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Sunday, April 29, 2012

A great experimental dinner for company

I rarely cook a tried and true recipe for company I like to experiment. So tonight I played with a menu, not just a recipe, that I've had in my file since--yikes! February 1995. I looked at the date on the Bon Appetit page. It's three pages of a complete menu for "A Weekend in the Snow"--picadillo, pico de gallo, tortilla chips, cheese enchiladas with green sauce, "Drunken" beans, fiesta chicken salad with lime/cilantro vinaigrette, and Mexican chocolate cake. Needless to say, I pared it down a bit. I made my own pico de gallo from an easy, easy recipe, served the picadillo as an entree with black beans flavored with chicken broth, onion, cilantro, salt and a little chili powder, and the fiesta lime salad. My guests raved. Sometimes I fix these elaborate meals (well, to me they are) and don't eat much myself, but tonight I really enjoyed the food.
First the pico de gallo, because it's the easiest and best you'll ever make. I got the recipe from neighbor Margaret Johnson. Mix in food processor: 1 can whole tomatoes, drained; juice of 1/2 lime (I used a whole lime), 1 tsp. salt, 1-2 serrano or jalopeno peppers, sliced with the seeds removed (Margaret uses 1/2 jalopeno and I used a 4 oz. can of chopped chiles), 1-2 tsp. onion, 3-4 sprigs cilantro. Whirl and blend and you're done. Makes almost a pint. Chill.
Next the picadillo wich is supposed to be an appetizer. I think it's too heavy for an appetizer--both as in too filling and too heavy to eat with chips--I served it with taco boats, though I looked for chalupa shells. This makes six servings--there were five of us, and I have generous leftovers.
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 onion chopped'
1 red or yellow bell pepper, chopped (I never ever cook with bell pepper and left this out)
6 large garlic cloves, minced--use the mini-processor if you have it; I find it one of my most useful cooking gadgets
1 16. oz. can diced tomatoes (so hard these days to find them without something added like garlic, chiles, Italian sesoning, etc.--I just want plain tomatoes!)
3/4 c. raisins
1 4-oz.jar chopped pimientos, drained
1/4 c. tomato paste (I used all of one small can)
2 jalopeno chiles, seeded, minced (I'm afraid of working with chiles unless I have gloves, which I don't, so I used 2 4-oz. cans chopped chiles)
2 Tbsp. sugar (don't skimp--it makes it better)
1 Tbsp. each dried oregano, ground cumin, and ground coriander
1/2 tsp. each ground cinnamon and cloves

Top completed dish with toasted, slivered almonds.

Saute beef in hot oil, breaking up clumps.Add onion, bell pepper if you use it and garlic, saute until onion is translucent. Reduce heat--add tomatoes with juice and remaining ingredients. Simmer about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
I actually made this two days ahead, partly for convenience and partly because flavors would blend. Reheated it on the stove, then while guests and I enjoyed chips and pico de gallo, I put it in a warm oven--that way I didn't run the danger of scorching it. My stove is bad about that. Wish, wish, wish for a gas stove.

The vinaigrette for the salad calls for 1/2 cup chopped shallots, 1/4 cup fresh lime juice, 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, 1 Tbsp. minced garlic, and then whisk in 1/2 cup vegetable oil.

For the salad, use red lettuce and napa cabbage, sliced thin, diced cooked chicken breast, avocado, plum tomatoes, red and yellow bell pepper (left it out again), crumbled tortilla chips, corn kernels (frozen and defrosted is easiest--who wants to cook an ear of corn to get 1/4 c. kernels?), thinly  sliced onion (I think I forgot to add that), toasted pumpkin seeds (left that out), and crumbled feta. Be careful of your amounts--we all had huge servings of salad, two guests went back for more, and I still have enough left for an army.

Mexican chocolate cake? Whjo would have had room, even if I made it? Scrumptious meal.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Supper on the porch

This morning when I got up it was dark and the heavens were opening. Lots of thunder but no lightning. All set for a dreary day inside. But by late afternoon, the sun had come out, the temperature was just right, and it wasn't as muggy as you might have expected. A friend and I had dinner on the porch.
I served a simple tuna salad--radicchio, canellini beans, and my good albacore tuna from the cannery in Oregon, with a parsley vinaigrette. It came from Bon Appetit, so you can google it. I discovered that what i suspected is true--I don't much like radicchio, too bitter, but surely colorful in this salad. My friend said she'd try it with arugula.
But my exciting discovery that was better than sliced bread was zucchini crisps. Wash and slice a zucchini--I used a small zucchini but next time I'll use a larger one--the tiny slices were hard to deal with. Dip the slices in milk and then a mixture of equal parts dry bread crumbs and Parmesan, with a bit of salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Put them on a greased rack over a cookie sheet and bake at 425 for 30 minutes. They turn golden brown and crisp, though they shrivel a little. Absolutely delicious. I have another zucchini left and may just do that for my own supper one night soon.
Last year, we had no spring. It went from too cold to too hot for the porch overnight. This year, I've enjoyed entertaining on the porch so much. Even the traffic on my relatively busy street doesn't bother me. Sometimes I sit out there with a book but end up staring at the trees. After this morning's rain, everything is lush and green. Texas at its best.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Taryn Raye - Cooking by heart

Please welcome Taryn Raye and her mouth-watering biscuits

When I was a kid growing up, my grandparents lived in the country and we spent nearly every Saturday at their house for as long as I can remember. I wandered around the junkyard my grandpa and uncles ran as a business or spent time around the animals my grandfather owned, but when my grandma fixed a batch of biscuits from scratch, I was always at her elbow.

Most of those Saturday afternoons would find me in the kitchen, sitting on my knees in one of the mismatched kitchen chairs (some were wooden with upholstered seats and backs, others chrome and vinyl to match the table) watching my grandma make biscuits that would make your mouth water. She knew the recipe by heart, as she did with most recipes she ever made, I believe. After cleaning off the surface of one end of the now-retro yellow Formica and chrome dining table, she sifted the flour with the old crank-handled sifter until she had a mountain of soft white.

Then she would hollow it out and fill the hole with lard and fresh cow’s milk one of my uncles brought home from his milk route. It wasn’t the store-bought pasteurized stuff. Nope, we had the good kind that had cream on the top and it was so rich, filling and good with cookies. She mixed and kneaded until she had the dough the right consistency, something she’d done for years long before I existed and I’m 99.9% certain that she could “feel” when the dough had the proper measurement of love added to it.

I waited impatiently for her to use the old aluminum can to cut out the biscuits and place them on a cookie sheet. She also had, what I assume was, a donut hole cutter that she would also cut out tiny biscuits, just especially for me and my sister to have. Then came my favorite part- the leftover bits, if there were any, she would give me a small portion of raw dough to eat as a treat while waiting for the biscuits to bake. In the summertime, the wait nearly killed me until I could slather a hot biscuit with butter or throw a slice of tomato or cucumber on it with a dash of salt. I could have, and probably did, eat enough to make myself sick. It’s one thing I really missed once she was gone.

My mom swears it took her years to get it right and even now, she still doesn’t think hers can compare to her mom’s biscuits. When I first became a wife and mother, making my grandma’s and my mom’s biscuits became quite the obsession. I couldn’t get them right for the world. I used shortening and it just wasn’t working. I wanted tall, flaky, airy, fluffy biscuits. These were not it. My biscuits were hard as a rock, flat, usually inedible, and in no way, shape, or form did they come close to either of my predecessors. If worse came to worst, I could’ve used them for weapons because I know they could have knocked a decent knot on someone’s head.

Being I don’t live close to my parents anymore though, I knew I had to do something about it. I bought a bucket of lard, intent on getting it right, even if it killed me. It’s taken time, and a lot of practice, especially when there was never a written recipe to go by, but I’ve started making progress in the past couple of years. That’s when I learned the secret. How I didn’t see it before I’ll never know—It’s LOVE.

I was always in a hurry when I tried making them, growing up in a generation that rushes through things, but that’s part of the secret- you can’t hurry through it, you can’t rush “love”- not in life and not in food. You have to take it slow and think with your heart, not your head. That’s how my grandma knew it all those years ago, how my mom does it without a second thought nowadays, and how I’ve learned the secret they knew- they were cooking by heart. Of course, they’ll never be my grandma’s, or even my mom’s, but they’re close enough to perfect for me. I make them for sausage gravy, to go with chicken, and they taste pretty darn good with a slice of tomato or cucumber, too.

Now, this is an eyeball/know it by heart kind of recipe, based loosely on my grandmother's and my mom’s instruction, though my grandma didn't use butter, just lard- I used the following—

Homemade Country Biscuits
approximately 4-5 Cups Self-Rising Flour, sifted
approximately 1/2 stick butter
3 Heaping Tbsp. Lard
1/2 cup to a Cup Milk (definitely an eyeball measurement)

Optional: a squirt of honey makes them sweeter and lighter.

       1.      Sift flour into large bowl. Make "volcano" in center. Put in butter and lard. Begin working flour/butter/lard with one hand until it begins to come together, then start working in a little milk at a time until it reaches a wet, pasty consistency.

2.      Putting the milk aside, begin sifting extra flour over the wet dough and start working it in until the dough takes on a dry, but elastic texture that "breaths."

3.      Turn it out onto a clean counter top covered in flour and continue to work and knead dough. Roll it out to about a 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch thick and use round biscuit cutter (I use an old cleaned vegetable can with both ends cut out just as my grandmother had.)

4.      Place biscuits on foil lined cookie sheet, sides touching and bake in 400ยบ oven. I bake it on the bottom rack for 10 minutes and check the bottoms at the 10-minute mark. If they are lightly golden, I move the cookie sheet to the top rack (placed at the center) and bake for another 10 minutes or until golden on tops.

A romantic at heart, my love of storytelling began in childhood with the typical fairytales and my membership at age ten in the Just for Girls Book Club. I grew up on classics and contemporary tales, but it wasn’t long before my tastes also matured as I ventured into my mother’s stash of Harlequins and Silhouettes.

Always an avid reader, I have found that some stories, the ones most near and dear, reside where only I can hear them~ in my heart and my mind. For the majority of my life, those stories remained buried as I put my writing on the back burner to everything else. 

There comes a point for writers though, where the desire, the necessity to write, overrides our own logic and reasoning. I couldn’t keep promising myself I would get around to it “someday” and for me, that realization came in 2006 when the emptiness ached so bad I had to fill it with the one thing my heart desired most. Writing all the stories locked within.

I’m so pleased to be able to share these stories with you now and in the years to come. I hope you’ll enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.

 Born and raised in a small town in Central Kentucky, I now reside in the southern part of the state with my husband, stepson, daughter and my mischief-making cat named Miscellaneous, aka Mizzy.


Blurb from Castaway Hearts

Twice orphaned, Catherine Barrett arrives in Virginia a stranger to her closest kin and secretly engaged to the one man her family would disapprove of---her seafaring grandfather’s apprentice. Add to her troubles, the rich and intriguing older brother of her secret betrothed, Dawson Randolph, a plantation owner who is as heartless as he is handsome. Heartbroken when her intended sets sail for his maiden voyage, Catherine finds it difficult to adjust to her new life, hoping to befriend the one man who is, undoubtedly, the match her grandparents wish for her. Dawson’s distaste for her secret engagement to his brother makes it clear he has no designs for marriage to anyone. Especially her.

Ten years since the tragic loss of his young wife and infant son, Dawson Randolph is convinced love and marriage is a fool’s game and resents being privy to his brother’s hidden engagement. Damned by his instant attraction and his own growing desire, Dawson befriends Catherine against his better judgment. Determined to bring her happiness in a time of fear and uncertainty, Dawson puts aside his animosity to become her confidant, only to realize Catherine holds the key to his heart. When tragedy strikes at sea, Catherine’s guilt pushes Dawson to the fringes of her life as madness consumes her.

Can his love save her before she drowns in her own grief? Or is he doomed to love her from a distance, always in the shadow of her love for his dead brother?

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