Sunday, November 30, 2014

Hang on, Soupy - Simply Soothing Salmon Soup

Hang on sloopy, sloopy hang on
Hang on sloopy, sloopy hang on
Sloopy lives in a very bad part of town
and everybody else, tries to put my sloopy down

Sloopy I don't care, what your daddy do
Cuz you know sloopy, girl, I'm in love with you

I'm in love with soup from Wawa, but Wawa had no soup. Perhaps what I should have done is hire the famous detective Philo Kvetch to investigate exactly why the Wawa on 192, across from the Kissimmee Walmart, was soupless at lunchtime.  I had made up my mind that soup was the only way to go, if indeed I planned on getting some form of nutrition down my gullet.  And that was my plan, because breakfast had been a total wash, like dinner the night before.  

My disppointment was palpable, and that led to just a touch of mental confusion.  Outside of the courtroom, I get rattled easily. What I ended up ordering for lunch was so far from the soothing soup I'd planned for, I'm embarrassed to admit it over the internet.  Three bites and it was all over.

So if I wanted soup, I was going to have to prepare it myself, and that's exactly what I did at dinner time, raiding my pantry for cans of this and that.  I really did enjoy it, and Cory said it was "fantastic".  You will have to judge for yourself.  

You may notice that while this is similar to a fish chowder, there are no potatoes.  Proper application of culinary license on my part.  I think they would detract from the delicate salmon flavor.  Same with the addition of thyme, one of my favorite herbs, especially in chowders.  Like my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Campbell, taught us about the use of commas "when in doubt, leave it out."  Good advice anytime.  Speaking of Campbell's you can't help but notice that I used not one, not two, but three types of condensed soup in this recipe.  And canned chicken broth and canned salmon.  Trust me, this works.  All you need is a "can-do" attitude.  (Okay, that was a dreadful pun.  Mea culpa.)

Simply Soothing Salmon Soup

2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
kosher salt, to taste
coarse black pepper, to taste
granulated garlic, to taste

1-14.5 oz. can chicken broth (Swanson)
1 cup frozen vegetables (mix of corn, peas, maybe green beans, but no carrots)
1 can condensed cream of chicken soup (Campbell's)
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup (Campbell's)
1 can condensed tomato soup (Campbell's)
1-14.75 oz. can pink salmon (Bumblebee), drained, skin and bones removed
1/2 soup can half and half
4 tablespoons sherry (not cooking sherry)

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan.  Add the onion, carrot, celery, and green pepper.  Stir and saute over medium-high heat.  Add the salt, pepper, and granulated garlic.  Continue cooking until the edges of the onions begin to brown.  You do want caramelization to take place, and for there to be some browned bits left on the bottom of the pan.  Add the chicken broth; stir and scrape up the bits on the bottom of the pan.  Bring to a boil, and add the frozen vegetables.  Bring back up tp a boil and add the condensed soup, one can at a time.  Stir well after each addition so that soup is smooth and well-blended.  Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for a few minutes.

Break the salmon up into bite-sized chunks, using your hands.  Add to the soup and stir.  Finally, add the half and half and the sherry.  Take off the heat and stir.  Serve immediately.  Refrigerate any leftovers, and take to the office for lunch the next day.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sea Cruise - My Favorite Chili

Port Canaveral and the Carnival Dream.  That's one.big.ship. And this is one big ear worm:

Old Man Rhythm is in my shoes
It's no use sittin' and singing the blues
So be my guest, you got nothin' to lose
Won't you let me take you on a
Sea cruise

Ooh wee, ooh wee baby
Ooh wee, ooh wee baby
Ooh wee, ooh wee baby
Won't you let me take you on a
Sea cruise

In my mind, I'd already planned past Thanksgiving, and the Pioneer Woman's Turkey Tetrazzini stands out as one I have to try. Great use of leftovers.  But then my mind skips to chili,  a big pot of the stuff, earthy, beany, meaty.  My original, best of the best recipe.  And maybe curry goat.  Have to think a little more about that last one.

My reason for the preplanning in the middle of the biggest food production of the year has to do with the wonderful fact that Rob and I are going on an 8-day cruise, shortly after Thanksgiving, and Cory will be holding down the fort, taking care of home, hearth, and hounds.  A man's gotta eat, and although he will always be my little boy, Cory is a man.

While it is true that he can cook, man cannot live on gussied-up ramen noodles, shrimp quesadillas, and corn casserole alone.  Besides, it is truly my pleasure to cook and fill up the refrigerator with a variety of dishes to keep him eating while we are gone.  He needs to keep up his strength, because taking care of our ferocious dogs is no easy job.

Eight days on a cruise ship is a new experience for us.  We were on a 7-day, once, and I think a 6-day, but the vast majority of our cruises have been 4 or 5 days.  So we are embarking on a brand new adventure on a brand new ship.  Since almost all of our cruises have been on the Carnival Ecstasy and her twin, the Carnival Sensation, this is going to be a big change.  Much bigger ship, many more amenities.   

"Three football fields long, Carnival Sunshine offers plenty of space for everyone. Passengers onboard this Fun Ship enjoy two-level dining halls, a two-tiered dance club, a three-story show lounge, and four pools (including one just for kids)--plus a pretty wild waterslide. And, the ship's nine-story glass-domed atrium provides a unique place to meet friends or enjoy a quick drink while listening to live music."  Be still my heart!

That doesn't mean I don't love the Ecstasy.  We were on that ship so many times, the maitre d' knew us by name.  For years, that was our "home" ship, sailing out of practically-next-door Port Canaveral. When she was re-homed to Miami, I was beyond saddened.  We even had our own stateroom on that ship, and our own outdoor table on the Lido deck, where we sat for hours after breakfast, reading, knitting, and imbibing alcoholic beverages.  For us, the Carnival Ecstasy was small and intimate and wonderfully familiar, which also made a 5-day cruise incredibly relaxing.  We generally stayed on the ship - how many times can you take a tour bus around Nassau or Freeport? - and I would look forward to a deep tissue massage and a Cosmopolitan or two.

Speaking of Cosmopolitans and the woman who introduced them to me, I know I mentioned a little while back that the idea for our first cruise was initiated by my friend Bethe.  This was  Thanksgiving 2001, and back in the day when staying home for the holiday was not a comfortable option.  It was also just two months after the World Trade bombings, and no one was stepping voluntarily onto a commercial flight airplane.  The cruise was perfect, and we were hooked.
Bethe was one of those friends I found, after a 30 year hiatus, on the Internet.  This was pre Facebook days, but I was still able to track her down following a link to the Far Rockaway High School alumni website.  We reconnected seamlessly, as though no time had lapsed since our first meeting as candy stripers assigned to the women's ward on the second floor at St. Joseph's Hospital, back in 1968.  Our husbands were suitably impressed.
So we had enormous fun on that cruise, and on another cruise the following Thanksgiving, aboard the Norwegian Majesty.  After that, she introduced us to the marvels of European travel, which meant we had to get passports for the very first time. When Rob and I renewed our passports this month, I wanted to call her up to tell her, but of course, I couldn't.  I miss her all the time since that terrible day in February 2013, but I am grateful for those additional years we did have together.

When we first started traveling together, Cory was 13 and Phillip, her youngest at home, was around 11 years old.  We would bunk the boys together, while we grown ups enjoyed our own staterooms.  Even before we lost Bethe, (such an odd phrase, by the way. "Losing" her always makes me feel like I forgot her when I stepped off of a Venetian vaporetto in 2004, and she's been shuttling around ever since) the boys were way past that whole room sharing thing.  Mom and Dad have been officially on their own ever since. (Wait, did I really just say I left my oldest friend on a water bus in Venice, Italy? That reminds me of a silly song and a lovely photo.)

Lovely photo - oh, how I miss them both!

The song's lyrics tell of Charlie, a man who boards a Boston MTA subway car, but then cannot get off because he does not have enough money for new "exit fares". These additional charges (ironically, like the extra token that used to be required to exit at Beach 25th Street in Far Rockaway, Bethe's home station) had been established to collect an increased fare without replacing existing fare collection equipment.  Of course, if given a choice to get stuck on a Venetian vaporetto, or the 8th Avenue "A" train, I would overcome my distaste of flying and grab a flight to Italy.

Although I can see how someone might get confused ...

The sign similarity is  downright eerie ...

Although the mode of transportation makes it crystal clear as to what side of the pond we're on.

Oh, did he ever return?
No he never returned
And his fate is still unlearned (poor old Charlie!)
He may ride forever
'neath the streets of Boston
He's the man who never returned.

My Favorite Chili Recipe
4 large onions, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 bay leaves, crumbled
2 pounds ground sirloin
½ cup chili powder
1- 28 ounce can tomatoes, undrained
3- 20 ounce cans light red kidney beans, undrained
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/8 teaspoon crushed hot chili peppers
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Sauté onions and garlic in the oil in a large heavy kettle over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes until golden.  Add oregano, bay leaves, and the ground sirloin and sauté, breaking up meat, 10 minutes until beef is no longer pink.  You shouldn’t have excess fat to drain off if you used the sirloin or another lean ground beef.  Add ¼ cup of the chili powder, the tomatoes, two cans of the kidney beans, and simmer, uncovered, over low heat, stirring occasionally, 1 ½ hours.  Add the remaining chili powder and kidney beans along with the salt, vinegar, red peppers and black pepper.  Simmer, stirring, 15 minutes longer.  Taste to adjust the seasoning.  This is one of those dishes that tastes best the next day.  Serve with macaroni and cheese.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Cranberry Fields Forever - Cranberry Kumquat Relish and Easy Cranberry Sauce from the Pioneer Woman

Let me take you down
Cause I'm going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real
And nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever

Living is easy with eyes closed
Misunderstanding all you see
It's getting hard to be someone
But it all works out
It doesn't matter much to me

Let me take you down
Cause I'm going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real
And nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever

Warning:  I was having a slight Mel Brooks moment when I wrote this.

I grew up thinking gravy was a goyishe (non Jewish) food.  The only reason I can think of is that we never ate gravy at home.  Not on our turkey, not on our roast beef.  Oh, there was usually some natural gravy, that is to say, the delicious cooking juices, but they were never thickened with a slurry, or a roux, or some beurre manie.  That was something that only non Jewish people did.   Of course that makes no sense, but I've been known to jump to conclusions on a lot less evidence than that.

As a result, I was well into adulthood before I even tried to make a pan gravy, and you know what?  I couldn't do it.  When I cooked a roast, I got so little in the way of pan drippings, there was nothing to work with.  Same thing with turkey.  I never buy kosher meat or poultry, but maybe the turkeys themselves were Jewish.

I suffered from gravy-envy, I can tell you that.  How come my friend Kathy could roast some beef and get a whole panful of gorgeous drippings?  Too often I had to swallow my jealousy as I stood nearby in her kitchen, watching her stir flour or cornstarch into cold water, and then pour that into bubbling pan drippings so that magic could happen EACH AND EVERY TIME.  Magical gravy.  Delicious, no-lump, full-of-rich-flavor gravy.  Gravy served in a pretty dish, with graceful lines and a special little ladle.  Goyishe gravy.  Oh yes, I knew I was right about that because it so happens that Kathy is not Jewish, and therefore, not genetically precluded from making gravy!  Obviously, pan gravy is in her blood.

About ten years ago, I discovered that Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, makes gravy ahead of time, not bothering to rely on pan drippings.  I've made her gravy for turkey several times, and it really is delicious, but that got me to wondering if Ina Rosenberg Garten, born in Brooklyn, New York, was actually hiding the fact that she was as pan gravy challenged as I was!  Was it really her concern for the cook's convenience, or rather our shared genetic predisposition that caused her to come up with a gravy recipe that could be prepared ahead of time and without reliance on any pan drippings?

Does it matter?  Of course not.  Well, maybe a little.  I mean, what if you serve mashed potatoes with your turkey?  How can you ignore gravy under those circumstances?

Cranberry sauce, though, now that always matters.  You can eat it on the side or on the turkey or on your mashed potatoes.  From a can or from a pan, cranberry sauce must appear on the Thanksgiving table.  Cranberry sauce crosses all ethnic and religious barriers.  Cranberry sauce is an American as apple pie.  Open a can of Ocean Spray's best, plunk it on the table and everybody's happy.  Make it from scratch, and you are likely to get an invitation to compete on "Chopped" or "Cutthroat Kitchen".

For years, I prepared a cranberry kumquat relish to serve with the rest of the Thanksgiving fixings.  I used to get a cheap thrill being able to walk outside to my backyard on Oconee Lane, to pick a big handful of ripe, juicy kumquats for this recipe.  Sadly, I had no luck with citrus trees at our new home in Flora Vista, and while you can find fresh kumquats, for a very short season, in the produce section at Publix, they were never as bright and sweet as the homegrown variety.  Still made a fairly decent relish, however, and I would recommend you try this at least once before resigning yourself to the canned stuff (which I love, by the way.  No such thing as a bad cranberry in my world).


One 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
10-12 fresh kumquats (try to find the longer, rather than the rounder variety)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Kumquats are eaten whole, so don't worry about trying to peel or seed them.  Cut them in half crosswise.  Put into a food processor fitted with the chopping blade, and chop with an on-off turn.  Add the cranberries and sugar.  Process the fruit mixture until finely chopped, using on-off turn.  Do not overprocess.  Transfer the relish to a medium bowl, and stir in the chopped walnuts.  Let stand at room temperature for at least an hour.  This can be prepared several days ahead, just cover and refrigerate.

You can substitute pecans for the walnuts or just leave them out altogether.  The goodness is in the combination of cranberry and kumquat.  Who needs gravy when you've got this relish?  Huh?

If you are not a fan of raw cranberry relish, or the kumquats are out of season, try this cooked cranberry sauce recipe from Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman.  This is cranberry sauce I made for yesterday's dinner, and trust me, it's a keeper.


One 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
2 large oranges
1 cup pure maple syrup (I used Grade B for it's deeper flavor, but you can certainly use Grade A)

Rinse the cranberries under cold water. Zest the oranges. Add the cranberries and zest to a medium saucepan. Squeeze the juice from both oranges into the saucepan. Add the maple syrup and stir it all together. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until it’s nice and thick. If the sauce still seems a little thin, just simmer longer until it’s the right consistency.

Transfer the sauce to a dish, cover, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Can be made up to 2 days in advance.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Sir Spatchcock, King of the Kitchen and Points Beyond, and his Drip Dry Vegetables

Today, Thanksgiving, is a good day and it is not over.  I saw Santa show up at Macy's and as always, I sniffled with childish joy.  I've been cooking all day, wrestling with Sir Spatchcock.  Since this is the first time I spatchcocked a turkey, there is something of a learning curve going on, but the turkey is delicious and I will definitely make it this way again and again.  It's really just the timing that has to be refined,  Taste and texture are the best I have ever had from a homemade bird.  Since I enjoy cooking, and especially for those I love, every moment is a pleasure.

If you know me, you know that I HATE the telephone.  I much prefer to express myself in writing, but I realize the rest of the world doesn't always understand or appreciate my finger-flapping, and so I actually made some phone calls to wish a happy Thanksgiving to some of my friends and family.  Now I feel all warm and fuzzy and I think I'll just hold on to the feeling for a while.  Thank you cousin Steve, friend Vicki, and sister Nora for receiving my calls so warmly.

We are heading over to my parents-in-law in a few minutes, bearing gifts of food, to share company and conversation.  It doesn't get much better than that.

Meet Sir Spatchcock.  He was delicious.

And the drip dry vegetables about to get the benefit of those natural cooking juices.

These are the spritely biscuits, this time cut into hearts instead of squares.  And there are a few other dishes, but those will come with their recipes down the road.

As you may imagine, I am thankful that I am able to prepare food for my loved ones, but I am most thankful for the family and friends in my life, and at the very top of that list, my husband Robert and my son Cory.


1 13 - 15 pound turkey
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil or butter
Salt and pepper to taste.
Paprika and granulated garlic to taste

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Put turkey on a stable cutting board breast side down and cut out backbone. Turn turkey over, and press on it to flatten. Put it, breast side up, in a roasting pan. Wings should partly cover breasts, and legs should protrude a bit.

Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper, garlic and paprika.  Place the turkey on the racks over the vegetables.

Roast an hour, undisturbed. Turkey should be browning.  Check the temperature of the thigh meat.  It should be heading up towards 165 degrees.  Keep checking the bird until the breast meat is no longer pink.  At this point you will probably need to separate the thighs and legs from the breast (the spatchcocking makes this relatively easy), and return the dark meat to the oven.  Check every 15 minutes until dark meat is done.  You should not be able to see any red or pink at the joints, and the temperature should easily shoot up to 165 degrees.

Let turkey rest for about 30 minutes before carving.  With a slotted spoon, remove the vegetable to a smaller baking dish and place back in the oven for a few minutes if you like. Serve with the pan juices and the drip dry vegetables.


28 oz. bag new potatoes (mixture of red, yellow, a purple)
3 large carrots, cut crosswise into large chunks roughly size of potatoes
3-4 tablespoons bacon fat or oil
1 pound Brussel sprouts
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Combine the bacon fat, potatoes and carrots in a 9 x 13 baking pan and use a large metal spoon to turn the vegetables so they are coated with the fat.  Roast in the oven for 20 minutes. Refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat the oven to cook Sir Spatchcock.  Put the potatoes and carrots into a larger roasting pan (large enough for cooking the turkey.)  Put the pan the vegetables sat in overnight into the preheating oven to melt any remaining bacon fat.  Remove from the oven and add the Brussel sprouts, turn with a spoon so they are coated in the bacon fat, and add to the other vegetables.  Cover the pan with two cooling racks, and add the spatchcocked turkey according to its cooking direction.

The First Thanksgiving - Sweet Potato Pie

"Our national holiday really stems from the feast held in the autumn of 1621 by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag to celebrate the colony's first successful harvest."

Forget everything you ever learned in school about the first Thanksgiving.  As any 20th century new bride can tell you, the first Thanksgiving is really all about that first big dinner you hosted and cooked for two dozen relatives, in an apartment barely big enough for you, your husband, and a small dog.

A very small dog.

Rob and I were married on October 20, 1974, and immediately moved into our own one-bedroom apartment in West Babylon, with a kitchen the size of a shoebox.  When we got back from our honeymoon, I promptly invited everybody for Thanksgiving dinner.  Back then, everybody was a lot of bodies.  All our closest relatives were alive and well and on speaking terms with each other.  The tablecloths my sweet mother-in-law had made for me were brand new and completely spotless. I knew how to cook scrambled eggs, meatloaf, and anything under a broiler - chicken, hamburger, lamb chops.  I could open a can of Campbell's tomato soup like nobody's business. I had an egg beater (non-electric), a gas stove, a cookbook (The Joy of Cooking) and a potato masher.  And I had a working telephone with which to call the help line, which was manned 24/7 by my grandmother (Mom) and my mother-in-law (Mom). This girl's on FIRE!

I had no knife skills - I did not even own a decent knife, and did not know I needed one - but I seemed to have an innate talent for following a recipe to successful results.  When I think back, this was a skill likely honed during my summers taking bacteriology in high school, applying what the teacher, Marvin Waks, referred to as "cookbook chemistry" when brewing up batches of tasty agar for the various bacterial colonies to feast upon. Oh yum, right?

Either the dinner was a huge success, or both sides of the family were being extremely kind.  I managed to make the stuffing according to my grandmother's directions.  I can't call it a recipe, because that implies fairly specific amounts of each ingredient, but it was close enough and the stuffing wasn't bad at all. Robert carved the turkey, which I remember being the size of a VW beetle, and best of all, we had my grandmother's sweet potato pie as the tastiest side dish ever.  Except I didn't make that one, she did.  And sent it along with my Pop, because she was home with walking pneumonia and had to miss my first Thanksgiving.  Everybody there went nuts for the "pie" and so I've been making it for almost every Thanksgiving since then, as well as for Christmas, Rosh Hashanah, New Year's Eve, and a couple of Tupperware parties.  If I try to change it at all, I am promptly chastised.  In the words of Joseph Stalin, "deviation is treason."

This Thanksgiving, November 27, is my grandmother's yahrzeit, the anniversary of her passing in 2000.  Thanks for the memories, Mom.  And most of all, thanks for the recipe.

Mom's Sweet Potato Pie

2 large cans of yams (or sweet potatoes), well drained
1 stick of butter, melted
1/2 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
1 large can crushed pineapple, well drained
Cornflake crumbs for the topping (Kellogg's is the only brand I know of)
Additional melted butter for the topping

In a large bowl, mash the drained yams with a hand masher.  Melt the butter in a small pan, and then blend the brown sugar into it.  Pour the butter-sugar mixture into the yams and mix well to combine.  Season with a little kosher salt, to taste.  Layer half of the mashed yam mixture into a baking dish.  Top this with all of the drained pineapple, and then the rest of the yams.  Cover the top with cornflake crumbs and drizzle over this some melted butter.  Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.  This serves at least eight as a side dish.

I like to make this in a 2 quart glass souffle dish, because the amount fits perfectly, and the dish is taller than your normal 2 quart casserole, and so it shows off the layers nicely.

Today, however, because we are a party of just 5, with a couple of really small eaters, I cut this down to fit into a smaller soufflé dish, about 1 1/2 liters, and also shortened the prep time by first beating the potatoes with an electric mixer, then adding the butter, cut up rather than melted, and the brown sugar, right into the bowl with the potatoes.  This presumes you are using a glass or otherwise microwave-safe bowl.  Microwave for about a minute to soften the butter, and finish beating the potatoes with the electric mixture until fairly smooth, and the butter and sugar are well-combined.  Layer the sweet potatoes and pineapple, cover with plastic wrap, and put into the refrigerator until 2 hours before you plan on serving.  Let the dish sit on the counter for about an hour, sprinkle on the cornflake crumbs, drizzle the additional melted butter, and bake in a preheated 350 oven for an hour.

For this size dish, I used two 29 oz. cans of sweet potatoes (Hanover brand), 6 tablespoons butter, 1/3 cup light brown sugar, and an 8 oz. can of crushed pineapple.

Have a happy, healthy, wonderful Thanksgiving.  Stay safe, drive carefully, and for Heaven's sake, carve the turkey BEFORE you get to the table.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

When Childhood Flies

Today's ear worm is courtesy of Elton John and Bernie Taupin, circa 1970.  If you want to make me cry, just play this song.

I hope the day will be a lighter highway
For friends are found on every road
Can you ever think of any better way
For the lost and weary travellers to go
Making friends for the world to see
Let the people know you got what you need
With a friend at hand you will see the light
If your friends are there then everything's all right
It seems to me a crime that we should age
These fragile times should never slip us by
A time you never can or shall erase
As friends together watch their childhood fly

With all my finger-flapping about food, food shopping, cooking food, food strategies, food failures, and more of the same, I haven't had the chance to write about how absolutely lovely my weekend was, especially Friday night.  I got to meet up with some old friends, from a time long ago and far away.

(Forget the dude in the middle, he is totally irrelevant to this story.)  
Clockwise from the dude is Barbara, then Kathy, me and Lynn.  
We were babies - this was New Paltz, 1971.  
I was 18 years old and that is my real hair color.

Not sure if Mark wasn't in the picture because he was taking the picture, but that is highly likely.

Sandy and me, 1975.  Oh dear God, weren't we young???

Steve and me, 1972.  Still haven't been able to meet up in person 
but we managed to Skype a few times, and we play Words for Friends.

Talk about young! You can see that Vicki is wearing Dan's fraternity pin.
Does anyone even do that anymore?

We still have not been able to gather all of us together at the same time, but some of us have gotten together in various shortened permutations.

My grandmother told me time and again that the best friends you will ever have are the ones you make when you are young.  This was one of those few times I could not argue with her, because looking back across those 50 or so years that whooshed by much too fast,  I still have a number of friends from my teen years.  That is not to say that I have not made and kept close "new" friends but even my new friends are getting up toward the 20 year mark.

The majority of my "old" friends date back to my time at SUNY New Paltz.  Some, like Kathy, Mark, and Vicki have been constants, while others, like Barbara, Lynn, and Steve, were "found" through the miracle of the internet and Facebook.  

It is wonderful to meet up after 30 or 40 years to find that the bond of youth still exists.  So on Friday evening, we had a lovely, funny time, eating good food at the Ale House, drinking $2 margaritas, and enjoying each other's company, although we were nowhere near as raucous as we were last year when Mark, Sandy, Barbara and I got together, with a couple of patient spouses, at Toojays. We even managed to Skype Lynn into the party.  The waitstaff was delighted, as were Barbara and I, because getting New York-style deli is next to impossible in Central Florida, so we all got to share really good food with really good friends, a perfect combination.

I am thankful for my friends, old, new, and renewed.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Commercial Properties - Staten Island Peach Cobbler

Not sure how, but recently Brenda and I veered off into a short conversation about TV commercials, specifically the Bright House Network commercials with Jim the installer and football great Derrick Brooks.  I love the "bromance" between Derrick and Jim, and they always make me smile, especially when, at Derrick's insistence, they sit down to watch a DVR'ed episode of "Days of Our Life" ("can't a man watch his stories?")

I have no idea why, but I love watching commercials that, despite the endless repetitions, affect me each and every time they are shown.

The one that still stands out as my very favorite, hysteria-inducing commercial of all times had Steven Colbert stalking Mr. Goodwrench regarding tires.   The line "those poor cows, those poor rubber cows" can still set me off into a fit of laughter so loud and so prolonged that my pets seek shelter.  Another huge favorite were the GEICO cavemen commercials, but they're gone now.  I like Flo from Progressive and Lily from AT&T.  During basketball playoffs, I never tire of Chris Paul's State Farm commercials (Chris and his "twin" Cliff Paul, separated at birth).  Animal icons such as the GEICO Gekko and the AFLAC Duck are okay, but the California milk commercials feature cows that crack me up.  What is it with me and cows?  And I hate milk, too.  Oh, and Maxwell the GEICO pig - his original "whee whee WHEE!" commercials left me in a puddle.

The Wounded Warrior Project, St. Jude's, Shriners Children's Hospitals, and any commercial involving pets are likely to rip out a little piece of my heart, but the saddest commercial ever was televised only one time, during Super Bowl XXXVI in February 2002.  Google "Budweiser Respect" and follow any of the You Tube links to watch it.  (I tried, I really tried to fix the broken link with absolutely no success.  The good news is, I edited the whole darn post.)

I developed a real affection for those Sprint Framily Plan ads, featuring the Frobinson family in which the father is a hamster, the mother doesn't seem to notice that dad is a hamster, the daughter has little birds twittering around her head, and the middle son's college roommate, Gor-Don, wears black lipstick reminiscent of Tim Curry in Rocky Horror, and considers the hamster to be his dad as well.  Unfortunately, Sprint dumped the whole Framily Plan campaign after just a few short months, and broke up with the Frobinsons, leaving us all hamster-less (and if you think Andrew Dice Clay was not funny as the voice of the dad hamster, you've never watched any of the commercials).

I guess that makes me a victim of television, but I do exercise some discernment.  I cringe at any commercial by an attorney.  I am old-fashioned enough to believe that my profession does not need those ads or big, honking billboards, showing shiny, oversized attorney foreheads, on the side of the road.  Another pet peeve are those weight loss program commercials, featuring a lot of has-been celebrities, and those dreadful weight loss product commercials (although I think the FCC is already on their tails).

My Pop used to say that my grandmother was a victim of television because she might see a product on TV, and would buy it on her next trip to Waldbaums.  It actually didn't happen all that often - she never did get into Hamburger Helper - but occasionally she would rock our world with a brand new product like Rice-a-Roni, frozen vegetables, or liquid margarine.

There are other reasons that I have labeled myself a victim of television, as I explained in this post from the beginning of the blog, and that hasn't changed in the intervening years.  You know it's serious when I am standing in the middle of the living room, pointing at the screen excitedly while watching The Kitchen on Food Network, proclaiming, "see, see?  Geoffrey Zakarian doesn't believe in brining turkeys!"  Or calling Robert to watch how Bobby Flay adds honey to all his super spicy dishes, or how Michael Symon adds cornstarch to his flour when preparing a tempura batter.

I may have 1000 cookbooks, but all it takes is one episode of Giada De Laurentiis preparing shrimp scampi on couscous, and I'm jumping off the treadmill and running down to the computer to find and print out the recipe.  The inspiration I get from watching the different hosts is the kind of victimhood I can embrace.  So I won't be brining my turkey - I never do - but I will be spatchcocking it, which is nothing naughty.

The day has come that I finalized my plans for Thanksgiving dinner.  That means I now have a final menu, and based on that I am going to print out or photocopy each recipe.  Next comes the shopping list, and finally the cooking schedule.  If this sounds excessively obsessive, try preparing even a simple dinner without jotting down a specific plan.  You are going to get stressed, I promise you.  You won't have a chance to sit down and enjoy any part of the dinner with your guests.  You will swear to never ever ever try to cook Thanksgiving dinner again.

Speaking of your guests, there is nothing wrong in accepting their offers to bring a dessert or a side dish or anything else for that matter.  So this year, I took the Staten Island Peach Cobbler off my menu when my mother-in-law offered to supply dessert.  But since I promised my friend Barbara I would give her the recipe, here it is, totally out of season:

Several weeks ago, while coming home from the Atlanta suburbs, we carried through our plan to make our favorite stops along I-75.  This excluded our close encounter with the deer, but included Lane Southern Orchards, or as we always refer to it, The Peach Farm; Ellis Brothers Pecans, also known as The Nut Store; and Carroll's Sausage & Country Store at their Ashburn location.

There were no peaches at the peach farm. Quel disappointment!  But not unexpected, as I was pretty sure Georgia's peach season was over.  Instead, we were confronted by that scourge of autumn ...

Pumpkins, dozens of pumpkins, carelessly displayed and stodgily annoying.  How did someone look at a bunch of pumpkins and see a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte?  Was there some illegal substance being ingested, or was the inventor having an unfortunate brain fever?

So instead, I picked up a jar of Lane's peach halves, thinking that for the first time I would try making the cobbler with something other than fresh peaches.  The peach halves are gorgeous, large, undamaged, and sweet. Although I am not making this for Thanksgiving this year, I expect it will pop up as a family dessert sometime in the next few weeks.  

6 large, firm, ripe peaches
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 stick butter
1 egg
1/3 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9 x 13 baking pan.

Wash the peaches and dry well.  Cut in half and remove the pits.  Sift together the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder.  Crumble in the butter with a fork.  Add the egg, milk, and vanilla.  Spread the batter thin in the baking pan.  Lay the peaches, cut side down, on top of the batter, 3 across and 4 down, and sprinkle with sugar.  Bake for 30 to 45 minutes.  The batter will puff up to encase about 2/3 of the peaches.  Let cool and cut into 12 squares to serve.  Cover and store in the refrigerator.  This is good at room temperature, or you can give it 30 seconds in the microwave, and then top it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

The aluminum tin pan queen strikes again, but for some reason I baked this peach cobbler, immediately right of the cream pie, in a glass pyrex dish.  Still came out good.

Monday, November 24, 2014

... and so it begins ...

For the next four days, I will be chipping away at my cooking list so that when Thanksgiving rolls around, I won't be spending the day according to that old military adage:

When in danger or in doubt
Run in circles, scream and shout

I am working the first three days of next week, and I have court hearings on two of those, so there is not going to be time to take a whole day off to cook, which is actually better for me, as standing on my feet for big blocks of time is less than optimal.

So today, before I go out to cruise Publix and BJs to soak up the holiday mood and to fill up my cart with holiday food, I will bake the cornbread I will be using for the oyster and sausage dressing.  Now is the time I make a small confession:  I use a box of Jiffy mix.  All I do is add some black pepper to the mix, but otherwise, I make the Jiffy according to the directions on the back of the box.

You can make your favorite recipe or buy cornbread at the local bakery, but keep in mind that not all cornbreads are created equal.   My favorite homemade cornbread is a sour cream cornbread, very rich with brown sugar and melted butter in the batter.  Delicious on its own, but too moist and too sweet for the dressing.

Remember this bread?  The Thanksgiving bread that I baked in the bread machine a few weeks ago?  Very useful for the oyster and sausage dressing.  Already seasoned, containing bits of onion, and baked up into a hearty texture that contrasts nicely with the cornbread.

I bake the cornbread in an 8 inch square pan, and when I cut it into 1/2 inch cubes, it yields about 5 cups.  You want about the same amount of the Thanksgiving bread also cut into 1/2 inch cubes.  Place the bread into two separate 9 x 13 pans.

Preheat the oven to about 350 degrees.  Put the pans of bread cubes in the oven to dry out.  This will not take more than a few minutes for the cornbread, so watch carefully.  The Thanksgiving bread will take a few minutes more.  When they're both done, and the cubes are cool, combine them into one pan, cover and hold at room temperature until ready to use.

Oyyyyyyy .... so I did my food shopping, and wore myself out.  There will be no further cooking today, folks.   Watching the remake of "Total Recall" and missing Arnold.  Wanting to unwind before Monday morning.

Got the Big Bird in the fridge, resting until Thursday morning when I will start by ripping out his spine and cracking his breastbone.

Got Grade B maple syrup, the real stuff, for the cranberry sauce, and the sweet potatoes and pineapple for the pie that isn't a pie.  Broccoli in the freezer, Brussel sprouts in the other fridge, tiny potatoes on the counter.  It's beginning to look a lot like Thanksgiving.