Thursday, May 29, 2008

Fiddle De De

Fiddleheads are now in season, but if you like this New England delicacy you’d better act fast because they are only available for a couple of weeks each year. They aren’t easy to find, but some stores do stock them.

Lucky for me, Lisa Witzke, owner of Naked Earth Whole Food Market in Foster Square in Brewster, always has fiddleheads this time of year and she even provides a recipe to prepare them that is delicious.

Or if you want a ready supply of these succulent tastes of spring, you can easily plant your own patch in a shady corner of your yard. Fiddleheads are the buds of the Ostrich Fern and since the ferns spread by underground stolons, they quickly regenerate. So even if you pick a whole basket full in the spring, you can still have a lovely fern bed later in the summer.

It’s hard to describe what fiddleheads taste like if you haven’t tried one and to be honest, I wasn’t enthusiastic when Lisa first talked me into giving them a try a few years ago. But there’s something intriguing about foraging in the woods for food and once the first little circle landed I my tongue, I was hooked. They are similar in flavor to asparagus, but totally unique in the sensation of their shape. Crunchy, but wispy - and oh so fun.

The Recipe:

Sauteed Fiddlehead Ferns
Serves 4

1 pound fiddlehead ferns
2 cloves finely chopped garlic
4 slices bacon, diced
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

Trim the dark ends from the stems and wash the fiddleheads in a coarse strainer using a strong stream of water. Place them in a large bowl of water and swirl them around, rubbing off the thin flakes of chaff on the ferns. Drain and dry on a paper towel, rubbing off any remaining chaff.

Heat cast iron pan over medium high heat and add the bacon and cook until fat is rendered. Add the fiddleheads and the garlic and cook, covered, for 3 – 4 minutes. If the pan seems too dry, add a few sprinkles of water to create steam. Uncover and cook an additional 3 – 4 minutes, stirring frequently until they are tender but still crunchy. Add salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Dining in Disney

For those of you who actually pay attention to this blog, you might have noticed that I’ve been filing posts days after the actual experience. That’s because I just spent five days in Disney World, courtesy of my brother Chris.

Chris and his wife Dana offered me an all expense paid trip to Disney so I could watch their two and a half year old daughter, Lola, while they went on rides with their seven year old daughter, Ailee. (Yes, that’s my sweet, darling nieces hanging with Cinderella just before our dinner at her castle!)

I’ve never actually wanted to go to Disney World, but the opportunity to hug on my two nieces and sister-in-law (who I adore) was too good to pass up. Even though Chris travels my way on business on a fairly regular basis, I haven't seen his family in 18 months - much too long.

For me, vacations are always preceded by a period of absolute flurry meeting journalism deadlines and this one was no different. So I didn’t get a chance to post any blog entries because I was writing like crazy for my paying job.

On the plane ride down to Florida, I managed to finish my last journalism story and write two blog entries. The only problem was most of the Disney resorts don’t have wireless internet service and finding a place to actually get online was like a scavenger hunt.

But I did have plenty of interesting food experiences. One night my brother made reservations at Fulton’s Crab House. We left the kids with a baby sitter and took a boat from the Old Key West Resort where we were staying to Downtown Disney where the restaurant was located. Here's a picture of the restaurant from the boat:

Our dinner began with some yummy crab dip and sesame crackers and they even included a recipe card. Love that! Even though I haven’t made this myself, I can testify that it was delicious. And it goes quite well with a Bloody Mary. Fulton's version includes two shrimp and a cherry tomato - snacks in a glass!

During dinner, Dana, who loves fried lobster, considered asking one of the Australian guys at the table next to us if he would trade a bite of the lobster for one of her crab legs. She didn’t actually ask him, but after dinner she struck up a conversation with them over coffee and it turns out he would have been happy to trade with her because he was eying her crab legs.

Moral of the story – if you want to try something on someone else's plate, just ask. The worse thing that could happen is the person could say no. And really most people are pretty friendly and willing to share.

The Recipe:

Fulton’s Crab Boursin
(Yields 3 cups)

1 1/2 lb cream cheese
1/4 cup roasted garlic
1/2 tablespoon green onions, chopped
1/8 cup fresh basil
1/8 cup lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon horseradish
1 tablespoon crabmeat
1/8 cup roasted red peppers
1/2 tablespoon hickory smoked mustard

Mix all ingredients except cream cheese in a large mixing bowl. Cut cream cheese into small cubes and place them in the (separate) mixer bowl. Mix until smooth. Stop, scrape sides and mix again. When the cream cheese is smooth, add the rest of the ingredients to the mixer bowl. Be careful not to over mix. Store in a covered container until ready to serve. Serve with an assortment of crackers.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Food for Comfort

One of the best things about being a member of a church is the way people take care of each other, just like a real family. Our church, Northside United Methodist in Brewster, is one of the most caring churches I have ever encountered.

When a family we all love faced a recent crisis, a food chain was set up so that every night for a week someone different would deliver them dinner. Our night was Sunday. Other people had already brought lasagna and meatloaf, so I decided to make the most comforting meal I know – and one of the few things that all of my children love: Chicken and Biscuits.

This was a frequently served dish in my childhood because (as my mother used to say) you can feed a whole crowd with just one chicken. Her version is just chicken and gravy served over homemade biscuits and that’s the way my son Tommy likes it best. The rest of us like some more flavor so I add onions, celery, carrots, and peas to the mix and just strain fussy boy’s gravy over the biscuits and add the chicken on top of his individual serving.

While I spent the afternoon cooking, I kept the family in my thoughts and stirred some prayers into their meal. After I made the chicken stew, I made a double batch of biscuits and a big Greek salad with calamata olives, feta and pepperoncini. My sweet hubby made a big pan of apple crisp for dessert and picked up some vanilla ice cream.

Food nourishes the body and soul and when a crisis hits, sometimes all you can do for others is give them a hug, pray for them, and make them a nice meal.

The Recipe:

Chicken and Biscuits
Serves 6

1 whole chicken, about 3 pounds
1 onion chopped
3 stalks of celery, quartered, then sliced
1 bag carrots, peeled and sliced
1 package frozen peas
1 teaspoon tarragon
1 teaspoon parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
1 3/4 cups water
1/3 cup flour

Rinse chicken and place in large Dutch oven. Add 3 cups water or chicken stock and bring to a boil. Turn down heat to low and add onion, celery, tarragon, parsley, salt and pepper. Simmer over medium low heat for a half an hour. Add the carrots. Cook for another 30 – 40 minutes.

Take chicken out of pot and let it cool slightly before removing the meat and cutting it up. Add the peas to the pot of stock and bring to a boil. Make gravy by shaking up 1 3/4 cup of water with 1/3 cup flour in a gravy shaker. Shake vigorously until all lumps are gone. Slowly add to the boiling stock and veggies, whisking constantly until it is the consistency you prefer.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Pot Luck Sampling

I love pot luck suppers because you get to taste so many different foods by many different cooks. So when our church held a pot luck on Saturday night to welcome a visiting minister named Pastor John Barrett from On The Rock Ministries in Texas who would holding an old fashioned five day revival to help us uncover our spiritual gifts, I was all for it. The lady who was in charge of the event was very organized in her planning, assigning items to ensure making sure there was a diversity of food and not just ten pans of ziti. She asked me to make a salad.

Salads are one of my specialties, and I love combining new and unusual ingredients. But that didn’t seem like a very wow thing to bring, so I wracked my brain (and asked my husband) for some ideas. His suggestion was to make some kind of chicken/Waldorf theme so it could be a main meal dish instead of just a salad.

To save time, I bought a rotisserie chicken already cooked at the grocery store, but you could just as easily roast one at home. I layered the salad with all the ingredients except the chopped apples, which I placed in a separate container filled with water and the juice of a half of a lemon.

The pot luck was great fun and I got to sample some yummy crab cakes, pasta salad, oriental chicken salad, homemade baked beans, pasta with shrimp and a southwestern nacho dish. I passed on dessert, but my son Tommy raved so much about the Strawberry Cake the wife of our former pastor made that she promised to give me the recipe.

And even though I don’t think of a salad as being something you would write a recipe for, enough people asked me that I decided to write it down for them. This is a great bring along dish and also perfect for a picnic.

The Recipe;

Chicken Waldorf Salad

Four cups mixed baby greens
2 cups red leaf lettuce, torn into bite size pieces
2 cups romaine chopped
1 red, yellow or orange pepper
1 cucumber
3/4 cup whole pecans
1/2 cup sliced red onion
1 whole chicken, roasted
3/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
3 Granny Smith Apples

Wash and spin greens. Put pecans in a cast iron pan and toast them in the oven at 350 for about 10 minutes or until aromatic. Slice and half peppers so they are cut into julienne size strips. Peel cucumber and slice. Thinly slice red onions. Layer the veggies in a pleasing arrangement on top of the greens.

Pull chicken off the bone and dice. Add to salad. Sprinkle gorgonzola on top. When pecans are cool add them to the salad. If you are serving the salad right away, quarter apple and remove core. Chop into bite size pieces and add to the salad. If you are making the salad ahead see tip above.

Serve with Briannas Blush Wine Vinaigrette dressing.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Sexy Food

That man is romancing me with food again. The seduction began early in the day with a text message that contained a photo of one long stem red rose draped across a white linen tablecloth. Getting cyber roses (I didn't even know such a thing was possible!) and a sweet note was a nice distraction in a pretty hectic day, but I didn't think much about it.

Later in the day he called me from the Hilltop Steak House Butcher Shop in Weymouth and asked me what he should get. I told him to buy whatever looked good to him and then asked if he would stop for milk and bread on the way home.

Well, he got more than those staples. Instead he came home with two brown paper bags filled with treats from Ring Brothers Marketplace in Dennis. I was on the phone with my friend Candy when he came in so I wasn’t really paying attention.

Undeterred by my disinterest, my hubby lifted each item out of the bag and held it up for me to see in a tantalizing manner reminiscent of one of “Barker’s Beauties” on “The Price is Right.” Gorgeous thick slabs of filet ($5.99 a pound!), lamb steaks with a cute little center bone, a bunch of asparagus, golden beets, a pomegranate he bounced in his hand to show it’s heft and weight (the heavier the sweeter). Then he put a blood orange and avocado on the counter and mouthed, “For tonight’s salad.” Thick herb encrusted foccacia bread followed.

He saved the best for last. Holding a bottle of wine like a sommelier for me to examine, I nodded my approval even though I was still too distracted by my phone call to notice the name on the label. But I was intrigued enough by his bounty to hang up quickly. A nice bottle of wine on a week night was unusual enough for me to take a closer look. I discovered that the wine was a blend of four native grapes from Sicily and the text on the label was a hoot. “Four native grapes of Sicily play the part of their most intimate nature.” Oh my. The name of the wine: “Fourplay.” (Bet you didn't notice it in the photo above either!)

That man continuously surprises me with his cleverness at word play – even after 18 years together. He regularly kicks my butt at Scrabble too. For a writer, there is nothing more irresistible.

We grooved together in the kitchen in a seamless way. Steve cut the ends off the asparagus and tossed the spears with olive oil, sea salt and cracked ground pepper while I did the same to the beets in preparation for roasting for tomorrow night’s veggie or salad (still undecided). He seasoned the steaks and hollowed out vine ripened tomatoes to stuff and bake while I made individually plated salads.

Dinner was beyond scrumptious. The filets were perfectly cooked and topped with sautéed baby bella mushrooms and a red wine reduction sauce. The baked tomatoes were yummy and the asparagus pleasingly crisp. The salad was a nice blend of interesting flavors with romaine, orange peppers, cukes, avacodo, blood oranges and thinly sliced red onions drizzled with Briana’s Poppy Seed dressing.

There's nothing like a little gourmet on a weeknight to spice things up!

The Recipe:

Baked Stuffed Tomatoes

2 large vine ripened tomatoes
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 shallots, diced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
3/4 cup frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed to remove all water
1/2 cup freshly grated Romano cheese, plus two tablespoons
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper

Cut a hole in the top of the tomato and using a spoon gently scoop out the interior, and reserve for another use. (Steve used it in the wine reduction sauce for the filets.) Add the olive oil to a skillet and cook shallots and garlic until just tender. Add the spinach, cheese and pepper. Stuff evenly into the two tomatoes. Top each tomato with 1 tablespoon of Romano cheese. Bake at 375 degrees for a half an hour or until tomato is tender, but still sturdy enough to stand.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Chili on Cape Cod in May

Even though yesterday (Mother’s Day!) was barely warm enough to take a walk on the beach with my Mom, three of my kids and my granddaughter, today it was back to cold and gloomy. In fact, I’m sitting in front of a fire as I write this.

I can personally testify that it was pretty darn chilly on Cape Cod today because I spent several miserable hours outside. This was not by choice. A gust of wind picked up the table on my deck and slammed it down on its side about three feet from where it usually rests, turning my second floor deck (and the ground underneath it) into one great big glass mess.

Unfortunately these were not the shatter-proof little balls of glass that aren’t really very sharp. Oh, no. My sliced up knuckles are proof that one should never buy bargain patio furniture – or glass tables on Cape Cod.

On the Cape, the season of Spring really doesn’t exist, as far as I can tell. It goes from raw and rainy in December, to raw and rainy in April and May. But then one day, it miraculously warms up ever so slightly (like in mid-June!) and then before we know it summer is here and left hand turns require skillful planning and navigation. The fact that we have simply gorgeous Autumns to make up for it didn't comfort me today.

About an hour into my glass picking, I decided that the only thing I wanted for dinner was Chili. Even though I was far from done with the cleanup and realized that going barefoot in the back yard will now be impossible (picture a sad face here), the thought of Chili did make me happy, especially since I forgot what a production it is.

Making Chili should be a simple process, but not so much in my house where there is no such thing as one simple meal. Some nights it feels more like cooking in a restaurant than cooking for a family, and this was one of those meals.

My husband and I like traditional Chili – and we like it spicy. My daughters Jess and Julie will eat poultry and fish, but no red meat or pork. So I made an alternative batch with ground turkey. Then there is my son, Tommy, the boy who doesn’t eat anything. He hates beans, onions, peppers and spicy food. In fact the only thing he likes in Chili is the ground beef. So the third batch (yes, I made three different batches) was just ground beef, tomatoes and chili powder.

We serve it with grated cheddar on top and tortilla chips for dipping. Tonight Steve was inspired to make cornbread in our large cast iron skillet as well. He used a recipe he likes in the “Peace, Love and Barbecue” cookbook Julie bought him for Father’s Day two years ago. We’ve tried a lot of cornbread recipes and this is the best we found so far.


2 pounds ground beef
1 cup chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 cup chopped yellow pepper
1 finely chopped jalopeno pepper
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped habanero pepper
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 can cannelloni beans, drained and rinsed
1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon freshly ground Italian herbs
2 teaspoons kosher salt (or to taste)
1 teaspoon fresh ground cracked pepper

Brown ground beef until fat is rendered and drain. Add onions, garlic and all peppers and sauté until tender, about five minutes, stirring frequently. Add both cans of tomatoes and all the spices.

Simmer for one hour, adding a little water if the sauce gets too thick. Add both kinds of beans and simmer for about 20 minutes longer.

John Hudgin’s Skillet Cornbread

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/4 cups coarsely ground yellow cornmeal
3/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
1/2 cup of cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a 9-inch cast iron skillet with 1 tablespoon olive oil.

Mix the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg and the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil. Combine the wet and dry ingredients until just mixed.

Place skillet in the oven for about 3 minutes or until hot. Don’t allow the oil to smoke or burn. Remove the skillet from the oven and pour in the batter. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cut into wedge slices and serve with plenty of butter.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Back to Binghamton for Spiedies

My City Chicken experiment made me crave that other (much more famous and delicious) meat on a skewer that my childhood hometown of Binghamton is famous for – Spiedies. For some inexplicable reason no one who doesn’t have ties to the Southern Tier of New York has ever heard of these tasty treats – and boy are they missing out.

In Binghamton Spiedies are popular enough to have an annual festival called the Spiedie Fest and Balloon Rally Ballooning is another popular Binghamton pastime, and I used to love to see the colorful orbs in the sky. They were like a random bit of magic in an otherwise ordinary day. Now the Spiedie Fest has become one of the top hot air ballooning rallies in the country with over 35 ballons each year.

In my family Spieides were both a staple and a treat, and whenever I get together with any of my Binghamton relatives, you can bet Spiedies will be on the menu. So what is a Spiedie, you might ask if you're not from the Southern Tier. It is a skewer of marinated cubes of pork or chicken (although the original ones were lamb), cooked on the grill and served on a slice of fresh Italian bread.

If you live near Binghamton you can buy bottled marinade in the grocery store or buy uncooked or cooked Spiedies at Lupo’s Spiedies, but the recipe is fairly simple and my Aunt Shirley had a copy of it from a famous, but now defunct, restaurant that she shared with me.

Spiedies are thought to have been brought to the region by Augustine Iacovelli, an immigrant from the Abruzzi region of Italy who came to Endicott in 1929 to work at the Endicott-Johnson Shoe Factory, like so many immigrants did in those days. He opened his own restaurant called Augies in 1939 and introduced Spiedies to the Triple Cities of Endicott, Binghamton and Johnson City. The name comes from the Italian word “spiedo” which means “spit” (as in charcoal or wood grilling, not saliva). You can find more information on the history of Spiedies here.

I bought both a package of chicken breasts and a small pork roast and cut them into one inch cubes and marinated them for 24 hours. This is a minimum marinating time, but I think anything more than 2 days makes the meat taste too vinegary. Then I threaded the pieces of meat on metal skewers and Steve grilled them.

When I lived in Binghamton the only kind of bread to use was Felix Roma Bakery sliced Italian made at the Endicott Bakery (LOVED this bread as a kid and it might be worth a trip back to Binghamton just to try it again). On Cape Cod, I’ve found that fresh baked and store sliced Scala bread is the closest substitute. Simply place the skewer across the bread and hugging the meat lightly with the bread, slide the meat off.

When folks (like my hubby) are first introduced to Spiedies, they think the sandwich is too plain and are tempted to add some kind of condiment. Uh, no! There is no better way to foul up a perfectly good spiedie than to smear something on it. It simply must be eaten as is, and now that my husband has been properly trained, he loves them plain too.

The Recipe:


4 pounds lamb (or pork or chicken) cubed
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup vinegar (we used cider vinegar)
2 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried mint flakes
1 tablespoon rosemary
1 teaspoon celery salt
1 bay leaf, broken in pieces

Place meat in a bowl. Add oil to coat it. Mix all the other ingredients with the vinegar and add to the meat. Mix thoroughly and marinade in refrigerator for at least 24 hours.

When ready to serve remove bowl from fridge and stir ingredients. Thread the meat tightly on skewers. Grill until done, but now dried out, about 8 – 10 minutes. Turn meat to evenly grill all sides.

Serve by wrapping Italian bread around the meat and pulling it off the skewer with the bread.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Binghamton Bound with City Chicken

Apparently my story “Recipes from Mom” published in yesterday’s Cape Cod Times struck a chord of nostalgia in many readers and I’ve been hearing from them (both those I know and those I don’t) for the past two days. Even my ex-husband called me to tell me he liked the story.

A really nice lady named Diane emailed me to say that her sister had written a family cookbook and that my story inspired her to think about writing a cookbook for her own 20-something children who also call from the grocery store to get a list of ingredients so they can have some self-created home cooking.

But the part of her email that delighted me the most was that she confessed the biggest reason she wrote to me was because I might be one of the few people on Cape Cod who know about City Chicken. Diane grew up near Vestal, New York, which is close to my original hometown of Binghamton, and her sister still lives in the area and still makes City Chicken once in a while.

“Do you have a recipe to share for City Chicken and, the $24,000 Question is, where do you find the wooden sticks?” Diane asked.

You know what that meant, don’t you? Yep, City Chicken for dinner! I have to confess that even though this was a favorite dinner when I was a child, I haven’t ever tried cooking it myself. So I looked up the recipe in the cookbook my mother made me and found it to be a little vague. Undeterred, I called my Mom to ask her what kind of cracker crumbs she used. Her answer, “I don’t remember. Probably whatever I had.”

As for those sticks, my Mom said they used to come right in the package with the cubed pork in the grocery store. Well that was in Binghamton in the 1970’s, and I was pretty sure that Diane’s question was in fact a good one. I love a challenge, so I went online. I guessed that the sticks were about 6 inches long. I found 6-inch bamboo skewers online, but they were much more slender than the ones needed to make City Chicken.

Plus I didn’t have time to order skewers online. A reader was waiting for a recipe! I went to the Shaw’s Supermarket in Orleans and found 12-inch bamboo skewers that were the perfect diameter. Simple solution - I bought them and cut them in half. Since then I’ve done some more research and discovered that Candy Apple sticks are perfect! They are 5 1/2 inches long and the right thickness. So Diane, you can buy a box of 100 for $5 at the Popcorn Supply Company. And, I’m not holding you to the $24,000.

City Chicken is actually not chicken at all, but cubes of pork. My mother didn’t know why a recipe for pork was called chicken, so I did a little research and found a funny blog called “The City Chicken” that is written by a law student who was a “former country chick” living in a big city of undetermined origin. On her blog, she had a recipe for City Chicken and that post has comments from people from Detroit, Pittsburg, Ohio – and Binghamton, who all remember it fondly.

Here’s "the city chick's" explanation of the name: “Apparently the name ‘city chicken’ originated during the great Depression when poor immigrants would take scraps of meat and skewer them together in order to create a ‘drumstick.’ The skewers were then baked or fried.”

On to the experiment: Since I didn’t know what kind of cracker to use, I decided to try both Ritz and Saltines. I have two daughters who don’t eat red meat or pork, I decided to make half of the City Chicken out of actual chicken and the other half out of the pork called for in the recipe.

The consensus: Nobody, even me, loved this dinner, and my family, quite frankly, was puzzled by it. But they ate it and my lame photo is the evidence. I forgot to take a photo before dinner and that one piece was all that was leftover. In taste tests, Ritz won out over saltines and the chicken ones were much, much too dry, so stick with pork. But for those who want to give these a try for the sake of nostalgia (and for Diane), I’m including the recipe.

City Chicken

2 pounds pork, cut into 1 inch cubes
2 eggs, beaten
1 sleeve Ritz Crackers
5 1/2 – 6 inch long wooden skewers (like those for Candy Apples)

Crush the Ritz Crackers in a food processor and pour onto a plate. Beat the eggs in a wide shallow bowl. Thread about five cubes of pork on each skewer. Dip into the egg first, then the cracker crumbs. Place in baking pan and bake for one hour at 350 degrees.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Baking With My Granddaughter for the World to See

When I pitched a story about writing a cookbook for my kids to Gwenn Friss, the food editor at the Cape Cod Times, she thought it was a perfect story to run for Mother’s Day. I explained to her how my mother had written one for me and how I planned to start a food blog to help me (eventually) write one for my children.

I was really excited about the story, but I didn’t really think about how the story would be illustrated. No problem because Gwenn had a plan and assigned a photographer to come to my hovel house. I actually love my house, but my kitchen isn’t the most photogenic and I had just gotten back from vacation and hadn’t had a chance to clean the house yet – and it’s not like I had time to clean before we left. So two weeks of dust bunnies hopped around in the corners and two weeks of mail was piled up. In fact when I looked around, every surface of my house seemed to be buried in something – books, magazines, Ipods, Legos.

I attacked the house like a madwoman, first hiding putting everything away, then scrubbing like crazy. If I could have repainted the kitchen, I swear I would have. Instead I actually wore out one whole Mr. Clean Magic Eraser (but it did erase the dings on the wall behind my jar of cooking utensils). Finally with an hour to go, I still needed to take a shower AND make the pie dough before the photographer arrived.

I had decided to make Strawberry Rhubarb Pie because the ingredients were in season and colorful and I could use my Grandma Palmer’s recipe from the cookbook my Mom made. The photos were supposed to be a three generational thing with my daughter Jess and her daughter Skylar, but that kind of went the way of the best laid plans. Jess forgot about the photo shoot and had just gotten back from the gym. “I’m not being in the photos,” she insisted. “This was your idea, not mine.”

Skylar had just come home from pre-school and was a bear. She was tired and ready for a nap and when I asked her if she wanted to have her picture taken, she yelled, “No!” from the living room where she was firmly ensconced in Papi’s chair watching “Barney.”

With shaking hands, I whipped together the ingredients and was just adding the flour when the photographer Steve Heaslip showed up. While he set up his equipment, I lured Skylar into the kitchen with a sure fire line: “Do you want to play with dough with me?” Yep, she did, and Steve snapped away as we molded the dough, rolled the dough, filled the pie and proudly held up our efforts.

As Steve was packing up his stuff, I realized that I had forgotten to take off my apron. When I cook, I usually wear a vintage 1940’s bib apron I bought in a thrift store because it reminds me of my great grandmother. Grandma Richards wore a different apron like this every day of the week and I think of her every time I don mine. That day I was wearing a white blouse that I didn’t want to get dirty. But I meant to take the apron off before the photos were shot. It wasn’t even clean! Way to look like a hip young grandmother…

Plus I discovered some remnants from lunch on Skylar’s face. “You just look more realistic,” Steve said, before he left. So for days I’ve been fretting about those photos and just how realistic we might look. The story called “Recipes from Mom” ran today and you can’t even see my kitchen at all – not any of it. And Skylar’s face looks just fine, although she does look quite a bit shyer than the little imp who usually runs around here.

Somehow the whole photo shoot escaped my hubby’s attention and he had no idea it was happening. Later that day when he called to ask about my day, I told him I’d cleaned our house and baked a pie. “Awesome!” he said. “You should do that every day.”

As if…

But there was something incredibly gratifying about making my grandmother’s pie with my granddaughter. And she can’t wait to do it again, but next time she wants something a little less sour – like apple or blueberry.

The Recipes:

Water Whip Pie Crust

This recipe from my grandmother (taken off the label of Spry shortening) is exactly the opposite of every pie crust recipe I’ve ever seen. Instead of using cold water and handling the dough very gently, it uses boiling water and a mixer. The resulting dough is flaky and delicious and very easy to work with.

3/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons of Butter Flavored Crisco
1/4 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons milk
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt

Put shortening in a mixing bowl. Add the boiling water and beat with mixer until smooth. Add milk and salt and beat again. It will look like whipped cream. Add the flour one cup at a time and mix by hand. Yield: a 2 crust 9-inch pie.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

In my family we like our pies a little tart, so if you prefer a sweeter pie increase the amount of sugar.

Make recipe for two crust pie.

2 cups of rhubarb, washed and sliced into 1-inch pieces.
2 cups strawberries – leave smaller berries whole and cut larger berries in half or thirds
3/4 cup sugar (1 cup if you like your pie sweet)
1/4 cup flour
3 tablespoons butter

1. Roll out bottom crust and place in pie plate.
2. Put rhubarb, strawberries, sugar and flour in a bowl and mix well. Pour into prepared pie crust. If there is extra flour and sugar that hasn’t been absorbed by the juice of the fruit, sprinkle it evenly over the top.
3. Cut the butter into small pieces and disperse on top of the fruit mixture. Roll out top crust and cover the fruit.
4. Cut off excess overhang (should be about a half an inch all the way around) and fold top crust under bottom crust and pinch together. Crimp the edge by making a V with your left thumb and forefinger and pushing the dough into the V with your right forefinger.
5. With a knife liberally poke vent holes in the top of the crust in a pleasing design, making sure the whole crust is covered.
6. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 – 50 minutes. To check if pie is done, slide a knife into one of the vent holes. Fruit should be tender.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Making Homemade Margaritas for Cinco de Mayo

When I got a text message from my hubby saying “Te amo mucho!” with a little photo of a margarita, I didn’t think much about it. Getting sweet notes from him in other languages isn’t terribly unusual and most often signifies a theme, usually for dinner plans. Sure enough, he followed it up with an email suggesting we celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

Really any excuse for a party works for me and I have no problem borrowing customs from other lands to celebrate. Since I already had a pork roast rubbed with The Art of Spice Pork Rub in the crock pot to make pulled pork sandwiches, I decided to made some tasty Mexican side dishes to go along with it. I made homemade salsa and guacamole to serve with tortilla chips and a corn and black bean salad – and of course Margaritas.

The timing couldn’t be better. My friend Jennifer just asked me if I knew of a recipe for homemade margarita mix because the pre-made ones are full of bad, bad corn syrup. Plus the pre-made bottled Margarita mix is too cloying to drink on the rocks - the only way to drink a Margarita, in my opinion. I was looking for a lighter, more refreshing taste. Cinco de Mayo gave me the perfect excuse to experiment with a recipe. I got a great one on my first try. The key was fresh lime juice and Newman's Own Organic Virgin Lemonade.

Just so you don’t think I’m mixing up such impressively large drinks at home, the photos are from Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville in Myrtle Beach, a very cool restaurant we visited on our last day of vacation. Every 30 minutes they announce a “Hurricane” and mix up a batch of “Margaritas” in the giant blender, punctuated by thunder and lightning. Then “Wasting Away Again in Margaritaville” plays and everyone sings along. This IS as fun as it sounds, especially when you’re sipping on a Margarita.

Here’s a video of the “Hurricane.”

Salud, Jennifer!

The recipes:

Cinco de Mayo Margarita

3 ounces good quality tequila
1 ounce Cointreau (or orange flavored liqueor - we used the homemade orange liqueor we made a Christmas)
Two limes
4 ounces of Newman’s Own Organic Virgin Lemonade

In a two cup shaker, measure tequila and cointreau. Juice the limes with a juicer or reamer and add that. Add four ounces of the lemonade and fill with ice. Shake and serve in a tall salt rimmed glass. To make salt stick to rim, run a slice of lime around the top and then dip glass in small plate covered with kosher salt. Use the lime as a garnish and add a straw.

Homemade Guacamole

2 small or 1 large avocados, cut into half inch cubes
Juice of half a lime
Small tomato, finely diced
5 green onions, sliced
1/2 teaspoon of very finely chopped habanero pepper
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix all ingredients and serve immediately with tortilla chips.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Leaving Charleston on a Tasty Note

On our last night in Charleston, a “back to life, back to reality” mood settled over all of us. We decided to cook at Melissa and Doug’s apartment. I wanted to try Red Snapper, because I saw a whole one at the fish market earlier in the week and thought it was really beautiful. Unfortunately it was $18.99 a pound and it’s not very tempting to splurge right before you have to go home and face the bills you’ve already racked up.

The most affordable seafood at Mount Pleasant Seafood at Boone Hall Farms Market was littlenecks and large shrimp at $5.99 a pound each. We bought 2 dozen littlenecks and a pound of shrimp and improvised a recipe with the rest of the food we had left in our fridge. It was an odd assortment of ingredients that Steve and I bought (separately), but we made it come together for a really good meal.

My husband and my strategies for grocery shopping couldn’t be more different and this never fails to amaze me. When I shop, I plan whole meals and buy all of the ingredients. When Steve shops, he plans for a meal or maybe two (???? – hard to tell from the stuff he brings home), but really his style is to buy what looks good, hits his fancy or is on sale. Might be a guy thing.

When he went on his run to Piggly Wiggly, he bought the necessary stuff for our cookout (see post below), but he also bought asparagus and strawberries, just because they were local and in season and a pineapple because it was only $3.

So we had those things to work with in addition to one onion, garlic, baby red bliss potatoes, an orange pepper, 2 lemons, a half a bottle of capers, a bunch of fresh parsley and some fresh thyme.

Here’s what we came up with: a seafood stew, a side of roasted asparagus and peppers, and a fruit salad of pineapple and strawberries. It was both pretty and delicious. So this recipe is for you, Melissa, in honor of the meal we cooked at your cozy apartment.


Charleston Inspired Clam and Shrimp Stew

Serves 4

1 onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped and crushed to paste with the edge of a chopping knife
2 lemons
1 cup white wine
16 baby red bliss potatoes, sliced in 1/4 inch slices
2 dozen littlenecks
1 pound of large fresh shrimp
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1 tablespoon of capers

Sautee the onions and garlic in a splash of olive oil, until crisp/tender. Ream two lemons and add the juice along with the wine and potatoes. Simmer for 15 minutes, covered.

Add the clams and cover again. Watch closely and when about three quarters of the clams have opened (about 10 minutes) add the parsley, thyme and capers and stir. Add the shrimp and cover again for 3 – 5 minutes, just until they are pink.

Divide evenly into to four bowls.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Firing up the Grill at Homewood Suites

Yep, that's my sweet hubby manning the grill at our hotel. Poor guy can't get away from cooking even when he's on vacation. But he loves it and thought a cookout was the perfect solution to how to feed our crowd when I suggested it.

When you’re traveling with family, I’ve discovered it’s nearly impossible to get everyone to agree on what to do, let alone what to eat. In addition to our family of four, none of whom like to do the same things, we also added our grown daughter Melissa and her fiancée Doug. Then on Sunday night my father, step-mother and half-sister joined us at the hotel for a couple of days and an overnight.

By that point we had already eaten out at restaurants four nights so we were tired of that and ready to cook. We had two people who wouldn't eat red meat or pork, one who wouldn't eat carbs or fruit (fruit?) and two who don't like seafood. But the one thing everyone agreed on was a cookout.

Our suite at the hotel had a rudimentary kitchen with a two burner stove, fridge, microwave, sink and dishwasher. There was a nice set of pans, a set of three plastic nesting bowls with lids and dishes for four. The courtyard of Homewood Suites has several concrete tables and benches covered by trellises and there were two cast iron grills like they have in state parks out there too.

We decided to keep the meal simple. Steve went to the nearby Piggly Wiggly (a store whose name my Dad is positive wouldn't fly up north) and bought boneless chicken breasts and marinated them in a bottle of Italian salad dressing, He also picked up some hamburger for the boys who preferred a big juicy burger. In my tiny kitchen I made a tossed salad with the leftover produce I bought at the farmer’s market the day before and made our daughter Julie’s favorite pasta salad made with ranch dressing because even though it only has five ingredients, everyone seems to love it.

When I make this salad at home I usually make the Hidden Valley Ranch dressing out of the package, but to minimize the cooking time (and dirty dishes) so I could spend more time with my family, I used a bottle of ranch dressing instead – fewer ingredients to buy and really what could be simpler?

My step-mother, Ronnie, made a gorgeous fruit salad in a watermelon bowl in her tiny kitchen. We had quite a feast – and no leftovers! Afterwards most of the gang played basketball for an hour and then we all hung out around the pool in comfy lounge chairs talking while the kids swam and played in the hot tub.

It was Steve and Tommy’s favorite day of our vacation and we never even left the hotel. Unlike me who likes to obsessively carefully plan every minute, my guys sure know how to kick back and relax. They might be onto something, but it’s too late for me to change, as evidenced by the fact that I simply could not put a recipe in this blog that used bottled salad dressing. Oh, no, no, no.

Once I got home that innocent bottle of salad dressing mocked me with its simplicity and fake ingredients, and I even began to question why I use the packaged mix. So I did some experimenting and came up with my own recipe. If you happen to be camping or staying at a hotel (or just plain lazy, tired or short on time), feel free to use the bottle for ease. But from now on I’m going cold turkey on the prepared stuff and sticking with scratch because once you’ve tasted the real thing, the other just simply won’t do.

The Recipe:

Julie’s Favorite Pasta Salad

1 package of spiral pasta, cooked according to package directions
1 can of black olives, drained
1 container of grape tomatoes, washed and cut in half
1/2 cup red onion, diced
2 cups Ranch Dressing

Cook pasta and pour into strainer and rinse with cold water to cool. Let drain and then mix it in a bowl with olives, tomatoes and onions. Pour on the dressing and mix thoroughly.

Homemade Ranch Dressing

1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 small onion (or 1 teaspoon onion powder)
1 small clove garlic (or 1 teaspoon garlic powder)
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh chives, finely sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper

If you decide to use fresh onion and garlic, coursely chop them on a cutting board and then put in a mini-food processor and chop until very fine.

Put all ingredients in a bowl and briskly whisk until fully incorporated. Taste and adjust seasonings to taste.