March 23, 2008

Wedding Stuff and Dewey's Pizza

Yesterday, we went to St. Louis for some wedding shopping. Kristen met us at the shop where she and Grant ordered wedding invitations, Any Occasion in Chesterfield. We needed to order invitations for the rehearsal dinner. What a cute shop! Shannah, the owner helped us choose something to complement the wedding invitation and also reflect the location of the rehearsal dinner. Shannah creates and makes her own invitations and I was surprised to find them much more affordable than standard invitations you order and have printed. Kristen and I were really excited about them and Dean was . . . well, pleased, but I wouldn't say excited. I can't wait to get them and see the finished product. It won't be long until it's time to mail them out. And I still don't even have a dress for the wedding!

After a quick Starbucks break, we headed to Plaza Frontenac to get Dean's suit for the wedding. Grant has done a great job choosing and coordinating what the guys will all be wearing, including a really neat outfit for Joey, the ring bearer. Dean was outfitted, Kristen and I found cute madras bags we just had to have, and I even got Grant some pants and a shirt. It's a joy to buy him any outfit that does not have a mountain logo on it somewhere!

After J. Crew, we met up with Grant and he and Dean found a couch, while Kristen and I made our way to BCBGMAXAZRIA. She had seen a dress there for after the wedding that she wanted to try on. We found it, and also found a really cute one for the rehearsal dinner. She says she now has all the dresses she needs for the wedding events. Grant appeared doubtful. The after-the-wedding dress is already hanging in the room upstairs where Kristen will be getting ready for the wedding. Everything is beginning to feel very real!

After all that shopping, we desperately needed dinner! Now we're to the part of this post that really belongs in a food blog. Last time we were in Kirkwood, we went with Kristen to Dewey's Pizza. It was so good, I wanted to go back, even though the wait is usually a little long, and really long on Saturday. We had time to talk and have a drink, while we watched them tossing the dough for their incredible pizzas. Grant, who is more into food everyday, was waxing poetic about the new seasonal pizza they had tried on their last Dewey's visit, so when we finally got a table, we jumped right in and ordered it, along with Grant's favorite Candied Walnut and Grape Salad. One salad was more than enough for the four of us to share, and we loved it as much as the first time we had it with Kristen. When the pizza came, they forgot to hold the onions, so we just picked them off and dived right in. The pizza was outstanding!!!!! It's called Ryan's Inferno -- olive oil, light mozzarella, buffalo chicken, gorgonzola cheese, and thin slivers of red onions. After it is baked, they add ranch dressing and itty-bitty pieces of chopped celery - a very nice touch. The crust alone is amazing, but adding the shredded buffalo chicken, the cheeses, the ranch dressing, and the crunchy little celery bits made it one of the best pizzas I've ever eaten. If you ever find yourself in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Dayton, Cleveland, Columbus, or Northern Kentucky, you will thank yourself (and me!) for trying a Dewey's Pizza. Oh, and the manager came over and gave us a $15 coupon for our next visit, just because of those pesky onions we had to pick off our pizza. No surprise that Grant and Kristen got the extra pizza AND the coupon!

We had a lot more shopping we could have done yesterday, but we always get such a late start when we head to St. Louis, that we ran out of time and shopping steam. After dinner we went to the Alpine Shop, so Dean could get some more Superfeet and I could get more Smartwool socks. Of course, Grant told Dean about the sale markdowns, so we also came home with a big Patagonia parka that looks like a barn coat. I will admit that Dean needed a heavier coat to keep out the icy chill when he is shoveling snow, but he would never admit that I need any kind of new coat -- so maybe I'll keep that to myself.

Our last stop was at Circuit City to look at a couple of cameras I am considering for my new attempts at food photography. It took us forever to find Circuit City -- every other place we've lived had one on virtually every corner, but not St. Louis! I played with a few cameras, but was not ready to buy one, so we hit the road for home. When we stopped for gas, we spied a Krispy Kreme Donuts in the next block and the Hot Donuts Now sign was on!!!! We zipped over and ordered six to go -- six of the last few left on the glazing conveyor belt. When we got in the car and opened the box ,we were thrilled to find not six, but eight warm donuts inside. Somehow, we must have had the look of people who don't get hot Krispy Kremes very often anymore, and the clerk took pity on us. God bless her! And thank God too, for that perfect blend of yeast, sugar and air, known as Krispy Kreme.

The trip home was uneventful, but when we got home, we found bits of white donut glaze sprinkled all over the black upholstery, like so many twinkling stars in the night sky. Ahhhhh... heaven must be like eating Dewey's pizza and Krispy Kreme in the same day.

March 20, 2008

Second Chances and Hidden Treasures

I am a big fan of used books, especially used cookbooks. First of all, they are much more affordable than new cookbooks, which often cost more than $30 these days. As much as I may want them, I cannot afford every new cookbook that comes along. Once a book is published though, it can disappear from bookshelves before I get a chance to buy it. And, of course, some books do not come to my attention until I find reference to them, long after they have gone out of print.

Thank goodness for Amazon! When they added used books to their Internet bookstore, a whole new world opened up for me. There is something intriguing about getting a book that someone else used before me. I love to find older books and first editions, especially from authors I consider to be collectible -- like an autographed, first-edition Julia Child. Those are hard to find though. But even when there is not much price difference between old and new editions, I still prefer the used book.

As I thumb through a used book for the first time, I always look for signs of recipes the previous owner may have tried. Does the book fall open to a certain page? Are there any sauce smudges or telltale splatters on the pages? I wonder why this book is in my kitchen now, instead of the one where it started out? I long for the pages to speak to me. Usually though, my second-chance cookbook offers up a stony silence to my questions.

Today I was examining a recently purchased used book for inspiration while writing my column. Cucina Simpatica is a cookbook that should have been in my collection a long time ago, but in 1991 my mind was elsewhere, I guess. The famed Al Forno restaurant was on the leading edge of wood-burning oven and open flame grilling back in the 80's and inspired the cookbook ten years later. During that decade, I was on the road, both literally and foodwise, somewhere between eastern North Carolina barbecue, ragin' Cajun flavors, nouvelle California cuisine, and sophisticated southern fare in Atlanta. Providence, RI was a little off my beaten path.

Now that I am back and re-settled "somewhere in the middle" -- of the country and the latest food trends -- I find myself rebelling against the current low-carb revolution and hungering for (the occasional) pasta and pizza, with their ooey-gooey cheesy charm. And, by some stroke of incredible good fortune, I have my very own wood-fired brick oven!! We've mastered homemade pizza in our brick oven, and even made some respectable artisan bread, but the Al Forno recipes are here to tempt us with new brick oven experiences. I really needed Cucina Simpatica in my collection. Thanks Amazon!

Finally, though, a used cookbook actually spoke to me and Cucina Simpatica divulged some secrets of its former life. As I thumbed through the pages, I was rewarded with not one, but two hidden recipes. The previous owner was a newspaper recipe clipper! From Thursday, January 23, 1992 was a copy of one of a Pierre Franey's, 60-Minute Gourmet columns. Someone thought the recipe for Shrimp and Pasta Medley sounded good. I wonder if the book's previous owner ever tried it?

The other find between the pages was a recipe for "Sunny Vinaigrette," which sounds quite tasty, either as a salad dressing or as a marinade, as suggested. I think I'll make some tomorrow, just so I know the recipe was not clipped in vain, all those years ago. I'll probably even make that pasta dish, too. Why not? Everyone deserves a second chance.

SUNNY VINAIGRETTE
(from the newspaper clipping long-ago hidden in a used cookbook)
6 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/4 c. water
1/4 c. finely chopped sun-dried tomato
2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 large cloves garlic, pressed
dash of cracked black pepper
or red pepper flakes (optional)
1 1/2 c. olive oil

In a 1-quart bowl, mix all ingredients except oil. Whisk in oil to blend thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate in a non-corrosive container up to 1 month. Bring to room temperature and whisk or shake before using.

March 16, 2008

So Good To See You Here!

Come on in! Pour yourself something to drink, plop down on the couch and spend a little time in my kitchen. This is the place to come when you want to spend a few minutes reading recipes, meeting friends, and looking for cooking inspiration.

Did you notice? Weeks of cold, snowy weather have found me snuggled up with my computer, learning how to change the look of my blog! I have even added a few items of interest to the sidebar, including a big list of some of my favorite cookbooks with a link to Amazon, just in case you find one you desperately need for your own library.

The new picture in the header is a look at my cookbook library, the one I see to my right as I work at my computer. To my left is the kitchen itself -- you can see a bit of the pot rack and stove in the background of my little picture. Everything I need in one big room! Have I mentioned this is my favorite room in the house?

If you like the new look of my blog kitchen, please stop back often. I will be doing more regular posting, now that I feel as at home in my blog space as I do right here in my own kitchen, and there will always be something to eat. Let me know about anything else you'd like to see added though. I am sure I have got a little room left for a few more cookbooks, and I am always looking for new recipes or food finds.

You are always welcome here -- in the kitchen where cora cooks!

March 3, 2008

Sometimes It's Not About The Food -- But Today It Is!

SEASON TO TASTE
(My monthly food column for Heartland Women)
March 2008

The wind is raging outside (late February), but the snow has finally melted and as I sit down at the computer to compose this March column, I am clueless about a topic. That happens sometimes. Must be time to check email and stall a little longer . . . er, I mean brainstorm. Notice I do not say clean the closets to stall a little bit longer. Cleaning closets is the final stall of desperation, and I am not there yet!

There is email from my sister-in-law, Janet, who lives in Chicago and is enjoying her new role as stay-at-home mom. She is sending a correction to a recipe for the cookbook I am working on at the moment. Grant, my son, is getting married in May and my book club is continuing their tradition of creating a cookbook for our children when they marry. I have compiled and formatted the previous books for the brides, and now I am doing our first edition for a groom. I know you are thinking that my whole life is a giant collection of recipes and it is, I guess, because I am also at work on a menu for a cooking class I am teaching next week.

A second email just in from Janet has a recipe for cauliflower she has received in her morning email from a friend. OK, I love cauliflower, but it is only 9 a.m. – and that is even a little early in the day for me to contemplate the flavor, not to mention the aroma, of cauliflower!

It turns out this email is just what I have been waiting for – the answer to my writer’s block. Janet’s friend, Patricia, has sent out a plea to 44 (I counted them!) friends at 9 a.m. on Monday morning. She is frustrated and tired of the problem that has faced millions before her and will continue until the end of time – “What’s for dinner tonight?” At her urging, women all across cyberspace have quickly dashed off a familiar recipe in response, and hit “reply all” to send it out to the whole list. What a great idea!

No one wants to face five o’clock and the inevitable staring into an open refrigerator, attempting to mastermind yet another spontaneous culinary triumph in five minutes or less, while simultaneously fending off a famished family. Those days are over for me, but still, I can appreciate the courageous attempt by these eager women, so early in their day, to seek solutions as a group. This is networking at its finest hour – the dinner hour!

As I say, it’s been a while since I faced the particular challenge of feeding a family every night. In fact, for the past several weeks, my only dinner challenge is choosing from an impressive collection of Lean Cuisines stacked in my freezer. I have advanced through the ranks to the Mother of the Groom stage of life, which has created my desire to lose weight and a need (notice no desire!) for more exercise.

Even though I seem to live in a perpetual state of recipe mania, the fact is, when it is time to cut calories, I have to remove myself from the whole process of cooking – with all of its delicious and tempting possibilities. My safer choices are portion-controlled Lean Cuisines (yeah, I know . . . evils of processed food . . . excess sodium . . . blah, blah, blah – no pun intended.) Of course, I balance things out with fresh fruits and vegetables, skim milk, low-fat yogurt and the occasional Smart Ones dessert. I just do not cook!

I am not a slave to this regimen – life does go on! But it is helping me to recognize portion control and consume fewer calories. Less time spent thinking about what’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner leaves more time to contemplate exercise. I am also keeping track of my calorie intake and my calories burned – yikes! – on a website called The Daily Plate.

There is little chance I will be a thin MOG by wedding day – or probably ever! – but, I will be trimmer and smarter about my eating habits and lifestyle. I am already convinced that smaller portions – and greater amounts of exercise – are a necessary and permanent part of my lifestyle. Stay tuned to see how I translate that to my own cooking, when I am back in the kitchen again.

So that is where I am this morning, waxing nostalgic about the inside/outside-the-home working mom dinner dilemma and wondering where that time went. Whether we are looking for fast and easy meals for a family or a healthy lifestyle change, most of us find ourselves in a dinner rut every now and then. My mother had several recipes she relied on during the food-for-young-palate years, like a very simple one we loved and called Skroodles. And, while I am subsisting on a limited variety of minimally prepared flavors, few of us can bear the monotony of life for very long without something new and delicious to tempt our taste buds.

The secret to keeping the joy in cooking is adapting to your own varying lifestyle requirements and searching out nutritious new food experiences. Janet and her friends have found it never hurts to reach out for support. Check their recipes below to see if there is anything new that can answer the “what’s for dinner” question at your house.

MEXICAN CHICKEN
Julie Marchant from Patricia Lux
3-4 boneless chicken breasts or thighs
1 jar salsa
1 pkg. taco seasoning mix

Place the ingredients in a slow-cooker on low and go to work or get a massage and manicure/pedicure, or whatever. Come home, break up the chicken with a fork, and you have shredded Mexican chicken. The beauty of this is that, if you taste it and think you need more seasoning or salsa, you can always add it. We make tacos and burritos with this, and I put any leftovers on shredded lettuce for a salad. 


SLOW-COOKER PORK BARBECUE

Eileen Cadigan
3-4 lb. pork roast

16 oz. bottle hickory smoked barbecue sauce

1 medium onion

1 envelope dry onion soup mix



Place pork roast in slow-cooker; cover and cook on Low 6-8 hours. Remove roast to platter and shred using two forks. Return shredded meat to cooker; add remaining ingredients and cook for another 2 hours. Serve on sandwich rolls or alone.

APRICOT CHICKEN

Beth Felicelli
4 chicken breasts
1/2 c. sour cream
1/4 c. apricot jam or preserves
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
Chopped dried apricots – Patricia’s addition!

Bake chicken for 20 minutes at 350, uncovered. Mix remaining three ingredients. When chicken is ready, pour sauce on chicken and bake an additional 10 minutes. Beth uses low-fat sour cream and low-sugar jam, to make it a healthier recipe. Note: Patricia, the email recipe requester, made this for dinner tonight, with brown rice and broccoli. Rating – delicious!

CARAMELIZED CAULIFLOWER

Beth Felicelli
1 head fresh cauliflower
Olive oil
Salt

Cut cauliflower into smallish pieces and spread on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle with olive oil and salt. Bake for a half hour at 350 degrees -- this caramelizes the cauliflower, making it less bitter and gives it almost a sweetness. Some spots get dark brown, but it’s the caramelization and that’s the best part -- it doesn't taste burnt.

CHICKEN POT PIE

Laura Sagami

Can be made the night before and while preheating your oven, take it out of the fridge to get the chill off before placing it in oven. You may need to add 10-15 minutes to cooking time as well.
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken (we use thighs)
1 bag mixed frozen veggies

1 can cream chicken

2 cans cream potato

Refrigerated pie crusts (comes 2 per pack)

Salt and pepper

Dash of hot sauce



Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Boil chicken in water to cover, for approx 11-13 minutes. 
Cut and cube chicken. Mix together soups, veggies, chicken, salt, pepper, hot sauce
 and pour into pie crust. Cover pie with second crust and cut slits in top to vent. 
Place on baking sheet to prevent messy spill over (although it has never happened to me.) Bake for 1 hour; let rest for 15 minutes before serving.

COCONUT SHRIMP

Barbara Robertson
1 tbsp. oil
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. minced ginger
1 small minced jalapeno
1 lb. raw or cooked shrimp
1 c. coconut milk
1 tbsp. lime juice
pinch of red pepper
cooked rice
chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish

Heat oil in pan; add minced garlic, minced ginger and minced jalapeno and cook for 1 minute. Add 1 pound shrimp – if raw cook, 2 minutes – if cooked, go straight to next step. Add coconut milk, lime juice and pinch of
red pepper. Heat until it boils. Serve over cooked rice and garnish with cilantro, if desired.

SLOW-COOKER PORK CHOPS

Therese Porter
5-6 lean pork chops
1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1 10 ¾-oz. can chicken and rice soup

Dredge chops in mixture of flour and dry mustard. Brown chops in large skillet. Put in slow-cooker. Add can of soup. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours.

SKROODLES

Marilyn Odaniell
1 box rotini noodles
1 lb. ground beef
1 can tomato soup
Parmesan cheese

Cook noodles according to package directions; drain and reserve. Brown and crumble ground beef. Add tomato soup and cooked noodles to ground beef and stir to combine. Simmer until heated through. Serve with Parmesan to sprinkle on top. Note: This dish is bland enough to appeal to the youngest member of the family. Spice it up with other ingredients – Italian sausage, ground turkey, herbs, onion, garlic, etc. to suit the tastes of your family. It will still be quick, easy, and satisfying.

PIZZA BY THE YARD

Cora from Nancy Murphy
1 unsliced loaf French bread
1 6-oz. can tomato paste
1/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 c. finely chopped onion
1/4 c. chopped olives (green or black)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 lb. ground beef
4 tomatoes, cut into 16 slices
4 green or red pepper rings, cut into 1-in. pieces
8 oz. cheese slices (your choice - American, cheddar, provolone, or mozzarella)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut loaf in half, lengthwise and place on baking sheet. In a large bowl, combine tomato paste, Parmesan, chopped onion, and olives, salt and pepper. Add meat and mix well. Spread meat mixture on top of bread halves. Bake for 20 minutes and remove from oven; top with tomato and pepper slices. Cut cheese slices into strips and lay crisscross on top of tomato slices. Bake 5 more minutes, until cheese is softened. Cut into slices to serve 4-6. Note: This recipe easily adapts to your favorite pizza toppings and other breads, like English muffins.