see sitting on an Hors d'oeuvres plate. It will make you the host / hostess or guest of the year when you whip this one out:


Lobster Guacamole with Mango on a Tortilla Chip: (you can substitute shrimp or crab for the lobster) - makes 2 cups or about 48 tortilla chips

2 ripe Haas avocados, peeled and pitted (save the pits)
1 large garlic clove, mashed to a paste with salt
3 ripe plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 big tablespoon cilantro (or parsely) chopped
1/4 cup scallions, minced
1/4 cup fresh lime or lemon juice
salt and pepper
1 cup cooked lobster, shrimp or crab, chopped very small
1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted and diced very small
1-2 teaspoons honey
"Scoops" tortilla chips

Mash avocados with fork. Add garlic, tomatoes, cilantro, scallions, lime or lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Put the pits in the mixture and it will not turn brown. (it's an old cook's trick that you don't have to be old to use)

Cook the seafood of choice (lobster, shrimp or crab), dice small and set aside. (keep cold)

Dice the mango very small and mix with the honey. Set aside. 

Spoon a nice teaspoon into the Scoop tortilla chip. Top with seafood of choice, then top with a few pieces of mango. 

These little hors d'oeuvres will become your Pride and Joy








Tagged for a Blogger Award - wow.


Just when I thought my day was crap, I came home and found that I was given this award by a fellow blogger. Wow. Tamis, over at A Day In the Life  http://themarks5.blogspot.com gave it to me. 

Honestly, I am flattered. I am flattered that anyone reads my musings. I am even more flattered when people take the time to comment on one of my postings and I am flatter - gasted that anyone would give me an award. Now I know what Angelina Jolie feels like at the Oscars! 

As I understand it, the award does not come free. I have to share ten things about myself that perhaps dear readers you did not know. Hmm... 

Okay.

1. I came to cooking as a profession late in life. (oh my, I am now late in life)
2. The first 30 years of my working life I spent as a professional with an office in the sky. The last 6 as a Vice President at a major world wide bank (think economic downturn folks)
3. I say I am retired but I'm mostly just tired. 
4. Sometimes I worry that it's not PMS - it's just my personality.
5. I prefer white wine over red but in a pinch will suffer through a bottle (or 2) of red.
6. I truly believe that my husband is my soul mate even though I am really mad at him right now.
7. I am one of 6 children. #3 on the family totem pole
8. I have an office upstairs that I rarely use, I prefer to work in my kitchen, even when I'm not cooking.
9. Surprise (unless my GYN is reading this - no surprise there)  I'm not a natural red head. 
10. Sometimes I forget the actual dates of my children's birthdays, but am usually only off a day or two. 

Now, for the answers to the questions I think I was asked as part of the award:

1. What is your current obsession? Blogging
2. What item of clothing to you wear often? T-shirts, Birkenstocks and aprons (I collect them)
3. What's for dinner? Kobe Burgers. I had a cooking class today from 10am to 2pm and am stuffed so I'm going to make burgers for the family (with REAL home-made french fries) and freshly ground Kobe Beef - but I won't eat anything tonight. 
4. What do you wish you were listening to? Nothing. I like to work / type / cook in the quiet. Helps me think.
5. Say something to the one who tagged you. Tamis - I could never do what you do as a nurse / care provider. All the compassion you have in your heart is such a gift. Mother, wife, daughter, blogger, and blogger-friend. You Rock! 
6. Favorite Vacation Spot: tough one. I love to travel and I love to experience new cultures, nature, adventure, etc.. I guess I'd have to say besides any one of our National Parks, somewhere where English is not spoken - to force me to learn new things.
7. What I'm reading right now: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
8. Four words to describe myself: passionate, fun, complicated, loyal
9. What do you think you will feel about your life when all is said and done? I hope I feel that I did my best, didn't intentionally hurt anyone along the way and never stopped learning or trying. 
10. What do you look forward to? Peace. For everyone. 
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