Friday, September 30, 2005

A Tomato By Any Other Name

I hit the jackpot on Thursday afternoon and finally got my hands on some cans of San Marzano tomatoes. This took two days, four stores and considerable consternation on my part. I had a recipe for Basic Tomato Sauce that I pulled from the AJC Food Section recently, and in my eternal confusion over the subtle, if any, differences between tomato sauce, marinara and spaghetti sauce, I have now embarked upon a bold journey to see if I can articulate the nuances.
I quote the following from the same column in which I found the tomato sauce recipe, "According to chef and Italian cooking expert Lydia Bastianich, there's a difference between marinara sauce and tomato sauce. Marinara is a quick and chunky sauce, seasoned with garlic and maybe basil or oregano. Tomato sauce...uses pureed tomatoes, onion, carrot and celery and is simmered until rich and thick."

The information above was already more than I possessed before I scoured the town to find these fabled tomatoes with which to make the recipe. I am still flummoxed though, in that neither the recipe nor the column it rode in on make any mention as to whether these two sauces are to be served differently as well. I have always used these terms interchangeably, and I was under the impression that both would be served in lasagna, on pizzas, and over spaghetti. After trying this recipe last night, and serving it sparingly with whole-wheat angel hair pasta topped with crumbled feta cheese, I realize there is some error to my ways (though I am hard pressed to figure out what it is).

This particular sauce was very tart and faintly sweet, sort of what you might expect in a creole. In the past, when I have served spaghetti, I have seasoned my red sauce with parsley, oregano, basil, etc to within an inch of its life. Therefore, of course, I am unaccustomed to much in the way of tartness on top of my noodles. I wanted more depth, more texture, less piquancy. The tomato sauce recipe used no sugar (unlike many marinara sauces), but I suspect the carrots contributed significantly to the sweetness. The San Marzano tomatoes themselves were out of this world and were almost worth their expense ($6.00 for a 28-oz can at the most expensive market in town).

  • Two 28-oz cans whole, peeled San Marzano plum tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 small carrots, grated
  • 2 ribs celery, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Coarse salt & freshly ground pepper
  • Red pepper flakes, to taste
  1. Using your fingers, crush the tomatoes to a coarse puree. Set aside.
  2. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until just wilted, about 1 minute. Add the carrots and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, taking care not to singe the garlic, for about 45 seconds.
  3. Add the crushed tomatoes and bay leaves; season lightly with salt and pepper.
  4. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to a simmer.
  5. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 30 to 45 minutes.
  6. Remove the bay leaves. Taste and adjust for salt & pepper. Season with red pepper flakes.
I have a LOT of this sauce leftover and I froze it last night (because who wants to waste such a rich investment in tomatoes of all things) in order to give me time to research how best to serve the stuff. I'm sure it would be perfect in the custard-like lasagna recipe that I tried recently, but I'm more curious as to whether it would be a bastardization for me to use this sauce as a base with which to add chopped vegetables and herbs and yet still serve it over spaghetti.

I have done some half-hearted internet searching today for more clarification, but I have been up since 4:00 am and I am a little too punchy for this right now.

So. Much. To. Learn.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Big City Grocery List

If I wanted to make frog legs for dinner, I would have no problems. While The Carnivore and Odd Toddler were digging our pond out a little deeper this weekend, we found the largest frog we've had yet as a tenant of our glorified mud puddle. The Carnivore caught him so Odd Toddler and I could pet him.

For the most part, I love living in the country. I love the privacy, the huge yard, the affordable housing, the small amount of traffic, the low crime, and most of all, the quiet. Where we live now, I'm only 10 minutes from the mid-size college town that I lived in for through my raucous twenties. And if I'm so inclined, its only a little over an hour to downtown Atlanta. However, I avoid Atlanta at all costs now, so if there are any big-city things I need, I'm mostly crap out of luck.

My girlfriend Tisha has for a long time now been my connection to the Big City. She traveled here for work every month or so for a couple of years, and she would always call me before she left California to see what I needed. "I'm in Berkeley," she would say. Or LA. And she would take my order for perfume oil (the kind I wear isn't available on the East Coast) or for a hair cream I got addicted to when we were in Los Angeles together a few summers ago.

I have no interest in living in California, and though Tisha is happier there than she was when she lived in Atlanta or Miami, she never really tries to rub it in that I'm caught in a vacuum when there are specific things I need. She easily made her point when she was here last month and I mentioned my utter dismay and frustration at not being able to find dried fish flakes anywhere. She matter-of-factly told me she would mail me some when she got back to San Francisco.

I haven't received them yet and its just as well because now I have something else to add to Tisha's Stuff-To-Mail-To-The-Hillbilly-List. I read a short column on tomato sauce last week in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Food Section, and I'm eager to put into practice some of the things I have learned. Until recently, I had no idea that marinara sauce and tomato sauce were different things. Sure, I understand that you could purchase spaghetti sauce separately from the canned tomato sauces at the grocery store, but I was unaware that Italians make a distinction between these two sauces when dressing their pasta. Marinara, in a nutshell, is quicker cooking and involves basil and/or oregano, while tomato sauce is long-simmering and uses carrots and celery. Obviously, I feel I need to master this technique.

As a general rule, when making spaghetti sauce, I have used bottled sauce (like Ragu) and have simmered it for 30 minutes or so, doctoring it up with the addition of diced vegetables, parsley, red wine, garlic, rosemary and whatever else suited my fancy at the time. In my never-ending quest to reduce my consumption of pre-packaged foods, I will have no choice but to get cracking on a better recipe. But this is where my pain begins today.

I have heard of San Marzano canned tomatoes for a while, and had assumed that it was a brand name. When the ingredient was mentioned in recipes, I would substitute it with generic canned tomatoes without batting an eye. During my tomato sauce research over the weekend however, I learned that San Marzano refers to a particular cultivar of tomato grown in Italy. These things are referred to as "red gold" for heaven's sake and are supposed to have very low acidity. I must get my hands on some of these.

I tried two stores today (one of them a fairly upscale place, for around here at least), to no avail. Tomorrow, when I have to run about town to visit some of my clients, I have two other stores to try. If I bomb, I will curse the beauty in which I live, and then I will call Tisha. This is true friendship.

In the meantime, after sitting in my hot car and fuming today over the problems I have finding the ingredients I need (I also came up empty-handed in my search for arborio rice this afternoon), I comforted myself by going to the bookstore and picking up a copy of The New York Times so I could read their Wednesday Food Section. The absurdity of this particular (and far too easily found) purchase was not lost on me.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

An Audience of Two

Last week my mother told me about a book review she had read about Julie and Julia, a culinary memoir by a woman who blogged about her year-long adventure to cook every single recipe in Julia Child's Mastering The Art of French Cooking: Volume One. I was momentarily speechless when I heard about this. Not only was this author ambitious in her cooking, but she came up with a singularly wonderful thesis with which to sell her book to a publisher. She had a great idea and is apparently a great talent. I wish it had been my idea.

Of course, being a vegetarian, I would already have been unable to undertake the same exact task. Regardless, there is obviously a market for vegetarian writing, and definately a market for easily accessible vegetarian recipes. After all, what I'm doing here isn't exactly tofu roasting. I eat no meat, yet I generally cook dishes that would be palatable to your average Joe. Granted, most vegetarians lean towards the aging hippie types or the eager young activitist breed. I am neither.

So sure, I could do something similar. But then it wouldn't be original, and therein lies the problem.

The Julie/Julia Project blog will at least be interesting reading now that I know about it, even though I'm a day late and a dollar short on the bandwagon here. And of course I will read her book, if for no other reason than to flog myself for not thinking of this first. Especially since a little research has turned up the nugget that this woman won the 2004 James Beard Foundation Award for food journalism.

Sigh. At least maybe this will prod me to learn some French recipes...

Monday, September 26, 2005

When Two Obsessions Collide

Things have gotten out of hand with the whole quest for The Perfect Risotto. All of the recipes that I have tried have been great (attempt #1 and attempt #2 previously written about), and there has been no need to continue trying to reinvent the wheel. But I'm doing it anyway.

As if the Risotto Walkabout weren't enough, I have also found myself obsessed lately with blue cheese. And, since The Carnivore loves blue cheese AND risotto, I felt like the mad scientist when I ran across a recipe for, you guessed it, Blue Cheese Risotto. Never mind that the combination sounds odd simply in the reading, this was a mountain I had to climb.

The recipe was from the "From the Restaurant Of..." section in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Food Section from a month or so ago. I love this column and almost always try the recipes, provided that they are either vegetarian or can be converted as such. This particular column was about Garrison's Broiler and Tap in Atlanta, a restaurant I have never been to, much less heard of.

I served the risotto a few nights ago, alongside pan-fried tilapia. In hindsight, I'm not entirely sure these two dishes went well together, especially since the fish itself was so highly seasoned. The risotto was incredibly rich and so strongly flavored that I think it just hasn't yet found its place in our menu. Maybe it would do better as a bed for grilled vegetables, or maybe served beside a salmon steak drizzled with lemon... I'll have to think on this.

The original recipe called for chicken stock, which was easily replaced by vegetable broth. The tricky part was that the recipe also called for bacon (and the use of the bacon drippings). This took some finessing for me since I've never actually cooked bacon and have no idea of what it even tastes like. To make up for the lack of drippings, I added an extra Tbs of butter. And, while the white wine in the recipe is supposed to be used to deglaze the bacon pan, I didn't want to scrimp on flavor and so used the wine even though I had no deglazing to actually do.


  • 6 cups vegetable broth (the original recipe called for chicken stock)
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 1/4 cup diced yellow onion
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 3/4 cup (4 oz) crumbled blue cheese
  • White pepper to taste
  1. Pour broth into a saucepan and heat over low. Do not boil.
  2. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent, about one minute.
  3. Add rice and continue cooking and stirring for two more minutes.
  4. Add white wine. Stir, and add enough warm broth to completely cover broth. Cook, stirring constantly, until most of the liquid is absorbed.
  5. Continue to add the broth, about one cup at a time, and stir constantly.
  6. The rice should be done in about 30 minutes, and will be creamy and tender but still firm to the bite. Most of the broth, but probably not all, will be used.
  7. Remove from heat. Stir in the blue cheese until it melts, and season with white pepper.
  8. Let sit for about 10 minutes to thicken.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Social Workers Bring the Best Gifts

One of my most distinguishing characteristics is that I am the sole birth child in a sea of 38 adopted children. We all share the same mom. I am the token white kid, and thus really stand out, in kind of an odd way, in our family photos. About 10 or so years ago, when there were maybe only 11 of us, a friend of mine saw our then-current family photo, cocked her head to the side, and said "I didn't know you were adopted Sarah."

I didn't have the heart to tell her I wasn't. The story is just too complicated for most people to wrap their heads around anyway.

For the majority of my siblings, social workers cause great stress. To me though, social workers are a lot like Santa Claus. Everytime they show up, they bring me more brothers and sisters. So while all mom's other kids get in a tizzy every time a social worker shows up (which is often), I'm all smiles. Recently, mom adopted children who are roughly the same age as my own child. Now, not only is Odd Toddler thrilled to have playmates, but he can take my place as The White Kid in the pictures.

Pam, the sweet social worker from Texas who took care of my incredibly charming yet quite difficult brother Joey for a number of years, recently sent a recipe to me, care of my mom. Since in my experience, only good things come from social workers, I couldn't wait to try the recipe and I'm tickled to say I wasn't disappointed. While the finished product didn't smile at me and interject love into my life, it did provide a wonderful meal that was enjoyed equally by Odd Toddler, The Carnivore and myself.

I only recently started eating fish again after a short hiatus, and since I've never really cooked much of it myself, I'm having a lot of fun trying out different techniques. Last Friday I cooked tilapia for the first time and was under-impressed by the recipe I used. Last night, I tried again, using Pam's recipe, and I was thrilled not only with the strong flavors from the herb blend, but also with the texture which came out firm and a little crispy.

  • Two mid-sized fresh Tilapia filets
  • Steak seasoning (I used Emeril's Steak Rub)
  • Flour
  • 2 Tbs Olive Oil
  • Tbs Butter
  • 2 wedges of fresh lemon
  1. Sprinkle steak seasoning on both sides of the fillets.
  2. Dip the fillets in flour and shake off the excess.
  3. Melt butter, with the olive oil, in a cast iron skillet over medium heat.
  4. Pan fry the fillets for about 3 minutes on each side.
  5. Serve with lemon.

Thanks Pam. For the recipe and the new siblings.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Left-Wing Herbs

We have been using an adequate lasagna recipe, but because it was nothing spectacular, I was thrilled to run across a recipe for the homemade lasagna favored by Lenny Robinson, the owner of Les Fleur de Lis Cafe in Atlanta (if you feel ambivalence towards Atlanta, please click the link), in a recent issue of the AJC Food Section.

In making this lasagna last night, I learned some elementary cooking tidbits that I should already have known. First, my old recipe used the no-bake noodles, but they were always too firm after cooking. Secondly, the old recipe which called for cooking the lasagna covered, inevitably came out too watery every time, and we would have to serve it with a slotted spoon. This new recipe solves these problems easily, with longer, uncovered, cooking times.

I followed the new recipe to the letter, and it came out so fabulously that The Carnivore and I both went back for seconds AND we're looking forward to eating the leftovers tonight. The beauty of this recipe is in the liberal use of fresh herbs and in the use of eggs in the ricotta layers to help congeal everything. The bread crumbs on top, which I ground up to the finest of textures, created a nice, firm crust-like on top with the last ricotta layer. This recipe took maybe 15 more minutes than my old recipe, but tasted 10 times as good.

  • 1 pound fresh spinach
  • 1 pound ricotta cheese
  • 6 eggs
  • 8 oz Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup fresh oregano
  • 1/4 cup chopped garlic
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • Two 26-oz jars of tomato sauce (I used about 32 oz of plain, unflavored, super-cheap canned tomato sauce)
  • 9 no-bake lasagna noodles
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  1. Blanch spinach and squeeze dry. (I wasn't entirely sure what this meant, and couldn't find information quickly enough in my usual source, The New Joy of Cooking. So, in a time crunch, and because I had a general idea of what blanching meant, I brought a pot of water to boil, tossed in the spinach for about 30 seconds, and then drained the spinach in a colander. I have now researched this online, and according to the Special Flavors website, I was close, but should have left the spinach in the boiling water for about 2 minutes.)
  2. In a food processor, pulse the ricotta, eggs, Parmesan, basil, oregano and garlic. Season with salt & pepper.
  3. In a 9x13 baking pan, spread about 1 cup of tomato sauce. Layer with 3 noodles, leaving a little space between the noodles. Add a layer of the ricotta mixture, then half the spinach.
  4. Repeat another layer using the remaining spinach.
  5. For the top layer, lay down the noodles, top them with tomato sauce and remaining ricotta mixture and sprinkle with bread crumbs.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour.

I like serving pasta dishes with fresh salads, and since I have had recent successes with vinaigrettes (and since I can't ever leave well enough alone), I tried a blue cheese vinaigrette recipe from The New Joy of Cooking that turned out bland and disappointing (but still better than any store-bought vinaigrettes that I have tried). I will continue to attempt new vinaigrette recipes for a while since I have a plethora of them to choose from in my cookbook collection. And this just helps me reach my goal of less packaged foods. If I have my way, I will no longer need to purchase salad dressings.

Fresh is always better.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Cooking for Blondes

I found myself with some free time early this evening, along with an incredible sweet tooth. Brownies sounded good, and as much as I love having a stack of recipes that have turned out great in the past, cooking just isn't as much fun unless I'm trying something new. The anticipation, the uncertainty and the challenge are where I derive my joy in the process. And, of course, as long as there is uncharted territory on my cookbook shelf, it feels like cheating if I stick too much with previously run recipes.

Today, after pondering endlessly on which cookbook to pull down, I settled for The Good Housekeeping All-American Cookbook, another yard sale find, copyright 1987 (which was the year I started high school). This was the first recipe I've tried in this book, but I am well familiar with the reputation Good Housekeeping holds for solid, proven, easy recipes. Though there were plenty of choices in the brownies section, and though I desperately wanted to try the Butterscotch Brownies but, alas, did not have the ingredients, I settled for Blondies. This is my slightly altered version.

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsps baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 6-oz package of semi-sweet chocolate pieces
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans
  1. Melt butter in microwave.
  2. Stir sugar and eggs into butter, and beat until blended.
  3. Stir in flour, salt, baking powder and vanilla.
  4. Fold in chocolate pieces.
  5. Spread into greased 9x13 baking pan, and sprinkle with pecans.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

The trouble with this recipe started and ended with the pan size. I always go into a tailspin over the size of pans called for in recipes, and in this case I got nervous when I saw that the batter barely covered the bottom of a 9x13 pan. I don't like dry, thin brownies, and thus decided I would have to use a smaller pan (never minding that Good Housekeeping should be trusted here).

And this is where my blondeness came through. Instead of using the next size dish down, the 8.5x10, I thought the next size down was 8x8. There is a BIG difference in these sizes. I spread the batter into the 8x8 pan and put it into the oven without a second glance. Odd Toddler saw that I was using my pink and black rubber spatula (known around here as the sweet-treat spatula) to spread the batter and he came running. He and The Carnivore were utterly delighted to not only have a mixing bowl and a spatula to lick, but also an extra, discarded pan from my pan size debacle. They sat together and made "mmmmmmm" noises while they cleaned up the batter remnants for me.

When I checked the oven 30 minutes later, I had what appeared to be a perfectly risen cake. Not brownies, but a cake.

I baked it for another 10 minutes, tested it (still too liquid-y), covered it with foil so that the top wouldn't brown too much, and went for another 10 minutes. By the time I was willing to admit the brownies were done, and then waited for them to cool, I found myself with a brownie crater. The outer 1-inch border was nice and tall, like a cake. The inner, um, section was a good inch shorter, but with a perfect crusty layer on top. When we cut them, instead of finding nicely interspersed chocolate chips, I found a beautifully melted bottom layer of chocolate, with blonde brownie on top.

They may not look right, but MAN are they tasty.

Monday, September 19, 2005


If he thinks I'm not going to show this to his first girlfriend, he is sorely mistaken.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Immoral Muffins & Decadent Salads

After 18 months of parenting, I find myself with a lot more time on my hands now than I am used to having. Saturdays have become Papa & Baby days, with Odd Toddler spending almost every second with The Carnivore, whether they are running errands together, doing yardwork, watching college football, or working on the house (which will never be done).

This is taking some getting used to. For so long, Odd Toddler had eyes for no one but me, and if I left the room his whole day was ruined. Now I barely get a backward glance on the weekend. Never one to waste free time, I am now spending entire Saturdays in the kitchen. Odd Toddler and The Carnivore come in frequently to lick batter out of bowls, or to taste whatever I'm working on, and then they're off again on another adventure together. Sometimes I get so overwhelmed by love when I watch them together that I think my heart is going to explode.

I stayed in the kitchen today from breakfast through dinnertime, and I tackled an impressive list of menu items. By the time all was said and done, I had made French Onion Soup, Whole Wheat Bread, Banana Bread, Pecan Pie Muffins, a vinaigrette; and an incredible blue cheese, strawberry, orange & baby lettuce salad; and learned how to roast garlic. I'm exhausted but satisfied (and stuffed).

The whole wheat bread was a resounding disappointment. I spent hours waiting (unsucessfully) for the dough to rise and spent an inordinate amount of time scraping dough off of what seemed to be every surface in the kitchen, all for a spectacularly bland result. I used the recipe from the side of the package of whole wheat flour so I suppose I should try other recipes first before giving up on this particular goal. I have mouth-watering memories of my mother making whole wheat bread, but hers was far better than the brick-like flavorless lump I ended up with. Luckily, a little challenge is just what I need, so I'm looking forward to trying more bread recipes (maybe ciabatta next time).

The real standout of tonight's dinner was the Baby Blue Salad, a recipe from Franklin's Homewood Gourmet in Birmingham (clipped from the AJC Food Section during the "100 Things to Eat in Alabama Before You Die" series). The Carnivore loves blue cheese, and I'm always on the lookout for good recipes which use this particular pungeant cheese. I tried once to make blue cheese salad dressing from scratch, but he wasn't impressed and I was devastated (and more than a little pissed off). This salad recipe is supposed to be enough for 4 servings, but The Carnivore and I ate all of it and could have eaten twice as much more. And I have now crossed one more item off of my to-do list: this vinaigrette is so good that I will no longer be buying bottled dressings at the supermarket.

  • 2 tsps granulated sugar, divided
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 20 pecan halves
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 4 tsps honey
  • 4 tsps Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 tsps roasted garlic, cooled (cut off the top of a head of garlic, drizzle with olive oil, wrap in aluminum foil, and cook at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes; the garlic will squeeze out like a paste)
  • 1 1/2 tsps fresh shallots
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 4 oz baby lettuce mix
  • 4 Tbs blue cheese crumbles
  • 2 oranges, peeled and sectioned
  • 1/2 cup strawberries, hulled and quartered
  1. Mix 1 tsp sugar with 1 1/2 Tbs water. Mix remaining tsp sugar with chili powder. Soak pecans in sugar syrup, and then toss with chili powder mix to coat. Set on wax paper to dry.
  2. Whisk together the vinegar, honey, mustard, garlic and shallots until thick. Slowly add olive oil, whisking to incorporate and thicken. Add salt & pepper to taste.
  3. Toss lettuce mix with about 1/4 cup vinaigrette and the blue cheese. There should be enough dressing to lightly coat lettuce (add more if necessary). Place dressed lettuce in center of plate and decoratively arrange oranges and strawberries on the plate. Top with pecans.

I served the salad with the soup and bread, and it would have been a perfect meal if the bread had been able to hold its own, instead of putting my tastebuds to sleep with every bite.

The amazing disaster of the day was the Pecan Pie Muffin recipe. It is my turn to bring food to Sunday School tomorrow, a task I always enjoy. Naturally, I am practically incapable of just making one of my tried-and-true recipes and thus cutting down on any, shall we say, uncertainty. Since I have been sitting on a recipe for these muffins for a couple of weeks now, this seemed like the perfect time to try them (less than 24 hours before needing to have them in hand when I leave my house at the crack of dawn tomorrow).

Even more illogically, this recipe is one that I cut out from the Food Goddess column of the AJC Food Section, in which I have some extraordinarily vague memory of the recipe being printed because the writer had some question as to why the muffins did not rise and stuck to the pan like glue. As should be expected of me, instead of clipping the entire column, which would have included the answer to the question, I clipped only the recipe. And (for pity's sake), I didn't remember any of this until after I had baked the muffins.

It should be noted that these muffins tasted fabulous. It should also be noted that they didn't rise. And they stuck to the muffin cups like gorilla glue. To add insult to injury, I had made a double batch.

At first, I was aware only that the muffins were not rising. I found this alarming, and I squatted in front of the oven, peering in the little window for the last 10 minutes of cooking time, silently encouraging my little muffins to grow and to thrive. Alas, they were completely flat. And I was heartbroken. There was great weeping and gnashing of teeth, yet still the tiniest bit of hope. Sure, the muffins were topless, and who wants to take topless muffins to church? Topless muffins, after all, belong out at the bars, boozing it up, not at Sunday School with the nice ladies in their nice dresses. Regardless, I felt sure I could come up with some plausible story about my flat muffins, some tale in which I could haughtily explain that the hippest of gourmets were all serving flat muffins this season, and that it would surely catch on here in the South if everyone could just be a little more open-minded.

Then I tried to remove one of the muffins from its paper muffin cup prison. And failed. I tried another. And failed again. The Carnivore and I pulled desperately at the cups until they lay flat, and then we pried the muffin bits out with our teeth, and though we both thought they tasted really, really wonderful, I had no choice but to finally admit defeat.

And bake yet another batch of Banana Nut Bread.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Advice (and the ignoring of it)

Now that I have made the conscious decision to continue eating seafood, I'm quickly working it into our menu. I have cooked with shellfish a few times before, with mixed results, and I have now worked with canned salmon (something I am not entirely comfortable with yet). Earlier this week, while making our menu, I came across a recipe for Lemon-Dill Fish Filets in my Cooking Light 5-Star Recipes cookbook. It looked simple enough, ease being a requirement for my first foray into baked fish, and though it wasn't as spicy as something I might normally make, I planned a strong-flavored side dish to serve alongside it.

The recipe called for orange roughy or other firm white fish fillets, and I have to admit almost complete ignorance here when it comes to picking the right fish to pair with specific spices. I didn't want to buy fresh fish too far ahead of time, so I went out this morning to pick up some sort of white fish to serve tonight. When I got to the fish counter, I was chagrined to see that I had only two choices: Tilapia and the aptly-named Whitefish. So I stood there dumbly for a minute, unsure about what to do. I have heard tilapia is a good non-fishy kind of fish (for whatever that is worth), but I don't know that I have ever been exposed to whitefish. Luckily for me, there was no shortage of advice behind the counter.

The fish lady asked me what I needed and I replied that I needed two four-ounce white fish fillets. She looked at me sternly over the tops of her eyeglasses and said that wouldn't be possible. And then the lecture began.

I was told that whitefish wasn't available in that size fillet without her having to perform major surgery (something she made perfectly clear she didn't want to do), and she asked how I would be cooking the fish. Put on the spot, I drew a near blank and told her it would involve a lemon & dill sauce and that I would bake the fish (partially true, but not nearly detailed enough info for her to properly advise me). The fish lady warned me that tilapia is almost a tasteless fish and that it goes best with strong spices, working perfectly in Cuban recipes. Then she rattled off three or four different recipes at Yankee warp speed, but I was so overwhelmed that I have already forgotten them.

She said, "I may just be an old lady, but I have been cooking since nineteen and fifty-eight and I believe I know a thing or two about fish." And with that, she wrapped the fish up tightly, filleted to the exact size I had requested and told me she hoped to see me back often.

Now that I have gotten over the shock of meeting a woman more opinionated than my own mother, I realize what an ally I have over at the fish counter and I plan to go back and visit her tomorrow, this time with a notebook and a mini-recorder so I can get some of her recipes.

Amazingly, even after that impromptu lecture this morning, I came home and mostly ignored all of her advice, and ill-advised move on my part. As it turned out, my recipe was too bland for such a blank-slate kind of fish, something I would have known if I had paid more attention. The coating consisted of finely crushed melba toast, paprika, grated lemon rind, dillweed and dried mustard; and while it was a classic mix of fish spices, the flavors weren't strong enough to infuse the tilapia with enough zing, and it ended up tasting more like the kind of fish fillet you would expect on a sandwich. I got wary halfway through the recipe, but was afraid to try adapting it on my first real try with fish. If nothing else though, I have gained confindence in the actual cooking of the fish and it was a big boost to find out how easy it is to get the perfect flaky texture. I've still got a lot to learn though.

The true success in tonight's dinner was in the Meditteranean Collard Greens that I served alongside the fish. This was based on a recipe that I cut out of John Kessler's column (man, I want his job!) in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution food section a few months back, and I was tickled to death with the results. Up to now, The Carnivore and I have always cooked fresh collards in a pot of water with onions, vinegar and black pepper. While the greens were always yummy enough, it hadn't occured to us to replace the water with broth to get a more vibrant flavor. This recipe didn't give a lot of measurements and became quite the guessing game for me tonight, especially since I had to do some substitutions along the way, but I'm truly looking forward to playing with this one some more. This is my mildly adapted, and better measured, version.

  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • Red onion, chopped
  • Two cloves of garlic, minced
  • Tomato, chopped (My fresh tomatoes were horrifyingly dead in the crisper drawer, but I found a can of Golden Roma Tomato Strips in my pantry that stood in quite well)
  • 1 Tbs tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 lb chopped fresh collards
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp fresh coarse ground black pepper
  1. Saute the onion & garlic the olive oil over medium heat until onions are translucent.
  2. Toss in the tomato paste, balsamic vinegar, wine, broth and collards.
  3. Cook, covered, over medium heat, for about 30 minutes.
  4. Season with salt and pepper, and add more vinegar if needed.

Odd Toddler wasn't crazy about the greens, but he devoured a big portion of my fish. The Carnivore and I fell in love with the collards, but were bored crapless by the fish. Such is life.

For the second time this evening, Odd Toddler climbed into the shower, fully dressed and wearing his shoes, while The Carnivore was taking a shower after work. This time though, he stood front and center under the spray, and emerged completely drenched from the top of his large round head to the toes of his now very clean sneakers. It is partly for this reason that I will not put any stock in his opinion of tonight's dinner.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Some Days Are Better Than Others

Now that Odd Toddler is a little older and much more fun than he was during the newborn-as-blob stage, and now that he is old enough to walk, thus saving my aching back, he goes everywhere with me. We always go to town early on Thursday mornings to pick up work, and then we go to the bank on the way home where he looks forward to his weekly lollipop. Today was especially fun and interesting for him because we actually went inside the bank where he could flirt individually with each of the bank tellers.

On the way home, instead of quietly sucking his lollipop like he usually does, he started to fuss quite agitatedly. I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw his lollipop stuck tight to his hair. He was trying to push it out and was only succeeding in twisting it in tighter. I managed to get the sucker out without cutting his hair, and then he proceeded to finish the lollipop after I wiped it clean.

Lately, Odd Toddler has been working on his doggy imitation. 'Dog' was one of his first words, and there are few things he likes better than hanging outside with Rosco, our most annoying dog. Odd Toddler has perfected panting with his tongue hanging out, and he is getting better at standing on all fours and laying down side-by-side with the dogs. A week or so ago, while I was feeding the dogs, I looked over and Odd Toddler was down on all fours with his face in the dog bowl, eating the dog food like he'd seen them do. When I shrieked and headed for him, he sat up and shoveled handfuls of the dog food into his mouth before I could get there. This has turned into a daily battle now, and rarely does a day go by without Odd Toddler having dog food breath.

I try to serve gourmet dinners, but it doesn't matter. Dog food is apparently where its at.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A Baking Binge

I have embarked upon a baking binge as of late. Once I got over my initial hesitation about using active dry yeast, and made friends with flour, I got more excited about using the oven. The pizza crusts were a feat all their own, and then I was so tickled by my banana bread recipe that I made two of them within three days. Odd Toddler (nee Fat Baby) and I had some free time on Monday, and he just loves to help me in the kitchen, so I started itching to make us a dessert for dinner that night.

I wanted to make Toffee Bars, but we didn't have enough flour (like I said, a lot of baking has been going around here lately). Then I thought about making Cream Cheese Brownies. Alas, we didn't have enough butter (further blame goes to the banana bread). I'm sick and tired of making fudge, and I'd be perfectly happy to never see another Peanut Butter Pie again.

Odd Toddler and I flipped through a stack of clipped recipes, in a nearly vain search to find something with chocolate that didn't require much butter or flour. And Eureka, I came across a recipe for Double Chocolate Brownies that I'd cut out of the August issue of Parenting magazine (truly, I can get recipes from anywhere). I altered the recipe slightly to shorten the prep time.

  • 2 sticks butter
  • 4 oz unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 Tbs cocoa powder
  1. Melt butter and chocolate in microwave, and let cool for about 3 minutes.
  2. Use mixer to beat sugar and eggs until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add vanilla extract to mixer, and beat for another 10 seconds.
  4. Add chocolate & butter to mixer, and mix well for one minute.
  5. Sift flour and cocoa into batter and gently fold in.
  6. Pour batter into greased 9x13 baking pan, and bake at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes.

Smashing! This is a new favorite recipe (Odd Toddler can't get enough of these brownies). It is doubtful that I will ever be able to go back to baking brownies from a mix. As a matter of fact, I have found that I no longer even crave packaged desserts now that I am comfortable making these things from scratch. I am convinced I can actually taste the preservatives in packaged cookies, and it takes all the fun out of everything to read strange-sounding chemical-like names from the ingredients list.

I have long read that it is better for health & dietary reasons to shop the perimeter of the grocery store, avoiding the middle aisles because that is where the packaged food is found, along with the majority of the trans-fats. For most of my adult life, I have purchased most of my foods from the perimeter, buying mostly produce and dairy products anyhow. Today though, while grocery shopping and watching Odd Toddler make absurd attempts to drink imaginary milk from a brand-new, empty sippy cup that was still packaged in blister wrap, I paid more close attention to my grocery list than usual, to see just how many inner aisles I even have to go down. With the exception of the following items, I shopped entirely on the perimeter of the store: flour, coffee, bread, canned vegetable broth, and canned diced tomatoes. Now I know what I need to work on. I could have just as easily bought fresh tomatoes, or better yet, grown them myself. This weekend, I will attempt to bake fresh whole-wheat bread for the first time. Next step will be making my own vegetable broth.

Flour and coffee can stay in the middle of the store. I'm not giving them up, but even I recognize that mad ambition has to stop somewhere.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Becoming Odd Toddler

Fat Baby has taken to running to the refrigerator when he is hungry and hanging from the door handles in abject desperation. Don't let this calm picture fool you. This morning I didn't come running fast enough and he started to stomp his feet on the floor and squawk at me, while pulling the handles with all his might.

I can't wait until he can open the fridge all by himself. Oy.

Southern Fried Life

I am still learning how to fry. While I've never been a huge frying advocate, I'm not necessarily against it either. I just don't yet understand the different smoke points of various oils, and I'm frightened as can be of using shortening. Chemistry was never my strong suit anyhow, and I'm starting to think it takes at least a science minor to be able to grasp the concepts involved.

Regardless, I don't give up easily. And I've been needing some variety in our menu. Though it may seem like there is plenty of diversity, what with a few new recipes every week, I have been wanting to branch out in some of the types of food that I make. As a vegetarian, it isn't always easy to have definable entrees and side dishes. For nearly a year, I have been limiting seafood in my diet as well. This is starting to put a crimp in my cooking style though, and I'm stepping back in to the fish fray. In June, I cut out a recipe from Cooking Light magazine for salmon cakes that looked intriguing, and I have finally given it a shot, frying aversion be danged.

I still had a little bit of trouble with the frying concept. The dressing was simple yet the perfect accompaniment, and the cakes were easy enough to assemble, once I got over my gagging reflex after opening the cans of salmon (note: this is not for the faint of heart - the stuff smells like cat food and the skin & bone is truly disgusting - I nearly turned back and gave up the recipe). The recipe called for canola oil, and I suppose that specification might have made all the difference, but I just didn't have any. I had peanut oil, olive oil and Smart Balance vegetable oil; by process of elimination, the Smart Balance seemed the best substitution. Whether it was the temperature I was using, the oil, the pan or my own inadequacies as a fry cook, I only got about half of the cakes to the right degree of fry-doneness. Will need to work on this a little.

Attempts at perfection aside, the salmon patties were still very tasty, and both The Carnivore and Fat Baby ate their fill of them.

  • 2 Tbs mayonnaise
  • 2 tsps fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp bottled minced garlic
  • 18 oz canned skinless, boneless pink salmon in water, drained (I skinned and deboned the salmon myself and would prefer to never do that again - I understand you can buy them already done)
  • 1/4 cup sliced green onions
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbs dry breadcrumbs (I made my own with whole-wheat bread: put slices of bread in oven at 200 degrees for about an hour, pulse in food processor until powdery)
  • 1 tsp Cajun seasoning blend (I used Emeril's Bayou Blast)
  • 2 tsps Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs
  • 1 Tbs canola oil
  1. To prepare aioli, combine first three ingredients in a small bowl; set aside.
  2. To prepare cakes, combine salmon and next five ingredients (through mustard) in a medium bowl.
  3. Divide salmon mixture into 8 equal portions, shaping each into a 1/2-inch thick patty.
  4. Dredge patties in breadcrumbs.
  5. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  6. Place patties in pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until lightly browned and heated through.
  7. Serve aioli over salmon.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Good Old-Fashioned Nanner Bread

For two weeks now, I have intended to make some banana bread. I finally found myself this morning with not only time on my hands, but some extremely smushy bananas as well. I have been holding off on this for a while because I didn't have the perfect loaf pan in which to make the bread. Aluminum pans, which are the only ones I have seen at yard sales, are too thin and will, mom has convinced me, leach the aluminum into the food, thus increasing the risk of Alzheimer's. Sure, it may not be true, buy why would I risk the health of my son and my husband?

I was flat out afraid to go into one of the fancy kitchen stores to get the type of pan I would need. The budget is too tight right now (thank you IRS and county tax commissioners) for me to be set free in a store in which the temptation would cause me physical pain. If I were bodily dragged into the middle of a shopping mall, I would fight my way free to the nearest exit without spending a dime. If I were taken to Rolling Pin, or Williams-Sonoma, I would most likely break down and cry if I weren't able to go on a shopping spree.

Thanking God for small miracles though, I came upon The Perfect Heavy Steel Loaf Pan at Publix, of all places, earlier this week. I have made a Southern Living recipe for Cream Cheese Banana-Nut Muffins, which were exsquisite, but I've never just made plain old banana bread, and I was excited over the prospect. Mymother used to make it when I was a kid, and I think she may have even brought it to me at school on my birthday when I was in second grade. I was attending a wonderful hippie school at the time, and we were graced with incredible desserts on kid's birthdays, much unlike the nasty store-bought cupcakes that parents pass out at school these days.

I found a recipe in The Art of Southern Cooking, a surprisingly simple cookbook from 1969 that I inherited from my late Great-Aunt Doris. There is even an inscription in the front that I will have to ask her husband about: "From Mrs. Florence Wade Anderson, Sept 13, 1972."

Preparing the ingredients only took about 5 minutes, and the bread came out wonderfully. It is moist without being too wet; and it rose, browned, and held together perfectly when sliced. I remember one banana bread that mom made in which we had to eat it with a spoon, but maybe she had used a banana pudding recipe accidentally.

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups flour, sifted
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup mashed ripe banana
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  1. Mix butter, sugar and eggs together.
  2. Sift dry ingredients together, and fold into butter mixture.
  3. Stir in mashed bananas and nuts.
  4. Bake in a 9x5 loaf pan at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes.

Somebody call Short Stack and tell her to drop by if she's hungry.

Clarification for the Culinarily Challenged

I still have so much to learn about food writing. I assumed, in yesterday's blog about white pizza, that everyone would know what I was talking about and that I didn't need to elaborate on the actual definition of white pizza. However, my poor sweet mom, who is more concerned with the happiness and welfare of A LOT of children than with food details, asked me this morning what a white pizza is. She assumed I meant that I made a pizza with a white crust (which of course doesn't make any sense, for why would I be so proud of something not only so simple, but so blatantly nutrient-poor?). And so, a little history lesson on white pizza is clearly in order...

A white pizza is nothing more than a pizza made without tomato sauce. There may be chopped tomatoes on the pizza, but no tomato sauce. White pizzas are common in Italy, but since Americans get confused easily, this variation on pizza is actually referred to as white pizza, to distinguish it from regular pizza, which Americans believe must include tomato sauce. Absurd, but true.

Since white pizzas are made without tomato sauce though, much more subtle and intriguing things can be done with them. Herbs and spices stand out more, and the use of different, stronger cheeses can create entirely new tastes from what one is accustomed to. The recipe I devised last night is a testament to this.

While I was on my quest for a white pizza recipe yesterday, I came across this in The Joy of Cooking: "According to American labeling laws, if it does not have tomato sauce, you cannot call it pizza. This would astonish Italians, who frequently eat pizza with just a touch of tomato or even none at all."

I'm a pizza queen to begin with, and now that I know how to make my own whole-wheat crusts, I'll be dangerously focused on a mission for a while (or until The Carnivore and Fat Baby rise up in revolt). Imagine the possibilities here...

Friday, September 09, 2005

True Original

As much as I love to cook, and as creative as I like to imagine myself to be, it is hard to ignore the fact that all I really do is embellish upon other people's recipes. Very few of the recipes that I have written about here have been truly mine alone; almost all of the time, I give credit to the source and make only a few changes to the original recipes. There are a few things that are mostly mine, like my quiche recipe and a couple of vegetable casseroles, recipes in which I started out with something from a cookbook but then adapted it to within an inch of its life until I could probably take credit. Until now, I can think of only one recipe, my Baked Pasta Casserole, that so far has been completely of my own invention, something in which I consulted no cookbooks and followed no guidelines.

This has been a slight bone of contention for me. I have daydreams of writing my own cookbook, of opening my own restaurant even. While there are cookbook authors who compile other people's recipes all the time, I would want to do something more truly My Own. I watch Food TV sometimes, and I read articles about chefs, and I'm always slightly amazed and awed by how effortlessly these people create their own recipes. It is something I strive for, to be able to completely dream up new recipes rather than being so dependent on the framework others have set for me through their own recipes. When a friend of mine, a chef from a resort out west, was in town recently and preparing an elegant and complex four-course dinner for us, an acquaintance asked him where he gets his recipes from. My friend looked askance at the questioner and replied that he doesn't use cookbooks. He, as he explained, "just makes things." I was dumbfounded. He was making a risotto at the time, and I wanted nothing more than to sidle up next to him, skip the dinner party, and just hang out in the kitchen watching him work.

There are people who have asked for some of my recipes, and I am always flattered by that, because sure, even though the general outline of the recipe may have come from someone else, it is my touches to it that have caused the request to be made. I have high aspirations though, and I can't settle for simply making something better. I want to create it in the first place. I want to do something start to finish, and do it extremely well. It is rare for me to think anything I do is good enough. This isn't a self-esteem issue, but rather a desire for personal growth that I hope I never lose. I would wither away if I weren't always pushing myself to get better at things.

Tonight was a breakthrough for me. I have been wanting to make a white pizza for a while now. However, I didn't have any recipes that I wanted to try, as is usually the case when I have something new to conquer. The Carnivore and I both enjoy white pizzas though it has been years since I've had one. Rocky's, a now-defunct local pizza parlor, had one that was excellent but which I can only vaguely remember. I think there was spinach involved, but my memory is too hazy to help me there. The Carnivore and I watched an episode of Emeril's TV show months ago in which he made a white pizza that had us practically drooling. I always meant to go to the website and download the recipe but never got around to it.

Last weekend, when I made whole-wheat pizza crust for the first time, I made a batch big enough for two crusts. Only one crust was used at the time, so I brushed the leftover ball of dough with olive oil, covered it with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for use later this week. And then I pulled down cookbook after cookbook, searching for the perfect white pizza recipe to no avail. I couldn't find anything that appealed and I didn't have time to search Emeril's website before I went grocery shopping this week. So I winged it.

Tonight, a little nervously, I rolled out my dough onto my beloved pizza stone and pre-baked it for about 5 minutes at 400 degrees. Then I took a little of this, and a little of that, and though I didn't preciesely measure anything as I went along, I came up with the following:

(I'm going to have to work on the name a little)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (about 1 tsp)
  • Italian seasoning (approx. 1/2 tsp)
  • Clove of garlic, minced
  • Fresh basil leaves, shredded (3 or 4 small leaves)
  • Shredded mozzarella (1/2 cup or so)
  • Crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (approx 1/4 cup)
  • Crumbled Tomato-Basil Feta cheese (approx 1/4 cup)
  • Kosher salt (about 1/4 tsp)
  • Fresh coarse ground black pepper (about 1/4 tsp)
  • Grated Parmesan (maybe 1 Tbsp)
  • Red onion, cut in half and then sliced vertically - because its prettier when its sliced that way (around 10 or 11 slices)
  • Balsamic vinegar (approx 1 tsp)
  1. Brush crust with olive oil
  2. Sprinkle crust with Italian seasoning, minced garlic and shredded basil leaves.
  3. Top with mozzarella, gorgonzola and feta cheeses.
  4. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and parmesan.
  5. Arrange red onion on top.
  6. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar
  7. Bake at 475 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until cheese is slightly browned.

The Carnivore pronounced the pizza delicious (a high compliment from him), and I was thrilled with it. I served it as a main dish, which wasn't the best idea. The pizza was thin, and the size of it, along with the slightly crunchy texture, make it better suited as an appetizer, maybe served as a first course to a pasta dish, or served as a light lunch alongside a tossed salad. Regardless, I am finally feeling a sense of accomplishment again. For the last few weeks (months?) I have been kind of coasting with my cooking. There have been countless new recipes that I have tried, and even a few big events for me, such as finally mastering risotto, making a decent fudge and getting over my fear of active dry yeast. Today though, I have reached a long-held goal of mine and while it may seem minor to some, its a big step for me.

Granted, The Carnivore and Fat Baby don't mind being along for the ride with me.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Keeping Me Humble

Not everything works out perfectly for me. Even so, I lead a charmed life and nothing bad ever happens either. But since I use this forum as a way to share recipes that have done me right (because after all, who would thank me for publishing the bad recipes), it is only fair for me to mention that I have had some flops along the way.

Last night, to go with a fantastic Summer Squash Chowder, I made Buttermilk Biscuits that never rose. They were edible, they were even tasty, but the texture was odd to say the least. And man, were they funny looking. Tonight, I served the leftover chowder as a first course for a Spinach and Gruyere Tart which was expensive to make yet tasted so bland I actually had to get up and bring the salt shaker to the table (I'm a firm believer in the theory that if a meal is cooked perfectly, salt shakers should have no place at the table). We will eat the leftover tart for dinner tomorrow night, with Yellow Squash Ribbons with Red Onion and Parmesan (if I find the vegetable peeler).

I have a recipe for Peanut Butter Pie that I adore, but since I can't leave well enough alone, I tried a different Peanut Butter Pie recipe this weekend (which didn't hold a candle to my other recipe). Peanut Butter is The Carnivore's favorite ingredient, but this pie has already lasted 4 days and we haven't finished it yet. The pie is perfectly fine, but is so rich as to be off-putting.

There are times I would love to blame the bad meals on the fact that it is extremely difficult to cook with Fat Baby doing laps around the stove, pushing his heavy wooden walking toy into my bare ankles with every pass. But since I don't cook with my ankles...

On the positive, look-to-the-future end of things, I have some bananas that died a miserable and lonely death a few days ago, and if I get up the courage after a week's worth of failures, I will use them to bake a banana nut bread in the next day or so. I have been wanting to try this particular recipe out for more than a week now. Then again, maybe it would be best if I stuck to some of my tried-and-true recipes for the next few days. I could use the ego boost.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

My Favorite, and Most Demanding, Client

Fat Baby never lets me get any work done while he is awake. My clients have learned to put up with not knowing my work schedule. I work when Fat Baby naps, and I'm never quite sure exactly when the nap will happen, nor how long it will last.

Since I can't work in the mornings, and since I'm full of energy at that time of day, I sometimes try to get a head start on dinner, or throw together a dip to keep on hand for snacktime. This morning, I was hoping to get busy chopping the vegetables for tonight's squash chowder. Fat Baby is full of mischief though, and doesn't appear at all interested in letting me get things done.

A few days ago, I sat him on the kitchen counter and let him "help" me assemble a spread for crackers, using a recipe I clipped from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Food Section a few months ago. According to the article, this dip won first place out of 489 entries in an appetizer dip contest. We ate this for lunch on Sunday and loved it.

  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup margarine, softened
  • 1/2 tsp celery salt (I didn't have any of this, so I used 1/4 tsp celery seed and 1/4 tsp kosher salt in its place)
  • Dash of paprika
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup finely chopped radishes
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped green onions
  1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients.
  2. Chill and serve with crackers or vegetables.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Roasted Corn, Poblano & Cheddar Pizza

After Fat Baby's 4-hour trip to the emergency room Thursday night, followed by a sleepless night in which he lay beside me on the sofa and whimpered, I figured we had earned a three-day weekend. It is rare for our little family to take time off together and it is sacred and special when it happens. The Carnivore and I are both self-employed and the work simply doesn't get done if we aren't working our butts off doing it. When you add The-Renovation-Project-That-Will-Never-End into the mix, even Saturdays are pretty dang busy around here.

We have not taken a vacation together as a family yet, and it doesn't appear that it will happen anytime soon, so we treasure these little holidays around the house, especially when the weather is as beautiful as it has been for the past few days. The Carnivore worked outside most of the weekend, with Fat Baby wobbling along behind him most of the way. I piddled inside most of the time, still working on unpacking all of our belongings, some of which have been boxed up since we got married nearly five years ago now. Today I finally unpacked our wedding china and put it in the china cabinet for the first time. The afternoon was lazy though, with the three of us spending time on the porch and walking around the yard together picking muscadines.

We ended the blessedly refreshing weekend with the best dinner we've had in the past week. I've been wanting for a long time to begin making my own pizza crusts, partly because I prefer whole grains to breads made with white flour, and partly because I am trying to limit packaged foods in my family's diet. I cut out a recipe for whole wheat pizza crust from the May 2004 issue of Vegetarian Times magazine, and I've been eyeing it warily for the past few months. I haven't tried making breads before, and every time I see the ingredient active yeast in a recipe, I cringe and turn the page.

Then recently, Cooking Light magazine featured Roasted Fresh Corn, Poblano and Cheddar Pizza on the cover of their July issue. Though their recipe called for a can of refrigerated pizza crust dough (shudder to think), the pizza sounded entirely too special to be wasted on something that comes out of a can. Since I knew I would have extra time this weekend, I picked up the ingredients I would need to make my own crust, and jumped in eagerly today, relaxed enough from the past couple of days that I was only mildly anxious.

As it turned out, making pizza dough from scratch is absurdly easy (though extremely sticky) and I can't wait to try my hand at making bread now. And the pizza itself turned out to be so good we were already talking about making it again this week. This recipe was so unique and intriguing, yet relatively easy and extremely tasty. I made only a few minor changes to both recipes.


WHOLE WHEAT PIZZA CRUST (from Vegetarian Times, makes two crusts)
  • 1 Tbs active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups bread flour
  1. Mix yeast with 1/2 cup warm water, and set aside until yeast begins to foam, for 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. Add remaining water, olive oil and salt, and stir to combine.
  3. Using a mixer, add flour by cupfuls until sticky dough comes together.
  4. Knead on lightly floured surface for 5 minutes, or until dough is smooth and elastic.
  5. Put dough in a bowl, cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled.
  6. Punch dough down, and form into two balls.
  7. Let dough rest for 30 minutes, shape into pizza crusts and place in pans.
  8. Pre-cook crust for 5 minutes at 350 degrees before adding toppings.



  • 2 poblano peppers
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cups fresh corn kernels (about 4 ears)
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 oz shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh cilantro
  1. Place poblanos on foil-lined baking sheet and broil for 10 minutes, until blackened and charred, turning occasionally. Put peppers in a bowl and cover with a towel for 10 minutes. Peel and discard skins, seeds and stems. Chop peppers.
  2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add corn, onions and garlic; saute 2 minutes or until lightly browned.
  3. Stir milk into skillet, and cook over medium heat 2 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates. Cool slightly.
  4. Place egg whites, egg, salt and black pepper in a bowl; stir with a whisk. Stir in poblanos, corn mixture and cheese.
  5. Spread mixture over dough, leaving a 1-inch border all around. Fold 1 inch of dough over corn mixture.
  6. Bake at 425 degrees or until set.
  7. Sprinkle with cilantro.