Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Deep Sadness, Sharing and Southern Fried Chicken

At six and half months into a journey that I would never wish upon my worst enemy I have settled into a deep sadness.

Gone (I hope) are the gut wrenching tear fests, the vomiting, the shaking and the fear.
A gentle, deep sadness has replaced the anxiety and bone crushing grief.

My tears now come in gentle streams. Memories come and go. A song, a thought, a colorful cardinal at my backyard feeder, all bring on a gentle remembrance of a life once lived. A life once shared. Dreams. Hope and promise. A life ended in its prime; cut short by circumstances beyond the control of mere mortals.

I have found that the answer to my grief is giving. Of myself. Of the one talent that I can share. I can cook.

My neighbor, just 36 years young has recently been diagnosed with Lymphoma. She has three young children and is in the fight of her life.

So I cook.

Comfort food.
Nourishing food.
Happy food.
Frivolous Food.
Once a week (sometimes twice) I make the trudge through the snow and slush to deliver something hot.
Something fun.
Something nourishing.
Soup. Bread. Cookies.
Casseroles that can be reheated after a day of chemotherapy. Sweets that can be dispensed to hungry littles.
Soup that soothes a nauseous stomach.
Sweet cornbread.
Roasted Chicken.
A light salad.
Anything that keeps my hands busy and my heart full.

Lest you think I am good. Or a saint; I have found that the answer to my pain is to give. In giving I receive. In giving and contributing to the hope of healing I see life prolonged - life healed.

Life enjoyed and life celebrated. Life at its best - around a table of good food, being shared by people who are in love. In love with life. In love with healing. In love with hope.

I hope you enjoy this recipe. It is designed to put some "south in your mouth" and a smile in your belly. But most of all it is meant to be shared.

Southern Fried Chicken: serves 4 plus neighbors

One whole chicken, quartered into legs, thigh, wing and breast portion. Rinsed and patted dry.
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon Louisiana Hot Sauce (or Tabasco)
1/2 cup flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups plain bread crumbs
Canola Oil for frying (don't worry about calories or cholesterol - this recipe is all about comfort)

In a deep bowl combine the milk, hot sauce and vinegar, let sit for 10 minutes. Add the chicken. Make sure the milk mixture completely covers the chicken pieces. Refrigerate two hours or overnight (up to 24 hours)

Place the flour in a large ziploc bag, add salt and shake to combine.
Place eggs in a shallow pie plate and beat slightly with a fork.
Place bread crumbs in a second pie plate and set alongside the eggs.

Remove chicken pieces one at a time and shake in flour. Dip in egg, then coat with bread crumbs. Arrange coated chicken pieces on a rimmed cookie sheet. Repeat until all chicken pieces are coated.

Pour and pat any remaining bread crumbs over coated chicken pieces. Refrigerate 1 hour or up to 24 hours.

Heat oil to 265 degrees* in a shallow skillet (if you have an electric frying pan - wonderful!)

Gently add the coated chicken pieces to the hot oil and fry - about 8 minutes per side - turning until golden brown on all sides. Remove to a brown paper bag covered cookie sheet to drain the oil and keep crisp**

Serve with sweetened corn bread, mashed potatoes, steamed green beans and love. Remember to share with someone.

A Cook's Notes: *Cooking the chicken at 265 degrees will insure that it is crisp on the outside and perfectly done on the inside. Any higher and the chicken will crisp too early leaving it raw on the inside.

** Paper towels tend to get soggy with fried foods and will make the underside of you finished product soft and mushy. Use recycled brown paper bags from your grocery store. They absorb the grease and pull it away from the food, leaving it crispy and brown - the way you intended it to be.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Buds on Trees and Pan Seared Orange Cod

I haven't posted in some time. 
I noticed Sunday morning, hot cup of coffee in hand, looking out the kitchen window, that the trees are just starting to show signs of buds. Can winter be over? Can it be that I survived yet another season without TBHITW? 
What will spring bring? It has been 6 1/2 months since I last kissed my husband. How can that be? How can the seasons move forward when time has stood still?
Today I am sad. I'm sad for a season that will come and my husband won't be here to enjoy it with me. I'm sad for the daffodils that will bloom - never again will I pick some and put them in a vase to brighten his office. He always loved when I picked flowers from my garden and made a bouquet just for him. He always acted surprised. And touched. 
TBHITW always was so grateful for little, loving gestures. Oh, how we loved each other and took care of each other. We understood the gentleness of love. Now I understand nothing. 
Today I am sad and the trees with their new tender buds just remind me of the tenderness of the man I loved with all my heart. 
And today it is snowing (again) hmpf.

Pan Seared Orange Cod: serves 2
1/2 pound fresh Cod
1 orange, remove zest and reserve. Juiced and juice reserved.
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh thyme

Remove fish from refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking. Rinse and pat dry. Zest the orange and rub orange zest into fish fillets. Salt and pepper fillets. 

Heat oil and butter in a shallow saute pan until sizzling. Add cod fillets (tops down) and over medium high heat cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn and continue to cook on other side about 2 to 3 minutes. If fish fillet does not easily release (sticks) to pan just continue to cook until it does not stick. Cooked food releases easily.
Squeeze orange juice over fillets the last minute of cooking, sprinkle on fresh thyme. Serve over a bed of couscous with freshly steamed green beans or a small side salad. 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Dinner In, Dinner Out


It is Saturday night and instead of being sent to my room I have opted to have dinner out at a favorite local Irish Pub.

The KidAdult has commandeered my kitchen so that he can impress a lovely friend with his newly honed culinary skills (see this post for the back story)

Oh.. to be seventeen again and have a world full of love and uncharted territory in front of you! I snapped this picture just before I left for my dinner out and their dinner in. The smiles on their faces, the adventures that await them and the first blossom of romance truly makes my heart sing.

ps. They even did the dishes! And all is well in their world.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Student and Lemon Chicken Paillard

I've posted this recipe before, it is a family favorite in this house. 

Yesterday the 17 year old KidAdult asked me if I would teach him how to make it. Really? Okay. I'm all about self-sufficiency. 

The cook became the assistant and we set up the kitchen for a Paillard Lesson. He donned an apron (it took him a bit to choose an appropriate "man" apron, on my instruction washed his hands and the lesson began. 

Learning how to zest a lemon using a microplane

Dipping and breading the chicken

Learning about shallow frying and the dangers of hot oil and the joy of a proper kitchen hat

It's funny what conversations come up when you're busy in the kitchen. During the course of zesting and dipping and frying the newly trained chef happened to mention that he wanted to make this meal for his new "friend". 


And he casually suggested that he'd like to make this on Saturday night and didn't I have plans to be out? Wasn't there a new movie I was just itching to see? 

Double Oh. 

The Paillard turned out beautifully and I guess I'll be going to the movies on Saturday night. I do hope there are leftovers when I get home.

Lemon Chicken Paillard with Mixed Green Salad (serves 4)

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup flour
2 or 3 eggs, slightly beaten with a splash of milk
2 cups panko bread crumbs
Zest of one lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Dressing: (optional, a honey mustard or light Italian would go equally as well)

2 anchovy fillets
2 egg yolks**
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 lemons, juiced
1/2 cup extra-virgin ollive oil
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 bag baby arugula
1/2 cup shredded carrots
5 artichoke hearts, halved
1 head Romaine, sliced
Any other green you want to add
Lemon wedges for garnish

Begin by pounding out the chicken breasts between 2 pieces of plastic wrap.
Hint: "pounding" is really not what you want to do. You want to "sweep" out from the center. Hit and sweep. You are really pulling the meat, not pounding it. You want a nice thin, even breast that will cook quickly and evenly.

Set up a breading station with 3 pie plates. In one place the flour, in the other place the egg and in the last, the panko. Season the flour, egg and panko with salt and pepper, add the lemon zest to the egg. Dip the chicken first in the flour, then the egg, then the panko. Set on a rack to dry for about 10 minutes.
Place about an inch of oil in a frying pan. Fry the chicken paillards in hot oil for approximately 3 minutes per side until crisp and golden. Drain well, season with salt and set aside.

For the dressing:
Put the anchovies, egg yolks, garlic, and lemon juice into a blender and process until smooth. With the blender running on low, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Stir in the parmesan and season with salt and pepper.
Mix all your ingredients for your salad together, add dressing and toss to coat.

Place one paillard on a plate. Mound some salad on top. Garnish with a lemon wedge. Repeat with remaining paillard.

A Cook's Notes: If you are squeamish about raw egg yolks, use 2 tablespoons mayonnaise.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

He Saved Every Card and Sage Crusted Boneless Pork Chops

My local library is conducting a book donation drive.

Both TBHITW and I were avid readers. The difference? TBHITW was also a pack rat. In his early twenties he worked off shore on an oil rig. They would work 12 hours on, 12 hours off with 3 weeks on the rig and 1 week off. Plenty of down time and plenty of time to read.

TBHITW spent those six years working off shore reading every classic ever written and he saved each and every one of them. Dickens, Hemmingway, Twain, Steinbeck, Vonnegut, Rand, you name the book and I guarantee it was shoved into an immense bookcase in the master bedroom.

I spent the better part of this afternoon disposing of dusty, decaying paperbacks and sorting through the hard bound copies that I will donate to the library. There are a few books I will never part with as they speak to who TBHITW was.

Since I was on a roll I decided to clean out his nightstand. There, shoved among Geologic periodicals, old National Geographic magazines and an assortment of other paperbacks I found every anniversary and birthday card I ever gave him.

I sat with my legs crossed on the bedroom floor and read each and every one of them. Instead of tears today I smiled with the memory of a life filled with love.

This is one of TBHITW's favorite dishes, I hope it becomes one of yours.

Sage Crusted Boneless Pork Chops: serves 2

Two boneless pork chops, about 1 inch thick
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 egg, beaten
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 teaspoons dried sage
1 tablespoons fresh sage
salt and pepper
Olive Oil (about 2 tablespoons)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Dry the pork chops with a paper towel and toss with the flour seasoned with salt and pepper.
Season the bread crumbs with the dried sage.
Dredge the chops in the egg and then press the fresh bread crumbs into the chops, coating all sides.
Set aside to "dry" for 10 minutes.
Heat the oil in a skillet and add the fresh sage leaves, move the leaves off to the side and add the pork chops. Saute until golden brown on both sides - about 3 to 4 minutes per side.
Place on rack set on a rimmed cookie sheet and finish cooking in the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Serve with simple buttered bow-tie noodles and a small mixed green salad.

What do you save for years and years?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Eating My Vegetables and Grilled Romaine Salad with Shrimp

I know it's important to eat my vegetables.

But when the world is a frozen wasteland outside my door chocking down a cold salad is just one cold thing too much.

Last night I decided to make myself a winter picnic with spring food. I can dream of sunny warm days and if those warm days only exist inside my house - well then, so be it.

Grilled Romaine and Shrimp with Tarragon Vinaigrette: serves 2

One head Romaine lettuce
6 to 8 jumbo shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails intact
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts

Vinaigrette (you can cheat and use purchased dressing but this is so easy, why not make your own?)

3 tablespoons tarragon vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
9 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Whisk the vinegar and mustard together. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking the entire time until the dressing emulsifies (thickens). Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Split the romaine head in two lengthwise. Using a pastry brush brush the cut sides of the lettuce with the vinaigrette.

Drizzle a bit of the dressing over the cleaned shrimp.

Heat a grill pan on the stove over medium high heat. If you don't have a grill pan you can use a large frying pan.

Place the shrimp on the grill pan and cook for 2-3 minutes per side, brushing with a bit more dressing when you turn them.

While shrimp are cooking place the romaine on the grill, cut side down. Grill for 1-2 minutes or until the leaves just begin to wilt. Baste with dressing and turn, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Grill for one more minute. Remove from grill pan with the cooked shrimp. Sprinkle a few pine nuts on the romaine heads.

Enjoy with a bottle of wine and dream of spring.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Ice Man Cometh and Snowball Cake

Last night the ice arrived here in the Northeast.

I don't know which is worse; epic amounts of snow or an inch of ice coating everything.

I spent the weekend painting my daughter's room. When she was a little girl TBHITW and her painted her ceiling blue with fluffy white clouds. Then they painstakingly glued glow in the dark stars in the field of blue. No longer a little girl and off to college it was time to redecorate. I pried the stars off the ceiling and with frustration the patience of a saint sanded the now cement like glue off.

Three coats of paint later I had a pristine white ceiling. Next I painted the walls a lovely linen color. Last, I set about painting the trim. When I got to the closet I remembered that TBHITW always measured the kids on the door jam. There were all her height measurements - from the time she was six years old up until she turned eighteen. The paint brush froze in my hand and I thought "a family once lived here".

No matter how many coats of paint I applied the dates and measurements kept bleeding through. I guess this old house isn't ready to give up its memories. I checked again this morning and they are still there. Yes, a family once lived here - the memories, like the ice outside my window - all frozen in time.

Speaking of memories, I posted my grandmother's chocolate cake recipe sometime ago here. It is the easiest, moistest cake you will ever make.

My girlfriend Judi took this cake one step further and turned it into a snowball cake. I think this is the perfect cake to bake on a snowy, icy day.

Nanny's Moist Chocolate Cake: makes a 2 layer cake

Preheat oven to 350. Set the oven rack in the middle of the oven.
Butter and flour two 8 or 9 inch round cake pans.

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 cup cocoa
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup hot coffee
1 cup milk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Put everything (starting with the dry ingredients) in a large mixing bowl. Plug in your mixer. Beat on low speed (trust me on this one) until well combined. The batter is very thin.
Pour into prepared pans and bake in the center of the oven until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it, about 35 minutes.
Cool in pans for about 10 minutes, then invert onto racks and cool completely before frosting.

Here comes the snowball part:

Marshmallow Frosting:

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
1/4 salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 bag sweetened coconut flakes

Put all the ingredients except the vanilla and coconut into the top of a double boiler set over simmering water. Stir until the sugar is melted. Using a hand mixer beat the mixture for seven minutes or until light and fluffy. Remove from heat and fold in the vanilla. 
Working quickly frost the cake. Press the coconut into the frosting. 
Voila - snowball cake. 

Judi told me the cake tastes just like those hostess snowballs, only better because it is homemade. 
Why not make some memories of your own today with this recipe? 

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