Thursday, January 29, 2015

Hero Worship

My Beloved loves auto racing, pretty much any kind, from drag racing (his first love) through Formula One (his next enthusiasm) to NASCAR (current fave). And, because he loves racing so much, he idolized P.L. Newman.

The rest of us know P.L. Newman by his stage name, Paul Newman. Yes, that Paul Newman. The gorgeous, blue-eyed screen god with the sulky, sexy mouth. Butch Cassidy, etc. My Beloved only got interested in Paul Newman when he strapped on a helmet and got into car racing as P.L. in an attempt to keep his movie fans at bay.

What this has to do with pizza is that I am instructed by My Beloved to purchase any and all Newman's Own products in honor of his hero. We eat popcorn and cookies from Newman's Own, and we've tried every other product they have ever brought out - at least once.

The latest issue of Sunset magazine featured a big ad for Newman's Own pizza - aha! something new! - so when I happened to see it the very next day in my market's freezer section, it was a no-brainer. Even when he's feeling well, My Beloved gets a little kick out of Newman products; when he's still flat on his back for many hours per day, it becomes a special treat.

It was a treat for this overworked cook, too. It couldn't have been easier to bake - not even a sheet pan was dirtied - and it was quick. It features a thin and crisp crust, our favorite, and there was plenty of pepperoni. I could have asked for a bit more cheese, as I'm one of those who likes the cheese to string generously from the slice when you pick it up, but what cheese there was was tasty.

Was it the best pizza ever?  Far from it!  But, it was good and flavorful and it put a smile on My Beloved's face. That's all I ask of frozen pizza. That, and a fun connection with his hero.

Friday, January 23, 2015

What Happens While You Are Thinking About Something Else

I'm not going to say I phoned this one in, but it is true that I was preoccupied when I conceived of the idea of some-kind-of-pasta-sauce-with-chicken to use up the last of the rotisserie chicken that My Beloved's daughter brought us last week. Because My Beloved isn't moving around much - a trip to the dining table and back to bed is a big adventure these days - he's not eating as much, so a chicken lasts us a long, long time. By the time we are nearing the end, I get a little anxious that it might spoil before we can finish it.

Now you know the mind set for this happy accident; worried about the boy and about that darn chicken.

I did all the usual things - sautéing slivered onion, sliced mushrooms, and minced garlic in EVOO, adding some herbs to that and cooking until fragrant, plopping in a big squeeze from a tube of tomato paste and two peeled, chunked tomatoes, pouring in a glug of red wine before simmering for 30 minutes or so, and adding chicken pieces from the roast toward the end to warm them up a bit  - but the real magic happened when I absentmindedly chopped coarsely some leaves of Swiss chard and added them at the very end of the simmering period, really more because I could hear my dear departed mother's voice saying, "Honey, you need something green with your dinner," than because I had a conscious thought, and because I had zero in the way of salad fixings in the fridge.

I have no idea, having never been to Italy, if Italian cooks would faint at the idea, or if they've been doing this since God was a child, but it was delicious. It gave an otherwise ho-hum pasta dish some razzle-dazzle and a faintly healthy vibe. We sprinkled a little ParmReg on top after plating, and it was zenzational, if I do say so myself.

The moral of the story is this: it's okay to be absent-minded about cooking - in some ways, it fosters creativity and happy accidents.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Nigella, Baby!

Is there anything better in the world than coffee ice cream?  I don't think so. You know that question people sometimes ask you: "If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one food, what would it be?"  Easy answer for me - it would always be coffee ice cream.

So, when I saw a recipe on Food 52.com for Nigella Lawson's Four Ingredient Coffee Ice Cream, well, I'm sure you can guess that trying it was a must.

The recipe claimed that the ice cream would be smooth and velvety, even without an ice cream machine, and that it could be made in a jiffy. It promised rich coffee flavor, too, another plus - most coffee ice creams could use an additional shot of java, in my view. I was on board in a big way for this recipe!

I was out of Kahlua and haven't had freeze-dried coffee in the house in decades and just the thought of sweetened condensed milk (not to mention the way it slithers out of the can) was nearly a turn-off but, hey - Nigella, baby!

At least the recipe called for real cream.

Literally all you do is dump the four ingredients into your mixing bowl (I used my KitchenAid mixer with the whisk attachment but if you don't have one, a regular handheld electric mixer or a whisk will do), whisk the stuff for only about 5 minutes on medium speed until the coffee granules melt and the whisk leaves pillowy marks in the mixture, pour the mixture into a pint container, and freeze for 6 hours or overnight. What could be easier?

Because the Kahlua has some alcohol in it, the ice cream doesn't freeze hard. It scoops easily and begins melting shortly after scooping. If you like firmer ice cream, you might consider tinkering with the amount of Kahlua but we liked it just fine the way it was, and it does firm up if you can freeze it overnight.

It was easily the creamiest, smoothest, most unctuous ice cream I've ever tasted and the coffee flavor was distinct enough even for me. "Decadent" is a good word for it. True to its promise, there was no crystalizing at all. My Beloved thought that adding something with a little texture or crunch would improve it, perhaps the chocolate cookie part of an Oreo for example, although he certainly enjoyed every drop of the scoop in his bowl.

This is dessert good enough to serve to company, good enough to share with friends, good enough, in fact, to make a batch any time you run out. 

I mean, hey - Nigella, baby!


Adapted slightly from Nigellissima (Clarkson Potter, 2013)
Makes 1 pint

1 1/4 cup (300 milliliters) heavy or double cream, well-chilled
2/3 cup (175 grams) sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
2 tablespoons espresso liqueur
In a mixing bowl, add all four ingredients and whisk until the coffee granules dissolve into the mixture and turn the color of a strong latte. The whisk should leave little pillowy marks in the mixture, but you don't want to beat it too long for fear of making butter - about five minutes on the low speed of a mixer should be about enough.
Pour into an airtight pint container and freeze for at least six hours, or over night. Scoops easily and melts quickly.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Stir Crazy

This is a cautionary tale. This is what can happen when two people are trapped in the house together for three weeks, one of whom has serious sciatica and the other is taking care of the patient.

When our Hawaii family called to commiserate with the patient (which, by the way, is a completely inept name for one who has lost all patience) they happened to be making chocolate chip cookies. For some unknown reason, the juxtaposition of choco chips and Hawaii fired an idea in my brain - why not try adding SPAM to chocolate chip cookies? After all, I have heard of bacon chocolate chip cookies, so why not SPAM? We could call them "Hawaiian Style™" or "Island Hyland™"and the fad would sweep the nation, bringing us fame and fortune and lots of blog readers! It couldn't fail!

Except that it sorta did.

I made a batch of my favorite chocolate chip cookies, the ones from Sunset Magazine called "Chocolate Chip Cookies at their best," (except I use all butter, replacing the shortening in that recipe) but to the last sheet of cookies, I stirred in four or five quarter-inch cubes of SPAM per cookie.

The cookies spread in the hot oven as they always do, and bubbled and browned nicely. When they came out of the oven, the little pink cubes looked kinda cute, too. And the taste wasn't bad when they were warm - the SPAM added a little fillip of salty goodness to the cookies. Yes, it was weird, but not in a bad way.

The sad part happened once the cookies cooled. Room temperature SPAM is really not an appetizing item - it needs to be hot, or at least warm - and, sure enough, it was nasty in the cooled cookies. I have to say that, overall, they were not a huge success and I doubt very much if they will make my reputation, unless it's a Kardashian-like negative rep. 

So, please, dear readers, say a little prayer that My Beloved recovers soon and that I'm released from finding my satisfactions by crazy little experiments like "Hawaiian Style™" chocolate chip cookies. He's going stir crazy and I definitely need to get out more.

Friday, January 16, 2015

South Of The Border

As the winter rolled around and days were shorter, darker, and colder (although we really can't complain here), I got into a mood for soup. My blogging pal, Greg, was on yet another cruise to Mexico, making me jealous as heck. I was also indulging in more than one pre-roasted chicken from the market to lighten my 3X daily stints in the kitchen cooking for my "Flat Boy." Any port in a storm, right?

Anyway, the plus of a roasted chicken is that you have the bones left over to make soup. This time, I wanted a version of Tortilla Soup (which, by the way, if you've never seen the movie by that name, rent it NOW - it's delightful) with wonderful Mexican flavors and ingredients.

The chicken broth I made from simmering those bones for several hours was so strong it jelled in the fridge after I strained out the bones and set aside the meat for the soup. That made it easy to remove most of the fat that had risen to the top and solidified so the resulting broth was clear and sweet.

For veggies, I sautéed some onion and garlic, then added diced carrot until it was tender, added the broth and the chicken meat to heat, and at the last minute added strips of Swiss chard, chunks of avocado and fresh chopped cilantro. I passed a bottle of Cholula to spice up the soup and sprinkled crushed tortilla chips on top for texture. All it needed was a tad of salt, as the chips weren't very salty.

Steaming hot, it warmed from the inside out. It wasn't quite as good as a luxurious cruise to warm ports of call South of the Border but, well, ¡olé! anyway, Greg, and I hope you had a fine time!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Not A Fan

My Beloved does not like chili; every time I make it, he says so. And every time I make it, he cleans his plate and threatens to scrape the design off the bottom trying to get every last bean and dash of sauce. His rejoinder is always the same, "I don't like chili, but I love your chili!" He may not make much sense, but he's adorable.

Before Christmas and before TSA (The Sciatica Attack), we had a lovely family meal at Cousin Jan's house at which she served slowly oven-roasted pork. OMG, I really can't describe how good it was! And, being the generous hostess that she is, all the guests got to go home with a sizable bag of pork and spud leftovers.

I decided to make chili with mine, combining that killer roast pork with black and navy beans for a hearty winter meal. My chili is anything but authentic, but if I do say so myself, it's really, really good. 

I sautéed a chopped onion and a couple of cloves of minced garlic in a little oil, then added the two cans of beans with their liquid, the chopped leftover roast (an amount roughly equal to the beans), a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste, and two kinds of chili powder, ancho and regular to taste. I simmered it all together for about an hour, then slid it off the heat and covered it. (Some people add green pepper to chili; I call that an abomination).

Chili is always better the next day - and I truly believe that's the secret to good chili. One must exercise patience and restraint, ignoring the Siren scents coming out of the pot and resolutely covering it and waiting for the next day.

After it has cooled and been reheated, just ladle it into bowls and stand back out of the way of the stampede to the table. Even someone who thinks they are not a fan of chili will admit that they love this chili!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Toasty Treat

Here's another little relic from before My Beloved was attacked by the Sciatica Monster. My older brother and his wife were visiting just before Christmas and, being the food lovers we all are, we went up to Yountville to have a sumptuous lunch at Bouchon. While we were in the Napa Valley, we also went to the CIA's culinary store and spent far too much money on wonderful things.

My Beloved bought me a new knife to replace the one I broke the tip off doing something stupid, and a smaller paring knife, too. They are so sharp that I promptly cut my finger using one of them. Must improve my chopping technique when using these splendid new blades.

We had a great time perusing the aisles and trying out all kinds of gadgets that even my capacious drawers don't have room for. For kitchen freaks, this is a fun place to spend an hour or so. And, when we went to check out, My Beloved showed me his favorite find, a set of three bags that you can use in your toaster to make grilled cheese sandwiches without getting gooey cheese all over the inside of your toaster!  Ingenious!

So, of course, we had to try them right away. I assembled the sandwiches just as I would to cook them in a pan, then slid them (somewhat awkwardly) into the sleeves, popped them into the toaster, and pressed the slider. I have to admit that there is a tendency for the cheese to slide out of the bread before it warms, but if you get it in there just right, it will stay. I toasted them just long enough to lightly brown the bread, then popped them up and, lo and behold!, they actually were toasty and gooey and just delicious! By cracky, it actually works!

If I was writing this before Christmas as I had expected to be, I'd be recommending them to you as stocking stuffers for your Beloved, but that ship has sailed for another year. How about for your Valentine?  I mean, what says "LOVE" better than toasty, gooey, warm and crispy cheese sandwiches?


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Improvements

Well, all I can say is a heartfelt, "Whew!"

I'm glad to report that My Beloved is improving. His attack of sciatica has been severe, requiring trips to the emergency room where they terrified us with the spectre of cancer only to dispel it half an hour later, and a 4am call to 9-1-1 for what seemed to be a drug reaction, but which calmed down by the time the EMTs arrived. I hope we never have to go through nearly three weeks like this again!

He is now able to sit up to take meals, although he has to get flat again immediately after. He can walk unassisted to the bathroom (a whole 10 feet away) and, some mornings, he can even make his own breakfast - huzzah! He's still spending 23 hours a day flat on his back, but at least he's not in such excruciating pain.

Here's another improvement that I discovered 'way back before the sciatica attack, one that I think you will enjoy. It's a side dish of rice pilaf, but with enhancements that really make it sing.

You make the pilaf in the usual way - sauté some chopped onion in a little butter until clear, add the rice and stir until the grains go cloudy, then add chicken stock and cook, covered, until the rice is finished - but at the end you add peeled and chopped fuyu persimmon and minced cilantro just before serving. 

The persimmon and the cilantro give a wonderfully sweet and fresh burst of flavor that goes great with pork tenderloin medallions or any meat that likes a fruity accompaniment. I use pork medallions because they are so quick and easy to fix.

I'm not sure how faithful I can be to the blog until My Beloved is truly up and better - he still needs a great deal of help and care - but I'll come here with something new and fun as often as I can. I have missed the writing and your sweet comments and the freedom to spend a little time with my blogging pals. I'm glad for lots of reasons that we are seeing improvements!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Flat Out

Sorry to have been away so long - it was not intentional!  My Beloved was stricken with a severe case of sciatica a few days before Christmas, so we have spent the last 10 days flat out, he flat on his back and suffering, me flat out trying to run the house, walk the dog, perform in the kitchen like a short order cook, and take care of the two (very welcome) house guests who were here over the "holiday."

It's a good thing they were here, too - two strapping young men who helped me get My Beloved to the hospital when he needed it - and walked Cora for me while we were in the emergency room.

So, I will be back when he is feeling better and can at least make breakfast for himself. Hang in there with me - fingers crossed that it will be soon!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry, Happy, Joyous Solstice

I've been doing this for quite a while now. This is my 1,921st post. I started the blog 'way back before I retired with the idea of keeping my writing skills alive in retirement, but it has turned out to be so much more than that.

It's a practical way to access my recipes from anywhere - isn't the internet amazing?

It's a fun way to keep up with friends who are spread around the world.

It has been a wonderful way to meet people I would never have otherwise encountered, both here at home and in countries far away. When I check my stats, I'm amazed to see that I have readers on all continents. I could wish they all commented more often, but it's enough to know they are out there, apparently enjoying what they read here.

It has connected me with people who share my love of cooking for others, and they are some of the most generous people I know, always willing to share a good recipe or a good story. And, it turns out that good stories are the real reason to read other people's blogs.

So, just wanted to let you know that YOU are my Christmas gift, year in and year out. Thanks for coming. Thanks for reading. Thanks for commenting. And thanks for enriching my life with your stories, too.