Saturday, January 31, 2009

From Stephen

so ms. henry.... i am sooo curioius. what would be on the menu if you were asked to create YOUR favorites. and any stories that go with them...


That was a post from my dear friend Stephen. Stephen is a very special friend who brings out the extremes in me - a dangerous place. He loves to be bad. He loves to torment and tease. He is that little brother that drove you nuts who is still acting that way 40 years later. Oh jeez! He reads every post and has a comment or a rant. That leads to an explanation to him of the point I was trying to make which I give in the most descriptive prose I can. This invariably leads to his accusing me of snobbiness and madness and then the gloves come off. I respond to him in a cynical manner and then he dismisses me by saying he will not particpate in my madness or offers to use professional skills as a psychologist to help me with my "issues". Then I read his blog - his soul's journey which is his most vulnerable, and then his Facebook page which is his patchwork quilt of what he's doing, tormenting his friends, musical selections that are gifts from his heart and a recap of his days. He has 11 different personae that he uses to quickly switch and present a new path of thoughts. This is his means of being anything he ever wanted to be no matter how bad or good! He is also a person I trust to tell me the truth - when he is being Stephen- Stephen and not one of his other hyphenated characters. I am so glad he wasn't my little brother. He would have worn me out. At my mature age I can laugh, rant and enjoy him as a true friend. Thank you Stephen for being my friend and being who you are with me.

So I will try to answer Stephen's post.

Appetizer - Mediterranean antipasto platter, guacamole
Soup - Italian Sausage Soup
Salad - something with nuts, fruit, cheese over greens with a homemade dressing
Entree - Pork, Barbecue, My Dad or Tom's Grilled food, Ethnic, Vegetarian, Pasta, Beef, Chicken
Sides - Cottage Potatoes, Corn on the Cob, Eggplant, Any vegetable - prefered cooking method roasted
Sandwich - I added this Reuben (Huge story here!) Burger Grilled, flat, on a homemade bun with pickle, onion , mustard
Dessert - I am not a big chocolate lover except for Theo's Chocolate confections, frosted sugar cookies, molasses cookies, golfballs, fruit tart, if I had to eat a cake it would be a white cake with vanilla frosting

These are not the only things I like but they are the things I can think of at this moment.I would name as a favorite anything cooked for me by a family member or a friend just because they cared enough to want to make something to share with me. I eat seasonally as a rule much to the chagrin of Lee and others who shall remain nameless. It's part of the experience. A crazy thought: I would like to have a meal cooked by me for me but I would like to taste it not as my own cooking but as someone I cooked for. I know that makes no sense at all but I am convinced a cook cannot taste her own cooking the way a guest might.

Stay tuned. Stories and recipes to follow.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Superbowl again....

So I continue to muse on the Superbowl. I'm back to the Paminti Brothers and their gi-normous sandwiches. I am not rethinking huge slabs of bread or french fries in the middle of the sandwich. I am thinking panini. Panini - Paminti sounds close don't you think?

Several years ago, Josh gave Jen a panini press for Christmas. That started a panini fest that went on and on. The permutations and combinations evolved and they became a frequent player in what Jen and Josh called Diamond Dinners. Every other week, they invited friends to their home for a potluck. Jen and Josh would create the central dish and folks were invited to bring their contribution. I think it was panini potluck because they offered breads, meats, cheeses a variety of condiments and people could express their culinary creativity. Sometimes there was just another family. At other times about 26 or more. Picture cozy home, welcoming couple, happy little boys and greetings for anyone who wanted to come. Kids playing upstairs and parents creeping up the stairs to check when the noise level from above dropped to nothing. Lots of laughter and warmth and creating a family from people whose families were often far away. Delicious and fun, combining conversation, laughter and cooking.

Lee and I aren't having a potluck but I've been investigating some worthy options. I have some prosciutto and home roasted chicken. I have olives and garlic to make a tapenade. Perhaps some roasted peppers or roasted eggplant with a quick tomato sauce. I'll pick up some cheese - fontina, or gruyere - and some special bread at Dorothy Lane Market's Artisan bakery. I don't have a panini press but I do have a grill pan and after I place the panini on the grill pan I'll take a small skillet and place it on top of the panini with a large can in the skillet to weight it down. The panini trick is to grill the sandwich slowly at a lower temperature to build a nice crust on each side and long enough to allow the cheese to melt in the panini. I think about 8-9 minutes on each side.

I'll forego chips but will make a slaw with brocolli slaw, green onions, shaved fennel and some dried cherries. To dress the slaw I'll make a rice wine vinegar dressing that is simply rice wine vinegar with a bit of sugar or honey, a touch of garlic and a little salt and pepper. I can make the slaw after breakfast and let it marinate in the fridge until we eat. I'll make the Oh Henry Bars Saturday so all we'll have to do is figure out the paninis, assemble them, spread a light coat of unsalted butter on the bread and toast on my home made panini press. I will sprinkle some toasted sunflower seeds over the slaw just before serving.

We're ready to celebrate!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Superbowl Narcissism

It's been snowing and like much of the rest of the Miami Vally I am snowed in. All of the American Cancer Society offices across Ohio are closed. As a remote worker, I can work anywhere - my house is warm and I have power so I am working. Lee is in the workshop but she has her camera and tripod set up for pictures.

When you're snowed in it's easy to feel a little isolated. So I have been an island. The mail - faithful, hardworking - post people continue to deliver the mail and today I received a Superbowl Care Package from my college room mate Linda. A week or more ago I determined that I would support the Steelers. I must say that part of that reason is because I knew Linda would be rooting for them, Eli supports them and I have another friend there as well. The only connection I have to Arizona is Barry Goldwater and he isn't there. I opened the package and it is a wonderful collection of yellow and black balloons and a Ben Roethslisberger t-shirt!!!!!. The house will be very festive thanks to Linda! THANK YOU Linda. I will be the best dressed and most festive for sure. Pictures to follow.

I have been doing some research in preparation for the Super Bowl I found out that Big Ben was born and raised in Findlay and is a graduate of Miami of Ohio. Hurrah for him! I saw that a food blog recommended a Ben Roethlisberger burger - huge burger, a woven mat of bacon strips, cheese, onion sauteed in bacon grease, egg omelet and a large toasted bun. This brought to us by the same people that posted the infamous Bacon Explosion - pork sausage flattened into a square with bacon on top rolled into a log with a mat of woven bacon draping the sausage roll to be grilled. Google that one for shock and awe! I asked Linda for some advice on Pittsburgh treats and she gave me several. They were definitely Pittsburgh faves and truly meat heavy, bread heavy and fat heavy. I am trying to keep weight off and will even forego Super Bowl traditions to accomplish that.So I am chasing fruits and veggies and simpler fare. I can be somewhat boring.

One of the items she suggested was Clark bars. Lee loves chocolate and sweets and she would never say she had a celebratory meal without something yummy at the end. I didn't want to simply buy some Clark bars and of course because it all about my personal spin I have a substitute that will fill the bill nicely. Oh Henry bars! These are not the purchased candy bar but an easy cookie/confection that will bring a smile to a Texan's face! So Clark schmark it's Henry all the way!

Oh Henry Bars

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

2/3 C. butter
1 C. brown sugar
1 T. vanilla
1/2 C. light corn syrup
4 C. oats
! C. chocolate chips
2/3 C. chunky peanut butter

Cream the butter and sugar. Add vanilla, corn syrup, and oats and combine well.

Pat the mixture into a 9 x 13 pan and bake for 15-20 minutes. Cool

Melt the chocolate and combine thoroughly with the peanut butter. Cool, then spread the chocolate over the oat. When cool cut into squares. I like to sprinkle peanuts over the top before I put on the chocolate.

You can make it a day ahead. It's better the next day.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sandy's Mama's Coffee Cake

This morning I was sorting through my recipe file. Remembering the great and saying goodbye to some recipes that are not meaningful or just not appealing. One recipe I came across was a coffee cake recipe from the mother of a long ago neighbor.

We have a favorite story about Sandy and the birth of my handsome son Jon. Sandy our next door neighbor who was very excited about Jon's birth.We were anxious to have him and bring him home from the hospital to introduce him to our family, friends and of course, Sandy. Jon was an adorable baby from the moment I knew a baby was coming. I worked as a social worker in Detroit and made visits to a number of long term care facilities in opposite corners of the big city. The amazing thing about being pregnant with Jon was once I knew he was there I never felt alone. He was a calm traveler and just so snuggy. I felt like I always had a lunch companion at the little diner where I ate lunch on the days I visited patients. I just knew he was wonderful and special - and he is today!

When he was born he was not a chubby round cherub. He was 21" long and weighed in at 5lbs. 13 oz. While in the hospital he lost another 10 ounces making him a scrawny little fellow with a very old soul and bright eyes. To make matters worse he was a double footling breech delivery so he was purple from his toes to his knees.

Several days after we arrived home the doorbell rang and it was Sandy. She was so excited. I took her back to our bedroom where Jon lay on a soft flannel blanket in the middle of the bed. She hurried to the bed and bent over him. Quickly, she stood up and said, "I have to go.", and shot out the door. I was confused and disappointed to say the least.

Life went on and after several missteps Jon took off. He doubled his birthweight and became a blond, merry baby with lots of chubby cherubness. Just incredibly handsome and so cute. He had "screw on" hands and feet and flesh epaulets on his shoulders. I was walking him down the street in his stroller when he was about four months old when Sandy pulled up in her driveway and got out of the car. She walked over to us and looked at me and said, "Who is this?" Incredulously, I said, " Jon". I mean, who else could it have been! She couldn't believe me. We came very close to matching footprints on his hospital papers with his footprints - she did not believe me. Finally, she agreed and promptly fell in love with him. She babysat for him and often stopped in to chat and play. After another six months, she confided to me that the day she first saw Jon she thought he was an ugly baby. She then explained that she had been so upset about this and so sorry for me that she went home and cried for me for days.

Truth be told, I saw that sweet new born baby through my eyes of loving him from the time I knew he was coming knowing he would chub up and grow. A mom just knows these things. However, baby pictures do not lie. That picture from the hospital taken just after his birth shows that he had movie star looks. He looked just like ET.

Sandy's Mom and Dad often babysat when we did things with Sandy. Her Mom made a wonderful German coffeecake that was really great. We often shared this cake and laughed about Sandy and my little baby.

German Coffeecake

1 10 oz. jar maraschino cherries, drained and cut in small pieces
1/2 C. brown sugar
1 C. ground walnuts
1 tsp. cinnamon
4 C. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 C. softened butter
1 tsp. vanilla
2 C. sugar
1 pint sour cream
6 eggs

Mix together and set aside brown sugar and cinnamon

Sift flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and set aside.

Cream together butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add sour cream, beat well until blended. Add flour mixture to the butter mixture alternately with the eggs, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat well but not too long.

Butter and flour a 9" tube pan or a bundt pan. Pour in 1/3 of the batter, top with 1/3 of the cut up cherries and 1/3 of the nut mixture. Repeat this a second and third time.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Insert a tooth pick or a wooden skewer into the cake. If it comes out clean with a few crumbs clinging it is done. Let it rest for 15 minutes on a rack and then invert it onto a platter.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Henry Chili

Mimi mentioned that they made a huge batch of chili today. This is good news because Bobo is feeling better and he is up to a cooking project. As you will see this is no small project. For a while I thought Michigan winter might be winning but I think my parents have risen to the challenge. They are battling winter with the big guns - Chili. Before you email me asking for the recipe I will grant your fervent wish. But first a little Henry culinary history.

Twenty to thirty years ago my family got the chili bug. We tried many recipes and made endless pots of chili. In order to further our quest for the ultimate chili they purchased a paperback cookbook of chili recipes. It had many kinds of chili and one was my favorite - Texas Jailhouse Chili. It was no bean - true to Texas. Very good. I think it was a bit out there for some midwest tastes but good none the less. It was one of the great ones out of many tried. We ate a lot of chili over many happy occasions and created some traditions. Of course we ate chili on Sunday while watching football.

I make chili very year and use the recipe Mimi and Bobo perfected. This year while preparing to make the big batch, I started thinking about that old cookbook. I went on-line and after searching and searching I finally found the Holy Grail - that very same cookbook from the 70's. I was so excited. I clearly thought I'd found the answer to the vital questions of life. I proudly called Mimi and Bobo and after announcing my incredible find Bobo said, "If you wanted that cookbook we would have given you our copy". Bobo always manages to plant my feet back on earth! So much for finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Mimi and Bobo were chili researchers extraordinaire. Bobo pursued this as diligently as he does most things in life. Mimi made sure everything was there and at the ready for chili cooking. The pot of chili "gold" at the end of their rainbow was a chili blend. Two recipes rose to the top of the pile. One was the recipe for Chasen's chili and the other was Polly Bergen's recipe. Polly Bergen is a star of "B" movies and TV. She appeared on the TV series The Winds of War and most recently played Lynnette Scavo's alcoholic mother on Desperate Housewives. Chasen's was a famous Hollywood restaurant that catered to the stars. Dave Chasen's chili was beloved by many. Elizabeth Taylor would call Dave at the restaurant and have the chili shipped to her wherever she was. My Dad was never a fan of Elizabeth Taylor but the one thing he agreed with her about was the chili.

Henry Chili

3 cloves minced garlic
2 T. vegetable oil
4 lbs. round steak ground
6 large onions chopped
4 large green peppers chopped
3 1 lb. cans of tomatoes
4 1 lb. cans of red kidney beans
2 6 oz. cans of tomato paste
2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 C. parsley
1 1/2 tsp.ground cumin
1/2 C.+ chili powder
1 tsp. vinegar
3 dashes of cayenne pepper
3 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. ground pepper

In a BIG pot heat oil and saute garlic. Add the round steak and cook until it is no longer pink. Pour off some of the fat in to a large skillet and saute the onions and green peppers until tender. Put the vegetables into the pot with the ground round. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir well. Cover and cook over low heat at a gentle simmer for 1 hour. If too dry add additional tomatoes.Simmer some more.

This makes a large amount of chili but it's one of those things that just gets better with age. I always freeze some and enjoy through the winter. I have even doubled the recipe to be sure I could make it through the winter.

More recently I've taken a few liberties with the recipe. Sometimes I cut the steak into small cubes for a different texture. I've use fire roasted tomatoes and cooked pintos from dried beans. I also took the chili powder and used half ancho and half chipotle powder but that is just me. The Texan Miss Lee says this is the best chili she's ever eaten. Now that's a worthy endorsement!

I would crawl across the desert to eat this with my wonderful family and be overjoyed to share this with them and others I love. It is a shock and awe experience!

Mimi's Response

NOPE, I never had Bread Salad at Aunt Bertha's but when I was there we had Squab EVERY Sunday for dinner. It was always served at 1:00 without fail because the 20th Century limited train went through Archbold at 12:00 and my Dad always went down to see it go by. It was the main route between New York city and Chicago and it was a big deal. He loved trains.

I also do remember that in a corner of my Grandmother Swisher's kitchen there was a rocking chair right next to a table with a large rectangular gold- fish tank on it. I guess that is where she rested between the meals she cooked. In the opposite corner was a large table and that is where she rolled out her cookie dough. Boy, Annie do you bring back memories! Sue was asking me about WW1 and Grandpa O's experiences in it in connection with a book her Book Club was reading. Maybe, I should write my Memoirs! Ancient History might come back in style. We just made a huge big pot of Chasen's Chili. The temp is still in the teens, 19 I believe. Nuff said for now. Love, Mom

Truth in Blogging

My post yesterday described a sandwich with fries on the sandwich and thick slices of bread. It just seemed so big and not to my taste. As you may know by now I enjoy tracing food history and linkages. Today my friend Meribeth emailed me about the Winds Cafe. The Winds is a favorite stop for a wonderful meal. I've taken cooking classes from the owners Kim and Mary Kay. I've even dragged people there to savor a great meal. So, I checked out the website and had a revelation. This month one of the items on their menu is a Beaune Burger. The burger comes from Burgundy in France and guess what. There are fries (peut etre frites) atop the burger.

"Beaune Burger
Mary Kay and Kim went in search of this local legend at the end of an over-long day of wine tasting in Burgundy. A hand-pattied grilled beef burger garnished in the manner of the town of Beaune, with tomato sauce, mustard-spiked mayonnaise, fromage, and crisp, hot french fries ON the sandwich. Served with dressed greens."

So is the Pittsburgh Paminti brothers sandwich born of Burgundy, France? Amazing. So I have to rethink this. I might want to be a little more open to something new. I do have a list of things I don't want to consume or simply don't like. Organ meats, goat cheese, innards. I don't care that there is a whole area of cuisine based on "offal". There is a reason they call it that. It really means AWFUL!

So Linda forgive me. At least you are trying to expand my horizons. I did research the "terrible towel" and found that is the most recognized symbol of the NFL. It is also a fundraiser. The history of cultural symbols can also be interesting.

So as a form of atonement I offer my interpretation of a favorite Winds Cafe salad. Bread Salad. I think it comes from Tuscan bread salad with a twist. After I tasted it I came home and made my own version. It is simply tomatoes, peppers, onions, olives, herbs tossed with a a vinaigrette. Chucks of bread are tossed in with chunks of mozzarella. The salad is then broiled until the cheese is oozy. The salad is then scooped on top of spinach dressed with a simple vinagrette.


1 C. extra virgin olive oil
1/3 C. red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 tsp. salt
several grinds of fresh black pepper
2 pinches of sugar

Put in a jar and shake well.


2 ripe tomatoes cut into medium chunks
2 smallish green peppers cut in medium chunks
1 medium sweet onion cut into small to medium chunks
3/4 C pitted black Kalamata olives
1 T. fresh parsley minced
1/2 tsp. oregano dried or 2 tsp. fresh minced
1 T. fresh basil cut in chiffonade
1/4 tsp. salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/3 -1/2 baguette cut into small chunks (1- 1/2 ")
6 ounces good quality mozzarella cheese cut into 3/4" cubes

Toss the vegetables, olives and herbs with enough of the dressing to coat well but it should not be drenched. Add the salt and pepper and taste. You can add more salt. I think the olives can be salty and you don't want to overdo the saltiness. So make the seasonings to your taste.

Add emough baguette chunks to give it a nice ratio of bread to vegetables. Vegetables to bread ratio 3:1. Less or more to your taste.

Add the mozzarella and toss. Spread it onto a sheet pan and broil until the cheese is warm and melty. Serve a top some fresh spinach dressed with the vinaigrette.

This is a meal with a glass of wine. Mimi will probably email me that they were making bread salad in Archbold when whe went to see Aunt Bertha, her cousin Jane and Uncle Clark when she was a toddler.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Countdown begins....

Okay sports fans we are on the countdown to the Superbowl. When I was growing up Bobo watched OSU football on Saturday and pro ball on Sunday. Oooh those games. They seemed to go on forever! Then I married men who also loved football. The shouting, the moaning, the kvetching,the pouting, the'd think who won actually mattered to world peace.

I did start going to Browns games and low and behold it was fun. We'd get up at the crack of dawn with lots of cold weather gear stashed in the back seat. We'd drive up to Cleveland and have breakfast with the nephews someplace near the stadium and trek to the game. There was something about being there, the crowd, the music and the food that was pretty fun. I realized that you could probably have fun watching the game at home if you made it an occasion. So we'd invite people over, plan an awesome menu and have fun. Diehard football watchers were glued to the screen. Folks in my camp would watch til our eyes glazed over (20 minutes, tops) and move to the living room to chat, laugh and eat snacks. If there was a roar from the family room we'd leap to our feet and run to see what happened. Of course the play would be rerun so often we could pretty much run the play ourselves. Then back to the food. All in all it's a pretty fun way to spend an afternoon.

We continue to watch football although the Browns made way for the Cowboys and we still love OSU. Well one of us likes the Cowboys. The other one (moi) likes the Colts or the Giants. I have this thing for family. Eli is being coaxed along by his Granna and we chat about sports. Eli really wanted the Eagles to win a Superbowl bid. He did not like the Cardinals. I'll need to check to see if he likes the Steelers. I think I will support my grandson and hope for the Steelers.

In order to properly celebrate the game I asked my dear friend Linda (a Pittsburgh native) some ideas about Pittsburgh treats. Linda, I have to say I love you but the treats are a little iffy. Islay's chipped ham, a terrible towel, and a sandwich that combines bread, meat, fries, cole slaw tomatoes and a lid of bread. I am sure it's an acquired taste. Klondike bars and Clark bars I think are also items. I like the Clark bars although it's years since I've had one.

So I sought out my Plan B. Of course this means going back to my roots. I looked through the family cookbook and low and behold an old family fave - Grandma Oechsler's chex mix. As a little girl I would go to Grandma and Grandpa's house with my family. We could count on two things. Archway cookies in the kitchen cabinet and salted mixed nuts or bridge mix made by Grandma in the candy dish. The candy dish is a wonderful memory. It is china, round with feet. It is blue with cherubs and detail on the sides and the lid. It is edged with tan and gold. The dish sat on the tea cart at the end of the dining room against the window that looked out on the screened in porch. It was our first stop after hugs and kisses and hellos.

The snack was a treat Grandma made for parties and bridge. We loved it! I made it for my children and they loved it as well. It's made with broken pecans as you'll see in the recipe. There is a nameless heretic in the family that likes this with (shudder) peanuts! Yeech. The mix is yummy and spicy and something wonderful for games - even the Superbowl!

Grandma's Chex Mix

Mix together:
1/2 C. melted butter
4T. Worcestershire sauce
16 drops of Tobasco sauce

In a baking pan mix:
3 C. Rice Chex
3 C. Corn Chex
1/2 C. broken pecans

Sprinkle with:
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. seasoned salt
1/2 tsp. Coleman's dry mustard
1/2 tsp. onion salt
1 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Add melted butter mixture, mix well. Bake the mix in th oven for 1 hour. Stir well every 15 minutes.

When done. Sprinkle it generously with grated Parmesan cheese. I don't have an exact amount for that. You can decide the cheesiness factor.

You can vary the nuts and add pretzels or other kinds of cereals but I am faithful to Grandma.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Vildish Knits

This is a blog I love. Vilde is on of my sweet daughter Jen's friends. Vilde has two blogs, knits a lot scratch that she produces many things in very short periods of time, travels, cooks with her husband Alex, spins wool, dyes it and she is pursuing her Ph.D. In adition she plays the violin ergo the Ph.D in music.

In 2007, Lee and I spent Thanksgiving in Seattle. We were invited to spend the day with Alex's Mom, Vilde, Alex and the 6 of us. Vilde's Mom and Alex's Grandma were also there. After a wonderful dinner prepared by all except Lee and Eli - they were in the basement watching the cowboys play - Vilde brought out a beautiful hardanger fiddle and played for us. It was a wonderful day with incredible people.

Please go to Vilde's site. It is so fun and amazing!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Contest

One of my favorite food blogs has been nominated for a blogger award. Jen Yu of use real butter is up for Best Food Blog - Overall.

Please go to the link below. Check out the nominees in all of the categories. Remember my vote goes to use real butter in the Best Food Blog - Overall category.

Voting ends on January 24.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration meals - a "patchwork heritage"

At our house we love to celebrate and of course it means food. It is a house of the people so we celebrate simply. I am trying to reflect the spirit of the times and my hopes for the future. The ingredients come from many lands like Americans.

I have to digress for a minute. Obama's speech really made me reflect on our diverse heritage. Tomorrow Mimi and Bobo will have a special guest in their home. They've been homebound a lot because of winter and illness. Rebecca and I wanted to give Dad a Christmas gift that would be intellectually stimulating and further one of his passions. I found a wonderful geneaologist who is a specialist in German, Prussian and Polish geneaology. She'll be coming tomorrow to meet with Bobo, Mimi and Rebecca about our family's progenitors. It should be very fun and a jumpstart for the somewhat stalled geneaology project to research Bobo's Grossmutter and her heritage. Long live the American Heritage!

Tonight Lee and I will have a simple eclectic meal. It is inexpensive yet reflects my love of color, taste and texture. I will cut an acorn squash in half. I'll bake it in the oven at 350 degrees until it is tender. In the meantime I am making a box of plain couscous substituting chicken broth for water. To that I'll add fresh ground turkey (America's bird) about a half pound. I'll saute the turkey with about 1/4 C chopped onion, 1/2 tsp. garlic. To that I'll add 1/4C. pine nuts and 1/2 C. dried cranberries and a tsp. of curry powder. I'll scoop the turkey mixture back into squash and return them to the oven for 15 minutes to heat through. So you can see the middle east, the mediterranean, native American influence. For southwest and asian I'll serve the beloved orange, onion and avocado salad. We'll have a little white wine and fruit to cap the dinner and inauguration day.

Yesterday I made baked onion soup - rather European don't you think? It was so simple. I was remembering the meals of the people in the "old country" striving for a better future and freedom. I sliced 4 jumbo onions and sauteed them until brown in 2 T. olive oil and 2 T. unsalted butter. When they were brown I added a can of beer and 32 ounces of low sodium beef broth and 1/2 tsp. of thyme. I also added 1 tsp. of finely minced garlic. I let it simmer about 10 minutes. I ladled the soup into oven proof bowls and floated a thick slice of home made baguette on the top. I covered that with grated jarlsberg cheese and broiled the soup until the cheese was toasted. Served with a simple salad and gratitude for those who have gone on before who made many sacrifices for each of us and our future.

Inaugural Address

I am posting Barack Obama's inauguration address. Whatever our political beliefs, religion or economic status, we come together as patriots for our beloved country looking to accept the mantle of responsibility. It is not the government's responsibility to resolve our problems. It is mine, too.

"My fellow citizens:
I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.
Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.
So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.
These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many.
They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics."

"We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn. Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology'swonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.
To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.

We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world…that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Inaugurations Past and Present

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations. (Abraham Lincoln, 1865)

We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics. (Franklin Roosevelt, 1937)

"O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will ...
"Bless us with tears – tears for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women in many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.
"Bless this nation with anger – anger at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.
"Bless us with discomfort at the easy, simplistic answers we've preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth about ourselves and our world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.
"Bless us with patience and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be fixed anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.
"Bless us with humility, open to understanding that our own needs as a nation must always be balanced with those of the world.
"Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance, replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences.
"Bless us with compassion and generosity, remembering that every religion's God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable.
"And God, we give you thanks for your child, Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.
"Give him wisdom beyond his years, inspire him with President Lincoln's reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy's ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King's dream of a nation for all people.
"Give him a quiet heart, for our ship of state needs a steady, calm captain.
"Give him stirring words; We will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.
"Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.
"Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.
"Give him strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters' childhoods.
"And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we're asking far too much of this one. We implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand, that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity, and peace.
Bishop Gene Robinson

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Lift Every Voice and Sing

Lift every voice and sing, till earth and Heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet,
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered;
Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou Who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou Who hast by Thy might, led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee.
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee.
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land.

-James M. Johnson 1899

Saturday, January 17, 2009

We're celebrating!

Our Mom and Dad are two fabulous people. There are just not enough words to describe what they mean to our family. Married over 60 years, they are still fun, bright and bubbly and an all around good time. When I was pregnant with my son Jon our family enjoyed a dinner. One of the topics of conversation was the names given to Mom and Dad's friends as they each became grandparents. Oooh the names. We speculated on some names for Mom and Dad and came up with Mimi and Bobo. We thought they were funny and the equal of the names of their friends. We didn't bestow those names on them that day but in conversation the names just kept popping up. Well the names stuck. To this day they are Mimi and Bobo. Dad's parents became Great Mimi and Great Bobo. In fact Mimi and Bobo's nicknames have nicknames - Meems and Bohbs (spelled somewhat phonetically to assure correct pronunciation).

This year has really been a challenge for Mimi and Bobo. Bobo's had a long bout of illness and a very major surgery and his pace at getting better has been more complex and protracted than any of us expected. To say the least it has been frustrating for everyone. Some nasty conditions warranted putting Bobo on coumadin to prevent clots in his heart and worse consequences. Coumadin requires foregoing lettuces and avocados. One of his very favorite salads is an orange, onion and avocado salad I have been making for decades.

This week, we learned Bobo could lose the coumadin and daytime oxygen. Hurrah to the infinite doesn't quite describe our excitement about this. To celebrate we need to make that favorite salad. This one's for you Bobo! Make it and celebrate with us.

Orange, Onion and Avocado Salad

This serves 4-6 people

One large head of romaine lettuce washied dried thoroughly and torn into bite-sized pieces
1 can mandarin oranges, drained
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1-2 avocados, peeled, seeded and cut into cubes or slices

Place the above in a large salad bowl


In a large container with a tight lid or screw top add:
1 C. vegetable oil
1/3 C. orange juice
1 scant 1/4 C. lemon juice
1 T. sugar
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Shake well. Drizzle over the salad, toss and serve. I use less dressing to start. You can add more if it's not quite enough but the dressing/lettuce proportion should be very light and not a drench.

Phoenix Hotel Dressing

I found it! This is the recipe I talked about in the last post. Mom emailed and said this recipe came from the Phoenix Hotel in Findlay, Ohio. I did a quick search hoping to find info about the Phoenix Hotel on the internet but alas - to no avail.

Thanks to the miracles of people treasuring their family food history I bring to you the fabulous Phoenix Hotel Dressing, Ta Da!!

2 medium onions chopped fine
3/4 C sugar

Mix the above together and let stand 15 minutes.

Mix into the onion/sugar mixture:
1 t. salt
1 t. pepper
1 T. dry mustard
1 T. paprika

Put the above in a large jar and the following:
1 can of tomato soup (I know, it is from the dawn of the era of convenience food)
1 C. corn oil
3/4 C. vinegar ( I think white or apple cider is the one to use for this)
1 t. horseradish.

Shake well. Let stand an hour before serving.

Thank you Mom for the history lesson. Advice to bloggers. It is always good to have someone who can fill in the blanks because they are older and have a different perspective. It jacks up your street cred!

Friday, January 16, 2009

News Flash!!

It may be freezing or worse outside but it is warm in my heart! I talked to my Mom today and she gave me some great news. Recipes ahead! After I visited my parents in December my Mom e-mailed my Dad's cousin. Mom asked for favorite family recipes from the Collins side of the family. Mom received an email that some recipes are on the way. Our cousin copied the recipes so they will be coming in the handwriting of those who loved them and created many happy memories with them. Is this foodie genealogy? Well, I cannot wait to receive them. Of course I will share them here. I'm also thinking of making them for my dear family at our wonderful four generation vacation in August.

When Mom was talking to me about the recipes, we started reminiscing about my Grandma's cooking. She remembers many family dishes she loved. She raved about Grandma's rum pie with chocolate shavings and cream pies with mile high meringue. Imagine recipes shared and lovingly passed down from generation to generation. I cannot wait.

In the mean time, I am exploring my new cookbooks and making some of the dishes. I love salad. Endless permutations and combinations of color, flavor and texture. I adore lettuces with fruit, nuts and cheese. My family loves orange, onion and avocado salad. The Winds Cafe had a salad that was called Put Another Log On the Fire. It's lettuces, bacon, apple, chunks of cheddar and pecans. I would make a dressing with apple cider vinegar to carry the apple flavor through to the dressing. Dressing is the finishing touch and the ingredient that pulls it all together.

I make a lot of home made dressing. I love it that I choose what goes in or stays out. No chemicals, no strange UFO extras I cannot pronounce. It doesn't need a product to extend shelf-life or something unnatural to enhance the "natural" flavors. We make it several times a week. It's easy to create. Just use a simple ratio and a screw top jar. For a very basic vinaigrette here goes.

1 part acid to 3 parts oil. Shake well and adjust by adding a little more acid or oil to your taste. If you are using a juice as the acid you may need more. If you are using a strong acid like a vinegar try 1 part vinegar to 4 parts oil initially. Apple cider vinegar and some balsamics are pretty bold. If you want a more subtle oil flavor choose canola. Olive oil adds a wonderful depth of flavor but the flavor can be pronounced. Nut oils are also good but don't substitute the nut oil for all of the oil. It's your taste. Then add a little salt and pepper. Use white pepper if you don't want flecks of pepper in a light dressing. If you want to make the dressing a bit creamier you can use can add 1/2 tsp. of Dijon mustard for each cup of dressing and shake hard and long. The mustard emulsifies the dressing and stabilizes it. Try country mustard with seeds or a wine mustard. If the dressing seems a bit tart I add a little honey - a tsp. Of course consider the addition of garlic and herbs. Be sure to let it sit for at least an hour before you serve it so those flavors can merge.

I made a very nice dressing last Saturday. We were having a pizza party at our dear friends and I brought salad. I used 1/3 C white balsamic vinegar to a cup of olive oil. I added a little salt and pepper and 1/4 tsp. minced garlic. I thought "hmmm, I need to boost the Italian factor with a little something." I went to the fridge and found a jar of pesto. I added a generous Tablespoon to the the dressing and shook like crazy. It was very good. It was the top of a salad that was Boston lettuce, red leaf romaine, grape tomatoes, kalamata olives, toasted pine nuts and Parmesan cheese. Very nice. Soon I'll post Phoenix Hotel Dressing. My maternal grandparents got the recipe on their travels. It is a great variation on a french dressing.

Note to family: You know who you are. Sign up as authors and submit those recipes. I will hunt you down. People will get tired of mine alone.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

For Stephen

This winter we've participated in several gatherings with family and dear friends. We're blessed to have among said family and friends people with dietary preferences (recent studies say they were born that way it's not a preference) and restrictions and ages ranging from the very young to older, way older - granna and grandsons with some parents and strays in the middle. To please all of these dear ones you have to be creative yet go for the familiar. The answer is a simple meal of make your own pizza and salad. So some can have their penchant for cheese please and the adventurous others can just be them.

Pizza crust is the base of all things wonderful in this meal. It's actually pretty easy with a mixer and a little time. I make it ahead and freeze it in portions for an individual pizza or the size for a pizza to share. The other nice thing about this is that pizza crust is inexpensive. Note to parents and others concerned about health: You can make this a fiber fantasy by substituting 1/3 of the flour used with a whole grain flour. King Arthur makes a very nice white whole wheat flour that unsuspecting young ones would never know provides additional nutritional benefit. I also add some grain mixes to the flour mix for more sophisticated palates. King Arthur makes and sells those as well.

Pizza Crust

Read the recipe through several times before you begin. There are explanations that are critical. This is an inexact science which requires some speculation and wonder.

2 teaspoons active dry yeast or instant yeast
7/8 to 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water (divided)
pinch of sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour ( 1 C. white whole wheat can be substituted for 1 C. of All-Purpose flour)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt

The goal is a soft, moist almost sticky dough. It should be soft and somewhat loose.

In the bowl of the mixer, place 1/2 C. water, a pinch of sugar. Stir, then sprinkle the yeast on top. In about 5-10 minutes the yeast should "bloom" on the surface of the water. Stir and add 3/8 C. water and remaining ingredients. Mix on low to medium. If the dough is dry add the remaining water. Mix. If you are making this dough in the winter you may need to add still more water particularly if you added the whole wheat flour. Add a couple of tablespoons at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition to assess the dough. It will come away from the sides of the bowl into a ball, clinging to the beaters.

Next you will knead the dough. You can do this by hand - great for a stress reliever or in the mixer. If you knead by hand remove it from the mixer and sprinkle some additional flour on the place where you will be kneading the dough and a little over the top of the dough. Take your hands and place in the middle of the dough. Push away from you, flip the dough over and give it a half turn and repeat. Keep doing this until the dough is smooth and silky. No lumps under the surface. If you're doing this in the mixer just mix at medium speed until smooth and lump-free. Parents can use the image of a baby's behind although not as firm.

Rub a large bowl with oil to lightly coat. Place the dough in the bowl and then turn it over to coat the dough with a little oil. Put a towel over the bowl to cover the dough and set it in a warm place to rise. (not hot, heat will kill the yeast and no rising if the yeast dies.) It will take a couple hours to rise so play, read, cook, drink. Now you can either package the dough and freeze, put it in the fridge to wait for the company coming later or start making pizza now. If you freeze or refrigerate it you will need to bring it to room temperature before you can shape the crust. This could take a couple of hours is frozen.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. I use a stone or a pizza pan. If you are using a stone you probably know this but you preheat the stone while you preheat the oven.

Place a piece of parchment larger than the estimated size of the pizza on the counter. Take the dough and roll or push it into the shape, size and thickness of the pizza you envision. Put the parchment with the pizza dough on top of the stone or on a pizza pan. If you are making an individual pizza 8" bake it 5-8 minutes. If larger 12-14 minutes. You are pre-baking the pizza so that when you add sauce and toppings and put it bake in the oven to finish the crust will be baked completely. The crust should not be brown but more like crust than dough.

If you are using parchment on stone support the crust with a flat, edge-free pan as a pizza peel. You'll need to keep the pizza on the pan while you adorn it and then put it back in the oven. Eli says Granna needs a peel for Christmas.

Pull it out and adorn your pizza. If you are a no sauce person just drizzle a little olive oil and spread. If you are a sauce lover spread thinly it's a condiment not spaghetti. Then add your toppings. Finish with cheese. Return to the oven and bake until bubbly with little brown spots. The crust should be brown on the edges and if you lift up the edge of crust the underside is lovely and not stark white. Remove, serve with a great big smile and a bottle of something red and Italian. Chat, cry with laughter or joy and love.

Addendum: This is already a long post. A quick red sauce in the blender: a can of Italian tomatoes, a couple T. of olive oil, garlic (you know you love it) and a 1/2 -1 t. of herbs. Whirl and you're done. Presto!

Is there ever enough comfort?

The snow is coming down and temperatures are dropping. I drove home from a work meeting at 6:30. The meeting was in the cafe of a local market and I picked up some supplies for a few dinners. When it's cold I want heat. I usually like something hot in temperature but I adore something spicy. My ability to tolerate heat has grown living with a Texan. I still do not add chopped, fresh habaneros to everything but I will eat jalapeno's and add Tabasco as a condiment.

One of my favorite things make is a crock pot dish. It's sounds so 70's doesn't it. Well it can be updated and made contemporary. This dish is one of them. We love tacos and burritos. The joy of this recipe is that it produces enough for several meals unless you're feeding the masses. So leftovers can be bagged and frozen. You can also adjust the heat while staying true to the recipe.

Mexican Pork

In a crock pot put:

4-5 lb. pork shoulder (I trim a lot of excess fat)
1 large onion chopped
1 4 oz. can chopped chiles (mild or hot it's your choice)
4 cloves of garlic minced
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 T. chile powder (for the faint of heart ancho chile powder, for the adventuresome chipotle)
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (leave it out if you are very afraid at this point)
1 15 oz. can diced fire roasted tomatoes
1 bottle of a beer you love(not some cherry, pumpkin thing)

Turn the crock pot on high and let it cook about 6 hours. It should be falling apart tender. Take out the bone and shred the meat. I have a wonderful crock pot that switches the temp to warm at the end of the timed cooking cycle.

As I wrote before you can use this for tacos or burritos with the usual suspects to add to your filling. I love this over steamed brown rice with black beans, raw chopped onion, lettuce and some cheese.

Note to the truly lazy who are willing to throw caution to the wind and eat chemicals - You can omit the garlic, cayenne, cumin and chile powder and use an envelope of taco seasoning. They have mild, spicy and chipotle flavored taco seasoning. Don't come crying to me when you blow up from salt.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Relaxed Cook

I love winter - foods that is. The food just screams comforts - well not screams, exudes. The oven going, yummy smells of roasting meats and veggies, a pot on the stove bubbling. It is just warmth and coziness all over. Who would ever want to leave home? Just walk to the window and peer outside seeing gray, cold, snow or rain. Then re-experience the cozy warmth and smells of your own home. So very nice.

A very simple, delicious dish for winter is a mix of roasted vegetables or a solitary vegetable as the star. So easy. So good. This is the opportunity to try something new in its most pure luxurious state. Fennel, turnips, parsnips, Brussel sprouts, winter squash, rutabaga, potato varieties, onions, carrots and on. Just steer yourself to the produce aisle and look for the root vegetables. Then think combinations. Plan for complementary tastes or colors.

Formula for roasted vegetables:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Prepare vegetables for roasting by washing, peeling if necessary, then cutting chosen vegetables in similar sizes. Some are meant for chunks or wedges. Relatively equal sizes. Very rustic.

Toss the vegetables with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. About a tablespoon of olive oil. Place on a half sheet pan. Bake for 25 minutes or until tender.

Toss with freshly ground pepper, a little minced garlic and some freshly grated parmesan and/or some herbs if you like. Serve.

This is so good. Who needs meat - just a salad, some bread and a little wine.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Cooking Motto

Twenty years ago I indulged my cooking passion by taking cooking lessons through Dorothy Lane Market School of Cooking. Each class had a theme and was taught by a guest chef or staff at DLM. The teachers were great, classes were small and eating at the end was delightful. I often attended class with a dear colleague, Rose Dwight. We would sit up in the front in rapture. We would comment to each other and ask questions, being so present to the experience. After sampling deliciousness I would turn to Rose and say "Would it be ill mannered for me to just lay my face on this plate?" I just wanted to merge with the food and the experience. The dishes were wonderful. Sometimes, presented with a history or anecdote - you know I love anecdotes - and if a foreign teacher some story about the culture and tradition of the food. It was heaven for me.

One of the consistent messages was the motto of the head of the school and consumer affairs at DLM, Kitty Owen Sachs. It was 4 words - Best ingredients, simply prepared. Seeing it live in the classes and experiencing how right it was for me was inspiring. It was a listening that made so much so clear about cooking and the experiences I wanted to create. So for the most part I prepare simple food. (Birthday desserts can be a little over the top.) Of course, because I am first born, anal retentive, obsessive compulsive and Type A I can make quite a process out of this. But the steps I take assure the outcome. It's the attention to balance and flavor in planning the menu, careful shopping for the best ingredients I can afford, reading the recipes a couple of times and mise en place. Then it's following the steps in the recipe and being present in the process. It is consuming and relaxing for the most part and fun. It is meditative in its steps and repetition.

Reading cookbooks and studying the philosophies of the authors I do have my faves. Invariably they make basic things that are designed to bring out the flavor, balance textures and techniques and reflect that same motto - best ingredients simply prepared.

Onion Dip adapted from Ina Garten

2 large sweet onions halved, and thinly sliced
3 T. olive oil
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
3/4 C. real mayonnaise (I do not want to hear about salad dressing or miraculous others)
1/2 C. sour cream
2 dashes of Tabasco

Heat a frying pan. Add olive oil and heat the oil to medium high heat. Separate the rings of the onions and strew them in the pan. Salt them lightly. After two minutes reduce the heat to medium. Slowly cook the onions until carmelized. This will take a while. Meditate on onion transformation and stir gently but often enough to assure carmelization and not scorching during cooking.

When onions are cooked drain them on a paper towel to remove any excess oil. Let them cool until they are warm.

In a bowl combine cream cheese, mayonnaise, sour cream and Tabasco. Stir thoroughly to combine. Add the onions and stir again.. Add 4 grinds of freshly ground black pepper. Taste. If it needs it add a little salt. Let it rest for an hour. Before serving dust with paprika.

I serve this dip with the best potato chips I can buy. Kettle-cooked chips are a good place to start.

Open a lovely bottle of wine, play a little blues, sip and chat to connect with someone who might deserve your sincere amends or just your complete attention.

Monday, January 5, 2009

A Ray of Sun

The holidays are over and winter is here. So many gray days in Ohio. For years I've thought living through an Ohio winter was really like living in a concrete basement. Now, family has been hit with some illness and it's either the flu or some other dreaded winter affliction. Escape, escape, escape. If you can't go to a warm sunny climate you can try to escape through your plate and I have just the thing.

When I first started traveling to Texas Lee introduced me to one of her south Texas favorite things. A fruit cup. When she told me she wanted to get a fruit cup I couldn't imagine what could be so great about that. Lee plans her trips to Texas around fruit cups and which friend lives near what fruit cup place. When Lee's sweet Mom died I flew to Texas to be with the family. Lee picked me up at the airport and she suggested a fruit cup. (Fruit cups can even be a balm for grief don't you know.) Apparently, while waiting for my flight she found a fruit cup stand near DFW.

By now you are questioning my culinary standards. This is not a plastic dish with a lump of mixed fruit. This is not fruit cocktail. This is a mix of fresh fruits drizzled with freshly squeezed lime juice and sprinkled with salt and chile powder. It's a treat from Mexico that's limited only by your imagination and what you can find to entice you at the market. There is no cooking, simply cutting, layering and seasoning. For this recipe I have called this a Mexican Fruit Plate. Viva Mexico!

Mexican Fruit Plate

1 C bananas sliced about 1 " thick
1 C. strawberries halved
1/2 fresh pineapple cored and cut into chunks the size of the strawberry halves
1 C jicama peeled and cut into strawberry sized chunks
1 C watermelon cut into strawberry sized chunks
1 C. honeydew melon or cantaloupe cut into strawberry sized chunks
1 C apples, peaches or plums cut into strawberry sized chunks
Coconut shavings from fresh coconut
juice of 2-3 fresh limes
3/4 t. chile powder (ancho)
kosher or flake salt

Toss the sliced bananas in the lime juice - coat well. Strain the lime juice and reserve. Gently mix the bananas with the other fruit except coconut. Place the fruit on a large flat platter. I love a white platter because it really shows the fruit. Or you can take the fruit and put it in small piles in a random way on the platter. Strew coconut shaving over the top. Not a lot just enough to add some interest. Drizzle the reserved lime juice over the fruit. Sprinkle the chile powder over the fruit. Sprinkle with the salt. The idea is to dust the salt lightly over the fruit. We are not brining or preserving fresh ham. It's an accent.

If you're a little nervous about the chile powder start with 1/2 t. and check the taste on a piece of fruit. I hate to tell fruit cup virgins this but Lee will always get hot chile powder. This is the person that puts habaneros on everything!

Serve this immediately. You can assemble the fruit earlier but I would do the bananas and then dress with the lime juice, chile powder and salt just before serving.

When you eat this there is no more gray, there is only sun and a sparkle in your mouth.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Correction from the West

Lee has emerged from her coma - she's been pretty sick for a few days. She read my blog and offered this information. The twelve grapes are a Spanish tradition and they are eaten at midnight. Thank you Miss Lee you have eased the New Year's Day cooking burden immensely.

My cookbooks

As my family and friends know I am an avid reader. Book lust was fueled by the gift of a Kindle this year. I now can carry hundreds of books with me in my little Kindle. I can slip it into my briefcase and if I have a stop for a solo lunch I can catch up on news and reading. Alas, the Kindle cannot address the cookbook passion. I still have to touch the cookbook, see the glorious pictures and see the food porn. Has it come to this? A beautiful dish labelled food porn - only to a foodie. I digress. I received cookbooks for Christmas, many cookbooks. Ina Garten's new Back to Basics, two cookbooks from some people of El Paso - I love Texas food. Then two books by Edna Lewis - an anniversary edition of her food biography and the book she co-wrote with Scott Peacock. Then I picked up Elie Krieger's book and Anita Chu's Field Guide to Cookies.

My very fav cookbooks are biographical or anecdotal. The history of the dish tells what the author values and their connections. Their specific tastes. Are they like me a texture maeven loving the crunch in my mouth juxtaposed to flavor and the senses? Do they like things sweet or do they like balance of flavors that let you have multiple tastes in a bite? After decades of cooking and reading cookbooks I can read a recipe and have a sense of the dish's taste in my mind. It's a little creepy when it perfectly matches sense and actual taste.

The descriptions that discuss flavors sought and elements of taste and texture are real enticements to me. It's not always the over the top. It can be the feeling of green, the sparkle of citrus, the earthiness of a root vegetable, the mouth feel of a dessert that combines fruit, pastry and/or fluffy mousse-like cream, nuts toasted, vegetables roasted or the homey comfort of meat slow-cooked to falling apart with a natural sauce. It just plays in my head. Then I must create an event to present the dish. Luckily there are birthdays, vacations, visits, reasons to get together or just catch up. Then too there are gatherings to simply cook together. These events are never occasions for haute cuisine. They are about the communion of friends and family through time shared and food enjoyed. I am always drawn back to simple foods that allow the tastes of ingredients to shine through. But it is always about texture and flavor and connection.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Year's Day Tradition

I picked this recipe up in a previous life from someone who was passionate about family celebrations. It is a variation of choucroute garni - an Americanized one. It's easy, you assemble it and put it in a slow oven for hours. It does require chopping several items. My children gave me a wonderful chopper from William Sonoma as my Merry Birthday present. The perfectly sized pieces of food produced is orgasmic.

Of course the purpose of eating sauerkraut and pork is all about luck. For Lee it's about eating black-eyed peas. To accomodate her need for luck I used the black eyed pea dip from the Homesick Texan's website. I also made buffalo wing dip because I had some leftover chicken from the chicken enchiladas we ate on NYE. Lee's brother called to wish her a Happy New Year and told her of yet another tradition - Mexican. They eat 12 grapes on New Year's Day. Now that sounds easy!

New Year's Day Sauerkraut

300 degree oven

2 jars of crispy sauerkraut, drained and rinsed
3 carrots cut in small dice
1 C. chopped onion
2 large apples cored and sliced and then the slices halved
6 T. dark brown sugar
1 tsp. peppercorns
6 cloves garlic finely minced
bacon slices (line the cooking pot)
3 lbs. country pork ribs
1/2 to 3/4 or more bottle dry white wine

Using a heavy pot with a tight lid that can go in the oven or a baking dish you can top tightly with foil assemble:

line the pot with the bacon strips
*spread 1/4 of the sauerkraut in the bottom of the pan
sprinkle with 1/3 carrots, apples, peppercorns, garlic
sprinkle 2 T. dark brown sugar
place 1/3 of the ribs on top
drizzle 1/4 of the wine on the top
repeat two more layers like the one above starting at the *
cover with the remaining sauerkraut
pour remaining wine over the casserole try to make sure that all of the top sauerkraut gets a drink of wine

Place in oven for 3-4 hours. It can go longer. The meat will just be more amazingly tender. I serve it with mashed potatoes and a vegetable or salad.

Serve to those people you want to see every year on New Year's Day.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Twelve Days of Christmas

Tues - snow flight diverted to Pittsburgh

Wed - Family Christmas Eve of Henry tradition of charcuterie, Turkey in lettuce leaves, cookies, fruit and cheeses and champagne

Thurs - Christmas Day Peking Duck with Grandpa

Fri - day with kids at home, dinner

Sat - Clifton Mill breakfast , walk through John Bryant Park - dinner

Sun - pizza party dinner and Happy Feet

Mon - Lee returns little Christmas

Tues - Christmas with the Diamonds and Lee's birthday (ukulele, cowboy boots, play dough, Connect, paper airplanes, origami, stocking gifts, kayak trip, movies, dinner)

Wed - Entertrainment Junction and Red Robin with Eli and Gabe and the Grandmas - do not do the centrifugal chamber at Entertrainment Junction if you have Meniere's syndrome, Henry/Diamond/Bleeke New Year's Eve Tex-Mex feast

Thurs- New Years Day dinner and fun, loose tooth and somersault off the couch

Fri - pack, load cars, lunch with Jon at Cold Beer and Cheeseburgers Diamonds off to Columbus to spend the night with friends and Jon (Grandmas and 3 dogs collapse)

Sat - Diamonds fly home to Seattle

(Dorothy Lane Market loves me I visited daily)(We read 30+ books from the library)(Gabe and Eli cooked - pizza and cake)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

End of the holidays - a bright new year!

Last night was NYE. We had Jon and the Diamonds. We were joined in celebrating by my former husband, his wife, their daughter and his brother. Quite the celebration. Oh and 4 dogs. In this house we are always joined by a guest dog or two.

We decided to go Tex-Mex. Jen made her fab guacamole. Josh did nachos. I made cheese enchiladas and chicken mole enchiladas. Lisa brought a layered dip and Steve brought black beans and rice. For dessert Josh made churros dusted with cinnamon sugar. It was served with Mexican hot chocolate.

We watched Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I think there were some wistful memories of times past for the men. The guests departed, Lee went to bed and Josh, Jen and I welcomed the new year. I did my beloved burning ritual. Goodbye and letting go to some things and creating new possibilities for now.

This was a tough year - Lee's dear Mom died, our precious dad and mom dealt with his illness and we were privileged to be able to give them love and support. Lee's gas well went out and she and her family have faced some pretty big business issues with that. She broke her elbow. Jen and Josh are having baby #3. The brothers are waiting for their baby sister. My children's dad is dealing with a health diagnosis that is challenging for everyone. Through all of this we've been blessed by our families, dear friends and opportunities to stand for people and change. The economy has challenged everyone and it's been a pretty rough ride for so many. More than ever I know that it's the time to connect and be present to it all.

Blessings to all for the new year.