Category Archives: Recipes

THE OSCARS – I DIDN’T WIN

Well, the Oscars show is over and I didn’t win. That is, I didn’t win the annual family contest of picking the winners. As I mentioned in my previous post, I thought that my granddaughter would not be participating. That would give me a chance. How wrong I was. She had emailed her choices ahead of time and kept in touch during the ceremony. The stakes were higher this year, as my son-in-law had purchased a trophy for the winner along with a $20 gift card.  In the end, the results were the same as the last two years: my granddaughter won and Susan came in second, this time tied with my son-in-law. It is clear that I have no future as a movie critic.

In the meantime, the food was great. Delicious sliders with all the fixings  – definitely not Harold and Kumar’s White Castle (A nod to a family joke). There were also Carol’s popular mushroom soup, shrimp and dipping sauce, crudités with dip, cheese straws, Texas trash, and brownies with whipped cream along with marinated mushrooms at Carol’s request.

Diane’s marinated mushrooms is a recipe from our family cookbook. We got it from Diane Miller, the wife of the first associate I ever hired, back in 1977. The recipe has been a favorite with the whole family, especially Carol whose first word – after Mama and Dada, of course – was “muf-woom” to indicate that a mushroom was what she wanted to eat. The recipe calls for button mushrooms, but if you can only find large ones, you can cut them into halves or quarters. The mushrooms shrink with boiling and marinating.

RECIPE

Diane’s Marinated Mushrooms

Ingredients

  •  1½ pounds white button mushrooms (creminis work just fine)
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar (You can use wine vinegar if you prefer)
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1½ teaspoon sugar
  • bay leaf
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • several whole peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon pickling spice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

Method

  1. Prepare the mushrooms by wiping off the caps and, if necessary, cutting into halves or quarters. Bring the water to the boil, add the lemon juice and then the mushrooms. Return to the boil for 3 minutes. Drain and cool the mushrooms.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare the marinade by combining all the remaining ingredients.
  3. Add the boiled mushrooms to the marinade. Marinate for 24 hours, stirring occasionally.
  4. Drain. Serve at room temperature with picks. Makes about 2 cups, enough for 6 to 8 persons as an appetizer with drinks.
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TIME FOR THE OSCARS, TIME FOR TEXAS TRASH

After two years, I have clearly adopted some of the behaviors and activities of Angelinos. One of those is a fascination with Hollywood. Well, not really, but I do pay more attention to the movies  and have returned to watching the Oscars after a decades-long absence. A major reason for that is our family. On Oscar night, our regular  Sunday family dinner has been supplanted by our gathering in front of the television. Dinner is finger food on a buffet so that you can replenish your plate during commercial breaks. My son-in-law in his professional life is a serious, no-nonsense, take-charge kind of guy. Around home he is quiet and considerate and also an expert on contemporary music and movies. He knows the names of all the actors, even the walk-ons, and usually knows some interesting tidbit about them. Same is true of current bands and singers. For that reason he is in charge of organizing Oscar Night. (They might want to consider him for the job of organizing the real Oscar show.) He makes ballots so that each family member can indicate his or her choice for the winner. There is excitement throughout the evening with the uncertainty of who will make the most correct picks. It is usually a tight race between my granddaughter and Susan. My granddaughter is also a movie aficionado so it is expected that she will do well. But the surprise is Susan who has no interest in the movies and is still able to pick the winners. This year, Susan may have the field to herself as my granddaughter is off to college. Her prize for winning will be that she has bested all the others in this very competitive family.

Meanwhile, Carol is in charge of the food. Trust me, there is just as much competitive pressure to deliver on the food as there is to win the Oscar picks. She will probably make sliders, her famous pinwheels, and maybe her elegant cheese puff pastry. She asked me to make cheese straws and brownies. Both are long-time family favorites. I decided to make some Texas Trash as well. This is another family favorite, and it lends itself to noshing in front of the TV. The recipe is SIMPLE. You can also find a similar recipe on any box of Chex cereal. These days you can also find it ready made, but like most things it’s not as good as homemade. The recipe makes about 10 cups, which should be enough for the five of us, but I expect that it will be gone at the end of the Oscars.

Who do you think will win the Oscars?

RECIPE

Texas Trash

Ingredients

  • ½ cup (one stick) butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons seasoned salt
  • 2 cups Wheat Chex
  • 2 cups Corn Chex
  • 2 cups Rice Chex
  • 1 cup mixed nuts
  • 1 cup mini pretzels

Method

  1. Place the melted butter in a very large mixing bowl. Add the Worcestershire sauce and the seasoned salt, stirring to make sure they are well combined.
  2. Stir in the three cereals, stirring gently to make sure the butter mixture is evenly distributed and completely absorbed.
  3. Add the nuts and pretzels.  Stir to combine and transfer to a large rimmed baking pan.
  4. Bake for 1 hour in the middle of the oven preheated to 250° F , stirring every 15 minutes to make sure the mixture is evenly coated.
  5. Remove from the oven and cool. Serve immediately or store in an air-tight container.

Cook’s note: This is not like baking a soufflé, so measurements are not precise. The ingredient list is also variable. If you want to add or substitute peanuts or different pretzels or bagel chips, do it. If you want more flavoring like chile powder or dry ranch dressing mix, add it. Whatever you do will probably taste good, and the Texas Trash will be gone before you know it.

 

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POPCORN

I love popcorn. So does nearly everyone in the family. I grew up on popcorn. It was cheap and found in many places: the dime store always had the popper going with steam pouring out of the doors and the popper spilling fresh kernels into a fragrant pile; the movie theater sold little paper bags filled to overflowing; my mother made it just about every night after dinner. She used  a pressure cooker with just a little oil and constant shaking over the gas flame. Later she got a wire popcorn basket on a long handle as a gift. Even with practice, much of the popped kernels came out burned. Then she got a machine with a wire that turned on the bottom to keep the popped kernels from burning. She used that for years even as it lost its gleam with age.

Sarah’s boys beg for popcorn. She makes it in an “air popper” that uses a hot air blower akin to a hair dryer to pop the kernels. She fills up a big metal bowl and then tosses the hot popcorn with melted butter, salt, and finely grated fresh Parmesan. Who wouldn’t one beg for that?

René makes popcorn for her girls on Friday evening to enjoy while watching a movie. She sprinkles nutritional yeast to her version, reflecting her enthusiasm for a healthy diet.

Carol’s household has been limiting their popcorn because of a vey long spell of braces for teenagers. Now that braces have come off, popcorn popping has returned to the culinary repertoire.

As for me, I rely on the microwave. I was surprised to learn from Wikipedia that prepackaged microwave popcorn is the most popular way to make the treat at home. The main drawback to that method is that it is relatively expensive. Being a tightwad, I buy two-pound bags of loose kernels. Our family prefers yellow over white – the popped kernels are bigger. For years I have used a popping method I learned about by watching Elton Brown’s “Good Eats” many years ago.  I place 1/3 cup of kernels in a brown paper lunch bag, close the bag with two folds, staple the fold with two staples at least 3 inches apart (to avoid arcing in the microwave) and microwave. I set the microwave timer for 3 minutes but pull the bag out of the oven when the sound of popping slows. That usually occurs at about 2 minutes and 30 seconds, but you need to experiment with your own microwave as they are extremely variable in the power they produce. When the corn is popped, I pull it out of the microwave, cut off the top of the bag with scissors, and dump the popped corn into a bowl for melted butter and salt.

I thought I had the perfect system. So I was surprised when I opened a Christmas gift from Susan. It was an Ecolution Micro-Pop® Popcorn Popper. Essentially it dresses up Elton Brown’s idea with an attractive glass bowl housed in a bright red plastic carrier and topped with a red lid that doubles as a dispenser for butter. It makes less popcorn than the brown paper bag method, but it is plenty for one person and it is easy to make a second or third batch. Time in the microwave is about the same, but you need to listen and stop the popping just the same  as with the paper bag. I was tempted to use more corn kernels – actually I did – and I strongly advise against it as the popped corn will burn and it will be hard to get it out of the popper. All in all it’s a good and fun method to pop corn. Still, I plan to hold onto my paper bags.

One last comment: Recently we spent a few days in Avalon on Catalina Island. One of our restaurant choices was the Avalon Grille (excellent choice, by the way) where they brought us a basket of delicately chili-flavored popcorn to go with drinks. The taste was light and refreshing, not at all what you might think when you hear “chili-flavored popcorn.” At home, I tried to reproduce the flavor. I mixed equal parts of table salt, vinegar powder (available from Pendery’s Spices) and ground chiles (You can use as mild or piquant as you wish.) Then I used the mixture to season popcorn that had already been buttered. My version was not as good as the original, but it was still good enough to do again.

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RENAISSANCE LASAGNE

My daughter-in-law is a techie who lives in Silicon Valley. She is a very good cook and she is also a minimalist so she eschews cookbooks. For her, the internet is a perfect source. On the other hand, my daughter Carol loves cookbooks. She has shelves of them in her kitchen, and there is usually at least one tucked in her bedside book stack. For her, reading a cookbook beats reading a romance novel.

It was Carol’s turn to make the main course for our usual Sunday family meal, and the planets came together. Carol was on a diet in which vegetables are encouraged, meat and poultry are essential, and dairy products should be avoided. She found a dish that fit her requirements in a book she was reading, The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Weekends: Renaissance Lasagne. In addition, our granddaughter – the only person in the family who does not like lasagna (Whoever heard of that?) – was away at college. It was the perfect time to give the recipe a try. The recipe originally came from the radio show on NPR, “The Splendid Table.” I don’t know if the authors were touting it as an authentic recipe from the Renaissance. I have my doubts, because most recipes that I have read from the era say things like, “Take a knob of butter and mix with a handful of nuts not too freshly harvested and muddle with a dipper of milk.” This recipe is far too specific for that. I think the point is supposed to be that noodles approximating modern lasagne have been around since Roman times, and tomatoes did not reach the table until well after their transport from the New World after 1492.  This recipe has no tomatoes but is rich with chicken along with raisins and pine nuts. With a store list like that, it is clear that even if the recipe is absolutely authentic, this lasagna was almost certainly served only in the ducal palace or at the table of a wealthy merchant.

Carol’s menu was drawn straight from the cookbook. After our traditional half hour or so for drinks, light snacks and conversation about the events of the week, she served us what is titled in the book as “An Unusual Italian Salad”. It is based on frisée lettuce with curls of Parmigiano-Reggiano, candied lemon peel, toasted pine nuts, a vinaigrette and balsamic syrup. 

Then came the main dish accompanied with crisp-crusted Italian bread: Renaissance Lasagne.  The cookbook describes it as “…the long-lost wayward sister of the lasagne you have known and loved…straight out of Italy’s culinary golden age, the Renaissance.”  The delicacy and thinness of homemade pasta is an important part of the dish, but you can substitute store-bought, especially if you are in a hurry. Then you layer the pasta with “a light chicken ragù and sprinklings of nuts, raisins, spices, and cheese.”

I will not include the recipes for either the salad or the lasagne as they are readily available in the book, on the internet, or on Pinterest. Trust me, the meal was delicious, and the recipes are worth adding to your collection.

Lasagna lagniappe: lasagna or lasagne?

In Italian, one noodle = lasagna; two or more noodles = lasagne. In the USA, the convention is that the dish is spelled lasagna while in other English-speaking countries, i.e. the UK, Australia, etc., the dish is spelled lasagne.  (Think favorite/favourite) Even though the Splendid Table hails from the USA, they have chosen to spell the dish lasagne. Either way – or both – lasagna/e is one of my favorite foods. PPS: The automatic spell check in this software is driving me crazy. It keeps changing “e” to “a” when I am not looking.

 

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THE HUNT FOR KIMCHI

One Christmas gift from my spouse was a kimchi pot. It seems as though I have been fermenting things my whole life. When I was a young boy, I helped my grandmother (from a German farm family in North Dakota) shred bushels of cabbage every fall. We used a wooden slicer with a guillotine-like blade – a rustic mandoline – to shred the cabbage before salting it and placing it in very large pottery crocks lined up along the wall of an outbuilding in her back yard. The crocks were filled to the brim with cabbage, salt, and water. Then we placed a cracked dinner plate on top of each crock and weighed them down with a brick or big rock. It then became my responsibility to check the crocks each day to replenish the liquid if needed. There must have been at least a dozen crocks, and the smell of fermenting cabbage soon became overwhelming in the building, even seeping out into the backyard. For a child, the process seemed interminable although it was probably only a couple of weeks. In any event, when my grandmother decided that the process was complete, it was time to fire up the canning equipment and activate the canning crew of women and children in the family. Steam rose from several big pots on the stove as jars were sterilized, filled and processed; sweat poured from the ladies who seemed happy enough. The end product of all this effort was rows of gleaming jars filled with sauerkraut. They would get stored in the scary basement and serve the family through the winter. At least once a week the evening meal consisted of a mound of sauerkraut, mashed potatoes with no butter, and a sausage (My recollection is that it was actually a hot dog.) That menu is one I resist to this day.

Those memories inspired me to try my hand at sauerkraut making when we lived in Louisiana. I found a small crock at a potters’ in Marshal, Texas. I shredded the cabbage on a wooden shredder we had found in an “antique store” – read junk shop – in some small East Texas town. I set up my fermentation lab in a hallway between the kitchen and dining room that we had dubbed the butler’s pantry. The smell of fermenting cabbage hung in the air of the butler’s pantry.  Our children, some of them teenagers, thought that Old Dad had gone off the deep end, and they were very amused. They loved to bring their friends to inspect the crock and inhale the fragrance. The visits always ended in gales of laughter.

In Santa Fe, Susan gave me a beautiful German crock to rekindle my interest in fermentation. I have written about the sauerkraut that I made with that crock. All of the family enjoyed Reuben sandwiches made with the sauerkraut. Unfortunately, the lid of the crock was broken in our move to California. We patched it together, and we tried to buy a new one, but apparently the German manufacturer has stopped importing to the United States.  The other problem was that the crock made  a LOT of sauerkraut.

Since our move to Southern California, we have had the opportunity to eat many varieties of Asian food. Korean restaurants are especially common nearby, and there are many families of Korean background who live in our neighborhood. We have become fans of kimchi. Susan apparently thought it was time to make another effort on fermentation, so she gave me a smaller glass container specially designed so that it is automatically vented and you don’t have to worry about maintaining a water seal. Of course, you can make sauerkraut or giardiniera, but my first effort seemed like it should be kimchi. I assumed that finding the ingredients should be no problem at our local supermarket, and I headed there with shopping list in hand:

Napa cabbage. Check

Daikon radish. Check

Daikon radish

Carrots. Check

Ginger. Check

Ginger

Scallions. Check

Fish sauce. I went to the aisle labelled “Asian/Hispanic”. The only fish sauce was from Thailand!?

Rice flour. I already had some in the pantry and then U decided not to make the slurry for kimchi paste

Korean chili pepper. I looked through the shelves several times, and all I could find was Gochugang spicy miso sauce.

I totally struck out on salted, fermented shrimp so Carol drove me to the Korean market down the hill. We showed an iPhone image of what we were looking for to two young men who were stocking shelves. They averred that they had never heard of it and they didn’t have it. With persistence, Carol found a jar labelled “shrimp sauce (finely ground), Product of China” which we bought.

Having assembled all of the ingredients, I began to make my first kimchi even though I am certain that our Korean neighbors would cringe at labeling the stuff as such.  The first order of business was to cut the Daikon radish and carrots into 3 inch match sticks. For that I used a French mandoline that sits unused in its box even though it is a beautiful machine to behold.  Then the real production of kimchi began. After sitting in the jar on my desk for four days with little odor,  the kimchi was ready. I transferred it to Mason jars to be refrigerated. I also ate a good portion. If I do say, it turned out to be pretty delicious.

RECIPE

Basic Kimchi

Ingredients

  • 1  medium head napa cabbage
  • water
  • ½ cup salt
  • 2 cups Daikon radish peeled and cut into 3 inch julienne
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into 3 inch julienne
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 6 scallions, roots removed and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/3 cup spicy miso sauce
  • ¼ cup fish sauce
  • ¼ ginger, peeled and minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons salted, fermented shrimp sauce
  • 1½ teaspoons sugar

Method

  1. Cut the cabbage in half, lengthwise. Cut crosswise in 2 inch pieces, discarding the core. Sprinkle the cut cabbage with salt and then place in a large bowl. Cover with water, cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 4 hours.
  2. After the cabbage has soaked,  drain in a colander and rinse to remove salt, and return to the bowl.
  3. Add all the remaining ingredients and mix well. Transfer to the fermentation crock. Seal the crock with the venting lid. Place the crock in a cool place, undisturbed, for 4 days. Then bottle or eat the finished kimchi. Bottles may be refrigerated for up to a month.

 

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PERSIMMON NEGRONI

Autumn is edging into winter. You can feel it in the air, and in some parts of the country like our old home in Santa Fe, they have had snow with snowflakes filling the air. Tragically in California there are no snowflakes, only smoke and ashes. San Francisco is darkened by smoke from the Camp Fire, and in Los Angeles the air is heavy with the smoke and smell of the Woolsey Fire. One night this week, Carol was in Redondo Beach and captured the image of the fires over Malibu, 26 miles away. Our thoughts are with the victims. Newspaper reports have been filled with horrible images and frightening stories. I hope the fires are soon brought under control. We need rain.

This week, family Sunday dinner was at Carol’s house. Carol outdid herself. She enjoys cooking and finds it therapeutic. She needed to find some relaxation. She also found a bounty at the farmers market. Just about everything on the menu – except the rabbit – came from the vendors there.

First course was a delicious mushroom soup that she loves to serve in small glass bowls made for sipping. The soup is beautifully seasoned with herbs and an excellent replacement for the usual appetizers. Second course was a simple salad of blood oranges, navel oranges, avocados, and sprouts topped with a tangy vinaigrette. Of course, the highlight of the meal was a dish that Carol called rabbit cacciatore: pieces of perfectly cooked rabbit (The young butcher who sold Carol the rabbit had to ask for help from an older man in cutting up the rabbit.) and noodles with a light sauce and topped with fresh tomatoes and parsley.  Finally, though we didn’t need it, was a dessert of canelés from the bakery vendor at the farmers market topped with a sauce of figs that I had admired at the market that morning.

Besides the change in the weather, there is another way to tell that winter is coming. Persimmons make their appearance. And they are plentiful at the farmers market. Problem is they are not fully ripened and you need to take them home to ripen on the counter for days or even weeks. There are native varieties that are especially common in the South. They don’t make it to the farmers market but they are treasured by those who know about them. There are two varieties at our local market: the Hachiya and the Fuyu. The Hachiya is shaped like an acorn and is astringent (i.e. it will make you pucker) until it is fully ripe. Then it becomes very soft and sweet. The Fuyu is shaped like a tomato and is not astringent. It is firmer even when ripe. Yoo can “ripen” persimmons by putting them in the freezer overnight. This reflects Susan’s father’s adage that persimmons on our farm shouldn’t be eaten until after the first frost.

Because of the abundance of persimmons, our son-in-law decided to make persimmon Negronis for our traditional cocktail hour. He and Carol had earlier planned to make the recipes in Sarah and Evan’s new cookbook, Rich Table. In the book, the drinks look especially good and most easily accessible by the home cook. The recipe for Persimmon Negroni calls for Hachiya persimmons; we only had Fuyu.  We also did not have available the various gins recommended so SIL just went with Hendricks. Honestly, I couldn’t tell the difference. But I could tell my drink was delicious.

RECIPE

Persimmon Negroni

Persimmon Negroni

Ingredients

  • 1 very ripe Hachiya persimmon
  • 1 ounce Campari
  • 1 ounce gin*
  • ¼ ounce (1½ teaspoon) lemon juice
  • ¼ ounce (1½ teaspoon) simple syrup
  • ice

Method

  1. Press the persimmon through a fine-mesh strainer into a small bowl. Discard the solids.
  2. In a cocktail shaker, combine 1 ounce of the persimmon puree with the Campari, gin, lemon juice,, simple syrup and ice.
  3. Shake until the ingredients are well chilled (about 30 seconds)
  4. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a rocks glass containing one large ice cube.
  5. Serve immediately.

*The original recipe calls for ¾ ounce London dry gin and ¼ ounce of herbaceous gin. If you don’t have a large commercial bar stock at your disposal, use your favorite gin, Hendricks provides a nice herbaceous element.

 

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HAM STEAK WITH PINEAPPLE

Finally. Everyone in the family is back where they are supposed to be. The chefs are back in the restaurant. The scientists are back doing what they do. The college kid is in college, and we are back home resting after child care. Carol was the last to return after a business trip to Hawaii. Because of a comedy of errors she missed her return flight. Fortunately she made the red-eye and was back home in time for the first Sunday family dinner since all of the moving around began. In honor of her Hawaiian “vacation” I decided to make ham with pineapple in as simple a version as possible along with cheesy grits (as appropriate a combination as shrimp and grits). Asparagus vinaigrette finished off the meal.  Asparagus was abundant at the farmers market because Southern California is blessed with a second growing season. Along with fall apples we are beginning to find spring vegetables.

Unless you are over 50, there is a good possibility you have never seen a whole ham festooned with rings of pineapple centered by bright red maraschino cherries. In our family while I was growing up it was considered one of the fanciest dinner offerings. The dish showed up repeatedly in magazines and advertisements. These days not so much. It gets harder and harder to find a bone-in whole ham. One of those things provided a 1950s family with a week of meals: first a festive Sunday dinner, then sliced ham with red-eye gravy, sandwiches, ham and potato casserole, and finally ham and bean soup. These days you can often only find tiny little hamettes (water added) or sliced or diced ham products.  And the idea of pineapple rings, especially when they are centered by a bright red maraschino cherry has fallen out of favor. For this recipe I settled for the largest whole ham slices with the bone still in. I think they made a good substitute, and there was even some left over. I also went retro with the pineapple slices and cherries. Everyone seemed to enjoy it.

RECIPE

Ham Steak with Pineapple

Ingredients

  • 2 large ham steaks (about one pound each)
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • ¼ cup Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 cup canned crushed pineapple, well-drained
  • 1 20-ounce can pineapple slices, drained
  • maraschino cherries

Method

  1. Pat the ham slices dry with a paper towel. Arrange one slice in a foil-lined rimmed baking pan that has been well greased.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, mustard, soy sauce, oil, salt, and pepper. Stir in the crushed pineapple. Spread this mixture on the ham slice in the baking pan and then top with the second ham slice.
  3. Arrange the pineapple slices over the ham. Place a maraschino cherry in the center of each of the slices. Baste with liquid from the filling.
  4. Bake in an oven preheated to 275°F for one hour. Remove from the oven, cut into serving-sized pieces and serve while still warm.

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