Friday, July 28, 2006

Recipe Sharing

Although I would love to write a cookbook I have my doubts that I ever will.

My ability to express the method of many of my recipes seems to be beyond my grasp. It is so important to me in sharing a recipe that the resulting dish be as wonderful for the preparer as it is for myself.

Yes, I post recipes here by the bucketful, but I am always on tenterhooks wondering firstly if the recipe was tried and secondly, and most importantly, if it was enjoyed by that person as I enjoy it.

Chef Jacques Chibois expresses so well this recipe sharing frustration in Provence Harvest:

"When chefs cook, all of our senses are at work; first our taste buds and our eyes, of course, but also our sense of smell and even our ears. Our ears hear if something is cooking too quickly. All of this is difficult to explain in a cookbook, or to put in a recipe, and some readers have a better feeling for these intangibles than others. We chefs are often told: "You hide half the recipe, you have your little secrets." My response to this is: "No and yes!" No, because we share our recipes with sincerity, without hiding anything. Yes, because there are certain instinctive things that cannot be expressed easily. Why is it that just hearing a dish simmer or sauté, we know that it is either not hot enough or too hot?...This is a little complicated: in French we call it a "tour de main", a certain know-how or is important to watch, smell, and taste at all times...When we begin to learn to cook, we too frequently tend to read recipes word for word, while the most important thing is to try to understand the whole, to fully grasp what we are going to do."

Much better than I could ever have put it.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Garden Fresh Romaine Lettuce with Grilled Chicken Breasts and a Dressing of Coddled Egg, Parmesan, Dijon and Garlic Topped with Toasted Croutons

Or uh, Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad.

Whatever happened to normal recipe and menu names? Has anyone noticed that nowadays the norm seems to be "the longer the better"? Really, how long does it take to order something like that in a restaurant, and just what do you put after that as a description? I doubt that I would make it as a modern-day menu writer.

Could you see Waldorf Salad on a menu now? Sliced Apples and Celery with Green Grapes and Lightly Roasted Walnuts in a Classic Mayonnaise Dressing. Yeah. Right.

When will McDonald's step up to the challenge? Remember that jingle? Two All-Beef Patties Special Sauce Lettuce Cheese Pickles Onion on a Sesame Seed. All fun back then, wasn't it? Bet they're wondering now if they should have left that up as a menu title!

I shake my head at the food world most days. Just what are restaurant owners trying to prove? If it isn't the craziest mixture of ingredients, it's got to be the most unimaginative recipe title that wins you a spot with the higher-ups. They leave nada to the imagination and even less to the palate.

Well, here's to good old Fried Chicken, Cole Slaw and French Fries. Hopefully somebody will still have those 3 things on the menu today.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Nobody Does it Better

Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe
Claude Monet

My mother has always packed a wonderful picnic. I don't mean a cookout type meal, I mean a true honest-to-goodness checked cloth, wicker basket affair. My mom was Martha Stewart before anyone knew who Martha Stewart was.

Mom would line two large wicker laundry baskets with a pretty older or even antique tea towels and fill them to the brim with necessities and delicious treats before topping each off with another tea towel and tucking the ends in around it all.

There weren't paper plates or napkins or plastic cutlery. Mom used the real thing. She had an old set of dishes that she had found at a flea market and gently soaked to remove some of the signs of aging. She would stack those plates with real napkins between each to protect them and then add a set of flatware just as old as the plates and likewise bought at a flea market.

She brought along a blanket or quilt to spread on the ground and that was where we all sat, gathered around the food in the center.

Mom didn't serve standard picnic fare either. She would pack a generous amount of her fried chicken, cold but just as wonderful as the moment it was taken from the oven. Mom's potato salad was a must on these outings and was usually served from a large earthenware bowl with a real antique silver spoon.

I recall later in life looking at Victoria magazine and coming across photos of picnics that were laid out just as Mom's were. She is a true romantic at heart and a grilled hot dog served at a picnic table beneath a pavilion would never suit her. (Unless it was an old fashioned church picnic at Tipton Park in Tipton, Indiana!)

It took me years to realize what mom did to make her chicken so special. It's obvious that I learned the bulk of my cooking from Mom, neither of us like to write down recipes. I asked Mom many times how she made her chicken to be told that it was a standard breading procedure; flour, buttermilk, breadcrumbs. Ah, the buttermilk! That had to be it. I proceeded to try it out and found that although it was good, it wasn't "it". No matter what I did I couldn't duplicate that chicken.

Finally I was there one day to watch her from start to finish and figured it out. Mom doesn't use regular old breadcrumbs, she uses fresh. I don't mean fresh from the can, I mean she uses fresh un-toasted bread for her crumbs. She pops a few slices in her processor, whirs away and voila. For some reason those fresh breadcrumbs make all the difference.

I wish I had a recipe, but I don't. I'll just tell you that Mom uses fresh breadcrumbs, buttermilk, and only fries her chicken long enough to brown it before putting it all in the oven to finish up. Funny, even though I know the secret, like Mom's picnics, it's just not the same unless she makes it.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

I deserve this, really.

I will freely admit that I don't deserve much, but after the week (and several months) that I've had, I do feel absolutely NO GUILT in getting what I did today.

I walked downtown today with 4 of the kids (and #7 in tow lol) to our favorite bookshop, The Moravian Bookshop, which bills itself as "The World's Oldest Bookseller". They have a lovely little point system there and we have been accumulating for some time.

I went off to my favorite section, the cookbooks (surprise!), and found a book I wanted but would never purchase for myself; I'd feel too guilty. I took it to the desk and told the clerk that I would love to have that book but only if I could purchase it with my points. She scanned it and told me YES all I would owe was $5.90. Woohoo! So, I bought a beautiful $40 book for less than $6 and I know I am going to spend hours reading it and looking at the pictures.

By the way, it is disgustingly HOT out there today! Lehigh Valley (Eastern Pa in general) has a reputation for too much humidity. I'm not sure why that is but it gets flat out gross here. Today is no exception and the week to come is forecast to be even hotter and GROSSER. I do have to say that this book was worth the sweat. Yes, yes, YES I am obsessed with Provence! Anyone who has been there (and I have not) will explain to you why that would be.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Grow Your Own

My last post was an excellent reason to have your own vegetable garden. It honestly is not expensive and doesn't take a Master Gardener or a degree in agriculture to do. It is a bit time consuming but very much worth the effort.

This is partial haul from one weekend:

This is leaf lettuce. We planted 8 plants and at first I forgot that I planted leaf lettuce and kept waiting for heads to form. It could have been harvested a bit earlier but it was still great.

This is our zucchini, mint, parsley, dill and bush beans. I knew we wouldn't have problems with bush beans since we had grown them quite easily at another home. At that place they were the only thing to grow! The next door neighbor wasn't able to grow zucchini because they had worm problems but so far ours have been growing like weeds. We pulled our first cucumber yesterday and my pickiest kids were all over it. They love cucumbers but are very particular about how they taste. It was gone before I was done slicing it!

I don't use pesticides and weed control was all done by hand (ugh!). Our yard is not in the sunniest of locations either so where you may already be putting up your harvest, we are still waiting on some things. The peas we planted got too much rain and sort of petered out, the carrots are taking longer than anticipated and the radishes...well, 20 days may be normal for other areas but here they just didn't go at all.

This is also our first year here and most of everything we planted was experimental just to see if it would bear fruit. I did plant strawberries but the plant was no good and it didn't root. I also have pumpkin vines, a watermelon vine, tomato plants, pole beans (a friend gave me extra plants), sunflowers, oregano, basil, chives and lavender in addition to too many flowers!

If you don't have a garden or haven't tried because you're afraid it won't work, give it a second thought. It's not as hard as it looks and I am always of the mind that if your yard grows weeds well it can grow almost anything well.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Letter

Dear Mr. USDA,

You sure do have a lot of recommendations! That Food Guide Pyramid is real cute but you forgot to add a daily check-off list so we can recall if it was 6 or 11 servings of grains that we had.

I also noticed that there are 6 different sections now. Man, it was definitely easier when there were only 4. It's hard to get "3 squares" a day in with a contraption like that pyramid. The separate vegetable and fruit sections are interesting; up to 9 servings EACH DAY! Wow. I bet our American farmers are sure happy about that!

I'm not sure who is buying that much produce from local farmers though-it's a bit expensive. I do notice that quite a bit of the produce sold at my store comes from somewhere else in the U.S. Heck, some of it comes from other countries!

Well, I have a few recommendations myself. Mr. USDA, if you want us all to eat up to 9 servings of produce a day, why don't you make it possible for us to do that? Give some land back to our farmers and let them produce as they should WITHOUT ALL THE EXCESSIVE TAXES. Make sure the equipment they need is affordable too. Cut the gas prices so we are able to ship within our own borders. And stop taking produce away from other countries, I bet THEY need 9 servings a day also!

Maybe after we can all afford that produce that you so highly recommend we will be able to fit into that equally cute BMI chart you have. I guess it doesn't matter that people really DO come in all shapes and sizes and that not all of those sizes are unhealthy. Why not try to fit us all into some silly little mold so we can all look alike.
(Don't get me started on how your cousin Mr. Department of Education wants us all to think the same whether or not our brains work the same). Gee, Hitler would be proud.

No wonder teen girls are anorexic and bulimic. I even had a Dr. (yeah, your brother Mr. American Medical ASSociation) try to tell my daughter that she needed to lose weight since she was at the high end of that BMI scale. As soon as those two words "lose weight" escaped that Doctor's lips I stopped her short and told her "NO, we don't discuss weight loss with a 16 year old girl who is simply on the high end of normal on a chart that I consider ridiculous and WRONG since not everybody has a tiny frame and a size 2 shoe. Pay attention to my daughter's structure and not just a bunch of numbers."

Well, before I get off on another topic and make you feel smaller Mr. USDA, as I started with, if you'll make food affordable to ALL Americans, we may one day aspire to be your Healthy-BMI-Mold-Americans.


John Q. Public

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Sunday Dinner

A little lighter for the hotter weather but still satisfying.

Cold Sesame Noodles with Chicken
Store bought French Rolls
Raspberry Butter
Easy "Fluffy" Mousse

Cold Sesame Noodles with Chicken
Serves 4

6 T peanut butter
4 t warm water
2 t sesame oil
2 T soy sauce
1/2 t garlic powder
4 c cooked and cooled spaghetti noodles
2 c cooked and cubed chicken breast
1 c cooked and cooled snow peas

Mix peanut butter, water, sesame oil, soy sauce and garlic powder until well blended.
Pour over spaghetti, chicken and snow peas.
Toss well to coat.

Raspberry Butter
Makes about 1 1/2 c

1/2c. raspberry preserves (no seeds)
2T. honey
1c. butter softened

Mix all well and chill until firm.

Mound in a pretty dish and let sit at room temperature
until soft enough to spread.

Any berry (or other fruit) jam, jelly, preserve or spread works well for this.

Easy "Fluffy" Mousse
Serves 4-6

My kids like the "mousse" they serve at a typical buffet-style restaurant so I came up with this. It's NOT mousse in the traditional sense at all but is still good.

1 pkg (4 serving size) pudding mix (we almost always use chocolate)
1 c milk
1 c whipping cream

Pour milk and cream in a mixing bowl and sprinkle the pudding mix over it. Beat with a hand mixer until light and fluffy-this takes several minutes-5-8 usually. Chill for an hour before serving.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Blogiversary to me!

I'm one! What a year, huh? Tumultuous at best if you've been reading that long. The funny thing is, there is so much I left out. But, this is the Life of Anne so, if you want to stay for another year, at least grab a cup of coffee or a tall drink before you sit.

I MUST thank for their wonderful and FREE service (please keep that in mind before you rant, ok?) that made this all possible. Thanks to BoB for making this hugely more memorable than it really should have been. And lastly, (yes, I started that sentence with AND) but most definitely not leastly, my blogger buddies (you know who you are and if you are not sure-look to my Blog List over yonder) for commenting when there was not anything to say, for putting up with my lapses in posting and for BEING THERE when I truly needed it most. I love you man. :o)

For good measure, a recipe.

The Day After Omelet

No, not what to do with the scraps of life you find following a nuclear holocaust; this is what to do with taco leftovers (if you have any!). Ready-made ingredients for an omelet are awesome.

Super simple-whisk up a couple eggs (don't do 3, it will be too much) and pour them into a pan that has been pre-heated and greased on medium heat. When they start to set top off with leftover taco meat (beef, pork or chicken), shredded cheese, salsa and black olives. Don't add lettuce-ick. When the bottom is set, fold one half of the omelet over the filling and continue cooking until eggs are completely set and cheese is melted. Remove from pan and top with sour cream.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Summer Cooking 101 Part IV, Sandwiches

There is no meal more life-saving and versatile on a hot day than a sandwich. The fillings options and bread types available are innumerable and there isn't anyone I know who doesn't have a favorite.

Many times we will load the blender or food processor with meats and cheeses that we like and blend away creating a sandwich spread that can be held in the refrigerator and used by almost anyone to make a quick bite. We try to think outside the box a little and make non-traditional sandwiches like cream cheese and pb with a fruit. We even do this with hot dogs adding things like salsa and shredded cheese.

Other times we make Dagwood-esque towers or simple roll-ups from flat breads.

Here are a few ideas to get you started. This list could go on to infinity and if you have a very favorite sandwich, let me know!

Breads can include:

  • pitas
  • whole wheat
  • white
  • rye
  • pumpernickel
  • rolls (French, Portuguese, hoagie, Kaiser etc)
  • bagels
  • tortillas
  • rice cakes
  • focaccia bread
  • ciabatta bread

Meats or Fillings can include:

  • lunchmeats (too many to list! Turkey, chicken, beef, ham, salami etc.)
  • leftover meatloaf
  • grilled chicken
  • cream cheese
  • egg salad
  • tuna salad
  • veggies
  • hard cheeses
  • spreads
  • hummus
  • tofu
  • bacon
  • peanut butter
  • jams, jellies and preserves

Veggies and fruits can include:

  • lettuces (bibb, romaine, spinach etc.)
  • tomatoes (try plum tomatoes on a sandwich)
  • radishes
  • onions
  • avocado
  • sprouts
  • zucchini
  • cucumber
  • fresh herbs
  • bananas
  • apples
  • strawberries
  • pears (as in grilled pear and Gouda-yum!)
  • pineapple

Condiments can include:

  • olives
  • pickles
  • peppers (green, red, sweet, hot etc.)
  • salad dressings (Ranch, Italian, Thousand Island, Bleu Cheese etc.)
  • cole slaw
  • mustards like grainy, honey or Dijon
  • ketchup
  • mayo
  • salsa


Hawaiian Ham Spread

1 1/2 cups cooked ground ham (food processor or blender works well)
1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, well drained
1 t brown sugar
1/8 t ground cloves
2 1/2 T mayonnaise

Combine first 5 ingredients and stir well.

Smoked Salmon Spread

8 oz cream cheese-softened
3 T heavy cream
5 oz smoked salmon-minced
1 T minced fresh chives or green onions
Fresh lemon juice
ground cayenne pepper
ground black pepper

Combine cream cheese and heavy cream in a bowl and whip with an electric
mixer or a wire whip until light and fluffy. Stir in the smoked salmon,
chives and add lemon juice, cayenne and black pepper to taste. Serve on
bagels, other breads or as a dip for raw veges. Serve at room

Olive Sandwich Spread

2 pkg. (3 oz. each) cream cheese-softened
1/2 c mayonnaise
1/2 c chopped green olives
1/2 c chopped pecans-or other nut or even sunflower seeds
1 T olive juice

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients. Spread on
crackers or bread. Yield: 1 1/2 cups.

Grilled Honey-Mustard Chicken Sandwiches
4 Servings

1/4 c Dijon mustard
2 tb Honey
1 ts Dried oregano leaves
1/4 ts Garlic powder
1/4 ts Ground red pepper (cayenne)
1 ts Water
4 ea Boneless, skinless chicken-breast halves (appx 1 lb)
4 ea Whole-grain sandwich buns,
8 ea Thin slices tomato
Leaf lettuce

Mix mustard, honey, oregano, garlic powder, red pepper and water, brush
on chicken.

Cover and grill chicken 4 to 6 inches from medium coals 15 to 20
minutes, brushing with mustard mixture and turning occasionally,
until juice is no longer pink when centers of thickest pieces are

Discard any remaining mustard mixture.
Serve chicken on buns with tomato and lettuce.

Source: Betty Crockers New Chicken Recipes

Anne's Sweet and Savory Tuna Sandwiches

6 Kaiser rolls
2-6 1/2 oz cans tuna
6 slices cheese any type
to taste:
chopped black olives
sliced sweet and sour peppers
Spanish olives with pimiento
sliced tomato
Italian dressing

Split rolls and hollow out to within 1/2" of edges.
Drain tuna and flake. Place one slice of cheese on
bottom half of each roll. Top with tuna, olives,
peppers, tomato and drizzle with dressing. Place tops on
and wrap each tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for
1 hr but not more than 12 (rolls will get soggy).
Unwrap and let stand at room temperature for 1/2 hour
before serving.

Makes 6 sandwiches

Cobb Salad Sandwich

1 piece flat peasant bread or one large flour tortilla
grilled, sliced chicken breast
2 slices bacon cooked crisp
1/2 tomato-diced
1/2 avocado-thinly sliced
romaine lettuce-chopped
iceberg lettuce-chopped
4 thin slices red onion
2 T bleu cheese dressing

Layer ingredients in the middle of bread or tortilla.
Roll tightly and slice on bias. Makes one large

And, last but not least, if you can stomach it:

Dagwood Bumstead Sandwich
1 servings

3 lg Onions
1 Head lettuce
4 Tomatoes, sliced
1 Lobster tail
1 Eagle talon
1 Fish (pref.2-days old)
1 Pot spaghetti
- Cold and gooey
1 lb Bacon (cooked?)
1 Meatloaf
1 Ham
1 Fried egg (over easy)
1 String of sausages
1 Mayonnaise, gallon
1 Jar of pickle relish
1 Tin of sardine in oil
1 Bottle of ketchup
1 Bottle Sweet mustard
1 Hot mustard
1 Loaf Bread
Assorted cheese
Assorted vegetables
Assorted olives

Arrange the ingredients between two slices of bread.
Serves one.
From: King Features Syndicate