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.


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