Monthly Archives: August 2009

I Really Like Dirty Books

No…not that kind of dirty book.

I mean books that are physically dirty–spashed with olive oil. Smeared with whole grain dijon mustard. Dappled with red wine.

What I’m talking about are cookbooks. Here are a few of mine:

my cookbooks

I have to admit that there are a couple on the shelves that have barely been opened. They’re mostly on the bottom. Some were well meaning gifts. Some were mistakes of my own. They’re the clean cookbooks. The ones that I imagine saying “pick me, pick me” everytime I cast my eye their way.

Look carefully and you’ll see the trends I fell for.

I went through the blackened phase created by cajun chef Paul Prudhomme. I have a couple of his books. Once glance and it’s easy to see why he weighs a few hundred pounds more than he should–every recipe has AT LEAST 2 sticks of butter in it.

I went through the Silver Palate era in the 80s when formerly unheard of ingredients finally made their way to Little Rock where we were living at the time.

I’m still in the Barefoot Contessa’s orbit…mostly because her recipes are really, really good. But she’s another one with a liberal hand when it comes to butter and cream.

Those trends come and go…but some recipes are constant, like these two for grilled chicken.

 seaside chicken

tomato chicken ii And here’s one I’ve been making for 20 years. It’s from an old Junior League cookbook called Southern Sideboards. Say what you will about the League, but they sure know how to cook. Or at least their kitchen help does.

shish kabob

 If you spill something on your favorite recipe, don’t worry about it. It’s a badge of honor–a sure sign that whatever’s under those splashes and splotches is sure to be good.

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Italian food? What’s that?

My mother is a very good cook, but 40 years ago this small town didn’t have a lot in the way of exotic ingredients. Most spice cabinets then consisted of paprika (for sprinkling over deviled eggs), onion salt (for tomato sandwiches) and garlic powder.

Don’t get me wrong–we ate very well, and very healthily with lots of green vegetables and not too many processed, packaged foods. But a  look in my pantry and refrigerator today shows lots of items that probably weren’t sold within 20 miles of here when I was growing up–basalmic vinegar, curry paste, pesto and Maldon salt. Italian, Mexican and Chinese foods were things you found in Nashville, but not here.

Today we use those ingredients without thinking twice–picking them up at any area grocery store.

Today’s recipe is not one that includes a lot of fancy ingredients–it’s a simple marinara sauce that takes full advantage of the late summer glut of tomatoes. The recipe comes from this book which I bought in Napa Valley several years ago. The sauce freezes well and gives you a taste of summer in the middle of winter. I use half the amout of oil called for here, but you can decide if you want to cut it.

1 1/2 c extra virgin olive oil

1 c diced onions

1 c diced celery

1 c diced carrot

(this mixture of onion, carrot and celery is known as mirepoix and is the basis for many sauces, soups and stews)

2 T chopped garlic

2 lbs ripe tomatoes, quartered

1/4  c fresh basil, chopped

salt/pepper

Heat the oil in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Add the mirepoix and garlic and cook for 15 minutes. Don’t let them brown. Add tomatoes and stir and cook for another 30 minutes or so–until the tomatoes are all melty and the carrots are soft.

Remove from heat and let cool. Stir in basil.

If you don’t have an immersion blender, now would be a good time to go get one. The sauce can wait while you run to Wal-Mart or K-Mart or whichever mart is closest. You can get a perfectly good one for under $20 and you won’t believe how much you’ll use it.

Now, take your immersion blender and let it go on that sauce. You’ll be amazed at the color and the texture. Taste for seasoning and enjoy.

This recipe doubles easily, and you might as well go on and make extra.

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So…the next time you’re in Bourgogne…

In 2007 we had the great  fortune of traveling with some good friends through Belgium and France. It would be our friends first time in France, and our first time exploring the French countryside without a business agenda to tend to.

I think that planning a trip is almost as much fun as getting on the plane and actually leaving, and for this particular journey, we planned for several months. Food and wine played a large role in our wish list and, given all logistics, the Burgundy region of France seemed like a good area to explore. I was responsible for lodging and spent many happy hours perusing hotel web sites. Finally though, I struck gold with www.innsoffrance.com. This site is a great resource if you’re looking for small, out of the way inns. The one we chose, Auberge La Beursaudiere, seemed too good to be true…it’s a few centuries old and the rooms are around a courtyard.

Photo of Auberge La Beursaudiere

There are only 11 rooms, each uniquely decorated. This was the view from our bathroom…you had to open the wooden shutters to see it:

view

 

And this is the little terrace outside our friends’ room. In the early evening we would ask the staff to bring us a bottle of local wine…they always added a little amuse bouche to go with it.

 Europe 07-April 068

So, aside from the price, the charm, the wine and the scenery, this inn also had a wonderful restaurant. The little town of Nitry was pretty dull, but this place was packed every night. They served regional fare…think sophisticated country food. My favorite dish was ouefs en meurette–eggs baked in red wine. Here’s a recipe from a cookbook my friends bought for me in Burgundy:

8 eggs

1/4 lb bacon, minced

1/2 bottle red wine

1 1/2 tsp butter

1 onion, minced

3 shallots, minced

1 bouquet garni

1 baguette

garlic

salt and pepper

Make a roux of the butter and flour. Add the bacon, bouquet garni, wine, 1/3 cup water, onion and shallot, salt and pepper to taste.

Cook for 30-40 minutes.

Remove bouquet garni and strain sauce.

Fill four individual ovenproof baking dishes 2/3 full of sauce. Break 2 eggs into each. Bake at 375 until whites are cooks and yolks are still liquid. (check after 15 minutes).

Serve with sliced baguette rubbed with garlic

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Comfort Food

I have a friend who could really use a break. In the year before I met him, he lost three family members. Since then, one other has died, another was just diagnosed with a debilitating–and terminal–illness and then, I kid you not, his dog died. What on earth can you do to help someone in that situation?

Hugs and prayers are great, but sometimes they’re not all that fulfilling. So I decided to cook.

My friend enjoys his food, but he’s not a cook. I thought about what to make, consulted with someone else who knows him better than I, and decided to cook him meat loaf and mashed potatoes.

You just can’t get more basic than that. In long run, it’s hard to get much better than that either. Besides, it’s easy to transport and easy to fix, even for a noncook. I gave him the meatloaf in an aluminum tin so it only had to be put in the oven. The potatoes were mashed by hand and could be reheated in the microwave.

My meatloaf is little out of the ordinary and is chameleon-like in its makeup. Generally speaking though, the ingredients are:

1 lb ground beef

1/4 lb ground pork

half a chopped onion

3 cloves chopped garlic

1 can chopped tomatoes, drained

1/2 cup or so roasted red pepper (from a jar is fine), chopped

handful each chopped fresh basil and Italian parsely

1/2 cup or so grated parmesean

2 eggs, beaten

bread crumbs if it seems too juicy/catsup if it seem too dry

salt/pepper

mix up everything but the eggs. Just roll up your sleeves and use your hands. Then mix in the eggs and decide if you think it’s too juicy or not. If it won’t hold a shape–like a ball–it probably needs some bread crumbs, but don’t overdo it.

Put into loaf pan and bake at 350 for an hour.

Hope you like it…it really is one of those recipes that you can add or subtract to according to your taste.

My friend loved it. Food can’t make everything better, not by a long shot. But cooking for someone has got to be one of the nicest–most comforting–things you can do.

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Guacomole–less is more

I firmly believe that everyone has one little thing that they do better than almost anyone else. It might be playing the piano. Or folding towels. It can be anything.

For me, that one thing I do better than almost anyone else is make guacomole. Husband has a cousin in Texas who might be better, but she’s a few hundred miles away.

Last night the girlfriends met at Lime, at trendy new nightspot in Nashville. It’s all open patios and cool breezes and a Caribbean sort of vibe. Upscale Caribbean, not funky. They offer all sorts of ‘tinis and the appetizers were two for one.

We started out with some guacomole and chips. Guacomole is one of those things where less is more. There are some dishes out there that require an entire grocery cart to put together. Guacomole isn’t one of them.

Unfortunately, the guac maker at Lime doesn’t agree with me. Not only does this concoction have green bell pepper in it, our server proudly told us that it had been made at 1 a.m. so the flavors would have time to “marry.”

Please, the flavors in good guacomole have no interest in marrying. In fact, they should barely know one another because guac should go from kitchen to table as soon as it’s made. In fact, if you can just stand around the kitchen counter and eat it straight from the mixing bowl, all the better.

Also, guac should not have the appearance of green French onion dip. It should be chunky. If you ever run across soupy guac, you can be sure that it was either a) made from a mix or b) stretched with sour cream.

Here’s how I make it–with a nod to the Barefoot Contessa.

4 ripe Haas (black, bumpy skin) advocados. They should give slightly when squeezed, but not be mushy.

2-3 lemons

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced

kosher salt

2-3 T chopped purple onion (optional)

2-3 T chopped tomato (optional)

Slice advocados lenghtwise around seed. Hold the half with the seed and whack it with a sharp knife so that the knife sticks in the seed. Gently twist and remove seed. With knife, score the flesh into cubes, scoop out with large spoon.

Start adding the other ingredients remembering that it’s almost impossible to have too much lemon juice. The lemons not only add flavor, they also keep the fruit from discoloring. Don’t stir too much, it needs to stay chunky. Just add and taste.

I promise, if you like avocado, you’ll like this version.

guacomole

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