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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Quick and easy are my go-to ideas this summer

Maybe it’s the heat, but this summer I’m less interested in semi-elaborate recipes and more inclined to go with quick and easy. One night I fed two teen-age boys, so I had to take into account what they will eat and what not. (My grandson, a picky eater who’s getting better, is always suspicious of my cooking, and his mom keeps telling me not to fancy things up for him.) So here’s what may be the simplest chicken casserole ever. I have no idea where I got the recipe.

Grandma’s chicken casserole

3 cups cooked chicken, cubed

1 can cream of mushroom soup

½ half cup mayonnaise

2 cups grated cheddar (if I have said it before, let me repeat: grate your own cheese; the pre-grated in the stores has filler in it, like ground up wood or something to keep it from clumping; I have this on the word of the cheese monger at Central Market).

3 cups finely crushed Ritz crackers

            Layer in a greased baking dish and bake 20-30 minutes at 350o

A couple of lessons learned: the recipe called for two cans soup, but I misread (who, me?) and only had one. It was fine the night I served it, but the leftovers were a bit dry. So I suggest the compromise of a half cup of mayonnaise. You can try the two cans of soup, but your casserole may get soggy.

I baked this in my toaster oven in a high-sided round casserole dish, which was a mistake. Somehow that dish focused too much heat on the surface of the casserole, and some of the topping burned. I advise a low, rectangular baking dish—the largest one that will it in your toaster oven, if that is what you, like me, are restricted to using. And maybe lower the temperature to 325 and bake a bit longer.

Which reminds me: one of the best gifts anyone ever gave me is a jelly-roll style pan—like a cookie sheet but with a lip—that fits exactly in my toaster oven. I use it all the time.

Quick and easy appetizer spread

4 oz. crumbled feta

2 Tbsp. Greek yogurt


In small food processor, blend feta and yogurt until smooth and creamy. (You can experiment with the amount of yogurt—start small and increase if you need to). Chill. When ready to serve, drizzle lightly with honey.

Herb sauce for everything and anything

            Sometimes I buy a fresh green herb—often parsley or cilantro—for a specific recipe that calls for, say, 2 Tbsp. finely chopped. Then the rest of the herb (and they’re not cheap) sits in the vegetable crisper until it gets old and I throw it out. Here’s a better idea:

1/2 cup mixed herbs

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/3 cup olive oil

1/2 tsp. salt (I always use Kosher)

1 large garlic clove, grated with microplane

1 small shallot, finely chopped

Use on fish, steaks, vegetables, whatever strikes your fancy. May be doubled easily. Will keep a week in the fridge.

Happy cooking and stay cool!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

A smorgasbord dish

I find myself beginning a lot of food-related posts with, “When I was a kid,” which only tells me that I got my love of food and cooking and feeding others as a child. I credit my mom, who was incredibly patient with me on the kitchen. This memory though comes from a restaurant that my parents took me to more than once. The Kungsholm in Chicago, located in the former McCormick Mansion on the near North Side, offered a true Swedish smorgasbord, a huge table filled with all kinds of delicacies from the three traditional stages of smorgasbord dining: herring and seafood; hot entrees, like Kalvfild a la Oscar (veal tenderloin with shrimp and asparagus tips covered by béarnaise sauce); and salads and cheeses, followed by dessert and coffee or wine. I think it was at that table that I loved to learn fishy things like herring and caviar.

An additional treat but not food related: after dinner we adjourned to a room that had been converted into a puppet theater, and that’s where any knowledge I may have of classic opera came from. I particularly remember seeing Faust there. The characters moved mechanically on tracks hidden in the floor; they were controlled by people behind the set, often young people with operatic ambitions—I had a friend whose brother worked there.

Back to food: last weekend, with neighbors, we had a pot-luck German dinner, and one of my contributions was the herring salad. If you think you don’t like pickled herring, I urge you to try this. I wanted to start with herring in wine, but the grocery gave me dill-flavored—no matter. It was good. This will serve four people as an appetizer or a side.

Herring salad

12 oz. jar pickled herring, drained but keep the onion rings

One large potato, cooked, peeled, and cubed (I find it easiest to boil the potato whole—watch that the pot doesn’t boil dry—and refrigerate. After a few hours, the chilled potato is easy to peel and holds together when you cube it

4 green onions, sliced

2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and diced

(The original recipe also called for one-half tart apple, cubed, but I found the hardness of the apple incompatible with the rest of the salad; I also omitted a half cup pickled cucumbers because I forgot to buy a cucumber, but sliced cucumber, pickled in equal parts vinegar and water, might add a really nice crunch without being as hard as an apple)

Salt as needed—you shouldn’t need much if any because the herring is salty

For the dressing:

¾ cup good Greek yogurt

½ c. mayonnaise

(you can vary the proportions, but I prefer mostly yogurt0

A pinch of white pepper (if you don’t have white, use black—it’s not the end of the world)

Juice of half a lemon

1 Tbsp. cream of horseradish or plain preserved horseradish

Chopped fresh parsley to decorate

Add the dressing a bit at a time—the quantities were in metric, and my translation to standard American measurements is loose. You want the ingredients lightly coated but not swimming in dressing.

Serve chilled.

In case you need a little encouragement to try herring, did you know that this fish helps produce red blood cells, is extremely high in Omega 3 Fatty Acids, promotes healthy bones, stimulates the brain nerve, lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, is high in antioxidants, and helps improve the memory and avoid dementia. Why, who knew a fish could be a miracle drug!

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Summer Soup—again

The Fourth of July has thrown my schedule all off, so here it is Saturday night, and I’m just posting last Thursday’s Gourmet on a Hot Plate blog. Hope you had a pleasant Forth—Sophie and I spent it quietly at home. She is terribly spooked by thunder but not so much so by fireworks. Still, I hated to leave her home alone—and truth be told I didn’t have any better invitations.

So I stayed home and fixed myself summer soup and a big salad. I know I just posted about a wonderful cold soup I’d newly discovered, but this time it is an old favorite that I rejuvenated. I love a good thick split pea soup in the winter, but I also love a lighter spring pea soup once the weather turns warm. I cut the original recipe down to serve two—which gave me a hearty soup supper for two nights.

Spring pea soup

½ white onion, diced fine

1 clove garlic, diced

1 small stalk celery

¼ tsp. Celery salt

A pinch or more of dried thyme, according to taste.

1 small to medium potato, peeled and cubed

1/2 package frozen petit peas

2 cups chicken broth

Sauté onion, garlic, and celery, celery salt, and thyme in a bit of olive oil until vegetables soften but are not browned. Add potato and peas to skillet and cover mixture with chicken broth. Simmer until potato is soft. Remove from heat, and let it cool a bit.

Puree mixture. You can either do this is a small food processor or in with an immersion blender. Mixture should not be thick—if it is, it will stick and clog the immersion blender (trust me, I found out the hard way). Simply add more broth. When mixture is fairly smooth—a few whole peas just add interest—season with salt and pepper

Serve chilled with a dollop of good Greek yogurt in the middle. Also garnish with finely chopped parsley or sliced scallions if you wish.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Those ubiquitous strawberries

On some of the cooking blogs I follow I’m beginning to see the same plaintive question: “What new thing can I do with strawberries?’  You’ve made shortcake, and you’ve served the berries over biscuits and angel food cake. You’ve put out bowls full of sugared berries. What else can you do to capture that summer flavor? Here are some ideas.

Strawberry salsa

            These days we make salsa out of every fruit imaginable, but when I first made this, ten years ago, it was cutting edge. I proudly served it with corn chips on Easter Sunday and wouldn’t you know, one of our extended family refuses to even try anything with onions in it. But don’t leave them out.

Strawberry salsa

1 pint chopped strawberries

8 green onions

2 pints cherry tomatoes, chopped

¼ c. fresh cilantro, chopped

Mix together. Coat with a dressing made of:

6 Tbsp. olive oil

2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

Pinch of salt

Refrigerate at least an hour. Serve with tortilla chips.

Want a dessert? Here’s one simple and one more intimidating..

Strawberry fool

            This is basically strawberries and cream. Serves four.

1 cup strawberries, washed, stemmed, and sliced

2 Tbsp. sugar (divided)

2 cups whipped cream

1 tsp. vanilla

Cookies crumbs for topping (optional)

Toss the berries with one Tbsp. sugar.  Reserve a few slices for garnish, and puree remainder in blender, with vanilla, until smooth. Whip the cream with the remaining sugar. Gently fold the puree into the whipped cream.

Spoon into four small serving dishes or cocktail glasses. Top with crumbled cookies of your choice and/or reserved strawberry slices. Some recipes call for butter cookies, but I think Girl Scout thin mints would be exceptional if you happen to have them in the freezer.

Strawberry Pavlova

It isn’t that this is hard to make. It’s just that the idea of meringue is a bit intimidating. The late Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, for whom the Pavlova dessert was named, is said to have been ethereal, delicate and slightly controversial. Her namesake, this simple confection, is a ethereal and delicate but there’s no controversy about the taste. As light and airy as you expect a ballerina to be.


3 egg whites

¾ cup sugar

Pinch of cream of tartar

1 tsp. vanilla

            Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Be sure your bowl is perfectly clean and there is not a speck of yolk with your eggs—you do separate each into a separate dish, don’t you, so if you ruin one, you haven’t ruined the whole batch? Slowly add sugar as you beat, a tablespoon at a time. Beat until whites form glossy peaks.

Spread the meringue in a ten-inch circle on your prepared baking sheet—it might be wise to draw the circle on to give you a guide.

Bake 1-1/2 hours at 275. Turn off the oven but do not open it, no, not even to peek. Let the meringue dry six hours or more. Overnight is great—or all day.

For the strawberries;

1 pint strawberries—washed, stemmed, and halved or quartered

½ tsp. vanilla

1 tsp. balsamic vinegar

2 tsp. sugar

Combine above ingredients and let sit in a covered bowl at least 15 minutes. When ready to serve, whip

2 cups heavy cream

Carefully peel paper off pavlova and set it on a platter. With the back of a spoon, make a gentle indentation in the top. Don’t be alarmed if it cracks; it’s supposed to. Spoon whipped cream over the meringue and top with the berries. Serve at once, cutting very carefully into serving size pieces.

My cooking oddity for the day

I’m a big fan of Sam Sifton, food editor for The New York Times, but occasionally his experimentation goes too far for me. Like the other day when he offered a recipe for broccoli with apricot puttanesca. Puttanesca is a sauce for pasta that normally includes tomatoes, garlic, olives, and anchovies. The name comes from the Italian for prostitute, because those “loose women” served pasta with a sauce made of whatever was in their cuupboards.

            Apricot? Really/ With broccoli?


Thursday, June 20, 2019

Cold summer soups

            Once the weather turns hot, there’s little better for a light supper than a cold soup followed by a salad. The choices are endless—spring pea soup, watercress, gazpacho, white gazpacho, cucumber, avocado, zucchini. I once had a recipe for cold corn soup with bourbon—wish I could find it again. Sometimes soups are fruit-based—peach or watermelon come to mind.

Cold soup always makes me think of my former mother-in-law. She came from Romania as a very young child and lived all her life in the Bronx, only venturing to Texas a few times to visit her son, then my husband. Once we took her to one of Fort Worth’s upscale restaurants—this was in the early seventies and there were only two, maybe three such places in addition to private clubs. Vichyssoise was on the menu, and Joel asked his mom if she’d like some. She said she didn’t know what it was, and he inelegantly replied, “Cold potato soup, Ma.” Her eyes got wide, and there was horror in her voice when she answered, “Could potato soup? I couldn’t.” And she didn’t.

Recently I found a recipe for okroshka, a traditional Russian cold soup of vegetables and a cooked meat in a base that was, historically, something called kvass, a nonalcoholic beverage made from fermented black or rye bread. The meat could be beef, veal, sausage or ham. Sometimes the soup was garnished with sour cream. Later versions used kefir, a fermented milk beverage like a thing yogurt, and there lies the foundation for today’s updated version of this soup.

My version used buttermilk and Greek yogurt (plain, full fat) diluted with a bit of water as the base. I made half the original recipe, served it to one guest, and happily ate leftovers for almost a week. It’s one of those things you kind of always want to keep in the fridge for those summer moments when hunger strikes and you want something that doesn’t require cooking.

For timid eaters, who might be put off by okroshka, you can always call it cold cucumber soup.

Cold cucumber soup (serves two with lots left over—or at least six at one seating)

Dice and combine in a large bowl:

1 medium Yukon Gold potato, boiled, cooled, peeled and diced

2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and diced

1 small cucumber, peeled and diced

1 cup diced meat (I used chicken, but I think ham would also be good; beef might be too heavy)

4 radishes, cleaned and sliced thin

3 green onions, sliced

In a separate bowl, mix:

2 cups plain Greek yogurt

2 cups buttermilk

2 cups cold water

1 lemon or lime, scrubbed and sliced thin

½ tsp. Kosher salt

You can just as easily use 4 cups yogurt or 4 cups buttermilk or kefir if you can find it in a specialty market. I liked the mixture          lot.

Pour the liquid mixture over the vegetables. Stir and chill before serving. At serving, garnish with chopped parsley if you like.

            Summertime, and the livin’ is easy! Enjoy!

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Don’t overlook cabbage

My relationship with cabbage has been one of a slow progression from cole slaw to main dishes. I’ve always liked the crispness and slight tang of cabbage, but for years I didn’t know much to do with it except cole slaw and occasional shredded red cabbage to brighten up a green salad. Hard to use up a whole head that way, and I found we often tired of it with half a head still in the fridge.

Somewhere years ago one of my sons decided he liked cabbage sautéed in butter, and then we got adventuresome and added sour cream. But it still was not something I cooked often. For one thing, the rest of the family didn’t like it.

Then along came grilled cabbage, which like its cauliflower counterpart, became a trend. You can do it on the grill (where it has a tendency to fall apart) or in the oven on an oiled cookie sheet (my preferred method).

Simply cut “steaks” – pieces about an inch wide—from the center of the cabbage. Maybe simply is the wrong word to use—I find slicing raw cabbage is a feat of strength. Be sure to core the head before you slice, and then be careful to keep the slices together. Brush both sides with olive oil and dot with garlic or let a garlic clove sit in a Tbsp of olive oil for a bit to flavor the oil. I’ve also heard of cooks using a vinaigrette dressing to brush the cabbage.

Bake at 450o until the edges just begin to brown. If you roast too long, it can become bitter. Serve with salt and pepper, and it’s hearty enough to be the entrée for a light supper. But wait! There’s more.

I saw a suggestion recently for garnishing the roasted slices, so I tried it but added some touches of my own, sprinkling the steaks with crumbled bacon, chopped tomatoes, diced green onions, and crumbled blue cheese. (Note: think about adding blue cheese the next time you make cole slaw.) Then I drizzled with good, homemade ranch dressing (I avoid commercial brands of ranch which have a tinny, preservative taste to me).

These decorated slices were a little difficult to eat—knife and fork needed, and the cabbage falls apart if you’re not careful. But the taste is wonderful. 

Or make a cabbage wrap instead of a lettuce wrap. I served this to a friend recently, and it met with raves. Peel and discard outer layer of leaves from a head of cabbage. Then carefully peel away large leaves, keeping them intact if you can. Start by slicing at core end where leaf attaches to the head, and then starting at the top, gently peel.

Bring a pot of water to boil and, using tongs, submerge the leaves for twenty to thirty seconds, just long enough to soften. Lay leaves flat on work surface, put some sauerkraut down the middle, and top with a cooked piece of kielbasa or Polish sausage. Mustard optional.

You can eat as is or, with toothpicks holding the wrap together, grill just enough to heat but be careful to avoid burning the cabbage. It might be one of those cases where you put the heat at one end of the grill and the food at the other.

Cabbage is a nutritional winner, high in protein and fiber density, low to none in fat content, and low in sugar. We all ought to make better use of it, and I hope these suggestions will help you combine a tasty meal with healthful eating.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Three Bites for Politeness Sake

Did your parents use to preach that doctrine to you? My mom’s voice rang in my head like a refrain as I read a recent thread on the New York Times Cooking Community Facebook page. It all started when someone asked, “What’s the grossest thing you’ve ever eaten?”

I know my brother would say, “Spinach souffle.” It’s a legendary story in our family. But, seriously, the answers were astounding. Many dishes came from Asia and were things I’d never thought about eating—fried and dried insects of various kinds, scorpions, squid on a stick. Whale and blubber were mentioned frequently, along with kangaroo and tapir, sea urchin ceviche. One woman had dancing shrimp salad, which turned out to be tiny live shrimp that “danced” because the vinaigrette in the dressing bothered them.

There were a couple of things I’d never thought of as objectionable, even if they’re not on the list of foods I crave. I’m not fond of lima beans but how bad can they be? And oatmeal? The reason given was, “It’s too slimy.” One person objected to one of my favorite dishes, now sort of retro—sloppy Joe.

And there were a couple we can all agree on, like muskrat. Phew, smelly! But margarine? I don’t like the stuff, don’t eat it or cook with it, but it’s not really gross which, to me, is an extreme category. Then again, it was invented during WWII to fatten fowl for consumption. And we eat it?

But what astounded me was the number of dishes I like that were on other people’s lists. Blood pudding—well, I don’t particularly like it, but it wasn’t bad. I had it in Scotland, and when I asked the B&B host why they added blood to the oatmeal, he shrugged and said something about using all parts of the animal. Bone marrow—as a kid I fought with my brother to get the little bit of marrow inside the bone in a round steak, and today I’m delighted that it’s on trendy menus in larger quantity. Kidneys—lamb, never beef; my mom chicken-fried them with bacon and served with ketchup, especially for my Anglophile dad. Today I’d like to try to see if I still like them, but you have to order a case which seems excessive when all I want is two. I had hoped they’d be on breakfast menus in Scotland but no such luck. Escargot—my ex-husband taught me to like that delicacy, though I admit what I like best is bread soaked in the rich garlic and butter sauce—forget the little critters. And pickled herring—in the late sixties and seventies, I used to put large bowls of it out for our annual holiday party. Today, I get the feeling nobody but me eats it.

To nobody’s surprise, liver was frequently mentioned. Many of us have childhood memories of being told, “Eat your liver. It’s good for you.” My mom was a terrific cook, but she didn’t get liver right. Like most of her generation, she cooked it until it was well done, sort of like shoe leather. I remember dreading the nights we had it for dinner. But now I can cook it so I really like it—and you probably would too, if you’d try. Lemon juice makes the difference—it cuts the gamey taste.

Liver and onions

1 lb. calves’ liver


Diced onion

At least one lemon

            You can cook the liver in serving-size pieces or in finger-size strips. Either way, squeeze plenty of lemon juice over both sides of the raw meat and let it sit briefly. Then flash fry in butter (no substitutes). The meat should still be soft, rather than hard and overcooked. Quickly remove meat and cover with foil to keep warm. Sauté diced onion in remaining butter, scraping up bits from the pan. If necessary, add more butter. Squeeze more lemon juice into the butter and onion mix and pour over meat. Serve quickly. Nice with mashed potatoes and a green vegetable.

As for that line about politeness, I’ve tried it on my grandchildren, and it doesn’t work. I think it’s an old-fashioned thing.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

For your sweet tooth—easy appetizers with honey

For years I thought I didn’t like honey—too sweet, cloying. But a couple of years ago, something changed. I had a case of the flu or that dreaded flu-that-is-not-the-flu, and coffee just tasted awful to me. So I began to drink tea, and then, because I heard it was better for you, I moved on to green tea. But it needed something, so I began to add a scant teaspoon of honey every morning. Voila! I had found my drink of choice. Now I start every day with a mug of green tea sweetened with honey.

We’ve all heard and seen the dire warnings about bees disappearing form our planet and subsequently taking with them many of the foods we love, foods that they pollinate. For some reason, coffee and avocados come to mind, but there are many others. So I’m a fervent opponent of toxic pesticides that kill bees and a proponent of planting bee-friendly gardens. Bee-friendly plants include daisies, marigolds, zinnias, crocus, hyacinth, foxglove, hosta, and many others. You can find lists and directions for a bee garden online.

But there’s another concern about honey. Most of what we buy in the grocery has been adulterated—mixed with other substances to change the color, flavor, thickness—and above all, the cost. So when you think you’re buying honey, you may be buying mostly corn syrup, a cheap imitation which has none of honey’s healthful or medicinal powers—or its pure taste.

You can buy pasteurized honey, filtered honey, raw honey. Filtered takes out the bits of pollen and beeswax that maybe found in raw honey; pasteurization sterilizes it but may well remove some of the natural benefits. I prefer the raw, mostly because I trust it to be purer and less adulterated. Best choice? Buy at a farmers’ market from a beekeeper.

They say it’s best to buy honey that is produced within 30 miles or something of your home, because it contains antidotes to local allergens. When I can’t get to a farmers’ market or when they don’t have honey, I try to buy Texas honey and avoid some that I suspect come from China. I looked on the label of the jar currently in my cupboard, and the only warning was that you should not give honey to infants under a year of age.

Raw honey sometimes crystallizes. Just remove the cap and set the jar in a pan of really hot water. It will go back to being liquid. If honey doesn’t crystallize, it’s probably been adulterated.

Did your grandmother ever put a teaspoon of honey in a cup of hot tea to soothe a cough or a sore throat (with maybe also a teaspoon of bourbon)? Honey has lots of medicinal uses as well as cooking uses. We find it frequently in marinades (often to balance soy sauce) and in salad dressings. Honey mustard is a classic dressing. But have you ever thought of using honey to create appetizers? It pairs well with cheese and fruit both.

A young friend who occasionally comes for happy hour taught me to put a drop of honey on a hunk of blue cheese served on a cracker or an apple slice or whatever. Here are some other ways to use honey for appetizers:

--bake pear slices with butter until just barely soft, top with goat cheese and drizzle with honey

--stuff figs with cream cheese softened with port, peppercorns, and honey, and bake briefly

--grill peach halves, top with a basil leaf and a drizzle of honey

--mix equal parts of a good blue cheese and cream cheese and serve with honey

--bake a block of good feta in a dish brushed with olive oil; top the cheese with more olive oil and a drizzle of honey; bake until top of cheese is caramelized; sprinkle with fresh thyme, and drizzle a bit more honey if you wish

--bake a wedge of brie; drizzle with honey, and use wedges of apples and pear to dip into the molten cheese

--fry thick slices of firm banana in olive oil until lightly browned on each side; remove from skillet and top each slice with a drop of honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Of course, you need a good crisp white wine with these nibbles.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Meatballs, or fiddling with recipes

Yesterday I was supposed to post my cooking blog, but I got so carried away with domestic crises—stained carpet, water erosions, and so on—that I forgot. So here’s yesterday’s Gourmet on a Hot Plate, only a day late.

Love meatballs but hate making them? I do! Recipes seem unnecessarily complicated; in some you bake them and then finish in a skillet; in others, you simply brown them in the skillet, which makes me testy—my meatballs are never perfectly round, and browning all sides is a problem. So I was delighted to find a basic recipe that can be used with any ground meat and requires only baking. But of course I had to fiddle with it.

Here’s the basic recipe:

1 lb. ground meat—beef, pork, veal, chicken, turkey, or a combination

½ cup panko

1 egg

1 tsp. kosher salt

Black pepper and other seasonings of your choice—depending on the meat. You might choose cumin, curry, chile flakes, smoky paprika, whatever.

Minced garlic, onions or shallots.

Chopped parsley, basil or cilantro

What I did:

1 lb. ground lamb

½ cup panko

1 egg

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. oregano

1 Tbsp. tomato paste

Minced shallot

Chopped cilantro

Mix all ingredients together thoroughly and shape into 1-1/2-inch balls. Bake until firm and golden, 7-10 minutes, at 350. The recipe advises frying or broiling to finish them, but I just baked them a little longer and they were a nice golden brown all over. Don’t overbake so that you end up with hard little lumps.

If it’s lamb, I figured tzatziki sauce would go with them.

Tzatziki sauce

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced

2 cups plain Greek yogurt

Pinch of cayenne

1 tsp. dried dill or 1 Tbsp. fresh

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tbsp, fresh lemon juice

½ tsp. kosher salt

¼ tsp. fine ground black pepper

Grate the cucumber, using the large holes on the grater. Drain in a colander and wrap in paper towels to press out as much liquid as possible. Let it sit fifteen minutes.

Mix everything together. Chill at least four hours before serving.

Yogurt gets watery in the fridge, and your tzatziki sauce will get watery in you have leftovers. That does not mean it’s gone bad. Just pour off the liquid. Should keep a week in the fridge.

For some reason, mysterious even to me, I decided corn salad would be good with the meatballs. When I first put it together and tasted it, I was not pleased. But then I began to add things, and my family gave a thumbs up to the final product:

Corn salad

3 cups corn kernels—in an ideal world, grill three ears of corn and strip off the kernels; but you can use frozen corn. Either way make sure the corn is cooked until tender.

Kosher salt

½ cup mayonnaise

½ cup crumbled feta—make sure it is soft and fresh; I had some in the fridge that was old, hard, and tasteless

1 4 oz. can chopped green chillies

Juice of two limes

1 Tbsp. chili powder

2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro

Mix all together and chill thoroughly before serving.

These recipes made a great meal, and three of us had leftovers to nibble on for a couple of days. Now I’m pondering chicken meatballs for a variation—what seasonings would you use? I’m not a great fan of tarragon, which is usually paired with chicken.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Green Noodles

No, it's not green eggs and ham. This is perhaps even better. Te story goes that yesrs ago (more than fifty), my brother was courting the woman who became his first wife. She had promised to cook him dinner but had no money for groceries, so she used what she had on hand, melting butter in the skillet, adding cooked spaghetti and lots of lemon juice. Over the years, I “improved” on the idea.

First, I substituted spinach fettucine for the spaghetti. Then I added scallions and mushrooms. Next inspiration was to add chopped artichoke hearts. Finally, when I had lots of basil, made my own pesto, and froze it in an ice cube tray, I began to add a cube of pesto. I always topped the whole thing with freshly grated Parmesan although these days I prefer Pecorino.

I frequently served this to my children as they were growing up. It was a family favorite that they called “green noodles.” Megan, always weight conscious, used to complain I used too much butter, but I like it that way.

The beauty of it is that it’s still good without any one of my additions, if you have butter and lemon. I often make a single serving for myself.

Green noodles

1 16-0z. pkg. spinach egg noodles or fettucine

1 stick butter

8 oz. mushrooms, sliced (I always buy whole and slice them myself)

4 scallions, chopped

1 can quartered artichoke hearts, chopped

1 ice-cube of pesto, thawed (about a generous Tbsp)

Juice of one lemon

Grated fresh Parmesan or Pecorino

Cook and drain noodles. Melt butter in the skillet. Sauté the mushrooms and scallions in the butter. Add lemon juice to taste—I like lots; the mushrooms soak up the lemon and are delicious. Add artichoke and pesto and stir to incorporate. Add noodles and toss to coat. Top with cheese

Jamie’s wife, Melanie, did a slightly different version for her daughters, Maddie and Edie, both of whom at a very young age loved sour things like pickles and capers. Mel cooked angel hair pasta and buttered it liberally; then she added lemon juice and capers. I watched in amazement as she dumped in capers out of the jar, not bothering to drain them (as I always do, with some difficulty). “Oh, yeah,” she said, “the juice adds a really good taste.” I tried it, and she’s right.

Makes a good and quick meatless meal.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The everyday sandwich

Sandwiches seem to be all over the internet food sites these days. I first noticed this trend with an article on peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwiches. It seems you either love them or despise them, with most people falling into the latter camp. This struck home to me because I’ve eaten those sandwiches all my life. My mother fixed them for me, and now my oldest son eats them while the rest of the family scoffs. We like to put some lettuce in the sandwich for a bit of crispness—and, you know, eat your greens every day.

It seems the sandwich, once as revered as peanut butter and jelly, was a staple in the South during the Depression, when rib-sticking food was hard to get. I’m not sure how my mom, who spent almost her entire life in Illinois, came by this southern tradition, but it was a staple in our house.

In other parts of the country, people experiment with additions—you can put pickle on the sandwich, or bacon, or cheese. But always that thick layer of mayo. I have been known to try a combination of peanut butter, mayo, cheddar, and bacon—in some regions that’s called an Elvis sandwich (or how much cholesterol do you want in one bite?). Today I’ve heard of people putting Siracha sauce on peanut butter sandwiches. I’m not a fan of that hot sauce, though I have a friend who puts it on almost every and anything, especially pimiento cheese.

Grilled cheese is another staple that’s in for revision these days. Many of us grew up on tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. To me, they present a dilemma—I never get them quite right. They’re either undercooked—the cheese still firm, the crust on the bread pale and limp—or they’re burnt. One grandson refuses my grilled cheese because they’re always burnt.

Now I’ve seen suggestions for modernizing that standby. I’ve tried adding pickle and bacon before cooking. That makes one huge and hearty sandwich! But it’s difficult to keep all the parts in place as you flip it, unless you let the cheese get gooey enough to hold everything before flipping it. I think I like the idea of adding just pickle better, and I have always liked tomatoes in a grilled cheese.

How about grilled pimiento cheese with tomato? Or grilled cheese with pesto? The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

Then there’s the question of bread—traditionally these sandwiches have been made with white bread, what I call “cotton candy bread” because it sticks to your teeth and the roof of your mouth. I prefer a bread with more substance—a light wheat or a rye. And a modern technique I’ve begun trying—use mayo rather than butter on the outside of the sandwich to fry it.

My mom used to have a kitchen gadget that made round grilled cheese sandwiches. It was two round pieces of metal, attached at one end and each with a long handle. You made your sandwich the same way, fit it into the mold, clamped the mold shut, and trimmed off the outside bits of bread. We “grilled” by holding over a burner. The process sealed the sandwich shut all around—no leaks. You could use it for all other kinds of things—I remember banana sandwiches, I think, and egg. Sound familiar to anyone? I’ve looked online but don’t know what to call it to do a thorough search.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Chicken lettuce wraps

On Wednesdays, Sam Sifton’s column in the New York Times usually includes a no-recipe suggestion for a dish—directions but no quantities. Just kind of “do this and then do that.” Recently the recipe was a chicken lettuce wrap that struck my fancy. The night I wanted to fix it, I discovered I was missing several ingredients—cilantro, fresh mint, fish sauce (I didn’t really miss the latter—never used it, though I suppose I should try sometime). Also I didn’t have head of iceberg lettuce. I usually refuse to buy it—all water and no taste. I buy leaf, but we found that leaf lettuce doesn’t wrap. We ended up with open-faced salads, with a meat layer as the base. Here’s what I did:

Ingredients (this serves two, two-to-three wraps each)

4-6 leaves from a head of iceberg lettuce (no other), washed and patted dry

1 lb. ground chicken

1 small red onion (if such exists—all I ever find in the stores are huge red onions), diced

3 scallions. chopped

¼ c. dry white wine

A generous glug of soy sauce, to taste

Pepper, if needed—go light on salt because the soy is salty

1 small can chopped green chillies

Diced tomatoes

Cilantro sprigs (I didn’t use but will next time)

Crumbled feta

Optional: ½ tsp. cumin.

            Use a large skillet. I started out with my small skillet and found ground chicken jumping over the side. Put a little water in to keep the chicken from sticking and cook until all pink is gone from the meat. Remove pan from hot plate. Keep warm on a low heat while you dice the tomatoes and onion. Add onion, scallions, and chillies to the meat  mixture and remove from heat (you want the onions to be crunchy, not sautéed).

Spread lettuce leaves flat. Put generous spoon of meat mixture in center, top with tomatoes, cilantro, and feta. Wrap—or eat with a fork, like a salad. This is best eaten the night you cook it—I had some meat leftover and tried to duplicate the wrap for lunch the next day but without heating the meat. It wasn’t as wonderful as it had been the night before.

Every cook is entitled to an oops moment. Please don’t judge me by my biscuits. First of all, I should make them from scratch, but I don’t (hear the guilt!); I use a tube of grands. But my wonderful toaster-oven-sized cookie sheet will only hold five biscuits at most, so I do them in batches. My attention clearly wandered the other day when I was baking my breakfast.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

An apology…and my family’s favorite casserole

Last week on “Judy’s Stew” I blogged about fixing Doris’ casserole, a family favorite, for a houseguest and promised the recipe on Thursday’s “Gourmet on a Hot Plate” blog. Trouble is, I never did the blog. We were busy entertaining our guest, and when I blogged, I forgot all about the casserole and blogged about the day’s events. Mea culpa. So here it is: ta-da, the recipe for Doris’ Casserole.

For those who didn’t read last week’s blog, here’s the back story. This was served to me at a dinner party nearly fifty years go by a woman named Doris. She called it Mrs. America Beef Casserole. Our husbands were training together as residents, and after residency I didn’t see much of Doris. Once when I did mention how much my family likes the dish, she barely remembered the casserole or the dinner party. I gave the recipe to a friend who insisted the noodle layer should come first. I assured her it shouldn’t. Another friend calls it American lasagna.

This is supposed to feed six, but it disappears quickly, so I sometimes make a double batch. It freezes beautifully. A bit of trouble to make, so I think of it as making two separate dishes—the meat layer, followed by the noodle layer.

Doris Casserole

Meat layer:

1 lb. ground beef

1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes

1 8 oz. can tomato sauce

2 cloves garlic, crushed in garlic press

2 tsp each sugar and salt (I cut back to one tsp. on those, but sugar is important in tomato-based sauces—my mom taught me years ago it sort of rounds it off.)

Pepper to taste

Brown ground beef in skillet. Drain grease and return to skillet. Add tomatoes and tomato sauce, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper. Simmer 20 minutes, until it thickens a little.

Spread in a 9 x 13 pan.

Noodle layer:

5 oz. egg noodles  (approximately—they don’t come in this size pkg.)

3 oz. pkg. cream cheese (here again, you have to fudge; cream cheese doesn’t come in 3 oz. pkg. anymore, and I use half an 8 oz. package)

1 c. sour cream

6 green onions chopped, with some of the tops included


1-1/2 c. grated cheddar

Cook egg noodles and drain. While the noodles are hot, stir in cream cheese, sour cream, and green onions. Spread evenly over meat mixture. Top with grated cheddar, bake 35 minutes at 350 or until bubbly and cheese is slightly browned.