Sunday, December 21, 2008

Customer Service

Hard to believe Christmas is less than a week away. Is everyone out there as busy and tired as I am?

At work, my friend and I were complaining about how hectic our lives had become when our other friend, Tim, came over and said, "Ladies, can I get you some cheese to go with that whine?"

I felt bad.

So this year I am making things easier. I am letting go of Christmas past. No more frantic nights spent in a giant cloud of flour, on my feet, baking cookies and sweets that, truth is, my family won't eat. Our kids are no longer little, so we are embracing our new found freedom and forgoing much of the holiday baking this year.

Oh there are a couple special requests. My son's favorite Chex Party Mix. And my daughter's Poppyseed Bread of which she cannot live without.

Other than that, I will visit my favorite stores to pick up some fresh bread, olives, cheeses, and most exciting of all, wine to go with that cheese. And with a little luck, it will be a simple, quiet Christmas.

I hope.



I don't know if I have ever mentioned this before, but I work in Customer Service and this time of year is extremely hectic. So I thought it would be fun to share with you just a sampling of some of the odder things I have heard on the phone this holiday season.

And believe me, we hear some pretty odd things.

Caller no. 1.
Customer called to place an order and first thing she said was: "I have an aversion to that number that comes between six and eight. Whatever you do, you cannot say that number. At no point in this conversation can I hear that number, or else, I will have a fit and begin making odd noises." This is a retail company. So I am required to quote item numbers, credit card numbers, even a confirmation number. So throughout the remainder of the call, I referred to the number seven as that number.

Caller no. 2.
Why did you send me a fake tree?! I ordered the Faux Fraser Fir!

Caller no. 3.
Customer called crying because she neglected to update information in system, so each relative received, what appeared to be, a gift from their dead Grandmother. To make matters worse, Grandma died at Christmastime four years ago. And Grandma's daughter, her mother, suffers from delusions that Grandma is still alive, and must see a psychiatrist regularly. Such person also has been known to send letters and gifts to herself, in Grandma's name. Customer requested that we call psychotic relative to let her know that dead grandmother did not send gifts.

Caller no. 4.
UPS man left package at door. Customer called upset because dog ate package, wants to know if we'll send another. Sadly, we are not responsible if dog eats your package.

Caller no. 5.
Dolores, an elderly woman from Texas called to place an order. After spending five minutes with Dolores, I can now tell you with good assurance that Dolores is doing much better after her surgery, although she does still suffer with arthritis, and her husband, George, has high cholesterol and that's why they are serving the salmon this year. Last year, they went to London. They have four kids, but don't speak to their daughter-in-law, Arlene, who likes to shop at Macy's. Dolores can't stand people who use Chinet and paper napkins. And why do builders in the South put ceiling fans on porches when the wind is just going to blow them down anyway?

And my personal favorite,

6.) Can I order the Chocolate Pecan Mini Pies without the pecans?


Have a safe, warm, Happy Holiday everybody!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gooey, Dense, Chocolaty

I have to admit, when a friend of mine first told me about this trendy, fad-like, treat, I was skeptical. Oreo's and cream cheese? That's all? I said. Sounds like a mess. I didn't trust her. Even though she'd never steered me wrong before. At least not when it came to food anyway.

Several months passed, and my friend was still talking about these silly, little truffles. You really must try 'em, she said. Yeah, yeah, I responded. I have southern roots. I have eaten enough gloppy calorie-laden desserts to feed Michael Phelps for a lifetime.



Eventually my friend gave a little party. And upon her glorious kitchen island sat a lovely spread of the usual Okie party foods: salsa, tortilla chips, Mexican layer dip, spicy empanadas, margaritas, and then, delicately, individually placed upon an elegant plate, the lone dessert, OREO truffles.

Let me just say, there is something about the combination of experiencing a few good laughs with your friends, eating some spicy, salty food, then washing it down with a cold margarita, and topping it off with an Oreo truffle. The sheer delight of it hits you by surprise. It's the perfect bite of gooey, dense, chocolaty, goodness. Sort of like a thick, decedent, brownie. Only better(!).



My friend dipped her truffles in melted chocolate, both white and dark. These are the white chocolate ones above. 

I suggest using a food processor to pulverize the cookies. It's the fastest and easiest way. Also, after dipping them in melted chocolate, sprinkle them with whatever you like - more crushed OREO's, or, red and green sprinkles would be nice this time of year. Either way, run out and pick yourself up a pack of OREO's and some Philadelphia Cream Cheese right away. Err, make that two packs of OREO's, because your husband will see them lying on the counter and think: cookies, milk, bedtime, snack.

Note: I decided to be different and rolled my Oreo Truffles in cocoa powder. My friend came over this morning and we had a pretty good chuckle - they tasted delicious - but she said they reminded her of something Santa's reindeer left behind. Not a totally appropriate connotation on a food website, I know, but it was sure funny.





OREO Truffles
adapted from Kraftfoods.com


1 pkg. (1 lb. 2 oz.) OREO Cookies, finely crushed, divided

1 pkg. (8 oz.) PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese, softened

2 pkg. (8 squares each) BAKER'S Semi-Sweet Chocolate, melted

8 oz. white chocolate


MIX 3 cups of the cookie crumbs and the cream cheese until well blended. Shape into 42 (1-inch) balls.

DIP balls in melted chocolate; place on waxed paper-covered baking sheet. (Any leftover melted chocolate can be stored in tightly covered container at room temperature and saved for another use.) Sprinkle with remaining cookie crumbs.

REFRIGERATE 1 hour or until firm. Store any leftover truffles in tightly covered container in refrigerator.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hi all.

Things have been a bit hectic and tiring lately. I promise to be back soon with a few fantastic, easy, new recipes for the Christmas holiday.

In the mean time, I wish everyone a safe, happy and warm Thanksgiving.

All my best,
Michelle

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sausage Bread

When the world makes me tired and cranky and life gets a little too hectic, I cannot think of anything better than an autumn day at home, reading, baking, puttering about the house and making this bread.







I am an Aquarius, and not a homebody by nature. Unlike my crabby, cancer husband, who prefers to stay in his shell most of the time. I view home as a resting place. A place to recuperate before venturing back out into the world again. So it is important for me to have a well stocked kitchen, with a lot of delectable foods on hand to cozy up with when I am in nesting mode.

That's the reason I love this recipe so much. It's my ultimate, stay at home, comfort food. Something savory and delicious to bake on chilly autumn days when the oven is just begging to be turned on.





I made this for a neighbor once who had just had a baby, and her family loved it. They devoured the entire loaf in one setting. It's the type of food you can pack up easily and transport. Just add a salad and some red wine and your talking heaven in my book.





You can use any type of bread recipe you like here. A loaf of Rhodes frozen bread dough works fine in a pinch. Just thaw, roll out, add the sausage filling and bake.

Occasionally, I like to add pepperoni slices to the sausage mixture. But most of the time, we prefer it plain, with just the sausage and cheese. There's something so satisfying about the soft, yeasty, bread and the spicy Italian sausage. I can't get enough.

Sausage Bread

For the bread -

1 box Pillsbury Hot Roll Mix
Yeast packet that is included in mix
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 1/4 cup warm water

In a food processor, add the Hot Roll Mix, sugar, salt, and yeast. Pulse a few times to combine. Add olive oil and 1 1/2 cups warm water and mix until dough forms a ball. You want it to be the consistency of a smooth, thick, pizza dough.
Place in bowl or on a cookie sheet dusted with flour and allow to rise for 1 hour.


For the sausage filling -

1 lb. Italian Sausage
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 cups shredded mozzerella cheese
1 egg


Cook sausage in skillet along with Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes. Set aside to cool. After it has cooled, add cheese and 1 egg lightly beaten. The egg will help bind everything together.

On a floured surface, roll dough out into the shape of a long rectangle. Sometimes I make two smaller loaves, sometimes I like to make one giant loaf. It's your choice. Spoon sausage filling into middle of dough, then fold over edges to form a loaf shape and pinch seams shut.

Gently turn loaf onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, seam side down. Brush with olive oil. Allow to rest for another 20-30 minutes. While dough is resting preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Soup Lines

This week I will not be posting a recipe for soup, or any other food for that matter. Truth is this little blog is an experiment that has, I think, gone awry. I had hoped to make a simple and delicious soup each and every week then post about it here. Several things have went wrong ...




First off, there is the simple matter of time. I work outside the home - or at least I do for now - and the job itself, along with commuting back and forth, does take a toll. Also, I have the most spoiled family in the universe - used to me doing all the laundry, housework, grocery shopping, etc. - I often find it difficult just to make it through the day.


Next, there is what I call the Male Soup Aversion. My husband will eat just about anything, but for some reason unbeknownst to me, he does not consider soup an actual meal. And peparing two meals is a lot of work.




Lastly, every thing you've heard about the recent economy is true. After fifteen years with the same company, come January, my hubby will no longer have a job. And to make matters worse, the place I work is rumored to to be shutting down soon as well.

Cooking has become a drudgery. My heart just isn't in it. Too many things going on in my mind. But that doesn't mean we've completely stopped eating or joined the fast food masses or anything. We actually had some pretty good taco's last night. And, as I type, I have a giant blob of no-knead bread rising on the counter. There's something so therapeutic about baking bread(!).

Anyway, it does seem eerily like The Grapes of Wrath. I know at least 30 people who have recently lost their jobs. And oddly enough, when I first began this blog, on a whim, a little over a year ago, I almost called it Soup Lines. But being from Oklahoma, I quickly realized the negative connotations of such a title. Too many people like myself had family who had suffered through the dust bowl. I remember looking at photos of my grandmother's family, standing in front of a dilapidated home, with what appeared to be "snow" knee deep, but was actually a foot-and-a-half of sand. Grandma used to say, "You don't know what it's like to have to stand in soup lines."






Thankfully, the only soup I plan on standing in line for is at a local cafe. But things are a little scary right now. So if you're passing through Oklahoma and see a Chevy Equinox loaded down with pots and pans and kitchen utensils piled on top, that'll be me, with my family, headed west, or wherever the road takes us, probably to the next soup line. I hope.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Easy Crock Pot Chili

Whew.

I am tired.

We passed out candy to an estimated 300 trick-or-treater's last night.

Three Hundred(!).

That's a lot of ghosts, goblins, skeletons, pirates, cinderella's, Buzz Light Years, tramps,, monsters and miscreant's traipsing up to my door.

I blame the warm weather. Every kid in town decided to come out.
But it was fun!




It was a beautiful fall evening. We carved jack-o-lantern's and basked in the glow of autumn leaves. And the chili I served for my daughter's birthday party turned out tasty and delicious. One of the things I like best about this chili is the longer it sets in the slow cooker, the better it gets. It's one of those recipes you can make in the morning and forget about until later that evening when the ghosts arrive.

Easy Crock Pot Chili
3 - 4 lbs. coarse ground beef
1 small onion chopped
2 packets of Williams Texas Chili Seasoning
1 can chopped green chili's - drained
1 large can Muir Glen chunky tomato sauce
1 bottle O'douls Amber beer
1 can chili beans
salt
pepper

Brown coarse ground meat in a large dutch oven on top of stove. Salt and pepper meat to taste. Add 1 small chopped onion and cook just until onion softens. Add (2) packets of chili seasoning. (I use 1 packet for every 2 lbs. of meat). Stir this mixture around a bit to let the spices blend well with the meat. Next add chunky tomato sauce; 1 can drained green chili's; 1 bottle of O'doul's Amber beer; and 1 can of chili beans. You can use any beer you want here. I heard about O'doul's from America's Test Kitchen. And I like the flavor it adds when cooking. Also add 4 cups of water until you get your desired consistency. I prefer Chili that is almost soup-like, but others like it really thick. It's up to you. Allow to simmer in crock pot, or on top of stove, for several hours until spicy and delicious.

Serve with Frito's; shredded, sharp cheddar cheese; and chopped green onions.

Happy Autumn everybody. I almost forgot, I've been blogging for exactly one year today. It's been a great year. I hope to have a contest soon. I am sorry, I have been so busy lately. It just crept up on me. Looking forward to Thanksgiving.

Monday, October 27, 2008

All Hallow's Eve

My favorite time of year is upon us.

A time for ghost stories, Poe, fallen leaves, hot cider and soup.

A time for snuggling up beneath the covers and watching a not too scary movie.

I spent my early formative years living next door to an old, brick two-story funeral home in a neighborhood of brick roads, lined with tall trees and autumn leaves, where every one carved jack-o-lantern's on Halloween.




It was a time when The Twilight Zone, The Addams Family, and The Munsters, were at the height of their popularity. And my mother spent afternoons watching Dark Shadows. Every one in our little town seemed to get into the spirit of halloween.

I remember one elderly women who even invited trick-or-treaters into her foyer for a cup of hot cider, which always warmed our hands and belly's before venturing back out into the brisk autumn air again.

And then there was the old man who worked the night shift at the local tire plant, naturally pale and gaunt, who donned fangs and a cape and stretched out on his sofa, arms bent across his chest, while his amiable wife invited trick-or-treaters into their living room to see Dracula sleeping soundly on their sofa.


My son, last Halloween.



So now you know the mixed-up childhood I had(!). And hopefully understand my demented love of all things autumn and Halloween. I even like Halloween so much that I had a baby born on that day.

We have a tradition of eating chili at our house on Halloween. Mostly because, with a birthday party and trick-or-treaters to get out the door, this was an easy meal to put in the crockpot and dish up in a hurry.


A while back I mentioned that I was going to be doing some practice pies in preparation for Thanksgiving. Well, here is a pumpkin pie that I baked tonight using a recipe from America's Test Kitchen. It was spicy without being too sweet and tasted much better than it looked. I still need a little more practice on the crust, however. Pie crusts are hard(!). 



Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

After

Remember after school specials? Those corny movies that aired once in a while around  3 or 4 o'clock in the afternoon, just after school let out.

On the day of these specials, I would look forward to it all day long, then run straight home from school to watch.

There was something so comforting about these silly movies. I don't know why, but I always considered it a good day if I was able to go home and watch an "after school special." But I was a weird kid.

And perhaps I am still weird, because I have learned something about myself. I often look forward to the after part of an event even more than the actual event itself.

For instance: Who hasn't been to a big party or event, or even a prom, and actually had more fun at the late-night after party, than the actual stuffy dinner or event itself?

And then there's Christmas. I always tend to relax, let my hair down, and have more fun the days following Christmas ... eating leftovers, going to the movies, hanging out with my family and friends, than I ever do on the actual day itself.



Perhaps it is just me. Perhaps I am too uptight, and work myself into such a frenzy preparing for such events, that when they are over, there is a bit of a relief.

I think people, by nature, just enjoy the after part of things. Like dessert. Or a cup of hot cocoa after a long days work. Or that moment when the movie is over, and you're walking out of the theater, listening to the music playing with the closing credits, and you take comfort in that. The end came. We took solace in it. And moved on.

So my theory is, that 'after events' do become important and memorable elements of our lives as well.

Take this soup for instance. I am already looking forward to eating it after Thanksgiving.
It will be the perfect soup for leftover turkey. I've made it a couple times before and it tastes much better than it looks.




Creamy Wild Rice Soup With Smoked Turkey


Yesterday, my football fan hubby happened to be cooking some pork on the smoker and we decided to throw on a fresh, whole turkey breast just for fun. And it turned out great. With the leftovers I made this soup for Sunday dinner. I ran into one problem, however, as I did not have wild rice on hand. And the nearest grocery store is twenty minutes from home. So I substituted whole grain rice instead. The end results weren't quite as pretty, but tasted just as good. Smooth and creamy, with a hint of rosemary, and the smokiness of the turkey, a very unique and satisfying soup. The perfect after Thanksgiving soup.

Creamy Wild-Rice Soup With Smoked Turkey
adapted from Cooking Light

2 teaspoons butter
1 cup chopped carrot
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped green onions
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups homemade chicken broth
1 1/2 cups chopped, smoked turkey breast (about 1/2 lb.)
1 cup uncooked wild rice
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk
2 Tablespoons dry sherry
1 teaspoon salt

1. Melt butter in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add carrot and next 5 ingredients (carrot through garlic); saute 8 minutes or until browned. Stir in rice, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Then stir in broth, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 1 hour or until rice is tender.

2. Combine flour with milk in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk to make sure there are no lumps. Add to pan. Add smoked turkey to pan. Cook over medium heat until thick (about eight minutes), stirring frequently. Stir in sherry and adjust salt if needed. Yields 8 servings.

Note: This soup looks much prettier when prepared with the wild rice and it adds a nice nuttiness to the dish. The version I made today, as you see in the photo, did not have wild rice, but whole grain instead, and it still tasted creamy and delicious. Also, if you don't have a whole smoked turkey on hand, no problem, just pick up 1/2 pound smoked turkey breast from the deli and that will work just fine. Remember to tell the man behind the counter to slice it thickly, so you can easily cut it into bite sized pieces at home. Lastly, I found the soup a little thick at the end, so added just a touch of chicken broth to thin things out a bit.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Beans

One of my earliest and fondest childhood food memories involves setting at my grandma's kitchen table and watching her sort beans. Early in the morning, she would spill a dusty bag of Pinto's out onto the kitchen table, swishing and strewing, like a Las Vegas card dealer, picking out the pebbles, looking for imperfections, making sure each bean was clean.

Once a week this ritual took place in Grandma's kitchen as beans were a staple back then. And I was in awe. To take this dry, hard, pebble, and turn it into something tender and delicious seemed magical to me. And what's more magical than beans? Grandma took the simplest of foods, the lowly legume, and raised it to a new level.




My kids were never wild about beans until I found this recipe in a 'Southern Living' magazine years ago. Now we eat them all the time. This recipe reminds me of the beans we used to get as a side dish at El Chico's. They go great with chicken enchilada's or with a big slice of jalapeno cornbread.

I highly recommend Rancho Gordo beans here as they are the freshest and best I have found.

Mexican Pinto Beans

1 cup dried pinto beans
3 cups chicken broth
Enough water to finish covering beans.
3 bacon slices, diced
1 small onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

Sort and wash beans; allow to soak in water overnight. Or cover with water 2 inches above beans, and bring to a boil. Boil beans 1 minute. Cover, remove from heat, and let soak 1 hour. Drain.

Bring beans, broth, and remaining ingredients to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 2-3 hours until tender.

I used the crock pot for this recipe and doubled the amounts and they turned out great.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Soup Season

It began as an uneventful week.Weather-wise and cooking-wise.
The food was ordinary.
The birds were chirping.
The sky was blue.
But tonight. Oh wonderful night.
An autumn eve in all its glory(!).
The rain is drizzling.
The skies are gray.
The pumpkins are on the porch.
I am wearing a sweater.

Soup Season has arrived!

Time to get out the cauldron.





I've been known to read a cookbook straight through like a novel. And this was no exception: Braises and Stews by Tori Richie and Ben Frank. The recipes are straightforward and simple and who can resist a cookbook with a pumpkin on the cover? Also, braising is my favorite way to cook. There's something so satisfying about big 'one pot' meals. I am looking forward to Beef Stew with Caramelized Onions and red wine on a cold winter's night.

What are some of your favorite cookbooks?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Just A Few Things

"During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year."


I was trying to think of something good to say, to describe my feelings on this beautiful Autumn day, but Poe seems to have summed it up much better than I.

These are the days I love and crave. Give me a cool, crisp, autumn day, throw in some clouds and drizzling rain and a good book and I am in heaven.

I feel blessed as the stifling heat of summer has waned and we are experiencing gray, damp, dreary days. And for a couple of soup-junkies like my daughter and myself, it is sheer heaven.



Yesterday afternoon the temperature dropped, the sky turned gray, and the rain began to drizzle, so I ran into the grocery store to pick up a few things, and spied some bright orange pumpkins as if put out especially for me.

As I proudly wielded on th, my husband rolled his eyes, unsurprised, as it is only two months till Halloween.




On a rainy night with overripe bananas on the counter and a damp chill in the air, it is mandatory that one bake banana bread while watching an old movie on TV. I've tried countless recipes for banana bread, but this one from Joy Of Cooking is a favorite. It has lots of fresh banana flavor without too much fuss and uses only basic ingredients. I often get the urge to bake late at night and these binges are seldom planned, so I don't always have sour cream or buttermilk on hand. And when it comes to banana bread, I am picky. I don't want the flavors of cinnamon, or apples, or other spices getting in the way. I just want the pure simple flavors of banana and walnuts. And I bake the bread in small pans, slice thinly, and serve warm from the oven with a cup of hot cider or tea.



Last night while the rain drizzled and the wind began to blow, we enjoyed our delectable bread, and while we nibbled, in the background we heard the limb of a scraggly bush scraping back and forth against the window screen, making one of those eerie haunted house sounds that you hear on Halloween CD's. I had complained about this annoying, overgrown bush before. So before going to sleep that night my husband said, "Do you want me to go outside and cut that limb?" I responded with a resounding "no." With the autumn weather coming on, I was rather enjoying this creepy, scratching bush. As it reminded me of a haunted house, and he knew how much I loved a good haunted house mystery.

Happy Autumn!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Don't Rain On My Meringue

In the beginning, I imagined making a different pot of soup each and every week, then posting about it here. The options would be limitless - cream soups, vegetable soups, tortilla, hearty stews and chili's - and my daughter the 'chief taste tester' would think she was in heaven with all these different wonderful soups to eat.

But what I never imagined was my daughter the soup fiend requesting the same soup over and over again. Tasty, but a bit boring. Fortunately soup isn't the only thing I've been cooking lately.




Dorrie Greenspan's recipe for Florida Pie is the perfect late summer dessert. Cool, creamy, not too sweet, I couldn't wait to try it this Labor Day weekend. Dorrie's recipes are simple to follow. And I enjoy her tips and stories that are included along with the recipes. I also appreciate the fact that she admits to using a store bought crust. Gotta love a gal like that(!). Which is what I did as well, because for me, when it comes to desserts, simplicity is key. The base of this pie turned out perfect, a delectable pale, tart, lemony yellow. The meringue, however, was another story. 




Meringue and I aren't the best of friends. Similar to Hillary and Bill, we don't always get along, but sometimes we make the perfect couple. And other times, well, Mr. Meringue decides to do his own thing, like slide off the pie, or worse yet, weep all over the plate.

It happened to be raining the day I made this pie and the meringue was a bit sticky and developed droplets of sugar syrup on the surface. I was just about to give up and never bake another meringue again, when a friend wisely advised, it wasn't me, it was the weather. Meringue's do not like humidity. I guess I should have known that. It does make sense. And I do like being able to blame culinary catastrophes on the weather. Biscuits don't rise, must have been the humidity. Cookies burnt to a crisp, that darn barometric pressure. I'm beginning to think they should include a Cooking Report on the nightly news: Tomorrow a seventy percent chance of rain, a good day for soup, not for meringue. Sorry about the rhyme.



Soup was to be the main focus of this blog. And it still is. But for now, with Autumn coming, I am on a quest for the perfect pie. And in the next couple months I will be baking some test pies in preparation for Thanksgiving. I am searching for the best pumpkin and pecan pie recipes. So if anyone has any suggestions, or wants to pass a recipe along, please feel free to do so, for my culinary repertoire is sadly lacking in this department. I look forward to posting my results here, and hopefully, will have found a couple winners by then. In the mean time, if anyone is interested in this recipe for Florida Pie, it can be found in Dorrie Greenspan's cookbook, Baking, From My Home To Yours. I am looking forward to baking many more recipes from this book. And the next time I make meringue, I'll pray that it doesn't rain.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Nielsen's Theorem

The older I get, the more I realize, I am not much of a TV person. Oh, I go through spells where I'm addicted to a particular show or two, but overall, it just doesn't appeal to me.

I find it futile and pointless. And another and more irksome reason for avoiding TV ... commercials. Loud, obnoxious, commercials. The bane of my existence. There are few things that I abhor on this planet more than mind numbing, ear-splitting, annoying commercials. That's why we have a rule in our house - whoever holds the remote, turns the commercials down. It's the law. More often than not, however, we just whiz right through and skip them all together, thanks to the DVR. I praise the person who invented this DVR. Statues should be erected in their honor. They should win the Nobel Prize. Or at least have their picture on a cereal box or something.

Anyway, it was just this past weekend that I began giving this DVR phenomenon serious thought as we had been selected as a Nielsen Family. For an entire week we were to right down every single TV show we watched on every single TV in the house. Do you know how difficult this is? Turns out, I had no idea what we were getting into.

First off, it was before the Olympics and during that dead zone of summer when the kids are still home from college and there is nothing on TV except Shark Week and the final episode of The Last Food Network Star.

I never realized up until then, what an ADD family we were. Thanks to the DVR, during one thirty-minute episode of Emeril, we hit the backup button about a dozen times, then toggled back and forth between two other shows, then hit PAUSE, then FAST FORWARD, then RECORD, then watched something else that had RECORDED previously ... all the while we were waiting on another show to RECORD just to avoid watching commercials again. Finally back to LIVE TV and PAUSE again. Whew!

I'm here to tell ya, there is no way to write down all this activity. Turns out, Mr. Nielsen's rating booklet is about as useless and ineffectual as television itself.

I call this new phenomenon - the fact that any and all TV shows watched with the aid of a DVR are un-trackable - Nielsen's Theorem.



All this talk about televison has got me to thinking, does any one else out there beside myself like to watch, or listen, to movies while they cook? I decided to bake Chocolate Chip Cookies using that new recipe from the New York Times, the one where you allow the dough to rest for at least 24 hours before actually baking the cookies. And since I'm too busy to fiddle with pausing and fast forwarding commercials while baking, I decided to put in a DVD as a way to pass the time and keep me company as I whisked, stirred and puttered about in the kitchen. But it had to be a pleasant cookie-baking DVD, nothing too action packed and no sound effects, as it was late and the kids were supposed to be doing homework. So after a quick peruse through the disorganized video drawer, I chose Somethings Gotta Give. It had perky French tunes and I always covet Diane Keaton's kitchen in the Hampton's while I plop out delectable mounds of cookie dough in my dreary, formica laden, suburban excuse for a kitchen.

Turns out, it was a great choice. Both the movie and the cookies. I highly recommend this recipe. And now, I am curious, am I the only one who enjoys watching (or listening) to movies while cooking or baking? And what movies do you enjoy listening to?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

National Culinary Limbo Month

It is difficult to find something good to say about August.

I like the sound of August. It has a nice ring to it. But August is not the best month for food. There are no holidays in August. No pies, turkeys, or cookouts to look forward to. The kids go back to school and most significant of all, it is hotter than hell in August. Too hot to even cook out on the grill. And that is why I have officially declared August National Culinary Limbo Month. There really isn't much to do except simply bide my time until September, when nature, hopefully, will deliver us a reprieve from this dry, torrid season.


Some of you may have noticed that I haven't posted a chilled soup recipe yet. And August does seem the appropriate month to do so. Unfortunately, chilled soups just aren't my thing. Maybe it's because they aren't popular here in my part of the country. Rarely do I see them on a menu. Cold soup seems to be a bit of an oxymoron here.

One thing I do love, however, and crave, is vegetables. So in order to stave off those I'm hungry but nothing sounds good in the middle of blazing hot August cravings, I decided to concede with Mother Nature, and make a big, boiling pot of soup. Crazy, I know. But it actually worked.

When I dished up this rich, tomatoey, vegetable laden soup for the kids, I admiringly called it August Soup. But another and perhaps more appropriate name for it may have been Everything I've Got In The Fridge Soup. For that is essentially what I did - dump every vegetable I had into the pot. And the results were surprisingly tasty.



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Sunday, August 3, 2008

Like The Oklahoma Weather

I can't go another day without posting about food. The computer crash has slowed things down a bit, but it feels good to be back in the saddle again.





It sounds crazy, but we've been craving soup lately. Not just any soup. August isn't the time for wimpy, brothy, chicken noodle soups. No, it has to be hot and spicy, like the Oklahoma weather. Earthy and red, to match the Oklahoma dirt. This time of year, Tortilla Soup, is the only soup that will do.

For this recipe, I used fresh jalapeno and Anaheim chili's from the garden. I began by sautéing onions, garlic, chili's, celery, and a bit of carrot in a large dutch oven. Then added spices (lots of cumin, coriander, Ancho Chili powder, salt and pepper) and allowed them to cook just a bit to bring out their flavors. Next, I poured in one large can of chopped tomatoes, a large container of good homemade chicken broth and one can of black beans, rinsed and drained. I let this simmer for about 20 minutes. Then about 5 minutes before serving, I added some fresh corn and cilantro and a good squeeze of lime juice just to zing things up a bit. If this doesn't hit the spot, I don't know what will.

I like to make this soup in big batches so everyone can just ladle up whenever they want. We like to garnish with shredded Monterey Jack (my personal favorite), avocados, crispy fried corn tortilla strips, sour cream, and even plain old Tostito's will do in a pinch (as I've done here). Everyone grabs a bowl and enjoys. It's such an easy, fun meal. And best of all, it goes great with Margaritas.





Our pepper plants have really started to kick in. Yee-haw! I use them in almost everything: salsas, soups, chilies, marinades for fajitas, even decor. It's such a cheerful thing to see a heaping basket of fresh, verdant chili's, dotted with bright oranges and reds, setting proudly on the counter. And by the way things look this summer, we're going to have enough heat here to power a Flaming Lips concert. My hubby went a little crazy with the habaneros.





My son talked me into making this roasted habanero salsa. On a cookie sheet, under the broiler, we roasted tomatoes, onions and one very lonely, but potent, habanero pepper, until the skins were nice and brown. After cooling a bit, we removed the seeds from the habanero and put everything into a food processor, skins and all, and pulsated a bit along with a handful of fresh chopped onion, one Anaheim pepper, and a generous bunch of cilantro, just to freshen things up a bit. Lastly, we added a good pinch of salt and the juice from a small lime. Would you believe the entire bowl disappeared in one evening?

Six Random Things

I promised Rowena, from Rubber Slippers In Italy, that I would follow up on her tag for Six Random Things About Me.

She had the clever idea of posting about her dogs. So I am following her lead and telling you about our cat Superstitious.




1. He is a large black cat named Superstitious and we call him "soup" for short. Sort of ironic ... I know.

2. He loves shrimp, but doesn't get to eat it often.

3. We call him our baby and once, while grocery shopping, my daughter tossed Fancy Feast into the cart and said, "We need baby food," and an old woman stared at us like she was going to report us to DHS.

4. He has been in a cat fight with every single cat in the neighborhood, and I have spent several hundred dollars in vet bills sewing him up.

5. He likes to leave little gifts of dead mice at both the front and back door.

6. When he dies we are going to erect a tombstone that says, Here Lies Superstitious, One Bad Ass Cat

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Up And Running

We're finally up and running.

And I was happy to see Deetsa from deetsasdiningroom had stopped by and tagged me for a meme.

I really enjoy reading her blog as it is about two places I've always admired, British Columbia and France.

And to me that's the best thing about blogging, getting to know people from other parts of the world and discovering new things. And it sure sounds like Deetsa enjoys some beautiful scenery and some fantastic food in her part of the world. Thank's Deetsa!

So here goes ...


1. Last Movie I Saw In A Movie Theater?
"Sex and the City"  I only make it to the movies about once a year.


2. What Book Are You Reading?
I enjoy the classics. I devoured A Moveable Feast in a day. And now I am relishing For Whom The Bell Tolls. I had forgotten what a foodie ol' Hem was and never realized the symbolic references of food in his stories. No one gets to the gut of the matter like Hemingway. And I appreciate the fact that he doesn't glorify food, he simply reminds us of what it's like to be human and eat.

3. Favorite Board Game?
Clue. By far the best board game of all time. But I must confess, I didn't play many board games growing up because my theory was "the reason they were called board games is because I got bored playing them."

4. Favorite Magazine?
I'm a sucker for all cooking magazines, especially Cooking Light, Cooks Illustrated, Southern Living, and Midwest Living. Also, I have been known to pick up a Victoria and Cottage Living once in a while, especially autumn issues.

5. Favorite Smells?
Bread baking, garlic, coriander, fresh green onions, a crackling fire in the fireplace, lilacs, my sons burr head when I kiss him, and that wonderfully unique smell of burning jack-o-lanterns on Halloween.

6. Favorite Sounds?
I like Deetsa's previous post of Real church bells. That's a good one. Also my husband's voice, my cat purring, my son's classical guitar, my daughter's sweet voice, my son's voice. But most of all, I love Silence.

7. Worst Feeling In The World?
Not being able to help when someone I know who is hurting, hungry, or in need.

8. First Thing You Think of When You Wake?
Wow that was a quick night.

9. Favorite Fast Food Place?
Hmm ... that's a tough one because I really don't eat fast food. But I do like Chipotle Grill and Panera Bread once in a while.

10. Future Child's Name?
My children are grown and we certainly have no plans for more, but I do have a few names in mind for cats: Percy, Henry, Piero,Violet and Chloe.

11. Finish This Statement—“If I Had a Lot of Money,"
I would travel the world.

12. Do You Drive Fast?
No.

13. Do You Sleep With a Stuffed Animal?
No.

14. Storms—cool or scary?
Having spent my entire life in Kansas and Oklahoma, I would have to say both cool and scary.

15. What Was Your First Car?
A Ford Pinto

16. Favorite Drink?
Coke, wine and tea.

17. Finish This Statement—“If I Had the Time, I Would…"
Go to college.

18. Do You Eat the Stems on Broccoli?
Sure.

19. If You could Dye your Hair Any other color what would it be?
Probably the blond it used to be when I was four years old.

20. Name All the Different Cities In Which You Have Lived –
Oh, I lost track.

21. Favorite Sport to Watch?
Iron Chef

22. One Nice Thing About The Person Who Sent This To You
She visits my blog, and that is nice. Also she likes the movie Sense and Sensibility, and anyone who enjoys this type of movie is a friend in my book.


23. What’s Under Your Bed?
Dusty Rubbermaid storage boxes with old wrapping paper and junk in them.

24. Would You Like to Be Born As Yourself Again?
Apparently no one else was up for the job the first time around -- so if I had to do it again, yes, I'd be a 'born again me.'

25. Morning Person or Night Owl?
I'm typing this at 2:00 a.m. on a weeknight ...

26. Over Easy or Sunny Side Up?
    Eggs? Bleh! 

27. Favorite Place to Relax?
At home. With a book.

28. Favorite Ice Cream Flavor?
Vanilla

29. Of All the People You Have Tagged, Who Is the Most Likely to Respond First?
Not sure, since this is the first time I've ever done this.

I'm tagging:

Hungry Passport at www.hungrypassport.blogspot.com. who has a great blog with lots of useful and interesting information that I really enjoy reading.

Also, Rowena at http://rubbahslippahsinitaly.blogspot.com/ who is in Italy and always a delight to read.

I am still new to this blog world and each of their visits have meant a lot.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Dell's Eulogy

This past week we lost a dear friend.

Mr. Dell Personal Computer passed away after a brief but sudden illness. He was ten years old. That's about one hundred PC years to you and I.

Mr. Dell - or Model T, as my kids fondly call him - was a loyal and trusted servant, always there for me, from online shopping to food blogging to catching up on email, he never let me down.

Until this year, when he became slower than molasses in January, and hummed like a radiator, even then he still hung on.

May you rest in peace, Mr. Dell, your warm, inviting hum and soft alluring glow will be missed.

Note:  I've wriggled a laptop out of my kids' hands in order to issue this post. Future postings will resume next week, when Mr. Dell's newfangled replacement arrives in a box.

May he last as long as the previous one.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

I Own The Purse



We were on vacation. My husband, our two teenage kids and myself. It was an enjoyable getaway, perusing the craggy streets of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. But I was becoming irascible. It was hot, my feet were hurting, and throughout the entire trip, my husband and my son kept asking me to carry things. It started out innocent. A simple request to hold some sunglasses or concert tickets while they roamed freely like hippies at Woodstock. Meanwhile, I was getting more and more bogged down and more and more grumpy.

Now, over the years, I have become accustomed to being the family pack mule. Once a woman carries a kid in her stomach for nine months ... well, there's always something to carry. But my husband and son kept asking me to carry more and more stuff. To the point where my purse was overflowing and it was the gosh-damned hilliest town on planet earth and we still had a lot of walking to do. So I was beginning to resent the fact that two healthy, capable men expected me to carry all their shit. What am I, a Sherpa? Allergy medicine, cameras, batteries, souvenirs, sunglasses, maps, pamphlets, water bottles, doggie bags, tickets ... you name it, I carried it, uphill, both ways, in ninety-degree heat, over one shoulder like a billy goat leaning to the right for most of the trip. I carried their stuff. Why? you ask.

Because I own the purse.

To understand this story, you must first understand the purse. A purse is not just an accessory like a belt, or earrings, or shoes, casually discarded at the end of the day. A purse is an extension of oneself. A true part of our being. Like marsupials, we women were meant to carry things. And through some sort of chimera-like, capitalistic evolution, we developed an alternative pouch, a womb called the purseA much more fashionable and autonomous reservoir, which may be discarded and upgraded each and every season. It's very practical. And yet, very primitive.

So hopefully you will understand why, on this last leg of our summer Griswald vacation, before leaving the hotel, with my head sweating, feet aching, and a purse that weighed about ninety-eight pounds, I went berserk when my husband casually asked, "Hey can you put these Rolaids in your bag?"

"So that's how it goes! A long time ago I carried your two children each nine months in my belly and now for the rest of our lives you expect me to carry your stuff!"

He gave that where-the-hell-did-that-come-from look. But I was onto something. I suddenly had this epiphany and it all went back to that Da Vinci Code thing ... the womb being compared to the holy grail ... my marsupial theory ... and the real reason why women love their purses so much ... we were meant to carry things. It's in our genes. So I crammed the Rolaids in and drug my ass up another hill.

Unsurprisingly, throughout the remainder of our trip, I began to notice women and their purses. Like cars, they do tell a lot about ones character. First, I saw a fashionable woman with a plausible looking knock-off standing in line at a fancy gift shop. She was the superficial type, shopping alone, probably nothing but credit cards and cash register receipts in that purse.

Next I noticed a simple black purse whose owner was super-model thin and wearing lustrous red lipstick. I imagined her to be carrying her ID, that same red lipstick, and a twenty dollar bill, hidden, just in case of emergencies.

Then there were the gals like me. Who had been declared the family pack mules, schlepping fourteen pounds of crap, uphill, in the heat of June, looking like a frump, cursing the very deign of feminine existence. Needless to say, I was ready to ditch the purse.

Until unexpectedly, in a store window, the clouds parted, a light shone and the weight of my burdensome baggage lifted. There it was, the perfect purse. A brown leather carry-all, not too big, not too flashy, perfectly perched high upon a dusty retail throne, just waiting for it's one true owner. It was then I discovered the true power of allurement. For somewhere upon the top of great mountains a purse store must exist. How else could one explain trekking such distance? Entranced I gravitated toward the purse and practically wept. It was then my daughter, in a purse-like trance of her own, approached and said, "That sure looks like you mom." And I thought to myself, well, if you're going to be the one carrying things, you may as well do it in style.


Dedicated to my son and husband for whom I shall always carry things. And my daughter who loves purses almost as much as she loves soup.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

What People Eat ...

I am fascinated by other cultures and what they eat.

I received these pictures in an email some time ago. Also it is pictured on another blog and several other places on the Internet. I think they also appeared in Time magazine, but I am not sure.

 It is just so interesting that I had to share.

Notice the size of each family, the cost of their food, and the type of diet each family consumes.



Italy: The Manzo family of Sicily
Food expenditure for one week: 214.36 Euros or $260.11




Germany: The Melander family of Bargteheide
Food expenditure for one week: 375.39 Euros or $500.07


United States: The Revis family of North Carolina
Food expenditure for one week $341.98
(Sadly, I am not surprised by this picture, it is a typical diet of most American families. However, I do see some meat on the table, so it appears that they do prepare some of their own meals, which is better than many American families who eat fast food every single night of the week.)



Mexico: The Casales family of Cuernavaca
Food expenditure for one week: 1,862.78 Mexican Pesos or $189



Poland: The Sobczynscy family of Konstancin-Jeziorna
Food expenditure for one week: 582.48 Zlotys or $151.27


Egypt: The Ahmed family of Cairo
Food expenditure for one week: 387.85 Egyptian Pounds or $68.53


Ecuador: The Ayme family of Tingo
Food expenditure for one week: $31.55


Bhutan: The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village
Food expenditure for one week: 224.93 ngultrum or $5.03


Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp
Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23


These pictures are from a book called "Hungry Planet" by Peter Menzel. The photography is his. Please view more at his site: http://www.menzelphoto.com/books/hp.html

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

If Stephen King Were Here ...

Once my sister thought she saw Stephen King at the mall eating soup(!). She went up to the man who had been eating with him and said, "Excuse me, was that Stephen King?" And of course the man said "No." But I like to think it was him, perhaps in town on assignment, doing research for a book. Stranger things could happen.

If Mr. King really was in my neighborhood, he'd probably be writing about psychotic, mutant critters, wreaking havoc on the neighborhood, gnawing their way into people's homes and taking over the universe. He could title it Creatures of Wrath. I say these things, because we do have a lot of critters around here. Namely tarantulas, snakes and scorpions. This week, I have found a tarantula on the front porch, a snake in the garage, and a scorpion in my daughters closet. The scorpion was dead, thank goodness. I don't have pictures of these critters - you'll just have to take my word for it. It's a creepy crawler world out there and I get the willies just thinking about it.



Here are some of the less formidable critters we've encountered lately ...




Mr. toad - who crawls out of the pot every time I water the ivy and clings to the edge until it's safe to crawl back inside again. So cute!





This one's hard to see. But Rocky the Flying Squirrel landed on the brick next to the back door after being chased by the neighbors big yellow cat. You can see the cat on the corner of the fence. Would you believe this is the first squirrel I've ever seen in my yard?

I am a fan of Stephen King ... and all books and literature for that matter. There's something so satisfying about curling up with a good book and a steaming hot bowl of soup.

Wonder what I would serve if Stephen ever came for dinner? ...

He's just one of those people you'd love to chat with.

I assume he'd enjoy a nice bowl of soup. Nothing fancy, since it's summertime. I'd probably make some White Chicken Chili. It's hearty, but lighter than regular chili and has a certain freshness to it.

I'm a little worried about the spice, though, as I'm addicted to the flavors of the Southwest. But living in Maine, Mr. Nightmare seems more of a chowda kinda guy. Oh, well. Stephen, if you're out there, you're welcome for soup.






White Chicken Chili
adapted from Williams-Sonoma.com

2 Tbs. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 tsp. cumin
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 lb. Anaheim chilies, roasted, peeled and diced,
or 3 cans (7 oz.) whole fire-roasted chilies, diced
4 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 lb. diced cooked chicken breast
2 cans (15 oz.) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed.
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/3 cup minced fresh cilantro
1/4 cup cornmeal
Shredded jack cheese, sour cream and lime wedges for serving

In a large saute pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5 minutes. Add the cumin, garlic and jalapeno and cook for another minute. Stir in Chilies and 4 cups of the chicken broth, then transfer to a slow cooker. Stir in chicken, beans, oregano and cilantro.

Put the cornmeal in a small bowl and slowly mix in remaining 1/2 cup of the broth. Stir the cornmeal mixture into the chicken mixture. Cover and cook in the slow cooker on high for at least 3 hours. Thin the chili with more broth if needed.

Serve with cheese, sour cream and lime wedges.

Note: This recipe was originally for White Turkey Chili - but I subsituted Chicken instead and it turned out great.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

What Else Does One Really Need?

There hasn't been much time for cooking this week but there have been a few nice foodie moments...

Foodie moment number one: Found the Soup Man frozen soup at my local grocery store.

This came as a surprise. I mean, being a soup-junkie and all, and a fan of Seinfeld, I had heard of this guy and his restaurant in New York, but had never been lucky enough to eat some of his soup. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I stumbled upon his soup in the frozen food section of my local grocery store. Normally I don't like store bought soup. But it's nice to know there's something out there for my poor starving children to ladle up while Mom's at work. Soup Man, you saved the day!





Foodie moment number two: Lee's Sandwiches

This franchise opened a few months ago, and although I'm not a fan of Asian food, this was fun. Lot's of sandwiches to choose from and there was a big bonus, Great bread! Crispy on the outside, hot and tender on the inside and only $1.00. One Dollar! I wanted to buy ten loaves, but knew I'd weigh about ten pounds heavier if I did.


Foodie moment number three
: The Farmer's Market

I love shopping at farmer's markets. If anyone has read any of my previous posts, they know I like to grocery shop. Once I heard Nigella Lawson say, "some girls shop for shoes on the weekend, I shop for food." I always new I liked that gal. Here's some of our loot - including some squash from our own garden.





And last but not least...

Foodie moment number four: Girls Night In

My daughter and I found ourselves home alone on Saturday night with no men around except for the cat. We prepared a meal with local everything (except for the wine and olive oil.) A roast chicken with new potatoes and garlic bought at the farmer's market along with some thyme and rosemary from our garden. Also some sliced zucchini from the garden, sauteed in a bit of olive oil, butter and thyme. Also a nice Cesar salad and afterward watched The Other Boleyn Girl. A perfect evening.









Roast Chicken with Potatoes
adapted from Jean-Georges Vongerichten's recipe on The Martha Stewart Show

Ingredients
Serves 4
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound of new potatoes
1 whole (2 1/2-to-3-pound) chicken, wings removed
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 head garlic, halved crosswise
Fleur de sel, for serving
Directions
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Butter a medium roasting pan with 3 tablespoons butter and 3 tablespoons oil. Place potatoes in a single layer in roasting pan. Season chicken inside and out with salt and pepper. Place rosemary, thyme, and garlic inside cavity of chicken; using kitchen twine, tie legs together to enclose. Rub chicken with remaining 3 tablespoons each of butter and oil. Place chicken on top of potatoes on one of its sides.
Transfer roasting pan to oven and roast for 20 minutes. Turn chicken onto its other side and continue roasting 20 minutes more. Turn chicken, breast side up, and add 2 tablespoons water to pan; continue roasting until juices run clear and the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 10 to 20 minutes more.
Carve chicken in roasting pan allowing the juices to combine with the potatoes. Serve from the roasting pan, spooning pan juices over potatoes. Sprinkle with fleur de sel.

(I waited until the last 20 minutes of cooking time to add my potatoes to the pan as they were just a few tiny, new potatoes and I knew they wouldn't take long to cook and they turned out fantastic).

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Paseo

Last Sunday my kids and I attended The Paseo Arts Festival.

It was 95 degrees, no shade, we were hot, hungry and tired, and decided to step inside The Paseo Grill for a quick lunch.

After we sat down, it was no surprise when my daughter, on the verge of heat stroke, looked up at the waiter and asked, "What kind of soup are you serving today?"

"Cream of Mushrooom," he shrugged. "You can get it in a cup as a side - or in a bowl."

"Hmm ... " she sat there in silence for a second as if contemplating whether or not she really wanted the soup.

"I'll have the bowl." she said.

That's my kid.

Soup is good any season.