Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lemons and Lagniappe

My last post on Lemon Pie made from fresh Louisiana lemons created quite a stir.  (no pun intended!).  I received many comments and some  recipes for further use of this seasonal (for us) fruit.  I believe the variety of lemon is Meyer, but am not sure.  That seems to be a common variety that grows well in our climate.  This post is dedicated to the further use of the quart of lemon juice we still have in our refrigerator.

In September we were served a delicious meal prepared especially for us by our Oregon friends, Judy and Steve Carroll. We are lucky to have their children and grandchild as neighbors.  The entire menu is featured in another post, but the dessert features lemons.  Lemon Pudding Souffle' is a delightful recipe that uses fresh lemon juice and peel.  As the name would suggest it is light a fluffy and very satisfying at the end of a perfect meal.  Judy was kind enough to share the recipe:

Lemon Pudding Souffle' ala Judy

3/4 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 egg yolks
3 egg whites
1 8 oz. carton lemon flavored yogurt
1/2 cup milk
salt, pinch

1. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form and set aside
2. Combine sugar, flour, pinch of salt, melted butter, lemon zest and lemon juice.
3. In another bowl, beat egg yolks and then add yogurt and milk.
4. Stir in lemon mixture and then fold in egg whites.
5. Pour into a greased 8" by 8" baking dish.
6.  Baked in a water bath (larger pan of water with souffle' dish set inside it)
7.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 40-45 minutes.  Best served warm with whipped cream and fresh berries.

Another use for all that lemon juice was sent by my cousin Melanie Mitchum. She offered it as a simpler method to my Lemon Meringue Pie.  I haven't tried it yet, but wanted to share it with you.  In her words:  "That's it!  Super easy and really delicious!"  Melanie adds that when her husband, Mark, prepares it, he doubles the filling recipe to make the pie extra thick.

Melanie's Lemon Pie

1 can condensed milk (10 oz)
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup lemon juice

1. Stir all ingredients together and pour into a graham cracker crust.
2. Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees F or until pie is "set" and egg yolks have cooked.
3. Chill before serving with dollops of whipped topping.

The last recipe I will share with you was given to me by my friend, Lydia Cook.  Lydia and I have known each other for years, and have since reacquainted through the Third Tuesday Book Club of which we are both members.  At our club's recent Christmas lunch, Lydia brought this recipe to me.  She had read the blog about Lemon Meringue Pie and had this recipe that also features the bountiful lemons.  Haven't tried it yet, either, so am picturing it with a version I found on Google Images.  It's Sue Tweedy's Lemon Curd.  The making of Lemon Curd is not uncommon as I also had some earlier in the year that was prepared by my friend, Kaye Hurst.  Hers was delicious, so I am anxious to try this.

Lemon Curd

1/2 cup melted butter
2 cups sugar
Zest of three lemons
Juice of three lemons
4 eggs, well beaten

1.  Combine all ingredients in the top of a double boiler saucepan.
2.  Cook on medium heat, stirring constantly for about 20 minutes or until thick and smooth.
3.  Refrigerate and use as desired on scones, biscuits, pound cake, etc.

Now for the Lagniappe.  In another post I mentioned "tenting" a pie crust with foil.  Several readers contacted me to know more about the tenting method.  It is used to prevent excessive browning of a crust while a pie is baking.  Estimate a length of aluminum foil about half the circumference of the pie.  Tear that length in half.  With the shiny side out (to reflect heat best), shield the crust of the pie.  When there is about 15 minutes of baking time left, remove the tent to allow the crust to brown.

Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas!  My helper was busy today learning to play the piano with her Paw Paw, so she didn't assist me with this post.  

Monday, November 28, 2011

Lemon Pie Time of Year

My sister-in-law, Donna, brought to us a huge bag of lemons from the tree in her backyard.  In Louisiana, this is the time for the lemons to produce.  This was the perfect gift since my hubby loves lemon in his iced tea.  He got industrious and squeezed the entire bag and saved the juice for later use.  This morning he requested that I help him "use up" some of the juice by baking a Lemon Meringue Pie like my Momma used to do.

My first thought was: "Oh boy,  what a request!"  I remember my mother working for several hours at a time to produce this delight, but my Dad loved it and she persevered.   I dug out the cookbook that she had used and got to work.  The recipe stated that it takes about an hour to make the pie, so I wasn't too discouraged.   It's been about two months since we laid my Mom to rest in the cemetery next to my Dad, so I thought about her as I prepared my pie.  I remembered some tips she gave to me as I watched her bake when I was a kid.  It is important to note that the cookbook was published in 1953 and was the only one I ever remember her using.  I laughed as I opened it.  It was full of handwritten notes and newspaper clippings.  For such an old book, it is still in pretty good shape.  She used it for baking, but for everything else she had her own recipes, so I am supposing this book was taken care of well.  I don't ever remember that she bought books, so I am thinking this might have been a gift.  That question will remained unanswered.

Here is the recipe for Lemon Meringue Pie by Elise with a few adaptations by Dot along with the thoughts and tips that came to mind as I was preparing it.

The first step is to organize all the ingredients.  Once beginning the filling, the timing is important.

The Better Homes and Gardens book supplies detailed instructions for making a pie crust.  I do know how to make a pie crust and am pretty good at it, but I have a secret that I will now share with you.  I use ready made crusts that can be found in the refrigerator section of the grocery store.  I always use Pillsbury brand.  They cost a little more than the store brands, but they are worth it.  I have passed them off as my own for many, many years!  They can be frozen, too, so you can always have them on hand.

Prepare the crust and bake at 425 degrees F for about 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and allow it to cool while making the filling and meringue.  Make the crust appear to be homemade by crimping the edges between your fingers.  My mom taught that crimping technique to me as she made her own crusts, but it works for me on my cheater crusts as well!  Reduce the oven to 350 degrees F.

Filling: (differs slightly from the recipe found at the link given above, but this is how my Momma made the pie according to her notes)

-Squeeze enough lemons to get 6 tablespoons of juice.  Before juicing, however, use a microplane or zester to remove the peel that will be used in the filling. (My Momma didn't have either of these, so she used the fine side of a grater)
-Separate 4 eggs. The tool I use to separate the eggs is shown in the photo.  It is a Tupperware product and I don't know if they still sell it, but mine has been used many times.  It is a foolproof way to separate eggs.   Place the whites in a small mixing bowl and reserve for the meringue. Place the yolks in another small bowl and beat them slightly. (Very important:  Use a separate bowl for separating the eggs because any hint of yolk in the whites will cause the meringue to FAIL!  That is the gospel according to my Momma and she was right about that!! )
-Combine 1 cup of sugar with 1/3 cup of cornstarch and 2 cups of water in a medium sized saucepan.  Cook and stir over medium heat until the mixture is smooth and bubbly. This takes about 10 minutes  (A Momma tip:  start with cold water to avoid lumps in the filling caused by undissolved corn starch)
-Remove from heat and stir about 1/2 cup of the hot mixture into the egg yolks.  Then pour the yolk mixture back into the saucepan and stir until well blended.  Use low heat this time.
-Add 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter to the mixture and cook and stir for about 5 more minutes.
-Pour in lemon juice and zest and stir well.  Remove from heat and make the meringue.

-In a small mixing bowl, combine the egg white with a pinch each of Cream of Tartar and salt. Use the highest speed of your electric mixer and beat the egg whites until frothy.
-Gradually add 1/4 cup sugar (granulated or powdered) and continue to beat on high speed until the egg whites are glossy and will hold stiff peaks when the beaters are removed.  This is very important.  An "underbeaten" meringue will "weep" as the pie cools.  (another Momma tip)

Assemble the Pie:
-Pour the warm filling into the prebaked crust.
-Top the filling with the meringue and use a spatula or table knife to spread it over the edges of the filling.  Momma always used the table knife because it was easier to manipulate the meringue with the skinny surface of the knife.  Also, you can "pretty up" the pie by flipping the meringue with the knife to make small peaks on top.   I have tried using a spatula, but resorted to the knife.  Again, she was right!

-bake the pie for about 10 minutes or until the meringue is golden brown.  Allow the pie to cool and then place it in the refrigerator until serving time.  

Enjoy and as you eat the pie, remember that it is a special dessert and is served as a special treat for special people!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Pow Wow with Wow!

It was a beautiful day in September.  In Louisiana, that means it was not 100 degrees F outside!  Via Facebook, about 400 Istrouma High School Indian alums had reconnected after 40 some odd years.  About 100 of those including spouses, that we graciously allowed into the "Teepee", gathered for a "Pow Wow" at the beautiful country home of Frank and Kathy Parker for a Cochon de Lait!

Cochon de lait, translated strictly, means "sucking pig," but in Cajun land it means roasting a whole pig and partying! Cochon de lait is one of Acadiana's most famous and most delectable dishes -- marinated, pit-roasted young suckling pig, sliced thin and served with gravy, on a plate or on a po-boy.  The Master Chef, Frank, was in charge and did not disappoint.  The roasted pork was the best I have ever tasted.  Each of the "IHS Indians" brought a side dish to share.  What a feast!  Pictured is the huge pit where Frank and his helpers cooked the pork.  

The eating was not the only highlight of the day.  We wore name tags because some of us had not seen each other in person since high school graduation.  The hair styles were different, but the smiles and friendships were still intact!  Of course we said to each other:  "You haven't changed a bit!"  Our group was happy to be together and remember the mid sixties with fondness.  Swapping stories and catching up with each other was so much fun.  We shared sorrows and happy times and those times have bound us even closer.  There were lots of hugs and handshakes all around!  

Before the feast, the US Armed Services Veterans gathered around flags representing the various branches of the military.  Ours was the generation of Vietnam and we wanted to show our appreciation for all those brave ones that served us well.  There was a toast and a round of applause for all those present.  We also paused to remember those who didn't make it back.  This was a very touching experience for those of us present.  It brought tears to my eyes.  

A blessing was said as we stood in a circle and held hands and then the eating began.  We thanked our Creator and Lord for the blessings we had and continue to receive through His graciousness.  There was pork aplenty, gravy, beans, corn pudding, green beans and on and on.  And the desserts were to die for!  I have never seen so many pies and cakes in one place.  We also had generous servings of Baskin-Robbins ice cream, courtesy of an Indian and her Bulldog spouse!  Those of you from the Baton Rouge, LA area will understand the significance of that particular bond.  What good cooks we had become over the years since existing on the "Reservation" as we referred to our high school campus!

Many of our classmates are musicians and some had played in organized "bands" back in the day.  After consuming our fill of the goodies, we adjourned to the back porch for a little "jammin'".  Our music makers played some oldies but goodies and they still could put together some good tunes.  They kept apologizing for not sounding better, but to me, the music was wonderful.  There was a lot of toe tapping, applause, requests and even some dancing!  One thing that can be said is the Indians of Istrouma still have that school spirit and cohesiveness that kept us together in spirit throughout the years.  

As the day waned, we began to pick up our folding chairs and what was left of the "fire water" and said our goodbyes.  But not to worry....our Pow Wows have become more frequent and we pledged to see each other on Facebook!  
and......Thanks to Pam Pennington-Firmin for most of the pictures!  

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Can't Keep a Good Woman Down

Elise was born on December 8, 1922 in Greensburg, Louisiana and died on September 12, 2011 at 3:45 a.m. in her “apartment” at Ollie Steele Burden Manor in Baton Rouge, Louisiana from complications after multiple strokes.  Elise saw much in her almost 89 years.  She was a Baptist and her last church membership was Emmanuel Baptist Church of Denham Springs where she was known as the “flower lady.” She grew beautiful roses and was quite accomplished at arranging them.  Every Sunday she would provide a beautiful arrangement for the pulpit.  She and her husband, Maxwell, Sr, raised their children in Baton Rouge, “retired” in Denham Springs, and before moving to Ollie Steele she lived 7 years at Lake Sherwood Village.  During her Denham Springs years, she and dad grew a huge garden.  Some of the grandchildren helped her with harvesting and the blueberries were the favorite crop!  That acreage is now the site of a small subdivision named after her.  

She and my Dad eloped in 1938.  She was 16 and dad was 20 years old. She told her parents that she was going to spend the night with her cousin.  She and dad drove to Woodville, Mississippi where you could, at that time, get married without parental permission.  After World War II and following the births of their four children, Elise went to night school to receive her high school diploma.  How she got four children fed, ready for bed and still had time for classes and study is beyond me.  That diploma was a valuable commodity.  She valued education more than anything.  She often stated that no one could take an education from you.  When I received my master's degree, she insisted on throwing a fine party to celebrate.  She told everyone that I was a teacher!  

She took her children to church each Sunday and sometimes twice a day.  We all went to "Training Union" at night.  She was a Sunday School teacher at Istrouma Baptist church in the 1950’s.  Two women who were influenced by her teaching were in attendance at her funeral.  Our childhood Saturdays were spent getting our Sunday clothes ready.  She made sure everything was clean and we were responsible for polishing our shoes and preparing our lesson.  

She was an immaculate housekeeper.  The Baton Rouge home, where my three siblings and I grew up, had wood floors.  These floors were not like the new ones that are permanently finished when installed.  On a weekly basis she got down on hands and knees to apply paste wax.  Before she purchased an electric buffer, we kids assisted her in shining the floors with soft cloths in hand.  

She cooked three meals a day and was an excellent cook. Having lived through the Great Depression, she was very thrifty.  When she was a young wife, she earned extra money for Christmas gifts one year by baking pies and selling them to friends. Today I am known for my pies because I often assisted her with pie baking.  She did not use "convenience products".  Everything was made from "scratch".  If she made a coconut pie, she began with a fresh coconut.  She would drain the coconut milk, break the shell with a hammer, cut the meat of the coconut away from the hard shell, then grate it into a usable size for the pie. A lemon pie always began with fresh lemons.  My dad's favorite was Lemon Meringue Pie and she was an expert at preparing it.  One sister often joked that she didn't know you could purchase precooked baked goods until she married and started buying her own groceries. 

Momma also preserved fruit and honey. We had a huge fig tree in our backyard and dad had two beehives.  She peeled the figs before canning them.  I have never seen anyone else do that.  We kids shelled numerous bushels of peas and beans until our fingers were raw from the task.  These were frozen for consumption during the cold of winter. She is the only person I ever knew who "tipped and scraped" fresh corn for creamed corn.  Grandchildren vied to see who could get the most of that delicacy on their plate for holiday meals.  You would have thought that corn was gold!  

I compiled her simple recipes one year, had them printed in a booklet and gave a copy to each relative.  Her dumplings were the best you ever tasted. She also made a salad of Jello, carrots and raisins that no one really liked, but it was always included in the menu.  We didn't have the heart to tell her we didn't like it.  Every meal had either homemade biscuits or a pan of hot cornbread to go with the meat served with rice and gravy and the precious vegetables they had grown and preserved.  

She kept abreast of world affairs by reading the newspaper “cover to cover” each day. She admired and loved to read Smiley Anders' daily column in The Advocate.  When the newspaper moved to a different type style and format she was outraged that she had to turn to another page to finish reading Smiley!  In her later years, she got to meet him three times and cherished her pictures with him.  She loved to cut out articles of advice on life and housekeeping and pass them along or stash them for later use. My sister and I spent yesterday going through some of her remaining belongings.  We chuckled as we discovered news clippings she had stashed in her jewelry box.  We wondered what possessed her to save some of these articles and laughed that she had highlighted every word of one clipping. When she was living at Lake Sherwood Village she would set her clock for 5:30 am each day to retrieve and begin reading the newspaper.  It was that important to her.  

She loved watching musical programs on the “idiot box” as she referred the her television, even though she was not particularly musical herself.  I shall miss those phone calls of her alerts about the times and station of programs she knew I would want to watch.  It was like having my own personal TV Guide via telephone!  Louisiana Public Broadcasting was her favorite station. She respected the educational value and the quality of programming. Once I took her to see Andre' Rieu and that was a highlight of her cherished memories. My husband and I gave her front row tickets as a Christmas gift that year.  The picture here is of that evening.  We attended a reception before the concert and she was thrilled.

She loved classical and gospel music and admired those who could sing or play an instrument.  In her last years my sister spent many Saturday afternoons with her just to watch the Gaither Brothers and Lawrence Welk.  There are several musicians and vocalists among her surviving family and several played or sang at her funeral.  She would have been so honored and we know she was listening from heaven.  

Her family is fond of remembering some of her eccentricities including the fact that she advised everyone to work hard, get an education and to avoid those left turns in life and in traffic.  She would drive a mile out of her way to find a traffic light with a left turn signal.  She never went a day without her makeup and nice clothes.  She advised her daughters to do the same. She could never bring herself to play Bingo with the other old folks because she considered it “gambling”.  Her family teased her endlessly about that.  We thought she would enjoy it, but could never bring herself to try it! The wager was $1.00 and I thought it was an inexpensive way to enjoy an afternoon, but she stuck to her convictions on that.  

In her time, the wife of the family bore most of the chores of house and child rearing and she diligently accepted those responsibilities.  It wasn't an easy life.  Her work effort was Puritan-like .  When she was 82 years old we kids encouraged her to leave the five acres my Dad had intended for her perpetuity and she moved to Lake Sherwood Village for independent senior living.  She loved her small apartment and we made it as comfortable for her as we could.  She gave up her big Cadillac (aka "The Land Yacht") and began enjoying the conveniences and amenities of her beautiful surroundings.  

Early this year she began having strokes and was hospitalized several times.  It became necessary for her to have around the clock care so she moved to Ollie Steele Burden Manor.  We arranged for her to have a private room and brought many items of her own furniture and her comfortable chairs.  She never thought of Ollie Steele as a nursing home.  She told the nurses it was her "apartment without a kitchen".  We would like to remember that she was happy there...as happy as she could be, was more the case.  The staff took good care of her and we appreciate that.  Some were genuinely fond of her and she felt the same about them.  

Her long life on earth was filled with the blessings of a large family.  She is survived by four children and a multitude of grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren.  She will be missed.  In the last conversation I had with her, she thanked me for taking care of her.  She ended every conversation with me by reminding me that she loved me.  I love you, too, Momma!

Elise's Chicken and Dumplings 

In a large Dutch oven, boil 2 or 3 chicken breasts with celery, onions, and carrots.  Use a combination of chicken broth and water to fill pot about 2/3 full.  When chicken is cooked, remove it and chop or tear into bite size pieces.  Mash up the vegetables in the broth and strain the liquid.  Return the liquid and the chicken to the pot.  (A couple of chicken bullion cubes can be added to water if you don’t have canned chicken broth.)

Use one package of Mrs. B’s frozen biscuits for the dumplings.*  Roll biscuits thin between sheets of waxed paper that has been floured lightly.  Cut into thin strips.

Return broth to a boil and drop biscuit strips one at a time into pot.  Don’t stir.  They can be poked down with a fork.  Reduce heat to medium and cover.  After about 20 minutes of cooking remove lid.  Dumplings should be tender.

Stir in about ½ stick butter and a 5 ounce can of evaporated milk.  You can also stir in a can of cream of chicken soup.  Serve over hot cooked rice.

*If you don't have access to Mrs. B's, then prepare a biscuit recipe with less water to make it stiff.  Roll into thin strips and cut into 2 inch pieces.  That's how Elise prepared dumplings in her younger years. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Cooking and Memories

I was asked to bring a dessert to a football watching party this evening.  I immediately went to my collection of "old, but tried and true" recipes.  A few years ago, I got industrious and organized my favorites in an album with plastic sleeves to protect the original copies of cherished concoction secrets.  Many were already stained by spills, but were still readable.  In the dessert section, I found myself walking down memory lane because the recipes included the names of those who shared them with me.

My mom was a great cook and never used convenience products.  I have a vivid memory of watching her "singe" a chicken over a gas flame to rid it of the pinfeathers missed during the plucking stage of preparation.  One of my siblings used to quip that she didn't know you could buy ready made cookies and cakes until she got married and started doing the grocery shopping for her family.  Our generation, however, has learned to embrace cake mixes and foods that just need a little help to become your own.

In perusing my album, I found names of recipes attached to the names of people who had an impact on me. There is Ruth Sylvest's Orange Chiffon Cake."  Ruth was my graduate school major professor.  I also saw Pam Janousek's "Fruit Cake Drops."  Pam was a yankee who came to LSU to earn her master's degree in Journalism when my husband was also a candidate for that degree.  I haven't seen her since 1970, but I remember her fondly each time I see her name on the page and I often wonder what happened to her after she left Louisiana.  Too bad we didn't keep in touch.  We didn't have Facebook and email then.  The most advanced technology we had then was an electric typewriter.  By the way, My husband typed his own thesis on a manual typewriter.  He also used carbon paper, because he had to have a copy of it for the LSU Library.  We have the original still.  Sorry about the digression!

When we were young marrieds with a limited income and small dwellings and apartments we often had potluck dinner parties as entertainment for weekend nights when there wasn't a football game to attend.  Susan Atherton made the best Chocolate Pie I have ever tasted and I have kept that recipe, too.  Its main ingredient is Hershey bars!  Skipping ahead to more recent years, I found Priscilla Brewers's "Apple Cake" and Lenora Brown's "Christmas Rum Cake."  I also found a delectable "Bread and Butter Pudding" from a beloved former neighbor, Ruth Firesheets.  I still use that recipe, but add a whiskey sauce.  Miss Ruth would never have poured sugared alcohol over her pudding.  Those who know her would agree that she didn't keep that kind of spirits in her home!  

A recipe written by hand on an old envelope by my husband's Grandmother, Hortense, is a treasure.  It's her rendition of "Divinity Fudge".  I loved eating it when we visited her during the holidays.  I watched her make it and she wrote the directions for me.  It's probably the trickiest recipe  I have ever tried.  She verbally told me to make sure the weather was cool and dry if attempting Divinity Fudge.  The humidity has a lot to do with the success in candy making.

The dessert that I chose  was based more on what I had in my pantry today in the way of ingredients.  It's Jean Stockner's "Sock-It-To-Me Pound Cake."  Jean was a substitute teacher when I taught at Kenilworth Middle School in the 70's.  She often brought delicious cakes to share with the faculty.  We taught her kids and she was wonderful about filling in for me at a moment's notice.  Those of you old enough to remember the "Laugh In" television variety show of the early 70's will know the origin of the name of the cake.  I changed the ingredients just a little and added a maple flavored glaze to the cake, but here is the recipe:

Sock-It-To-Me Pound Cake (in Jean's words)

1 box yellow cake mix
3/4 cup oil
1/2 pint sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
4 eggs
4 T brown sugar
2 t cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped nuts

1.  Mix the first four ingredients, then add eggs one at a time beating well.
2.  Mix the brown sugar, nuts and cinnamon.
3.  Grease and flour Bundt pan.
4.  Pour a layer of cake mixture, top with brown sugar mixture, and pour remaining cake batter on top of this.  Then sprinkle brown sugar mixture over the top being careful not to let brown sugar touch sides of pan.
5.  Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes.  (I must add my cake was done at 45 minutes)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Zucchini Bread Glorified

My friend, Bruce Efferson,  recently gave me some zucchini squash.  We have enjoyed vegetables from my husband's garden this year, but we had no zucchini.  We really appreciated the gift that was among several other squashes and cucumbers!

I never ate zucchini as a child.  My mom and dad never grew it and now I know why.  According to www.about.com this combination squash/melon was introduced to America only about 30 years ago.  The article I read went on to state that Columbus brought zucchini seeds from the Mediterranean area to the New World, but that the food was eaten for thousands of year in Central and South America.  American cooks have learned to love it because of its versatility and ease of growing.  The green elongated vegetable gets its name from the Italian word, zucchino, that interprets to "squash."  I love to prepare it along with yellow crookneck squash in a "medley" seasoned with butter and cheese, but I also love zucchini bread.

Several years ago I received a gift from my son.  It was Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything.  Mark is a television chef and is also the author of "The Minimalist," a food column in the New York Times.  The book is huge....I am talking almost 1000 pages.  It has received awards including Julia Child Cookbook and James Beard Foundation honors.  I like the simplicity of it and the numerous appendices including menu ideas, a glossary, and a list of "Fifty Cookbooks I'd Rather Not Live Without."  The Washington Times reviewed this book and named it "The hip Joy of Cooking." When searching for the perfect zucchini bread recipe, I consulted Mark.  After all, the book cover proclaims that it contains "Simple Recipes for Great Food!"

The recipe is basically a quick bread.  That's one that doesn't require yeast and is composed by combining all the dry ingredients and then pouring in all the liquid ingredients.  I tweaked it a little to suit my preferences.  I am sorry that I did not take a snapshot when it came out of the oven.  When I got up this morning to take a picture of it, I found that someone at our house had made a midnight snack of my creation!   I am so glad he liked it.  To me, that is the real pleasure of cooking....to see someone enjoy eating it!  The menu for the evening  included roasted pork tenderloin, green beans, rice and fresh tomatoes.  I did use the oven, so it was a little hot in the kitchen, but multitasked by baking the bread alongside the pork roast.  Here is the recipe (with a few of my own touches)

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (didn't have so used more all purpose flour)
1/2 cup corn meal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon baking powder
Pinch of each: cinnamon, ground cloves, ground nutmeg, ground ginger
1 (or so) cup grated raw zucchini with green left on
1/2 cup nuts (used walnuts, but pecans would work, too)
1/4 cup melted butter
1 1/2 cups milk (skim used)
2 eggs

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter a loaf pan. (or spray with vegetable spray as I did.)
2.  Combine all the dry ingredients.  Beat the egg with the butter and milk.  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into it along with the zucchini and nuts.
3.  Using a large spoon or rubber spatula, combine the ingredients swiftly, stirring and folding rather than beating and stopping a soon as all the dry ingredients are moistened.  The batter should be lumpy, not smooth.
4.  Pour into the prepared loaf pan and bake about an hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out dry (clean)  Cool on a rack for at least 10 minutes before removing from the pan.

Note from me:  The premise of a quick bread is that the baking powder starts to react when the wet ingredients and combined with the dry.  Therefore, you must have everything ready before beginning to produce the ultimate product.  Mark's book also includes many variations of quick bread.  He has suggestions using apples, pumpkin and carrots.

My sous chef, Olive, wasn't much help today.  She has begun to crawl and has found our dog door.  I have visions of her toppling out the back door, so had to quickly snatch her up before she had a head injury.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Summer Suppers Have Returned

I love light suppers that include fresh vegetables and herbs! I especially like meals that I can prepare without heating up the kitchen with the oven.  Recently I made a trek to Whole Foods to purchase some salmon and whipped up one of my favorite recipes using this delicacy.  Holly Clegg, local and very famous cookbook author and chef, gave me permission to publish her recipe on my blog.  The recipe for "Glazed Salmon" is found in her book, The New Trim and Terrific cookbook.

If you don't know about Holly's cookbooks, be sure to take a look at her website.  You might also catch her appearing on television from time to time around the country.  She has also been on nationwide networks.  See what I mean?   She is famous!  What I particularly love about her cookbooks is that she includes nutritional information and normally uses ingredients that are easily procured.  Most of the time I have most of the things needed for her concoctions in my pantry.  Holly also has an app for your IPhone.  It's free and is called  Mobile Rush-Hour Recipes.  On the app you get suggestions and shopping lists.  Love this app!

I have digressed.....This simple supper consisted of three menu items.  We feasted on Glazed Salmon, steamed asparagus, and Caprese salad.  The asparagus spears were seasoned very lightly with a touch of sea salt and some melted butter.  It is almost shameful that such delicious foods can be put together in such a short amount of time and have such visual appeal as well.

Glazed Salmon by Holly Clegg

1/4 cup honey
2 Tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
2 Tablespoons lime juice
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
4 (6 ounce) Salmon fillets

In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, soy sauce, lime juice and mustard.  Marinate the salmon in the sauce in the refrigerator for several hours, or until ready to cook.

In a non-stick skillet coated with non-stick cooking spray, cook the salmon on each side, 3 to 5 minutes, until golden brown, crispy and just cooked through.  Transfer the salmon to a platter.

Add the remaining honey glaze to the skillet, and simmer, stirring, until the mixture comes to a boil.  Return the salmon to the pan, heat thoroughly, and serve immediately.

You will have to buy her book to get the nutritional information.  She is also on Amazon!

A note on the salmon:  Ask the fish guy to cut your fillets in the center of the piece of salmon, so they are the same thickness.  Then have him use his very sharp knife to take the skin off.  If you live a long distance from Whole Foods, as I do, ask for a bag of ice to keep the fish cold as you drive home.

A few years back, hubby and I dined at Ristorante Del Porto in Covington, LA and enjoyed a wonderful Caprese salad.  Ever since then I have been trying to recreate that taste. This year I noted that the restaurant was up for one of the James Beard awards.  Here is my version of Caprese salad:

Caprese Salad a la Dot

2 medium home grown tomatoes, sliced thinly
3 ounces fresh water Mozzarella cheese, sliced thinly
8 or 9 fresh basil leaves (I pick mine from the pot on my patio)
4 Tablespoons (or as much as you like) Olive oil
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar (aged variety is best)
Black pepper to taste

Layer the tomato and cheese slices in a serving bowl.  Sprinkle with chopped basil leaves (A divine fragrance is released when the basil leaves are cut).

Whisk the olive oil and vinegar together and pour over the salad.  Sprinkle with black pepper.  Best served at room temperature.

This supper is so easy to prepare that I can even accomplish it with the help of my sous chef, Olive.  The photo proves that she and her Paw Paw are a big help in the kitchen.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Tiptoeing Through the Tulips

I have waited a while to begin this post since I don't know quite how to wrap it up in one story.  So, I have decided to start from the very beginning.  We were looking for a trip when the weather would be pleasant, the accommodations excellent, the food superb and the sights exquisite.  We chose a Tauck Cruising experience from Holland to Belgium in the Spring by small ship. We have traveled with Tauck before and knew that this adventure would be topnotch! Tauck tours are of the highest quality and include the very best of tour directors.  There were three tour guides with us on this trip and each was an expert!

We began in Amsterdam.  The architecture of this city combined with the canals makes it very intriguing.  Our first impressions were of the bicycles, old houses, canals and houseboats.  We booked an extra night at the Sofitel Grand Hotel in order to have some extra time.  Our goal was to visit the Van Gogh Museum since this museum was not on our itinerary.  The collection is so vast that a tour could take several days to see it all, so I understand why it is not included.  After riding the streetcar and walking a short distance, we were there!  A history of Van Gogh art was laid before us as we never could have imagined.  No photos were allowed, but there were pencil sketches, letters to his brother and world famous paintings we had never seen before.  It was well worth the extra time.  We enjoyed the street cafes of Amsterdam, but were warned to stay out of the coffee shops, unless our intent was to purchase the legal soft drugs!  I don't believe that John ventured to the "red light" district after I was tucked in and sound asleep.  He said, not, but he did have the opportunity had he been so inclined.  That, too, is legal.

Our riverboat was the Swiss Jewel.  It was very lavish and the passengers numbered 109.  This allowed us to get to know many of them very well and we hope to keep up with them through Facebook and emails.  Tauck made sure that our food, drink and activities were the best!  This trip was all inclusive for the most part and we were so relieved not to be "tipping" every time we had a guided city tour or an extra cocktail!  Another perk of riverboat travel is that you can unpack once and you are set for the remainder of your vacation time.  I even had a massage onboard one afternoon after some rigorous walking. What an effortless way to travel!  We steadily cruised several waterways and canals including the Maas, Rhine and the Albert Canal.

While in Amsterdam, we had a city tour via canal boat and saw the "Night Watch" by Rembrandt at the Rijksmuseum.  But the highlight of this part of our tour was Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse.  There we saw  the blooming tulips.  We literally saw millions of these blossoms!
In addition to the tulips, there were pavilions scattered around  the 56 acres of plantings and each highlighted a different theme or flower.  Flowers are big business in Holland they supply over 80 percent of the cut flowers sold in the world.  Seeing the tulip fields from atop a windmill will be an image imprinted in my mind forever.  In this picture, the stripes of color are tulips!  Magnificient!! And the weather on this day was "bluebird perfect."

Next stop was Hoorn which is an ancient (centuries old) fishing town. We had a walking tour of this area and learned about the trading centers of Holland, much of which was based on fishing.  Some of this trade ended with the process of damming the North Sea which in the past regularly inundated the area.  In the afternoon we visited the Enkhuizen  Zuiderzee Museum which featured costumed characters to tell the story of Holland of old times. The buildings of the museum were transported there and reconstructed in their authentic manner.  In America, there are some historic buildings but nothing compares to the old buildings we saw in Holland.

On another day we saw more famous paintings in the Kroller-Muller Museum with the De Hoge Veluwe National Park.  The park is a nature reserve and was donated along with the art by Helen Kroller in 1939.  This art from her personal collection included more Van Goghs and other masters such as Picasso.  There is also an outside sculpture garden on the site.  The original of "Cafe Terrace at Night" is housed in the museum.  Very impressive, indeed!

Maastricht was another city of interest.  A walking tour included seeing more ancient buildings and experiencing the casual ambience of this busy place.  All over Holland, one must watch out for bicyclists and it was not different in Maastricht.  The Swiss Jewel provided bicycles for those who wanted to venture out on two wheels.  That evening we dined "off the boat" with some fellow travelers with whom we had a great camaraderie.  Turns out that they were both natives of our city!  Can you imagine going half-way around the world to meet folks who live in your home town!  Indonesian food was on the menu and we thoroughly enjoyed an authentic Rice Table dinner!

A rather solemn occasion was walking the hallowed grounds of the Netherlands American Cemetery which is the burial place for over 8,000 World War II soldiers.  Many of these soldiers were lost during the semi-successful "Operation Market Garden" of WWII fame. Each grave has been "adopted" by a local resident family who makes sure that their "soldier" is visited and thanked for his service to our and their country.  They appreciate their freedom very much and appreciate Americans for helping to preserve that freedom.  President Reagan visited this site on the 60th year of its existence and the plaques and statues paid tribute to that visit.

Antwerp was on our itinerary.  Following a quick city bus tour, we embarked on a rather ambitious walking tour of Antwerp.  We saw chocolate in the making, the Peter Paul Rubens House and the very old Guild Houses.  Our walking tour ended with a lunch in town.  The weather turned extremely warm that day, so we were a little exhausted after this busy morning.  Rubens is best known for his work that is housed in Italy, but his home was in Antwerp.  Visiting his studio, we learned that he outlined many of his paintings and had apprentices to finish them.  He was a successful artist who actually sold many of his paintings during his lifetime.

Then...on to Belgium.  The Swiss Jewel negotiated the Albert Canal and we sat on the top deck as our tour guide entertained us with stories of the building of the canal.  We were also warned to "duck" as we went under low bridges.  The wheelhouse of the boat was lowered for these occasions.  On the duration of the voyage we passed through no less than 26 locks and bridges.  All of these were for the control of water levels.  Holland is below sea level and they are constantly fighting water.

Once in Belgium we left our beautiful Swiss Jewel and its wonderful crew and headed to Bruges!  Bruges is the "Venice of Northern Europe" and canals encircle the old part of the city.  It remained untouched by the Nazis in World War II because it was not an industrial city.  The main products produced there include lace and chocolates and the enemy did not find these items strategic threats.  Bruges is a tourist city and again we had to be very careful of the bicycles.  Getting hit by a bicyclist is a constant threat to pedestrians!  We were able to view the second century buildings and had we been physically able, could have climbed their famous tower.  The lines were too long to enjoy a canal boat ride, so we have to return there to do that. We did, however, try some Belgian Waffles.  We asked for the ones with the least sugar and the waitress laughed out loud!

Our last night was dinner on our own in Brussels.  We stayed in the Amigo Hotel and it is only steps from the Grand Place.  This evening was marred by a little rain, but we were unstoppable!  We walked along a busy street and were "pulled" inside street cafes promising free drinks and appetizers if we selected their establishments.  We felt as though we were on Bourbon Street in New Orleans being pulled into strip clubs!  We did select a restaurant and had great paella with fresh mussels and lots of other seafood.  So...we had mussels in Brussels!

Next day was home!  I love traveling, but there is no place like the good ole USA!  In this post, I pointed out the highlights of the trip.  There were many more interesting things that we saw or experienced, but space prohibits them from all being shared.  I didn't even mention the beautiful cathedrals and basilicas we entered or the great cuisine we enjoyed.  Needless to say, we need to go back.  I am now spending my daydreaming time perusing www.Tauck.com to plan for our next adventure!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Eighty? Can't Believe it!

Today we attended my husband's Godmother's 80th birthday party.  Mary Ann McKearan was 80 on March 10, 2011.  We were honored to be included in the festivities and made the trip to Harahan, Louisiana with my husband's only sister at the wheel.  Mary Ann has a nickname of which she is not fond, but that's how I know her from her Godson.  It's "Aunt Dut" and lots of people call her by that name.  I would love to know the origin of her nickname, but no one seems to remember.  By any name she is a very young octogenarian and a beautiful person inside and out!  She and I share a birthday week, so it was fun to attend a grand celebration.

Aunt Dut is one of nine children born to Edmond and Hortense LeBlanc in Morganza, Louisiana.  Morganza is a village near Old River, near False River and near the Mississippi River in south Louisiana.  New Roads is the largest town near Morganza and it is also a small place.  In 1950, as a young woman, she left the small town on a bus by herself with less than $100 in her pocket and went to New Orleans.  Her bus was met by one of the nuns of the Sisters of Charity who ran the nursing school where she was to study and become a Registered Nurse.  

While in school, she fell in love with George McKearan,  the brother of one of her classmates.  She married George and they had four children:  Pat, Kevin, Kathleen and Maureen.  George passed away several years ago.  After receiving her RN Degree she was employed by Ochsner Health System in the New Orleans area for  40+ years.  Retired now, she continues to lead an active life with 11 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren who see her often.  I asked her daughter how Dut stays so young and her reply was: "activity."  Dut gardens, sews and loves to play cards.  She is a member of St. Rita of Cascia Catholic Church Altar Society and volunteers at the Senior Center in Jefferson Parish.  She also volunteers her time for the Jefferson Parish Performing Arts Society serving as an usher or doing whatever duties required of her.  She doesn't have time to be  old!  I think it's interesting that this octogenarian volunteers her time at the Senior Center helping the "old folks!"

Among the guests were four of her surviving siblings and she was delighted to see them all.  In the photo the brothers are John, Cleve and Jack.  Seated next to Aunt Dut is her sister, Barbara.  Another living brother, Ed, was too ill to attend.  The afternoon was spent eating some really good food prepared by her children and friends.  We young folks (I am 63!) were mesmerized by the stories of the old days in Morganza.

I learned that my now deceased father-in-law (married to Linda LeBlanc and known to us as our "Granny") became a town hero because he was able to extinguish a fire in the school attic.  While everyone else panicked and ran around hysterically he found a bucket, filled it with water, went to the attic and doused the flame.  One party guest who was a classmate confirmed that he was present that day and that the teacher wanted them to climb a banana tree to get to the fire.  He laughed as he retold the story, because according to him, one cannot climb a banana tree.

Not sure how my father-in-law got to the fire, but with one bucket of water and common sense he saved the day and the school house.   As the incident was remembered, we missed him and our beloved "Granny."  They both so loved parties!  The picture is of the Old Morganza High School which is still being used as an elementary school.

 A recent tale was about another deceased sister, Milda.  She was the oldest sibling, a little opinionated, and had been a widow for many years when she  invited some of the brothers and their wives to spend the night with her.  The plan was to visit the New Orleans casinos  and have some fun gambling.  She warned them to return before 10 p.m. to avoid being locked out. Ten was her bedtime and she couldn't be waiting up later as it was not per her routine.

 On their way back to Milda's house at about 9:45, they noticed that the donut shop had a red flashing light indicating hot pastries.  They stopped for some of those freshly cooked delicacies and were delayed for their "curfew" set by Milda.  She had locked them out.  They knocked and begged to enter.  She let them in with much scolding, but being the health nut that she was, she forbade them bringing the donuts into her house.  They are still laughing about that experience to this very day!   There were other stories, but this entry would be way too long if I recounted all the stories I heard.  Those LeBlancs (and their mates) really did and still do know how to have a good time!

The cooks for the day really outdid themselves.  We dined on Marinated Cheese, Layered Mexican Dip, Muffaletta Sandwiches, Italian Spaghetti and Meatballs, assorted finger sandwiches, a salad that contained about 20 ingredients, veggies and dip, fresh fruit and a huge pot of Jambalaya cooked by one of Aunt Dut's son-in-laws.  The melding of various New Orleans cultures was evident in the varied cuisine.

And then there was dessert.  A fresh Strawberry Cake was the main attraction.  It was adorned with candles and strawberries and white chocolate sticks. The strawberry filling and whipped cream icing were divine.  To add just a little more sweetness, someone also baked brownies.  And that's not all...I haven't even mentioned the nuts and mints and the wide array of ice cold beverages.  Needless to say,  "A Good Time Was Had By All!!" and no one left the party feeling hungry.

Hosting the soiree were all of Aunt Dut's children and her oldest son and daughter-in-law welcomed us to their home!  I am including a recipe that was prepared by the hostess, Shirley.  Her husband, Pat, is Aunt Dut's oldest son.  She confided to me that she got the recipe from the Internet  so here it is with the link.  It's Marinated Cheese.  This recipe originally appeared in Southern Living  magazine, but I don't know the date and issue.  I do want to credit the magazine for this luscious appetizer.  I like three things about this recipe:  1) Can be prepared ahead and refrigerated and 2) Looks very pretty and 3)  it tastes wonderful!  It's a real crowd pleaser.  I hope you will try it!

Marinated Cheese
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
8 ounces cream cheese
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon dried basil
dash salt
dash black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cut white wine vinegar
1 (2 oz) jar diced pimentoes, drained
3 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons minced green onions
3 garlic cloves, pressed

1. Cut cheeses into 1/4 inch slices and then cut them into small squares of the same dimension.
2. On a small dish with a rim, stand the cheese slices on end alternating cheddar and cream cheese.
3. Combine remaining ingredients to make a marinade.  Pour this sauce over the cheese and marinate in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
4.  Serve with crackers of choice and enjoy.

Did I mention that I am so lucky to to have married into this family 43 years ago?  The family ties are so strong that it is remarkable.  Happy Birthday, Aunt Dut!  May you have many more and may you continued to be richly blessed with family, friends and good health.