Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hush Little Puppies and the National Cornbread Festival


Many of you would love to hear the story of how I won the grand prize, a royal blue ribbon, the pride of having the year's worth of bragging rights and $5000 at the National Cornbread Festival in Tennessee. This is a story I would love to tell you, but unfortunately it wouldn't be true. This is still a happy tale of a scatterbrained traveler, that starts with a 1 AM red-eye out of Vegas and a TN arrival at 9 AM the following morning. A quick pop by Thrifty Rental Car and I was on my way to South Pitsburg. This is a feat for me, to travel alone and do grown-up things like take a rental car into an unknown city. Truly, I can get lost in the Del Taco drive through. Some people have an intuitive compass, and they must feel so safe and secure in the world. I'm destined to be lost, wherever I go, whether on the way to the library, or on the way to South Pittsburg Tennesee. There is a part of me that somehow enjoys the disorderliness of it, the feeling of being on the wrong road and heading in the wrong direction. It's more interesting when things go a little bit wrong. Sometimes with a little chaos the real fun begins. But not when you are alone. I don't think I was meant to be alone. I think it started, well actually with my birth. My sister Michelle is only 10 and 1/2 months older than I am, and we were inseparable. We went to kindergarten together, graduated from high school. I remember not wanting to go to to school on the days she was sick. I wasn't sure I wanted to stay in college the semester she decided to go home and work. But I did and I was fine. But it wasn't as fun without her. So in the interest of self realization, my theory is that I adore chaos with loved ones, but prefer order with strangers. Any psychologists out there? Just hoping I'm normal. Always hoping.

By the way, I made it to South Pittsburg without getting irretrievably lost (thank you mapquest), while enjoying the gorgeous Tennessee spring dogwoods and lilacs as freeway backdrop. Since the bored teenager behind the desk of the hotel informed me that none of the rooms were ready, I decided to do a little exploring on my own. And by the way, how can none of the rooms be ready an hour before check in time? Just wondering, although I'm sure it's possible that the maids clean every single rooms at the exact same time, I'm also certain that's it's highly unlikely. But there is a lovely underground waterfall outside of Chatanooga, only a 40 minute drive from South Pittsburg, if you don't get lost. Ruby Falls, to be exact, is well worth visiting, even if you do have to do a couple of u turns. Except when you are finding out that you are not too good on your own. Hundreds of feet below the ground, in the dark of the cave, beginning to feel just a teensy bit claustrophic, I suddenly realized that I'd locked my car keys in the rental car. I spent the next hour of the guided underground tour hoping that a good locksmith was better at finding Ruby Falls than I was. Can I put in a plug for Triple A? They more than earn their minimal yearly payment, and they never embarass you about locked keys in the car. I know, because we had to call on their services in Nebraska in February, en route to Grandpa's funeral. Only this time, I wasn't the one who locked the keys in the car. It's very important that the Quiet Man make at least three mistakes a year, just to make me feel a little better about myself. At this rate, he still has to make two more before December.

I'm feeling quite verbose. Are you still with me, dear readers? If you need to get a drink and a snack or take your kids to soccer practic, I understand. I'll wait. Are you back now?
By the time I got back to my hotel, long after the earliest check in hour, and lugged my groceries, luggage, cooking gear up the stairs (no elevator) to my room, to my dismay, the room had not been cleaned. When the same bored teenager asked if I was sure the room hadn't been cleaned, I looked around at the state of the hotel, and wondered just how I knew for certain, and then politely referred to the unmade bed and lump of used towels on the ground. If it weren't for those two things, I might not have known the difference myself. The rest of the night was uneventful, although if I'm practicing self discovery, I might want to ask myself why exactly I choose to watch documentaries about murder when I'm all alone in shoddy hotel rooms.

I'm happy to report that the Cook off was lots of fun. I ran into several friends from previous cook offs (pictured below is Pat from National Beef, but there was also Rebecca from Nordicware, Catherine from her funny blog), and I always feel relaxed when I'm cooking. With a spoon in my hand and an apron tied around my waste, I feel in my element, even when on stage, even with a camera crew and an interviewer chatting away while you stir together Italian Cornbread Pie. The cornbread festival was full of fun vendors, exciting games for kids, friendly folks, and my favorite attraction: Cornbread Alley. For $2.00 you can walk down the alley and load up on samples of interesting cornbreads, like squash and sage cornbread, cornbread coated apple fritters, grits cornbread, and my favorite Southwestern Hush Pupppies. I've already made some at home.
And as I mentioned, I didn't win the festival, but we runner ups were dubbed honorable mentions, handed a very pleasant $600 and an impossibly heavy gift basket full of everything a lover of cornbread would ever desire. The winner was an adorable young mother named Sonja with her Buffalo Chicken Cornbread and Blue Cheese Salad. Here she is, getting her cornbread champion helmet from Bob Kellerman and his fab plaid hat. Just as soon as the recipe is posted, I'll make it and write about it here. And the same goes with my recipe. I don't want to jump the gun on the sponsors by posting it here, so I'll wait and share it at that time.
I got home without incident, unless you count that one of my shoes got caught in the security conveyor belt and a rather large-bottomed security worker in tight navy polyester pants had to CRAWL in to get it out. Even though I was alone, I enjoyed that. I also enjoyed the reading time I had. I finished off four books, except I skipped that chapter in Outliers about plane crashes, preferring to read it when I was safe at home. And I was safe at home, for a day. And now I'm away again with my little charges and our traveling school room, visiting my sister who just had beautiful baby Sunny. So I'll get off this computer, go pick up that lovely baby, and leave you now with this hush puppy recipe and my best wishes for a good weekend full of love, companionship, and u turns.
Money Saving Tips: Use a small saucepan so that you can use less oil to get a one inch depth. You'll have to work in small batches, so make sure you're diners are ready to eat.
South Western Hush Puppies
Estimated Cost: $2.00 for about 18
Notes: I made a plain batch, hoping to win the charges over before I go for the big flavors.
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup chopped green onion
1/2 cup corn kernels
1 tablespoon chopped canned of fresh jalapeno
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon each chili powder and cumin
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
Combine in a medium bowl the cornmeal, onion, kernels, jalapeno, cheddar cheese, powder, and salt. In a smaller bowl, combine the milk and egg. Add to dry ingredients. In a small saucepan, heat about 1 inch of oil to 350 degrees. Drop hush puppies by tablespoon full into hot oil, cook until golden brown and drain on paper towels.
Next Up:
I think.....
Jelly Donuts
I've developed a sudden craving.

Itty Bitty Chocolate Smore Tarts

I promised to report all about the National Cornbread Cook off in Tenessee-and I will, I will! But today is Tuesday, and on Tuesdays all prior plans must cease in order to observe the assignment of my weekly baking club, TWD. This week we've made chocolate cream tarts, but please, oh please, do not make them the way that I did. Click here and find someone else who wasn't in Tennesee all week and came home to expired cream. Find someone who is organized and bright, calm and systematic. Otherwise, they might spoil a perfectly delicious chocolate cream filling. Which is exactly what I did.
Things didn't start out so bad. I came home from my trip, having missed a night of sleep from traveling, so didn't get up in time for my treadmill run, which means no shower till I get the run in, and started school late with the charges. While charge number one was writing an essay about the fall of the Berlin Wall and charge number two was pounding out "When the Saints Go Marching In" on the piano, I started making a half batch of the chocolate cream filling. It was astoundingly good, even amidst the chaos. Pencils and pianos were cast aside so we could gather round and eat the warm chocolate filling. It was looking promising. But then I got sloppy. Too lazy to make a pie crust, I turned to a wholewheat crust I had in the freezer. I regularly use whole wheat crusts as you dear readers are aware, but NOT. ON. CREAM. PIES.
Please don't try. It tastes evil. But it was too late since all of the little hearty wheat shells were filled with dreamy chocolate before I realized. I hoped the whipped cream topping would perk them up. But then, I found my cream was expired. Not just a little bit either. Apparently, it had secured a safe hiding place behind the pickle jar since February. I wasn't about to run to the market in the current state of my kitchen, my day, my life, and by gosh-my hair! so I threw on some marshmallows and just about burnt them under the broiler while I busied myself teaching three digit divisions with zeros. Darn-I just wasted a good chunk of time and messed up the kitchen to boot. But about 9:30 PM, the Quiet Man and the charges used baby spoons (so glad I saved a few) and ate the marshmallows and cream filling from the shells. And me? I finally cleaned the kitchen, got on the treadmill and squeezed in that shower. I suppose things turned out OK, after all. Next time I'm making that pie, it'll be the right way, I hope. On the other hand, maybe I've been inspired. Next Tuesday, I just might turn our tiramisu assignment into a smore's tiramisu. Sounds promising.
I'll be back with a full report on the National Cornbread Festival in Tennesee plus my "Honorable Mention" Recipe.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Buttermilk Glazed Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

Packed:

1 J. Jill floral print skirt, chiffon overlay
1 10 and 1/2 inch Lodge Cast iron skillet
1 white rubber spatula (stained a bit yellow from the last time I made curry)
1 pair pink and white striped pajama pants
1 Henckels paring knife
1 white eyelit blouse
1 small jar crushed red chile peppers
1 adorable blue and yellow apron from dear reader Lynn Dickens
1 75 square foot roll tinfoil
1 dark denim jacket, newly acquired from Tar-jay
1 dark green padded oven mitt
1 Ireland Rugby T shirt, for good luck
1 camera, extra battery and charger
3 novels (Outliers, Comfort Food, The Laws of Harmony), plus scriptures
5 NYT crossword puzzles, cut from this week's newspaper
All this inside of an extra large borrowed (thanks, Dad) suitcase. What will airport security think of me? And if they open my bag to rummage through, will they be able to get it closed again without my help?
I'm on my way to Tennessee for the National Cornbread Cook-Off. I wish my two little charges and the Quiet Man were going with me, especially since the festival promises to be full of small town fun, like the buttermilk chugging contest and watermelon seed spitting contest. I'm not sure if I made the watermelon contest up, but it sounds right. I'll be in South Pittsburg, TN, pitted against nine other amateur cooks, making my Four Cheese and Italian Sausage Lover's Pie with a Parmesan Cornbread Crust. I'll be home late Sunday with pictures and a full report.
In the meantime, I'm sharing my favorite carrot cake. It's a not too sweet cake-before the glaze, that is-baked in a loaf pan, then split and coated with a syruppy buttermilk glaze, then frosted with a cream cheese frosting. The glaze makes this cake extra moist and especially luxurious. It would be a perfect Sunday afternoon dessert. Have a wonderful weekend and wish me luck!
Money Saving Tips:
Skip the baby carrots and buy the full size carrots here. They're cheaper and they have better flavor. Swap the carrots for garden zuchinni in the summertime. The cake itself is fantastic on it's own, without glaze or icing, so if you're being extra frugal just dust it with powdered sugar. If you don't have buttermilk for the glaze, use regular milk.
Buttermilk Glazed Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing:
Estimated Cost: $5.00
Notes: This recipe is adapted from the carrot bread recipe in Bon Appetit.
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon EACH baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon
3 large carrots, peeled and grated
1 cup chopped pecans, if desired
For Glaze:
4 tablespoons each buttermilk, sugar, and butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
For Icing:
3 ounces cream cheese
3 tablespoons softened butter
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
about 2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans, if desired
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 by 5 inch loaf pan. In a large bowl, combine sugar, eggs, oil, vanilla, and salt, blending well. Add flour and soda, powder, and cinnamon. Stir until just combined. Add carrots and nuts if using. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes. Let cool for ten minutes, before turning out onto rack. Let cool an additional ten minutes. While still warm, slice in half lengthwise, and place on rack with cut sides up. Prepare glaze by combining in a small saucepan, the butter, sugar, and buttermilk. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Spoon warm sauce, tablespoonfull at a time, over cut sides of cake, allowing the glaze to sink in. When all of the glaze has sunk in, let cool to room temperature. Prepare icing by combining butter, cream cheese, and lemon until smooth. Stir in powdered sugar and beat until fluffy. Frost middle of cake and put together; frost sides and top and sprinkle with nuts if desired.
Next Up:
My Italian Sausage and Cheese Pie with Parmesan Cornbread Crust

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Chocolate Bread Pudding with White Chocolate Sauce

Hooray for Tuesdays, the designated day of my weekly baking club. This week we made chocolate bread pudding. Mmm. Someone at my house told me they didn't like bread pudding, and maybe it was true yesterday. But today is Tuesday and people change their desserty dislikes on Tuesdays as often as April rainstorms give way to sunshine. We have Dorie Greenspan to thank for that. It's becoming quite evident that I like just about every recipe that she creates. Chocolate Bread Pudding included. Incidentally, there's so much potential in a humble piece of bread. I've gotten into the habit of saving spare slices in one communal zip top bag in the freezer. Later, the aged slices make appearances as croutons, crumbs, soup thickeners, garlic bread, stratas, and now bread pudding. Keep this one in mind when you've got a good store of leftover white. For the real recipe, click here.
I made a 1/4 batch in a loaf pan with leftover bread for about $2.00. The sauce was made in the micro with some warmed cream and white chocolate.
Have a wonderful Tuesday. Thanks to my readers who kindly requested that I live up to my word and run my carrot cake recipe. Thanks for keeping me honest!
Next Up:
Buttermilk Glazed Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

Monday, April 20, 2009

Pineapple and Green Chile Pork Soft Tacos

It was a miraculous deathbed recovery. We are still cautious, making sure not to tax her too much, and it seems almost too good to believe. Dare I say it? My computer is well again. I've spent hours each day trying to nurse her back to health, but she did not respond to my methods (or the advice or our antivirus software either for that matter.) But this weekend, my little sister Mary Kate came for a visit with her family of five, which includes my ever lucky brother in law Adam (the one who won a trip to the Super Bowl). Last night, he was up with our grouchy patient till at least 2 AM, which is when I had enough and called it a night. But when I woke up this morning, he had revived the cantakerous old hermit, and now I am back in business. Thank you, Adam. Maybe you did deserve that trip to the Super Bowl, after all. It's sunny this morning and I feel an incredible burden lifted off my shoulders. Ten years ago, it wouldn't have made much difference to me one way or the other, but now I can not live without my computer. Take my telephone, my TV, my Kitchen Aid mixer, my college diploma if you must, but leave me my computer.

I'm sure you are all here for the recipes, and not at all for the electronic update, so let's proceed. I've got a yummy dinner to share that is just lovely on so many levels. It's only a handful of ingredients, cooks all day in the crockpot on it's own, is healthy, super delicious, and ideally very inexpensive. I know you're going to love it! Come on back tomorrow for chocolate bread pudding and continued good cheer.
Money Saving Tips:
I buy pork chops when they have two for one deals at Albertsons. Don't eat pork? Don't worry-it works well with chicken also. Don't even bother defrosting the meat if it's frozen; it'll be just fine. If you can't find green salsa, the red variety will be tasty here also. The crockpot uses only about 25 cents of energy for 8 hours of cooking, so plug it in and save some money.
Pineapple and Green Chile Pork Tacos in the Crockpot
1 lb. pork chops
1 8 ounce can crushed pineapple with juices
1 cup tomatillo salsa (green salsa or salsa verde)
1 4 ounce can green chiles, undrained
1/3 cup brown sugar
For serving: warm flour tortillas, queso fresco (or feta), chopped cilantro, lime wedges, more green salsa
Combine all ingredients in the crock pot and cook on high for four hours or on low for 6 to eight hours. Shred pork, season to taste with salt and pepper and serve in soft flour tortillas with desired accompaniments.
Come Back Tomorrow for....
Chocolate Bread Pudding

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Easter Ham Remake: Kentucky Hot Brown

I hope everyone had a lovely Easter. It was everything a carefree and sunny spring day should be, warm and green with the smell of lilacs in the air. To complete the feeling of whimsy, the two little charges looked extra spring-y and angelic dressed in pastels for church. They looked a little less composed a few hours later when they were running through the grass searching for eggs and arguing over amount of loot, but I can survive for days on moments of serenity.

I made a ham, a really lovely tender glazed ham. Readers, I really should have posted a how-to-bake your own ham before the holiday. My ham cost $6.00 at the grocery store, plus about 50 cents for my glaze ingredients, and it was all made the day before with very little effort on my part. One of our dinner guests remarked that people probably don't know that they can make good ham at home on the cheap, and for that reason they're willing to pay exorbitant costs for a ready to eat ham. The same dinner guest proclaimed it the best ham he's ever eaten; there's nothing I love more than a complimentary guest. I'll post my ham recipe, but maybe not for a few months or even next year, since who really wants a glazed ham recipe the week after Easter? A ham recipe with leftover ham is an entirely different story. This recipe comes from the famous Brown hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. (My husband brought me this nifty dish from a business trip there. A pyrex baking dish works just as well and holds more.)Normally, I make this dish after Thanksgiving, since the original recipe showcases fully cooked chicken or turkey, but I thought I'd take a crack at it with ham. The results were delish. Hope you'll like it too.
PS Thanks for your patience as I continue to struggle with my virus laden computer. On the positive side, I've been able to read several great books while I wait and wait and wait for our cranky computer to do its computery stuff.
Kentucky Ham Hot Brown
Estimated Cost with leftover ham: $4.00 for four servings
toasted bread
leftover ham
cheese sauce***
shredded cheddar cheese
sliced tomatoes
bacon
Preheat broiler. Layer toast, ham, cheese sauce, tomatoes and bacon in that order. Preheat broiler and cook until hot and bubbly. Sprinkle with parsley if desired.
Cheese Sauce (Sauce Mornay)
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in small saucepan. Add two tablespoons flour and cook for one minute. Stir in 1 and 1/2 cups milk and cook, stirring often until thickened. Add 1/2 cup shredded cheese off the heat. All set.
Up Next:
Pineapple Green Chile Shredded Pork Tacos in the Slow Cooker

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Peanut Butter Easter Eggs

When I was a little girl, my grandparents would bring each of my siblings a giant See's Easter egg with our name drawn out in beautiful loops of royal icing. This along with the dry roasted peanuts and M and Ms would be the sum total of our Easter candy. It lasted approximately two hours and then it would be weeks before we had candy again. Times have changed. My own charges get so much candy all of the time-sackfulls at birthday parties, rewards after ballet lessons, even lollipops after a visit to the doctor. We have an entire shelf full of Halloween candy, Christmas candy, and Valentine's candy that no one is particularly interested in eating. Instead of buying more candy that would inevitably end up un-eaten, we decided to make our own candy this year. Homemade candy is special, even in this age of plentiful sweets.(Although I confess that I did buy the M and Ms and plain roasted peanuts for nostalgic reasons.) The favorite candy around here, and one that we never have on hand for long, is Peanut Butter Cups. They are so easy, delicious, and inexpensive to make, plus they look adorable shaped as Easter Eggs. You still have time to make some. Whatever candy is in your baskets tomorrow, may your holiday be endearingly sweet. Happy Easter!
Money Saving Tips:
Look for quality chocolate at a good price for dipping. If you are lucky enough to have a Trader Joe's, then buy some of the Belgian milk chocolate. I used melted Hershey bar's since I still have a cupboard full. This makes a big batch, so you'll have plenty to share.
Form the dough into egg shapes and freeze. You can also make fudge centers, if you like.Dip in chocolate. You can use milk, dark, or white chocolate. I like to use all three. Chill to set. Decorate as desired.
Peanut Butter Easter Eggs
Estimated Cost: about $7.00 for 30
1/2 cup softened butter
1 cup peanut butter
about 1 and 1/2 cups powdered sugar
generous pinch of salt
1-2 cups crisp rice cereal
about 12 ounces milk chocolate
In a medium bowl, combine butter, peanut butter, powdered sugar and salt. Add more powdered sugar if needed to form a very soft dough, like the texture of playdough. If desired add rice cereal for crunch. Form into egg shapes and freeze for at least two hours. Melt chocolate in a medium bowl. I melt mine very slowly in the microwave. Dip eggs in chocolate to coat. Place on waxed paper and chill until set. Decorate with melted candy melts if desired.
Next Up
Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Carrot Ginger Soup

Things are not looking well for my computer. No, not well at all. If she continues to misbehave in this teenagerly fashion, she may find herself out on the streets, on her ear, on her own, out of luck and out of chances. Unless she repents, and then we will shed a few maudlin tears and welcome her back. In the meantime, for those of you who have sent me e-mails, I am not responding because my Internet provider coldly informs me that my computer is sending out malicious viruses, and if this continues they will beforced to cancel Internet service all together. Can things really be so bad? In the meantime, readers, thanks for your patience. I promise that I'm not ignoring you; or rather I am ignoring you so as not to send you a malicious virus. But here it is almost Easter and I'm making a buttermilk glazed carrot cake, big fat peanut butter cream eggs that have been dipped in chocolate, a honey and mustard glazed ham, and cheddar cheesy potato casserole, and all of these lovely things on my own because of my naughty computer.
I did promise to post my carrot ginger soup, and if luck is on my side, then perhaps you will see a picture of said soup. If not, please understand that although my computer is practically a professional at sending malicious viruses, it can not manage the uploading of a beautiful carrot soup.
Here's the recipe, either way. I first tried this luscious soup in Bar Harbor, Maine with my parents and the Quiet Man on a leaf peeping tour. I had ordered the carrot ginger soup, a sandwich and a slice of blackberry pie for dessert. They brough the soup first and after savoring my cup, I cancelled the sandwich and the pie and devoured two more bowls of soup. Since it's so lovely and carrot-y, I always make it around Easter time to tempt Peter Cottontail to leave us extra treats. It seems to work. Now if only I can get him to fix this durn computer.
Money Saving Tips:
Buy real carrots-not the peeled baby carrots for snacking. It will be cheaper, but you'll also be getting better flavor. Use bouillion cubes or homemade stock to save money. You can swap out the cream for half and half, evaporated skim milk, or milk.
Carrot Ginger Soup
Estimated Cost: $5.00 for 6 first course servings
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion. chopped
1 pound carrots, peeled and chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
2 tablespoons minced ginger
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 cup orange juice
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
pinch of ground red pepper
1-2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar
1/2 cup cream
In a heavy pot, melt butter. Add onions, carrots, and celery and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and cook for one minute longer. Add orange juice and broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for ten minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove about 2 cups of the vegetables. Puree the remaining soup, using an immersion blender if you have one. Add vegetables back to pot. Stir in red pepper, honey to taste (amount will depend on sweetness of carrots) and lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt and pepper to taste. Stir in cream and bring just to a simmer. Serve warm or even at room temperature. Drizzle with a little cream and sprinkle with fresh parsley, if desired.
Next Up:
Peanut Butter Cream Filled Chocolate Dipped Easter Basket Eggs

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Baby Banana Cream Pies

During my freshman year of high school, my best friend Wendy Foss and I would lolly gag after the last bell rang. Sometimes we would be involved in a project with drama class, or we'd try to earn a little extra credit in the library for our English class, but more often than not, we were sitting unabashedly in the bleachers, watching water polo practice. I'm not proud of this, knowing now that my time could have been much better spent, but readers, there you have it. I was a decidedly average teenager. This was in the days before call waiting or cell phones, so when Wendy and I had nothing left to stare at and were ready to go home, our first stop was the office to try and call our moms or even an older sibling. Inevitably, the phone lines were busy. So we would begin the hike home. Wendy was lucky-she only had to walk four miles before we parted ways, and I was left to walk the last lonely mile alone, up the hill to Gottes Lane. All the way home, we would stop at every available telephone to try yet again to make contact with anyone over the age of sixteen. At mile marker one was the telephone at Marie Calendar's. If we had enough money, we would soothe our disappointment about the tied up phone lines with a shared slice of banana cream pie. Pretty soon, we developed a real hankering for the stuff, especially the way Marie served it, all sprinkled with toasted almonds. We actually started looking forward to the long walks home, sweetened by long conversations and slices of pie. The next year, Wendy got her drivers license and as far as I can remember we never walked home or went to Marie Calendar's again. But all these years later, I still have fond memories of the banana cream pie, and truth be told of the long walk home with my best friend.
This week's assignment for Tuesdays with Dorie, brought back happy memories and turned me into a banana cream believer once again. Especially when you try Dorie's brown sugary custard filling. I still love you Marie, but Dorie's pretty tough to beat. (Here's the real recipe-you can make it for about $5.00.) I made my pies into little babies in custard cups. A 1/2 batch will get you two little pies, and then of course I had to make banana-less pies for my two little charges. They have never had to walk home from school, so they don't understand the powerful association for me and banana cream. And sometimes, I get a strange urge to whip cream by hand. It makes me feel kinda tough. That is, before my arm starts to burn and I feel like quitting, but don't want to wash even more dishes if I switch over to my Kitchen Aid. By then I don't feel so macho anymore. Next Up:
Carrot Ginger Soup

Monday, April 6, 2009

Asparagus: Getting the most for your spring dollars

There are three things in this world that tempt me to curse. The first is calculus. I haven't had to do it since high school, and my language has been all the cleaner for it. The second is knitting. I tried it once in Chile, after falsely believing that if adorable little four year old Chilean girls could do it, then why couldn't I? It wasn't long before I hurled my newly purchased needles and ball of yard out the window-literally-of my humble rented room. The third, and this one really makes me want to gnash my teeth, is computer woes. If only the computer were as light as that ball of yarn I would have hurled it out the window hours ago. And I'm way too old for cursing, since it only makes me feel bad later, and little ears are so adept at picking up on questionable vocabulary. I will either have to fix my computer or find a more wholesome outlet for my frustration.
Asparagus, anyone? The best asparagus is out there right now, just right for the buying, so here a few pointers for getting the best for your buck.

When I was less thrifty, I would boldly snap asparagus spears almost in half, tossing the tough bottoms into the trash to savor only the tenderest tips. I betcha I didn't look at the price either, before I bought it. Well, I've come a long way, at least where frugality is concerned. Now, in addition to looking for a good price for my spring asparagus ($1.50 a pound this week at Walmart), I also try to use up every bit of those gorgeous green stalks. First of all, try to buy the skinniest asparagus you can find. When you get home from the market, stand the asparagus up in a wide mouthed jar with a little bit of water, say 1/2 inch, at the bottom. Cover the tips loosely with plastic wrap. When you're ready to cook the asparagus, gently hold the asparagus by the tip, and gently peel the toughest bottom inches with a vegetable peeler, revealing the white flesh beneath. It won't be quite as tender as the tips, but it's still awfully delicious. The asparagus may snap while you're peeling and that's OK. Just pick up the bottom piece and peel away. And if you haven't tried roasted asparagus, please don't miss out any longer. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees and line a cookie sheet with foil. Toss asparagus with a tablespoon or two of olive oil, or even lightly coat it with cooking spray if you're counting calories. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and pop it in the oven for about 10-15 minutes, or until browned and crispy in places. A squeeze of lemon makes it even better. Speaking of better, I've almost forgotten my computer woes. And I didn't use any depraved vocabulary. So I'll quit while I'm ahead. See you tomorrow with....
Baby Banana Cream Pies

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Coconut Chicken Curry

Quick-name that movie: "Don't you like coconut? Say brainless, don't you know where coconuts come from?" (I can't tell you how many times my family used this line on me in my childhood when I turned up my nose at coconut because I thought it smelled like suntan lotion. That's what happens when you grow up in Southern California.)Well, I'm not brainless anymore, at least maybe not quite as brainless as I was in my youth. (This might be debated by some who know me me well.) But at least on one point I can defend myself: I think I'm becoming cuckoo for coconut. I really love it most endearingly in savory dishs; egads!-this is my third dish in a row starring the tropical fruit, in just about as many days as too. The truth is, when I find something I like, I want to eat it for days in a row, in various forms of course . Right now it's coconut, but tomorrow it might be parmesan cheese or bittersweet chocolate, or even crunchy peanut butter.

I actually started my current coconut kick with this stunner that I made last Friday night. My littlest sister Mary Kate put in a request for some homemade take out food for the weekends. To be worth skipping a Friday night run through the drive-through, a dish would have to be a. fast, b. not leave behind too many dirty dishes, c. cheap, and d. doggone delicious. Friday night mission accomplished! (And you can easily leave out the coconut if you have any brainless eaters at your house.) Have a great weekend and a wonderful life, too.
Money Saving Tips:
You're eating in, so you're already saving money, but to amplify your efforts, be sure to get boneless, skinless on sale. (Albertson's regularly has chicken breasts for under $2 a lb.) Use homemade stock or bouillion cubes for the broth. Use canned coconut milk, half and half, or cream, or even evaporated milk-even fat free half and half if you're watching calories. I also like to save dishes, so this is a one pot meal-and I make the rice in the micro.
Coconut Chicken Curry
Estimated Cost: $7.00 for 4 servings
Notes: It may seem strange to add raisins, but they provide a fantastic sweet counterpoint to the savory curry. If you have your doubts, put a couple on top when the dish is done and you'll see how good they are.
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken, cut into bite sized pieces
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, chopped
Generous dash of ground red pepper
1 tablespoon curry powder (I like Mc Cormick)
1/2 cup raisins
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 large potato, peeled and chopped
1 and 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup coconut cream or half and half
hot cooked brown rice, for serving
Garnishes: chopped cilantro
sweetened coconut
chopped almonds or cashews
lemon wedges
In a large skillet, melt butter and oil over medium high heat. Add onion and chicken and cook, stirring often, until chicken is almost cooked through. Stir in garlic, ginger, red pepper, curry, raisins, carrots, and potato; cook stirring often for 1 minute. Add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until carrot and potato are tender, adding more broth if needed. Add coconut milk or half and half and bring almost to a boil. (The sauce will be thin but the rice will soak it up.) To serve, put rice in individual bowls and top with curry and a generous amount of liquid. Top with cilantro, coconut, almonds and lemon wedges.

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