Purple Kitchen Treats

Over the past few years, I have been working on a cookbook. During this time, I took time off to finish my Master's Degree. Now that I have accomplished that, I am working again on my cookbook, slowly but surely.

However, over the past few months, something interesting has happened...I have received multiple requests for baked goods, particularly my cookies. I am also receiving multiple requests for granola. So, with all these requests in mind, I have started to make my cookies for sale, along with my granola.

My official web site is available, but will be undergoing a significant redesign. Be sure to visit my "official" web site at: http://www.susanshonk.com and watch for some exciting changes.

From the heart of my purple kitchen to you,

Friday, December 31, 2010

Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Years Eve

My husband and I have made a tradition of staying at home.  We have found the potential danger from drunk drivers is not anything that we want to expose ourselves to.  We wear our best pajamas, have dinner by candle light, play great music (mostly jazz - Jane Monheit, Michael Buble`, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra...you get the point) and spend a wonderful evening together.  We have even been known to dance in the living room.

I make dinner, serve wine, have a spectacular dessert and we open champagne or sparkling wine for our toast at midnight.

For dinner this year, I will be making "surf-n-turf" with filet mignon, a mushroom wine sauce and crumbled Maytag bleu cheese and fresh Maine lobster with clarified butter, and roasted garlic bruschetta.

I fully intend to boil a pot of water and plunge the creatures in head first.  If you try to put them into boiling water tail first, they have a tendency to "flip" their tails and can splash you (or someone nearby) with boiling water......not a good thing.  Being from New England, cooking lobsters is something that we grew up doing.   My husband, on the other hand, grew up on a farm in Indiana where they still work the land growing corn and soy beans.  He is having some difficulty with the "cooking a live lobster" thing and has asked about having just the tails.  I have reassured him that the lobster will be fine and if he is that uncomfortable with how I plan to cook the critter, I will be happy to use my knife to "do the deed".  Ultimately, he will be fine and really I do not want him to miss out on the claws.

The veggie will be a grilled asparagus salad with caramelized shallots, toasted pine nuts and a light balsamic vinaigrette served in a slightly sweet yellow bell pepper.  I will also roast the tops of the peppers, peel and dice them to add to the salad.

For dessert, I am making a silken vanilla bean flan with fresh strawberries and a very lightly scented spearmint whipped cream.

For breakfast on New Year's day, chocolate Belgian waffles with strawberry sauce and vanilla whipped cream and coffee made in my brand new French press.  My last French press met an untimely and sudden demise.

Making coffee in a french press renders a completely divine cup of dark, rich coffee.  No coffee maker that I know of can produce this kind of drink.  It is simply wonderful.

I think that should about do it for us.

I would love to know how you celebrate New Year's Eve...

I wish y'all a very happy and safe New Year celebration.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Appreciating your someone special

I wanted to take a moment to thank my husband Jason for all that he does to support me in my life, my passion for cooking and in my full time job.  He is my safe place, my refuge when I have an off day.  He keeps me sane when I work a 14 hour day at my full time job.  I know that I have talked about him before, but he really is a very special man.

I would like to urge everyone to think about taking time every day to tell your someone special how much you love them, how much you care about them and how much you appreciate them.  I suggest doing this every day.  Find something special each day that you can compliment them for.  Nurture your relationship with your special someone.  Please don't let a day go by without expressing your love and appreciation.  Please don't assume that they know how you feel....draw them into your heart and hold them there.  Give yourself and your special someone the gift of unbridled love.  Open your heart, your soul, your arms, and your eyes.  Listen not just with your ears, but with your heart.

When you are angry or upset, hold back...please don't say something that you may have to apologize for later.  Just because we can say something, does not always mean that we should.  A great example of this is one day, several years ago, I had grown some prize African Violets.  They were simply gorgeous, huge and full of flowers.  My husband put them out on the patio to water them for me one evening.  The next morning, he forgot to bring them in and they sat in the Texas sun on a summer day, all day.  When I came home from work, my husband was visibly upset and I didn't know why.  He told me what happened and waited tentatively for my reaction.  I immediately reached for him, put my arms around him and held him.  I took his face into my hands and looked into his eyes and told him it was OK, I told him that I could replace the violets and that I could not break his heart by getting upset over a few plants.  I told him that he was more important to me than any thing else.  I will never forget this moment....I know that he has not forgotten.  This moment created a level of trust and care that could have been forever lost.

Jason is my best friend, my playmate, my lover and my husband.  My favorite place in this world is in his arms.  I will love him forever.  And yes, I do tell him this.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Kitchen Tools

I would like to take a moment and thank everyone who has visited my blog.  I appreciate each and every visitor and am happy to receive any feed-back.

In  my message from Christmas Eve day, I talked about using an old fashioned food mill to make mashed potatoes with.  Well.....I did.....and I will not be using an electric mixer or a potato masher again.

I first purchased the food mill when making the Barefoot Contessa's roasted tomato basil soup for the first time and have not used it for anything other than that, until now.  The food mill gives the soup the best texture.  The texture cannot be duplicated with a blender, an immersion blender or with a food processor.  So, I would suggest that a food mill (a good one) be a staple in every cook's closet.

For the potatoes (12 large red bliss, peeled & boiled in salted water with 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil until tender), I used the plate with the smallest holes, placed it over a deep container and worked the potatoes thru the mill.  I also processed the roasted garlic (2 heads of garlic covered in olive oil and roasted in the oven for about 45 minutes at 350` or until a gorgeous golden brown), added 1 stick of butter, 1/2 cup heavy cream, salt & pepper to taste and ended up with fluffy, buttery, soft clouds of heavenly potatoes.

These were by far the best mashed (for lack of a better word) potatoes that I have made, to date.

Speaking of kitchen tools, here is a rather random "starter" list of other tools that are very handy in the kitchen:
1.  Dough scraper (for counter tops).  Spatulas are best for bowls, there is a kind of spatula that is made specifically to fit jars...this is very handy, especially for those pesky peanut butter jars that have the left over butter at the top of the jar or along the bottom in that groove.....so annoying to try and get at that last bit.  It's kinda like trying to get the last of the toothpaste out of the neck of the tube.....oops...tangent alert!!
2.  Citrus reamer (for the one or 2 lemons / limes).  For more than a couple of these, I like a press.  Mine is chrome and is the kind that sits on the countertop.
3.  Ginger grater (porcelain)
4.  Chinese "spider"
5.  Micro plane
6.  Corn holders (I have a set from the 1950's).  However, I also have a set that are little piggies.  I even have some utensils that are from the mid century and are in great shape, though I don't use them.  They are simply for decoration.
7.  Nut / claw crackers and picks....I don't actually know the real name for them.  I have the set that I grew up with that was originally my grandmother's.
8.  Candy thermometer, instant read meat thermometer, and one of those thermometers that can be inserted in the meat while it's cooking.
9.  Marble rolling pin with rest, wooden rolling pin and those silicon bands that go on each end of the rolling pin so you can roll out dough to an even thickness.
10.  Wooden clothes pins - great for sealing bags of powdered sugar, brown sugar or any other bag that doesn't re-seal.
11.  Assorted pastry tips.  You can always use a plastic bag instead of purchasing pastry bags.
12.  Powdered egg whites.
13.  Two dutch ovens
14.  Cast iron pans of varying sizes
15.  A cast iron griddle that covers 2 burners.

There are more items that I might suggest, but this is a sound start.  I am working on another list that I will post as soon as it is done...but for now, no peeking, not yet anyway.

Have a great evening!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Turtle Rolls

A childhood friend and I were chatting on Facebook and I mentioned that I was thinking about doing a version of cinnamon buns that were a "take-off" on turtles (cashew, caramel and chocolate candy).  She asked me to send her the recipe when I finished it because her sister has been having a secret love affair with "turtles" for some time.  So Jil-Lyn, this is for you...

I believe in giving credit where credit is due, so to Ree Drummond at www.PioneerWoman.com....thank you for the best cinnamon rolls I have ever had.  Cinnabon needs to watch out for these....I will use Ree's recipe and will not be buying another cinnamon roll.

I made the Turtle Rolls for Christmas morning breakfast and my husband was speechless while he was eating one of them.  One of the best signs of a great meal is when no one is talking and they just keep eating.

I will warn you now...these rolls are very rich and oh so decadent.

What I did to make the Turtle Rolls:

The most important thing is to plan ahead.  Make the dough and the caramel the day before you want to serve the rolls.

First things first.....get 2 cans of sweetened condensed milk, take the labels off, place them in a heavy bottom pan that is deep enough to be able to cover the cans with approx. 3 - 4 inches of water, place on the stove on low to very low with the cover slightly ajar so that steam will escape.  Let the water come to a light simmer...PLEASE  DO NOT LET THE WATER BOIL...and cook on a low to very low heat for 3 hours.  Please be sure that the cans stay covered with water the entire time that they are simmering.  Yes folks, cook the unopened cans of sweetened condensed milk in this manner.  No, I am not nuts....this is a trick that I learned from a little old Mexican woman.  After the allotted 3 hours, take the cans out of the water and let them cool down to room temperature.  Once they have cooled, you may open them by taking the lid all the way off.  What you will have is the best caramel on the planet.

Make 1/2 of the cinnamon bun dough recipe from Ree Drummond and put it in the fridge after you add the last cup of flour with the baking powder and baking soda.

About 90 minutes before serving the rolls, chop 4 - 6 cups of cashews and toast them lightly.   The amount of cashews used depends upon how many you happen to like in a pastry.

Preheat the oven to 350' and roll the dough out as instructed in the Pioneer Woman's recipe.
Spread the dough with a nice layer of caramel (you will use all the caramel except for what you sample), sprinkle the chopped nuts over the caramel and press lightly into the caramel, roll the dough like you would for the cinnamon buns, slice into 12 pieces and place in a greased 9 x 13 x 2 inch pan.  Bake approx. 30 to 45 minutes until the tops are browned nicely and the caramel is bubbly.  Remove from the oven and let cool.

For the chocolate sauce:
1 cup of milk
1 cup of heavy cream
1 cup chopped dark (or milk) chocolate
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 cup of sugar
1/4 cup strong coffee
2 tablespoons butter at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla

Gently heat the milk, cream, butter, sugar and coffee in a sauce pan.
Add the cocoa powder and stir until dissolved.
Remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate and vanilla, stir until the chocolate is melted.  If you like a thicker chocolate sauce, add chopped chocolate by the 1/4 cup until you get to the consistency that you like.  This sauce should be the consistency of a nice ganache at room temperature.  Drizzle the chocolate over the rolls and serve.

While I was making the caramel, I came up with the following variation for a chocolate cream pie:
Make a chocolate cream pie (any recipe), but before you pour the chocolate filling into the pie crust, place a layer of the caramel in the bottom of the pie, pour in the chocolate filling, let cool and then cover with a thick layer of meringue, brown the meringue and then drizzle with melted chocolate and some of the caramel.

I will be anxious to hear if anyone tries these and what your thoughts are.

Have a great evening,

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Twas the night before Christmas Eve.....

...and all thru my house, all was quiet, as quiet as a mouse.  There are no stockings hung by the fireplace...there is no place to hang them, but we still hope that St. Nick will be here.  Hmmm....I need to play with that story a bit.

I also have a very irreverent adaptation of "Deck The Halls" that I am toying with....the first line of my re-write of this classic song popped into my little pumpkin head today and I couldn't stop laughing.  I ended up laughing so hard that I had to shut my office door.  I texted it to a friend who really needed the kind of laugh that started at her toes and ended up at her nose.  All has turned out well, but she was dealing with a very serious medical emergency in her family over the last couple of days.  God is good!  

Now that I have relaxed a bit and watched some TV, I realized that Christmas is only a day away and I have lots left to do.  I promised my husband that I would hang up my clean laundry....I am so very good a procrastinating, especially when I don't like the chore at hand.  But...put me in the kitchen, and I will be there for hours, make a huge mess and clean it up when all the cooking is over.....just don't ask me to put up my clean laundry.  There has to be some significance to this weird little aversion.....oh well....back to the topic of food / cooking.

So, tomorrow I will be reluctantly putting up the clean laundry, baking a chiffon pumpkin cake, making Pioneer Woman Cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning (outstanding recipe), and from that recipe, I will use the dough to adapt and make turtle rolls with.  I also have roasted garlic mashed potatoes, roasted brussels sprouts with caramelized shallots and crispy maple bacon, pork tenderloin with a selection of 2 sauces to make.  The sauces are a Dijon mustard, maple syrup and rosemary sauce and the other is a cranberry, tomato and chipotle salsa.

I decided that I am going to use the old fashioned food mill to make the mashed potatoes with.  These will be loaded with butter, a bit of cream and TONS of roasted garlic.

My father and my in-laws will be joining Jason and I for dinner, and I am looking forward to having everyone over.  I am also hoping to make it to the midnight Christmas Service at church, but its not looking so good, especially after a day like I will have tomorrow.  Hopefully, I will be able to stay awake...but this brat turns into a pumpkin at approx. 9:30pm CST.  I just realized that it is 11:00pm here and I am still upright with open eyes.

I'm not sure if I will have an opportunity to do any writing tomorrow, so I am wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas, peace, love and a very safe holiday.

As always,

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Vintage Pumpkin Bread - old family recipe

The following narrative and recipe are an excerpt from my book.  I hope you enjoy!!

Pumpkin Bread

This bread was a staple in my home growing up.  My mother baked this beginning every fall right through the winter.  Since we lived in New England, just north of Boston, fall always came early in September.  The beginning of school marked the official fall season.  Indian Summer also brought warm days, cool nights and the promise of wonderful smells and tastes.

This is a very thick batter and is best mixed with a large spoon and strong arm or with a heavy duty mixer.  

If you make this as a single recipe, it makes 1 ½ loaves of bread in a regular size loaf pan or 6 Texas size muffins.  Please don’t try to fit all the batter into one regular loaf pan, the center will come out gooey and uncooked and the top and edges will be burned.  

If you double this recipe, it makes 3 regular size loaves.  This freezes wonderfully and is delicious served with cream cheese.

Begin by lining the bottom of your baking pans / tins with waxed paper or parchment paper cut to fit.  Spray the baking vessels with cooking spray.  Preheat the oven to 350` and use the center rack.

Now, for the best Pumpkin Bread you will ever taste……

2 ½ cups unbleached all purpose flour     1 – 15 oz can of pumpkin
2 cups of sugar 1 /2 cup vegetable or canola oil
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp nutmeg
1 cup of chopped walnuts (optional)

Mix the dry ingredients together.  

Mix the pumpkin & oil together

Place the dry ingredients on top of the wet ingredients and fold in the dry ingredients.  Divide evenly among the baking vessels.  

Bake the muffins at 350 for approx. 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Bake the breads for approx 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Saturday Night Pozole

It is just starting to get chilly here in North Texas, so it's time to make various soups.  Favorites in our home are Pozole, Sausage Soup, Chicken Tortilla Soup and several others.

Pozole is a very traditional Mexican soup that can be made with chicken, pork, turkey or other meat that you may like.  I happen to LOVE this with pork tenderloin.

The recipe is one that the owner of my favorite jewelry store told me about.  She is an amazing woman who has spent her life traveling all over the world.  One of her greatest loves is Southwestern jewelry.  She is lively, warm, kind, sweet and spicy.

Whenever I make this soup, I always bring some to Maxine.  She loves the soup with pork and likes it spicy.  So, this is for Maxine.

Sweet Sue's Pozole

4 quarts chicken stock
2 lbs pork tenderloin, trimmed and diced into 1/2 inch pieces.
2 cans hominy, drained and rinsed
1 – 15 ounce jar of "medium" or "hot" salsa verde
1 large onion, diced
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
Mexican Crema – this is a softer and smoother version of sour cream

Heat 4 tbsp olive oil in a large pan
Add the onion and sauté until translucent
Add the chicken stock, salsa verde and cumin and bring to a slow simmer, being very careful to not boil
Add the chopped pork and hominy and stir to separate the pork pieces, cook for an additional 15 minutes

Garnish with a drizzle of crema and enjoy.

This will definitely warm you up on a cold day,

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Colorful and up-scale snack and a $$ saving tip

I was messin' around in the kitchen this afternoon looking for a snack for my husband.  I opened my pantry door and saw a few kinds of dried fruits, and a bag of larger size chocolate chips and knew that I always have a stash of nuts in the freezer.

So....I took the following nuts, toasted them and let cool:
1 cup pine nuts
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup pistachios
2 cups whole cashews

Added dried fruit:
2 cups dried cranberries
2 cups diced dried apricots
1/2 cup currants

Then to satisfy any chocolate lover:
2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips

And, just for fun cuz I LOVE candied ginger
1/2 cup of finely diced candied ginger

Mix it all together and enjoy.  The colors are simply beautiful.  The dried cranberries and apricots look like little jewels, the dark chocolate bits are sultry and reel you in and the crunch and flavor of the nuts followed by the sweet and hot, but subtle bite of the ginger is very seductive....is it getting warm in here or is it me???

The big surprise in this mix is the sweet heat of the candied ginger.  There is not much of it, so it is rather subtle.  Ginger and peaches or ginger and apricots is a classic combination.

$$ Saving Tip - make our own flavored simple syrup or sugars:
My favorite tea for iced tea is Ginger peach.  This typically can run about $18.00 per pound, or more depending on which brand and where I buy it.  To avoid the expense of purchasing the ready-made version of dried ginger peach tea, I purchase either peach or apricot tea for about $7.00 per pound and make a ginger simple syrup to sweeten the tea.

Please be VERY CAREFUL when making simple syrup.  Boiling sugar and water can cause a very bad burn.  Please wear closed toe shoes that cover the entire top of your foot/feet and be sure to turn the handle of the pan to the back of the stove.  Keep children and pets out of the kitchen and keep an eye on the syrup as it boils.  And, very importantly....please don't be tempted to taste the syrup until it cools.

To make simple syrup:
Add 2 cups of water and 2 cups of sugar to a heavy bottom pan, stir and bring to a simmer.  Let the syrup simmer until reduced by about 1/3 and turn of the heat and let cool.  This will keep about a week in the fridge.

If you would like, you can add any of the following ingredients to the pan when you turn on the heat:
- Cinnamon stick and 6 cloves
- Four 1/2 inch slices of ginger, cut in half...no need to peel the fresh ginger
- 1 vanilla bean, split
- the peel of a lemon, orange, lime or all three for a citrus flavored simple syrup

For additional flavors, you can add extracts to the simple syrup once it has cooled.  I like almond extract for use in cherry tea.  I also add maple syrup to the vanilla simple syrup to make maple vanilla tea.

These simple syrups make great gifts too.  Just find some great bottles or jars, fill them up, label them and voila!  Handy dandy trick to fill jars or bottles with narrow openings: shape some tin foil into a cone, insert the narrow end into the opening of the container and pour the simple syrup thru that into a jar or bottle.

And yet another, simpler gift idea.....to 4 cups of granulated sugar, add:
- a vanilla bean, split
- the peel of 1 lemon, 1/2 orange or 1 lime
- cinnamon stick and 4 cloves
And give as a gift of flavored sugar.

I hope you enjoy these recipes and tips.

Have a great day!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Anticipating Monday

Well dear friends, the first DRAFT of the cookbook has been printed out for review.

I still have one recipe to write out...turkey, cranberry and chipotle tamales with a tomato and cranberry salsa to go with.  Very interesting combination, but oh so amazingly delicious.  I will be making these for a party that I am throwing for my husband's birthday.  I was going to do a variety of tapas, but decided to have the tamales instead.  Appetizers will be stuffed dried apricots, chips and salsa, candied jalapenos with mini roasted corn muffins.  Desserts will be pumpkin empanadas, Mexican cinnamon sugar cookies and Mexican wedding cakes.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Musings on a Saturday afternoon....

So, by now, y'all are getting a taste of some of the recipes in my book.  There are so many more that are already typed up and so many more being worked on, tested and invented.  The creative process is really beginning to fuel me even further than I had expected.

I just got home from my last class of the semester...yes, I am taking classes on Saturday mornings for a while.  The next class doesn't begin until January, so I have plenty of time to work on the cookbook...YAY!!!!

But for right now, I am heading back to my mom's shoe box for more of her recipes.  In my earlier days, I had not thought to keep the hand written recipes in plastic wrap, gallon size plastic bags or in sheet protectors.  Because of this, most of the recipes that were in her own penmanship have been typed because the originals were so stained and worn that they were almost to the point of being unable to be read, but I do have a few left and will include copies of those in in the book as well.

One of the gifts of age is the ability to look back and see what we might have done differently and take those observations and apply them to our current circumstances.  We cannot change yesterday, but we can change the remainder of today and move forward into all of our tomorrows with great purpose and vision.

So, I'll be going through mom's recipes to see what great goodies are still to be rediscovered and will post a recipe or 2 later in the week.

If y'all have any questions or need ideas, let me know and I'll be happy to help.

In the mean time, enjoy your day, your weekend and especially enjoy your family and friends!

Cream of Poblano Soup....this one is spicy, so be prepared...

My mother-in-law discovered this soup in a restaurant and tried to make it.  Hers was very good, but I decided to give it a try and came up with this version.  Everyone agreed that this was the better of the two.  

This is a very rich and decadent soup and is not for everyday.  It is a wonderful “special occasion” soup for a holiday or birthday.  It is a beautiful soft green color and is on the spicy side.  It can also be used as a sauce for chicken or pork tenderloin.  Just substitute 1 quart of the half-n-half with heavy cream so you will have a thicker base.

8 poblano peppers, charred, peeled, deveined and seeded
1 large bunch cilantro, chopped
1 medium onion, sautéed in 2 tsp olive oil
2 tsps chopped garlic
2 quarts half-n-half at room temperature
1 pint heavy cream at room temperature
¾ tsp kosher Salt 
¾ tsp fresh ground / cracked Pepper

½ small bag of frozen corn, thawed and sautéed with a bit of olive oil until lightly brown 
4 chicken breasts, diced and poached in chicken stock
4 ripe roma tomatoes, cored, seeded and diced
2 ripe avocados diced and spritzed with lime juice to prevent oxidation

In a blender, combine the onion, cilantro, garlic, enough of the half-n-half to cover and process until very smooth and pour into a 4 quart soup pot.  Process the poblanos and enough half-n-half to cover in the blender and add to the soup pot.  Add the remaining half-n-half, the cream, salt, pepper and stir.  If you like your soup more spicy, add the remaining 2 poblanos after processing them in the blender with some of the soup.  If you like even more spice, you can roast a few Jalapeno or Serrano peppers in the oven with a bit of olive oil to soften them.  Place them in a blender with a bit of the soup to process and add to the pot of soup. If needed, add more salt and pepper taste.

When reheating this soup, please be careful to do so on a very low heat stirring frequently or it will scald.  Also, because of the cream base, do not leave this unattended while reheating as it may boil over.  

Serve with your choice of garnishes and enjoy!

Mexican Lasagna - ole`

One of Jason's favorites...and soooo very easy.

Susan's Sensational Mexican Lasagna

Preheat oven to 350’
13 X 9 inch pan
Lg jar of picante sauce
1 - 15 ounce can of tomato sauce
1 can of chopped green chiles
15 lasagna noodles (3 extra, just in case), cooked until al dente
2 rotisserie chickens, meat taken off the bones and shredded
1 - 15 ounce can of black olives, sliced
1 large onion, sliced very thin with rings separated
1 large green pepper, julienned
5 cups mixed cheese, shredded (2 cups Cheddar, 2 cups Monterrey Jack, 1 cup Mozzarella)

Mix the picante sauce, the tomato sauce and the chiles
Place enough sauce in the bottom of the baking dish to moisten it (about ½ cup)
Line the dish with 3 – 4 lasagna noodles, 
spread with 1/3 of the shredded chicken,
1/3 of the onions, 
1/3 of the green peppers
1/4 of the cheese
1/4 of the remaining sauce
Repeat layers, ending with noodles and cover with remaining sauce
Cover with tin foil and place on a baking sheet to catch any liquid that may bubble out
Bake for 1 hour, uncover and turn the broiler on
Spread the remaining cheese over the top and place back in the oven until the cheese is melted and bubbling

Let stand for 15 minutes before cutting.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cheese and Tomato tid bits...

There is a Mexican melting cheese called queso quesadilla.  It is a bit difficult to find, so I decided to try and come up with something that is similar.  I discovered that if you take a large package of shredded Colby Jack and Cheddar and mix in a small package of shredded mozzarella, it works great.

If you use 1 small package of shredded pepper jack, 1 small package of shredded cheddar and 1 small package of shredded mozzarella, you get the same great texture with a little kick to it.

For a great Caprese salad, take a package of red and a package of yellow grape tomatoes, cut the tomatoes in half, add 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp cracked pepper, 4 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar and 6 basil leaves finely chopped, stir and taste for seasoning.  I serve this on Ciabatta bread that has been browned in olive oil in a non-stick skillet and then I rub the bread with a garlic clove (or 2)......OH MY GOODNESS....my husband loves this as a snack.  If you like, you can also add the mini mozzarella cheese bits just before serving.

Have a great evening!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Candied jalapenos

Typically, candied jalapenos are made from pickled jalapenos.  But that just takes too long for me.  Who wants to get a 5 lb jar of pickled jalapenos, try to fit a bag of sugar in the jar and then wait days for them to be ready.

I have come up with a great and easy recipe.  Start with 30 peppers, wash and slice into 1/2 inch rings (I keep the seeds and veins).  In a large heavy pan, add 3 cups of sugar, 3 cups of water, 3 tbsp of light corn syrup, 1 cinnamon stick and 4 cloves, bring to a simmer and then add the jalapenos.  Cook for about 30 minutes and let cool.  You can leave the cinnamon stick in, but be sure to fish out the cloves once the peppers are cool.

My husband LOVES these peppers and I make a batch every 2 weeks.

If I'm feeling very ambitious, I will cut the peppers in half, and seed and devein them.  The Christmas gift for our party guests will be a Mason jar filled with red and green candied peppers and a card with serving suggestions on it....think Goat cheese on garlic bruschetta topped with candied jalapenos, chopping the peppers and adding them to cornbread...and maybe a few other ideas.

Other tips: strain some of the spicy sugar syrup for use in Margaritas, Mango iced tea, brownies, home-made chocolate truffles or for any time you feel like adding something sweet and spicy to a drink or dish.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Sunday afternoon in the kitchen

I went to the Farmer's Market in Dallas this afternoon to get some fresh fruit and veggies.  I came home with a pineapple so sweet, it was like eating candy; sweet potatoes so big they could be launched as missiles; tomatoes so ripe that I could smell them as I walked by the vendor's vegetable stand; fresh blueberries that were as big as nickels; sweet onions that I sampled raw and did not shed a tear over; jalapenos that are the deepest shade of green and smell amazing and finally sweet, sweet corn on the cob.

So...the blueberries will become my mom's blueberry coffee cake....tons of blueberries in a slightly sweet and buttery batter and a nutmeg and sugar crust on top that is simply amazing.

Most of the jalapenos will become candied with a few left out for other recipes.

The sweet potatoes will be roasted and at least one of them will be made into match-stick fries for my hubby.  I may even make sweet potato biscuits.

The corn will be grilled, cut off the cob and used in a black bean and grilled corn salsa. Simple to make, but oh so delicious.  Grill your corn until it is browned and has a little bit of char on it and cut the kernels off the cob.  If you use an angel food cake pan, place the small end of the cob in the center tube, you can then cut the corn off the cob without loosing most of it on the floor for the cats to play with.  Rinse a can of plain black beans, drain and place in a mixing bowl.  Add the corn, 1 bunch of chopped cilantro, 2 jalapenos seeded, deveined and minced, 1/2 finely diced purple onion that has been rinsed under cold water and drained (this takes the strong smell and the sharp bite out of the raw onion), the juice of 1 lime, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.  Stir well and taste for seasoning.  I serve this with tortilla chips and it is simply wonderful.

The onions...some will be sliced for salads, some will be used in breakfast burritos, some will be sauteed until browned and used as the bed for baked tortilla crusted chicken breasts.  Tip:  for something different, crush tortilla chips (yellow, red and blue) and use these instead of bread crumbs to coat chicken, fish or pork chops....YUM!!!

The tomatoes have already been cut into chunks with salt and pepper added for flavor and have become one last taste of summer.

The pineapple has been cut into chunks for a quick snack.  The next pineapple will be grilled and served as dessert with home-made vanilla ice cream and bourbon sauce.

I hope you enjoy the salsa and the tip for the tortilla chips.  If y'all try these, I would love to hear from you.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cool weather, hot drinks

It is finally getting cold in Texas.  This is the perfect November nite....cold, rainy, distant thunder....perfection.  It is also the perfect nite for White Hot Chocolate with Grand Marnier.  This is the perfect drink.  It almost reminds me of a creamsicle.   2 cups of whole milk, 1/2 cup heavy cream, 1/2 cup chopped white chocolate, 1/2 cup Grand Marnier.  Bring the mixture up to the point of where steam rises from the pan and until the chocolate is melted.  Add 1 tsp vanilla. stir, serve and enjoy.  You can substitute chambourd for the grand marnier, you can also substitute with chambourd and lady godiva dark chocolate liquer.....where ever your imagination takes you, you can go.  Bourbon and Peach schnapps would be fabulous....ooooo, now I'm thinkin'.

This hot chocolate also converts beautifully to a rich pudding.....just dissolve 4-5 tablespoons of corn starch in 4 - 5 tbsp of water and add slowly to the hot liquid making sure to wisk constantly....once it bubbles, it is done.  Serve in your favorite pudding vessels with a dollop of whipped cream and enjoy.

Hot tea is a very New England Beverage served with a bit of honey and milk.  I also add a bit of real maple syrup and a smidge of vanilla to get a luscious version of maple vanilla tea.

These are all items that we fixed at home, however the children did not get the liquor in the hot cocoa.  But we enjoyed it just as much.

Type with y'all later....

Oooo....send ideas for Tapas dishes....I'm throwing my husband a birthday party this year with about 20 guests.....the more ideas, the merrier.....

Thanks everyone!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sausage Soup

I made my version of sausage soup...ground turkey seasoned to taste just like sausage, onion, chicken stock, tomatoes, garlic, spinach and rice, very simple, very easy and very yummy.

I also made Ina Garten's roasted tomato basil soup.  If you have not tried this, you must....this is not Campbell's from a can.  It is a sophisticated, rich and luscious soup that is low fat and amazing.

Next on my list...is chili (no beans), barbecue black beans, pot roast, roasted port tenderloin, fresh veggies and couscous.  I may even make my orzo salad....

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Home-made bread

My mom and dad used to make bread every once in a while, but I make bread much more often.  My husband LOVES my home-made white bread.  I also add different seasonings to it to create a variety of breads....classic rosemary and garlic; sun dried tomato and basil; chipotle; jalapeno and cheddar; feta and black olive among several other savory blends.

I also use the basic bread dough to create sweet versions of bread, such as: dried apricot, white chocolate and macadamia nut; dark chocolate, dried cherry and pistachio; dark chocolate and orange; white chocolate and orange; vanilla bean and several others.

The savory breads make incredible sandwiches as well as savory bread pudding.  Bread pudding, like whipped cream, does not have to be sweet to be wonderful.  New twists on old favorites are always an adventure.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Long time, no post.....

Time flies wether you are having fun or not.  I have begun classes to finish my MBA, so I have not had the same amount of time I had prior to school.  However, I am a bit ahead of schedule on my homework (thank goodness for a syllabus) so I can get back to work on my cookbook.

I remembered the best method for making an easy caramel and that is to take a can of sweetened condensed milk and simmer it in water for about 3 hours.  Yes, that is right....but the can must remain covered by water.  Watching the water level in the pan is essential.  Then remove the can, cover it with a kitchen towel and let it cool.  This is an old trick that I had forgotten about and I cannot remember where I first saw it.  But...what I am doing with the wonderful caramel that results from this process is a whole other story.  Think chocolate and think whipped cream...I'll let y'all know how this turns out.

Over the weekend, I am going to get back to the recipes from my mom's old shoebox.  Did I ever mention that the box was soldier blue?   Anyway....I made applesauce last weekend just before my oral surgery.  I had forgotten about how good my mom's applesauce was and still is.  It has the standard ingredients, plus one secret ingredient.  This applesauce is served warm and the entire house smells of cinnamon and apples.  This is also the applesauce that I use in my mom's recipe for Applesauce cake......now, this is a great cake.

I made pumpkin bread also, which is a completely vegan recipe.  There is no milk, no eggs and no butter in the recipe.  The bread is completely moist and delicious.

I also have to begin gathering the ingredients for my turkey tamales for Thanksgiving along with having a friend write down the recipe while I make it.  These are simply amazing and I can hardly wait for the holiday.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

Have not cooked or thought about recipes since getting sick over the past couple of days.   Upper respiratory infections can really knock you for a loop or 2.

I left work not feeling well on Wednesday.  By the time Thursday morning rolled around, I was miserable. I went in late to do some work the HAD to get done and left 3 hours later.  Today, I stayed home...fever, coughing, sore throat...and I start back to school to finish my MBA in the morning.   This is not a good time to be sick.....the only good time to be sick is NEVER!!!!!

Tonite, I baked a Sam's Club ready made meat pizza for my husband for dinner and longingly looked at the bottle of Silver Tequila thinking that enough of it might kill the germs inhabiting my head.....but I am too miserable to enjoy it.  So, it stays on the counter and waits patiently until I get better.

Will most likely be having an opportunity to make a fruit compote this year with a Mexican flair.....interesting combinations floating through my fuzzy little head right now...WAIT...it's visions of sugarplums...Christmas is right around the corner...YIKES......and I need to get planning the holiday trays and meals.  

Lets see....pumpkin cake, applesauce cake, applesauce, picadillo stuffed poblanos with red ranchero sauce, Mexican Wedding cookies, Mexican sugar cookies, churros, hot chocolate, Mexican coffee with cream, cinnamon, vanilla and raw sugar, my special holiday tamales, and maybe something new....mole` - YES!  I have the best recipe for mole`....deep, dark spicy, nutty with roasted turkey and / or chicken.....simply luscious.

Tapas is also on the table to be made for a party....fired manchego cheese with a great roasted red pepper and tomato sauce, serrano peppers stuffed with something and wrapped in bacon, mini flans, mini potato and serrano ham omelets, cuban sliders with sweet red pepper relish, fried plantains with lime mayo.

I'm running out of steam and need to get to bed...type with y'all soon!

Saturday, September 11, 2010


The following sounds more like a 4th of July meal and as I consider the menu, I cannot think of what a better day than today to celebrate being an American....9/11, the anniversary of the day we, as a society, were forever changed.

In remembrance of our brothers and sisters that were lost on that fateful day, I will bow my head in prayer for their families and will stand firm as a proud American.

May God bless us and guide us with His light.

I have been looking at a watermelon for over a week trying to decide what to do with it....and have finally decided.  I am going to make watermelon water and pickle the rind.  I know that sounds weird, but watermelon rind pickles are sweet and full of the flavor of cloves.  The finished product has a kind of "moonstone" look.  The watermelon water has simple syrup, mint and lime juice in it and is simply a very refreshing drink....oh my goodness....I may have to add a shot of tequila to that.

The next item that I will make is a broccoli salad that my mother-in-law introduced me to.  It has currants, bacon and onion in it with a cream cheese dressing that is simply out of this world.

So, for dinner tonite we are having fried chicken, broccoli salad and watermelon water.  Dessert is the dark chocolate pie that I referenced in an earlier post.....it has not been made, at least not yet.  I expect that it will be done tonite.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Another day of cooking and working on new recipes

I started today at 8:30 am by charring poblano peppers in preparation for stuffing them with a picadillo that is meaty, sweet and savory.  I made the picadillo, chorizo verde, poached eggs and am now working on candied jalapenos.  The next item that I need to make is a deep red ranchero sauce for the stuffed poblanos while the picadillo cools enough for me to handle it.

I love working with my hands.  There is something so very satisfying about the feel of the food.  Like working with bread dough...I do not use any kind of machine when I make bread.  I mix everything with a wooden spoon to start with and then move directly from the bowl on to the granite countertop and use my hands.

Later, I plan on sitting down with my mom's recipes and working on the book.  A nice cup of chocolate raspberry coffee, going through the recipes and reminiscing about my childhood with my husband.

I almost forgot, I have one more thing to make.....I promised Jason a dark chocolate cream pie later today.

Happy Labor Day!!!

Sunday night adventures

Today, I decided that I was not going to work on the book.  Instead, I played in my kitchen.  I began with a great pot of coffee then went thru the items that I had in the house.  Onions, poblanos, cheese, tortillas, chicken thighs, salsa and cilantro.  I ended up making braised chicken thighs with quesadillas.

Then, I made cilantro rice with black beans to make burritos with.  Just add some cheese to the warm rice and beans and it makes a great burrito.

Then...at 9pm, I got the urge to make biscuits.  So I made the most tender, melt in your mouth buttermilk biscuits that anyone has ever had.  One really huge bit of advice when making biscuits....do not knead the dough, even if the recipe tells you to do so.  Just mix the biscuits enough to bring the dough together.  If you spend too much time on the biscuit dough, the gluten develops and that is why they get tough.  I do not use a rolling pin either, I bring the dough together with my hands and then use the biscuit cutter.  Your hands are the best tools that you have in the kitchen.  So, at 10:30pm, my husband was having biscuits...one with honey and one with peach jalapeno jam.  I could hear him make the "mmmm" sound as he took his first bite.....

Tomorrow morning, I'll make poached eggs and maple bacon and use the biscuits for breakfast sandwiches.  Then, I need to write down the cilantro rice with black beans recipe for the cookbook along with the braised chicken thighs...this was actually very good.

The next big recipe that I have to actually make while writing it down, is my turkey tamale recipe.  I make these every year for Thanksgiving.  These are a huge hit and are very different from traditional tamales.  Each time I make these, I have to make extra for family and friends.  

I also make pumpkin flan for Thanksgiving each year along with my mom's pumpkin cake.  Being from New England, pumpkin is the prominent vegetable for the fall.  I also make pumpkin soup, muffins, bread, sauce (great on poultry) and baked pumpkin (sweet and savory varieties).  This is a very versatile vegetable.

I almost forgot....the Build A Better Burger contest finalists were announced and I was not among them.  When I read the recipes that made it to the finals, they were very complex with multiple ingredients.  My burgers were very simple, my sauce only had 6 ingredients (including salt and pepper), sauteed mushrooms and cheese.  I believe in the KISS method.....keep it simple sweetheart.  My reward was when I made the burgers for the 4th of July and not one guest talked while they were eating them.  There is always next year.....

Friday, September 3, 2010

A view into my world

The point to this post is to get to how my cooking style was influenced by Mexican, New Mexican and Spanish cultures and my love of those flavors.  Once the book is done, my family and friends will see these influences in almost everything I make.

My friends and family know that I love anything Southwestern / Mexican / South American and Spanish.  The food and culture have been great influences in my later life.  This began when I was hired as a Medicare Reimbursement Specialist for, what was, one of the largest healthcare providers in the US.  One of my first assignments was to travel to Albuquerque for training.  This was where the home office of the company was.  Remember, that I was from the Boston area at the time and had only travelled in New England, New York state and eastern Canada.

Back in the early 1990's, I flew from Boston to Dallas and then on to Albuquerque, New Mexico.  When I got off the plane in Albuquerque, I knew that I was home and my life was forever changed.  This was one of 3 experiences that, for lack of a better term, rocked my world in a very positive way.  I spent several completely glorious days in a place that became what I call the "home of my heart".   I travelled back to Albuquerque every month for 18 months with this job.  I eventually moved to Dallas, it was the only place I would agree to move to that my boss suggested.  Unfortunately, after those 18 months, my division was dissolved and we were all laid off.  So, there I was with only 2 friends in Dallas.  I could have moved back to New England, but I did not call Boston home any more.  So, I stayed in Dallas and met my husband a few months after I stopped traveling.

Moving to Dallas.....I was 37 when I moved to Dallas.  I didn't know anyone, but I had to be in Dallas, so I packed up all my belongings, hired a mover, got in my car and drove.  As I crossed the Massachusetts border into Conneticut, I spoke these words out loud, "My new life is starting and my husband is waiting for me".  I believed that with all of my heart and soul.  So, with that thought tucked neatly away, I arrived in Dallas 33 1/2 hours later.  Once I moved, I became who I was meant to be....this is a very long story for another time.

Anyway, I worked as a consultant for another 18 months.  Once I was laid off, I found a job with a pharmacy and worked for a couple of months with them.  This proved to be a very dissatisfying position for me and I went to work at a local hospital.  In October of 1997, I got an urge to pick up a free local news paper.  I had not picked up this particular paper for about 6 months, but I had to have that week's edition.  I had to go to 4 stores to find a paper.  When I did find one, it was the last one in the rack.  I took it home on a Wednesday, and didn't read it until Friday, this happened to be Halloween.  Now, I have to say up front that I read the personals, but I read them for fun.....really....awe, come on, give a girl a break!

I started reading and there was this one ad the kept getting my attention.  I tried to read beyond the ad, but it kept jumping up off the page at me.  So I gave in and read it again...and again...and again...and - you get the point.  I called the ad.  My first reaction was, oh yeah, this is real.  So I went back to reading the ads and it still would not leave me alone.  I ended up calling the ad and leaving a message on Halloween night.  It was Jason....sweet sigh...

He called me back 2 days later, we met face to face 2 days after that.  Jason had 6 responses to his ad, had 6 dates set up, but I was the first woman that he met.  We met face to face on Tuesday, November 4, 1997 and have been together ever since.  He cancelled the 5 other dates that he had set up.  We dated for 2 years and got married on October 30, 1999 in Sedona, Arizona.

Jason is an artist.  His work is incredible, as you will see.  He had been traveling with his family to Sedona and the southwest for years and had a love of that area.  Jason is one of those men that has an "old soul".  He probably could have lived very comfortably as a cowboy in the 1800's who would come in from the range for a drink, a bath and a lay.  He loves southwestern and Mexican food.  If it is spicy, he will eat it.

He was the one that I began to stretch my culinary skills for.  But in that process, I discovered an incredible affinity for cooking and being creative in the kitchen.  I found myself changing and growing again.

So, here are a few images from my home.  This is the corner of the kitchen where the cook-top resides and where my culinary adventures occur.

This is my purple kitchen....yes, it is purple.  This is the corner opposite from the cook-top.  The cabinets are yellow, the counter tops are a jade green granite, the walls and ceiling are purple, and the tile on the backsplash ties the saltillo tile floor, the cabinets and the green counter top together.  The purple is just because I can.

This is a picture of Jason with one of his paintings at a local art show.

So, now you know where my main influences for cooking come from.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Chili Peppers, red hot and otherwise

Well....the Hatch chile festival is just about over.  I have stocked up on enough chiles to use until next year.  I typically purchase these in the mild and the hot version.  My husband is the one who like hot peppers.  I make several recipes with them, but his favorite is the variety of stuffed peppers that I make.  I stuff them with several things: meats, plantains, rice & beans, cheese, eggs, cornbread and make home-made ranchero sauce or salsa (red and green) to bake them in.  For the cornbread stuffed peppers, I make a sweetened red salsa.  I think this year, I may use the peppers for Thanksgiving and make some sort of turkey stuffed pepper.....hmm, now I'm thinking.  

The other pepper that I like to use to stuff, is a poblano.  These are a very dark green and look gorgeous with the red salsa or ranchero sauce on them.  These are dipped in a very light batter and deep fried until golden brown.  

Candied jalapenos.....this is a food group all of it's own.  I make these by the potful for my husband and friends and use the excess syrup for a surprise "kick" in several other recipes.  All I can say right now is chocolate and "the spicy"......YUM!!!!

I also love to make tamales.  I make these each year for the holidays and typically get orders for them.  For fun, I make sweet dessert tamales with some sort of decadent sauce to go over them.  The sauce will most likely involve a bottle of tequila, which is one of my favorite liquors.....ole`!!!!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Musings on a Sunday afternoon

Jason and I just came in from church and I fixed lunch for us.  One of my greatest joys is watching my husband enjoy a meal.  A little bit about my husband....Jason is one of those men that has a very quiet strength, is very observant and does not talk a whole bunch.  I, on the other hand, am a "chatty Kathy".  Jason is the one who sits quietly in the corner at a party, while I dance nekked on a table wearing only a lampshade and a smile, all the while he is saying to himself, "Lord...help me!".  We balance each other very well....he reels me in and I draw him out.  As a couple, we are a great match.

As I sit at my desk, I am going thru the recipes that were in my mom's shoebox.  My memories begin to emerge of wonderful times in the kitchen waiting for the oven to finish doing it's magic on the dough or batter that was so carefully placed there.  Those were wonderful times in the kitchen when mom was baking and filling the vintage character cookie jar with treats.  This cookie jar is the shape of a pretty little pig, standing upright, in a dress with flowers on her head.  She has the sweetest smile on her face.  This is the cookie jar that my grandmother had, my mom had and now I have.  A picture of the cookie jar wil be included in the book too.

Some of the cookies that I am reminiscing about are snickerdoodles, chocolate chip, peanut butter, chocolate icebox cookies, oatmeal raisin and Russian tea cakes.  I still have the original Betty Crocker cookie book that some of these recipes came from.  As I thumb thru the pages, they are stained and worn, and I can almost smell the cookies baking.  Mom didn't have family recipes for cookies, except for modifications to some classic cookie recipes, but she did have recipes for several amazing cakes.

One of the cakes that I grew up with was the "War Cake".  This cake was deep, dark chocolate and was always made with peanut butter frosting.  I would have included it in the cook-book, but the recipe was published by the King Arthur flour company.  There is a bit of vinegar in the recipe that increases the complexity of the taste beyond anything that you can imagine.  Yes, vinegar....and you would never know that it is in the recipe.

Another recipe that I grew up with was a blueberry coffee cake that had TONS of blueberries in it.  We made this every year when fresh blueberries were at their peak and it is being included in the book.  There are a few versions of this "out there", but none that I have encountered are on the same level as this one.  This, my dear readers, is the ultimate blueberry coffee cake.

Now that fall will be arriving, it is getting time to make applesauce.  The family recipe for applesauce will be in the book along with my mom's recipe for Applesauce cake.  This is a moist cake that cannot be beat...if you like the smell of the warm spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and a few others), then this is a cake for you.  Like having a crock pot full of warm, spiced cider, this cake will fill your house with the smell of apple pie.

Also, an added bonus to making this cake, and the pumpkin cake, is that the smell of cinnamon can have a very positive impact your love life, "wink, wink".

Saturday, August 28, 2010

More initial thoughts

It is 9:30am on Saturday morning and I am sitting at my computer with a big mug of coffee and 2 cats by my side.  My husband is at work and I am already considering what to fix him for lunch and what we might have for dinner.

Lunch will most likely be mushroom, onion, cheese steaks with home-made iced tea.  To clarify, "home-made" does not include instant tea, Crystal Light, tea concentrate or any other tea that is a mix that one can make "at home".  I actually measure out the loose tea, the sugar, heat the water and let the tea steep for several minutes before straining it into the 2 gallon container and adding just the right amount of water to make a glass of sweet, deep amber heaven.

About brewing your own loose tea......never, ever boil the water.  Bring it to a simmer and turn it off.  Boiling the water releases the oxygen and can change the character of the flavor.  You can also use the coffee maker to heat a pot of water, that is a great temperature to make tea with.  Think of it this way, when your nose is "stuffed up", things most likely taste differently because you cannot smell any thing.  Oxygen / breathing is an important component to taste.  Try this to test the theory...place a clothes pin on your nose and eat something, take the clothes pin off and have a second bite and see if it tastes differently.

For dinner, I'm considering some form of quesadilla with a side of grilled scallions and a salad with cranberry chipotle dressing on it.  If you have not had grilled scallions, please try them.  Clean, trim and drizzle them with olive oil, some salt and pepper and grill.  These are marvelous.  If you don't have an out-door grill, get some smoked salt and use that instead of plain salt.  Yes, smoked salt.....it is a miracle and comes in different flavors.  I use it on meats, on veggies and in salads and have even used it on grilled fruit to get that smokey flavor when out-door grilling is not an option.

Speaking of salt....fleur du sel....the flavor is soft without any sharp edges.  It is well worth the extra expense and I use it strictly "at the table".  I use sea salt or kosher salt in the actual cooking process.

For pepper, I use a peppercorn melange....black, red and pink peppercorns and always grind it fresh.

I just discovered that my coffee cup is empty, so heading back to the kitchen to fill up and see what's in the fridge and what culinary mischief I can get into.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Initial Thoughts

This book is a tribute to my mother.  She worked very hard at raising her children and at being a good wife.  She had so many dreams which she had to give up.  Her father was an immigrant from Germany in the 1920’s and didn’t believe in educating girls.  His reasoning was that girls were only going to grow up, get married and have children, therefore a formal education was a waste.  My mother didn’t believe that.  She would always say to me, “Susie, find out what it is you can do and do it.  Don’t get married right out of high school.  You are smart, don’t limit yourself.”    

My mother’s name was Ruth.  She grew up very poor and had to leave home to work at a very young age.  She never finished high school, married at 17 and by the time she was 18, she had her first child.  She was not able to finish high school or to further her formal education….but she had dreams, wonderful dreams, which would be fulfilled in her children.  

My mother was diagnosed with endometrial cancer at age 54.  She had some very good years early in the disease course, but ultimately lost a 15 year battle with this disease.  Her life ended quietly at home, in my father’s arms on October 20, 2002.  She was 69 years old.  

Now, a little bit about me.  By profession, I am a Registered Nurse and have been since 1980.  I began my career in Massachusetts.  I moved to Texas with a job transfer in 1995.  Moving to Texas was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.  This is where I met the love of my life, my husband Jason.  Jason is a wonderful man and is quite an accomplished artist.  

Texas is where I began to stretch my culinary skills.  Being from New England, if you boiled it, I would eat it.  The food that I grew up with was very basic.  My mother was an adequate cook.  However, she was an extraordinary baker.  

Other than my husband, I have 2 passions in life.  The first is cooking and the second is singing.  Yes, I can cook and yes, I can sing.  My dream job after I retire from nursing is to open a small diner.  

Family and friends have been asking me to write down and organize all my family recipes along with all the ones that I have developed over the last 12 years along with the ones that I keep coming up with...and I finally decided to commit to the project.  

I'm not sure how long this will take and am thinking about setting a deadline.  I want to be careful because I don't want the deadline to be too ambitious, but I also don't want it to be too generous.....this will take some careful thought.   

The funny thing is, I didn't really start to cook until I was in my late 30's.  I had been watching the cooking shows on PBS and loved several of them.  I made it a point to be home on Saturday afternoons so that I could watch TV.  Some of my early favorites were (of course) Julia Child, Martin Yan, Ming Tsai, Marion Morash of the Victory Garden, Marsha Adams in Cooking from Quilt Country, Jacques Pepin, and the Frugal Gourmet.

I came from a home in which my mother was an adequate cook.  She didn't cook anything fancy, just basic food.  In fact, she cooked meat until it was dead, buried and resurrected.....meat ALWAYS required something...butter, ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard....anything...to give it enough moisture so that it could be chewed and swallowed.  Vegetables were cooked until they were mushy and fell apart.  There was nothing bright green or crisp, unless it was the makings for salad.  

But....my mother could bake.  She could make the most amazing cakes, cookies, breads and pies that anyone could imagine.   Any time there was a bake sale, my mom baked for it and her goodies were always a huge hit.  The neighborhood kids were always at our house for goodies, particularly my brother and his friends.