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Thursday, November 19, 2020

Jordan cooks – and shares her recipes


Jordan fixed me a lovely lunch--
salmon salad, her potato salad, tomatoes, and hearts of palm
Call me spoiled.

A few days ago, I posted that Jordan has been more interested lately in cooking and learning some techniques. For my weekly recipes today, I want to share a couple of hers. Not because she cooked them, but because there’s something good and basic about each one.

Did you ever think how meat loaf and potato salad are alike? They are both dishes that many of us have been cooking for years. There are probably thousands of ways to make meat loaf. My mom, for instance, made it with half pork, half beef, salt and pepper. I put egg and breadcrumbs in mine. Some people put milk or broth. But most of us do it, automatically. Ever have a catastrophe when you make something from memory. I have gotten too much filler in meatloaf and made loaves that were without taste.  It just doesn’t always come out right.

I pretty much learned to make potato salad from my mom. There was an Italian cook at the hospital where my dad was administrator, and she taught Mom to peel potatoes while hot and pour vinaigrette over them for extra flavor. Then Mom added mayonnaise and salad mustard (the yellow stuff!), celery and onion, salt and pepper. I pretty much follow that, but it doesn’t always come out as I’d wish—too much mustard for one thing, soupy sometimes, too much salt.

The thing about Jordan’s potato salad is that she followed a recipe and nailed it—the mustard adds a tang but is not a discernable taste. It’s all in the proportion and balance.

Jordan’s potato salad

2 lbs. russet potatoes (she used red and weighed them to get it just right)

2 Tbsp. cider vinegar

½ tsp. salt

2 c. mayonnaise

2 chopped green onions

1 celery stalk

1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

1 Tbsp. vinegar

1 tsp. sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

              Peel and cube potatoes while hot. Toss with vinegar and salt to coat. Let cool. Separately mix remaining ingredients. Toss with cooled potatoes and refrigerate before serving.

Note: There was not much celery in this, which was perfect for Christian because he doesn’t care for it. Personally I would have added another stalk. But this was really good.

              I offer Jordan’s chocolate pie because it’s made from scratch—no instant pudding/pie filling for her. A homemade crust is next, but for now she started with a pre-made graham cracker crust.

Jordan’s chocolate pie

1 9-inch baked pie rust

1-1/4 c. sugar

2 Tbsp. flour

2 Tbsp. cornstarch

½ tsp. salt

3-1/2 c. milk

4 egg yolks

2 squares unsweetened chocolate, chopped

1 Tbsp. butter

1 tsp. vanilla extract

              In saucepan, thoroughly mix sugar, flour, cornstarch, salt. Separately whisk milk and eggs until thoroughly combined. Gradually stir into dry ingredients, whisking as you add, trying to avoid any lumps. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly. Mixture will thicken. When it comes to a full boil, stir for one more minute.

Take pan off burner and stir in chocolate, butter, and vanilla.  

Pour into pie shell. Cover top with plastic wrap, pressing it carefully onto surface of pie filling. This prevents it from forming a skin. Chill several hours. Serve with whipped cream.

Whip cream just prior to serving. It doesn’t keep well. Jordan mixed 2 tbsp. sugar with 1 cup heavy cream and beat it until stiff.

In her rush to serve the pie, Jordan didn't get a picture of it. And she sent the leftovers home without guests! Outrage! Nonetheless, she wishes you bon appetit! Hmmm. I’m thinking maybe she should make meat loaf next.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

A variation on tamales


Shhh! Don’t tell the world, especially Texans, but I don’t much care for tamales. I’m not a bread person, so tamales for me often have more wrapping than filling. I’d reverse that ratio. On the other hand, I think polenta is great. So several years ago I made a tamale pie that used polenta instead of masa—a true blending of Mexican and Italian cuisines, but heavy on the Mexican side. You could rightly call it Tex-Mex. It is high on my list my all-time favorite dishes. I haven’t made it in a while, but it’s on my “let’s cook this” list. Sorry for the fuzzy picture. Because I haven't made this recently, I didn't have a picture and had to snatch one off the web.

This recipe is a lot easier if you use the prepared rolls of polenta, available in most groceries, rather than trying to cook your own. Use the traditional flavor rather than that with herbs added—this dish will take your flavors in another direction, away from basil for instance.

Tamale pie with polenta

1 lb. ground sirloin, as fat-free as possible (try using ground buffalo)

1½ Tbsp. chili powder

 1 Tbsp. ground cumin

1 16-oz. bottle medium hot salsa (Pace picante preferred)

1 15-oz. can refried beans (original flavor)

1¾ c. chicken broth (preferably Better than Bouillon)

½ c. chopped cilantro

2 1-lb. rolls prepared polenta, sliced ¼ inch thick

3½ c. shredded sharp cheddar

Brown beef, breaking up clumps. Add chili powder and cumin. Stir briefly. Add salsa, beans, and broth. Simmer until thick, about 10 minutes. Add the cilantro. Salt and pepper to taste.

Layer half the polenta in a greased 9x13 baking dish. Top with sauce and 1½ c. cheese. Top with remaining polenta and then remaining cheddar. Bake uncovered at 350° for 35 minutes. Let it sit a minute before serving.

Buen provecho!



Thursday, October 29, 2020

Tourtière, or the importance of compromise


I wish I could say this is the one I baked, but, alas,
it is a free image grabbed from the net

In his New York Times cooking column this week, Sam Sifton offered a recipe for tourtière, the French Canadian two-crust meat pie that first appeared in Quebec and is traditionally served at Christmas and the New Year. Originally the pie was filled with pork, cut in tiny pieces, and other meat, even wild game. Many cooks today use ground meat. Sifton’s version, however, mixes the two versions and calls for chunks of pork shoulder with chicken thighs and ground pork. As Sifton’s recipes are usually excellent, I clipped it and saved it. But the complexity may put it beyond the capabilities of my kitchen—or me as a hot-plate cook.           

By coincidence, I made a much simpler tourtière for supper Monday night. Comparing the two made me realize all over again that to cook with a hot plate and a toaster oven instead of a stove and in a kitchen with limited counter space, you have to make compromises.

The first compromise I made was using a prepared pie shell, admittedly not as good as homemade (Sifton’s recipe puts two sticks of butter in the crust!) but easier in my limited space. While I have a rolling pin, I don’t have a pastry board (I used to have marble) and not enough counter space to roll out dough. Besides, pie crusts are not one of my best accomplishments.

Here’s what I used for the filling:

1.5 lbs. ground sirloin

1 cup onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 bay leaves

1 tsp celery salt

¼ tsp. allspice

¼ tsp. black pepper

Salt to taste

A generous splash of Worcestershire

1.5 cups beef stock (from Better than Bouillon)

1 medium potato

           Sauté the onion and garlic quickly, add beef and cook over medium heat until there is no pink. Add the bay leaves, celery salt, pepper, allspice, salt and Worcestershire. Stir thoroughly to mix spices in and add the beef broth. Bring to a simmer. Here’s the weird part: grate your potato and stir that into the mixture. The potato will soak up the liquid. When the liquid is almost all absorbed (the surface looked dry, but a good stir revealed a nice bit of moisture), take the pan off the heat and let it come to room temperature. You don’t want to put a hot meat mixture into an uncooked pie shell.

Line a pie plate with one of the crusts. As always sprinkle a little flour over the bottom so it doesn’t stick (my prepared crusts came already floured). When meat mixture is cool, spoon into the pie shell. Carefully place the other crust on top, crimping the edges and poking steam vents in it. For a shiny surface, brush the top with a mixture of egg yolk and water, about 2 tsp.

Bake at 375o until crust is browned and meat is bubbly—about 25 minutes. We served it with Christian’s green beans—sauteed in bacon grease and seasoned with cider vinegar. A good meal on a chilly fall evening.


Thursday, October 22, 2020

The trouble with enchiladas

Growing up in Chicago, I didn’t know an enchilada from a tostada. We simply didn’t eat Mexican food—perhaps because there was little of it, perhaps because my father’s taste in food was strictly British. I didn’t have Mexican food until I moved to Fort Worth in the mid-sixties, and I distinctly remember being very wary the first time I ate at Joe T.’s. Today I often crave Tex-Mex, though I am not a fan of anything in the pepper family, and I shy away from anything very spicy. The thing about Tex-Mex, to me, is that at its best, it’s not spicy.

Which brings us to enchiladas. My very favorite kind is spinach, but they’re rare and not often on restaurant menus. I used to love Tres Joses where the spinach enchiladas were the best but, alas, apparently not good enough to sustain the restaurant. So if I can’t have spinach, I’ll take chicken with sour cream, thank you. But I don’t like to make them.

Jordan makes wonderful cheese enchiladas and chicken. She goes through the whole process of softening the tortillas and making the filling and rolling the tortillas into enchiladas? Me? I’m discovering with age and my tiny kitchen I really like shortcuts. And I particularly don’t want to fry tortillas on my hotplate. I love to make King Ranch chicken instead of enchiladas because you tear the corn tortillas into big pieces—no frying, no prep, just layer them in the casserole.

Then I happened on a chicken enchilada pie recipe—don’t remember where I found it. But I tried it one evening, with some reservation because I thought it would be too close to King Ranch. Not at all! Quick, easy, delicious—and addictive! I didn’t mess with the recipe at all, except that I had an unmeasured amount of homemade taco seasoning in the freezer and used all of it in place of the package called for. With the first bite, I thought the taco seasoning was too prominent, but it softened and in leftovers I was not at all aware of it. Just for fun, I’m including my taco seasoning recipe with the pie directions.

Chicken enchilada pie

One rotisserie chicken, skinned, boned and diced—about three cups

1 pkg. taco seasoning (or make your own)

1 can Rotel (I prefer lime and cilantro flavor)

3 cans green chilies (recipe calls for four, but I cut it down)

1 can cream of mushroom soup

16 oz sour cream

Fresh corn tortillas

Grated cheese

Green onion (optional)

Jalapeños, chopped (optional)

Toss the chicken pieces with taco seasoning until all are thoroughly covered. Separately, mix Rotel, 2 cans chillies, mushroom soup, and 8 oz. sour cream. Add chicken.

The recipe called for frying tortillas, but I didn’t do it. I did cut them in half, so I could line the pan with sort of moon-shaped tortilla pieces (I could just as easily have torn them into large pieces.) Make layers of tortillas and chicken mixture—you should have three layers of tortillas and two of chicken.

Mix remaining sour cream and one can of chilies. Spread evenly over top layer of tortillas. Top with plenty of grated cheese—I prefer cheddar, but you could mix in some Monterey Jack.

Bake at 375o for twenty minutes or so until heated through and the cheese is bubbly. Sprinkle with chopped green onions for serving. You can if you wish sprinkle some jalapeños over it also, either before or after baking. But I’m not going to do that.

Ever read the ingredients list on your favorite brand of taco seasoning? I bet there are some artificial flavors and colors, some preservatives, a lot of stuff you don’t necessarily want to put in your body. Making your own is simple and cheaper. And you probably have most of the ingredients on hand

Homemade taco seasoning

1 Tbsp. chili powder

¼ tsp. garlic powder

¼ tsp. onion power

¼ tsp. oregano

½ tsp. paprika

1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. finely ground black pepper

Crushed red pepper to taste, optional

           Store unused portion if any in the freezer


Thursday, October 15, 2020

Cincinnati chili


This is National Chili week—what better time ot talk about Cincinnati chili. We Texans know northerners can’t make a decent bowl of chili, but the thing about Cincinnati chili is that it doesn’t even try to approach the Terlingua model. It is its own dish, and in 2013 the Smithsonian named it one of “20 Most Iconic Foods in America.” Detractors call it that “weird cinnamon chili.” Chili purists best not read on.

Apparently Macedonian immigrants first made this dish in the 1920s but it really came to fame in 1949 when an immigrant named Nicholas Lambrinides opened a restaurant that happened to have a breathtaking view of Cincinnati’s skyline. He called his creation Skyline Chili, and today it’s served in a chain of restaurants or you can buy it canned. A dinner kit is also available. I think a friend who lives in the Cincinnati area told me she buys a mix.

The distinguishing things about Cincinnati chili are, yes, the cinnamon and the fact that it is served over spaghetti and topped with grated cheddar. I first heard of it when I researched my book, Texas is Chili Country. At the time I dismissed it as a regional oddity, but recently I came across a recipe and decided to try it. My version, which cobbled together two recipes, was a successful experiment—a critical father-and-son audience approved—but I learned a couple of things I’d do differently.

Please note: start this the day before you intend to eat it.

Cincinnati Chili

2 lbs. ground beef

1 6 oz. can tomato paste

4 cups water

1 8 oz. can tomato sauce

1 large onion, minced

6 cloves garlic, minced

3 Tbsp. chili powder

1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp cinnamon

¾ tsp. ground allspice

A pinch of ground cloves (the original recipe called for ¼ tsp but I found the clove taste too strong—when you ca clearly identify one spice out of all, you’ve used)

¼ tsp. cayenne or to taste (recipe called for ½ tsp)

2 tsp. kosher salt

2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar

1 oz. unsweetened chocolate

Cooked spaghetti

Grated sharp cheddar cheese

This goes together like nothing you’ve ever made before. In your large chili kettle, sauté the tomato paste—no oil, no nothing, just the paste. It’s not as easy as it sounds. You have to continually stir and scrape to keep it from burning. You’re done when the tomato smell is rich and toasty—only takes a minute or two. Add the water and ground beef. No, you really haven’t browned the beef first. Just add the raw ground meat and stir until everything becomes a mush. Simmer until it looks like a meaty paste and the meat is cooked.

Take the pot off the burner and let it cool enough to refrigerate overnight. The next day, scrape the congealed fat off the top. Bring the mixture to a simmer and add the remaining ingredients, except the vinegar and chocolate—once again, you don’t sauté the onion or garlic. Just put it in raw.

Simmer for at least a couple of hours, letting the flavors blend. Now you can either serve or refrigerate and re-heat later to serve. Just before serving stir in the vinegar and chocolate. Serve over spaghetti and top with grated cheddar.

Thursday, October 8, 2020


That wonderful Greek spinach pie has been on my cooking bucket list for a long time. I printed out the NYTimes recipe for skillet spanakopita and kept it in my file. But every time I looked for a new recipe, I passed it by—the phyllo was scary and all those steps intimidating. Daughter Jordan forced my hand by bringing home all the ingredients from the grocery. I couldn’t ignore all that fresh spinach!

I can’t share the recipe with you because I really don’t want to tangle with the Times legal department, but I can tell you about some of the changes and shortcuts I took. I ended with what I call deviant spanakopita, and, my oh my, was it delicious. All those intimidating steps really aren’t that bad once you take it one step at a time.

Facebook has a page called “The New York Times Cooking Community,” and a thread on there convinced me I am not the only one hesitant about phyllo. But someone had a suggestion that started me on my experiment—use puff pastry instead of phyllo. Not being a purist, I thought that sounded good. We also substituted a handful of green onion for the leeks, because the store did not have leeks. As you can see, I deviated from the beginning.

As I sauteed spinach in butter, it dawned on me that with two large bags, I only had two-thirds of the amount of spinach the recipe called for. Dilemma: did I want to have thinner filling or add a can of spinach (I am one of the few I know who eats and enjoys canned spinach but I recognized it would drastically change the dish). I’ve tried commercially prepared spanakopita, and the thing I don’t like is there’s too much phyllo for the spinach. I want thick filling, like you get when the Greek Orthodox Church has a bake sale. I decided what I needed was a smaller pan than the ten-inch cast-iron skillet the recipe called for. I used a pie pan. The advantage of that change was that I can put a pie pan in my toaster oven but can’t fit a skillet. We would have had to run it into the main house to bake.

But I didn’t adjust the other ingredients—feta, lemon, eggs, Parmesan, nutmeg, dill, etc. Theoretically I should have reduced each by one-third, but I didn’t. The result was a filling more pungent than traditional spanakopita, quite lemony. Jordan assured me she was raised by a woman who thought there could never be too much lemon (gosh, I wonder who!), and she loved every bite. I did too.

When I put the bottom sheet of pastry in the pie plate, all four corners overlapped, so I pulled them up into what looked like a galette. The recipe called for putting the skillet on the stove for a few minutes to brown the bottom crust and then baking. I skipped that step, went straight to baking, and couldn’t tell that it mattered.

After about twenty minutes in a 350 oven, we had a lovely looking dish that would serve four amply. But it was only Jordan and me—son-in-law and grandson aren’t one bit interested in something with spinach. So we had a ladies’ supper one night and delicious lunch another day.

If you’re really into cooking, I recommend an annual subscription to Sam Sifton’s cooking column in the NYTimes. I think it’s something like $42/year. But if you just want to make spanakopita, recipes abound on the internet. I hope the shortcuts I’ve discussed will help you. Big thing: don’t be frightened away from trying it.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Canned Soup Controversy

I don’t know about you, but I’ve cooked with canned soup all my life. It’s not quite that I wouldn’t know how to cook without it, but close. How do you make tuna casserole or King Ranch chicken without cream of mushroom soup?

Several years ago I wrote a memoir/cookbook and submitted the manuscript to a university press known for cookbooks. The critique was fairly damning. The reviewer called my recipes “faux gourmet.” The particular target of scorn was King Ranch casserole for which the anonymous critic claimed one should always make their own Bechamel sauce in place of the canned soup.  

Canned soup recipes have probably been around as long as canned soups, and probably been controversial just as long. The critic’s comment sounded like snobbery to me, but a lot of people simply prefer not to use canned ingredients. One person on a web forum about canned soups said she objected to tomato soup recipes, because they left an aftertaste. I don’t particularly like beef-based soups, like vegetable beef, and I dislike the smell when someone is heating one in the office microwave. What do I really mean by canned soups? Creamed soups, such as chicken, mushroom, and celery. But then there’s that good bacon/spinach dip recipe that calls for cheddar cheese soup (not always easy to find). There are also products like instant or condensed broth or dried onion soup mix, from which almost everyone makes that sour cream dip that disappears as soon as you put it out. But I’m talking those basic creamed soups.

Some people object that canned soups are high in sodium and fat. Yes, but you can buy low sodium and low fat. Others simply prefer not to use canned soups and make white sauce, as the lofty critic did, or use one of the recipes for substitutes on the web. Trouble with those recipes is by the time you’ve made them, you’ve avoided prepared soup but used at least four other prepared ingredients, gone to a lot of trouble, and probably (I don’t know this for sure) produced a pretty tasteless or artificial-tasting product.

All this is leading up to the Grandma’s Chicken Casserole which I fixed the other night. It was deceptively simple and so good! I have no idea where I got the recipe, but if you gave it to me and are reading this, please let me know. I’d like to give credit where credit is due.

Grandma’s Chicken Casserole

1 rotisserie chicken (I used the traditional seasoned one), meat diced

2 cans cream of mushroom soup, undiluted

2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated

3 cups Ritz crackers, finely crushed

Arrange the diced chicken in a casserole dish. Spoon the soup evenly over the meat. Cover with shredded cheese, and top with Ritz crackers. Bake at 350o until thoroughly heated and crackers begin to brown. You could probably halve this easily.

Want that queso recipe? I served it at parties, but I also sometimes put tortilla chips in individual bowls, spooned the queso over them, and told my kids, “Here’s dinner.”

Colin’s Queso

1 lb. hamburger       

1 lb. pork sausage – mild, medium or hot, according to your taste; I use medium

1 16 oz. jar Pace picante sauce – no other brand will do, but again you have your choice of mild, medium or hot

1 can mushroom soup

1 lb. Velveeta, cubed

Yes, I know. I almost never use Velveeta, but it is the only thing that works for this recipe.

Brown the meat and then dump all ingredients into your crockpot. Heat on medium, stirring occasionally, until cheese melts. Serve hot.

For years I’ve thought there was only one way to make King Ranch chicken, but I’ve lately realized there are many versions. If you want mine, which is easy and really good, please let me know. Write me at