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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Quick summer meal

Please welcome my guest chef, Judy Copek. An information systems nerd for twenty-plus years, Judy is a survivor of Dilbert-like re-engineering projects, 3:00 a.m. computer crashes and the Millennium Bug. In her writing, she likes to show technology’s humor and quirkiness along with its scary aspects.
Occasionally Judy takes a vacation that spins off into a novel. World of Mirrors was born when Judy and her husband visited the Baltic island of Rugen shortly after the reunification of East and West Germany. Time stood still on the idyllic island, yet all the elements of suspense were there: the Soviet Navy, ex-Stasi, Vietnamese “guest workers,” a dog that had formerly patrolled the Wall, and bad vibes from the days of the DDR.
 Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, New England Pen, and Toastmasters International. She has published poems, short stories and memoir as well as an earlier novel, The Shadow Warriors.
Sometimes one needs to produce a tasty meal when the “to do” list is long and devoting a lot of time to the task is impossible. Steak on the grill?  What about veggies? Salad? Dessert?

 Browsing through the newspaper ads, I saw shish-kebab meat on sale for $3.99 and I recalled an excellent recipe from days of yore, a recipe I have kept for over thirty years and still resurrect at least once a year. When I found the recipe, it was only for the marinade, not the cooking itself, with a cryptic note: Marinate 2 hours. 

 Not only did our local supermarket have the meat on sale, they had red bell peppers, baby bella whole mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and Vidalia onions on sale, too. I had some cooked rice in the freezers and a whole garden full of fresh herbs. Lots of lettuce, and a ready-made piecrust with some fresh rhubarb, strawberries and raspberries.  The fastest dessert ever is a crostata. 

 I’d make rice aux fines herbes, (sauté herbs with a little spring onion and garlic, add rice and heat). We are talking easy here.

 Sad experience has taught me that the vegetables I use for kebabs don’t always cook evenly. What happens is that the tomatoes fall off the skewers and the onion and peppers are half-cooked. A remedy is at hand. But first:  the ever-important marinade.

 Shish-Kebab Marinade for four shish kebabs

 Juice of ½ lemon

1/3 c. olive oil

½ cup sherry  (you can use white vermouth if no sherry)

1 T. Worcestershire sauce

1 T. salt  (I use about half that much).

½ t. freshly ground black pepper

1 t. curry powder

1 clove garlic (I’ll use two and smash them)

½ t. ground ginger  (by all means use fresh if you have it—this recipe predates assuming you can get fresh ginger)

1 small onion grated

Mix everything together in a large bowl, add cubed meat and toss. Marinate two hours.  Refrigerate, but remove ½ hour before you plan to grill.  Drain meat. There’s something about this combination of ingredients in the marinade that makes me keep coming back to it.

 About the grilling:

Cook the meat, the tomatoes, the onions and the red (you can use any color) pepper on separate skewers. This solves the problem of the overcooked tomatoes and undercooked onions. We remove everything from the skewers and serve meat and veggies together on a large wooden platter. 

 Let’s review the menu:

Shish kebab with onions, peppers, mushrooms and tomatoes

Rice aux fines herbes (chives, thyme, oregano and a leaf or two of sage)

Green salad (your favorite lettuce)

Crostata of rhubarb, raspberries and strawberries

For the crostata, I always mix sugar to taste and either cornstarch or instant tapioca with the fruit so the juices don’t run all over creation. This is the time to line your baking sheet with baking paper for easy cleaning and ten put pie dish on the baking sheet. 

 The meat is lean and you’re ingesting lots of fruits and vegetables. Tastes terrific, too! 
Bon Appétit!




Sunday, May 18, 2014

Those ubiquitous green salads

For most of my life, I considered a green salad an essential ingredient of a meal, and I made them the way my mom did: put chopped tomatoes, scallions, maybe red onion, whatever else in the bottom of a wooden bowel (always unfinished wood), season with salt, pepper, garlic, whatever and toss. Mom was creative--sometimes there's be avocado, frequently blue cheese, sometimes parmesan for variety; she went through one spell of using smoked salt until I think we both overdid it. But you put the lettuce (preferably home-grown) in at the last minute and tossed it with vinaigrette--a standard homemade dressing but in those days we didn't use olive oil--always Mazola, which she claimed was healthy. We never had head lettuce, let alone a wedge with Thousand Island (never saw that in my house though occasionally I like it now as a topping on an open-faced sandwich--but I make my own--never comes out that same way twice).
In recent years I've grown tired of the usual tossed salad and stopped fixing them. But three salads remain favorites:

The first is wilted lettuce, for which you need very fresh leaf lettuce. Fry some bacon (maybe two pieces per person), drain and reserve grease. Heat together about equal parts bacon grease and cider vinegar; just before serving, pour hot mixture over the greens (not so much that you drown them) and crumble bacon over it.

The second salad is Jordan's to make whenever I cook dinner and salad is on the menu. Rub a wooden bowl thoroughly with a cut garlic clove; then with salt, pepper, and dry mustard (Jordan sometimes has a heavy hand and gets the dressing a bit stout); pour some vinegar in the bottom of the bowl--and here I'm lost for measurements. Not too much, because you'll need to add 1/3 again that much olive oil--if you end up with too much dressing, refrigerate; it keeps. Crumble blue cheese into vinegar and whisk with a fork until it's a fairly smooth mixture. Add olive oil and whisk again. This can be done a bit ahead but not too far because you don't want that good wooden bowl to soak up all your dressing. Tear lettuce leaves and toss just before serving. I suppose you could add croutons--we never do since Jordan is perpetually on a no-carb diet.

And the third: an overnight salad I have in the fridge right now. I get the recipe from a neighbor who
got it from a friend, but I feel like it's mine now since I've made it several times. Today I made it early this morning, so by supper it will have been refrigerated overnight. This is the salad before tossing.
You need:

3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
9 Tbsp. olive oil
6 green onions, chopped
1 tsp. seasoned salt (I used regular salt)
4-6 cloves garlic, minced--I mashed four because I don't like finding little bits of garlic in my mouth, and I don't mince well
2 avocados, peeled and cut into chunks
I head romaine
3/4 c. grated Parmesan

Use a 9x13 glass baking dish (never metal or aluminum), combine lemon juice, oil, onions, salt and garlic. Add avocado chunks and stir until all is coated well. Tear romaine and layer on top of mixture. Cover with Parmesan. DO NOT STIR AT THIS POINT.
Seal tightly with plastic wrap--I used two layers and then a layer of foil--and refrigerate. Stir just before serving. Left is the salad on a pate after tossing, with meatloaf and corn casserole.

And these days, I kind of like a wedge of head lettuce, with a blue cheese/tomato/bacon dressing. But it's not as healthy as the salads above. Okay, maybe wilted lettuce isn't too healthy.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Is St. Louis in your travel plans? If so, read this!

Please welcome my Potluck with Judy guest, Holly Gilliatt. A self-confessed music, movie and accessories junkie, Holly's passion has always been writing. Give her an algebra quiz and she'll curl up in the fetal position. But throw a test requiring all essay answers her way and she's in heaven. Between the day job, husband, three kids, two dogs and cat—it’s not easy to find time to write. So she sacrifices the laundry pile to spin her tales of laughter, friendship and love. She's proud to call the St. Louis area her home.

I’m especially proud to welcome Holly because I have edited both her books in print, Til St. Patrick’s Day and Love in Sight, as well as the forthcoming Dreams, Interrupted. Holly nails it for the generation of thirty-to forty year olds, from music to attitude. She’s an incurable romantic, and sometimes I try to rein her in, but not too much. Her enthusiastic attitude toward love and life is infectious. Read her books for a good, warm feeling.

Tonight she introduces us to some foods unique to her beloved home town of St. Louis. I think I’d like to try Provel cheese…but I’m not sure.

Judy—thank you so much for having me on your blog! Anyone that knows me knows that food is near and dear to me. If my boss at the day job wants to guarantee my participation in a meeting, all it takes is the mere mention of free food. I’m there.

So in my writing, it’s no surprise that many scenes revolve around cooking or dinners out or other meals. Eating is something that we all do, something that we all have in common. But one thing that’s so great about food is that different cultures, different parts of the world, or even different regions or towns in our country have such diverse culinary delights.

I live in St. Louis, Missouri and my hometown certainly has its share of dishes or cooking styles unique to this river town. You may be familiar with some of them like St. Louis-style bar-b-q, St. Louis-style pizza and we’re even credited with creating cotton candy—thanks to the 1904 World’s Fair. But there are also some food items originating from the Gateway city that you may not be familiar with, even though anyone hailing from St. Louis has certainly tasted them.

The first one that comes to mind is toasted ravioli. Ever heard of it? This delicious deep fried
St. Louis staple was once exclusive to the Midwest, but has made its way across the country (though I don’t think it’s very common elsewhere).

It’s widely accepted that toasted ravioli originated in St. Louis, but there are disputes as to who actually created it. Apparently it was by accident, when a ravioli was inadvertently dropped into a deep fryer sometime in the 1940s. Who knew it would start a St. Louis food sensation? It’s been delighting palates in this city ever since. You’d be hard pressed to find a buffet of appetizers in this town without crispy ravioli sprinkled with parmesan cheese with a side of marinara sauce. Whether they’re made fresh or you buy them frozen at the local grocery store to heat up at home, they make a great main dish when paired with a crisp salad topped with Italian dressing.

Another unique-to-St. Louis concoction is Gooey Butter Cake. Like toasted ravioli, it is believed to have been created by mistake, during the Great Depression. Since money was tight, it was decided that the flawed batter be baked instead of thrown away. Thus St. Louis’ love affair with Gooey Butter Cake was born. It’s not a typical type of cake; it’s more of a coffee cake since it is fairly flat and dense, usually only about an inch tall. It’s made with flour, butter, sugar and eggs, and covered on top with copious amounts of powdered sugar. Some versions add cream cheese, you know, to make it healthier. Like a brownie, it’s served cut into square pieces but not too big—it’s very rich and sweet. And don’t even think about looking at the fat or calorie content.

Here in St. Louis it’s common to see Gooey Butter Cake on the dessert table of potluck dinners or at a brunch, and I’m pretty sure on any given day you can walk into a local grocery chain in town and they’ll have several fresh and packaged up, ready for sale. In the last ten years or so, this sweet delight has worked its way into other parts of the country. But make no mistake…it started here where we like our food decadent and full of flavor. Here’s a link to a recipe you really ought to try:

I’m sure there are many other food stuffs indigenous to this town, but the last one I’ll talk about is Provel Cheese. I’m used to Provel cheese, but unlike toasted ravioli and gooey butter cake, I can’t say that you’ll love it. In fact, many people—St. Louisans included—differ on whether or not they like Provel cheese. It may be an acquired taste.

The most famous use of Provel cheese is on St. Louis style pizza, popularized by the Imo’s Pizza chain. Everyone here knows their pizza, and most locals like it, but again—not all. Provel cheese has a distinct flavor and is known for sticking to your teeth. Cheese that could double as glue isn’t everyone’s idea of tasty. One of our famous exports, Jon Hamm (television and movie actor best known for portraying Don Draper on Mad Men), had to defend Imo’s Pizza to Jimmy Kimmel during an interview last year. It’s pretty comical, and he stays true to his hometown. You can see a clip here. They start talking Imo’s at 1:46 into the interview.

This controversial cheese is a unique combination of Swiss, cheddar and provolone cheese. Its low melting point makes it a very gooey cheese, even just at room temperature before it is melted. It is often used in pasta dishes, on cheese garlic bread, salads and of course pizza. Like toasted ravioli, it is generally believed to have been created in The Hill neighborhood—St. Louis’ section of town that was settled by Italian immigrants and still boasts Italian bakeries, stores and restaurants on nearly every street. It’s also responsible for raising baseball greats Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola.

I don’t believe Provel cheese has migrated past St. Louis…I think this is one delicacy that most people are fine with St. Louis keeping to itself.

I hope you enjoyed this culinary trip through my hometown. Does it make you think of some dishes or treats unique to where you live?

If you’d like to connect with Holly (she loves hearing from her readers!) or just find out more about her books, you can find her here:

 Her latest release is a women’s fiction e-book boxed set—a great collection of 4 full-length novels for less than a dollar! Or if you like your books made of paper, she has two novels available in paperback with another due out in July. Here’s info on the boxed set:

Buy it for only $.99 for a limited time:


Sunday, May 4, 2014

A cooking confession and a chicken salad casserole

I have probably been cooking sixty-five years--yes, thanks to my mom, I started early. But tonight I did something I've never done in all those long years--worked with a fresh jalapeno. I may never do it again. I followed all the precautions--washed my hands (repeatedly), did not touch my face, especially my eyes. Still, an hour later and two applications of hand lotion, my hands still sting. While I was cutting and chopping (in blender) my eyes watered, my nose dripped, and I coughed.
Usually I substitute canned chilies, but I recognize there's a flavor difference. I actually don't like pepper heat, though I can eat quite a bit of wasabi. Tonight I was making Dean Fearing's Texas Caviar--smoked salmon base. I've had it before, and it's wonderful, so I didn't want to substitute. I don't feel free to share Chef Fearing's recipe but you can easily find it online. It's good. And I suppose my hands will stop singing by the time I take it to neighbors' tomorrow night.
I have a sinking feel summer is here--early. It's to be 92 tomorrow and in the 80s all next week. You suppose it's wishful thinking to suggest this early heat spell forecasts a cool, pleasant summer? I know, I know
I had luncheon guests one day this past week and served a chicken salad casserole I've long fixed and liked, accompanied by fruit salad, fresh asparagus, and dinner rolls. Here's the chicken salad recipe.

3 c. cooked chicken, diced
2½ c. sliced celery
2 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. lemon juice
¾ c. mayonnaise
½ c. sour cream

2 c. crushed potato chips
1 c. shredded sharp cheddar

Mix everything but chips and cheddar and refrigerate overnight in a refrigerator-to-oven dish. Just before serving, mix crushed potato chips with grated sharp cheddar. Top casserole and run under broiler until browned and cheese is melted. Chicken salad should still be cold. Serves six. You need a good freezer-to-oven dish to do this, but a cat broke the Corning dish I always used. Hint: refrigerate the salad in an icebox container; just before broiling, transfer to a pie plate, top with potato chip/cheese mixture and broil just until cheese melts and begins to brown.
Lovely summer dish!.