Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Mea Culpa
Time to get off my soap box and face the real world. While bemoaning the lack of people wearing poppies over Memorial Day weekend, some desperate member of our society in the Boca area, snatched the contribution jar from an 80 year old vet who was collecting money / distributing poppies. Reminiscent of the guys who stole the money box from the Brownie's selling Girl Scout cookies in front of a Publix store. Sad commentary on our society, isn't it?

Monday, May 29, 2006

A Day to Remember

It's Memorial Day or at least the day we now choose to celebrate this holiday.
Moving the celebration of national holidays to Mondays was a good move, allowing folks to have a long weekend to celebrate with friends and family. Over the years, many of us have turned this day of parade watching and flag waving into a pool, picnic, barbecue day. And fashion mavens use Memorial Day as the harbinger for the white shoes and white handbags that were officially relegated to storage last Labor Day.
But how many of us actually remember what this day signifies? Over the weekend, I saw a WWII veteran in front of the grocery store with the traditional red poppies. Over the years, the number of these valiant men has dwindled. I remember always seeing two or three hale and hearty vets gathered together on street corners and at the entrances to stores, raising money and awareness of the needs of veterans with the sale of red poppies at Memorial Day. I also remember that almost everyone walking on the street, bustling about their errands, sported a poppy, showing support for the men who fought for freedom for us. Times have changed. We don't see many people walking on the street these days period, never mind sporting poppies at Memorial Day and Veteran's Day. I guess many of those folks driving along may have a poppy. Who am I to judge? But I strongly suspect, the change collected in those little canisters didn't amount to much this past weekend, even though we are a far more affluent society than we were 40 + years ago. Our priorities have changed.
Or maybe it's just that our way of donating and contributing has changed and it's no longer de rigeur to look for handouts on the street corners, better to mail address labels or mount a telemarketing campaign. But that's so impersonal, isn't it? I liked having the smile and thank you from those wizened faces and the firm handshake of a calloused hand from a man who left home and family, took up arms and faced an enemy, so I could grow up, safe and sound in America. There's something very personal and very special about that.
Today is a day to remember all those who gave their lives fighting to make our world a better place. A feature article in today's Orlando Sentinel used the figure 619,837 lives lost from World War I through today's war in Iraq. Over half a million brave men and women. Regardless of how we feel about the wars we've fought or the current war we're fighting, let's remember and respect the many lives given in the name of freedom. They've helped make it possible for us to grill that frank or smoke those ribs today.
For those of you who prefer to do your 'cue indoors - count me at the top of the list - I've had great success with slow cooking beef brisket simply sprinkled generously with a spice rub. I like a Cajun mix but a straight salt and pepper combo will do, as long as one of those peppers is cayenne. Wrap the meat well in foil, place in a shallow roasting pan in a 250 oven and let it cook. Plan on at least 40 minutes per pound. Whatever you do, don't rush it. I often put a 3 - 4 lb piece of brisket in early morning and don't remove it from the oven until late afternoon. Well wrapped, it won't dry out. You want the meat to be fork tender and shred easily. I treat the meat liked pulled pork, using two forks to shred it. But you can slice it against the grain with a very sharp carving knife if you prefer slices. I slather the beef, when serving, with Bobby Flay's cola based sauce (see recipe) and serve with cole slaw and onion rolls or fresh, crisp Kaiser rolls as a sandwich. Great way to enjoy an inexpensive cut of meat. No fuss, no muss, it cooks itself while you go about your day and if you wrapped it carefully in a foil packet, the pan only needs a quick rinse! What could be easier? Fast food it's not. But you'll have to admit, it's easy and oh, so good. Give it a try.
BBQ Sauce
Courtesy of Bobby Flay
1 cup cola
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
3 TBS A1 Bold
1 minced shallot
1 minced clove garlic
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
Combine all ingredients in small saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer until reduced by a quarter.
I'm spending the holiday with Julia and Paul Child. I'm deeply immersed in My Life in France. Who knows how I'll be led to cook the bay scallops I took out of the freezer this morning? But with Julia encouraging me, it's sure to be good. Till next time . . . keep on cooking!

Monday, May 22, 2006

What does a grape say
when you step on it?
It just lets out a little wine.
I have no idea to whom we should attribute that pithy bit of humor but it was wine that was on my mind recently as I strayed from my favorite Boeuf Bourguignon and the classic Coq Au Vin and applied the technique to the 'other white meat'. Braised pork with red wine turned out to be a luscious pot of pure comfort food studded with carrot slices and petite peas then ladled over smashed potatoes. The leftovers reheated nicely, the flavors had the opportunity to marry well which makes me think preparing this a day ahead of serving would be smart. This is not a 30 minute Rachel Ray type of dish. It takes time to slow cook. Making it on a weekend would be a good idea - great for a Sunday dinner and then the re-heated leftovers will make a fast supper later in the week. I used lean boneless spareribs but a boneless pork shoulder would work well, too.
Braised Pork With Red Wine
2 pounds boneless pork, cut into large chunks
Salt and pepper and 2 Tbs flour
2 cups fruity red wine, like Beaujolais or Pinot Noir
1 cup good chicken stock (water will do)
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
1 lb of carrots, peeled and cut into chunks on the diagonal
8 - 10 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 cup petite peas - defrosted if frozen
Place pork chunks with salt, pepper and flour in plastic bag. Shake to coat. Heat 2 tbs olive oil in dutch oven over med high heat and sear pork chunks, browning on all sides. Do not overcrowd pan. Sear in batches removing seared pieces to a plate. Add a little more oil if needed. Reduce heat to medium. Add carrots, onions and garlic to pot stirring to deglaze, getting up all those nice brown bits. As the garlic and onion become fragrant, return pork and accumulated juices to pan, adding wine and stock. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover and cook until pork is fork tender and falling apart. (1 1/2 - 2 hours)When done, remove all solids with a slotted spoon and reduce pan juices to about one cup or less. Add salt and pepper to taste. Return pork to pot, add cooked peas , warm through, then add chopped parsley for garnish if desired. Serve over egg noodles or mashed potatoes enjoying the remainder of the bottle of wine!
Never cook with a wine you wouldn't drink and NEVER succumb to purchasing that foul product on the grocery shelf referred to as cooking wine. This doesn't mean you have to use your best vintages...but by all means use a good tasting medium priced bottle to bring out the best in any recipe. It's flavor you are seeking and a bad wine will only give a bad flavor. Reminds me of. . .
Charles Frank and Ella White, of the Boston Irish Whites, were married early in the 20th century, around 1908, I think. As with most young married couples then, they initially lived with Charles' folks until they had enough money saved up to rent a flat of their own. Living with your in-laws is a tough start for any young couple but the clash between the frugal Mrs. Frank and the young bride, Ella, came to a head one morning as Ella, descending the stairs for breakfast overheard her mother-in-law complaining to Charles about his young wife's extravagance in using too much butter when she made a cake, in throwing out left over coffee and buying expensive cuts of meat. "She'll have you in the poor house, son" wailed Mrs. Frank. Ella took a deep breath, marched into the kitchen and politely proclaimed to her mother-in-law, "Nothing you put in your gut is wasted."
She told me this story to emphasize the importance of serving good food whether it was a lowly fried egg, which she often had for her lunch to save money, or the wonderful roast with all the trimmings she served to her family on Sundays. Ella Frank nee White was a marvelous cook and a generous woman with a heart of gold. She was my maternal grandmother.
Guess what? Had a note from Lisa Unger in response to my email congratulating her on Beautiful Lies and she reports the sequel will be published in 2007. Looking forward to that. Meanwhile this week I indulged in some fun light reading. Finished up Tough Cookie, a Diane Mott Davison culinary mystery. Those are always good fun and I glean new ideas for food prep. I have her new one, Dark Tort, waiting for me. Gave the new Mary Higgins Clark, Two Little Girls in Blue, a whirl. It's been decades since I read any of her books. It was an engaging fast read. Interesting material on the phenomenon of telepathy between twins. Cage of Stars, Jacqueline Mitchard's newest is a page turner, too, offering insight into the practices and beliefs of LDS members (Latter Day Saints) with a story line that stretches believability but nevertheless holds your interest . This has been a week for light fare, to round it off, I'm halfway through John Sandford's Dead Watch.
I was a little ashamed of myself for indulging in so much popular fiction this week but quickly justified my lapse by reminding myself I watch no TV tripe. Looking forward to the Fringe Festival selections I've chosen to see later in the week. Maybe I'll see some of you there. Till next time...keep on cooking!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Put your Lemon Drops on Ice!
Did you get the word? Oprah's Legends Ball has been preempted by none other than George W. For all of you who've invited friends, mixed up gallons of Oprah's fabulous lemon drop martinis and for those of you who've even bought the fixin's for Rachel Ray's 5 minute appetizers...it all has to wait until next week. Quel dommage. I strongly suggest the lemon drops be consumed prior to the President's address on the immigration crisis - it'll help to be mellow while you listen to that fellow.
Speaking of George W, I've just started a book he would do well to read or have read to him, Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers - How Man is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth.
We each need to understand what is happening to our planet so that we can take steps to bring about decisive action. The news over the weekend was a prime example of the havoc weather is playing. In Florida, people lost homes to wildfires because of lack of rain. In New England, people are being flooded out of their homes because of unprecedented rainfall. Global warming is affecting all parts of the world - meanwhile our executive administration is sitting on its hands in denial. It's so obvious with the extreme change in weather patterns that something is amiss.
We have to get our heads out of the sand and start urging our representatives to move in the right direction to ensure we have a planet for future generations. Meanwhile, there are millions of us who can each do his part to try to remedy the mess we've made in the name of progress.
On the lighter side, if you're looking for a good read, check out Lisa Unger's Beautiful Lies. For a first novel, this is a swift page turner with writing that doesn't ring of formula and characters with depth involved in an interesting mystery. And she's from Florida!
For sheer beauty of words and emotions, Anita Brookner is hard to beat. I first ran across her work a few years ago with her latest novel, The Rules of Engagement, and entertained myself this Mother's Day with her 1984 Booker Prize winner, Hotel Du Lac. Fascinating characters in a delightful Swiss setting elegantly depicting a range of human emotions moving the story to a surprising climax. I highly recommend getting acquainted with Ms. Brookner's work.
Dining Indulgence
A simple meal can take on gourmet proportions with the generous use of a kitchen staple that has been relegated to the "bad for you" list for way too long. I speak of butter...sweet cream, unsalted, high butter fat BUTTER. Fish fillets prepared a la Meuniere (no accent marks in this format, sorry) is a quick, easy weeknight preparation that would impress the fussiest dinner guest. I use tilapia fillets on a regular basis but any white fleshed, mild fish will do: cod, haddock, sea bass, flounder, etc. The instructions listed are for four servings...easily reduce the amount of butter and parsley to accommodate one or two servings.
Fish Fillets a la Meuniere
4 fillets of white fleshed fish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon flour (I like Wondra but AP will do)
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 lemon, halved and seeded
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley (flat leaf preferred)
1. Season the fillets with salt and pepper and lightly coat with flour, shake off excess.
2. Use a skillet large enough to hold fish in a single layer, place over medium high heat. Add 4 tbs butter. When butter starts to foam, add fish and saute, turning once until golden, about 3 minutes on each side. Transfer fish to serving platter and tent with foil to keep warm. Discard butter from pan.
3. Add remaining butter to pan over medium heat, add a generous pinch of salt and allow butter to foam. When foam subsides and the butter turns lightly brown, squeeze in all the juice from both lemon halves and add parsley. Swirl pan to blend and spoon sauce over fish. Serve immediately.
Kick this up a notch by mincing two large cloves of garlic and adding to butter along with lemon juice and parsley. Either variation is lovely with petite peas and roasted cauliflower. Another quick and easy weeknight dinner!

Monday, May 08, 2006

I was checking out one of my favorite websites, Mighty Foods, earlier today.
As I scrolled through the post I was taken back a good 50 years to a day when my step-mom came home with a couple of paper grocery sacks crammed full of ferny looking things. She filled the kitchen sink with cold water and dumped in the greenery. She was so excited with her find but I couldn't imagine we were going to eat this sink full of weeds. I soon learned these were fiddleheads, young, unopened fern fronds which are cleaned, cooked and eaten just like other greens. Much like the short season of dandelion greens, fiddleheads are only available for a short span before they unfurl and become ferns. This harvest was a rare treat. Mom had picked them at her brother's farm in Maine and transported the delicacies over the border into New Hampshire. I doubt there was a law against it, but those Mainiacs might have begrudged losing such a find to their snobby southern neighbors.
In our blue collar home, gourmet food preparations were unknown but plain fresh food was abundant and these fiddleheads were no exception. After many rinsings, the greens were ready for a long hot boil with a generous helping of diced salt pork. I don't think any green vegetable in that house was ever cooked without salt pork nor was it ever served until it had lost every bit of it's bright green color! When the fiddleheads were cooked to the requisite limpness, we were each handed a bowl, with a dollop of butter, a sprinkling of vinegar and a generous shake of salt and pepper. The juices at the bottom of the bowl were mopped up with slices of airbread. Man, was that good!
I love dandelion greens and we had those every year as our lawn was very accommodating, supplying us with several good meals of the bitter green before they went to flower. The lowly dandelion makes for fine eating and drinking, too. My friend, Nancy Schwartz, had a knack for making a great dandelion wine. She'd pick the dandelions in the spring and make the wine with her secret recipe and put the bottles away in a dark place (hidden somewhere in the garage, I think) until the fall when it was ready for decanting. The bottles I was lucky enough to have were a stiff competition for Harvey's Bristol Cream. I often wonder where Nancy is and what she's doing. Sad how people drift in and out of our lives moving on and how easy it is to lose touch.
No fiddleheads or dandelion greens in my pantry but I did cook some greens this morning - green beans. I decided a little ethnic treatment would be good for a change so I carmelized a nice big yellow onion, added a couple of cloves of minced garlic and tossed in a pound of cleaned young slender firm green beans that had been blanched for about 4 minutes. I added a generous pinch of Mexican Oregano purchased from Rancho Gordo and a small can of tomato sauce and simmered gently until the beans were tender yet still a bit firm to the bite. They'll cook a little more when reheated in the microwave tonight for dinner. They'll be a nice accompaniment to a Tilapia fillet I plan on having for dinner before heading out to the free new play reading at Lowdnes Theater at 7pm. (This year's monthly play readings have been great entertainment and you can't beat the price. Come on out and join the fun!)
When I was working, I'd clean and blanch green beans on the weekend and put them in a ziplock bag in the fridge then they were ready for an easy prep for one of my fast 30 minute dinners. It's really handy to have fresh veggies ready to roll. Eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day takes a little planning and preparation. But good food can be fast food with a little forethought. Not only is it good for you...it's so much less expensive than those prepared, processed, packaged products! That message was brought to you by the letter P!
Reminds me of the Sesame Street episode where I heard, "This is the letter N. It stands for: ninny, nincompoop and numbskull!" Of all the words that start with the letter n, they sure picked a great trio to enhance a youngsters vocabulary, didn't they?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Dastardly deeds done in the dark...

With a ridiculous penchant for alliteration, years of thinking in head rhymes, it wasn't really surprising that the above phrase popped into my mind one of the first times I ventured out into the deep dark wee hours of the morning with my new charge Gilly, aka Kris Kringle, to allow him to 'water the bushes'.

Dark appears to be a popular adjective with the literati lately. Just look what I've read these past two weeks: Thomas Perry's Nightlife (night is dark, right?); Anne Perry's Dark Assassin; Stuart Woods' Dark Harbor and I'm on the waiting list for Dark Tort, Diane Mott Davidson's newest offering. See the recurring theme? Do they consult each other? All, by the way, are fun, fast reads. Great entertainment.

Catch it if you can. Theater Downtown has a dynamite little production currently playing, Take Me Out by Richard Greenberg. It's easy to see why the critics are raving and the performances are selling out. The author's message is heart-rending, the characters are well cast and the set is amazing considering the small space. There's nudity and coarse language, after all it's a locker room. Support local theater but more importantly - treat yourself to live theater at its best.

Here's a fun site with a daily download that will give you pause for thought or at least bring a smile to your face. I've always been a fan of, "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull" attributed to WC Fields, though I always thought there were four more letters in that last word. I was surprised to find a like phrase from none other than Harry S Truman, "If you can't convince them, confuse them." Do you think someone suggested that to GW?

What's Cooking?
I realize not everyone is an eggplant fan. But for those of you who are and especially for those whose mouths water at the thought of eggplant parmesan, but hesitate to make it because of all the prep steps, Pierre Franey has taught me a fast easy preparation that by-passes the breading/frying steps in a traditional parmesan-style dish by simply peeling and roasting slices that have been slathered with a butter/parmesan slurry. I've taken the dish one step further by topping it after baking with some of the tomato pizza sauce from a previous post. This is a week night possibility since it's a total of 20 minutes to prep and cook the dish and it makes a wonderful side with a chicken breast or pork chop. I can make a meal of it on its own with a big greeen salad washed down with a mellow merlot.
Aubergines au Four Parmigiana
(Baked eggplant parmesan)
1 firm eggplant
4 - 5 TBS unsalted butter at room temperature
3 TBS grated Parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Peel the eggplant and trim off the ends. Cut the eggplant into half inch thick slices.
Blend the butter and cheese and spread on both sides of eggplant slices. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Arrange the slices on a baking sheet in one layer (I cover sheet with parchment paper for ease of cleanup). Bake 15 minutes or until eggplant is tender when pierced. Serve as is or with a generous dollop of tomato sauce (see 4/17 post) on each slice. More fast and easy whole food. Enjoy!