Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

I haven’t had time for much – you know, the gift thinking, the gift shopping, the gift wrapping, and in the case of this year, the carrying of the gifts from Texas to NJ where we await the birth of ... a baby Hilton. But I did make THREE batches of roll-out cookies – for my children, my mother-in-law, and the two physical therapy clinics that I figure are the reason I was able to make them in the first place.

So from my kitchen to yours, here's a wish for all of you to have the very best of the holiday season, and a happier, more prosperous New Year!

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Breakfast Dilemma
What’s cooking? Coconut Oat Pilaf

To cook or not to cook? When it comes to breakfast, that’s the big question. Especially when we have guests, I’m always torn between the desire for sleep (“Breakfast here is DIY – we have yogurt, eggs, cereal, fruit,...”) and the image I have in my head of everyone gathering around the kitchen island while I whip up some eggy concoction or pull yummy biscuits or coffee cake out of the oven.

The truth is, of course, that hardly anyone ever wants to wait the hour or so it’ll take me to manage one of those scenarios. And I have the additional challenge of making myself look like someone you want to face at that time of day.

But when my children show up for a visit, breakfast is a lot easier to manage. They sleep late enough that I can have it ready when they make their morning appearance, and they don’t care as much what I look like. They also really like breakfast, which means they’ll tolerate whatever fuss I want to make.

So when my younger son and his girlfriend showed up over the Thanksgiving break, I pulled out all the stops. Ginger scones one day, Paris breakfast another, and this wonderful breakfast pilaf for a third. (It doesn't look like much in the photo, but what can you do? Brown food is a tough photo subject.) The original recipe came from the indefatigable Mark Bittman, a couple of years ago in The New York Times. Some of the ingredients he uses are a bit more exotic than my pantry, so I tweaked it here and there.

The pilaf is delicious as a savory breakfast, but I need something sweet in the morning, so I serve mine with a touch of pure maple syrup (no Aunt Jemima’s, please) or some honey. You could also try it with your favorite jam. Leftovers keep well in the refrigerator for days.

Coconut Oat Pilaf

Adapted from Mark Bittman in The New York Times.

Quakers makes it, too.
Serves 4.

2 tablespoons butter
1½ cups steel-cut oats (not rolled), rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon minced or grated ginger [Kitchen Goddess note: Buy fresh ginger and keep it in an airtight container in the freezer. Life will be a lot easier.]
1 tablespoon mustard seeds (brown or black are both fine)
¼ teaspoon Chinese Five-Spice Powder
¼ teaspoon Aleppo pepper or a pinch of chili flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup shaved coconut (I buy mine dried, in the bulk food aisle; if you buy fresh, store it in the freezer)
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro, mint, or parsley, or a combination (I prefer the combination.)
½ apple, grated (large holes)
¼ cup toasted and chopped pistacchios (or other nuts you like)
Maple syrup (warmed)

Put butter in a pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. When it melts, add oats and ginger and stir until coated. Add spices and a pinch each of salt and pepper; stir until fragrant, just a minute or two.

Stir in 2½ cups water, bring to a boil, and reduce heat enough that the mixture gently bubbles. Cook undisturbed, until most of the water has been absorbed and holes begin to appear on surface, about 10 minutes. Cover, remove from heat, and let sit for up to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, toast coconut in a skillet over medium-low heat, shaking pan and stirring several minutes until the coconut is toasted and fragrant (careful that it doesn’t burn). Toss coconut and herbs into oats, fluffing mixture with a fork. Sprinkle grated apple and toasted nuts on top. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary and serve hot or at room temperature. Drizzle maple syrup on top if you like it sweet.

Yield: 4 servings.

Kitchen Goddess note: All three of my breakfasts were easy and reasonably fast to make, especially if you check the night before that you have all the ingredients, and that you set out whatever dry ingredients you’ll need. It’s that maddening mise en place philosophy of organizing and arranging what you need at the beginning, that the Culinary Institute harps on. Don’t you just hate it when they’re right?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Back in the Saddle, Again – with a Great Recipe for Yeast Rolls and Why I Won’t Be Making Them
What’s cooking? Yeast Rolls

The road back from a shoulder injury is long and torturous – mostly torture at the hands of a physical therapist. But in spite of the suffering, PT Bob (my man in NJ) was really a marvel at getting me to the point where my surgeon would release me to fly back to Texas. And now I’m in Austin with the equally capable PT Megan, who while assuring me that I’m making great progress, tells me the rotator cuff usually takes about a year to recover fully. So I will repeat the lesson of my previous posting: Don’t jump around with wet feet on your bathroom floor, even if it means you have to leave your earrings on while you wash your hair.

In my disabled state, I started several postings, including one titled “I Can Eat with My Right Hand If I Use an Iced Tea Spoon”:

Fortunately, I have a supply of them here in New Jersey. The shoulder is getting better, but I still can’t get my right hand very near to my mouth. So if I want to eat with it, I am reduced to utensils with an extended reach, like iced tea spoons and chopsticks.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Pardon the Interruption...

But I had a little trouble with my shoulder not long ago. And while it looks like I’m holding that knife at the ready, the only thing I’m really ready to do is sit down.

It’s my right shoulder, too, and it turns out that I am more right-handed than I ever could have guessed. I won’t even tell you how long it has taken me to put this posting together. So you’ll hear from me again, just not as often for a bit.

For any of you medical-minded readers, the operation report says it was a full-thickness rotator cuff tear including supraspinatus and subscapularis, as well as biceps dislocation and a couple of other things that don’t sound like nouns or verbs to me. In any case, too radical for arthroscopic surgery, so I also have a nice 6-inch scar down my arm.

Just goes to show you should NEVER jump out of the shower onto a stone floor, even if it means washing your hair with your earrings in.

In the meantime, so as not to wander too far afield from food, I give you...

Meals for the Left Hand

1. Pizza from the local delivery place.
2. Cereal.
3. Cheese and crackers.
4. Chinese take-out.
5. Thai take-out.
6. Mexican take-out.

Or if you are lucky like I am, your angel husband will submit himself to your unbelievably tedious instructions for cooking steak, salmon, asparagus, and even vegetable soup. More on that later...

Friday, August 26, 2011

Signs of August
What’s cooking? Chilled Corn Soup with Honeydew Dots

One of the phenomena that I have observed as my children got older was the way I lose track – other than through the weather – of the seasons and the attendant holidays. Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Presidents’ Day, Spring Break, Fall Break ... they come and go with hardly a nod. Absent the monthly notices from school, or the thematic artwork for my refrigerator, or even the need to find child care on days that were observed by the school system but not by my Wall Street employer, I find myself halfway through the fall before I realize I have to start thinking about Thanksgiving. Even the great secondary holidays – Valentines’ Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween – almost escape my notice.

But here in Jersey City, I have a new seasonal marker: I can trace the year’s progress through the activity on the athletic field outside our condo window. I can watch lacrosse in the spring, football in the fall, and various sports camps – primarily soccer – all summer. So how do I know summer is almost over? The football players are finally practicing in full uniform.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Happy 100th, Gladys!
What’s cooking? Apple Pie with Cheddar Crust

Yesterday was my mother-in-law’s 100th birthday. At a two-day celebration last weekend, she allowed as how she thought she was finally ready to offer advice if anyone wanted some. Sure, when she was born, there were no televisions or cell phones or computers. There also were no radio broadcasts (1920), no Band-Aids (1920) or hair dryers (1920), no automobiles with combustion engines (1920), no bras (1913) or Q-Tips (1920) or Kool-Aid (1927), and no penicillin (1928). It’s hard for me to even imagine that world.

Gladys didn’t have anything to do with bringing combustion engines or Band-Aids or Kool-Aid into our lives; but with her husband, she did raise three children to be good and responsible citizens. And I was lucky enough to meet one of them and marry him.

When she was in the 5th or 6th grade, Gladys and five friends established themselves as the Pollyanna Club. They wanted to keep the club small and special, so even when one of the girls moved away, they didn’t replace her. The motto of the Pollyanna Club was “Have a good time”; so, according to Gladys, “We had saved some money and were going to give it to the Red Cross, but we decided to go out to dinner instead.” Now, that’s my kind of group.

Gladys shares her birthday with Davy Crockett, Mae West, writers Ted Hughes and V.S. Naipaul, actors Robert DeNiro and Sean Penn, and the millionaire art collector and philanthropist John Hay Whitney. Lots of accomplishments there, but none of them could make an apple pie like hers.

She never wrote down the recipe, and now it’s been too many years since she rolled one out; but she assures me there was nothing in the filling but apples and cinnamon and a little sugar. The following recipe, which is adapted from the September 2009 issue of Gourmet, is a real keeper, with much the same flavor of Gladys’s pie. I’m particularly fond of the bit of cheese in the crust – it adds to the flakiness, and the combo of cheese with apples is a perennial favorite.

Kitchen Goddess tips on pie-making:

 #1: Be sure to leave small bits of butter unincorporated – unlike the creaming process for cakes, where the mixture should be smooth – to produce little pockets of air in your crust, for flakiness.

#2: To keep the dough from sticking (my major problem in disasters past), follow the directions to chill it well before rolling it out, and throw down plenty of flour on the counter. Rotate the dough a quarter turn after each couple of swipes with the rolling pin. Roll with even, steady strokes all across the dough circle until you get it down to a ⅛-inch thickness.

#3: The milk wash, brushed over the exposed part of the crust, will help it brown and will add to the flavor of the crust because of the natural sugar in the milk.

Apple Pie with Cheddar Crust, adapted from Gourmet magazine, September 2009

For pastry:
2½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ pound extra-sharp Cheddar (preferably white), coarsely grated (2½ cups)
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
¼ cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into ½-inch pieces
6-8 tablespoons ice water
1 tablespoon milk (for brushing on crust)

For filling:
1½ pound Gala apples (3 medium)
1½ pound Granny Smith apples (3 medium)
⅔ cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter

Make pastry dough: 
Stir together flour, salt, and cheese in a large bowl (or pulse in a food processor). Add butter and shortening and blend with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse) just until mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-size butter lumps. Drizzle 6 tablespoons ice water evenly over mixture and gently stir with a fork (or pulse) until incorporated.

Squeeze a small handful: If dough doesn't hold together, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring (or pulsing) until incorporated. Do not overwork dough or pastry will be tough.

Turn out dough onto a work surface and divide in half, then form each half into a 5" disk. Chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 1 hour.

Make filling and bake pie: 
Put a large baking sheet in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 450°F.

Peel and core apples, then slice ¼-inch thick. Toss apples with sugar, cinnamon, flour, lemon juice, and salt until evenly coated.

Roll out 1 piece of dough (keep remaining disk chilled) on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 13" round. Fit into a 9" pie plate. Roll out remaining piece of dough into an 11" round.

Transfer filling to shell. Dot with butter, then cover with the 11" pastry round. Trim edges, leaving a ½-inch overhang. Press edges together to seal, then fold under. Lightly brush top crust with milk, then cut 5 (1-inch-long) vents.

Bake on hot baking sheet 20 minutes. Reduce oven to 375°F and bake until crust is golden-brown and filling is bubbling, about 40 minutes more. Cool to warm or room temperature, 2-3 hours.

Note: Dough can be chilled up to 2 days or frozen up to 3 months.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Writing and Poetry and Food – Perfect Together
What’s cooking? Butter-Baked Rice

Kitchen Goddess note: Poetry has all the antioxidants your soul could need. If you really hate all things poetic, you can skip right to the great rice recipe at the end of this post. There’s just a taste of poetry here, but who knows, you may be inspired to try more.

Writers toss and turn and groan and grind and pace the floor and periodically feel like sticking needles in their eyes just to end the pain of trying to express themselves, and for the most part, it’s a ridiculous, frustrating process, with more dead ends than Lindsey Lohan. But when it works – ah, when the zone opens up and lets you in, it’s pure magic.

The zone has clearly opened up frequently for Philip Levine, who this week was named the next Poet Laureate for the U.S. In the years when my writing group were all NJ residents, we were regular attendees at the Dodge Poetry Festival, and I remember hearing Levine in person more than once. Like Billy Collins, who held the laureate post from 2001 to 2003, Levine is a funny man to listen to, self-effacing and slyly ironic – no chest-beating or railing loud against the fates.

Although he’s best known for his stunning ability to capture both the camaraderie and the pathos of the daily grind in factory life, he manages to work in an homage to food in these lines from the title poem in his 1996 book, The Simple Truth:

“I bought a dollar and a half’s worth of small red potatoes,
took them home, boiled them in their jackets
and ate them for dinner with a little butter and salt....

...Can you taste
what I’m saying? It is onions or potatoes, a pinch
of simple salt, the wealth of melting butter, it is obvious,
it stays in the back of your throat like a truth
you never uttered because the time was always wrong,
it stays there for the rest of your life, unspoken,
made of that dirt we call earth, the metal we call salt,
in a form we have no words for, and you live on it.”

Oh, yes, Mr. Levine, I can taste “the wealth of melting butter.” An image straight from the zone that speaks simply and clearly about a single food. It reminds me of the perfectly satisfying rice dish my friend Claudia made at last week’s pot luck supper. I like it especially because the last stage of cooking it takes place in the oven, so it’s a great dish when you’re entertaining.

And now you must excuse me while I go off to stick needles in my eyes.

Claudia’s Butter-Baked Rice

1 cup long-grain rice
2 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
¼-⅓ cup butter
garlic salt to taste
14-ounce can chicken broth (or 2 chicken bouillon cubes dissolved in 1¾ cups hot water)
chopped parsley for garnish

Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add 2 teaspoons salt and pour over 1 cup long grain rice. Let stand 30 minutes. Drain and rinse well with cold water. Drain well.

Melt the butter in a skillet. Add rice and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until butter is almost absorbed – about 5 minutes. Turn into a 1-qt. casserole. Sprinkle with a dash of garlic salt.  Add the can of chicken broth (or 2 chicken bouillon cubes dissolved in 1¾ cups of hot water. Bake covered at 325° for 45 minutes. Top with snipped parsley and fluff with a fork.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Neighborhood Pot Luck
What’s cooking? Magnolia Bakery’s Blueberry Jamboree

I’m always amazed at the results of a pot luck supper. No one is coordinating the menu, no one insisting that all the dishes be low cal or have lemon in them or come from Pakistani cuisine – and yet, somehow we avoid the scenario with four kinds of starch or three fruit salads and no protein, or maybe all white foods.

The one that most boggles me is my book group. Every month, anywhere from 12 to 16 women show up, each with a dish of some sort and no prior planning. Somehow, it always produces a well-balanced selection of foods, from appetizers to desserts. I’m reminded of that ancient joke about the thermos, that it keeps cold things cold and hot things hot – so how does it know?

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Small Town Sunday Special
What’s cooking? Zeppole

As far as I can remember, I had only one friend who was actually born and raised in Summit, the small New Jersey town where my husband and I raised our children. Like many New Jersey towns, the population is relatively fluid, with families moving in and out according to the whims of corporate America or the ups and downs of Wall Street.

But it turns out that, in spite of the shape-shifting nature of the populace, these small towns have a remarkable knack for building community. The Memorial Day service on the town green, with high school musicians playing Sousa marches and military tributes; the bicycle parade on July 4th; the Halloween parade, with children of all ages marching along in their costumes down Springfield Avenue; the free outdoor concerts in summer. Even the pristine town dump, where you can recycle almost anything and where everyone who’s anyone can be seen on a Saturday morning, plays a role in bringing the citizenry together to enjoy life on a personal scale.

So it was not a surprise when I showed up for the farmers’ market last Sunday to find that the town had also closed off the streets near the train station for an arts and crafts fair.

The first tent I noticed had an adorable collection of knit hats in a lively range of colors to make any child happy.

Further down the street, I almost squealed with excitement at the chairs and benches produced by a remarkable young artist named Lindsey Shevkun, who refinishes second-hand furniture with paint, photos and tile, then shelacks them to a high-gloss finish. The look reminds me of artists in Mexico – in fact, many of the pieces pay overt homage to Frida Kahlo.

 And here’s the charming artist herself.

There was more to see than I have room to show, and eventually I found myself at the center of attention, which was the zeppole tent. These Italian doughnuts, deep-fried and covered with powdered sugar, are so popular they disappear faster than shooting stars. My feet were begging me to stop, so I grabbed this photo before buying a small sack of the lovelies, and heading for...guess where?

For those of you who'd like to try your hand at zeppoles, here's a recipe I found that seems pretty simple. If you try it, let me know how it goes. The web has a million variations on the ingredients – with or without cinnamon, with or without yeast, with or without ricotta. From what I tasted, this looks like the real deal.

Zeppole (yield 35)

vegetable oil for frying
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 pinch salt
1½ teaspoons sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup ricotta cheese
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup confectioners' sugar for dusting

In a medium saucepan, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Stir in the eggs, ricotta cheese and vanilla. Mix gently over low heat until combined. The batter will be sticky.

Meanwhile, pour enough oil into a large frying pan to reach a depth of 2 inches. Heat the oil over medium heat to 375º F.

Drop by tablespoons into the hot oil a few at a time. Zeppole will turn over by themselves. Fry until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes. Drain in a paper sack and dust with confectioners' sugar. Serve warm.

Kitchen Goddess note: To reuse the oil, let it cool, then strain it into a clean empty glass jar through a sieve lined with cheesecloth. Store in the refrigerator and reuse it (for similar recipes) up to 4 times.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Serendipity – or Maybe Cooking Karma?
What’s cooking? Watercress Soup

Chance or fate? I’ve long believed in karma of various sorts. Shopping karma (finding that just-so item in a tiny, hidden corner of Manhattan) and parking karma (snagging the spot right in front of the restaurant) come to mind most readily. But I’m starting to consider the concept of cooking karma. Can that be what you call it when you come across a recipe that sounds interesting and it turns out you already have ALL of the ingredients, including the leeks?

This line of thought started when my friend Gusty, a children’s book writer, sent me to a site that promised a free cookbook to the first 100 bloggers to try out a recipe from Richard Grausman’s new book, French Classics Made Easy. Never one to turn down such an opportunity, I went to the site and – voilá! – the proposed menu contained a cold soup recipe, another of my weaknesses. In truth, the recipe says you can serve it cold or hot; but with the outside temperatures this week breaking the 100° mark, no one in her right mind would make hot soup.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Today’s Rant... And a Divine Solution
What’s cooking? Divinity Fudge

Not long ago, I received a notice from HP – the people who made my laptop. What they called a Routine Customer Advisory. I’m never really sure if these things come to me because something in my computer is about to blow up or has already blown up or arrived blown up but I haven’t come across the particular circumstances that would ignite the fire. So I read the notice.

It had something to do with experiencing The Blue Screen of Death (my term, not theirs); and as it happens, I did have a recent experience with the BSD. Not a fatal one, but you know how these moments cause a shortness of breath and a sinking feeling as if your heart has just paid a visit to your colon. The description said these BSDs may happen after applying some Microsoft security bulletin. Now I apply every Microsoft security bulletin that comes to me – I figure they know what they’re talking about and if it has to do with security, I’m there. So while I can’t remember which Microsoft bulletin that might have been, I think I should apply this HP fix.

I download the file, and when I go to run it, I get one of those balloons that says “This computer does not meet the minimum requirements for installing the software.” Arrrggghh. How can that be? They know which laptop I have. The notice said it was for my model. I have more memory than Iowa has corn. What could they be talking about?

Looking for help, I scroll further down the page and find a “Content Feedback” section, where apparently I can ask a question, vent a tiny bit of my frustration, and – who knows? – maybe get help. I type in my feedback, hit Enter, and get an immediate response (including the exclamation marks):

“We’re very sorry!
The page you requested cannot be found.
We apologize for the inconvenience!”

And you know what? I agree – they are very sorry, with several more exclamation marks, mine more necessary than theirs.

So now I am energized, and without a technical solution, I fall back on a more comforting one: cooking. I head to the kitchen, where I whip up a batch of my Aunt Marcy’s Divinity Fudge. Nothing else works like sugar to make me feel better.

Kitchen Goddess note: It’s important to be sure you have a dry day for making divinity, as all you’ll get on a humid day is a big, white, gooey mess.

Aunt Marcy’s Divinity Fudge

2 egg whites
2 cups sugar
½ cup white corn syrup
½ cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup chopped nuts

In a metal mixing bowl, with your mixer on high, beat the whites until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

In a saucepan over low heat, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then cook without stirring to 260°. [Kitchen Goddess note #2: If you don’t have a candy thermometer, this is the point at which a little dropped into cold water forms a hard ball. I am usually racked with anxiety at trying to decide if the ball is hard enough, so I highly recommend investing in a candy thermometer, if you don’t have one.]

Remove the sugar mixture from the heat and pour, again with the mixer on high, in a fine stream into the beaten egg whites.

Continue beating until the mixture holds its shape and loses its gloss, which will take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. Stir in the vanilla and the nuts; then, working quickly (the stuff will stiffen faster than..., well, let’s just say really fast), drop small mounds of the candy onto waxed paper in peaks, or spread in a greased, shallow pan and cut into 1-inch squares when firm. For the mounds, it’s helpful to use two spoons – one spoon pushes the candy off the other.

Makes about 1¼ pounds.

Kitchen Goddess note #3: A few helpful tips regarding eggs. First, eggs separate better when they’re cold. But the whites whip up faster and fuller when they’re at room temperature. So separate your eggs, then let them sit for half an hour before whipping. Finally, fresh eggs don’t whip up as well as eggs that are at least a few days old. Which just goes to say that with eggs as with people, a little age is a good thing.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Who Needs Fireworks?
What’s cooking? Blueberry Syrup

Independence Day always comes as something of a shock to my system. It’s not really the Fourth of July, is it? How can it be that half the summer is already over? Of course, it’s not really half over – it just feels that way.

And here in the New York area, the warm weather has the tall buildings emptying out like someone pulled a plug. People are out after work, eating at sidewalk cafes, sitting on neighborhood stoops, and walking their dogs, children, or spouses. Like them, I want to grab each day and hold it tight, to suck every morsel of flavor out of the season before the leaves turn. it seems like it'll last forever. Then, suddenly, June has slipped past, and now July is racing on.

We thought when we got our place in Jersey City that we’d be able to see the fireworks, but noooo. Almost the minute we arrived, the pyrotechnic powers that be decided to move the whole shebang upriver – too far for viewing from our building. Bummer. But even as I moped around the apartment feeling sorry for what we were missing, I stopped at the window, looked south, and counted 10 separate celebrations off in the distance in NJ and Staten Island that were at least visible from here, and another three in Bklyn. Tiny bursts of color and fire, signalling everyone’s desire to celebrate summer or independence or our country or all three. It’s a very joyful sight.

Moreover, Manhattan has its own light show every night – available only to the folks in NJ. So now I’m pretty sure we’re really very lucky.

 * * *

It must be the height of the blueberry season in NJ, because the farmers’ markets are loaded with them. Which means it’s time for me to make blueberry syrup. I discovered this super-easy recipe last year in Food & Wine magazine, and couldn’t stop making it. I gave it to most of my friends, I froze it, I put it on everything from ice cream to cottage cheese to chicken (as a glaze before baking). What I like most about it – aside from the truly pure blueberry flavor – is that it’s not as sweet as most syrups. And while it’s a bit late for recommending a red, white, and blue dessert, summer isn’t really even half over; this would be the perfect add-on to strawberry shortcake or angelfood cake with strawberries or raspberries. Happy summer, everyone!

Blueberry Syrup (adapted from Food & Wine magazine)

1½ pounds blueberries (5 cups)
4 cups water
2 cups sugar
Six strips of lemon zest (use a vegetable peeler to get strips about ½ inch wide and 1-2 inches long)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

In a pot, combine the blueberries with 1 cup of the water. Using an implement like a potato masher (a large round wisk might also work), crush the berries and bring to a simmer. Simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Strain the juice into a heatproof measuring cup, pressing hard on the solids. Discard the solids.

Rinse out the pot. Add the sugar, lemon zest and the remaining 3 cups of water and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil the syrup over moderate heat until it registers 225° on a candy thermometer (about 20 minutes). Add the blueberry juice and lemon juice and boil over high heat for 1 minute. Let the syrup cool, then discard the lemon zest. Pour the syrup into just-cleaned bottles. Seal and refrigerate for up to 6 months.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Writers Who Lunch
What’s cooking? Jersey City Chicken Salad

What do you serve a group of really special guests for lunch? The four women who came to my house today have been nothing less than extraordinary influences on my writing life. Or maybe I should just say on my life, period.

For almost a decade, we met weekly to talk about writing, to read what we’d written over the previous week, but also commenting, interpreting, suggesting, and praising each other’s work. We had different goals, different needs fulfilled by the writing, and different genres in which we worked. One is a poet, one a short story writer, one a middle-grade novelist and essayist, one a much-published author of romances and young adult novels. And me, the essayist.

Longevity isn’t the only feature that distinguished us from many writing groups. The frequency of our meetings was also unusual, as most writing groups in my experience meet monthly. Being a small group, and meeting that often, we developed an amazing closeness that transcended the writing life and into the rest of our lives. The highs and lows of married life, parenting, professional progress, and mental health in general were often on the table along with our manuscripts.

But after all those years, life intervened, and one by one, we scattered to the winds – or, rather, to Texas, Florida, Massachusetts, and New York City. One lone member is staying put in New Jersey, maintaining our roots, but even she stages periodic escapes to Colorado.

I’ve tried other groups. Even while this New Jersey group was still going strong, I attempted to put together other groups from various writing workshops I attended. But none was so strong or so supportive. In fact, just knowing they’d be here today stirred something in the back of my brain – the need to create, to share that creativity, to hear how it affected others.

So today's lunch had to be special. I started with a cold minted pea soup, a bright green purée so smooth it fairly slips down the throat on its own. The main course was a chicken salad, tweaked a bit to accommodate some members’ dietary needs. But as often happens, the alterations produced a serendipity of flavors that I thought I should share with you.

I accompanied the chicken salad with a batch of Cochineal Drop Biscuits (from my April 28, 2011 posting), and a bright summer fruit salad of watermelon, peaches, and red and yellow New Jersey tomatoes, dressed with a splash of balsamic vinegar and a chiffonade (finely ribboned) of fresh basil. Dessert was sorbet from a local gelateria and amaretto cookies. Yum!

Jersey City Chicken Salad

4 cups cooked chicken breasts (about 1½ pound), cut or torn into bite-size pieces
1 cup walnuts, toasted (400° for 5 mins)
1 cup jicama, cut into ½-inch cubes and sprinkled with juice of ¼ lemon (if jicama is not available, use celery
2 cups seedless red grapes, halved
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
⅜ cup (6 tablespoons) light mayonnaise
⅜ cup (6 tablespoons) no-fat plain yogurt (my yogurt of choice is Fage, which beats all the others I’ve tried in creaminess)
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Kitchen Goddess note: I like to cook the chicken breasts all together in the oven – so easy. In a Pyrex dish large enough to hold the breasts in a single layer, sprinkle the chicken with garlic salt and pepper, and top each breast with a sprig of either thyme or parsley and a thin slice of lemon. Cover with foil and bake at 350º for 20 minutes. Uncover the breasts and let cool before you shred them for the salad. Toss the shredded chicken with about ¼ cup of the broth that collects, and save the rest for another use.

In a large bowl, combine the shredded chicken, walnuts, jicama, grapes, and tarragon. Stir together the mayo, yogurt, wine vinegar, and salt/pepper, and pour it over the salad mixture. Toss until combined well.

Do ahead? If you want to make this the day before, combine the non-dressing ingredients (chicken through tarragon) and cover tightly then refrigerate. Separately, combine the dressing ingredients (mayo through salt/pepper) in a jar. about a half hour before serving, toss the dressing with the chicken mixture and refrigerate.

Serves 4-6.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Big-Hearted Father’s Day BBQ Sauce
What’s cooking? Harry’s Best BBQ Sauce

I’m back! And just in time for Father's Day. So in honor of my own dear Dad, I’ve come with a recipe for the best barbecue sauce ever. This is what a loyal daughter does: she declares her father’s barbecue sauce recipe the best ever. Even if he’s no longer around to bask in the glory. But with my own personal bias disclosed, I will still promise that this sauce is pretty damn great.

By most accounts, daughters have their fathers wrapped around their little fingers from Day 1. I am probably no exception. My dad was a great guy who would have done back flips for me if he could have.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Big Bend Biscuits
What’s cooking? Cochineal Drop Biscuits

I’m always amazed at how it often takes a tourist to get a native to see the sights of his or her own city/state/country. I lived in Manhattan for 10 years and NJ for another 30 before I went to the top of the Empire State Building. The impetus? My 11-year-old nephew arrived from Houston for a visit.

Similarly, I never visited the celebrated Jockey Hollow area outside Morristown, NJ, where George Washington’s army spent a miserable winter in 1780. Never, at least, until friends from Seattle showed up.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

My Favorite Lamb Recipe – Aye, There’s the Rub
What’s cooking? Amazing Roast Leg of Lamb

Last week’s New York Times Magazine contained a piece by Mark Bittman with three yummy-sounding recipes for leg of lamb.

As I read them, I thought, I should try one of these. And then I remembered why I probably won’t: I have my own concoction that lifts lamb to a height I should probably call Amazing Taste. So flavorful that my friend Ellen – who says she doesn’t really like lamb – will dig into it with gusto.

The key is the spice rub, which I discovered in my early single days in Manhattan. It comes from Craig Claiborne’s New York Times Cookbook, the original edition (1961), and the first grown-up cookbook I ever owned. It appears in the book to be almost an afterthought, but I fell in love with the list of ingredients that at the time encompassed almost every condiment I had in my larder.

Amazing Roast Leg of Lamb

6-7 pounds bone-in leg of lamb, trimmed of excess fat (also works fine with boneless leg, which is easier to carve and may take less time, but is not quite as flavorful)

The Rub:
2-3 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
2 bay leaves, crushed
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons salad oil

Mix well the ingredients to the rub. Make small slits all over the lamb, and massage the rub into the meat. Let sit 30 minutes to an hour. (You can let it sit more; if so, refrigerate the lamb while it sits).

Preheat the oven to 450º. Set the lamb on a rack in a roasting pan, and roast 30 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350º, and continue cooking for another 30 minutes. After that, using an instant meat thermometer, check the temperature of the meat every 10 minutes, until it reaches 145º in the thickest part. It should not need to cook more than 1½ hours. Let it sit for 5 minutes before carving.

Kitchen Goddess note: You can test for doneness by pressing the meat with your fingers – it will be slightly resistant at rare/medium rare, and more resistant for medium. Also, if you prick the meat with a fork, the juice that comes out will be rosy for medium-rare, almost clear for medium.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Cheesy Competition

One of the great things about Austin is the variety of slightly bizarre and clearly funky happenings that seem to occur on a daily basis. Last weekend, I put on my bravest face and joined the crowd at The 3rd (Usually) Annual Austin Regional Grilled Cheese Invitational. I kid you not.

The day featured rock music directed by a DJ, lots of beer, a Queen (seen in the photo above) and King, and even the requisite couple of dudes selling T-shirts. I was not the oldest nor the youngest (that would be an unusual group), but definitely a generation beyond a majority of the celebrants. And I clearly didn’t have enough tatts or flowers in my hair. But as with many things Austin-like, all ages were welcomed with an openness and a general sense of joy and good will that reminded me of a 60s-style love-in – as long as what you love is grilled cheese.

The setting was the large back yard of the local Moose Lodge. Indeed, if you participated in the raffle, you could even win – as second prize (first prize was half the pot) – a free membership in the Lodge. A restaurant named Chedd’s, part of a Denver-based franchise that specializes in gourmet grilled cheese, gave away fresh-grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato basil soup all afternoon, and Antonelli’s, a local cheese shop, donated the aged Grafton cheddar used in the sandwiches. No one left hungry.

Apparently, these competitions are spreading faster than the mint in my garden. The mother of all grilled cheese competitions, which started in 2003, takes place in Los Angeles, and first prize at the various regional competitions is usually a trip to LA for the showdown. The Austin invitational pulled 31 competitors, in three categories: Missionary (cheese only), Kama Sutra (anything goes, but it must be at least 60% cheese), and Honey Pot (dessert).

The overall winner went by the unlikely name of Charlie Sheen Duh, which I didn’t get exactly – does Charlie Sheen like grilled cheese? While I couldn’t quite understand all the ingredients – and the chef was particularly cryptic in his description – the sandwich came on King’s Hawaiian rolls, and featured mozzarella and honey with some sort of cream sauce.

For me, the day was an eye-opener: I’d never imagined there could be so many ways to tweak a grilled cheese sandwich. But I am now intrigued, and may put forth some effort toward next year’s competition.

So what’s in your favorite grilled cheese?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Birthday Soup
What’s cooking? Hazie’s White Chili

Today is my younger son’s birthday – 28 years old. A victory of sorts, as his philosophy of life could at times have been described as “Fire, Aim, Ready.” This is the son who went out for a pass and crashed into a tree. The one who lost so many winter jackets – I think four was his record for one season – that it often seemed he was running his own charity coat drive. And the one who could get a bad grade in a class simply because he was disappointed that the teacher wasn’t smarter. (“You know,” I’d say, “you’ll have to carry that grade with you for the rest of your life, while she’ll just get a new class and move on.” Ah, well...)

We worried about him, despite his charm and contagious enthusiasm – worried that he’d run off a cliff or into a fist, or – worse – that he’d spend so much time Firing, he’d miss out on the greatness of Ready and Aim.

But for the worriers among you – do parents ever stop worrying? – you should know that today he’s in med school. It took him five years of Ready and Aim, so I think he’s got that part down now. And, in my totally unbiased opinion, those people who encounter him as their doctor will be lucky indeed.


*  *  *

One place where my son remains fearless is in the kitchen. Here’s a recipe he should like – cheap, hearty, easy. From my southern friend, Gusty, who passed it along from yet another southerner. Isn't sharing wonderful?

The recipe makes a hefty amount of soup – tripling it will feed 50+ if you add salad and bread. For the true Southern experience, I think cornbread is a must; but it’s probably very good with French bread as well.

Hazie’s White Chili

For the chicken:
5-6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (enough to make 4 c cooked chicken, diced or shredded)
10-12 sprigs fresh thyme
3-4 thin slices lemon
garlic salt & pepper

For the chili:
4 16-ounce cans navy beans, drained (set aside one can for puréeing)
6 cups chicken broth (include broth saved from cooking chicken breasts)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium onions, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 4-ounce cans chopped green chilies
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1½ teaspoons dried oregano
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or less)
1½ teaspoons chili powder
salt and pepper to taste

Place the chicken breasts in one layer in an oven-proof dish. Arrange thyme and lemon slices on top. Salt and pepper the breasts. Cover with foil and bake at 350º for 30 mins or until done. Remove the breasts, reserving the broth, and discard the lemon slices and thyme. Chop or shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces.

Heat the olive oil to medium-high in a soup pot and sauté the onions 10 mins; reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic for another minute (don’t let it burn). Add three of the four cans of beans and the rest of the ingredients, including the chicken. Purée the fourth can of beans in a blender and add it to the soup. Simmer the soup for about 30 mins, adding salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Today’s Insanity
What’s cooking? Grilled Korean-style Steaks with Cilantro Sauce

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” A Google search reveals that saying to be attributed to Benjamin Franklin, Rita Mae Brown, Albert Einstein, handbooks for Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous, and an old Chinese proverb. I don’t care who said it – it’s obviously true. And it doesn’t apply just to humans.

We have a crazy cardinal at our house. He shows up every morning that’s even moderately bright, pecking away at various windows, starting around 7am. He moves from one pane to another, banging away, apparently trying to scare off the cardinal he sees reflected in the glass. Then he flies off, but returns after a suitable interval and goes back to his task. He’s been repeating this behavior for at least the past year.

I watch him – and hear him – and think how nutty he must be, and I wonder if his mate appreciates his efforts, or if she just rolls her eyes and says, “Whatever.” But I also recognize aspects of my own behavior in his actions. Back when my children were living at home, for instance, it was the clean-up-your-room battle. Also, the pick-up-your-shoes battle (which apparently my daughter-in-law still faces, though she recently gave up and allowed the dog to eat a pair of my son’s favorite flip-flops – a tactic I never thought of). These days, it’s more about getting my husband to put his dishes into the dishwasher.

For my own part, I love to have a dinner party, but I usually make myself so crazy getting ready that I’m exhausted for at least a couple of days afterward. The dinner party I wanted to have this week was for friends visiting from New Jersey, and they’d be staying for several days – I could hardly afford to spend the whole next day in my jammies.

So I had to find recipes that would allow me to actually participate in the party. Something to be grilled – that much was clear. Marinated, too. And the sauce had to be easy and do-ahead.

From the grease stains and notes to self on this recipe, I recognized the following as one of the all-time greats. From the June 2001 issue of Gourmet:

Grilled Korean-style Steaks with Cilantro Sauce (serves 6)

The steaks:
4-5 boneless beef top loin (strip) or rib-eye steaks, about an inch thick and ½ - ¾ lb each

The marinade:
¾ c soy sauce
¼ c Madeira
3 Tbl sugar
1 ½ Tbl minced garlic
1 Tbl Asian sesame oil
1 tsp dried hot red pepper flakes

The sauce:
A medium-sized bunch of cilantro, coarsely chopped (including roots and stems) – at least 1 cup
⅓ cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1½ teaspoons minced garlic
½ teaspoon Asian sesame oil
Optional: ½ teaspoon minced, seeded fresh habanero or serrano chile [Kitchen Goddess note #1: Despite my Texas upbringing, I’m a bit of a wimp in the hot chile category, so I opt to omit the chile. It’s still a winner.]

Stir together the marinade ingredients until the sugar is dissolved. Place the steaks in a 13x9 baking dish, and pour the marinade over them. [Kitchen Goddess note #2: My preference – for any marinating – is to pour the marinade into a gallon zip-lock bag with the steaks. They fit better in the frig, and you can turn them without splashing marinade all over yourself.] In either case, marinate the steaks 1-2 hours, turning occasionally.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce by putting all ingredients into a food processor and pulsing several times until well chopped but not pureed.

Grill the steaks on a medium-hot grill, 3-4 min per side for medium-rare. Let steaks stand on a cutting board – without cutting – for 5 mins. [Kitchen goddess note #3: I know you want to just take a little peek and see if the steaks are really done, but resist that urge. The five-minute rest allows the heat to equalize across the whole piece of meat, producing a more evenly cooked, steak that actually retains the juices better. You can still put it back on the grill if it needs more cooking.] Cut the steaks lengthwise into ½-inch thick slices and drizzle the sauce over them. Serve remaining sauce on the side.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Toast to Bridge and Arugula
What’s cooking? Honey-Lemon Salad Dressing

Tournament bridge has been a passion of mine for a very long time – in college, I was one of those people in the dorm who would ambush anyone walking down the hall to be a fourth in some marathon game. But to everything there is a purpose, and a decade later, tournament bridge introduced me to my husband. (Not many people get their marriage announced in The New York Times’ bridge column!)

We put that passion on hold for many years while we raised our sons – the time and mental commitment was more than we felt we could give. And now that we’re retired, we are back on the tournament scene. But even at a bridge tournament, I can’t seem to get away from food and other foodies.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Beep, Beep!
What’s cooking? Fennel Flounder

I’m surrounded by beeps.

My computer beeps at me for the usual variety of reasons – hello or goodbye, mail arriving, browser stops working, a program won’t load – that’s not news to anyone. But our house is only two years old, so most of the appliances operate with some sort of system that I’m sure the manufacturers believe is helpful. Some days, however, I go almost crazy trying to figure out which one of them is calling to me and why.


– The washer beeps when the load is out of balance, like if I don’t put enough other stuff in when I wash the bathroom rug.
– Ditto the dryer. And both of them sing a little song when their cycle is over. You can hear it almost anywhere in the house.
– The microwave beeps when it’s done, and again every 10 seconds after that if I haven’t removed whatever I was heating.
– The coffeemaker beeps twice when it has finished brewing, and again 20 minutes later to tell me it’s turning itself off.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Book Group Soup
What’s cooking? One-of-Each Soup

I don’t always read the book. This time I didn’t even buy it. My book group picked The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, a 425-page tome that by many accounts is an enlightening philosophical treatise on Tibetan Buddhism. I looked it up on, and after reading the five pages that were available with the “Look Inside!” feature, I felt as if I’d been transported back to the 1960s.

I know I sound shallow and closed-minded, but I believe that everyone doesn’t have to read every book we choose, and this was one I chose not to read. Instead, I caught up on my New Yorker backlog, and put in some quality time with Q is for Quarry, a Sue Grafton mystery I somehow missed in the run to her latest, U is for Undertow. They’re in a category I refer to as “brain candy.”