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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Lessons learned

Cooking is an ongoing learning lesson for me. Even when I cook old, familiar recipes, I discover something new, some trick to improve the process or the end result. So it was yesterday when I fixed chicken pot pie to welcome Jordan home from a business trip. Jacob loves chicken pot pie—I once watched him use fresh strawberries to scoop up the remaining sauce on his plate. Yesterday, I decided to try a new cooking technique for the chicken and an idea I’d found elsewhere for topping.
First the chicken. You know how when you cook chicken in seasoned water, the meat turns tough if you let the liquid boil? Thanks to Sam Sifton of the New York Times for this suggestion in another context. Bring a generous pot of water to a rolling boil in a deep Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid; season it as you would for cooking chicken—perhaps some onion, celery, carrot, peppercorns. Whatever.
When the water boils, turn off the heat and slide the chicken in; cover and ignore for at least two hours—I let three boneless, skin-on breasts sit three hours and the liquid was still warm when I removed them. Cut to the bone in a thick part to be sure there’s no pink—if there is, turn the burner on to simmer and let the chicken cook a bit more, like twenty minutes, on that low heat.
I started out with plenty of time to make the dish, even put the cream cheese out to soften first thing in the morning. But I then I got behind and ended up putting all the ingredient together all at once, without first defrosting the peas and corn (I may be the only person in the world who puts corn in chicken pot pie, but my local family loves corn and peas not so much, so I mix them—if anyone objected I was prepared to say the peas are needed for color; my mom taught me that food is half eaten with the eye; alas, no one objected—I’ll save that  line for later.).
But when the frozen peas were stirred in with the nicely softened cream cheese, the cheese got cold and hardened up again so that it was difficult to stir in. In a flash of what I thought was inspiration, I pre-cooked the entire casserole in the toaster oven, just got it warm enough that I could stir it easily. Then I cooled and refrigerated it—this was in the morning. As usual, I was cooking way ahead of myself.
My topping experiment was a success too. I saw a recipe for individual turkey pot pies with bread dressing as a topping. In that recipe, you made the dressing from scratch, but I cheated and used herb-flavored Stove Top™. I had made a double batch of the chicken filling, and one box of Stove Top covered it nicely and gave it a delicious, crunchy top. Instead of water, I used chicken broth to reconstitute the dry stuffing mix.
Jacob ate two large helpings, so I guess I was a success.

Here’s the recipe for the pie filling to feed two or maybe three:
1 cup cooked chicken, diced, or a bit more
½ cup frozen petite peas
½ cup frozen corn kernels
½ can cream of chicken soup
4 oz. cream cheese
½ c. cheddar cheese
Mix all together and put in greased 8x8 dish.
I must learn to take pictures of my creations! Sorry about that. No picture this time. The little bit of leftovers are now stuffed into refrigerator dishes and, while still tasty, not at all picturesque.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Those embarrasing corrections

Corrections in Gourmet on a Hot Plate are beginning to crop up. I found one myself today when I made a batch of Carol Roark's spaghetti. It calls for ground meat--Carol uses 1/2 lb. ground turkey; I use a pound of lean ground beef. But nowhere in the directions does it tell you to brown and add the meat. I figure, though, if you don't know to brown the meat before you add the saucy stuff--tomato paste, etc.--you ought not to be cooking. I like to saute the onions and garlic with the spices, then add and brown the meat.
And I'm the one who keeps preaching to add a pinch of sugar to tomato-based recipes. But nowhere in this one does it say it. Please add that pinch of sugar anyway.
Janet Henderson wrote from Santa Fe to say the index shows scallops in lemon sauce on p. 45, but the recipe is nowhere to be found. Actually it is--on p. 40, without a title. If you read this blog last week, you'll know I'm no longer crazy about that recipe
But as I write, Carols spaghetti is bubbling away on the stove. Here it is, though it can also be found on p. 63 of Gourmet on a Hot Plate:

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1/2 tsp. each dried rosemary, basil, majoram, savory, sage, oregano, and thyme.
1/2 lb. ground turkey or 1 lb. hamburger
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 14.5 oz. can tomato puree
salt and pepper to taste

Saute onion and garlic briefly in olive oil; add spices and continue cooking until very fragrant. Add the ground meat and brown. Stir in tomato paste, puree, and diced tomatoes. Salt and pepper to taste. Let is all simmer for three hours.

Makes a bunch, and it is so good. Thanks, Carol.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Cooking scallops

Scallops are shellfish—just like oysters or clams. I think some cooks are afraid to try them though, for several reasons. They are pricey, and you probably wouldn’t want to serve them to a dinner party of twelve. But cooking for one or two, they provide a simple and elegant meal and plenty of protein. Be aware of two things: they are easily overcooked which turns them tough when they should be soft and velvety, and they can trigger the same allergic reaction as other shellfish in sensitive people. Ask before you serve them to a guest.
A friend of mine swears that what we get in the market today is not a scallop but a muscle from the belly of a shark. I’d rather not believe that—there is muscle involved but no shark. Still, it’s best to buy scallops from a fishmonger if you can. At the fish market in my local high-end grocery, scallops come in three sizes: ocean scallops are either large or medium, and priced accordingly; bay scallops are relatively tiny. Three large scallops make a huge meal for me.
Recipes for scallops are plentiful on the web. Coquilles St. Jacques is a classic French preparation and probably the most complicated dish I’ve ever served to guests—it was a huge hit, but I’ll probably never do it again. In that dish, scallops are cooked with mushrooms, bathed in a rich creamy sauce, and topped with grated Gruyere before being popped in the oven. This is traditionally served in a dish designed to look like a scallop shell with mashed potatoes piped around the edges. Properly executed, it stands up against any chef-driven dish in the world and is absolutely delicious. But a lot of trouble. Ina Garten claims a quick and easy version, which I mean to try.
Recently I tried a recipe I’d found that called for brining the scallops in salt water, rinsing, drying, cooking with wine, lemon, butter, capers. I tried it and found the brining did nothing for the
scallops except to toughen them a bit and cause them to fall apart. The rest of the recipe was just plain work, and I decided to revert to my usual cooking method. (A flattering note: my youngest daughter won’t order scallops in a restaurant; she only eats them when I’ve cooked them because she knows they’ll be soft and tender—gives me a standard to live up to!)
Scallops have a delicate, slightly sweet flavor that is easily lost in a lot of sauces and spices. I’ve seen a recipe for wrapping them with bacon, but I think the bacon would overwhelm the scallop flavor. My method for cooking large or medium is to heat a mixture of butter and olive oil in a skillet; when it sizzles, carefully place the scallops, leaving enough room for you to get a spatula under them and flip. When you first place them, use the spatula to press down, so that the entire surface of the scallop contacts the skillet. Then DON’T TOUCH for about three minutes. The underside should have a nice golden crust. Turn them and brown the other side—have you noticed that the first side of anything always gets a better crust, no matter what you’re cooking? Even true with hamburgers. But I digress. Do not let them cook too long while seeking that second golden crust or they’ll overcook.
Sprinkle with parsley and serve with lemon wedges.
Pretty hard to do that with tiny bay scallops though, and yet you shouldn’t overlook them. Here’s a recipe for Scallops Provencal for two:
1 Tbsp. mixture of olive oil and butter, more if needed
Bay scallops, about 2/3 lb. per person
1 small shallot diced
3 green onions, sliced (Include some of the green tops)
1 Roma tomato, diced
Black pepper
White wine
Parsley, chopped
Sauté the scallops briefly. Add vegetables and sauté, stirring frequently. Splash with white wine—enough to make a sauce but not enough to make soup (?). Sprinkle with pepper and parsley and serve immediately.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Eating your way to good luck

Growing up in Chicago I don’t think I ever heard of a black-eyed pea let alone ate one. And we had ham but not on New Year’s Day. I remember my folks had oyster stew on New Year’s Eve. It was their own romantic tradition, and I was grateful to be allowed to decline gracefully. (Today I love oysters, raw, fried or baked, but not in stew, thank you.)

Of course, in Texas, I was confronted with the ham and black-eyed pea tradition, although it was several years before I succumbed. And then I was sort of tentative about it—unable to envision a pot of peas, I made Hoppin’ John, that mix of black-eyed peas, ham, tomatoes, onion, rice, and whatever else you throw in the pot. Because of my brother, the kids call it Hoppin’ Uncle John to this day.

But I moved on, until these days I insist on ham and a pot of peas. Christian suggested one of the small hams groceries carry, but I held out for—and bought—a bone in, butt half ham. We debated about the peas, and I would have been perfectly happy with canned. Christian grew up on Trappey’s canned peas, but the stores were out this year. So he came home with four cans of Bush’s beans, which he announced we could season, and a lb. of dried peas, which I had earlier volunteered to cook. Neither one of us cared which we used, but friend Sue solved it by saying, “Give me a can. We’re having northerners as guests tomorrow.” I laughed—Sue the Canadian speaking about northerners as if they were foreigners!

So, I spent New Year’s morning cooking peas which as you know is more work than you think. I parboiled them; them I had to dice up the salt pork (next time, a ham hock, please) and slice the onion, peel the garlic, and brown the whole thing. Finally put the peas in, added some pepper, thyme, and bay leaves, made six cups of chicken broth from concentrate, and sent the whole thing in for Christian to simmer while I napped. (He had to add more broth.) The peas were delicious, and guests were still talking about them two days later. I think the broth made a difference, and though I had doubts about thyme and bay leaves, you couldn’t taste them and yet I think they added to the flavor.

We served six adults and two teens with the ham and of course have a whole lot left over. So what do you do with leftover ham? I made scalloped potatoes and ham—a hit, even with Jacob. Here’s my quickie method (remember that I’m the one who scorns prepared foods—you may laugh at me now).

Scalloped potatoes and ham for four

1 can cream of mushroom soup

½ cup milk

5 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced thin

1-1/2 cups diced ham

1 medium onion, chopped (I didn’t have an onion and used four scallions—three would have been plenty)

1 tsp. pepper

1 cup grated cheddar (optional)

                Stir together the soup and milk. In a greased dish, layer potatoes, ham. Sprinkle pepper lightly over each layer (you should get two layers). Pour half the soup mixture over first layer; repeat.

Bake in toaster oven at 325 for 90 minutes or until potatoes are soft. This gets a nice, browned crust on top. I added the cheddar for the last 15 minutes, but it really wasn’t necessary. In fact, it kind of melted into that good crust and got lost.

I think the big thing about this recipe is using the cream of mushroom soup. I’ve made scalloped potatoes over the years—one of my boys loved them—but I never got them quite right. The sauce was too runny, the potatoes underdone. This came out just right.

So have you ever heard of eating lettuce on New Year’s to bring lots of money—the green stuff, I  presume—your way?

Friday, December 28, 2018

Happy to be home

Sophie and I had a wonderful, terrific, marvelous week in Tomball—okay, except for the dogfight which maybe taught her she is not invincible nor is she the biggest kid on the block. But she loved being in the middle of an active household, where she was on constant alert lest she miss something. Tonight, we are happy to be home in the cottage, which is pretty dull and quiet.

Colin, Kegan, Sophie, and I left Tomball just before 10:30 this morning. A glorious day for a drive. There had been heavy rains throughout Central and South Texas Wednesday night—as usual I heard the thunder but not the rain, but in the morning the lake was really high, and the lowest portion of the patio was under water. This morning, with bright skies and blazing sun, we saw water everywhere—stock tanks were overflowing and creeks had burst their banks. At some points on Highway 6, around Marlin, there were sudden new lakes lapping the road on either side. I’ve seen it before on that stretch of highway, but it always surprises me. The road from College Station to Waco is one I traveled so often for sales meetings when I was working that I have all the landmarks memorized. I particularly love going through Calvert, that funky town full of old shops and antiques and falling down buildings.

We met Jordan and Jacob in Waco at a place my kids all rave about but where I had never been before. A tiny hole-in-the-wall with outdoor seating, so we could take Sophie. Called the Health Camp, it’s everything but. What it is, is greasy hamburgers. Through a mix-up we got a BLT for Colin, but I knew he had his taste buds ready for a cheeseburger, and I didn’t, so we traded. It was one of those sandwiches grilled on the outside so that everything about it is greasy, and some of the bacon was undercooked. It is not, however, the kind of place where you call the maître d’ and complain about your food. Kegan got a chili/cheese dog which I would not have known how to attack—he waded in and did a credible job on it. The best thing about the experience was the milkshakes—Jordan and Jacob had chocolate, Colin had strawberry, and Kegan had cookies ‘n cream. Being a novice, I didn’t know to order a milkshake, but I tasted, and they were thick and creamy and good.

An aside: when I was a kid there was an ice cream parlor (those shops we unfortunately don’t have anymore) about eight blocks from our house. They served milkshakes so thick the straw stood straight up in them. My mom would sometimes give my friend Eleanor Lee and me money for shakes for lunch, and we rode our bikes up to 53rd Street—a busy commercial street. Being allowed to do that was a big deal, and the shakes were the best thing we’d ever eat—or so we thought. A win/win deal. Today’s didn’t quite meet that standard, but they were good.

Health Camp is on the roundabout with the old Elite Café, that Waco traditional landmark. I had heard that Chip and Joanna Gaines had bought it, and today, lo and behold! It had a sign boasting, “The Magnolia Table.” Next time through Waco I’m going to lobby for that, but I may be unsuccessful. My family is really sold on the greasy spoon hamburgers.

Jordan, Jacob, Sophie and I got to Fort Worth a little after 3:30, and Jacob had a 4:00 p.m. orthodontist appointment, so Sophie and I got to sit in the car for half an hour. It was okay. She was a bit anxious; I calmly read emails. Jacob got the worst of the deal because something on his braces had broken and had to be repaired.

And then, before 5:00 p.m., we were home. I’ve turned on my Christmas lights and started unpacking, but I’m going to have a late version of my afternoon nap and then worry about dinner. My cupboard is pretty bare.

What wonderful Christmas memories I brought home with me. And now, on to the New Year.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Sausage skillet supper for a cold night

            My mom used to fix sausage and apples for breakfast or for a light supper. In the German household of her childhood, she had to eat sauerkraut—and hated it, so I never tasted it until I was grown and gone from home. Now I love it. I once knew someone who caramelized sauerkraut, sautéing it slowly, sprinkling with sugar, turning, springling again. It took patience, and you had to avoid rushing the process, but I was so good. I never mastered the technique, but if you do, please let me know.

What I do is add kraut to a sausage and apple skillet. Here’s what I’ve built on Mom’s idea. I serve it for supper.

Sausage and Apple Skillet with Kraut

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil

Link sausages, 2-3 per person

1 small onion, sliced thin into rings

1-1/2 c. drained sauerkraut or to taste

1 tsp. brown sugar

Generous splash of white wine

            Sauté sausages in oil until browned. Remove from skillet and set aside.

            Sauté onion rings at medium heat until soft and slightly browned. Add sauerkraut and sauté about 3 minutes. Add apple slices and sauté until mushy. Stir in brown sugar and wine, and taste. Correct as needed. Salt and pepper is up to you.

            Return link sausages to skillet and heat through. Serve immediately. Enjoy—and have the last laugh over all those people who don’t like sauerkraut.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Holiday Cheeseball—and a caution on baking

What would the December holidays be without a cheeseball? It’s not too late to make your own delicious snack. This is the recipe that I remember from my childhood. Someone in the family still makes it every year--sometimes my daughters or DILs. This year I made one and divided it in two—one to go with Jordan and one for me to take to Tomball and Colin’s family.

A warning note: Cheese will mold if left in the fridge too long. I’d say a week is safe, so you can reshape the ball and freshen it with more parsley and ground pecans for New Year’s Eve. But if you have any left over after that, better freeze it. It freezes well—just defrost at room temperature.


½ lb. Roquefort

1 pkg. Old English cheese (no longer available—I use 8 oz. of Velveeta)

l eight-ounce pkg. cream cheese

½ lb. pecans, chopped fine

1 bunch parsley, chopped fine

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 small onion, chopped fine   

½ tsp. prepared horseradish

Let the cheeses soften to room temperature and mix thoroughly. Add Worcestershire, onion, horseradish and half of the parsley and pecans. Mix thoroughly and shape into a ball. Do NOT do this in the food processor, as it will become too runny. Even a mixer makes it too smooth and creamy—wash your hands thoroughly and dig in, so the finished cheese ball has some texture and credibility. Roll the ball in the remaining parsley and pecans. Chill. Serve with crackers.

A cautionary note for those who bake in a toaster oven:

            I made old-fashioned gingerbread, from scratch, this week and learned a negative lesson about baking in a toaster oven. If a recipe has enough baking soda to cause it to rise, it will hit the top burner of the oven and burn. I could rescue my gingerbread by slicing off the burned—it was still delicious—but I won’t try that again. I don’t know if a gingerbread mix would work better or not. The recipe had 1-1/2 tsp. of baking soda.

Don’t forget: You can order Gourmet on a Hot Plate, print or ebook, from Amazon or several other platforms. The Amazon URL is