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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Good luck for the New Year

As a child, growing up in the North, I don't remember any traditional New Year's foods, though I do remember my parents ate oyster stew on New Year's Eve and I hated it. Doesn't sound good to me today, though I love oysters. But now that I'm sort of a southerner, I've run into the ham and black-eyed peas tradition./
A variety of reasons are suggested for why we eat ham for good luck, ranging from it fits with the menu of cornbread and black-eyed peas to the Oriental belief that pigs are smart and therefore signify succeess in business. The most common origin of this tradition seems to be that pigs are rotund (success) and they root with their noses, so they are always moving forward. Eat pig in some variety for the New Year and  you'll move forward. Black-eyed peas signify coins, so if you want wealth in the coming year, you have to eat a whole lot of peas. Greens indicate the green of money and are also supposed to bring wealth.
When I first discovered this tradition, I hadn't yet learned to like black-eyed peas, so I made Hoppin' John, that stew of diced ham, onions, celery, black-eyed peas, and rice. We called it Hoppin Uncle John in honor of a favorite uncle. But these days I just serve peas, and since I love a good ham, I fix that. So my menu for Tuesday night is ham, black-eyed peas, cheese grits (instead of cornbread), and a spinach casserole. My daughter wants chilis in the grits but I said no because I want her son to eat them. An appetizer of cream cheese with two toppings--pesto on one small block and jalopeno jelly on the other. And for my son-in-law, who will be mightily disappointed that I'm serving spinach, I'll offer an appetizer of sliced radishes on cream cheese covered pumpernickel. He loves radishes--and surely somewhere there must be something about them bringing luck.
I'm on a new campaign to make my local grandson a less picky eater. I will tell him if he doesnt like something, please do not announce it at the table. He really doesn't like meat, and I figure he should respect that, but I figure he'll eat grits nd peas. His distaste for meat distresses his father who is strictly a meat and potatoes person. I've forbidden my daughter to hop up and get him chicken nuggets--do you know how bad those things are for him? Plus that's rude, and that sturdy child is not going to waste away. I will ask both my daughter and son-in-law to take a small serving of spinach, taste it at least once, and if they don't like it, do not mention it. I'm tired of picky eating being a conversation topic at the dinner table. My son-in-law is vegetable-challenged, and seems to think it's sort of a cute trademark. No more.
So where's my recipe for this column? Totally unrelated, here's a dip that confirmed sauerkraut haters, including said son-in-law, love:

Reuben dip

4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup Thousand Island dressing
1/3 lb. sliced deli corned beef, chopped
3/4 cup sauerkraut, well drained
8 oz. Swiss cheese, copped

Mix cream cheese and dressing, then stir in other ingredients. Spead in a 9-inch pie pan and bake until heated through. Stir gently.
Serve with rye crackers or cocktail rye bread.

Happy 2013 everyone!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Gougere with Ham and Mushsrooms

A Facebook friend posted recently about having gougere for the first time--someone brought cheese-filled gougere puffs to a party She had never heard of it or tasted it but was enchanted and determined to try. Gougere is actually the French pate a choux and can be used lots of ways, not just for cheese-filled puffs (the puffs are also good just on their own--kind of like a popover).
The post reminded me that I used to fix a gougere ring filled with ham and mushrooms. It's perfect this time of year when many of us serve ham for Christmas or New Year's dinner and have leftovers to deal with.
So, Laurie Moore, here's another gougere suggestions for you.

Gougere with ham and mushrooms

Bake at 400 for 40 minutes

Six servings

 For the paté à choux:
 1 c. sifted all purpose flour
Pinch each of salt and pepper
1 cup water
½ cup butter, (one stick), cut up
4 eggs
1/8 lb. sharp cheddar cheese, diced or grated

4 Tbsp. butter
2 medium onions chopped, about 1 cup
½ lb. mushrooms sliced
1-1/2 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
1 envelope or tsp. instant chicken broth
1 cup hot water
(This is an old recipe I’ve had for years—now days I’d substitute 1 c. good chicken broth for the water and inst. broth)
2 large tomatoes, peeled, quarter, and seeded (about 2 cups)
6 oz. cooked ham, cut into thin strips (1-1/2 cups)
2 Tbsp. sharp cheddar
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley

To make the paté à choux:
Sift the flour, salt and pepper onto a  sheet of wax paper. Heat the water and butter in a large saucepan until the butter melts. Turn up the heat and bring to boiling. Add the flour mixture all at once and stir vigorously until the mixture forms a ball in the center of the pan—this will take about a minute.
Allow the mixture to cool for at least five minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating very well after each addition. (This beating is important if you want your gougere to puff). Stir in the diced cheese.

To make the filling: Melt the butter in a large skillet; sauté onion until soft but not browned. Add the mushrooms and cook for two minutes. Sprinkle with flour, salt and pepper; mix and cook an additional two minutes.  Add the chicken broth and simmer about five minutes.
Remove from heat. Cut tomato quarters into strips and add with ham. Taste and add additional seasoning as you wish.

Butter a 10” or 11” skillet, pie pan, etc. Spoon paté à choux around outside edge, leaving center for the filling.  Sprinkle all over with cheddar. Bake until gougere is puffed and brown and filling is bubbling. Sprinkle with parsley, and serve, cut into wedges.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

MY annual no-tree tree-trimming party

I've been doing this party every year for longer than I care to remember. We used to have a tree, of course, and I put out the ornaments on a table--miraculously by the end of the evening the tree was decorated. These days I decorate the house but don't have a tree. It's always a casual party--plastic cups and plates, no utensils needed. Blue jeans welcomed and encouraged.
But one of the joys of the holidays for me is cooking for family and friends. This year, the party was small--just a few friends. But I always do the cooking myself, which means I began baking in November and loaded the freezer--with way too many desserts and the cheeseball I've had every year most of my life--a family recipe passed down. This weekend I made spreads and loaded the refrigerator. These days I have a method--make one spread, clean up the dishes, and sit at my desk for a few minutes; repeat until finished. Otherwise my low back begins to hurt. But today I was sort of lazy and only had to unload the fridge about an hour before the party. Here's my menu:

liver pate - a wonderful recipe from an old friend; most non-liver eaters like it, though a few declined after one bite
cheeseball and crackers
an artichoke/cream cheese spread topped with caviar
a curry chutney pate
cream cheese with jalopeno jelly, served with gingersnaps
hummus with vegetables

cranberry/chocolate chip/pecan cookies
chocolate pecan bars
peanut butter cookies
gluten-free cupcakes (they were a hit, though most didn't care about the gluten free aspect)

And oops: I just realized I had a loaf of banana chocolate bread in the freezer that I forgot to serve! No matter, as over half the desserts are back in the freezer. Good thing I didn't make the Oreo truffles I meant to--but now I have an unopened package of Oreos in the cupboard. I should be set for after-school snacks for the rest of the school year.


½ lb. Roquefort
1 pkg. Old English cheese (no longer available—I use an 8 oz. pkg 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. horseradish

Let the cheese 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.
And here's the liver pate. I think I've posted it before but this has slight changes:
1 lb. chicken livers
2 Tbsp. chopped green onkions
2 Tbsp. butter
1/3 c. Madeira
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. allspice
1/8 tsp. pepper
pinch thyme
1/4 c. whipping cream
1/4 c. melted butter
Saute livers and green onions in 2 Tbsp. butter until the livers are cooked through and no longer pink.
Put the mixture in a food processor and puree. Add Madeira to the skillet and cook down to 3 Tbsp. Add to livers along with herbs, spices and cream. With the processor running, slowly add the melted butter. Pour into container and refrigerate overnight.
Confession: I forgot to reduce the Madeira; I also forgot to buy whipping cream, so I used sour cream. The mixture was very liquid but hardened nicely in the fridge. I am great "make-do" cook! It was good anyway.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Latkes Made with Love

Years ago, when my children were little and I was married to their father, a Jewish man, we always had latkes at Hanukah. They were good if you got one straight out of the frying pan; but warmed in the oven, they were greasy and not crisp. For some reason unknown to me, we served egg salad and tuna salad with them, and a friend I’d gone to graduate school with always brought his family, including his father-in-law who kept a roll of one-dollar bills in his pocket and peeled them off for the speechless children. The men always cooked the latkes--a distinct departure from traditions. But those were good times.

When I saw a picture Janie Emaus’ family’s latkes on Facebook and saw how crisp they are, I knew I had to ask her how they do it. Here’s her description of the process, some specific hints for making latkes, and the love that goes into this tradition. And note--the women do the cooking.
I love family traditions. And none holds a more special place in my heart than the day the women in our family gather together to make potato latkes for our Hanukah dinner. In fact, this day of cooking is often more fun than the dinner itself. The best part being we get to eat the latkes hot off the skillet. Not that they aren’t tasty the night of our celebration, after being heated up in the oven, but there is nothing like a hot, crispy latke to warm your soul.

For those of who you don’t know, Hanukah is known as the celebration of lights.  Upon the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem, the Jewish people found enough oil to burn for only one day.  Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days. Thus, along with lighting the Menorah for eight nights, we eat foods fried in oil.
Janie's mom and daughter
Making latkes is serious business

I find it a miracle that four generations of women in my family were together in one kitchen. As the matriarch of the family, my eighty-seven-year old mom set the tone. It was no-nonsense with her.  Get started.  Keep focused.  Get it done. As her daughter, I obliged and began peeling potatoes.

When my daughter arrived, the tone shifted slightly. To say that she is a clone of my mother would be an understatement. She definitely inherited the “control” gene. It appeared that my frying skills weren’t up to par, and thus my granddaughter and I were  relegated to lining the trays with paper towels,  emptying the trash and washing the bowls.

But it worked.

And five hours later – hours filled with peeling, chopping and frying, along with discussions about life, marriage, sex, men, and more sex (with women in the kitchen, what do you expect?) we had over ten dozen delicious latkes.

It doesn’t get any better than that. Unless, of course, there is a cleaning crew to come in to wash the stove, counter tops and floor.  Because there will be grease everywhere. But nothing that can’t be tackled after a well shaken martini.  

Here is our family recipe along with some essential tips:

4 potatoes
1 onion
2 eggs
Salt and pepper – to taste
Flour – for thickening the mixture
Vegetable oil
This will yield approximately 25 latkes

Tip #1 – Prepare and fry one batch at a time.  It is easier to fry them this way and the mixture won’t sit in the bowl for too long. Cut the potatoes and onions into even pieces.  Place potatoes into ice water until ready to use them.  Place into food processor and chop.

Tip #2 – Do not grind too finely. Pour mixture into a bowl.  Add eggs, salt and pepper.  Thicken with flour. Heat about ¼ inch oil in frying pan.

Tip #3- A cast iron pan works best. Spoon mixture into oil.  Fry until golden brown.  Flip over.  When done, place on cookie sheet lined with paper towels.

Tip #4 – It takes about 2-3 batches to get it exactly right and get the “latke” feel. Add flour to mixture as needed while frying.

Tip #5 – Have fun!

Serve with applesauce or sour cream.

Happy Hanukah to all who celebrate.

Janie Emaus is blogger and a novelist. Her current release is a young adult novel, MERCURY IN RETRO LOVE.  She blogs for the Huffington Post at   Since 2009, she has been regular columnist at, Her blog for baby boomers, takes a humorous look at life NOW as compared to THEN.

She is currently at work on a new novel and can be found at











Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Yikes! A correction for fromage fort

That's what I get for doing things from memory. If you plan to try the fromage fort I posted about Sunday night, please change

1 lb. cheese ends
1/2 lb. cheese ends

Rest of it remains the same:
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup white wine
generous grind of black pepper

Some versions call for salt, but I think cheese is usually salty enough.

Sorry about this. I made some tonight and realized what I'd done.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A little something to nosh on

This time of year, hosts and hostesses turn their thoughts to the cocktail party, to pick-up appetizers that aren’t too much trouble—no individual bruschetta, thank you—but are distinctive and good. Here are some random thoughts.

I ate lunch the other day in a restaurant that offered deviled eggs as a starter, but the suggestion to ask for the day’s flavor threw me. It turned out the day’s flavor was Serrano chiles, lime and I forget what else. I passed. I don’t want a spicy hot surprise with my deviled eggs. I do often devil an egg for my lunch and here’s my secret: put the egg in cold water (add a drop or two of vinegar to prevent the white from spreading) early in the morning, bring it to a boil, turn off the heat and let it sit—yes, all morning. It will be easy to peel and will divide into two equal parts. I like mine plain—add salt and pepper, mayo, a bit of yellow mustard, and a chopped scallion to the yolk and you have the filling. But the variations are endless—you can put pickle relish in, you can top with caviar, bacon, shrimp, cornichons, whatever strikes your fancy. I love deviled eggs, and they seem to be trendy these days, so enjoy! Great appetizers but don’t do them for a large crowd—too much work.

If I’ve written about fromage fort before, I apologize for duplicating, but it’s such a great appetizer I’ll run the risk of repeating. Jacques Pepin first put it into print, saying his father used to do this. But I’m not stealing or plagiarizing—it’s all over magazines, the internet, wherever. You know those odds and ends of cheese that are just going to mold and go in the trash? Catch 1 lb. of them before they go bad (you do know you can cut the mold off and they’ll be fine, don’t you?); throw them in the food processor with three or four cloves of garlic, a half cup of dry white wine, and a half teaspoon of black pepper. Blend into a paste and serve on crackers. If you use blue cheese or Roquefort, it changes the whole character—good, but the blue cheese dominates. Also great with leftover cheddar, Manchego, whatever you have. I do it every so often just to clean out the cheese drawer. And this keeps longer than individual bits of cheese.

Finally try bourbon hot dogs, long a favorite of my children. Cut two lbs. of hot dogs into ½ inch pieces. Make a sauce of ¾ c. bourbon, 2 c. ketchup, ½ c. brown sugar packed, and 2 Tbsp. minced onion. Simmer the sauce and hot dogs an hour; then serve with toothpicks (and napkins, because they do drip!)

Enjoy. And happy holiday entertaining.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Holiday excesses--and a chopped liver pate

Thanksgiving is over, and we've all eaten too much. Actually I didn't overeat on Thanksgiving day. I paced myself with small helpings and no dessert, but somehow all my resolve went out the window the next two days. For breakfast Friday, I had a generous helping of mashed potatoes and gravy; for lunch, leftovers; and for dinner, we went out to Buca di Beppo--Italian is not what you should eat the day after a holiday! The next day my sons announced they were taking the little kids to Long John Silver's for lunch and did I want to go--well, of course I did. I probably haven't been there in twenty years, but I had a great fish sandwich. With restraint, I had cole slaw instead of fries. And then today I thought I was so good--one small piece of cold turkey (with a lot of skin on it, because I love the skin) when I thought no one else would ever wake up and make breakfast plans; then a bowl of corn flakes when I discovered there were no breakfast plans. For lunch, cottage cheese and a helping of self righteousness that I ruined by eating two pieces of a chocolate bar. Supper tonight? Bacon and scrambled eggs. I have not stepped on the scale to see the results of this off-and-on attempt to be moderate.
But Christmas is coming with even bigger temptations. One of the things I love about the holidays is to have friends in and make appetizers. And, yes, I already have them planned--nothing like being a compulsive. I'll serve hummus with vegetables, the cheeseball I've had every year since I was a child, a caviar and cream cheese spread that my youngest son loves, a sherry/chutney pate that I recently found and think is wonderful, and a Reuben dip. But the oustanding offering is liver pate, a recipe my friend Sally Jackson gave me. If  you swear you don't eat chicken livers, you'll take it back when you try this:

1 lb. chicken livers
2 Tbsp. chopped green onions
2 Tbsp. butter
1/3 c. Madeira (no, don't substitute brandy, etc.--it needs the Madeira)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. allspice
1/8 tsp. pepper
pinch thyme
1/4 c. whipping cream
1/3 to 1/2 melted butter

Saute livers and onions in 2 Tbsp. butter until livers are cooked through and no longer pink. Put in food processor and puree. Add Madeira to the skillet and cook down to 3 Tbsp. Add to the livers along with the herbs, spices, and cream. With the food process running, slowly add the melted butter. Pour into desired container and refrigerate overnight. Serve with crackers, though I prefer cocktail rye.
I asked Sally how long leftovers would keep and she said she didn't know because she never had any leftovers.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Christmas baking

Every year, the weekend after Thanksgiving is my time to decorate the house and start baking. I load up the freezer. This year, I'll lose all of Thanksgiving week, in a joyful way, because I'll be at my son's house in Frisco with all my family (while my house and dog are in the capable hands of Elizabeth--I am so grateful to her!). So I have started baking--and I've made a cheeseball, which is already in the freezer. If I haven't posted that recipe and you'd like to have it, please leave a comment below. It's a favorite that I remember from my childhood. Every year, I mean to make an extra for my brother, who also loves it; sometimes I wrap up the leftovers for him, but it's not quite the same.
But so far I've stocked the freezer with cranberry/chocolate cookies and chocolate banana bread. As usual, I didn't read the recipe on the cookies closely enough and thought it also called for nuts, so now I have chocolate/cranberry/pecan cookies. Should be good. The chocolate banana bread is good though I think the banana taste got lost. Today I made chocolate pecan bars. The recipe calls for light Karo, and the warm little bit I tried just now stuck to my teeth--should I serve toothpicks with the bars? I'm afraid when they cool completely, they may have a certain "take-out-your-filling" quality.
This year I was smarter than usual--I made out a shopping list and then checked it against what I had in the cabinet. Found, for instance, enough Karo syrup for today's recipe, along with chopped pecans in the freezer and cocoa in the cupboard. Why I bought so much Baker's semi-sweet chocolate is beyond me, but I sitll have two-and-a-half boxes. Maybe they're for the Oreo truffles I haven't made yet?
Still to come too are peanut butter cookies. Since Jacob and I have been having a small war over peanut butter, I've been hoarding the jar of Jif I bought. I got nonhydrogenated peanut butter for his daily sandwich, but he has rebelled and said he will not eat that healthy peanut butter. Guess I may have to break down and buy more Jif. But peanut butter cookies are, like the cheese ball, a staple of my childhood.
Here's the recipe (so easy). It may make you say, "My mom used to make those." Don't buy that roll of prepared dough in the refrigerator counter at the store. Make them from scratch--so much better and better for you!
1 c. brown sugar
3/4 c. white sugar
1 c. butter
2 eggs
1 c. smooth peanut butter
2-1/4 c. flour
2 level tsp bakind soda
1/2 tsp salt
Cream sugar and butter. Add eggs and peanut butter. Add flour, soda, and salt. Roll small amount of dough in the hand to form a ball. Flatten and pat down with a fork, flattening one way and then the other so you get that crisscross pattern. Bake at 375 for 10 minutes or until the edges barely start to brown.
One year I got fancy and dipped two edges of each cookie in melted chocolate chips and then finely chopped pecans. Christian never forgets and wants me to do it again. Jordan is still clamoring for those brownies with chocolate chunks in them. Why are some people never satisified?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Roast beef, vinegar green beans, and southwestern potatoes

We had a p re-Thanksgiving dinner tonight with semi-family, people who have come to be family to us. Jordan, Christian, and Jacob were here, along with neighbors Jay and Susan and temporary tenant and longtime friend Elizabeth. I admit, this dinner was a lot of work, most of it done last night, but the raves it got were worth it. Jordan said tonight, "It felt like Thanksgiving." Since she will miss Thanksgiving with the family due to another obligation, I thought this was particuarly appropriate.
For years I have had a roast beef recipe in my "Entrees Not Tried" file. I finally decided I had to try it or discard it. When it was published it said this was a reasonably priced cut of meat--not so when I bought it, but hey! Beef and all groceries ahe gone up. The roast required three garlic preparations--first you sauteed garlic cloves in olive oil, poked holes in the beef, and stuck the cloves in. My mom used to do that! Then you made a rub of mashed garlic, powdered thyme and salt, rubbed it all over the meat, and let it sit in the fridge overnight. Next day you rub the seasonings off with a paper towel, brown the meat in a 450 overn, and cover with garlic oil (you've made that by sauteeing 12 garlic cloves, split, in olive oil with bay leaves and thyme sprigs). Make a paste of those sauteed garlic cloves and a bit of the olive oil. Brown the roast on all side in a really hot oven, then reduce to 300, rub that last paste on the fat top, and roast until thermometer reads 120. We actually took it out at 116 and it wasn't nearly as rare as I'd hoped. But it was darned good.
I made Christian's green beans--bacon, chopped scallions sauteed in the grease, 2 huge cans of green beans, vinegar over all, and then the bacon sprinkled on top. He loves them.
And then there were southwestern baked potatoes--I didn't feel too bad about eating a twice-baked potato since there were small--the biggest red potatoes I could find.

Southewetern Stuffed Potatoes

Scrub six good-sized red potatoes, cut a bit off the bottom so they'll sit flat, rub with oil, and bake at 350 until tender.
When cool enough to handle, scoop out the insides (carefully) and mash with 1/2 c. shredded cheddar, 2 Tbsp. sour cream, 1 Tbsp. melted butter (I left it in the microwave and forgot it), 2 Tbsp. buttermilk, 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper or to taste, and 1 4-oz. can chopped chillies. Carefully stuff mixture back into the potatoes and bake until bubbly. I took the roast out to rest, turned the oven up and reheated the potatoes while the roast rested.

Here's Susan's picture of her full plate and her after picture.

At the risk of sounding immodest about my cooking, I have to say it was a great dinner. But the company and the sense of family really made it perfect. We are blessed to have these people in our lives.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Great Galloping Groupon

Does everyone have Groupon? I doubt it's a local thing, but just in case here goes: it's an internet marketing site whereby businesses offer great deals to entice customers in. For me, it's led to some great eating adventures. Typically,  you can buy a certificate worth $20 of food for $10, or one worth $40 of food for $20. With myy dining buddy, Betty--we try to go out to dinner once a week--I've had some good meals and great adventures.
Maybe the place that stands out most as one I never would have found is Zambranos Wine Cellar, a downtown wine bar with a fenced in patio right on one of the main streets. Their menu fascinates me enough that I want to go back, but on our first visit I had escargot a la bourgignuinon, which I hadn't had in over thirty years. To my delight, I sitll liked them--well what I principally like is that good garlicky sauce. Next time I may try filet bruschetta with sauteed mushrooms and caramelized red onions, served with a horseradish cream sauce.
We've gone to some standbys--twice to Cat City Grill, where we both love the lobster bites (lightly battered) appetizer (enough for a meal) with the Cat Stack salad--iceberg with blue cheese dreessing but layers rather thn the usual wedge, which makes it easier to eat. Last time the waiter explained that we were losing money--we hadn't used our total $40. So what could we do? We split a piece of oreo cookie cheesecake.
Another favorite is Tres Joses where they serve one of the few spinach enchiladas in town--my favorite. No, just because they have spinach in them does not mean they are either low fat or good for you. But they're good, and $20 goes a long way there.
I had my first meal at Z's Cafe on a Groupon--and now it's one of my favorites. I think I had chicken piccata that time but now I love the sandwiches. If it's lasagne day though, I'm done for.
Once we went to a winery--I don't remember what I ate for dinner, except a chocolate dessert, so that probably says something but the idea of eating in a winery was fun and they had an interesing gift shop. If it weren't that it's semi-out-in-the-country, I'd do some Christmas shopping there.
Another favorite was a long-established Italian restaurant--Piccolo Mondo. Unimpressive from the outside and in a strip shopping center, inside this restaurant is Old-World elegant. I had carpaccio--the most elaborate presentation witha wonderful salad on top of the beef, the best carpaccio I've ever had.
Groupon specifies that alcoholic beverages are not part of the deal but we have only found that in one or two places. Mostly they are included, and we sometime have zero balance on our check. We are careful, however, to tip on the full amount that the check would have been.
Groupon also offers many other things, and I've turned down a lot of spa offers, dental work (thank you, I have a dentist), facials, and, most recently, boxing lessons.
A friend of my children says it's embarrassing to present a Groupon, sort of as though you were bargaining for your dinner. He described surreptitioiusly shoving the certificate (it comes on your computer and you print it off) and whispering to the waiter, "I have...uh, you know...uh, a Groupon." I feel no such embarrassment. Since I'm the official Groupon manager of our dining adventures, I just throw the certificate out there on the table.
Want some adventure? Try Groupon. Oh, yes, they also do travel Groupons.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A hearty cheeseburger soup for cool weather

This is one of those recipes you have to fiddle with to suit your own tastes, and I have adjusted the ingredients below from the recipe I found on Pinterest. But I served it to guests the other night, and the enthusiasm was contagious. It makes a bunch, so tomorrow I'll take leftovers on a visit to my brother and his wife at their ranch--I expect it will be even better. I'll take sour cream (because I forgot to stir it in the first time) and chicken broth, in case it needs thinning--which I doubt.

2 carrots, grated
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
8 cups potatoes diced (for three people I used two large baking potatoes--surely not eight cups)
3 cans chicken broth (I measured about 45 oz. from some in the freezer and then from the boxed kind  you buy at the grocery--don't like canned)
1/4 c. flour
1/2 c. butter
1 lb. hamburger meat (I used ground sirloin)
1/2 c. milk
1 lb. Velveeta cheese
1/4 c. sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Brown the meat, drain and set aside. Dice the potatoes, grate the carrots, and chop the celery and onion. Melt 1/4 c. butter in a large pot; saute the onions and celery until clear.Add carrots, hamburger, potatoes and chicken broth (you can cook the potatoes at least partially beforehand and then it all goes faster). Simmer until vegetables are tender--but potatoes must be fork tender at this point.
Melt remaining 1/4 c. butter and stir in flour. Add to soup to thicken. Stir, then add the cheese in chunks and the milk. Stir until cheese is melted. Simmer in crockpot the rest of the day. Just before serving take it off the heat, add sour cream, stir and serve immediately.
I peppered this generously and sometime during the day tasted it and decided it need a good dose of salt. I was afraid the cheese would be too salty, but not so.
Serve with crusty bread and a nice wine. Oh, heaven! Enjoy!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Cuban dinner on the porch--no ocean, no jungle

The ocean in front and a jungle behind us were all we'd have needed tonight to set the Cuban atmosphere. But what we had was oh so pleasant--a nice breeze, just the right temperature, and dinner with two good friends on the porch.
I fixed a Cuban pork dish which I didn't realize Elizabeth had eaten before until she said, "I think that's my favorite thing of all the dishes you make." So simple, but you have to start it well ahead of time and pay attention toward the end. (I got to sipping wine on the porch and almost missed that part.) This is a recipe I first learned from an employee probably 25 years ago, but I have since found the same instructions in a magazine.
Use 2 to 2-1/2 lbs. untrimed pork butt. If the butcher will cube it for you, great, but I find their idea of cubes is much bigger than mine, and I usually end up cubing the cubes. Bring 2-1/2 cups water and 1 Tbsp. salt to boil. Put the pork in and turn to a simmer. Let it cook at least 1-1/2 hours, usually more, until the liquid is evaporated; the pork will then brown in its own juices and you have to turn judiciously.
While it's cooking, mix 1/3 c. lime juice, 2 crushed cloves garlic, 1/4 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper and 1/4 tsp. cayenne (I'm not a fan of cayenne and left this out). Serve as a dipping sauce for the pork, but also serve lime wedges on the side.
I thought I had enough for Cox's Army and was makng noises about leftovers, but the recipe says "Serves four" and we three had very little left over.
As a side I served black beans which were sort of an experiment. I used a medium size can, rinsed and drained; added 3 crushed garlic cloves (by mistake--thought I was putting them in the lime juice but it turned out great), 1 small onion chopped, and 1/4 cup chicken broth. Let the whole thing simmer almost as long as the meat cooks, so that the juices thicken.
You can also serve rice as a side dish with this but Elizabeth made us a simple spinach salad with olive oil/balsamic vinegar dressing, dried cranberries, and roasted almonds.
And, with Sue, my Fort Worth adopted daughter and former neighbor, we indulged in girl talk about loves and life. What a pleasant evening.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Stuffed cabbage the easy way

Have you ever made stuffed cabbage? The original way, passed down by someone Hungarian? I have--you layer cut garlic clovers all over the bottom of dish, then painstakingly peel off cabbage leaves, keeping them intact if possible (no small chore that!) and soften them in boiling water. Then put a Tbsp. or so of a delicious rice, meat and tomato sauce mixture in each leaf, roll into a small package and hope you can lay it seam side down on the garlic. When you have rows of those little bundles, cover the whole thing with tomato sauce. Time? Oh, about three hours. Frustration? Priceless.
When one of my sons was in high school he loved stuffed cabbage and begged for it. I found a way of doing it that is much easier.
Start with a whole head of cabbage. Remove the outer tough leaves; then carefully remove two large leaves, keeping each in one piece. Core the cabbage and discard the core. Then carefully scrape out the interior of the cabbage, leaving about a 1-inch thick shell. Dice the cabbage  you've removed.

Make tomato sauce: Mix
one 28 oz. can diced tomatoes, with liquid
one 6 oz. can tomato pate
1 Tbsp. brown sugar,
1/4 tsp. salt,
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire
1/8 tsp. ground allspice

Separately, in a Dutch oven, over high heat, saute:
1 lb. ground beef
1 onion diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp. salt
1 cup diced cabbage

When meat is browned and cabbage tender, stir in 1 cup of the tomato sauce and 1 cup cooked rice.

Fill cabbage shell with beef mixture. Cover the opening with those two reserved cabbage leaves and tie securely with kitchen twine.

Into the same Dutch oven you used for the meat, pour 1/2 cup red wine, scraping to loosen browned bits. Add remaining diced cabbage and tomato sauce. If mixture seems dry, add water a bit at a time. No more than 1/2 cup.

Place stuffed cabbage, stem side down in, in sauce; heat till sauce boils. Reduce heat to low and simmer until cabbage is tender, about an hour and a half.

To serve, place cabbage in a deep platter, discard string. Spoon sauce over cabbage. Let the cabbage collect itself a minute and then cut into wedges to serve. Pass remaining sauce in a gravy boat.  The image above sort of gives the idea, only I put the cabbage open side down--makes it easier to pour the tomato sauce over it and to serve in wedges.

Makes 6 servings. Great hearty one-dish meal for cold days.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

A hearty brunch casserole for a crowd

For some reason, the approach of fall makes me think of brunch--one of my favorite meals--and hearty casseroles of meat, potatoes, and eggs. In summer, we think of brunch as a light meal with fruit, salads, maybe an omelet or frittata, and a bellini or mimosa. But fall, with its cooler temperatures, requires hearty meals.
I used to love to cook brunch for my big family when they gathered at my house, but, alas, that doesn't happen much any more. There are too many of them these days. and my house seems to have shrunk--or maybe, as they move into their forties, my kids are less willing to put up with crowded quarters and less than ideal sleeping space. And too often they opt to go out. I still like the idea of brunch at home, and here's what I'll fix next chance I get. The best part is that you have to do it the night before.
I first tasted this one morning when our Book Ladies group had its monthly meeting at the home of Janet and Dave Douglass. Loved it and thought the croutons were a special touch.

Sausage and Egg Casserole

Spread about 3 cups of croutons over the bottom of a greased 9x13 baking dish
Layer the following
1-2 lbs. ground pork sausage, browned and drained (your choice--how meaty do you want it? and do you want regular or hot sausage?)
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 4 oz. can mushroom stems and piecs (optional and I think they got lost in all the other good flavors)
4 eggs beaten
3/4 tsp. dry mustard
1-1/2 cups milk
Pour over layered ingredients. Refrigerate overnight.
When rady to bake, combine 1/2 cup milk with 1 can cream of mushroom soup and spread over the top.
Bake in pre-heated 300 degree oven for 1-1/2 hours.

I'd serve this with biscuits, bloody Marys, and coffee.
Serves 12.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Norwegian hamburgers or kottjaker

When my son Colin and his fiancé Lisa first returned from the Caribbean, they lived with Lisa’s parents in Sugar Land, Texas. Lisa’s mother, Torhild, was born and raised in Norway and came to this country as a soldier’s bride at the age of seventeen. She still cooks some of the dishes she knew as a child, and Colin particularly fell in love with these hamburgers (and I might add, with John and Torhild, as did we all). Torhild calls them Norwegian meat cakes, but we’ve all come to use the term hamburger. In Norway these are called kottjkakers.  I can’t believe they used packaged gravy mix when Torhild was young—I think that’s an American shortcut she has introduced!

 Norwegian hamburgers

3-4 slices of onion

3 Tbsp. butter (do not use oil)

1½ lbs. extra-lean hamburger (extra-lean is important)

2 eggs

3 Tbsp. cornstarch or potato starch

½ tsp. pepper

Milk as needed

4-5 envelopes instant gravy mix, prepared as directed

2 beef bullion cubes

Sauté onion in butter. Mix hamburger, eggs, cornstarch and pepper. Add milk as needed; start with ¼ c. and add ¼ c. at a time, but DON’T let the meat mixture get soggy. The last time I made a double batch of these, they tended to fall apart while I was browning them. I bet my mom’s trick of throwing a little tapioca into meatloaf would work here, too. Shape into patties and brown in same skillet as onions. Remove.

Make gravy in skillet, according to package directions. Add 2 bouillon cubes. When gravy thickens, return burgers and onions to pan and simmer 45 to 60 minutes.

Serve with white rice, egg noodles, or boiled potatoes. Peas, beets, or green beans are nice with this.
FREE SHORT STORY: I've worked this dish into a short story featuring Kelly, from my Kelly O'Connell Mysteries. Download it or read it here:


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Pomodoro al riso--tomatoes with rice

When I first came to Rome, a woman in my English class offered me a ride home after class. As we negotiated the traffic, she pointed to burn on her wrist, explaining that she had gotten it the night before preparing a dish for a potluck at her daughter’s school. She had been making pomodoro al riso (tomatoes with rice), a classic Roman favorite. When I told her I didn’t know the dish, she was appalled. She promised to bring me the recipe at the next class.

Ten years later, I still have the handwritten recipe, the first anyone in Rome gave me. It itself is a classic because it demonstrates the imprecision of Italian recipes. The directions included un pugno di riso, un filo d’olio extra virgine, and sale q.b. Those mean, a fistful of rice, a thread of extra virgin olive oil, and “enough amount” salt, which I take to mean salt to taste.  I offer you a recipe for Pomodoro al Riso with a little more guidance.

The tomatoes for this dish should be nice, fat round ones about four-five inches in diameter. They should be firm and unblemished. Pomodoro al Riso is a perfect potluck dish because it’s equally good when it comes out of the oven, when it comes out of the fridge, or when it’s been sitting on the table for an hour. This recipe serves four, but it’s easy to double or triple for a crowd.

Pomodoro al Riso
4 tomatoes (see above)

1 cup rice (I suggest medium grain)

2-3 leaves of fresh basil, torn into small pieces
1 clove of garlic, minced

Extra virgin olive oil (about 2 tablespoons, but be flexible here)
1 large potato (the waxy kind)

Salt and pepper to taste.
1.      Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. (180 C.)

2.      Carefully cut around the tomato to remove a little cap (see photo). Reserve.

3.      Using a grapefruit or other spoon, scoop out the pulp of each tomato into a bowl, being careful not to break through the outer wall.

4.      Sprinkle the interior of each tomato with salt and invert on paper towel to allow excess liquid to drain.

5.      Meanwhile, peel the potato, cutting it into slices.

6.      Add the rice, minced garlic, and basil to the tomato pulp and mix well. Salt and pepper to taste, but remember that the tomatoes have already been salted.

7.      Fill each tomato loosely with the rice mixture. Place the tomatoes in a baking dish brushed with olive oil. Top each tomato with its cap.

8.      Arrange the potato slices around the tomatoes, using the potatoes to prop the tomatoes upright where necessary. Drizzle with that thread of olive oil over the entire dish, making sure the potatoes are coated.

9.      Place the baking dish in the oven and bake for about 45 minutes, checking from time to time to make sure the potatoes are not sticking.
Patricia Winton writes about two of Italy’s great works of art: food and crime. Her story, “Feeding Frenzy,” appears in Fish Tales, The Guppy Anthology. She is currently working on her second book featuring the sleuth introduced in that story. She blogs on alternate Thursdays at Italian Intrigues ( and Novel Adventurers ( She invites you to drop by for a visit

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Hot dogs move out of the ball park

Photos by Susan Halbower
Have you noticed that the lowly hot dog has moved uptown? There are restaurants across the country specializing in a thousand and one ways to serve the dog, and some of them have really creative names: The Dogfather, Willie's Weenies, Hot Diggety Dogs, Hot Dog Heaven, Frankies by the Sea, Dogsters, Flying Weenie (We have Flying Saucer (beer) and Flying Fish in Fort Worth, so that one really intrigued me), Matt's Gourmet Hot Dogs (there it is--the idea of hot dogs being gourmet), and so many others I can't list them all.
In the Kelly O'Connell Mystery I'm currently working on, one of the characters wants to open an upscale hot dog restaurnt. At a loss what to name it, I put out a plea for help on the Sisters in Crime subgroup Guppies and on Facebook, and I was flooded with suggestions--two-and-a-half pages worth. Some I really liked included Chez Haute Dog, Dogs of Distinction, Franks with Flair, Frankly Wienerful, Dogs 'n Dijon, Oui! Oui! Weenies. The winner, submitted by a former neighbor and chosen by my daughter, Jordan, is Bun Appetit.
But the whole thing inspired me to fix a hot dog bar for a Labor Day picnic for neighbors and a few friends  I put a wide variety of toppings on a lazy susan and made little tent cards with suggestions:
Mexican Dog: salsa, jalopenos, cheese, crushed chips; wrap it in a tortilla
Coney Dog (this is traditional): chili, cheese, and onions
Franks 'n Beans: baked beans not pintos, onion, mustard
Chicago Dog (also traditional): chopped tomato, dill pickle slice, sweet pickle relish, onion, mustard
German or Reuben Dog: Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, sweet pickle relish, brown mustard
Others that I didn't offer include:
Hawaiian Dog: grilled pineapple wedges and red onion rounds, chopped and seasoned with sugar, salt and cayenne
Bahn mi Dog: Dissolve 1 tsp.sugar in 2 Tbsp. white vinegar, add 2 shedded carrots and 1/2 tsp. coarse salt; top grilled hot dog with mayo, thinly sliced cucumber, carrot mixture, jalopenos, and cilantro (how do you get all that in your mouth?)
Croque Madame (French, obviously):Wrap the hot dog in ham and Swiss cheese and top with bechamel sauce (still questioning that in my mind)
And then there are the classic Donkey Tails from Tolbert's Restaurant: hot dogs stuffed with cheese, wrapped in a tortilla, and lightly fried, served with chili and salsa for dipping or dunking. I believe these are an invention of the late, great chili king, Frank Tolbert.
The possibilities are endless, but I advise starting with a good quality hot dog. There are many brands, but my favorites are Hebrew National and Nathan's. If you have other combinations, please do tell me about them. Maybe they'll go on the menu at Bun Appetit--I'm getting so carried away by the idea I just might have to open the restaurant.
Serve with chip and dip, potato salad and dessert if you wish.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A guest blogger with two spicy recipes

Please welcome my guest, author Krista Ames. Krista lives in Northern Michigan with her husband, four children, two female chocolate labs, and a three-legged cat. Maybe in that cold country they need these recipes to keep them warm. Love the idea of crawdads in Michigan!

Hi everyone, I’m Krista Ames and first I’d like to thank the wonderful Judy Alter for allowing me to invade her blog space to share some nonsense from my world J
As for me with so many thanks to my wonderful hubby, I am a stay-at-home mom to four terribly ornery and lovable kids.  In my spare time I’m also a published author with a few houses, which was no easy feat.  I would love to share with you my most recent release but first…food.  One of my other loves is cooking.  In my house, there’s never enough food it seems whether it be feeding the six of us or even a house full of teenage friends that happen to show up unannounced and hungry. 

The first recipe I’d like to share is a creation of my husband’s but it’s one of my favorites.  Besides the fact I just love it when he cooks, and he’s so darn good at it.
New Orleans Style Pasta

1 lb. Fettuccini noodles

2 Tbsp. butter
8 oz. crawdads
8 oz. cocktail shrimp without tails
Salt & Pepper and a pinch of Garlic
1 lb. Andouille sausage (or sausage of choice)
1 pint heavy cream

In a large stockpot, bring water to a boil and add pasta – cook to almost tender (just past al dente).  While pasta cooks, turn a 13” skillet on med/high heat and add 2 T. butter, 8 oz. crawdads and 8 oz. shrimp.  Sauté with salt & pepper & garlic for 2 to 3 minutes.  Cut sausage into bite size pieces and add to skillet and cook 2 to 3 more minutes.  Then add 1 pint of heavy cream to skillet and reduce temp by half. Add pasta to skillet, mix until sauce sticks to pasta.
Doesn’t that sound easy and yummy?  Trust me, it’s delicious and it does have a little bit of warmth to it just so you know.

Now for the second recipe…hmmm…I think I’ll give you this ~ a perfect summer meal and another one of my favorites J
 Spicy Peanut Chicken Salad

1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut in bite size pieces
2 Tbsp. butter
Lettuce (Romaine hearts work best ~ 6 cups, more or less per preference)
4 Tbsp. Spicy Thai-style peanut sauce, divided (we use House of Tsang brand but any will do)
1/2 cup Chow Mein noodles

Cut chicken into bite size pieces.  Put 2 T. butter in a 10” sauté pan.  Heat over med/med high heat until butter is melted and hot.  Add chicken and sauté until cooked thoroughly stirring often.  Transfer chicken to a bowl and refrigerate until cold.  Make sure there is no excess liquid before chilling.

With a clean knife and cutting surface, cut lettuce into 1” wide strips.  Place in large mixing bowl.  Once chicken is cool, drain any excess liquid off and add to lettuce.  Add 2 Tbsp. of peanut sauce to chicken and lettuce and mix together. Add ½ c. Chow Mein noodles and an additional 2 Tbsp. peanut sauce and fold in lightly. 
~ please feel free to add more or less of each ingredient according to your taste ~

I often post recipes on my own blog as well so please visit and eave me a comment!
 As for as my writing, I have four short stories out with Turquoise Morning Press: “Love in an Elevator” in the Believe: Christmas Anthology 2010, “Love Takes the Cake” in the Be Mine, Valentine anthology, “Whiskey’s Sweet Revenge” in the All Bets Are On! anthology,  and “Surf’s Up” in the Summer Shorts anthology.  They can all be found at       

My current release is a novella out with Ruby Lioness Press called…Second Chances

If you could get a Second Chance...
When the love of Dana's life leaves without a word, she is forced to move on with her life. Despite loving him, she believes she will never see him again but, little does she know, she's being set up for a night that will change her life forever.

Nicholas, a Navy man, did the only thing he could to save the woman he loved. Driven by a secret, he disappeared and returns, years later, with hope for love. With one opportunity, will he be able to make things right, or is it just too late? Will she deny any desire for Second Chances?

Second Chances can be found at:


I can be found at various places as well….
Amazon Author Page:
TRR Author Page:

I love visitors so please stop in, sign up to follow me and leave me a message!!
Thanks,    Krista

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A light ladies' luncheon

I hosted a summer ladies luncheon this week. My guests were my former boss, June Koelker, Dean of Libraries at TCU, Tracy Hull, the associate dean who is also a friend, and my former colleague and still good friend, TCU Production Manager Melinda Esco. I wanted it to be light, as summer lunches should be, so I got down my mom's Susie Cooper china, usually only used at Easter. It has a wide band of turquoise around a single pale pink rose. The older pieces have that turquoise around a cluster of multi-colored flowers that don't look as realistic.
The menu was simple and light: chicken loaf, a mixed greens salad with peaches, blue cheese, and toasted almonds--yep, I almost burned the almonds--with a plum vinaigrette. You use ume plum vinegar. A delicious salad, and it got me eating peaches, which I've been devouring ever since. I put out a fresh loaf of sliced sourdough (what was left after my kids got to it on Sunday). But the piece de resistance was chicken loaf.
This is a dish of much debate in my family. I got the recipe from an older woman (now gone, sadly) who was active in real estate. At one time, my ex- and I rented a house through her, and she sort of adopted me, always called me on each of my children's birthdays. One of her sons became a good friend and even lived with us for a while. He adored chicken loaf. My kids had mixed feelings, and I never can remember who liked it and who didn't, though Jordan tells me she didn't, and I don't think Megan did either. My mom and I both loved it, because it's the purest chicken flavor you'll ever taste.
I usually serve it with mayonnaise, but for this luncheon I also made a blue-cheese sauce.
The next day I served leftovers to a friend and she seemed to like it every bit as well. So, with a grateful thanks to the late Carolyn Burk, here's the recipe.

Chicken loaf
1 chicken hen or 2 fryers
1 cylinder saltine crackers
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
Stew chicken until cooked thoroughly. I usually throw in a couple of bouillon cubes to give the stock more flavor. Reserve the stock. Cool chicken and pull meat off bones. (If time I chill it thoroughly so I can skim the fat off the top of the broth.) Chop finely. (Carolyn did it with scissors, but I use the food processor, being careful not to over-process.) Grind one cylinder of saltines in food processor and add to chicken.
Soften gelatin in ½ c. of reserved stock. Add to chicken along with enough stock to bind it together—it should be moist but not soupy. (Carolyn did not add gelatin, but Mom found it holds the loaf together—my girls say it makes the loaf “gelatinous.” And they don’t mean that in a good way.)
Pack into a loaf pan. Cover with clear wrap, put another loaf pan on top, and weigh it down with canned goods. Refrigerate overnight.
 It's hard to slice, because it crumbles, so take care. This will freeze but will not keep long after defrosting.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Happy Birthday, Julia

This week, the cooking world  will celebrate Julia Child's 100th birthday--on the 15th, to be precise. She revolutionized the way Americans cook and practically invented food TV. All the while as an eccentric, intrinsically funny, uninhibited individual. We owe her much, and several celebrations will honor that debt. Publisher Alfred A. Knopf is out with a new, ambitious boigraphy, Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz. Many books before this have immortalized her cooking and her life, perhaps the most memorable being My Life in France, co-authored by Child and her husband's nephew Alex Prud'homme. Restaurants across the country will have Julia Child recipes on their menus and one popular Dallas lunch spot encoruages guests to come in tasteful costumes as Paul and Julia for lunch on the 15th. But the celebratioin that caught my eye was the PBS Special with many facets, including encouraging cooks to celebrate by cooking some of Julia's recipes and then posting on their blog.
Aha! I wanted to be part of that, so I googled Julia Child recipes and finally settled on a butterflied roast chicken and sauteed shredded zucchini with creme fraiche But the more I thought about that chicken, the less entranced I was with the idea of serving it to guests. Sure, it would look interesting on the platter, but carving and serving it would be difficult. I am not fond of roast chicken breast without a sauce--okay, I'd fix a tonnato sauce. But wait, I was getting into a complicated meal here by the time I added appetizer and dessert. Then I looked at the PBS blog and didn't see where many "ordinary" people like me had chronicled their experiences. Lots about chefs who described their experiences with Julia's recpes, but that's not the same.
One lazy evening I was browsing on Pinterest and came across a recipe for garlic roasted lemon chicken with green beans and potatoes. With apologies, to Julia, that sounded much more interesting to me, though I do still want to try that zucchini. But that's what I'll substitute for Julia's chicken and zucchini when two old and dear friends come for supper tomorrow night. It struck me that decision was symptomatic of our modern age--Julia Child replaced by Pinterest. What have we come to?
Here's what I'll fix, though bear in mind it is untested:
6 Tbsp. olive oil
2 lemons--one thinly sliced, one juiced
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
3/4 lb. trimmed and cut green beans
8 small red potatoes, quartered
4 chicken breasts (bones let in, skin left on)

Heat overn to 450 Coat 9x13 baking dish with 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Lay lemon slices in single layer in baking dish.
Combine remaining olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in dish large enough to hold main ingredients. Toss green beans to coat and remove with slotted spoon. Arrange on top of lemon slices; next coat quartered potatoes in mixture, and place around edges of baking dish. Finally, coat the chicken thoroughly, a piece at a time if necessary. Put it in the dish skin side up. Pour any remaining olive oil/lemon mixture over all.
Bake 50 minutes. Remove chicken and tent with foil. Cook vegetables an additional 10 minutes. Serve warm.
Serves 4.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Potluck suppers

Casserole Carrier Insulated Blue Khaki with FloralAn  insulated casserole carrier from Moonlight55

I looked up the origin of this term. One theory is that it refers to communal meals served by Irish women in one pot--each woman threw in whatever she had. In the American West, the meals were community affairs with no planned menu--everyone brought whatever dish they wanted and you literally took "luck of the pot." I have been to potluck suppers where there was an assigned menu--if you signed up for the entree, you got a recipe to fix. I once signed up for dessert and made my first Bundt cake--half of which stayed in the pan when I tried to take it out. I learned the hard way that  you must take the cake out of the pan five minutes after removing it from the oven. So I made a second cake, and one of the men in the group ever after referred to me as the "two-cake" lady.
My daughter Jordan has instituted small summer night potluck suppers at her house, and she chooses a theme for each. We've had pizza (she was out of town that week, and Christian could do it), and salad suppers, and, of course Mexican night. Most recently it was southern down-home cooking--chicken (okay, from KFC), mac and cheese, turnip greens, green beans (my contribution), and the best sweet cornbread I've ever eaten. I'm not sure what she'll come up with next for the theme.
I take my dishes in a wonderful casserole carrier that my mom bought years ago at a church bazaar. When she was widowed, she lived near us and ate supper with us almost every night, always bringing a dish in the carrier. A friend said she could make a pattern from mine and copy it--and she made several. I bought them as gifts. But recently Terry Moon saw the title of my food blog and wrote me about her handmade gift ideas. She sells insulated casserole carriers, trivets, pot holder, and skillet handle coveers made of designer fabric. Check them out at I think casserole carriers are one of the greatest things invented since sliced bread.
Here's the recipe for Christian's green beans--I call them that because my son-in-law, not an avid vegetable eater,  loves them. I warned him he would have to share. He didn't realize I was joking and said solemnly, "Oh, I will." You never know how many people will be there, so I took enough for Cox's army and suspect they had lots of leftovers. I used three large cans of green beans last night, but usually only use one--and if it's just the four of us (including Christian) I often don't have leftovers.

Christian’s Green Beans
3 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled, grease saved
3 scallions, chopped
Vinegar to taste
1 28-oz. can green beans, drained
Fry bacon crisp and remove from the skillet to drain on paper towels. Leave enough grease in the skillet to sauté scallions. Pour in vinegar to taste, and add drained green beans. Crumble the bacon over the beans. Serve hot.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Persian Bejeweled Rice

I’ve made a study of Persian cuisine for a couple of decades now, ever since marrying my Iranian-born husband. Right from the start, the unique qualities of Iranian cooking delighted me: stews that pair fruit and meat with vegetables; fresh herbs that perfume rice dishes or are served like salad at the table, unadorned by dressing; the fragrance of cinnamon in savory dishes, rosewater in desserts, and saffron in nearly everything. Like an oriental carpet, Persian cuisine is intricate, sophisticated, and a feast of color for the eyes.

 Rice lies at the heart of a Persian meal, and a cook’s skill is judged by the quality of her polo. The texture should be fluffy not sticky, with each grain lying separated from its sisters. The crispy layer at the bottom of the pot, known as tadiq, must be golden, not too dark and not too pale, crunchy without being oily.

 It was my good fortune to marry into a family of excellent cooks, and over the years they’ve shared their secrets with me. Each one has her own way of preparing Persian specialties, and each one is convinced her method is the best—this is not a family of shrinking violets. Over the years, I’ve collected tips and techniques from Iranian friends and relatives and come up with my own versions.

 My signature dish is javaher polo, (bejeweled rice), which offers a festive blend of colors, flavors, and textures. It sparkles with pistachios, orange peel, and ruby-toned barberries, with a splash of golden saffron. Javaher polo is traditionally served at weddings but can be enjoyed any time of the year. It’s good hot or cold, paired with chicken, or served on its own with a spoonful of yogurt on the side.

The secret ingredient in my recipe is a drop or two of rosewater, just enough to add fragrance but not so much that it overpowers. If you don’t like rosewater in your food, just leave it out. You’ll have a more traditional version of the dish. Noosh-e jaan! Bon appetit!

Javaher Polo


1 large orange (peel only)

2 tangerines (peel only)

2 medium-sized carrots, julienned

½ cup sliced pistachios

1 cup slivered almonds

1 cup zereshk (barberries), available in Middle Eastern markets, or use dried cranberries

½ cup sugar

½ teaspoon powdered saffron dissolved in 3-4 tablespoons of hot water

Splash of rosewater (optional)

3 tablespoons butter

For the rice:

2 ½ cups Basmati rice

8 cups water

3 tablespoons oil


 1.   Rinse the rice in several changes of water. Cover with more water, add 2 tablespoons of salt and soak for at least one hour.

2.  Cover the barberries with cold water in a bowl and let stand for at least 20 minutes so any grit will sink to the bottom. Omit this step if you’re using cranberries.

3.   Quarter and peel the oranges and tangerines. Remove the white part with a sharp knife and discard. Cut the remaining peel crosswise into thin strips. Cover with cold water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Drain and rinse in cold water.

4.   Melt the butter in a large frying pan. Add the carrots and sauté until they start to soften, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the citrus peel and nuts and sauté for another 5 minutes.

5.   Scoop the barberries out of the water, making sure that the grit remains at the bottom of the bowl, and add to the carrot/orange peel/nut mixture along with the sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Salt to taste. Add the saffron water, bring to a simmer, cover the pan and simmer on low heat for 20 minutes, adding more water if the mixture gets too dry.

6.   Bring the 8 cups of water to a boil in a large non-stick pot and add the rice. Cook until al dente (firm to the teeth, but no longer hard). Drain and rinse with cool water.

7    Heat the oil in the same pot and layer the rice with the carrot/orange peel mixture in a pyramid shape, starting and ending with rice. Poke some holes in the top to let the steam escape and sprinkle 1/4 cup of warm water over the top. Cover and cook at medium-high heat until steam starts to rise from the rice. Then lower the heat, cover with a tight-fitting lid wrapped in a clean dish towel, and cook for 40 minutes.

8.   Mound the rice on a serving platter (the various layers will mix as you lift them out of the pot). In a separate bowl, mix 1 cup of the rice with ¼ teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 2 tablespoons of water and arrange it over the top of the mound. (This step is optional but makes for a nice presentation.)

Serve with roast or braised chicken, salad, and plain yogurt.


Heidi Noroozy writes fiction set in the Persian-American subculture and regularly travels to Iran for research and inspiration. She has published short stories in German-language anthologies and is working on a contemporary crime novel set in the turbulent world of modern Iran, where rebellious youth push the envelope of their restrictive society and journalists find ways to report the truth under the vigilant eyes of government censors. On Mondays, she blogs about Persian culture at, where the conversation is about travel, culture, and storytelling.