Friday, February 29, 2008

Leaping Italians

A reader from Clay County, Arnold Rios, from Texas originally but in Alabama now, calls to inform us that today is the birthdate of Gioachino Rossini -- composer of The Barber Seville and the William Tell overture.

Not only did Signor Rossini enliven The Lone Ranger broadcasts generations after his death, apparently in life he was an active cook. Some in France still hold the opinion that, had Rossini not been such a successful composer, he would be known in Europe today for his culinary skills.

His singature dish: Tourenedos Rossini. Here's a recipe from Emeril Lagasse's show. It looks rich as Roosevelt and not something we normal mortals will make. But, still, it's interesting to see what was considered Over The Top Gourmet in the 1800s.

6 slices of foie gras, 1/4-inch thick and 2 inches in diameter
24 slices of black truffles
1/2 cup Madeira
Salt and pepper
18 tourneed potatoes
6 (6 to 8-ounce) fillets
6 canapes (rounds of white bread sauteed in butter)
Salt and black pepper
10 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Season the foie gras with salt and pepper. Place the Foie Gras in a shallow dish and cover with 1/4 cup of the Madeira.
Soak the truffle slices in the remaining 1/4 cup of Madeira. Marinate the foie gras and truffles for 10 minutes. Remove the foie gras and truffle slices, reserve the Madeira.
In a saute pan, melt 8 tablespoons of butter. Add the potatoes to the melted butter and season with salt and pepper. Saute the potatoes for 3 to 4 minutes. Place the potatoes in the oven and roast the potatoes until golden brown and tender, about 20 minutes, shaking the pan every five minutes.
Season the fillets with salt and pepper. In a large saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons of butter. When the butter has melted, add the fillets and sear for 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Remove from the pan.
Place the canapes in the saute pan and arrange the fillets on top. Place the pan in the oven and roast for 6 to 8 minutes for medium rare.
In a hot saute pan, sear the foie gras for 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Remove the foie gras and drain on a paper-lined plate.
Dissolve the arrowroot in 2 tablespoons of the reserved Madeira to form a slurry and set aside. Add the reserved Madeira, truffles and veal stock to the foie gras fat. Bring the liquid up to boil and whisk in the slurry. Boil the liquid for a couple of minutes and then reduce to a simmer. Cook the sauce for 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
To serve, remove the fillets and potatoes from the oven. Place the fillets in the center of each plate. Arrange three potatoes around each fillet. Top each fillet with a piece of seared foie gras. Spoon the sauce over the top of the foie gras and garnish with parsley.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Pasta... home-done goodness?

The little chef and I will try our combined hands at home-made pasta this weekend. She's determined to give it a go. We'll drag out the pasta machine and find the easiest recipe ever.

Simple noodles (think fettucini) will be on the agenda.

To go with it, we'll have some freshly made, pine nut pesto and some hearty bread.

Wish us luck.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Herbs, and the nurturing of little girls

There are many ways to raise a child and teach a little person about the world around them, the animals, plants and various creatures that call it home,

This spring (assuming it comes if the cold weather ever retreats for good) brings the opportunity to grow something good for the table: fresh herbs. They season our food, they make us feel better. In times of plenty, their dried leaves and stems and seeds imbue our homes with the natural perfume that has enveloped kitchens since antiquity.

An herb garden can be any size, from a window box by the kitchen to a plot in the back yard. In our yard, my daughter has staked her claim to what was once a rose bed, before I realized that hybrid tea roses just don't like Alabama's summers and humidity. She's out there every chance she can find, digging up weeds, rummaging through black soil and trying to decide what will go where.

She's made her list, copied it a few times. Some of the herbs she's never eaten, but she knows she wants to grow them. She's in the habit of asking to sniff every herb or spice jar I take from the cabinet. She takes a sniff, makes a mark.

Now all I have to do is break the news that we can't grow nutmeg here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Coming to Your Table

Wednesday's your table is all about that Southern staple: rice.

It's cheap, versatile and is something everyone should be able to cook with confidence. We've got a range of rice dishes, as well as a guide to different types of rice.

Prudence Hilburn's Gourmet Touch uses vegetable pancakes for a savory treat, and Pat Kettles sees reds in Uncorked.

Restaurant inspections, the perfect hash browns and all things food in Wednesday's Your Table.

Happy eating.

Whole wheat bagels get a thumbs-up

Nutritionists have been on bagels' case for years. They're a popular breakfast food, but they're also loaded with flour, sugar and stuff that, eaten every day, isn't so good for the waistline.

A recent discovery on the local shelves is a whole wheat bagel from Thomas. It's 270 calories, has 2 grams of fat and 8 grams of fiber. It's an actual whole wheat bagel (meaning that whole wheat flour is the main ingredient) and is pretty good.

Now, its texture isn't New York chewy bagel. It's rather bread-like, but it tastes really good. Very filling, not real sweet and its good plain or with a little low-fat cream cheese.

Also getting good reviews in our house: organic whole wheat bread from Cobblestone Mill. I happened upon a few loaves at the Flowers Bakery Outlet (Monday was double-punch day, by the way). The 8-year-old had a few sandwiches with it, then was disappointed when the supply ran dry.

"It tasted really fresh," was his review. Not bad, considering that it came from an outlet store.

Why butter is food's MVP

Forget giving meat up for Lent.

If I was going to make a true food sacrifice, it would have to be butter. The glorious, delicately yellow concoction that Paula Deen disciples hand out like manna collected in gilded baskets.

Here's the case for butter, which can make anything taste better. Don't go overboard like the Brits and put it on a peanut butter sandwich, but a little butter (emphasis on a little) is perfection.

A toasted bagel -- even the whole wheat kind -- becomes sublime with a kiss of butter. Same with biscuits, cornbread ... vegetable soup and the venerable grilled cheese sandwich.

Butter, as the saying could go, runs deep in my veins. We used to make our own butter on occasion back on the farm. It was almost white in its creamy simplicity. Freshly churned butter is indeed one of God's gifts to us.

Much has been bandied about over the years between the impact butter can have on our health. It's fat, people, so don't eat a tub of it. Research has also show that the hydrogenated margarine that tried to pass itself off as healthier than butter is just as bad for you. And tastes like garbage.
(To call margarine "butter" in a generic sense is an insult. Do people who buy margarine actually confuse the two -- or are they just hoping to kid themselves into thinking they're eating butter when they smear on that whipped up oil?)

I digress. Butter rules.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Nature's age-old cure really works

The month of February has been extraordinarily busy for our local medical professionals. Here at the paper, there's been a revolving door of sick reporters, cranky editors wondering when their sick reporters would be back to work, and another cadre of healthy folks who look askance at anyone coughing, sneezing or green.

All this brings to mind the age-old tradition of Jewish grandmothers everywhere: Chicken soup can cure anything.

Think it's bunk? (My husband does, so it's understandable if you do, too.)

Think again.

A few years back, the University of Nebraska actually analyzed the ingredients and components of homemade chicken soup. And if you can't believe a study from America's vaunted Heartland, whom can you trust?

The study looked at chicken soup made the way God intended it to be made. Take one chicken and put it in a pot. Cover it with water. Add a few ribs of celery, a couple of carrots, an onion. Simmer for several hours. Then remove the chicken, cut the meat off the bones and cut into bite-sized pieces. Get rid of the vegetables; they've given their all. You'll dice a few more carrots, a bit more celery and onion, then add that and the chicken back to the broth. Toss in some thyme, a bay leaf, a little salt and pepper. Simmer until the carrots are tender, and add noodles if you want (and who wouldn't want?).

Anyway, the researchers at Nebraska determined that the broth made from cooking chicken and vegetables was a potent, vitamin-rich elixir that, indeed, could boost the body's healing systems. They studied canned soup, but it lost much of its punch simply because so much sodium was used, and the vegetables weren't as fresh.

My point, and I do have one, is that the phrase "A chicken in every pot" need not be a campaign slogan from the Depression. It could also help cures what ails ye. If you use the new, less-cardboard-like whole-wheat noodles, then that's even better.

Soul Food Cook-Off on Monday

Get your best recipes out, and lay on the soul. The county's Soul Food Cook-Off and potluck will be from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday at the Calhoun County Administration Building.

The emphasis this year will be on healthy soul food. Bring a potluck dish, or just come see what other folks have made.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Too tired to cook? Then these spuds are for you

The dinner menu comes together on the way to school most days. A suggestion crops up from the back seat. Some days, the plan is a bit grandiose and needs scaling back.

This time, however, the boy hit paydirt in suggesting baked potatoes.

"You know, with some bacon and cheese and green stuff."

The green stuff in question is whatever fresh herb we have on hand. Sure enough that night, the potatoes roasted at a steady 400-degree clip. Rubbed in a bit of olive oil, sprinkled with Kosher salt and garlic powder, they basked in their foil-encased furnace for about an hour until they reached the Zen state of fluffy softness.

The potato bar assemblage: freshly chopped cilantro (we had a bequest and have been using it generously), sharp Cheddar, freshly fried bacon, some grated Parmesan, a little butter and sour cream.

Dinnertime gold.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Tuna with whole wheat pasta

If you haven't tried the new flavored tuna packs (foil pouch), now may be the time. I didn't think it sounded too good but I tried the Lemon Pepper Tuna and it was very tasty. At a later date, I'll try the garlic tuna.

I cooked about 4 ounces of whole wheat rotini pasta until tender, mixed the whole package of tuna with it and added a little garlic powder. (I needed quick and tasty.) I ate some of it warm and it was wonderful.

Today I will add tomatoes, cucumbers and bell pepper to the tuna/pasta mixture for a cold salad.

Now that's simple enough for anyone.


In today's Your Table

We're all about practical food in today's Your Table Section of The Star.

There are tips on saving money -- and carving that food budget.
Some fresh ideas for breakfast, as well as ways to make your own low-fat, healthy granola bars.
Beyond that, we've got Pitcher This from Ben Cunningham looking at a New York brewery, and Prudence Hilburn's Gourmet Touch goes into the land of macaroons, also from New York.

Steak lovers will find an easy beef tenderloin dish, and the poultry fanatics among us can mimic Applebee's Fiesta Chicken in a low-fat, low-cholesterol alternative.

Happy Eating.

Healthier, cheaper convenience lunches

Hormel has responded to what -- the company's surveys say -- is an office rebellion against the same old lineup of lunches that are fit to travel.

I've got leftovers from last night's dinner, Cuban Black Beans and Rice, for lunch today, so the Hormel stuff had better be tasty to tempt me .... but I digress.)

Anyway, the company's surveys show that we rank-and-file office dwellers are starting to eliminate the daily lunch out. Average cost for a lunch outside New York, L.A. and Chicago is hitting $11 (not including tip), and we simply cannot afford that.

Nor, however, do we want to eat high-sodium canned soup every day. Or keep salad greens on hand. And, face it, everyone may not have leftovers to bring.

Ergo, Hormel's Compleats, microwaveable meals that are under 320 calories, which guys may find just too paltry. They've also got under 10 grams of fat and under 3 grams of saturated fat.
600 mg or less of sodium is still higher than if you made something fresh (and is pretty high for 320 calories, too), but it's less than most convenience products have. Those food manufacturers truly acknowledge salt as the great preservative.

You can keep them in a desk drawer, and they nuke in 90 seconds.

Flavors: Beef Steak & Peppers – in a sauce over noodles
Home-Style Beef – with mashed potatoes & gravy
Santa Fe Style Chicken – with rice, black beans & roasted corn
Sesame Chicken – with Oriental vegetables and pasta

Beginning March 1, you can get these at Wal-Mart, with additional availability in select supermarkets by mid-March. The average retail price of is $2.69, which isn't bad, if those 320 calories are all you need.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Emeril, meet Martha

This just in on the breaking food news:
Emeril Lagasse is coming over to Martha Stewart Omnimedia. She bought the rights to his cookbooks, television shows and kitchen products for $45 million cash and $5 million in stock.


The deal doesn't include Emeril's 11 restaurants.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Melt in your mouth microwave fudge

If you didn't get the chocolate you wanted for Valentine's Day, make this fudge and you'll forget all about your chocolate troubles.

1 box of powdered sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup chopped nuts

Stir sugar, cocoa and salt. Add milk and vanilla.
Mixture will be dry.
Put butter in chunks on top.
Microwave for 2 minutes.
Mix until smooth. Add nuts.
Pour onto wax paper lined pan.
Cool, cut into squares.

My microwave is a 1200 watt oven and cooks faster than some microwaves. Depending on your oven, you may need to cook your fudge a little longer.

This fudge is great and quick to make.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Fun with root vegetables

An under-appreciated little (well, they're not little) gem in the produce aisle is making its way back into haute cuisine. The lowly rutabaga is become chic.

Don't laugh. I would never have imagined eating those things -- and never had -- until I needed some for our recent Scottish feast. I put the rutabaga in a roasted potato recipe, as directed, and it got some favorable reviews from work. At home, I slipped cubed rutabagas into a pot roast instead of potatoes. Not only did the family not notice the switch, they commented that "the potatoes are really good tonight." Don't think they taste like a really big turnip; nothing could be further from the truth. And, believe me, I can't stand the taste of turnips.

My point: These things last forever under refrigeration (well, not really forever, but it seems like it). They're relatively inexpensive and they mash, puree, roast and fry as chips just as easily as the good ol' tater.

Give 'em a try next time your looking for something different.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Sprouting a new ritual

One of my causes -- and there are many -- focuses on the idea of getting in the kitchen and cooking alongside your children. (I used to say "cooking with children," but that almost got me in trouble with DHR.) My 5-year-old girl seems to have a budding interest in food. The irony is that she doesn't eat much.

Her recent interest has centered on the produce aisle. Collard greens are becoming her obsession. She loves tearing the leaves in the precise two-inch square. She'll toss in a ham hock. Slog on a few drips from the molasses jar.

Of course, the danger comes when she wants to add them to everything. Soup. Hamburgers. Cole slaw (she made some collard-free slaw last night; it wasn't bad).

Wednesday's Your Table

Easy breezy Valentine's sweets -- unless you're braving the restaurant front and hitting the pavement Thursday night. And, if you are going out, then the weekly restaurant inspections will be on your must-read list.

We've also got a classic American menu that attempts to explore the idea of what exactly is American food. Then go to the other side of the world, figuratively speaking, for some easy Chinese noodle dishes.

Uncorked continues to be on hiatus, but next week's Pitcher This will profile Brooklyn Brewery, from the heart of New York.

Happy eats.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Got groceries?

If there were not two kids in my household, I would see just how long I could make it on bread and water.

I made my weekly visit to the store for the necessities, bread, milk, eggs, etc. and EVERYTHING in the store is high. The juice I buy went from $1.12 to $1.34, cookies $2.50 to $2.77, bread $1.07 to $1.16, milk $2.36 to $2.46. All of this might add up to just a few pennies but that's just adds up!

I am a single mother of two who counts every nickle, dime and penny and mine simply fly out the window when it comes to groceries. What can I do about it? Right now, nothing.

If you've got tips, please pass them along to me.

Using a deep ,covered stoneware baker for the first time

Out of all the cooking gadgets I own, I have never owned a deep covered stoneware baker. Woo-hoo... I have one now and can't wait to start using it.

My plan is to cook a roast or chicken with red potatoes, onions, carrots, a little garlic, black pepper.

If I cook the roast, I'll spray a little non-stick cooking spray on the roast, then coat it with flour, brown the roast on both sides, with a little oil in a very hot iron skillet. Then place that into my NEW deep covered stoneware baker.

My father was a great old time southern cook and while I didn't want to learn how to cook when I was a little girl, I still remember watching him work his magic in the kitchen. He would always brown a roast just a little bit before slow cooking the roast in an old cast-iron crock. Talk about good eatin'!

I'll share more with you later on some of his magic in the kitchen. ( I think I learned more than I realized.)

Till next time.... happy eating!


Thursday, February 7, 2008

BBC America on all things food

A new lineup of shows coming to BBC America highlights the British take on food. Gordon Ramsay, one of the UK's top chefs, goes back into restaurant rescue mode in Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares. He's pretty well-known. Don't watch his show around the kids, however. He's got a foul mouth.

The other shows are a little more specialized: Gillian McKeith hosts Your Are What You Eat, a show that takes horrendous eating habits and remakes them in eight weeks. Be warned: I've seen this show, and these people -- as well as what McKeith does to cleanse their habits physical and mental -- is not for the faint of heart.

Finally, Last Restaurant Standing sounds as though it is one of the most concocted made-for-TV "reality" shows to date. Nine couples get to compete at running their own restaurant. I'll watch for curiosity's sake, but I'll be surprised if this one has any, any shred of cred to it.

Price Check, Installment II

That milk jug that's running $4 and $5 a gallon? In teh 1950s, it would have been 66 cents. A loaf of bread: 16 cents.

In the next few weeks, we're going to continue offering some ways to save money on your food expenses. Some of them will even require - GASP!! -- cooking some things from scratch. The amount of money spent on convenience products would finance a small country. And, when it comes down to it, how much time do they really save? We'll find out.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

How much do we spend?

I've been collecting some data -- totally unscientific, mind you -- about how much money my family spends on food. That includes eating out (once in a blue moon) and buying at the grocery or produce stand.

The tally comes to around $60 per week for the four of us. I do major grocery shopping only once a month, supplementing with smaller trips when perishables (milk, fruit) run out. Other things to save: I buy in one big trip and either plan meals way in advance (yes, I know I need a hobby) or I make do with what's on hand. Since I find it impossible to walk into a grocery and not drop $20, the fewer trips I make, the better off the bank account.

Oddly enough, the bulk of our money (as in the highest percentage) goes to buy milk, apples, bananas and fresh vegetables (other than potatoes). We eat the most of -- but spend the least on -- pasta, rice, potatoes and dried beans. Thank God for oatmeal; we'd starve without it.

Meat? Not as much as you'd think, but that's largely because I only buy what's in the BOGO free circulars. You know how some fashion mavens say "Never pay retail?" I've got that same approach to buying meat, fish, pork or poultry products. If it's not half-off, it's not going in the cart. Bread is also a big saver for us. I buy at the bakery outlet in six-week supplies and pop them in the freezer.

Sadly, we're at the end of a major shopping cycle, which means we're down to the last of just about everything.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Cookin' from the bottle

Inspired by primary elections and Mardi Gras, the Star's cooking department (Motto: We're always thinking about food) has put together a Southern version of burgundy beef.

Only we're using Merlot instead of burgundy.
And the wine's from California, not the South....
Anyway, lunch is in an hour or so.

The "recipe," such that it is:

about 4 pounds of stew meat and shortback ribs (I like how the bones make a nice base.)
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
about 4 slices of bacon
Four cups of beef broth
Four cups of water (sort of)
1 bottle of red wine
assorted spices that we've gotten in the mail over the years: some dried, minced garlic; ground thyme; crushed red pepper; summer savory. Rosemary from my back yard.
A bunch of root vegetables (see post on root vegetables)
A bay leaf. or two. or three.
Simmer in a pot; thicken with a little flour. Serve.

Wednesday's Your Table: fast and practical

We've gotten a lot of questions recently about how to cook cheaper and faster. It's always a popular subject, so we've put together a collection of recipes that use potatoes -- does it get any cheaper -- and a microwave.

This isn't rehashed leftovers. We've got lasagna, vegetable stacks, potatoes au gratin and everything you can do with a potato: all in 30 minutes flat.

In addition to the practical potato, there's a series of stories looking at sourdough bread and how to make your own starter. Prudence Hilburn has a tasty vegetable casserole, and Pitcher This, our local beer column, updates the beer legislation.

Happy eating.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Apricot and honey mustard pork tenderloin

Here's a quick and easy grilling recipe that people will think is fancy:

I used pork tenderloins, but pork chops would work just as well.

  1. Soak about six pork chops or tenderloins in apple juice for about two hours before grilling (optional for tenderness).
  2. Mix (with a spoon) five heaping tablespoons of Apricot Preserves with eight tablespoons of honey mustard in a cup or small bowl until it is blended evenly.
  3. Hit the chops with a sprinkle of salt and pepper once you take them out of the juice.
  4. Once the salt and pepper are sprinkled, brush the apricot-honey-mustard mix onto the chops just before they hit the grill.
  5. Grill the chops just like a steak, brushing another coat of the mix onto the chops every time you flip them.
Maybe it is because anytime you use apricots it sounds fancy, but everyone I have told about this thinks it is high class stuff.
To me, it's just pork with a different kind of sweet taste. (You could probably use this same thing with a George Foreman grill.)

Friday, February 1, 2008

Fiesta Casserole

Easy to make and tastes great!

Layer in 9 x 13 dish-sprayed with non-stick spray...

Brown ground chuck, drain, mix in a pack of taco seasoning, spread this in dish.
Next layer re-fried beans thinned with some water to make it easier to spread.
Sprinkle sharp grated cheese next.

Cook at 385 degrees for 20 minutes, take out and sprinkle corn chips and another layer of grated cheese.
Brown for about 15 minutes.

This is a great "take it to the party" dish. You can add your own toppings such as sour cream, salsa, tomatoes and onions at the table.