Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Cool Meals for Hot Days

I grew up without air conditioning. As a matter of fact, I was 30 years old before I lived in a house with central air. This wasn't necessarily a problem for me, even growing up in the Deep South. If you've never had it, you don't really miss it.

Meals in those hot summers of my childhood almost always consisted of something light and chilled, like huge tossed salads, cottage cheese and fruit, cold sandwiches, etc. The heat was simply too oppressive to do something silly like eat hot foods. As a matter of fact, my only miserable memory from those humid August days was the time mom decided we were going to can tomatoes. There is nothing that can cause such a sweltering, awful, deadweight feeling like standing in a steamy kitchen, over a hot stove where pots of water have been boiling all day, while there is 90% humidity to begin with, on a 90 degree afternoon. I thought my mother was insane, though I'm sure I appreciated those tomatoes all through the following winter.

When I grew up (or at least older), my first two apartments were on the second floor of a two-story building. At the time, I was working full-time in a shop where the air conditioner was set permanently at 65 degrees. Those were the hottest summers of my life by far. I still didn't use air conditioning where I lived, and it was just absurd to leave work at 5pm, after having been in air conditioning all day, and go home to an un-air conditioned place. You can fully appreciate the heat when you walk out into it from a cold office. I'm not even sure I ate once I left the office in those days. The thought of food was repulsive.

When The Carnivore and I first got married, we lived in town in a great little pink cottage. We were sheltered by trees, and The Carnivore is the master of air flow, so even without air conditioning, we somehow made it without succumbing to the heat. In the dead of summer though, we were both too hot to cook and most food didn't seem appealing anyhow. In those days, The Carnivore would often spend half a day during the weekend putting together a huge amount of pasta salad for us to eat all week. His was the first pasta salad that I liked, so unlike the bland, mayonnaise-dressed, overcooked noodle salads that are so common in the south.

The kitchen is my domain now, and it has been a long time since we've had pasta salad. I tried my hand at it this weekend, using a recipe from the Detroit Free Press for the dressing, and then using vegetables that I had on hand for the salad. The dressing was a standout and the end result was a refreshing, light meal for those dog days of summer.

  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Raspberry Wasabi mustard (or Dijon)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 Tbs fresh, chopped parsley
  • 3 Tbs minced shallots
  • 2 tsps granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt & black pepper to taste
  • 12 oz whole-wheat rotini pasta
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced celery
  • 1 cup diced cucumber
  • 1 cup sliced green onion
  • 1 can 3-bean salad, drained
  • 1 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 1 can sliced water chestnuts
  • 1 cup sliced green olives
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar and mustard. Stir in the garlic, parsley, shallots, sugar and Italian seasoning.
  2. In a steady stream, whisk in olive oil until the mixture emulsifies. Taste & adjust the seasonings or mustard, if necessary, and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  3. Cook the pasta to al dente.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the pasta, celery, cucumber, onion, 3-bean salad, pepper, water chestnuts and olives.
  5. Add the dressing and toss to coat.
  6. Sprinkle with Parmesan, and season with salt and pepper.
  7. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Spectacular Disaster

The beauty of building your own house or, in our case, restoring an old house, is that everything is exactly as you want it. When The Carnivore was restoring our house, he completely ripped out the room that became the kitchen and rebuilt it from scratch. The fun part for me wasn't until it was time for the finishing touches. I had always wanted a red kitchen, and The Carnivore indulged me there. The cabinets were a source of great consternation, with us spending many, many hours at Home Depot agonizing over our choices. We finally agreed to go completely over budget so that I could have the cabinets of my dreams. In many things, I am willing to scrimp (like with my own clothes, for instance, or with furniture), but with things that you will have to live with for upwards of 10 years, I believe in splurging.

One of the crowning glories of our kitchen is the concrete countertops. By the time we got to the countertops, Fat Baby had arrived and I pretty much abdicated all responsibility for aesthetics to The Carnivore. We had discussed countertops briefly, and I had nothing but ambivalence for my choices. Almost all counters look like plastic to me, and I don't think granite is all that attractive. The Carnivore suggested concrete countertops, something I had never heard of. These are becoming more and more popular now, but they are extraordinarily expensive ($65 to $125 per square foot). If I had known the prices, I would have hit the roof, especially since we had about 10 square feet that needed concrete (we used old beams for the surface on the island and the menu desk).

As it turned out, price wasn't an object. The Carnivore played with some concrete mix in a piece of tupperware, built a mold out of old wood, mixed his own concrete and built our countertops himself for little more than the cost of a couple of bags of concrete. Where we splurged on the cabinets, we more than made up the budget shortfall with the counters. There are times when I think The Carnivore is pure genius, and this is one of them. I LOVE THESE COUNTERTOPS. Not a day goes by that I don't run my hands along the counters and smile. Not only are they beautiful, but they are nearly indestructible. I can set a pan of boiling water on the counters and nothing will happen. I can cut eight watermelons on the surface, and there won't be a scratch. Love is too small of a word to describe my feelings about these counters.

The strength of these countertops was proven this weekend, in a way we had not yet imagined. The Carnivore requested fudge on Saturday, and I was happy to oblige. Of course, I am nearly incapable of trying the same recipe twice, so even after my three attempts at fudge from a few weeks ago, I stood up on a chair and started pulling down cookbooks. I picked a recipe, cleaned up the lunch dishes (I can't start a recipe without cleaning the kitchen first), and started to pull out the ingredients I would need. While standing on my tip-toes and digging around blindly in the tall cabinet where I keep my baking supplies, I pushed around countless bottles of vinegars and oils, trying to reach the baking chocolate. Too late, I realized too many bottles were moving. In slow motion, I watched the bottle of soy sauce teeter on the edge of the cabinet. I threw the chocolate down and lunged, too slowly, and the true strength of concrete was proven. In my little unplanned experiment, I learned the following:

If a glass object falls from a height of no more than 2 feet, the glass will shatter in heretofore unprecendented fashion, allowing soy sauce to splatter in a kaleidoscopic fashion, and propelling tiny shards of glass to the nether regions of the house.

In layman's terms, the disaster was truly spectacular. But, while the soy sauce was obliterated, the countertops weren't affected by the accident at all.

Miraculously, Fat Baby was in his high chair at the time and was not down amongst the glass which, by the way, traveled no fewer than 15 feet. I called The Carnivore in (apologizing profusely) to help with clean-up, which involved washing every glass canister kept on the counters; moving the refrigerator to clean up soy sauce from beside, behind and under it; scrubbing the backsplash, washing the stained glass, sweeping and Swiffering.

45 minutes later, I looked back at my soy sauce covered cookbook to see what other ingredients were needed. For pity's sake.

The fudge recipe that I used this time came from How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food, a cookbook I have had for years but have never used. The recipe was incredibly simple, which was what I was looking for after all the variations I tried last time.

  • 2 Tbs unsalted butter, plus some for greasing the pan
  • 4 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped (preferably kept far away from the soy sauce)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 to 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
  1. Combine the chocolate and the cream in a medium saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until well blended and smooth.
  2. Add the sugar and salt, still over low heat, and cook, stirring, until the mixture boils.
  3. Stop stirring and cook until the mixture measures 236 degrees.
  4. Remove from heat. Add butter, but do not beat.
  5. When the mixture is lukewarm, add the vanilla and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth and has lost its sheen.
  6. Add the nuts, if using.
  7. Scrape fudge into greased pan (8x8) and let sit until hardened.
  8. Cut into squares, wrap well and refrigerate.

This fudge turned out really well. It was easy to make, and the sugar dissolved fully (a problem I have had with other fudge recipes that used granulated sugar as opposed to confectioner's sugar). Sadly, I choose to use black walnuts, since they were all I had, and they are a bit odd in fudge. The aftertaste is too strong for such a rich and fabulous dessert.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Vegetarians Beware

Since I have been a vegetarian from childhood, I have long known to look out for myself when it comes to food eaten outside the home. My mother and my Uncle Jim were the only other two vegetarians in my family when I was a child, so when I visited other family, or friends, I usually had to fight a minor battle at most meals. It was easy for me to deal with the obvious, like a steak or a piece of fried chicken. I would just stay completely away from them and make myself at home with the mashed potatoes and the salad. Casseroles were often a problem, so if it were anything other than macaroni & cheese, I would just avoid them altogether unless there were some discreet way to check with the cook (without hurting anyone's feelings). Pizza was a source of irritation for me, as the parents of most of my friends would just tell me to pick the pepperoni off. As if that also would remove the nasty greasy pepperoni schmegma juice.

Then there were the Gray Area Foods. I didn't know for a long time that some people cook meat in their vegetable dishes. Imagine my horror when I ate a huge helping of green beans only to discover that there was a piece of gray lumpiness hidden amongst them. Beans cooked with ham is a no-no. I can't just pick the piece of meat out and continue eating beans that have been pissed on by meat juice.

Worse was when I picked carefully through an entire pot of green beans at someone's house and, feeling confident when I didn't see any gray matter, ate a big bowlful before finding out about something called ham hocks, an offensive meat product which can be pulled out of the pot so that the vegetarian has no idea that her beans have been infused with meat jism.

I was much older before I became suspicious of soups. At some point, I ordered potato soup, assuming it would be meat-free, and then received my bowl of soup, complete with an appalling garnish of bacon bits on top. After that experience, I learned to ask at restaurants to be ABSOLUTELY sure that my soup would be vegetarian. Strangely though, it was years before I found out that even though the soup has no pieces of meat in it, that does not mean that the soup wasn't cooked in chicken broth. I have had actual conversations at restaurants that went like this:

Me: Does the soup have any meat in it?
Waitperson: No, no meat in the soup.
Me: So what kind of broth is used?
Waitperson (with no sense of irony): Chicken broth. But there is no meat in the soup.

See, in my world, chicken broth is meat, and I shouldn't have to explain that to anyone. Just because there aren't pieces of animal flesh floating my bowl does not mean that my soup is vegetarian. If I don't eat chicken, logic says that I also do not eat chicken broth.

In the past year or so, since I began making a lot of my own soups, I have learned that vegetarian vegetable broth works in place of chicken broth in every recipe. There is no noticeable change in flavor in any of the recipes I have tried (I can tell there is no change in flavor because I know, without a doubt, that I have been duped countless times and have ingested more than enough chicken broth, albeit unknowingly). As a matter of fact, every risotto recipe I have read also calls for chicken broth, something I did not know when I ordered risotto while eating out all those times.

I was recently reading something that mentioned French Onion Soup and I nearly swooned. It is a soup I have long been fond of, and was something I had never tried on my own. I was reading the article out loud to The Carnivore and he got excited too. Sadly, the recipe was not included in the article. This week I pulled out some of my cookbooks and found a recipe in The New Joy of Cooking (a cookbook that is worth its weight in gold, by the way) that sounded promising. I felt some minor trepidation though, for a number of reasons. First was that it wasn't until I read the recipe that I realized French Onion Soup is made with beef broth. So while I have come to terms, in a way, with chicken broth, it never occured to me before yesterday that I have ever eaten beef broth. I find the concept repulsive. Also troubling though, was that since beef broth is used instead of chicken broth, I can obviously assume that the tastes are different enough that I might have a problem with subsituting vegetable broth, which works so well in place of chicken broth. I tried it anyway, and forewarned The Carnivore about the change I was making to the recipe, but we both agreed that the soup turned out fantastically.


  • 2 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 5 medium onions, thinly sliced (I used a mixture of red, yellow and white onions)
  • Pinch of dried thyme
  • 2 Tbs dry sherry
  • 3 1/2 cups of vegetable broth
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  1. In a large pot, heat the butter and oil over low heat until melted.
  2. Add the onions and the thyme and stir to coat.
  3. Cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat until the onions start to brown (about 15 minutes)
  4. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook, covered, stirring frequently, until the onions are a rich brown color (about 40 minutes)
  5. Stir in the sherry, increase the heat to high, and cook, stirring constantly for about 5 minutes
  6. Stir in the broth and bring it to a boil.
  7. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes.
  8. Season with salt & pepper.

I had a little trouble finding a suitable recipe, with one of my cookbooks, The Soup Book: The Only Soup Book You Will Ever Need (an ironic title considering it had a lousy recipe for this particular soup) only including a microwave version of French Onion Soup. There is no way to get proper caramelization of the onions in a microwave. The one constant in the recipes that I did find, was that they all called for serving the soup with toasted french bread served on top of the soup, covered with melted cheese. While normally I would have wanted to try it that way, I was serving the soup with a Vegetable Muffuletta, and thus would not be needing any additional bread.

I cut this recipe out of a magazine, but I'm embarrased to admit I can't remember which magazine, and was thrilled to find it. I have read about Muffuletta sandwiches, and have heard that they are worth the drive to New Orleans, but since they are made with a few different meats, it had never occured to me that a vegetarian version would be worth a try. Once I read this recipe though, I was drooling to try it.


  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives (I could only find whole kalamatas marinated in olive oil - they were a pain to pit)
  • 1/2 cup pimiento-stuffed green olives
  • 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 rib celery, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 of a small onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbs capers
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil (in addition to the olive oil called for above)
  • 1 yellow summer squash, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
  • 1 zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
  • 1 round loaf crusty bread (8 inches)
  • 1/4 lb deli-sliced provolone cheese
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into thin slices
  • 1 roasted red bell pepper
  • 3 romaine lettuce leaves.
  1. Combine the olives, parsley, celery, onion, 2 Tbs oil, capers, garlic and vinegar in a food processor; pulse until finely chopped. Cover and marinate in refrigerator for several hours for flavors to blend.
  2. Brush 2 Tbs olive oil over the squash and zucchini slices, and broil in the oven, on a baking pan. Broil for about 10 minutes, turning the slices over halfway through.
  3. There are different ways to roast peppers. I have a gas stove, so I roasted mine on top of the stove rather than in the oven. To do it this way, turn the flame on to the highest setting and set the pepper directly in the flame. Turn the pepper with tongs so that the entire surface is blistered. Put the pepper in a bowl with a towel over it and let sit for a few minutes. Peel off the skin, cut off the stem and remove the seeds, and slice the pepper.
  4. Spread olive salad over bottom of loaf of bread.
  5. Slice bread in half horizontally and slighly scoop out some of the insides to accommodate the filling.
  6. Layer the provolone, squash & zucchini, mozzarella, peppers and lettuce leaves.
  7. Replace top half of bread.
  8. Wrap loaf tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate with a light weight on top, for about an hour, to allow juices to soak into the bread.
  9. Cut into wedges and serve. (You may need toothpicks to hold the wedges together).

I was nearly bowled over by this sandwich. The flavors were diverse and perfect, and I could have eaten the olive salad with a spoon. We only ate about half the sanwich for dinner last night and it was even better when we finished it off for lunch today. I'm thinking about making one of these every week and eating all week for lunch. The Carnivore loved the sandwich as much as I did, and Fat Baby ate it right along with us.

Its nice to finally have two new recipes turn out to standouts in one day.

The Kitchen Menace

I am not the one who threw all that stuff on the floor. While I cook, Fat Baby finds infinite ways to amuse himself in the kitchen. When he learned how to sit up, he used to open the bottom drawer on the left and unfold all the kitchen towels. When he learned how to pull himself up on his knees and scoot around the floor, he found the drawer he is currently sitting in. This is the drawer where I keep all my teas. Fat Baby, as you can see, likes very much to throw the boxes of tea all over the floor so that I step on them while I stand at the stove.

Just yesterday, he threw everything out of the bottom drawer and crawled in it. As if that wasn't bad enough, he then stood up in the drawer and found that he could reach the counter, where he proceeded to try and RIP the pages out of the cookbook I was using.

The cooking conditions are getting nearly unmanageable around here.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

It Can't Be the Lasagna's Fault

I am no longer angry with last night's dinner. I simply can't bear to blame food for my problems, so I will have to assume that it was the duty of going shopping that gave me heartburn yesterday. I usually go grocery shopping around 8am because the stores are so much more pleasant when there are only two other customers around. Things went off kilter yesterday though, with Fat Baby feeling sick all morning, and I ended up at the big box super grocery store in the mid-afternoon, along with about 200 other people. Now that the students are back in town, it has gotten harder and harder to wade through the sea of people in the stores. I will be sure to get back to my usual crack-of-dawn shopping schedule as soon as I can.

Since I was running so late with everything yesterday, I had to throw together a quick dinner. I have a great Spinach Lasagna recipe that I clipped from an issue of Parenting magazine a few months back. I have made a few changes, as always, to the original recipe, and its just right for those hurried evenings. Last night, I served the lasagna with garlic bread and a tossed salad.

  • 4 to 5 cups of tomato sauce (I prefer the Ragu Chunky Gardenstyle - its got extra veggies in it to give more oomph to the lasagna)
  • 2 tsps Italian seasoning
  • clove of garlic, minced
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 16 oz shredded Mozzarella cheese
  • 8 oz Ricotta cheese
  • 9 no-boil lasagna noodles
  • 6 oz fresh baby spinach
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Stir the Italian seasoning, the garlic and the black pepper into the tomato sauce.
  2. Pour just enough tomato sauce in a 8x11 glass baking dish to cover the bottom (1 to 2 cups).
  3. Lay 3 noodles on top of sauce.
  4. Spread half the Ricotta on top of the noodles.
  5. Spread 1/3 of the Mozzarella on top of the Ricotta
  6. Lay down 1/2 the spinach on top of the Mozzarella
  7. Pour about one more cup of tomato sauce on top
  8. Lay down 3 more noodles
  9. Spread the remaining Ricotta on top
  10. Spread 1/3 of the Mozzarella on top of the Ricotta
  11. Lay down the remaining spinach
  12. Pour about one more cup of tomato sauce over top
  13. Lay down the last 3 noodles
  14. Spread the remaining Mozzarella on top
  15. Pour about one more cup of tomato sauce over the top
  16. Sprinkle the Parmesan on top.
  17. Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes
  18. Remove foil and bake for another 5 minutes

These no-boil noodles are great for getting dinner ready in a hurry, but I've found that they are very al-dente, almost to the point of needing to be cooked a little longer. This dish is always better on the second day, when the noodles have had a chance to soak up more of the sauce. If I ever get it together enough, I will assemble this dish in the morning so that the noodles can already be a little wet before I pop the lasagna in the oven. I haven't been able to find whole-wheat lasagna noodles anywhere around here, and I find it extraordinarily dissapointing to be using plain old white noodles in this recipe.

The Carnivore came home today with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which he always picks up at the mailbox in the mornings and takes to work with him (which means I rarely get to see it before dinnertime), and I heard him making yummy noises while he scanned the Food Section. Apparently, John Kessler, who will, God willing, one day be my mentor, printed the recipes for some of the dishes he tried during his Eat-My-Way-Across-Alabama-Week. There is a recipe for green tomato soup that The Carnivore is already requesting. Sounds yummy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Picture Day

Dinner gave me heartburn, and I can hold a grudge like nobody's business, so I won't be blogging about dinner tonight. It's just as well, since I got the film developed today from UGA Picture Day and I couldn't wait to show off our photo with Harry Dog.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Baby Nutrition

I have always eaten well. I do not deprive myself of sweets, and I do not count calories, yet I eat as healthy as possible most of the time. I've never liked sodas, and for the most part, I'm not crazy about packaged foods. I would often rather eat a cheese sandwich than something that comes out of a box. Boxed macaroni and cheese makes my skin crawl, and boxed rice "meals" give me the heeby-jeebies.

Food is extremely important to me, as I'm sure is obvious by my choice of subjects here. Cooking has become my hobby, and I read cookbooks for fun. Anytime I have felt the need to drop a couple of pounds (and yes, it has happened a time or two), I steadfastly refuse to diet. Instead, I exercise more. Given the choice, I would gladly exercise all day long if that meant I could continue to eat whatever I want.

My mother raised me in a very health-conscious manner. We shopped at health food stores; her most-used cookbook was Recipes for a Small Planet (which is, by the way, where I got the idea for the name of this blog). We were vegetarians, we ate food straight from her organic garden (sometimes without washing it first - our salads were, at times, gritty), and we almost never ate fast food. We did not have sodas in the house, nor potato chips. Though it may seem like I had an odd childhood, it wasn't anything weird or overly hippie, at least by my standards. We had popcorn for snacks, and one of my favorite treats was to go to the health food store and get a quart of kefir. We made popsicles from frozen fruit cocktail in those old-timey Tupperware popsicle-making contraptions. To reward me for good grades, mom would buy me a tub of sorbet, which I would polish off in one sitting. I love the way I was raised, and I hope to impart these same food values to my own child(ren).

When I was pregnant, I became obsessed with the proper development of the baby inside me. I read an inordinate amount of material on prenatal nutrition and I tried to make sure to get a healthy balance of all nutrients. I also ate countless Krispy Kreme doughnuts (God love them), but most of the time I kept a running list of meals inside my head so that I could be sure I was getting enough iron, protein, water, vitamins and the widest possible variety of fruits and vegetables. I labored under the assumption that the baby's taste buds were also being developed, and everything I ate would broaden the variety of foods he would be willing to eat when he got older. Though I focused on eating healthy most of the time, I ate A LOT. By the time it was all said and done, I had gained 50 or 60 pounds, roughly double what "they" say you are supposed to gain during pregnancy.

I did follow the rules and limited my caffeine to one cup of coffee per day, and I completely gave up sushi, feta cheese (the hardest thing to do without), and herbal teas. I limited fish to no more than twice per month. I wasn't going to take any chances with the little guy.

Once Fat Baby was born, and I started reading crazy amounts of information on breastfeeding, I became even more obsessed. Now that I could actually see that what I ate would pass through my milk to the baby, I would go to the grocery store and agonize over the ingredients list on every item. Whenever possible, I bought organic produce and dairy products. The mainstream baby books said to limit things like onions, greens, spicy foods, cauliflower, citrus, and so on. I deemed all that advice to be utterly asinine, and ate all those foods with abandon. Sure, they might be right that these items would cause gas, but in my estimation, it was better for the baby to have gas and proper nutrition than it would be for him to be gas-free and nutrient-poor. After all, gas never killed anyone.

For six months, Fat Baby got nothing other than breastmilk. There were times when he would pop off the breast and either grin at me (after I had eaten spicy meals) or pucker his face up like he had tasted something sour (after I drank carrot juice). Mom told me she couldn't eat Italian salad dressing while she was nursing me because I would pitch a fit about it when it passed through her milk. For a while, I kept a food log so that I could figure out which foods affected him in specific ways. It wasn't long before I figured out that he liked everything.

When he was six months old, I started him on organic rice cereal, and then we moved on to oatmeal. From there, we went to baby food, and he tried and liked every single fruit and vegetable combination I could come up with. After that was organic whole-milk yogurt, and then the transition to table foods. He never had formula, and he breastfed for 16 months. I started him on cow's milk at one year, and I switch him between that and soymilk. He still has not had any meat, and I hope he never does, though that decision will ultimately be his. The Carnivore, bless his soul, has not argued with me about this. Yet.

In all of the mainstream parenting stuff that I have read, there is always a section on food and, inevitably, some parent is lamenting that their toddler will only eat chicken nuggets. I can't think of any response to that, other than to say that its bunk. My son has never had chicken nuggets. He eats everything I do. He loves brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower. He eats tabouli and couscous, whole-wheat pasta and brown rice, organic unsweetened cereal, and hummus on pita bread. He has liked every fruit he has tried, and will suck a lemon or a lime bone-dry. He stands next to me, on his tippy-toes, at the chopping block when I am making dinner, and he has taken a bite out a red onion like it was an apple, chewed up a clove of garlic and come back for more, and will munch on mushrooms while he waits for dinner to be served.

Lest anyone think I am forcing my child to live a deprived life, rest assured that Fat Baby gets plenty of treats. He gets a lollipop every time we go the bank, which is two or three times a week. When I need to buy myself time to finish up some work, I have been known to bribe him with some licorice. And he'll knock Tabby down in a heartbeat to get at some chocolate chip cookies.

I feel strongly though that the best way to eat healthy is to stick with good, nutrient-dense foods most of the time, but to still allow yourself to eat junk as long as it is in moderation. So many people go all the way in one direction or the other, either forcing themselves to wither up on a completely fat-free diet, or to eat only fast food until their arteries can't take it anymore. You simply can't live a full, healthy life without proper nutrition. I want my son to have a healthy attitude about food. I have a lot of prayers for my child, but if he eats healthy and believes in God, I'll feel I've gotten my money's worth here.

I would love to find out where to pick up my Good Parent Award, but I am fully aware that Fat Baby's eating habits may have very little to do with me, and it may just be that I am blessed. My second child may, God forbid, refuse to eat anything other than chicken nuggets.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The Mexican Gourmet

Most of the time I try to stick with interesting, yet fairly easy, meals. With an 18-month old baby threatening to have a temper tantrum at any moment, and a husband who gets home at a different time every day, it is hard to put together any kind of complicated, time-consuming meal. Of course, since I love cooking, since it actually reduces my stress to spend a few hours tinkering in the kitchen, I will still pick out Deluxe Recipes every now and then.

Once a week, while I make the grocery list, I generally pick out 5 or 6 dinner recipes for the upcoming week, including 1 or 2 new recipes. I have tried planning day-by-day menus, but I get extraordinarily frustrated if life happens and we end up having to alter the plan in any way. It tends to work out better if I just have a small selection of recipes to choose from each day, knowing that the ingredients are definately on hand, and picking and choosing from the selection based on how much time I have to get dinner on the table. I almost always pick out one complex recipe per week, whether it be a dessert or an entree, and try to make it during the weekend when I know The Carnivore will be around to entertain the Fat Baby.

This week, of course, I picked out two new recipes that both appeared to be difficult. I couldn't help it. Part of it is because I'm a glutton for punishment, but honestly I didn't have much choice. I found both recipes within a few pages of each other in Cooking Light's Five-Star Recipes: The Best of 10 Years, and they both tickled my fancy nearly to distraction. As is almost always the case, both recipes had me traipsing to numerous grocery stores to find all the ingredients I would need.

Tonight, I tried the Mushroom and Cheese Souffle recipe, one that called for Asiago cheese and shiitake mushrooms, both fairly expensive ingredients. I worked solid for an hour and a half, using three pans, two mixing bowls, the mixer, the food processor and nearly every wooden spoon and measuring cup that I had. The kitchen looked like a bomb had gone off before I even had the entree in the oven. And then I still had to make a side dish. Sadly, though the souffle looked beautiful, and the texture came out perfect, The Carnivore and I were both, well, bored with it. Anytime I try a recipe this complex for the first time, I follow the instructions to the letter, preferring to do any tweaking the second time around, after I have had a chance to sample the dish and get to know it a little better. Mushrooms don't have a lot of taste to begin with, and the Asiago, which would normally jump out and bite you on the nose, wasn't included in enough of a quantity to have much of an impact. A little salt would have helped, and more pepper was certainly needed. Regardless, anything that takes that much effort for so little payoff just isn't worth a permanent page in my recipe binder.

The other recipe was the stand-out. I made the Rice Enchiladas with Black Bean Sauce on Sunday night, and I loved it so much I ended up downing four enchiladas without even batting an eye. The Carnivore seems to think enchiladas can't live up to their full potential without meat, but this recipe was so perfect to me that I would have made it again tonight if I had married a fellow vegetarian.

  • 1 ancho chile (I couldn't find fresh ones, so I used a dried ancho instead)
  • 1 15-oz can black beans, undrained
  • 1 14.5-oz can vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp hot sauce
  1. Cut chile in half lengthwise, and discard seeds and stem.
  2. Combine chile, beans and liquid, broth, onion, garlic and bay leaf in a large saucepan.
  3. Bring mixture to a boil, and simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes.
  4. Discard bay leaf.
  5. Process mixture in food processor until smooth.
  6. Stir in hot sauce.


  • 1/2 cup cottage cheese
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 oz goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1 cup cooked long-grain rice (I used brown rice, of course)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1 cup water
  • 8 6-inch corn tortillas
  • Cooking spray
  • 3/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1 cup seeded, chopped tomato
  • 1 Tbs minced fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  1. Process cottage cheese, 1/4 cup sour cream, and goat cheese in a food processor until smooth. Stir in rice, onion and jalapeno pepper. Set aside.
  2. Bring water to a boil in a large skillet. Working quickly, dip 1 tortilla in water. Spread about 3 Tbs rice mixture down center of tortilla; fold sides over, and place, seam side down, in a 9x13x2 baking dish coated with cooking spray. Repeat with remaining tortillas and rice mixture.
  3. Pour 2 1/4 cups Black Bean Sauce over tortillas; cover, and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.
  4. Uncover and sprinkle with shredded cheese. Bake, uncovered, 5 additional minutes.
  5. Combine tomato and cilantro in a small bowl and stir well.
  6. Spoon 4 Tbs Black Bean Sauce onto each of 2 serving plates; top with 3 or 4 enchiladas and 3 Tbs tomato mixture. Dollop each serving with a Tbs or so of sour cream.

I have leftover Black Bean Sauce, and it was so incredibly delightful (ancho chiles give a unique flavor to the sauce) that I have been trying to decide all day what to use it with. Should I spoon a little bit into my next batch of salsa? Should I thicken the sauce with a little sour cream and use it to drizzle over nachos? The options seem endless.

I should point out that in the cookbook from which I acquired this recipe, there were all sorts of extra instructions in the ingredients list, such as 1% low fat cottage cheese and low-fat sour cream, etc. I find all that boring. While I understand that the whole point of Cooking Light is to teach you how to make good low-fat, low-calorie recipes, I just simply do not care about that aspect. Additionally, I have found that using low-fat dairy in recipes can alter the finished product so much as to render the texture runny. Frankly, I would rather not waste taste just to save a few calories.

On a complete aside, the picture above just doesn't do justice to how exsquisitely gorgeous this meal was. I tried 4 different shots trying to get the perfect pic, but I got too hungry and ended up eating the subject before I got the picture right. I keep putting it off, but I think it might be getting time to replace the 5-year old, refurbished, purchased on Ebay, embarassingly low-quality, 2.1 megapixel digital camera. I feel like Wilma Flintstone.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

I Don't Even Like Football

I grew up in a football town. Through my childhood, it didn't bother me too much. As a matter of fact, the little businesswoman in me reared its head early on and I worked at the University of Georgia concession stands during the football games through high school. I never saw a game, and I didn't really care to, but I made really good money (especially by flirting with the drunk frat boys - they were the best tippers).

I didn't live with any of my brothers until my senior year in high school, so I was never really exposed to football at home. My mother spent her time reading books and playing in her garden. We didn't even have a television at home for part of my childhood, and when we did, we only got a couple of channels. Even then, we rarely watched TV. It just wasn't something we cared about. So I think I was probably in college before I even had to sit through a football game on television. No one ever taught me the rules in football, and they are too complicated to learn by watching the games (I have tried). Basketball and baseball are both very simple sports (rule-wise), and the strategy makes more sense to me. In football there is just a little more violence than I can grasp.

Football really started to irritate me once I started college. It was then that I noticed how friggin annoying football fans are. After all, like I mentioned, I live in a football town. Five or six Saturdays a year, you may as well just stay home if you don't like football. The traffic is murder, the red and black clothing is annoying, the drunkenness is downright dangerous, and the frat boy behavior makes my skin crawl. All of my friends are fairly anti-football for the same reasons. The football fans just drive us slapass batty.

But then I fell in love with one. After a while, I learned to like the sound of football games on television. I had to. The Carnivore will watch every single televised college football game that is on between August and January. For the first few years, I tried to escape. I would make plans with friends, I would go visit my family, I would go to the library and study. I would do almost anything to avoid the intolerable and never-ending sound of football. Georgia games were the worst. The Carnivore, along with his friend, my housemate, my neighbor and even some of my coworkers, would fill up my living room and yell for the entire day. They would even (and this really blew my mind) get out of their seats and run towards the television, yelling "Run! Run!" as if they could actually help the players make it further down the field by running alongside them. I was flabbergasted.

It should be noted though, that I spent most of my life on campus at UGA. I hung out there when my mother attended classes, I participated in fairs and conferences there while I was in high school, and then I spent nine years there working on my own education. I love the place. I love the architecture, the atmosphere, the landscaping (it is a truly beautiful campus), and the benefits. I stretched out my degree as long as I could, not wanting to give up the free gym, the cheap healthcare, the free public transportation, and the discounts on newspapers (eventually someone pointed out to me that these things aren't really free after you factor in the cost of tuition and fees - you'd think an accounting major could have figured that out herself).

UGA has the single coolest mascot in college football. Anyone at all familiar with college football knows about our Uga (pronounced Uh-guh). We have an actual bulldog that has a dawghouse (no, I did not misspell that - our Uga is a dawg, not a plain old dog) on the sidelines. He goes to every single game, even the away games (the players joke that only the dawg gets to sit in first class). Uga has even been to the White House. He had a bit part in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (a far better book than movie, by the way). He is the star, hands down. And I love him. I love him enough that I will sit on the sofa through entire football games, just waiting for the few minutes of airtime given to the dawg. He just flat cutes me to death.

There is a book about him, Damn Good Dawgs (plural because there have been six of them so far, all from the same bloodline). I bought two copies of the book and stood in line for two hours one evening to get them signed. The newspaper said that the authors would be there to sign the books and they would bring Uga too. Imagine my sincere disappointment when I got all the way to the front of the line and found out that Uga had not come. He had, apparently, had a prior commitment. I handed my copy of the book to Uga's owner (one of the authors) and when he asked my name, I glumly said "Just write 'Sarah, we are sorry we didn't bring the dawg." There is also a dogumentary about him (yes, I spelled that right also - we may be associated with a university, but that doesn't stop us from participating in creative spelling).

Every year, at the beginning of fall term, UGA holds a Fan Picture Day. You can have your picture taken with the coach and the players, and you can get autographs to your hearts content. I couldn't care less about any of that. The star attraction every year is that you can get your kid's picture taken with Uga. This is not an easy event to get into. People around here take this dawg's needs seriously and they try not to work him too hard. Only 120 people are guaranteed to get their picture with him. Demand is higher than you would imagine.

I have sworn for years that if I ever had a kid, I would take him to Picture Day. Fat Baby was too young last year.

Two months ago, I started hounding The Carnivore about Picture Day. He agreed to do whatever it took to get Fat Baby there for his picture with Uga. For the past two weeks, it has been a constant topic of conversation and we planned this down to the letter. The Carnivore got up at 4:30 this morning and left the house at 4:45. He had gone to campus yesterday and figured out where he would park and made sure he knew which ticket window he needed to be at. He took a chair, a book, a booklight, a large cup of coffee and his cellphone. I called him at 7:00. He was 26th in line. We were virtually guaranteed, but I couldn't bring myself to believe it until the tickets were handed out. He called back at 8:15, ticket in hand.

Our entire morning was focused on getting there. We went out and bought Fat Baby a special Georgia Bulldog outfit (and we even got a Georgia polo shirt for The Carnivore). I packed the car full of things we might need, including a cooler of milk for refills on the sippy cup. We woke up Fat Baby from his nap early, got him dressed and got in the car, with me checking the time every couple of seconds. I DID NOT WANT TO BE LATE AND LOSE OUR CHANCE.

We got to Stegeman Coliseum with plenty of time to spare and I had an infinite amount of fun watching all of the kids running around in their special Georgia outfits. Almost all the little girls were in little tiny cheerleader outfits, and yes, if I have a little girl someday, I will do the same thing.

I practically paid any attention to Fat Baby when we were in the room for our picture. I was flat out moved to be the same room as that extremely cool dawg. I have been at parties with rock stars and haven't been the least bit starstruck. Around Uga, I was giddy. The Carnivore even got to pet him. I am sorely jealous about that. I am officially no longer cool.

We took pictures with both the digital camera and the real camera, but haven't gotten the film developed yet from the old-style camera. It is on that camera that we have the shot of me and Fat Baby with Hairy Dawg (the other mascot - the person dressed up to look like a Bulldog). I have had some good days in my life. The day I got married, the day I had Fat Baby, you know, those really important moments in your life. Today ranks right up there.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Risotto Perfection

I made a simple risotto recipe for the first time a couple of months ago. It was acceptable, but nothing to write home about. Since then, I have tried it a few more times, but for varying reasons (mostly because its cooked in the microwave), it just hasn't been quite good enough to earn a place on my permanent menu.

I began to have a risotto crisis this week. I have an old recipe for Baked Risotto that I tried once, maybe three years ago, and I've been tempted to try it again, mainly because it has a lot going for it on the ingredients list. However, when I went to make it today, I realized the recipe calls for long-grain rice. Since risotto is made with medium-grade rice, like arborio, I got nervous and sat at the kitchen table for a long while, debating anxiously. Should I try it with arborio instead? Should I use long-grain like the recipe says, and just accept that the cooking technique is what makes it risotto? Should I stick with the simple recipe I've been using?

In the end, I decided the recipe calling for long-grain rice was too nerve-wracking, and woefully misinformed to boot, and I went to the cookbook shelf, bound and determined to find a suitable risotto recipe, one made traditionally, yet with complex enough flavors to satisfy my need for experimentation. My cookbook stash is both a blessing and a curse. While having such a diverse collection means I am never at a loss for new recipes, it also means I can get bogged down in the details when, like today, I find countless variations on a single dish and get overwhelmed by the choices.

Mushroom risotto is what I have been craving, but the only recipe I could find for it included dried mushrooms. I made a Minnesota Wild Rice Soup a short time ago that used dried mushrooms, and I found them nauseating at best, both in smell and in consistency. I finally narrowed the choices today down to Risotto with Cheese and Risotto with Celery, and left it up to The Carnivore to make a decision. After some prodding, he went with the celery, which I was aching to try since the texture sounded so appealing.

I found this recipe in More Classic Italian Cooking, a 1978 cookbook that I inherited from my late Great-Aunt Doris. The only changes I made were in the proportion of broth to water, and in the addition of black pepper.

  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion (I used purple onions)
  • 2 Tbs vegetable oil (as always, I used olive oil)
  • 4 Tbs butter
  • 2 cups celery stalks, diced fine
  • 1 Tbs chopped celery leaves, pulled from the heart
  • Salt (I used kosher)
  • 1 1/2 cups Italian Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tbs chopped parsley
  • Freshly ground black pepper as well
  1. Put the broth and water in a saucepan, and bring it to the slightest simmer.
  2. Put the onion, oil, and 2 Tbs butter in a large, heavy saucepan. Saute the onion over medium-high heat until translucent.
  3. Add half the diced celery and all of the leaves, and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the rice, stirring quickly to coat thoroughly with the butter and oil. Add 1/2 cup of the broth.
  5. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon. When the broth has completely evaporated, add another 1/2 cup. Continue to stir until the rice is completely done, adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, the moment all the broth in the pot has boiled away.
  6. After the rice has cooked for about 10 minutes, add the remaining diced celery.
  7. The rice is done when it is tender yet firm to the bite, and will probably take about 30 minutes altogether. As long as the rice is cooked, it is not imperative to use all of the broth. However, if the rice is still not finished cooking after all the broth has been used, add water. At the end, there should be no liquid left in the dish, so towards the end, it is best to add liquid in the tiniest amounts.
  8. When the rice is done, add the remaining 2 Tbs butter and all the grated cheese.
  9. Stir rapidly and add more salt if needed.
  10. Turn off the heat and stir in the parsley and black pepper.

This turned out wonderfully. The celery added some crunch to the dense, creamy risotto, but the taste didn't overpower the dish. Now that I have tried risotto on the stove, even though it requires 30 minutes of continous stirring, I won't be able to settle for making risotto in the microwave again, even when made from scratch.

The Carnivore cooked some sort of piece of meat for his entree tonight. Apparently, the Honorary Vegetarian designation I have bestowed on him only lasts for a few days at a time, and he often rubs a few ounces of beef roast with some spices and cooks it in the oven for a few minutes (I'm sure I am leaving out some vital step in my description) when he feels the dishes I am cooking are not enough to constitute an entree. I was perfectly satisfied with the risotto for a main course because it is such a thick, hearty dish to begin with. I served it with broccoli, lightly steamed and tossed with butter, sea salt, cracked black pepper and Parmesan.

Now if I could just find a recipe for mushroom risotto that doesn't use dried mushrooms...

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Cream of Crap

One of my sisters, and I won't embarass her by naming her in this forum, dropped by one evening last May when I had made Broccoli & Cheese Soup for dinner. Even though she wouldn't try the soup, I was still pretty impressed with myself until she asked, "Did you make it with Cream of Broccoli?" I was mortified. If you're using Cream-of-Whatever in a recipe, you're not cooking. You're just opening cans.

I only thought of this because I again made the soup tonight. When I first tried this recipe in May, for The Carnivore's birthday, I followed the instructions precisely, as I do with most recipes the first time around. It came out decently enough, but it was a little simplistic for our tastes and I knew I could make it better with some tweaking. I finally got around to trying it out again tonight, and had a great time changing it up. The original recipe came from Family Circle magazine, but since I have altered it so much as to render the original unrecognizable, I am giving credit to the source only because it is where I got the idea.

BROCCOLI CHEESE SOUP (Sarah's version)
  • 12 ounces broccoli, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 3 Tbs butter
  • 3 Tbs red onion, diced
  • 3 Tbs flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 6 slices American cheese **
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 Tbs coarse ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 2 Tbs scallions, sliced
  1. Bring large pot of water to boil. Place broccoli in water and boil for 5 minutes, until bright green, yet still crunchy. Drain.
  2. Heat butter in large saucepan over medium heat.
  3. Saute onion until translucent.
  4. Reduce heat to low, stir in flour and cook until bubbly (about 2 minutes).
  5. Pour one cup of milk into pot and stir until creamy. Add remaining milk and half-and-half.
  6. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until almost boiling.
  7. Add salt and pepper.
  8. Stir in slices of American cheese individually, letting each melt before adding another.
  9. Add broccoli (reserving a few florets for garnish).
  10. Heat for another minute or two, just until broccoli is warm again.
  11. Ladle into bowls. Sprinkle servings with grated cheddar, and place reserved florets in middle of cheese. Sprinkle scallions around the perimeter. (I'm getting carried away with presentation again. Too much Emeril).

I served the soup with a tossed salad and a loaf of French bread, though I heartily wish I had gotten a crusty baguette instead. The bread came fresh from the Walmart bakery. This is not a mistake I will make again.

**The use of American cheese is the only thing that I still need to work on with this recipe. It goes against everything I believe in to use a processed cheese product such as American cheese (and doesn't it figure that the highest-fat, nastiest possible cheeses were conceived of in the nation with the highest rates of food-related illnesses?). All that aside, since American cheese gives the best consistency to the soup, I am thus far loathe to try replacing it with real cheese. Will have to think further on this matter.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Georgia's Historic Restaurants

Around my house, we love Sundays. Sunday afternoons are our family time, and we try our best to limit the chores we feel obligated to do. Now that our church has started an early service, we're home by 10:30 am, clad in our pajamas, ready to read newspapers, eat homemade salsa, and play with Fat Baby all afternoon long.

The Carnivore read out loud a snippet from an AJC article about their food writer attempting to sample all of Alabama's "100 Things to Eat in Alabama Before You Die" in seven days. That reminded me of a cookbook, Georgia's Historic Restaurants, that my mother had found for me at a yard sale a few months ago.

While The Carnivore made quesadillas for dinner, and while Fat Baby pushed his walking toy in countless circles around the island, I stood at the bar and read out loud from the cookbook. We were thrilled to find recipes from The King and Prince in St. Simon's, from The Cloister at Sea Island and from Harry Bissett's, right here in Athens. Bissett's has long been one of my favorite local restaurants, and I was tickled to see that they had included the recipe for Maque Choux, my all-time favorite side dish. Alas, their recipe for Crawfish Etoufee was not included.

Bissett's has been the site of many memorable occasions for me, and I cannot think of the beautiful New Orleans style restaurant without thinking of the people I've spent time there with, and of course the fabulous food we shared. There were office Christmas parties all those years I worked at a certain copy shop, brunch with friends the morning after The Carnivore and I got married, celebrating a friend's FINAL graduation from UGA when he received his Doctorate of Entymology (I have odd friends), a few birthday celebrations with my mother, and those Friday nights when I would meet The Carnivore there for a "date" after a long day at the accounting firm during the grueling (shudder-to-think) tax season.

After finding Bissett's, and the Georgia Barrier Island spots that we're familiar with, I started at page one and began reading the cookbook cover to cover. For every restaurant, and there are 50 of them listed, there is a page or so dedicated to the story behind the area, the building, or just the restaurant itself, and it is truly fascinating reading.

I got intrigued when I came to the Nacoochee Valley Guest House . When The Carnivore and I lived in town, on Nantahala Avenue, the road that ran next to our neighbor was Nacoochee Avenue. It was clear that most of the street names in Normaltown were Indian, but I always wondered what the story was behind them. According to this book, Nacoochee was the daughter of a Cherokee chief who fell in love with Sautee, of the Chickasaws. The tribes were enemies, and the lovers met tragic deaths at Yonah Mountain (Yonah Avenue was only a couple of blocks from us). I read this out loud to The Carnivore and we were hooked. I have post-it notes stuck to half the pages now, to signify recipes I want to try, and we both look forward to reading more of the history of these great restaurants.

And I plan, when Fat Baby is ten or so, and no longer gets cranky after riding in the car for long periods of time, to travel around the state and try the restaurants I've now read about but have never had the chance to visit. After all, I would much rather eat my way across Georgia than Alabama.

Monday, August 15, 2005


A month or so ago, I bought my first bag of Jasmine rice so that I could make a Thai dish. I didn't even know what Jasmine rice was before I hit three different stores trying to find it. Oddly, it looks mostly like plain old white rice which I normally try to stay away from. However, after using this particular kind of rice now for Thai and for Chinese meals, I'm a convert. Brown rice, while being much better for you in terms of fiber, just doesn't work with Asian dishes. And plain old nasty white rice doesn't have the proper consistency or texture for chopsticks.

A buddy of mine used to work three jobs at a time, and generally played in at least two bands at any given time as well. We were close, but it was hard to find time to hang out. My favorite times with him were right after he got off work from the Chinese take-out place. He would always bring food home with him, something I caught on to fairly quickly, and for a few months there he would occasionally find me on his front porch sniffing the air when he got home. He learned to bring home something without meat to keep the veggy happy. I remember inspecting the rice many times, trying to figure out how they got the rice to clump together so nicely without having it end up becoming a sticky mess (which is what happened when I tried to get white rice to clump properly).

Now I know.

They use Jasmine rice. Duh.

On the first bag of Mahatma Jasmine rice that I picked up, I found a recipe for Royal Thai Rice and it sounded like a lot of fun. I cut the recipe from the bag and put it in my folder of recipes to try that very next week. But I couldn't find red chiles at the first two grocery stores that I tried. So the recipe sat another week. I finally ran across the red chiles at another store a week or so later, and I grabbed a bag full of them, intending to fit the rice dish into my menu the following week. Then I used all the limes up in my next batch of salsa and had to wait another week. I finally had all the ingredients on hand, but the rice dish just didn't "fit" with any of the main dishes I planned for the next week. And on it went. The recipe just languished.

In a fit of frustration, something that happens more often than it should, I finally planned a meal around the side dish, just so I could finally try this rice recipe.

  • 1 cup jasmine rice
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth (yeah, the original recipe called for chicken broth, at which I bite my thumb)
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions
  • 2 fresh red chiles, seeded and chopped
  • 1 Tbs chopped cilantro
  • 1 Tbs margarine
  • 1 tsp minced ginger root
  • 1/8 tsp turmeric
  • 2 Tbs lime juice
  • 1/4 cup roasted peanuts
  1. In a medium saucepan, combine rice, broth, green onions, chilies, cilantro, margarine, ginger root and turmeric.
  2. Bring to a gentle boil.
  3. Cover. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Fold in lime juice and peanuts.

I was a little wary of this dish, due to what seemed to be a vast quantity of warring flavors, but it turned out wonderfully. The lime juice ended up being the primary taste of seasoning, not conflicting at all with either the ginger root or the cilantro. However, the dish does have to be served with the right entree. I ended up finally settling on quiche for the main dish, a nice pairing. I think it would also work well with grilled or baked fish, alongside another side dish of green beans or steamed broccoli.

Be forewarned about the turmeric though. This was the first time I have used it and I found the stuff to be akin to permanent yellow dye - I got the tiniest bit under my fingernail when I was prying the sprinkle lid off, and it still hasn't washed out now after three showers. I made the dish on Friday evening and went to church on Sunday with an oddly sick-looking yellow-tinged fingernail.

Finger Foods & Sunbeams

My nephew Tommy had his first birthday party on Saturday. Tommy is only a few months younger than Fat Baby, and since the two of them live less than a mile apart, they will go to school together all of their lives. Mom told me on Friday that the party would be a potluck, so I pulled out the cookbooks, eager to decide what to bring. I love cooking for parties, since they are my best chance to try new hors d'oevres recipes. Apparently though, Tommy's mom and I were the only ones who got the memo about the party being a potluck. Luckily, neither of us are capable of only bringing one dish, and while I brought finger foods, Tommy's mom took care of ALL of the main dishes.

I ended up making toffee bars, an incredibly easy recipe that I copied from an old issue of Family Circle magazine, and two different kinds of cheese spreads, recipes from America's Bounty that I have been wanting to try for a few months. The toffee bars were the biggest hit. This was the second time I'd made them, and I found that by mixing the ingredients for longer than normal, the consistency came out richer and smoother than the first time. These have earned a permanent place in my dessert repertoire.

  • 1 1/2 cups butter
  • 1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsps vanilla
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  1. Place vanilla, brown sugar and vanilla in a large bowl and mix with an electric mixer on medium speed for 3 minutes.
  2. Add flour and mix on low speed for 2 minutes (do not scrimp on the time here - it takes this long for the flour to fully incorporate).
  3. Stir in chocolate chips.
  4. Spread dough evenly into an ungreased 10x15 baking pan.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees (convection setting works better than regular bake setting for a moist, rich texture) for 20-30 minutes, or until they are light golden brown.

I lived for years without an electric mixer. Most of the time, I found that a LOT of hard stirring was a fine, if highly aerobic, replacement. There were only a few recipes in which I would have to drive over to my grandmother's house, holding a bowl of ingredients, to use her mixer. A few years back, at a yard sale held by a local well-known artist, I spent $5 on a gorgeous antique mixer that didn't work. It looked exquisite on a shelf in my kitchen, where it lived out its last decorative days. Once I started doing a lot of cooking though, I got real tired of looking at the beautiful useless kitchen art and I went grumbling over to my mother's house to borrow hers. She, in the spirit of giving up EVERYTHING for her childrens' happiness, handed me the 1970s snazzy-looking stainless steel Sunbeam (with 12 settings!) that she had obtained from a yard sale and which I had long coveted, and said "You'll get more use out this than I will. You can keep it."

At least weekly since then, I have pulled out the Sunbeam to make some dessert or another, and I have remembered why my mom is such a great mom. Of course, my mother is also extremely smart, and I'm sure she knew that if I had a good mixer, she would get to sample even more of my desserts. Regardless, I wonder if I will ever be a selfless enough mother that I will be able to give up such a fine kitchen implement to my own child. Then again, while The Carnivore daydreams about Fat Baby becoming a great UGA football player, I secretly long for my son to become a world-famous chef. When he has his own restaurant (a dream I have long held for myself), he will be able to buy his own mixer.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Other People's Food

Shortly after Fat Baby was born, one of The Carnivore's clients gave us a sizeable gift certificate for The Hilltop Grille. I remember being simultaneously elated and dismayed. At the time, I was sure I would never be able to cook again (that was before I learned how to nurse a baby one-armed while stirring food on the stove with the other hand). So while I was thrilled to think of someone else cooking for me, I couldn't yet envision a day when I would be able to go to a restaurant again.

The Carnivore and I had eaten at Hilltop once before, back when we still lived in town, and long before we conceived Fat Baby. I don't remember much about that meal, not because it wasn't spectacular, but simply because it was a long time ago, back in the day when we ate out all the time.

On Monday, The Carnivore came home early and since I had to go to that side of town to pick up some work anyway (and because I REALLY did not feel like cooking), I suggested we finally make use of the gift certificate, roughly a year and a half after we received it. To this point, I still hadn't decided whether or not I would still eat seafood, and it didn't occur to me until after I read the Specials board that I would have no choice unless I was willing to eat red meat (not at all likely). I decided to throw caution to the wind and eat seafood at least one more time after nearly drooling when I saw they had bisque.

I tend to order the specials when I eat out, which of course isn't often anymore, but I've found that it is the Special which the chef will have put the most effort into, and certainly will be made with the freshest ingredients, something I learned from a local chef when I picked his brain at a party years ago.

For starters, we both ordered the Crab Bisque, a surprisingly spicy and wonderfully thick rendition of one of my favorite soups. I dipped crackers in the bisque for Fat Baby, not wanting him to eat any of the actual crab meat, and he nibbled daintily on the crackers like an upscale baby (what a ham).

The Carnivore ordered some sort of steak for his entree, after a brief discussion with the waitress over where the chef was from originally. Apparently, and here I am only repeating what I have been told, if you order your steak rare from a Northern chef, the steak will arrive completely raw, still attached to the cow. If you ask for a medium steak from a Southerner, you get shoe leather. The Carnivore thusly orders his steak medium rare from a Yankee, and rare from Southern chefs. This is yet another reason why I don't eat meat. How stinking confusing...

I had the stuffed Rainbow trout. The filet was sliced in half horizontally, and stuffed with garlic, red bell pepper, shallots and sliced lemons. The sliced lemons were a stroke of pure genius, infusing both the fish and the pepper with a fabulous light flavor. The trout was flaky, with a great texture. The side dishes I ordered were disappointing at best. The smashed potatoes were oddly sweet (too much sugar in the butter maybe?) and the roasted vegetables were lukewarm. The Carnivore, however, ordered onion rings and french fries, mainly to keep Fat Baby happy, and the onion rings alone were worth the price of admission.

As with most restaurants, the servings were entirely too large, and I had to skip part of my meal in order to save room for CREME BRULEE CHEESECAKE. For the love of all that is good in this world, I wanted to kiss the person who came up with the idea of marrying my two favorite desserts. Fat Baby and I split the cheesecake, liberally drizzled with raspberry syrup, and I nearly had to order another serving. Fat Baby is known to open his mouth, stick out his tongue and grunt loudly when he is begging for food, and his grunting was so loud for the cheesecake that I had to keep stuffing forkfuls into his mouth to drown him out.

This just reminded me of how badly I want to learn how to make creme brulee...

Monday, August 08, 2005

As American as Low-Fat Apple Pie

I love apples. And I really love apple desserts. One of my favorite treats when I was a kid was eating sliced steamed apples that were drowning in cinnamon. I still can't look at a stainless steel collapsible steamer basket without picturing my mom steaming up a big batch of apples in the winter.

My Grandma Peggy had a crabapple tree in her back yard, and I can still conjure up the screwed-up-face, puckered-lips look each of us kids got when we bit down on a sour crabapple after a long, hot day in the pool. She made the most fabulous tart applesauce with those sour things.

I have great recipes for clafouti (which I have made for Christmas dinner the past few years) and for apple crisp (which I made for my mother for Mother's Day this year), both wonderful desserts. But I had never made a pie before this weekend, and for my first pie attempt, I went with apple, for obvious reasons.

I'm not much on sweet apple desserts, generally preferring my apple recipes to result in satisfying tartness. I ran across a recipe in America's Bounty for Sweet and Tart Apple Pie, and after cutting the fat and tweaking it to better suit my tastes, came up with this:

  • Two 9-inch deep dish pie crusts
  • 3 Granny Smith apples, cored and cut into 1/4-inch slices (NOT peeled, for heaven's sake - the texture and the fiber are all in the peel)
  • 1/4 cup moist dried apricots, slivered
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup sugar (that's right, only half a cup)
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  1. In a large bowl, toss together the apple slices, apricot slivers and lemon juice.
  2. In a small bowl, stir together the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Pour over apples and toss lightly but thoroughly.
  3. Arrange in pie crust.
  4. Brush rim of crust with egg.
  5. Take other crust and fit on top of bottom crust. This will fall apart, but don't worry. You need steam holes in the top crust anyway, so it works just as well to fit the top crust on in pieces.
  6. Pinch edges to seal crusts together and then brush egg over entire top crust. Dust top crust with small bit of sugar.
  7. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes (use convection bake feature, if available).
  8. Reduce heat to 350 degrees (still at convection, if possible) and bake another 30 minutes.

I was a little nervous about this pie. It is almost unheard of, according to all the apple pie recipes I checked, to make it without using butter. To that, I say "pah!" and lick my lips after eating my second piece of pie.

We ended up eating half a pie for dinner Sunday night, with Fat Baby alternately begging me and then The Carnivore for more bites of pie a la mode. Mom ate the other half for breakfast this morning, after settling 13 elementary kids in at school. She said it was the best she'd ever had, and I'm still preening over that compliment. Of course, after eating HALF A PIE, she started holding her stomach and looking faintly like she might puke. Apparently, there really can be too much of a good thing.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Best Laid Plans

I make a menu every week, and usually stick to it reasonably closely. So far this week, I have been spot on with every meal since Sunday. Today, since Saturdays are my best cooking days, I had planned to make quiche, Royal Thai rice (a recipe I have been trying to get around to for nearly two months now), and an apple pie.

At 5pm I had still not begun.

All plans were scrapped, and I followed an inspiration to make Rainbow Penne Pasta. This is one of those recipes that only takes about 30 minutes from conception to on-the-table, and I always have the ingredients on hand to begin with. Perfect for those Oh-Crap-Days when nothing goes according to plan. I got this recipe from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Food section months ago, and the whole family likes it. I serve it with whole wheat English muffin garlic toast, but it would be more filling with a baguette served with an olive oil and herbs dipping sauce. Of course, the whole point of Rainbow Penne is that I didn't plan ahead, which means I wouldn't exactly have time to run to the bakery and pick up a baguette...

  • 8 oz uncooked penne pasta
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (16 oz) package frozen broccoli florets, thawed
  • 1 (16 oz) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 3 Tbs water
  • 1/2 tsp salt (kosher, of course)
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  1. Cook pasta. Drain, but do not rinse.
  2. Heat the oil in large skillet over low heat. Add garlic & saute for 3 minutes.
  3. Add broccoli, beans, bell pepper, water and salt. Cover and adjust heat to medium. Steam, stirring occasionally for 5-7 minutes (until broccoli is hot and pepper is tender but still crisp).
  4. Toss pasta with vegetables, parmesan and pepper.

A Love Song About My Mom

I went to yard sales this morning with Mom, Grandma, Fat Baby, Jack, Dubby, Martin & Chuy. I swore to mom, in two different phone conversations this morning, that I did NOT want to go. Then I had a change of heart. Thank God.

We must have gone to 10 different places, but it was at the next-to-the-last one that I hit the jackpot. Mom pointed me to some cookbooks and I picked up 4 of them, trying not to be greedy. But she kept piling more into my arms and saying "Don't you want this one on sauces? And what about the Bon Appetit one?" She talked the lady down to $1 per cookbook (a STEAL since each of these sells for around $20 brand new). I clutched them to my chest and headed back to the van, thinking about how cool my mom is, when I heard her tell the lady "Sarah loves to cook. She is a food writer."

My mom is so cute. She didn't bother pointing out that only a handful of people read my writing about food, and I'm related to most of them. She is the reason why I don't have a self-esteem problem. If anything, I have an over-inflated ego problem. Somehow she can make all 39 of us feel like we are each the MOST special.

  1. Cooking Light Annual Recipes 1997
  2. Cooking Light Annual Recipes 1998
  3. Cooking Light Annual Recipes 1999
  4. Cooking Light Annual Recipes 2000
  5. Hay Day Country Market Cookbook
  6. Sauces: Classical and Contemporary Sauce Making (almost 600 pages on sauces!)
  7. The Flavors of Bon Appetit 2001
  8. Bon Appetit Outdoor Entertaining
  9. What Your Mother Never Taught You The Pizza Gourmet Will
  10. Cooking Light Low-Fat, Low-Calorie Quick & Easy Cookbook
  11. Williams-Sonoma Pizza

Now I just need to see if The Carnivore won't mind taking a break from painting the porch to come in and build me one more shelf over the menu desk for my newest cookbooks. After all, he doesn't mind eating the food I make with said cookbooks...

Friday, August 05, 2005

Upside Down Day

My mother calls it an Upside Down Day when you have breakfast for dinner. I love the term and, since I love breakfast foods, also love dressing up breakfast to make a good dinner. For these meals, I search out recipes for brunches since it is for those occasions that so many breakfast dishes go upscale.

I used to be perfectly happy with a regular old bowl of Plain Jane grits, the kind made with nothing but water, instant grits, salt and butter. In my studio apartment days, I thought dinner couldn't get any better than that. It was then, after all, that Ramen noodles were my only other choice.

Then I discovered Creamy Dreamy Cheddar Grits, and I've never looked back. Recently though, in the June issue of Cooking Light magazine, I found a heavenly-sounding recipe for Grits Casserole with Pesto Butter. I finally found a chance to make it tonight and was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was. I served it with whole wheat waffles with maple syrup and have vowed to find myself a waffle iron so that I no longer have to eat frozen waffles.

  • 4 cups milk
  • 1 cup vegetable broth (the original recipe called for chicken broth, and to that I say "bah")
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 cups uncooked quick-cooking grits
  • 1/2 cup grated fresh parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 egg whites
  • dash of cream of tartar
  1. Combine milk, broth and salt in a large saucepan; bring to a boil.
  2. Gradually add grits, stirring constantly.
  3. Reduce heat to low; simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Remove from heat; add cheese & pepper, stirring until cheese melts. Cool slightly.
  5. Beat eggs with a mixer at high speed until foamy.
  6. Add cream of tartar to eggs; beat until stiff peaks form (translation: until thick like whipped cream).
  7. Gently stir 1/4 of egg white mixture into grits.
  8. Gently fold in remaining egg white mixture.
  9. Spoon into a 2-quart souffle dish coated with cooking spray.
  10. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes, until casserole has risen and begins to brown.
  11. Serve warm with pesto butter.


  • 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves
  • 2 Tbs grated fresh parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tbs vegetable broth (or chicken broth, if you're a freak)
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 2 Tbs butter, softened
  1. Place first 5 ingredients in a food processor; process until finely chopped. (I used my mini-Cuisinart for this - regular sized food processors can be difficult to use when processing such small quantities).
  2. Scrape down sides; add butter. Process until well-combined.

The Carnivore and I both enjoyed stirring in small teaspoons full of the pesto into our grits, but I found the recipe for pesto to yield far more than I would actually use with the grits. After all, you don't want the pesto to overwhelm the flavor of the grits altogether. I intend though to use the excess pesto butter to make garlic bread with tomorrow.

The Carnivore snickered when he came into the kitchen to help me pour the grits into the souffle dish. "Grits souffle?" he asked, "Boy, we're living high on the hog now, aren't we?"

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Tiramisu Birthday Cake

The Carnivore and Fat Baby and I went to a birthday party this evening for my girlfriend Angie (shown above with her sister's brand new baby). She has recently come back from a month in Australia and we were treated to a great slide show of her trip. Her sister owns a Tea House there, so the photos of food were plentiful. My favorite was a shot of ice cream being served out a bowl made from citrus fruit (yum).

Angie's mother was in town from Minnesota and she put together a nice buffet of fruits, crackers and cheese. Fat Baby acted like a complete angel, even out past his bedtime, because he kept his mouth full of food the entire time.

The crowning glory of the night though was the TIRAMISU BIRTHDAY CAKE that Angie's mom made for her. I love this dessert to begin with, and Angie's mom knows her way around the kitchen (the last time she was in town I was still pregnant with Fat Baby, and she made us some carrot juice that I swear had the baby dancing in my tummy). Angie said that her mom really wanted to make an authentic tiramisu, but when they were searching for recipes, they were surprised to find out that tiramisu is not a historical Italian recipe, but rather one that was developed in the 1980's (who knew anything good came out of the eighties?). I was really surprised to hear it, because I first had tiramisu at a local Italian restaurant in the late eighties or early nineties, which would have been slightly more cutting edge than I would have thought.

I did a quick web search tonight and found this history along with this recipe. I will, without a doubt, be wanting to try my hand at this very soon. Lately I have been trying dessert recipes on the weekend, and I've already bought the ingredients to make an apple pie this weekend, so the tiramisu will, sadly, have to wait. Fat Baby nearly fought me for the last serving of the tiramisu tonight, and then he picked up the small paper plate and put it right against his face to lick it clean (embarassing but true). The Carnivore wasn't a big fan. On the way home, he said "the cake part was too wet." I explained that the whole point of tiramisu was the coffee-soaked ladyfingers, but he still didn't seem impressed.

I'm sure Fat Baby and I can finish an entire one by ourselves when I give the recipe a shot.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


When I was a kid I spent a good deal of time at the ocean. Whole summers, holidays, vacations, in-between-times, all were spent in the coastal area of Virginia, with a week or two at Nags Head thrown in every summer. Mom and I had some sort of rule about seafood, wherein we pretty much only ate it when on the coast. This may have had something to do with money, but I think that since we were used to eating fresh seafood, and since we couldn't find anything fresh around Athens, we just waited until the next trip to Virginia.

Clams were a big staple for me. There was a particular restaurant, in Hampton I suppose, where I always ordered the fried clam strips with a side of parsley potatoes. I positively lived for it (there was something nearly addictive about those potatoes, peeled to look like large pearls, glistening with butter and dotted with parsley). At some point, I fell hard in love with New England Clam Chowder. I wouldn't touch the Manhattan style; only the New England style would do. I think I've tried the chowder in nearly every coastal city I've been to now, though I'm sure my favorite was at some roadside place I went to with my grandmother on a drive one time from Nags Head to Hampton.

For years, I just assumed it would too hard to make chowder myself, and I simply never tried. Then, while in Charleston for a wedding one Thanksgiving (1998 maybe?), I had a lobster bisque at a restaurant over the bridge in Mount Pleasant. I was crazy about the soup and raved about it until The Carnivore made a version of it for me for Valentine's Day that next year. I watched him fairly effortlessly put the soup together, and I got over my fear of cooking with seafood. It was from ordering bisque at countless restaurants during our honeymoon that I learned about drizzling in a tiny bit of cooking sherry right before serving.

My sister Yolie mentioned today that she wanted a good clam chowder recipe, so I was tickled to let her know I already had one filed away. I have only made this once, and I haven't had a chance to really perfect it yet, but I liked it well enough the one time I served it for dinner. Incidentally, the time we had this soup, months ago now, was the last time I ate seafood. Since I still haven't decided whether I will continue to eat fish, I haven't bothered trying to get better at seafood recipes yet.

I checked a few different recipes for general guidance on how to make chowder before coming up with what became:

  • 3 Tbs butter
  • 2 small red onions, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 3 (10 oz each) cans minced clams, drained with liquid reserved
  • 2 cups diced red potatoes
  • 2 Tbs fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 tsp sage
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 2 Tbs coarse ground black pepper
  • 1 chopped green onion
  • Cooking sherry, 1 tsp per serving
  1. Heat butter in large saucepan and saute onion until slightly translucent.
  2. Add liquid from clams potatoes, parsley, sage and salt; cover and simmer until potatoes are nearly cooked, about 15 minutes.
  3. Add clams, celery, milk, half-and-half and pepper; cover and simmer just to heat through (do not boil).
  4. Serve sprinkled with green onions and with sherry swirled lightly through the soup.

I had forgotten how good this recipe was until I typed it up just now. Maybe I shouldn't stop eating seafood after all...

Monday, August 01, 2005

Secret Recipes

The Carnivore loves peanut butter. He drools over my Peanut Butter Pie, and he actually smuggled a pocketful of Peanut Butter Fudge out my mom's house when one of my sisters brought a plateful to Christmas Dinner one year. I wanted to do something special for him this weekend, and since I've been trying out dessert recipes lately, I thought I would surprise my husband by making the fudge for him.

Alas, my sister had been sworn to secrecy by the person she had gotten the recipe from and she couldn't give it to me when I asked for it on Thursday. I was nearly bowled over by surprise. I haven't ever known anyone who didn't share recipes. Every night on Food TV, world-renowned chefs share the recipes for the dishes they serve at their elite restaurants. The whole point of my blog is to share my recipes. I learned to share the hard way though, so I suppose I have some warped view of the concept to begin with. After all, I've had to learn to share my mother with 38 other children.

I went home chagrined, but not about to give up. I pulled out the stepladder and started pulling my cookbooks down. By the time the afternoon was over, I had found no fewer than 12 recipes for peanut butter fudge. To my horror, each one was vastly different from the one before it, and since I'd never made fudge before, I was a little nervous to begin with. Not to be deterred (its like falling off a bicycle apparently), I decided I would make fudge that very night. Alas, I didn't have the ingredients to make any of the peanut butter fudges. So I made Chocolate Philly Fudge instead, a recipe I pulled from Best Recipes From the Backs of Boxes, Bottles, Cans & Jars, a cookbook my mother found for me at a yard sale quite a while ago. According to the book, "When Philly Fudge was first demonstrated on television in 1951, over a million viewers requested the recipe." This was the first recipe I've made from this particular cookbook, but now I'm intrigued by how fun all of the descriptions are and I can't wait to try some other dishes.


  • 4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
  • 8-oz package cream cheese
  • 4 1-oz squares unsweetened chocolate, melted
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • dash of salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used black walnuts)
  1. Gradually add sugar to softened cream cheese, mixing until well blended.
  2. Stir in remaining ingredients.
  3. Spread in greased 8-inch square pan.
  4. Chill overnight.

My mother really liked this recipe, as did The Carnivore. I wasn't sure about it at first because, GAWD, its sweet. However, after trying a few more recipes over the weekend, I decided this one was a keeper after all. The texture and consistency were both superb.

On Friday, mom went straight to the source to try and obtain the Real Peanut Butter Fudge recipe for me, but it was not to be had. Admitting full defeat, I narrowed down the recipes I wanted to try to two and I went shopping for the ingredients so I would be set for Saturday fudge-making. There has never been quite so much sugar and corn syrup in my house before this time. I have an incomplete set of Southern Living annual cookbooks, and I checked the master index for 1979-1994. It was in the 1980 and the 1989 books that I found the two recipes I attempted on Saturday.

The first one, a chocolate-peanut butter fudge recipe from November 1989, never fully set, and since I pressed it into a larger dish than was called for, it ended up too thin as well. Mom, as it turned out, didn't even taste the peanut butter. This one was by far my least favorite.

The last recipe that I tried, from December 1980 (during which time I was in the second grade and living in New Orleans with my mother, my uncle, his wife and her two children; and had the best hairstyle so far of my life), was sooooooooooo close to what I was trying to achieve.


  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 1 cup crunchy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped roasted peanuts (I buy my peanuts whole, and it was an interesting exercise in geometry to chop them. Every time I brought the knife down, peanuts sailed across the room like pinballs. After I finally corralled most of them, I had pulverized most of them into peanut dust. Insert big sigh here).
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Combine sugar, half-and-half, corn syrup and salt in a small Dutch oven.
  2. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved. (This step, as it turns out, is harder than it looks. After approximately 40 minutes of stirring, the sugar was not completely smooth, but I assumed it was close enough. It wasn't. Not by a long shot).
  3. Continue to cook, without stirring, just until mixture reaches 234 degrees (This took a quick trip to Publix by The Carnivore to buy me a candy thermometer).
  4. Remove from heat and add butter, but do not stir.
  5. Cool mixture to lukewarm at 110 degrees. (This took so long that I was able to not only whip up a batch of salsa, but I also had time to eat all of it and read most of the newspaper, though everyone knows there is no real news in the Saturday paper).
  6. Add remaining ingredients; beat with a wooden spoon until fudge is thick and begins to lose its gloss. (I'm not sure whats up with this step. By this point in the recipe, there was no beating to be had. The entire concoction was so thick I could barely move the spoon).
  7. Pour (please! you can't pour solid objects) fudge into a buttered 8-inch square pan.
  8. Cool.

Without a doubt, out of the three recipes, this was the closest in taste to what I was going for. Sadly, though, it was very gritty. The Carnivore is sure the grittiness was from the undissolved sugar, but I tend to suspect the peanut dust. Mom agreed that it was gritty, but still tasted fabulous. Regardless, this will take some tweaking, though I'm not sure I'll be up to trying this again very soon. Not to mention I now have a refrigerator full of fudge, even after pushing some off on Mom, Mom's friend and her husband, one of my sisters and her four children, and Fat Baby's physical therapist.

Even Fat Baby has had to start an exercise regimen. In the picture above, he is working on his pull-ups.