September 29, 2008

Grilled Pork Chops with Balsamic Glazed Pears

“There is poetry in a pork chop to a hungry man.”
Philip Gibbs (NY Times 1951)
These pork chops were absolutely delicious, living up to the wonderful aroma filling the kitchen that I mentioned in my last post. I did make some alterations to the recipe, mainly in preferences and presentation.

I only made 2 pork chops instead of 6, but I'll admit they were huge -- one pound apiece! Uh, no leftovers. I made the full amount of brine called for, to be sure it covered the extra thick chops, but I substituted brown sugar, which I always use in a brine. I only used 2 large cloves of garlic -- more would have been fine.

I'll admit I was drawn to this recipe for the pears, so I used 2 large pears -- firm red ones. The Sweet D onion I used was big, so I only used one.

My one word of advice -- do not use inferior balsamic vinegar. You'll want the rich depth of sweet-tart flavor to compliment the sweetness of the onions and pears. I like the Fini Balsamic Vinegar that I get from Williams-Sonoma (about $12/btl. and also available in other places too). You can pay a lot more for balsamic vinegar, but this one is reliable and works nicely in dressings and sauces, without spending a fortune.

MFH was the grillmaster for the evening and he did an outstanding job, as you can see in the picture. We used a thermometer to test the temperature as the chops cooked and pulled them off the grill when the temp reached 150 degrees -- which was perfect. Remember, meat continues to cook after removed from the heat, so it will continue cooking while you give it the mandatory 5 - 10 minutes rest, to allow the juices to redistribute throughout the meat. You know that already, don't you?

Rather than cook the sauce with the onions and pears, I elected to heat everything separately. I was afraid the subtle flavor of the pears would be overwhelmed if saturated with the balsamic sauce. I also thought the pork chops would be enhanced by the sauce, so I generously drizzled it over everything once plated. Remember, I said I made the full amount of sauce, and if I had made 6 chops, I would have wanted more. It was that good on the chop and the onions and the pears! '

Thanks to Dannie for the recipe. MFH says "it's a keeper!"

GRILLED PORK CHOPS WITH BALSAMIC CARAMELIZED PEARS AND ONIONS
Brine:
1 1/2 qts. water
5 tbsp. kosher salt
2 tbsp. brown sugar
2 pork loin chops, 1-in. thick

Marinade:
1/2 c. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. fresh rosemary, minced

Sauce:
1/2 c. good balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 Vidalia onion, cut into 8 wedges with stem end attached
2 pears, cored and each cut into 8 wedges
1 tsp. salt

In a large bowl, stir together the water, kosher salt, and sugar. Add pork chops to this brine, and let them soak for no more than one hour. Drain and discard the brine. Pat pork chops dry with paper towels.

In a shallow dish, stir together the olive oil, garlic, and rosemary. Place pork chops in the dish, and turn to coat. Cover, and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1-2 hours.

Pour the balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, and cook until reduced by 1/2, about 10 minutes. When the vinegar cools, it should be the consistency of syrup.

Melt butter with olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high or high heat. Add the onions and pears, and quickly brown, being careful to keep the wedges intact. Once the onions and pears are browned, reduce heat to low, and cook for about 7 minutes, or until tender. Stir in the reduced vinegar and salt. The recipe can be prepared up to this point several hours before grilling.

Preheat the grill for medium-high heat.

Place skillet with pears on a cool part of the grill and warm them while the pork cooks. Place the pork chops over the hot part. Cook pork for about 3 minutes per side, or to desired doneness. Remove to a serving plate, cover with aluminum foil and let rest for a few minutes. Uncover, top with the pear onion sauce, and serve.

September 26, 2008

Dinner Smells W-O-N-D-E-R-F-U-L!



Just a peek at things to come. I'm making dinner from a recipe that will be in next month's Heartland Women column. I wish you could smell the wonderful aromas in my kitchen. Check back soon for the results.

Gifts of Good Taste

SUGAR AND SPICE PECANS
3/4 c. sugar
1 egg white
2 1/2 tbsp. water
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
2 lbs. pecan halves

Combine first 8 ingredients in a very large bowl; mix well with wire whisk. Add pecans; stir until evenly coated. Spread pecans in two greased 15x10x1” jellyroll pans. Bake at 275 degrees for 50-55 minutes; stir once while baking. Remove to waxed paper while still warm; cool. Store in an airtight container.

September 25, 2008

Bubble Bread - Savory and Oh, So Good

"Bachelor's fare: bread and cheese, and kisses." Jonathan Swift, (1667-1745)
My brother, Stephen the Chef, has shared his version of the famous Bubble Bread recipe from the Bubble Room Restaurant on Captiva Island, Florida. If you’ve ever been there, you’ll recognize this as the real thing. And even if you’ve never been, trust me, it will be love it at first bite.

BUBBLE BREAD
1 loaf Italian bread
2 c. mayonnaise (Hellman’s)
5 oz. crumbled Gorgonzola
1/2 tsp. granulated garlic (NOT garlic salt)
1/2 tsp. white pepper
1/2 tsp. red wine vinegar
4 oz. grated Swiss cheese
4 oz. grated Kraft Parmesan cheese

Split Italian loaf lengthwise. Blend mayonnaise, Gorgonzola, garlic, pepper and red wine vinegar. Spread dressing on bread, covering all the way to the edges, about 1/4 in. thick. Blend Swiss and Parmesan cheeses and sprinkle generously on top of bread. Sprinkle lightly with paprika. Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until “bubbly” and serve while warm.

September 22, 2008

Chicken Alfredo -- Variations on a Theme


"Hungry is a mighty fine sauce."
Southern folk saying
CHICKEN ALFREDO WITH ARTICHOKE HEARTS AND SUNDRIED TOMATOES
National Chicken Month
California Wine Month
4 boneless chicken breasts
2 c. Alfredo sauce (homemade or prepared)
1/4 c. dry white wine
1 tbsp. finely chopped oil-packed sundried tomatoes, drained
1 can (12 oz.) marinated artichoke hearts, drain and roughly chopped
1 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place chicken breasts between sheets of wax paper and pound slightly to flatten to uniform size. Season chicken with salt and pepper and place in baking dish. Combine Alfredo sauce, white wine, sundried tomatoes and artichoke hearts; pour sauce over chicken. Sprinkle cheese over sauce. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes, or until sauce is bubbly and chicken is fully cooked. Good served over gnocchi (Delallo is my favorite!) or pasta, with a green salad and crusty rolls. Serves 4.

I embellished this recipe a little because I couldn't find the sundried tomato Alfredo sauce called for in the original recipe the day I wanted to make it. Instead, I made it with Classico Roasted Pepper Alfredo Sauce and added the artichoke hearts and some finely chopped oil-packed sundried tomato -- about 1 tablespoon. I also served it with gnocchi that were tossed with a little olive oil and salt before topping with the chicken breast and sauce. Wonderful!

Next time I'll try a little sauteed chopped spinach in the Alfredo sauce too. And the next time . . . broccoli. And the next time . . . traditional Alfredo sauce with sundried tomotoes and pesto. And the next time . . . traditional Alredo sauce and then topped with crispy bits of prosciutto. And the next time . . .

September 21, 2008

Autumn Apples in Tuna Salad

“My favorite sandwich is peanut butter, baloney, cheddar cheese, lettuce, and mayonnaise on toasted bread with catsup on the side.”
Hubert H. Humphrey (former Senator from Minnesota)
Tuna Salad is way up there on my sandwich hit parade. I like it just about anyway you make it. Well, except the way this co-worker I had one time made it with mustard. Yuck! Mustard is for salami and bologna and hotdogs and hamburgers. Tuna is strictly mayonnaise or straight.

One of my favorite additions -- apples -- I learned from my friend Roger, and I love the crisp, sweet addition of apples better than the standard pickle relish. In fact, I started with the apple riff yesterday when I made a big batch for weekend lunches. First in the bowl were 4 cans of tuna - 2 solid white water-packed and 2 chunk light olive oil-packed. BTW, have you noticed the can size has really shrunk? Seems to me, a can used to be about 6 oz., but now the kind in olive oil is only 3 oz. and the water variety is 4 oz. The cans are smaller, but the price is higher.

But I digress. All the tuna was drained before flaking in the bowl. Next, I added finely chopped celery, finely chopped apple, and finely chopped pecans. All of this was tossed together and then blended with enough mayonnaise to give it a stick-together-when-you-spread-it consistency. And that's it!

We've been eating it on Oatmeal Bread or Whole Wheat Bread, with a little more mayonnaise, of course, and some nice leafy lettuce. A tuna sandwich that is perfection with autumn apples!

Apple Pecan Tuna Salad
2 cans solid white water-pack tuna, drained
2 cans chunk light olive oil-packed tuna, drained
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 medium apple with peel (Gala, McIntosh, Honey Crisp, Golden Delicious)
1/3 c. finely chopped pecans
Hellman's Mayonnaise (Low-Fat or Regular)

Add all ingredients together with enough mayonniase to blend into a stiff-spreadable consistency.

September 16, 2008

Six Words You Need To Know . . .



. . . Dairy Queen French Silk Pie Blizzard.

Trust me! If you like French Silk Pie, you will love French Silk Blizzards. My apologies to those of you who do not have a Dairy Queen nearby. But if there is one nearby, you need to be on your way before you finish rea . . .

September 13, 2008

Cookbooks Rich in the Tradition and Culture of Community

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

Back in August, just as I was pondering new recipes to tempt you, I got a tip from Chanda, my editor at Heartland Women, that September was National Chicken Month. “OK,” I said. I already had an idea about a topic, but I decided it would be easy enough to tie it in with chicken recipes. But then I began to wonder about National This Day and National That Month and was curious to see if there was anything else I should know about food for September.

With just a few keystrokes, I was speeding through cyberspace in search of food facts. Now here comes the problem. Sometimes Googling is an amazing help to writers . . . so much so, that we find ourselves in over our heads. Do you know there is a National Something Food Day for every single day of the month? And four National Food Weeks? And no less than seven National Food Months? Neither did I!

What’s a girl to do? My job is to synthesize all this information for busy readers. Would it be possible to spare you the endless hours of searching for just the right dishes for ALL of these special meals? Where could I find enough recipes for such a diverse month?

If cooks used organic flour to make biscuits, would that take care of celebrating National Biscuit Month and National Organic Harvest Month? Was it over the top to pour on some gravy to cover Biscuit and Gravy week too?

I wasn’t sure I could even hit another food trifecta like that in the same month, but I was beginning to relish the challenge. Let’s see, Better Breakfast Month, National Waffle Week and Drink Beer Day . . . no, that wasn’t going to work! Better to just try to reduce this culinary dilemma to a manageable few by some other method.

The next challenge was where to find so many recipes. As most of you know by now, my cookbook collection is . . . well . . . rather extensive. But I don’t care how many books I have on my shelves there are those certain “go to” books that always seem to provide quick and easy crowd-pleasing recipes. Just the kind of recipes that are perfect for cooks challenged by changing seasons, busy back to school schedules, and events honoring the odd celebratory food of the day or week.

Thanks goodness, I’ve always had a soft spot for this genre known as community cookbooks. You know which ones I’m talking about. Churches, schools, civic organizations and charities sell these books to fund their good works. Recipes are usually collected from the group’s members and friends, and center on home and family meals that are familiar and comfortable to everyone. Real recipes for real people.

Community cookbooks first appeared around the time of the Civil War, when they were published by churchwomen wanting to raise money to help wounded soldiers and their families. Since then, when faced with the prospect of raising funds, whether for a church group, a civic group, or any other variety of organization, women turned to creating cookbooks. As homemakers, it was something they knew a lot about.

These days, the Junior League is the recognized leader in producing community cookbooks, selling more than 20,000,000 copies since 1943, through their nationwide network of clubs. With more than 200 titles currently in print, they are by far the most professional looking books, often with hard covers and colorful artwork or photography. Proceeds from the sales of Junior League books support local charities.

Another very popular style of community cookbook comes from Southern Living, especially the annual editions of a year’s worth of recipes from the magazine. Southern Living magazine is a recognized institution in homes across the southern tier of states, and many further north. Although these are professionally published, vs. the classic self-published fund-raising books, they still feature recipes submitted by faithful readers and homemakers and, as such, provide a look into the tastes and traditions of families and communities across the region.

In fact, it is this cultural perspective that makes community cookbooks so valuable, especially to collectors. Not only do they provide a rich collection of recipes for the cooks who purchase them, they reveal the effects of social, cultural, economic and political events on real people. Recipes are geared toward family or group meals, things you would take to a covered dish supper – good basic comfort food that consoles the bereaved, welcomes new neighbors, nourishes sick friends, and lends a hand to busy households.

My very favorite community cookbooks are the ones put together by small groups and sold directly or, perhaps, in small shops within the community. It is a treat to discover how several cooks will vary their ingredients or techniques, ever so slightly, for what is essentially the same dish, often with charming little notes added for clarification. And, of course, every variation is included and credited in the cookbook! Reading someone’s name below an entry gives you a sense of connection, almost as if you are in her kitchen, sharing a day in her life.

For those of us who love to cook and love to share recipes with friends, being able to contribute to a community cookbook is an honor. Who doesn’t like to see her name in print? So the next time you are offered a cookbook from a civic or church group, consider all that you will be getting in that small book. I’ve just sent some recipes to my friend, Libba, for her church’s newest cookbook. I can’t wait to get my copy, so I can learn more about the people Libba knows, the history of her church, the culture of her community, and a lot of good recipes from women doing what comes naturally – feeding their families and friends, and lending a hand to help others.

OK, now where was I? Oh, yes! Here are some chicken recipes for National Chicken Month and a few other special food days in September.

I’ve saved these recipes through the years by reading and collecting community cookbooks and most are quick and easy. You won’t see any credit given to a particular cookbook or cook because, of course, I have taken them into my home kitchen and made them my own. Most of these recipes were inspired from books given to me as farewell gifts when the Air Force would move us from one place to another. Those community cookbooks are dear to me because they represent my history – a place where I belonged, if even for a brief time, and where friends extended me a helping hand.

CHICKEN WITH VEGETABLES AND HERB CHEESE BISCUITS
National Chicken Month
National Biscuit Month

6 boneless chicken breasts
6 c. chicken broth
1 pkg. (16 oz.) frozen mixed vegetables
1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. poultry seasoning
2 c. Bisquick
1 c. sour cream
1/2 c. grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 tbsp. snipped chives

Pour chicken broth into large saucepan or Dutch oven. Add chicken breasts and some water to cover, if necessary. Bring chicken breasts to a boil; cover pan, turn off heat and allow chicken to sit for 10 minutes. Remove chicken breasts and cool. Turn heat up to medium-high and reduce chicken broth to 4 c. (32 oz.). Chop chicken breasts into large bite-size pieces and set aside. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat and add salt, pepper, thyme and poultry seasoning. Whisk in flour and continue to cook for 1 minute. Slowly add reduced chicken broth to butter-flour mixture, stirring until well blended. Bring chicken broth mixture to a boil over medium-high heat and stir until thickened. Add frozen mixed vegetables and chicken to sauce mixture and stir to blend. Pour chicken mixture into a greased baking dish. Preheat oven to 350 degrees while making biscuits. In a medium bowl, stir together Bisquick, sour cream, cheese and snipped chives. Place dough on floured surface and knead briefly. Roll or pat to desired thickness – about 1/2” is good – and place biscuits on top of chicken mixture. Brush melted butter on tops of biscuits, if desired. Bake until biscuits are nicely browned on top and sauce is bubbly. Serves 8 – 10.

September 11, 2008

Thoughts on Keeping House and Home

My Favorite Husband believes my main mission in life is to cover every horizontal surface I can find in our house. What can I say? I love being surrounded by nice things and feel happy when I see personal treasures displayed wherever I turn. If something is special to me it is out there, where I can enjoy it, not tucked away in boxes and tissue, under a bed or in the back of the closet. OK, there may be some stuff in the closets - prom dresses can be so challenging to display tastefully. But you know what I mean.

Since the kitchen is my favorite room in our house, I guess it comes as no surprise that it is also where the my most prized "collections" are maintained. And, by its nature, the kitchen also houses a lot of equipment inherent to the work done there . . . so . . . my kitchen has a lot of stuff! And very little vacant space - horizontal or otherwise!

My counter top is bumper to bumper with the many and varied tools of my trade, sharing space with more decorative kitchen ware. Appliances, canisters, baskets, spices, utensils, dome-covered pedestals . . . I could go on and on. Let's just say, for someone who loves an artful arrangement AND loves to cook, the kitchen presents the perfect canvas for functional artistic expression. At least, that's my story!

I know the clutter-phobes are shuddering right now and seeking out a soothing cup of something to calm their jangled nerves. Minimalists. Lovers of sleek and shiny smooth surfaces, absent of decoration. Austere landscape as artful expression. No semi-homemade tablescapes, no sappy sentiment, no revelatory personalization, save one regal orchid in a vahhhse perhaps. Perfectly lovely people, I'm sure . . . perfectly.

Not so for me and my kitchen. We greet you at the door and warm you with our welcome. Come in and look around. Pull up that chair and grab something to drink. I think you'll find everything right next to the coffeemaker. Let me just switch on the lights so you can see what you're doing. Oh, just a little something I whipped up when I needed some light over the sink. I filled a basket, clamped a light bulb on it, decorated a shade and there you have it!

Well sure, you can help empty the dishwasher, if you want. The metal cooking utensils go in the bucket by the stove and the wooden spoons and spatulas in the sunflower pitcher. Oh, the whisks go in that canister, right next to the vinegars.

The pepper mills - well, I bought the white one at my favorite kitchen store in Chapel Hill. I fell in love with the black one when I saw it on the Barefoot Contessa one day - see how the detachable cup on the bottom collects the pepper as it grinds, so it's easy to measure? And a friend gave me the wooden wine bottle grinder when I admired it in his kitchen. Yeah, I do use all of them!

Why so many canisters of flour? Well, one is for bread, one is for pizza, and one is for everything else. Next to the canisters? MFH calls that the boat motor -- it's really a high powered blender that can liquefy whole fruits and vegetables. We love it for breakfast fruit smoothies. Let's see, I found those cutting boards on a trip to California, but you can get them just about anywhere. I have two -- one for me and one to encourage helpers. Best of all, they are dishwasher safe.

Silverware in the drawer right next to the dishwasher. Yeah, there is order and method to my madness - thanks for noticing! The knives go right on the wall above the cutting board -- the bar is magnetic, so they are out of the way, but still in plain sight. The pans go right above the island on the empty hooks.

On top of the cabinets? Well, they're family treasures too dear to use, but too sentimental to put away. The Fiestaware belonged to my great-uncle and it came to me through my grandmother. It makes me happy to see it and remember eating on it at my uncle's and grandmother's houses. Oh yes, there are many more treasures tucked away inside the cabinets too - they're all full! I also have a one-handled rolling pin was my great-grandmother Cora's. No one remembers what happened to the other handle, but I still use it. There's also a plate that belonged to MFH's Grandma Rose and a classic set of primary-colored Pyrex mixing bowls that belonged to his Grandma Irma.

Mine is a working kitchen, you see, at the heart of our home, and it says welcome to me every time I step inside. It's where I love to prepare a meal, read a cookbook, write my column, or blog on my computer. A place for everything, and everything in its place - including me!

September 9, 2008

Kitchen Notes - A lettuce knife?

My brother gave me an weird-looking plastic knife for Christmas. Strange, I thought, because he is not a gadget kind of guy. In fact he's a chef, and they tend to prefer professional lethal-looking knives they keep in little suitcases. Once I got it into my kitchen though, and used it for its singular, intended purpose (apologies to Alton Brown), I was sold on it. Who knew a plastic Lettuce Knife would change my whole way of handling . . . lettuce?

This may sound crazy, but I love salads so much that I would have to put them right up there with pizza, a perfect sandwich, and crispy fried chicken as the foods I would find most difficult to live without. When I drove through hundreds of miles of nothing horizon in Wyoming for the first time in the 70's, I was panic-stricken at the thought of long, brutally cold and snowy winter weather making 50-mile to the market impossible for days or weeks at a time. How do these people live that long without salad? Really. I asked my favorite husband that very question.

A lot can change in 30 years. Markets today are loaded with a vast array of bagged, pre-cut lettuces. I'm all for innovation and I love the idea of making lettuce as readily available as fast food french fries, but am I the only one who thinks it doesn't really look or taste much like real lettuce? The pieces are either bigger than your mouth or so minute they defy recognition as a foodstuff. The pieces are limp and dry as toast, and have a weird taste. I'm guessing that the preservation process is mainly to ensure the perishable lettuce will survive the long journey to the table. Let's get real -- nature did not intend for lettuce to last for a lifetime or need a passport for extended travel. And let's don't even talk about the price -- $4.00 for a bowl of lettuce? Is this a reflection of the scarcity of lettuce or the complicated process of putting lettuce on life support to endure a cross-country journey to your table?

In order for lettuce to last a lifetime from the field to the market shelf, oxygen is removed and nitrogen is added and sealed in the bag. Remember good old H2O, the very stuff that makes lettuce, well, lettuce -- crisp and delicious? That O stands for oxygen, so if it is removed, you're left with H2 -- and that's not water anymore. And it's not lettuce either! I care too much for the moist, crisp, curly crunch of lettuce to let that happen in my salad bowl. No more weird tasting, cotton-like bits of vintage lettuce for me! I don't mind paying more for quality, but I'm pulling the plug on bagged lettuce.

That said, I so love all lettuces (the iceberg in the pic was the only variety left until market day!), that I've developed my own system to make healthy, fast and nourishing salads at home -- where I control the processing and the length of storage. First, I had to overcome my fear of committing the cardinal sin of lettuce -- never cut, always tear. With my trusty new plastic serrated lettuce knife, I'm now washing, drying and cutting my own lettuce -- enough for a couple of days at a time. Cutting the lettuce with this special knife keeps the edges from turning brown and then slimy. I don't know how, but it does.

Now I prepare and chop all the fresh salad ingredients I love as soon as I bring them home, and it's almost as good as having someone else prepare the salad for me -- but not two weeks ago, and not by altering the atmosphere. At lunch or dinner time, I just open the vegetable drawer and remove my lovely, crisp and still-moist ingredients. A big, beautiful bowl of crispy goodness comes together in a couple of minutes. And the lettuce knife is also good for slicing other things like tomatoes -- always room temp, never refrigerated, and at the last minute, of course. There are some rules you simply must not break in the kitchen!

Maybe I don't owe all this new-found wisdom to my trusty lettuce knife, but I am eating a lot more of the salads I love. The shelf life is shorter, but the quality is still there. And that's a good thing!

I'm still worried about those people in Wyoming though . . .

MIXED LETTUCES WITH PEAR VINAIGRETTE
Choice of fresh lettuces – romaine, red leaf, curly endive, butterhead, etc.
Toasted walnuts or pecans – (I use my Sugar and Spice Pecans – recipe link)
Ripe, fresh pears
Pear Vinaigrette – see below

Wash lettuces and dry in salad spinner. Cut or tear into bite-size pieces, as desired. Place lettuces together in a Ziploc bag and refrigerate until assembling salad.

Toast plain nuts in oven or skillet briefly just until you detect the nutty fragrance. Remove from heat, pour onto clean towel or paper towel and set aside to cool. If using Sugar and Spice Pecans, they should be prepared ahead of time, cooled, and stored in airtight container until assembling salad. When nuts are cool, chop or break them into large pieces.

Just before assembling salad, wash and dry pears; cut into thin, vertical slices.

PEAR VINAIGRETTE
1 oz. light olive oil
2 oz. walnut oil
3 oz. champagne vinegar
4 oz. pear nectar
1 oz. Gorgonzola
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. sugar (optional)

Process ingredients in a food processor until well blended. Dressing will make a little more than 1 cup. Refrigerate unused portion.

Assemble Salad
Place lettuces into a large bowl and toss with just enough Pear Vinaigrette to moisten. Place dressed lettuces onto individual salad plates; top with sliced pears, and sprinkle with chopped toasted nuts and additional Gorgonzola crumbles, if desired.

September 7, 2008

One Year Anniversary and A Tour of the New and Improved Cora Cooks

Yes, you're in the right place! In honor of my one year blogging anniversary I've been reworking my blog layout and I finally mastered the necessary html changes to add a third column -- hooray! As you can see, there have been some color and format changes as well, all to make things more interesting and visually appealing. At least that was the plan. Well, that, and I just love to figure this stuff out -- I feel so accomplished at something I never even thought I would understand.

I've learned that some of my readers -- friends mostly, who indulge me in my fascination with food and writing -- are not as devoted to the notion of blogging as I am. In fact, a few of them don't even cook too much anymore, so they're indulging me even more. I guess they still have an interest in eating though, so that and curiosity bring them to these pages on a regular basis. For those reasons, I thought it might be helpful to offer a bit of a tour around the new page to familiarize novice blog readers with the set-up. Although I am still a blogging novice myself, most of what I do know has come from just reading and looking around other blogs, so I hope this will enhance your experience at Cora Cooks.


LEFT HAND COLUMN

1. About Me - OK, can you guess what this first section is for? Strangely enough, when people read something, it helps them to put it into context if they can learn a little bit about the author and see a picture. Here at Cora Cooks, that would be me! Just think of this section as the back of the book jacket with that provocatively pensive picture of the author.

2. Next in the left-hand column, you'll find a link to my first/other website (yes, a blog is a website too), Season To Taste.net, where you can find reprints of all of my Heartland Women food columns going back to the very beginning in January 2005.

3. If you can't find a recipe in our archives, or you want something you can't find here at all, then the Food Blog Search box, next section down in the left-hand column, will allow you to search a vast number of food blogs at one time -- simply type in a key word and away you go! Just don't get lost and forget how to get back here!

4. The Cora Cooks Archives allows you to find recipes or previous posts, just from this blog, by clicking on a keyword. You can locate posts by month, which can be helpful if you're looking for seasonal topics or recipes.

5. And wait, there's more! The last search feature in the left column is a list of all the Labels I've used to identify the information in each post. Scroll down the list and you'll see just how easy it is to locate recipes or favorite food topics by chosing key words from the articles. We do it all for you!

6. If you prefer to sign up for a Feed Reader, scroll down the left-hand column for the buttons below the Labels and add Cora Cooks to your feed reader. If this seems a little beyond your level of involvement at this point, don't worry, the email subscription in #1 on the right hand side is easy.

7. Copyright Information is way down at the bottom and just reminds people that the words and photos here are mine, unless otherwise noted.

RIGHT HAND COLUMN

1. If you like what you see here, and want to come back, then feel free to sign up and Subscribe to Email notices every time a new post is published. You'll be able to click on a link right from the email and come straight to Cora Cooks and the new post. I'd love for you to add Cora Cooks to your bookmarks, but email notification is a reliable time saver.

2. The Google Translator allows you to read this blog in other languages -- just click on the national flag of your choice. Good practice for those learning a new language or to test your memory for high school Spanish or French! J'adore juste la bonne nourriture !

3. When you find your garden or the farmers' market is full of your favorite seasonal produce and you would love to find a fresh recipe for your purchases, check out our In Season list in the right-hand column. Click any word in bold type and link straight to a recipe for that seasonal fruit or vegetable. It's a little extra work for me, but really, I don't mind!

4. If you're not sure where you can find fresh tomatoes in season (like no one you know has a garden and they don't "ring and run" leaving a bag full of them at your door every other day in August and September) then you need to try the Eat Well Local Food finder for a fresh food near you. Just type in your zip code and you'll find out about local farms and other sources for all the best of the season not far from home.

5. I'll admit it. I've been known to search long and hard to find out what my favorite cooks -- Julia Child, Joanne Weir, Ina Garten -- have in their kitchens. I've saved you the trouble by listing 12 Things I Can't Live Without in My Kitchen. Rest assured, I don't receive any payment from any of these companies -- in fact, I love the products so much, I pay them!
Look below the list and you'll find most of these items in my Amazon Store, just in case you need more information and instant gratification!

6. My Blog List is the place to go if you want to check out what other food bloggers are saying. Blogs are very personal and there is one for almost any topic or theme you can imagine. I've listed some of my favorites here. Someday I need to spend a little time introducing you to a few of my food blogging heroes -- stay tuned for that.

7. My favorite Food Magazines are listed and linked in the right-hand column. Many have their articles and recipes available on the websites -- some require a subscription fee to search their Internet recipe/article archives, but others just put it all out there for free. I know that before I had a Barnes and Noble in my neighborhood, I was not familiar with some of the wonderful food mags from England, Australia and Italy, but the Internet is a good way to discover what else is out there.

8. Recipe Sites is my list of the best places to search for recipes, so I like to keep it handy for readers who may be reading along on one of my posts and think -- Wow!, I wonder if I can find a recipe for celery root on Epicurious or AllRecipes? It could happen, and when it does, just zip over to the right hand column and click on Epicurious. I'll trust you to hit the "back" button to find your way back to the one place that puts the food world at your fingertips -- Cora Cooks!

9. The heading, Summer Reading for Cooks, features books of fiction related to food and cooking in some way. I'll admit I haven't read all of these books, but I was delighted to find this genre of popular fiction, called cozy or culinary novels, for the times when I want to relax and let someone else do the cooking. I've read a few of them this summer and can tell you that they remind me of Diane Mott Davidson's Goldy the caterer series. If you haven't bought books from Amazon Used Books before, I am here to tell you that's the way to go for paperbacks AND collecting out-of-print and must-have cookbooks.

10. Shop Around the Web will take you to some of my favorite cooking equipment and supply websites. If I mention something in a regular post, I'll usually provide a link for where to find it on the web, but in case you think of something while you're here, I want you to be able to find it right away. Yeah, my memory isn't what it used to be either, I need all the help I can get.

11. Style Feeder is a cool idea to find out what's new and where to shop for it online. I've added a lot of cooking equipment and some cookbooks to this site, but it's really fun to check out other stylefeeds for some amazing fashion and home decorating finds too.

12. Places to Go, People to See and Things to Do is just that -- some of my favorite places and people. I'm especially fond of going to California when I can and taking cooking classes at Ramekins in Sonoma. And I dream of the day I can go to Provence or Tuscany with Joanne Weir, one of my favorite cooking instructors. Take a look at some of these classes and find fun new ways to experience food.

13. Finally, the last two sections in the right hand column are for research. Wine Enthusiast will help you find just the right wines to pair with your recipes. The Research Assistance section is one I personally use a lot to link to the information I need to keep up with in order to pass it along to you and the readers of my newspaper column. I guess I've made my blog my own little desk in the world-wide reference library -- everything I need to read, write and blog about food is all in one place, at Cora Cooks. Oh yeah, and I keep my computer just steps away from that vast library of cookbooks I have too. It's not as much fun to curl up with a laptop and read as it is with a book -- one must still keep lots and lots of books!

AND LAST, BUT NOT LEAST, THE HEART AND SOUL OF CORA COOKS

The center section of the blog page is devoted to my words and yours. I try to post something at least a couple of times a week -- sometimes more, sometimes less. But did you know you can post too? Yes indeed! There is a place for you to leave comments at the end of every post and bloggers just love to hear your comments, as do other readers. Blogging is a forum for sharing ideas and information. And your comments let the blogger know you are out there. When you buy a cookbook, newspaper or magazine, the people who write those works know you're reading what they write because they've got money in their pockets to prove it. Bloggers write to put their words out there and, in some cases, to connect and share within a certain community of readers through their blog. That's what Cora Cooks is about -- your comments here are my payment, my reward. It's free to come here and look around, take a recipe home, preview a book or discover a new product. But, if you find something useful, or if you have something to add to anything here, please leave a comment and share it with all of us. Sharing recipes and information about food is bound to be one of the oldest networks known to women, and men to for that matter.

Please enjoy visiting Cora Cooks and let me know what you like while you're here. I may have a few questions for you in the next few days, so watch for them. Thanks for stopping by!

September 1, 2008

Resting On My Laurels For Sunday Brunch

No! It is not another pizza post! Well, not quite anyway.

Sometimes you open the refrigerator and just hope for inspiration, knowing a trip to the market is long overdue. Sometimes you get lucky! Today I found leftovers on hand to transform into this beautiful frittata, just perfect for Sunday brunch. So I've written up the recipe below with essential ingredients and instructions -- not exactly how it came into being around here this morning, but . . .

Truth is, what I found were bits and pieces of packaged ingredients. Confession is good for the soul, right? Ore-Ida frozen Potatoes O'Brien, including onions and pepper, of course, a partial stick of pepperoni, McCormick blends of seasonings in little grinder bottles, Paul Newman's marinara, and a Kraft crumbles cheese blend of provolone, feta and Parmesan fell into my line of sight as I stood facing my consumer shortcomings. I'd love to be able to say that I don't know how all of these processessed and packaged items appeared in my fridge, but I do. Hey! I did dice the pepperoni and I do have a magnificent herb garden, blocks of cheeses, and the ability to make my own marinara -- just not today.

Today was Sunday, so I gave it a rest. Brunch was delicious and, at the insistence of my favorite husband, I wrote it down for future frittata Sundays. It was worth at least that much effort -- and it was the least I could do!

PIZZA FRITTATA

3/4 c. diced pepperoni
2 c. diced potatoes
1/2 c. diced onions
1/4 c. diced red and green peppers
1/4 c. tsp. garlic pepper
1/2 tsp. pizza seasoning
5 - 6 eggs, beaten
1 c. marinara sauce
1 c. provolone, feta, Parmesan cheese blend

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large, non-stick skillet, sauté pepperoni for about 1 minute over medium heat; remove excess fat and return pepperoni to skillet. Add potatoes, onions and peppers, garlic pepper and pizza seasoning to pan and toss to blend. Sauté over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are cooked through and lightly browned. Pour eggs over potato mixture and reduce heat to medium-low. As eggs begin to set, lift edges to allow uncooked egg to flow underneath. Continue to cook until eggs are almost completely set. Spoon marinara sauce over eggs and top with cheese mixture. Place skillet on middle oven rack and change oven setting to broil. Check frequently and remove skillet when sauce is bubbly and cheese is lightly browned. Cool for a few minutes before cutting into wedges to serve. Can also be served at room temperature. Serves 4.