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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Things my mom used to make without recipes

My mom was a great cook, and one of my huge debts to her is for instilling in me a love of good food well prepared. Mom collected recipes at a greater rate than I do, and when we cleaned out her house there were notebooks upon notebooks, each carefully labeled--desserts, cakes, vegetables, etc. I finally gave up going through them and saved the few I had in my memory plus the ones she'd sent me over the years. But I remember things she used to fix without recipes and taught me to do at an early age.
One was a breakfast dish: she'd fry bulk pork sausage until it was brown, drain the grease, and then throw sliced apples, I presume Granny Smith or other tart ones, in with the sausage and cook until the apples were softened.
She also used to make a bread pan of mush (today we'd say polenta), slice it the next morning, fry and serve with syrup. In Chicago, it was a rare treat. Now that I'm a long-time Texan I know that fried mush is a common dish. I have no idea how Mom, a lifelong resident of Illinois, learned to do that unless her German mother taught her.
And remember how our moms used to score hams, insert cloves, and cover with brown sugar? My mom did that with Spam during the war years. I thought it was wonderful.
But the two I really want to share now are appetizers: a blue cheese dip and cheese-stuffed mushrooms.
The blue cheese dip had only one essential ingredient--blue cheese. After that you were on your own. I used to put in any and all of the following: cream cheese, sour cream (no light sour cream in those days), cottage cheese, mayonnaise. A mixture, depending on your mood, is best. Add some sliced green onions, garlic powder, perhaps a bit of dry mustard and a dash of Worcestershire (be care of the last two--they can overwhelm even blue cheese if used to excess). We didn't have a food processor, of course, but I'd put it in the blender. Serve with crackers. It never came out the same way twice. My favorite story about that dip has to do with my father's executive secretary, for whom I worked in high school (best training I ever got!). She made it for her man of the hour and apparently it was awful. She accused me of trying to sabotage her love life by giving her the wrong recipe. I didn't, but I have no idea what she did to it. These days I see similar recipes in magazines. Low-fat yogurt would be a great ingredient, if you didn't get it too soupy.
The recipe of Mom's that I use a lot is for the stuffing for mushrooms, and again there are no precise amounts. Shred sharp cheddar cheese, add sliced scallions, some dry mustard, a dash or two of Worcestershire, and enough mayonnaise to bind. Use it to stuff large mushroom caps. Mom used to soak mushrooms in salty water to clean them but I know now that's wrong--wipe them with a damp paper towel.
Be sure to bake these, not broil, at least at first, so that the mushrooms cook through and you aren't serving melted cheese spread in raw mushrooms. I bake in the toaster oven (if I'm not making too many) and keep an eye on them. When the mushrooms begin to look soft, I switch to broiler to get a crust on the cheese. Helpful hint: slice a bit off the bottom (top?) of the mushroom cap so that it sits flat in the oven/broiler and doesn't drip its delicious ingredients all over the foil you've lined the baking pan with.
This is good uncooked as a spread or sandwich filling and as an open-faced sandwich broiled. Enjoy! More about my mom's cooking to come--I could write volumes.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Biscuits from Imogene Duckworthy

Imogene worked for her Uncle Huey, waiting tables at Huey's Hash, for more years than she cared to remember. She didn't just take orders and balance hot plates on her arms, though. She paid attention in the kitchen. Especially when Clem, the cook, decided to put his Cheddar Green Onion Biscuits on the menu.

You won't find this recipe in Choke, the first Imogene Duckworthy Mystery, but she'd like you to have it in case you find yourself invited to a potluck and don't know what to bring. You can always use more biscuits.

If you're curious about what happened after Immy quit her job in a huff, you can wade into that recipe for disaster by getting either a paperback or e-book copy of the novel. It's for sale in lots of places. Visit to find one.

And now, the recipe Immy copied down when she saw Clem mixing up those goodies!

Cheddar Green Onion Biscuits

2 1/4 c. Bisquick

6 T. butter, chopped coarsely

1 1/2 t. minced garlic

6 oz. grated sharp cheddar cheese

3 green onions (or scallions) chopped finely

1 c. buttermilk

Cut butter into Bisquick until the texture of coarse crumbs. Stir in cheese, onions, and garlic. Add buttermilk and stir just enough to mix. Do not overmix.

Drop onto greased cookie sheet or pizza stone by heaping teaspoonsful.

Bake at 400 degrees for 15-18 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes nearly 4 dozen.

Optional: Add 4 oz. coarsely chopped green chili or jalapeno peppers.

adapted by Kaye George from a recipe on My Sister's Kitchen

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Cooking the 1887 way

A friend loaned me a copy of the Boston School Kitchen Text-book, published in 1887, revised 1909, by Mrs. D. A. Lincoln. True to the style of the day, that's how she was identified--by her husbands's name although someplace I did find that she was Mary J. Lincoln. This is not a cookbook so much as a book laying down the principles of cooking and housewifery, as they were to be taught in the school. Emphasis ws on the nature of food and proper combinations--no guesswork allowed. An early chapter stresses personal cleanliness: no touching of face or hair while cooking (how many times do you brush your hair off your forehead?), no using your apron as a towel.
Here's what you could buy for 25 cents back then: 1/2 quart oysters; 1 lb. butter; 1-1/2 lbs oleo (I didn' even know they had oleo then), 13 lbs. potatoes, 1/2 lb. beans, 8 lbs. "Indian" meal which presumably was corn meal.
There are lessons on Cooking, Food, Boiling or Cooking in Water, Invalid Cookery, Batters, Laying the Table and other essential topics--20 lessons in all, each with questions at the end.
Did you know that a salmi is a stew of game? I've cooked ragout and wondered what set it apart from stew--it's a stew highly flavored with wine.
 The section on Invalid Cookery interested me--it suggested toast, specifically milk toast; I remember my mother serving that to me when I was sick. She also sserved crackers crumbled in warm milk with butter, salt and pepper. Ice cream and eggnog are recommended, along with beef juice. To make the latter, you dice 1/2 lb. lean beef and put it in a widemouthed bottle on a trivet. Cover the beef with cold water and simmer two hours until the meat is white. Strain, and season the broth with salt and pepper.
There are recipes for cooking mutton chops and suet pudding, boiled mutton with gravy, baked heart. fried corn-meal mush (my mom fixed that too), baked crackers with cheese, and something called cracker brewis which is sort of like my mom's crackrs in milk only you bake it until the milk is absorbed.
It's fun to carefully turn these  yellowing pages and imagine the earnestness of the woman who compiled this, the care with which teachers must have followed her specific instructions--in laying the table, special care must be taken so that everything is provided, from butter plates to filled water glasses, and no one has occasion to leave the table (a good idea in this age when children tend to get up and wander around). In serving,  you must take care that  your thumb doees not touch the top surface of the plate. The knife is only used as a divider; the fork conveys all food to your mouth. I remember my British father insisting that you do not switch the fork from your left hand to your right aftr cutting meat. It was always awkward to me. So was the proverbial, "Butter your bread on your plate, not in the air." At the close of the meal, fold your napkin so that the table may be left in an orderly fashion. A lot to remember.
Sadly in these ancient pages, I didn't find anything I felt impelled to cook. Not even the chicken fricassee.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Shape Note Singing Salad

Please welcome my guest, Chloe Webb, author of The Legacy of the Sacred Harp (TCU Press, 2010). Here, she gives a brief history and explanation of Sacred Harp Singing, along with the delicious recipe that a group of us now request she bring to every potluck supper. It's wonderful.

My grandmother, Terry Dumas Nolan, used to say there was never a better feast on earth than at an all-day singing and dinner on the grounds, “food and music to feed the soul.” In Union Parish, Louisiana, fresh butter beans and homegrown tomatoes were everyday fare, but desserts—such as coconut cake with lemon filling or peach ice cream from a hand-cranked freezer—were special enough to beg the recipes.

I heard Grandma sing only the alto line of the four-part Sacred Harp music, and I concluded that the music had no melody. Hearing the other three parts in her head, she often burst into song loudly and enthusiastically. The music is sung a capella, with no instrumental accompaniment. The tenor part, on the third line of the four lines of music, is sung by both men’s and women’s voices, and generally has the melody, although all four parts are needed to form the complete sound. The top treble line is also sung by both men and women, with women usually singing an octave higher than the men. Usually only women sing alto, the second line down, although occasionally a man might find the alto range suits his voice comfortably. The bottom line, or bass, is naturally for men’s voices. But would-be singers are encouraged to try several parts to find the best fit. And not being a good singer is not a good excuse for not singing; there are no auditions. Everyone is welcome to sing Sacred Harp.
The music is interchangeably called Fasola, shape note, or Sacred Harp singing. The term “fasola” refers to the “fa-sol-la“ solfege system of music that assigned syllables to each note in an octave. Most of us learned this as the “do-re-mi” system, which came later. Fasola, used by Shakespeare in his plays, was the system of music the first colonists in Jamestown would have sung. Later, a distinctly American invention assigned a specific geometric shape to each syllable, which corresponded to each note in an octave. “Shape note” music became immensely popular, especially because it could be sung by even illiterate singers; anyone could read the four shapes: “Fa” is a triangle, “Sol” is a circle, “La” is a square, and the less-often sung “Mi” is a diamond. Even life-long singers sometimes get syllables mixed-up, so singing “La” all the time is perfectly acceptable. The only thing that’s unacceptable about singing Sacred Harp is criticizing someone’s singing.

A full morning of singing whets big appetites, and the table is always crowded with photo-worthy dishes. The food is not actually served “on the ground,” although in the rural South, the table is customarily outside in a covered pavilion built especially for the purpose of all-day singings. The pavilion might be lined with benches, or sometimes only makeshift seating is available. A country church ordinarily has an adjacent cemetery, and I can vouch that an alabaster stone makes a very good spot to take a brimming plate. There’s something reassuring about being close in spirit to those whose voices once sang the same words and the same tunes.
A Sacred Harp salad recipe that has recently become known as mine is not mine at all, but came to me in a circuitous manner: from a Tucson singer, Paige Winslett, who got it at a California singing from someone who said it was from Alabama. In further tracking, Paige found on the Internet, “What Got Me Interested in Shape Note Singing Salad” from Jane Spencer in North Carolina. Jane says it is also called Bok Choy Salad, but she renamed it. She was not singing shape note music when her mother (Dorothy Lane) kept bringing back great recipes from all-day singings, so the salad was the starting point for her. She says, “Mama got this recipe from ‘some man’ and she can’t remember who. So if you are that ‘some man’ who brought this dish to a singing, please let us know.”

What Got Me Interested in Shape Note Singing Salad
Jane Spencer (2005)

1/2 cup butter or margarine
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup sesame seeds
(2) 3-oz. packages of Ramen noodles (any flavor, broken up)
3 oz. package sliced almonds
2 lbs. bok choy
4 stalks green onions

3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar (I use balsamic)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce

Melt butter over medium heat, add sesame seeds, sugar, broken noodles and almonds. Brown these, then cool to room temperature.

Wash and chop bok choy and onions and place them in a bowl.

Mix dressing ingredients.

Add the seed/nut/noodle mixture and dressing to the bok choy and onions just before serving.

“Eternal wisdom has prepared A soul-reviving feast;
And bids your longing appetites The rich provisions taste.”
From “Odem” #295 in The Sacred Harp, 1991 revision
Words, Isaac Watts, 1707; music, Leon McGraw, 1935

 Chloe Webb, Fort Worth, Texas

Sunday, September 11, 2011

End of summer barbecue

Summer is waning, though I'm not sure you could tell it from our Texas temperatures which are climbing back intoi the 90s. But the season of barbecues is almost over. We had a true barbecue dinner tonight, though for various reasons I don't need to go into here none of it was done on the grill. Our menu: baby back ribs, corn on the cob, potato salad, green salad.
I have acknowledged Krista Davis, author of the Diva series with the most recent The Diva Haunts the House, and Mystery Lover's Kitchen blog before, and I freely confess I am indebted to Krista for a post she did on a recipe called Dead Man's Bones. It is so simple and sounded to good, I resolved to try it. Last week at Central Market I thought I'd just check out baby back ribs and see how expensive they were--well, they were on sale for 50 cents less a pound. So I bought a rack. As usual having once read Krista's recipe, I thought I knew it, so I missed a few things. But the ribs were still delicious. This is the way I should have done it:

1 rack baby back ribs
4 garlic cloves, chopped
3/4 cup apricot preserves
1/4 cup soy sauce (I like the low sodium)

Preheat the oven to 425. Line a roasting pan with foil (this is the step I forgot, so I have a huge cleanup job soaking in my sink--oh well, ala Scarlett, I'll think about that tomorrow). Put the ribs on the foil, meat side up, and roast 20 minutes. While the ribs are roasting, mix the other ingredients for the sauce. (Another place I goofed--I had made the sauce and put it on the ribs during this first roasting--can't tell that it hurt a thing.)
Remove the ribs, flip to bone side up and slather with half the sauce. Roast 15 minutes. (I let them go 20 minutes). I found that some sauce had pooled on the ribs, so I spooned it off and added to what was left in my measuring cup.
Flip ribs meat side up and baste with the rest of the sauce. Roast 15 minutes--again I did 20. They cut apart easily, serving two ribs per person, though even I wanted a third. Christian said he's never known me to cook baby back ribs, and he's probably right. It's not something I ordinarily cook. But we loved these.
Krista says you can do the ribs on the grill and they take less time. Start with the meat side down and baste the bone side. Turn meat after 20 minutes and baste the top.
The potato salad I made tonight is for my friends who don't like mayonnaise or are gluten free. Jordan, always watching her diet, liked it because it doesn't have the fat of mayonnaise. Recently I went to a potluck supper and my longtime friend Sue Winters brought this Lemon Potato Salad:

6 medium red potatoes
1 small onion diced
1/2 cup celery or thereabouts, diced
1/4 to 1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped--darn, I bought parsley and forgot it
1 small jar pimiento--my family doesn't like pimiento so I omitted this
2 tsp. lemon peel, fresh--I presume grated and that's what I used
3-4 Tbsp. lemon juice, fresh--about two lemons
3-4 Tbsp. salad oil
1 Tbsp. salt (don't skimp)
1/4 tsp. pepper
Boil potatoes in skins until tender. Peel and dice while warm. Add onions. Pour sauce over warm potatoes and onions and coat well. Add celery, pimiento and parsley. Chill.
On first bite of this potato salad,  you get a strong lemon taste--but the after taste is definitely pepper. Really good.

Try both of these recipes and enjoy!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tuscan Chicken

I used to be hesitant to tell people I grew up in Eastern Kentucky because the problems in that impoverished part of the country sometimes overshadow the good memories. For instance, I had the wonderful advantage of farm fresh foods every day and a family that knew how to cook. There isn’t a single bad cook in the whole family, which could be why we are large in more ways than one.

Since moving to the “big city” of Lexington, I have lost some of my access to cucumbers and tomatoes fresh from the vine. Corn trucked in to the farmers market doesn’t compare to that picked right before dinner. Just thinking about home and the wonderful food I grew up with can make my mouth water.
I have learned to live without a garden or a neighbor who can stock my freezer with a side of beef. However, I cannot make it without fresh herbs. Pots of rosemary, basil, thyme, chives, and oregano grace my patio. Maybe a tomato plant or two, and a bell pepper snuck into the ground at the edge of the patio. You can take the girl out of the country…

I’m not the only member of my big Irish-American family to move away. School, marriage, and work has taken us out of the hills and introduced some exotic new recipes into those family gatherings. My older sister is married to a Cajun, and her cuisine has taken on some spice. My little sister lives here in Lexington now, about ten minutes away. She still loves her country cooking and can be counted on for outstanding pork chops and homemade buttermilk biscuits.

I married a half-Greek and over seventeen years together my cooking has taken on a few decidedly Mediterranean flavors. I may never be able to match my mother-in-law’s skill with moussaka but I would match my domades against those in any Greek restaurant. In one of my favorite Mediterranean additions to our menu only the olives are Greek. An often requested pot-luck dish in our house is my Tuscan Chicken. That’s the recipe I decided to share with you today.

Tuscan Chicken

2 ½ tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons white wine
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2-3 pounds bone-in chicken

Reserve ½ tablespoon of olive oil to coat the roasting pan.
Combine the remaining oil, garlic, rosemary, thyme, lemon juice, white wine, salt and pepper in large zipper bag. Zip and shake well to mix the marinade. Add chicken, zip and shake the bag until the chicken is well coated.

Place in the refrigerator for 1-8 hours (one hour is fine, but I have always believed that more is better).

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Coat the roasting pan with olive oil. Place the chicken on the prepared pan and pour the marinade over it. Sprinkle the olives over the top. Bake until an instant-read meat thermometer inserted in the center of the thickest part of registers 175 degrees, about 40 minutes.
Gwen Mayo

When she isn't cooking, Gwen Mayo spends her free time writing historical mysteries. Her first novel, Circle of Dishonor, is set in 1879 Lexington, Kentucky during the city's 100th birthday party. Circle of Dishonor has former Pinkerton agent, Nessa Donnelly, racing to save her friend Belle Brezing from the gallows and confronting one of the most notorious secret societies of the era. Research included testing out several recipes from the 1800s. Her friends consider this the best part of knowing an author, since they are called upon to sample the dishes.

Posted by Judy Alter at 6:31 PM


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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Food trucks

Buy a taco from a food truck? Uh, no, thank you. You've seen those trucks outside construction sites and can only imagine the greasy quality of the food. I prefer my tacos in a clean restaurant, thank you very much.
But food trucks have gone upscale lately. What you might call gourmet food trucks have become the rage. In Fort Worth, they park all over the city, with the blessings of a city license. Suppose you were a frustrated restauranteur--lot cheaper to operate a food truck than open a restaurant. In this economy, that's a big bonus. And business isn't so good at one location? No problem--just pack it up and drive somewhere else. Some food truck owners see their mobile kitchen as a test run for a permanent restaurant in the future--and some just like cooking on the move. Many food trucks provide late-at-night food, something often sought by college students and bar-hoppers. In Fort Worth, the Ol' South Pancake House is the classic all-night restaurant--some TCU students study there in the wee hours--but now you can get tacos from Taco Heads on Seventh Street or upscale hot dogs from The Weiner Man, which is open from 7 p.m. until 2:30 in the morning, serving hot dogs steamed in beer, or bacon-wrapped and deep-fried.
Is the food cheap? Not necessarily. If the vendor is going to sell quality produce, he or she has to price the final product to cover costs. One vendor makes frequent trips to the farmers' market to buy the freshest produce--not a cost-saving device.It's a hard thing to overcome the public mindset that truck food is cheap food. Hot dogs? Well, they're cheap at 7-11.But once people try the Weiner Man's hot dogs, they reaize the difference.
Some trucks operate independently with generators, but others hook up to a "host" business, often a restaurant. A few, like the Chef Point truck, are rolling advertisements for an existing restaurant.
In Fort Worth, tacos and hot dogs still seem to dominate the market. Sassy Hot Dogs offers a flour tortilla wrapped around a hot dog and ten other ingredients--the mind boggles at what they could be--and deep fried. But having had a deep-fried hot dog in a tortilla, I'm eager to try it. The Chef Point Cafe on Wheels serves fried chicken and bread pudding at the noon hour in downtown Fort Worth and Ssahm Korean Tacos offers the Korean version of tacos and burritos. The Trough Burger serves burgers, dogs,and sandwiches, and the Central Market Herban Eater Assault Truck parks on the grocery store ground to offer a changing menu of gourmet delights.
Supposedly coming soon is a truck with the slogan, "Have sugar, will travel." Red Jett Sweets will offer, no surprise, cupcakes. And Good Karma Kitchen plans to provide gluten-free vegan and vegetarian dishes.  Watch for fish tacos from So-Cal Tacos soon.
Is there a food truck in your city? If not, put a buzz in the ear of a local restauranteur and suggest he or she try it.