Friday, February 26, 2010

Sometimes you feel like a nut....

February 26th is National Pistachio Day. I think that I might have found a new favorite meaningless food holiday. Pistachios are fantastic. In fact, if you wanted to set a trap for me I would recommend that you use pistachio ice cream as bait. Even with the jaws of a bear trap clasped firmly to my ankle I’d lick the carton clean. I’m not alone in my love of pistachios. Historically pistachios were decreed a royal food by the Queen of Sheeba, they were grown in Nebuchadnezzar legendary hanging gardens, and prized by Roman Emperor Vitellius. Pistachios have been valued as folk remedies for various illnesses and are traditional party favors at weddings in Syria.

But what is a pistachio? A nut you say? Actually it is not a true nut, but a fruit. It is, in fact, a member of the same family as poison ivy. Maybe that is why I itch for the flavor so much. When the pistachio fruit ripens the shell cracks open and you can hear it pop. In parts of the Middle East folklore says that lovers who hear the nuts crack open on a full moon will eventually marry. I don’t know about that, but meeting a lover under the branches of a pistachio tree sounds like a romantic evening to me.

The pistachio has even found a place for itself in the pages of behavioral science. James Painter a behavioral eating expert came up with the Pistachio Principle. In a nut shell (or should I say fruit shell) the Pistachio Principle states “that eating in-shell pistachios helped individuals eat fewer calories without consciously restricting their calories. Compared to shelled nuts, those who enjoyed in-shell pistachios not only ate 50 percent fewer calories, but they also reported feeling equally satisfied.”

I don’t know about you… but for National Pistachio day I plan to ignore the Pistachio Principle. The hell with deluding myself into self restraint by cracking open the nuts slowly. I plan on cracking open a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Pistachio Pistachio ice cream and eating it all. I might even lick the lid!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

With friends like this who needs enemies?

So last night I got a bag of starter for Amish friendship bread. Sounds nice doesn't it? After all, breaking bread with friends and family is what life is all about. What the "friends" that give you this innocent looking gift fail to tell you, however, is the curse that goes along with it. The curse that forces you to make a loaf of this caloric-coffee-cake-like-bread every week and half...the curse of the evil eye that you will get every time you pass out a new set of starters. Pretty soon you'll be running out of friends and passing them out on the streets to total strangers.
That said... the bread is delicious... so anyone out there that wants a starter in a week or so just drop me a line (LOOK...already this recipe has turned me into the pusher that I will have to become in order to pass out all my starters and free myself of this recipe once and for all). I will chronicle my progress on this journey and share it here with you. For now I just thought I'd share a recipe that my husband came up with last time we were cursed with the gift of Amish friendship bread.

Amish Revenge Bread

This is Amish Revenge Bread and I am sharing this fun project with you because you are my enemy (or at least, my guilty friend). The kids should not help for two reasons. Firstly, this is a dangerous recipe. Secondly, kids are inherently dirty and should always be discouraged from helping in the kitchen. It is a cruel recipe with devastating results.

Don’t use a spoon or bowl (mix with hands in old shoe).
Don’t refrigerate if you have anything edible in fridge.
If something scratches from inside bag, DO NOT LET IT OUT!
Be afraid! The batter will bubble and possibly make utterances.

Day 1 - mush the bag with your feet
Day 2 - mush the bag with your head
Day 3 - mush the bag with your bottom

Day 4 - Add to the bag: 1 cup sugar or sweet and low
½ cup crushed glass (brown or green)
2 cups sour milk
1 medium breed dog (long-haired preferably)

Day 5 - hug the bag
Day 6 - drop the bag, spilling contents partially and scooping up with filthy dustpan
Day 7 - kiss the bag with open mouth
Day 8 - jump on bag wearing soccer cleats
Day 9 - mush bag, pressing out to all corners evenly

Day 10 - Measure out 4 separate batters of one handful each into 5 old pillowcases. Keep one for yourself (you may make more enemies in the days to come), top off other sacks with kitty litter (preferably lightly used), add a brick for ballast, and throw through the windows of ex-friends with instructions attached by a piece of slightly chewed gum.

Preheat oven to 98 degrees
To remaining batter in shoe, add and mix:

3 rotten eggs
1 medium brown or greenish loogy
1 teaspoon vanilla
Some baking soda
Strain mixture through gym sock and bake for several days.

For the more health conscious, you can substitute apple sauce for loogy and it will taste great. Also you can add something like nuts, candy, or bolts to add a personal touch.

Enjoy and finally understand the secret to Amish peace and solitude.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tomato Soup Cake

Well I finally did it… I made a tomato soup cake. I’ve been a member of the K. family for 15 years now, and invited to family birthdays for a lot longer than that, and it took me THAT long to work up the courage to make the family recipe from scratch. Sure I’ve made the cheater version using a boxed spice cake mix…in fact I’ve made one for every one of my kids parties… but for some reason I’ve always been intimidated by making the real thing. Perhaps it is because I am not a very good baker… I cook by instinct and not by science. Maybe uncertainty set in when my mother-in-law warned me that due to the changes in the texture and quality of the ingredients the recipe might need a few changes for the cake to rise properly. I’m not sure why I feared it… but when Ma-K asked me to make one for her birthday FROM SCRATCH… my palms started to sweat and all the neighborhood dogs started to bark because they smelled fear (ok so maybe I‘m exaggerating a bit for the sake of effect… but I did feel a little nervous). Then my husband pointed out all the lopsided, not-so-perfect cakes over the years and reminded me that it was the effort and not perfection that counted. Knowing that he was lying to make me feel better, I took that piece of advice for what it was worth and dived right in… and you know what… I did a pretty good job.

The K family recipe for tomato soup cake was given to my mother-in-law’s family in the early 30’s when they were living in Brooklyn. It was shared with her mother by a family friend named Helen Grogan, and was a regular at family birthdays after that. My mother-in-law told me that her brother Frankie would usually make the cake. When she got married the recipe came with her, of course… and it has been a K. family birthday tradition ever since.

I did a little looking around online to see if I could find out about the origin of this dessert and I found two possibilities. One source credits the unlikely use of tomato soup in cake to the limited supply and expense of dairy and eggs during the Great Depression. Some versions almost do away with dairy and eggs and moisten the batter almost exclusively with soup. This cake, also know as Mystery Cake, apparently became a popular dessert in the 1930’s. Another source traces the original recipe back to 1925 as a contribution by Campbell Soup and credits it’s popularity in the 1930’s to the love of “clever” cooking during that decade. Whatever this cakes story might be it sure is delicious. And I would like to share it with you here with my mother-in-law permission.

The Original Tomato Soup Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour (edit by Ma-K.... this should be cake flour)
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoons ground allspice
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoons ground cloves
1 can (10 3/4 ounces) Condensed Tomato Soup
1/2 cup vegetable shortening (edit by Ma-K... this should be margerine or butter)
2 eggs
About 1/4 cup water
Cream Cheese Frosting

Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease two round cake pans.
Sift the flour, baking powder, allspice, baking soda, cinnamon and cloves in a large bowl. Cream together shortening, sugar and eggs. Starting and ending with flour…alternate adding flour mixture and tomato soup (diluted slightly) to the creamed mixture. Beat until smooth. Bake for 30-35 minutes.

Cream Cheese Frosting

4.5 oz cream cheese
3T. Milk
¾ t. vanilla
Pinch of salt
About 3 ¼ C powdered sugar

Blend first 4 ingredients together until soft. Add powdered sugar until the frosting is of a good spreading consistency (about 3-3 ½ cups).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Pancake Tuesday...

Well it is Shrove Tuesday and that means PANCAKES! What you say? What about Fat Tuesday with it's Mardi Gras beads and king cakes??? What about carnival with it's floats covered with half naked women? Well that is all a part of it too...but I didn't grow up in New Orleans or Rio... I grew up in the Episcopal church deep in the heart of Texas... and for us the Tuesday before lent was always called Pancake Tuesday. We always went up to church to have a pancake supper organized by a man named John Harvey. The men of the church would fire up the griddles and make endless stacks of pancakes that we would eat at long tables set up in a large meeting hall near the kitchen. It was always a lot of fun... and even though I don't go to St. Matthews anymore I still try to celebrate Shrove Tuesday with a big stack of hot cakes.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica the word shrove is derived from “shrive,” which refers to the confession of sins in preparation for Lent. This tradition has evolved into a day of carnival, gluttony, and drinking in preparation for the deprivations of Lent. Me I've always been more of a partier and less of a penitent... so I'll be having pancakes and something decadent to drink this evening. Can anyone recommend a good wine to go with pancakes???

Gingerbread Pancakes

This is one of my favorite breakfast recipes to make when I have company. The first time I had gingerbread pancakes was at a restaurant in Austin, Texas. The molasses gives these pancakes a nice sweet flavor so use a light hand when you’re applying the syrup.

1 C. whole wheat flour
1/2 C. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. ground ginger
1/8 t. cloves
2 egg whites
1 1/4 C. milk
1/4 C. molasses
2 T. + 2 t. vegetable oil
1 t. vanilla extract

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder and soda with spices and mix well. In another bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Beat with a fork or whisk until blended. Add to dry mixture, Mixing until all are moistened. Preheat a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Oil or spray with non-stick spray. Drop onto griddle using 1/4 cup for each pancake. Turn when edges are dry and . Makes 12 pancakes.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Kung Hei Fat Choy

Sunday February 14th is not only Valentine’s Day this year but it is the beginning of the lunar year… or Chinese New Year. 2010 is the year of the Tiger (the third in a cycle of 12 that makes up the Chinese Zodiac). Chinese New Year is a holiday rich in mythology and folklore: from the tales of vicious attacks by a mythical beast called the Nian to the traditions associated with the kitchen god and his annual report to the Jade Emperor about every households activities. There are also certain good luck foods who’s names are homonyms for wishes in the new year. But these are not my tales or my traditions.

The closest I’ve come to Chinese New Years was a parade in the streets of San Francisc while my husband was there on business. I just glimpsed the lion dance over the heads of the crowd and heard the fire crackers pop. It wasn't much of a glance as you can tell from the picture... but it was exciting nonetheless. What I do know about Chinese New Year is that it is a time for new beginnings. You prepare for it by sweeping the bad luck out the door (in the form of spring cleaning) and then you share a meal with friends and family. And that is exactly what I plan to do this Sunday. I will share some good luck food with my family and hope for prosperity in the new lunar year. Kung Hei Fat Choy!

Spicy Vegetable Lo Mein

I love this recipe. The sesame seed oil adds a wonderful nutty flavor and aroma. For Chinese New Year make sure that the noodles are uncut (for long life)... and that you use a wide variety of mixed vegetables (for family harmony), and serve it with a side of eggrolls (for wealth in the New Year). Mix up the vegetables any way you'd like for you families tastes and needs in the new year.

8-ounces spaghetti or linguini
2 t. oil
2 t. ginger root, grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 1/2-ounces mushrooms
1 medium red bell pepper -- in short thin strips
1 medium green bell pepper, in short thin strips
2 C. cabbage, chopped
1/2 C. vegetable broth
4-ounces snow pea pods
2 T. soy sauce
2 T. vinegar
1 T. sesame oil
Optional garnishes: thinly sliced green onions, cashews, parsley or cilantro sprigs, and toasted sesame seeds.

Cook noodles according to package directions. Meanwhile, heat oil in large deep skillet or wok over medium heat. Add ginger and garlic and cook 30 seconds. Add mushrooms, bell peppers and cabbage; cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add broth and snow peas; simmer until vegetables are crisp-tender, stirring occasionally, 3 to 5 minutes. Add soy sauce, and vinegar. Drain noodles; add to skillet with vegetables. Add sesame oil; cook 1 minute, tossing well. Garnish and serve.

And here is a cute book you might like to share with your kids.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Apple Of My Eye...

Valentine’s Day is just a few days away… so I thought I’d share some tips on how to divine the name of your one true love for those of you who find yourselves without one this year.

The answer lies in an apple. Doesn’t it make sense that the fruit plucked from that famous tree in Eden…the one that bestowed knowledge and shame on Adam and Eve… would hold the secrets of love and passion? Isn’t it possible that the apple that inspired Sir Isaac Newton in his studies of gravity could inspire you in your own gravitational experiments? And why couldn’t a magic apple ultimately lead you to experience love’s first kiss in the arms of your prince charming? You naysayers out there may shout… fairytales… wives tales… nonsense.. you may even remind me how in a previous blog I gave the fig the title of forbidden fruit. All I have to say is that this is folklore folks… and the story is much more important than the truth.

Here are a few ways that an apple might help you find your sweetheart this Valentine’s Day:

1. Give an apple the name of someone special. Cut the apple in half and that person will experience love for you.

2. Name several apple seeds after possible suitors. Throw them into a hot pan. The first one to pop is your true love.

3. Peel an apple in one continuous strip. Throw the peeling over your left shoulder while chanting “Apple peel, apple peel, twist then rest. Show me the one that I‘ll love best.” The peel will land in the shape of the first letter of the name of your one and only.

4. Name two apple seeds and place them on your eyelids. Wink one eye and then the other. The first one to fall off is your future spouse.

5. Or you could always try this aphrodisiac recommended by pharmacists in ancient Persia: “Nine apple seeds ground together with the whiskers of a man who has been brutally killed, a few grains of barley retrieved from a grave, the blood of a worm, a black dog, and of the second finger of the left hand, mixed with semen and stirred into a glass of wine.”

Monday, February 8, 2010

Hey Gang... it looks like we've got another mystery on our hands...

I'm writing this Blog entry mainly so that I can show off the new Scooby Doo finger puppet set that I made for my daughters... but in the interest in staying on the topic of food and foodlore I thought I would ask that age old question...What is a scooby snack?

There are hundereds of recipes out there. Depending on who you ask you might get a recipe for a mixed drink, a dog treat, a cookie, a cracker, or even a illicit tid bit that could get you thrown into the pound. In Scotland there is even a fast food burger named after the famous snack food. There have been countless hints over the years as to what a scooby snack might taste like, but much like the location of Springfield (on The Simpsons) the hints often contradict one another, making it impossible to pin down its exact essence. Scooby Doo creator William Hanna invisioned the snacks as a caramel-flavored cookie (Wikipedia). I have always thought it would taste like pizza and bacon.

For my daughter's 4th birthday I tried my hand at making my own version. I used a pizza flavored cracker recipe and cut them into dog bone shapes. It was my first attempt at making crackers and while I thought the taste was right on... the texture was only suitable for well... the dogs...I would have never asked anyone to act as live bait for these chewy failures... Well I didn't find the answer that day... maybe I didn't look deep enough. Maybe what I really needed to do is reach way down inside myself and find my inner Scooby. Maybe instead of asking the question "What is a Scooby Snack?"... I should look inside my pantry... grab a little of this and a pinch of that and ask myself... What would Scooby Doo?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Stuff your favorite fun guy with stuffed fungi on National Stuffed Mushroom Day!

A mushroom goes into a bar and sits down to order a drink. The bartender walks over and says, ''I'm sorry sir, but we don't serve your kind here.''
The mushroom sits back and asks ,''Why not? I'm a fun guy!

The ancient Egyptians called the mighty mushroom the plant of immortality. Technically speaking the mushroom is not a plant, however. It belongs to the fungus kingdom... and as for the immortality part-- well some mushrooms can make you feel a touch immortal (or so I've heard tell) but you got to look out because many of them can be fatal. It is rumored that the Buddha, Siddhartha, died of mushroom poisoning and some say that the Roman Emporer Claudius was murdered when fed death cap mushrooms. So if you aren't an experienced mycologist I would suggest sticking to the supermarket on your next mushrooming expedition.

Today is National Stuffed Mushroom Day (February 4th)and in honor of this festive occasion here is my favorite stuffed mushroom recipe.

Stuffed Mushrooms

12 large white mushrooms
1 t. olive oil
¼ c. minced onion
4 cloves garlic
¼ c. bread crumbs
1 T. parmesan cheese
Fresh herbs such as basil, thyme and oregano
Salt and pepper, to taste
¼ C. water

Remove stems from mushrooms and chop finely. Pre heat outdoor grill or oven to 375. If cooking outdoors place mushroom caps on lightly oiled grill pan or if baking use a baking sheet. In a small non stick skillet sauté stems, onions, and garlic until onions are tender. Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients. Mix well. Fill caps and bake or cook (using indirect grilling-cook next to not directly over the heat source) on prepared grill. Cook for 15 - 30 minutes.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I like Groundhog Pie!

Groundhog's Day is upon us and Punxsutawney Phil, that rascal, has seen his shadow and therefor sentenced us to another 6 weeks of winter. I'm ready for spring... but if I can't have it... then a little warm groundhog pie in my belly might just do the trick. I never knew that the little varmits were tasty... but apparently due to their vegetarian diet they are "eminently edible and delicious" to quote the author of the Mother Earth News article where I got this recipe.

Woodchuck Pie

1 woodchuck
3 medium carrots
3 potatoes
1/4 cup of butter or margarine
1 onion, diced
2 tablespoons of flour piecrust dough

Quarter the woodchuck and place the pieces in a large pot with enough cold water to cover the meat. Boil it for 10 minutes, then discard the water, refill the pan, and bring the liquid to a boil again. Lower the heat and let the contents simmer for about 1 to 1-1/2 hours. Add the carrots and potatoes and continue cooking the stew for about another 30 minutes ... until the meat is tender and separates easily from the bone. By this time, you should be able to pierce the vegetables readily with a fork.

Now, strain the liquid and reserve 2 cups. The remaining pot liquor can be saved for soup stock, or discarded.

Next, remove the cooked meat from the bones and cut it into bite-sized pieces. Melt the butter or margarine in a large, heavy skillet, add the diced onion, and cook it for 5 minutes. Then add the flour and stir the mixture until it bubbles ... put in the reserved liquid and blend the brew some more until it thickens . . . and, when that happens, combine the vegetables and meat, mixing the whole concoction thoroughly.

Finally, butter a large casserole and pour in the meat-and-vegetable mixture. Lay piecrust dough over the top of the filling, brush the pastry with milk, and place the container in a preheated 400 degrees F oven for about 30 minutes, or until the crust has turned golden brown.

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