Thursday, December 31, 2009

Beef products aren't beef

Americans love hamburger. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of eating out in the backyard, my dad making special cheeseburgers (two VERY thin patties with a slice of sharp cheddar cheese pressed between them and the edges sealed), with buns toasted to perfection on the grill, smeared with bright yellow mustard and maybe a dab of ketchup, a big beefsteak tomato slice and a fresh, crisp green lettuce leaf. All the major food groups, held in a package that even kid hands could handle.

Yet as the horror stories of E. coli have grown in the past several years, I've basically avoided commercially made hamburgers, preferring to buy local grass-fed beef and grind it myself (the food processor can do the job, if you don't mind the uneven chunks, which I kind of like). And even then, beef isn't on the menu very often.

So it was with a detached squeamishness that I read today's excellent New York Times story headlined, "Company's Record on Beef Treatment Questioned." To think of all that effort to eradicate problems that come up with processing, when for years just following common sense and sanitary practices were enough, just boggles the mind as it turns the stomach. And the company, while turning down the Times' request for interviews or tours of its facilities, sounded rather cavalier in its response:
“B.P.I.’s track record demonstrates the progress B.P.I. has made compared to the industry norm,” the company said. “Like any responsible member of the meat industry, we are not perfect.”
But it was this line that stopped me in my tracks:
The federal school lunch program used an estimated 5.5 million pounds of the processed beef last year alone.
Yes, adults can make the choice not to eat at McDonald's or Burger King and the other restaurants that rely on Beef Products Inc.'s ammonia-treated ground beef parts, but what choice do those children have? To eat or not eat? To go hungry and not be able to focus on the afternoon's assignments?

And yet despite their record of repeated contamination, which indicated the ammonia treatment isn't consistent at best, the officials of Beef Products Inc. are free to run their business as they see fit.

I have just one word for the practice: Criminal. And no amount of weasel-talk can make our food safer, just action on the part of the government we trust with our health.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

More a question than a post today

What is it about flying that makes one crave chocolate, caramel and nuts? Here I am trying to eat healthfully, having a packed a breakfast and all, but still I'd just rather be munching on a Tolberone (OK, I know it's nougat in there, but the sugar/nut mixture gives it a nice crunch, which makes a great stand-in for gooey caramel). What's up with that?

It's not like I'm getting much exercise sitting here in this pressurized tube hurtling 492 mph through the air. And the ultra-violet (hyphenated, because the purple likely doesn't contain harmful rays) lights gives this Virgin America flight the feeling of being stuck in a crowded bar without enough space around the bar stools to keep from elbowing the other customers.

Just to make this clear, I'm blogging from 34,693 feet, heading to San Francisco. No restaurants this trip, just friends, fun and good food. Ciao!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

It's OK to be crabby at Christmas

My husband, who was born in Berkeley to native Californians, says Christmas dinner was a bit different from Norman Rockwell's at his house. His grandfather would go to the docks and get a bag of fresh Dungeness crabs, cook them immediately, and serve them with a loaf of buttered sourdough bread. (I'm sure there were side dishes, too, but they have not made it down in the retelling of the lore.)

As much as I loved the Atlantic blue crabs this summer, something about the one-per-person size of the Dungeness, with its delicate flavor and drier texture, makes it a special treat. I hope we can enjoy fresh ones when we go West for New Year's.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Gumbo warms the soul

Although anytime is gumbo time in my house, I know a lot of people like it best in the winter. Gumbo is often associated with seafood, and indeed that version is delicious, but really, all kinds of things can make a good gumbo, and Cajuns are adept at using whatever is on hand ("We were so poor that all we had for gumbo was an egg." "You had an egg! An egg would have been so good.").

So here's a recipe I use often, adapted from "Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen." Enjoy!

Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo
adapted from Chef Paul Prudhomme’s version
10 servings

Use chicken, duck, sausage, beef, seafood and vegetables, depending on what's available in your area.

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, all visible fat removed, diced into 1 inch chunks
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons Cajun spice (see below)
1 cup finely diced onions
1 cup finely diced green bell peppers
3/4 cup finely diced celery
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
Vegetable oil for frying
7 cups chicken stock
1/2 pound andouille smoked sausage, diced (or kielbasa, and add a 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper)
1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
2 bay leaves
10 teaspoons file gumbo
2 1/2 cups hot cooked white rice
Sprinkle the chicken evenly with 2 tablespoons of the Cajun spice and rub it in well. Let stand at room temperature while you dice the vegetables.
Combine the onions, bell peppers and celery in a bowl and set aside.
Combine the remaining spice with the flour in a paper or plastic bag. Add the seasoned chicken pieces and shake until the chicken is well coated. Reserve 1/2 cup of the seasoned flour. Heat 1/2 cup of oil in a large, heavy skillet and fry the chicken until the crust is brown on both sides and the meat is cooked, about 5 to 8 minutes. You may have to fry the chicken in batches. Drain on paper towels.
Return the pan to medium high heat and gradually whisk in the reserved 1/2 cup seasoned flour. Cook, whisking constantly, until the roux is dark red-brown, being careful not to let it scorch or splash on your skin. Remove the pan from the heat and immediately add the vegetables, stirring constantly until the roux stops getting darker. Place the pan over low heat and cook, stirring constantly and scraping the pan bottom well, until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring the stock to a boil in a 5-quart saucepan or Dutch oven. Add the vegetable mixture by spoonfuls to the boiling stock, stirring between each addition until the roux is dissolved. Return to a boil, stirring and scraping the pan bottom often. Reduce the heat to low, stir in the sausage, garlic, and bay leaves and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes, stirring often toward the end of the cooking time.
When the gumbo has cooked for 45 minutes, stir in the chicken and when the chicken is hot, serve immediately. Mound 1/4 cup cooked rice and a teaspoon of file in the center of a low soup bowl, and ladle 3/4 cup of gumbo around the rice.

Cajun spice
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons sweet or smoked paprika
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon oregano leaves

Blend all in a spice grinder. Use within a year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Many apologies for taking so long to write; we've been snowbound here and still are until the county road we're on is plowed. We were without power for 30 hours, and although I don't think anything in the freezer thawed out completely, I'm doing my best to now cook up everything as soon as I can.

Yesterday, I grilled up a bag of thawed chicken breasts; two I coated with hot sauce and garlic salt, the rest with preserved lemon and pepper, sprayed them with olive oil and grilled them. The hot-sauce ones I then split lengthwise and used them as taco filling, along with slices of yellow peppers. I grilled 4 tortillas mounded with shredded cheddar on low until the cheese melted to make the taco shells.

While the power was out, we used the Coleman grill to cook up a tuna steak and a salmon fillet, with preserved lemon slices on each; we had them with leftover pasta alfredo and green beans and ate by candlelight before lighting a fire in the fireplace to keep warm. We didn't have much wood, so the place got pretty chilly. Luckily, we have lots of warm clothes, and it's surprising how toasty it can get under a down comforter. And we did have the foresight to locate all our candles and camping equipment before night fell.

By not opening the freezer at all until the power came back on, by opening the refrigerator sparingly and setting the refrigerated items outside when it was between 32 and 40, I think we were able to get by without any spoilage (even the milk made it through OK and I didn't have to open any cans). We could have eaten out of our pantry for at least another week, but water may have eventually become a problem, and firewood most definitely would have.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Oysters: Shelled out

In a perfect world, oysters would come straight from the estuary on ice, quickly shucked, a pat of flavored butter put on the oyster-on-the-half-shell sitting on a bed of rock salt, then put in the oven at 500 degrees for 12-14 minutes, or until lightly browned and bubbling: the quintessential Oysters Rockefeller, a dish named simply for its richness.

Alas, time and place were not perfect last night. The oysters were from a jar. Not having any shells, what to do? Well, I'm here to say that baked in an au gratin dish, Oysters Rockefeller are only slightly less stunning than their individual selves, and make a sumptuous dinner served over white fluffy rice. I followed the traditional recipe from "The New Orleans Cookbook" (Knoft, 1975, 264 pages) by Rima and Richard Collin, but since they were being served as a main dish rather than an appetizer, I made a few substitutions, namely more spinach and less butter. Sorry I didn't take a photo of it; the aroma was overpowering and we were hungry.

Oysters Rockefeller casserole
Serves 2

8 ounces select oysters, drained
2 cups packed raw spinach (about 5 ounces)
1/2 stick of butter, softened
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/4 cup green onions
1 tablespoon minced celery
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons Pernod or Absinthe

Preheat oven to 500 (or the maximum recommended temperature for your au gratin dish; mine was 480 degrees). Cook the spinach in the microwave until wilted but still bright green. Drain and dump it in the food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients and process until everything is small and well-blended.
Arrange the oysters in the bottom of the au gratin dish. Spoon the sauce over. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and lightly brown. Cool for 3-6 minutes. Serve over a bed of hot, fluffy rice.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Oysters and patter

Ever bake Oysters Rockefeller without the shells? Me neither. But tonight I'm going to give it a whirl. Look for the results tomorrow.

I got a real upper of an e-mail from a Sacramento friend, Carolyn Konrad, who said, in part:
I visit your Lori K site about once a week, enjoying the way you write and explain recipes and preps. I can hear your voice. And appreciate your lovely good taste.
When I write in what often seems like a vacuum to me (after 30 years at newspapers, it's extremely different not to have dozens of people around you, brainstorming and opining and editing your copy), it's always good to know there are folks out there who enjoy my work.

Thanks to all of you for reading!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Slices of lemon

Freezing lemon slices is easier than I thought it would be, and I thought it would be easy. Lemons and cookie sheets are really all you need, and airtight containers or bags for storing them.

Start by slicing the lemons in half, and removing as many seeds as you can. Then either slice them thinly by hand, or use the food processor, with a 4mm slicing blade (the 2mm makes slices so thin you can see through them. Nice for garnish, but not so good for the freezing process). Lay them in a single layer on the cookie sheets, freeze until hard, then remove them from the cookie sheets and put them in bags and put them back in the freezer.

You can use them in water or drinks straight from the freezer; they act a little like an ice cube as they thaw out and flavor the liquid.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Meyer lemon-paloosa

My friend Joye just sent me a big box of Meyer lemons from her Sacramento yard. From the moment I opened the box, the house has smelled like lemon, Joye (sorry, I couldn't resist).

I've had a lot of fun giving them to Virginians who have never had the pleasure of one, preserving some, and today I'm going to give freezing them a try.

I heard that you just need to slice them, put them on cookie sheets, then freeze; once they are frozen stiff, remove them from the cookie tray and put them in an airtight bag.

For those of you new to preserving lemons, my recipe and technique can be found here:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Broccoli mash is a smash

One of the most excellent by-products of the low-carb diets' popularity was the many substitutes that people came up with to replace the traditional sides of potatoes or rice. Mary Menz introduced me to this one in Sacramento, and it's called a mash. It really couldn't be easier. This mash is made with broccoli, but if you want something that looks more like mashed potatoes, use cauliflower. I am not wild about broccoli, but I like it this way.

Broccoli mash

Serves 4

1 pound broccoli, separated into florets
4 ounces cheddar cheese
1/4 cup of milk

Steam broccoli in a bowl in the microwave for 2 or 3 minutes. It should be still be bright green, not over done.
Crumble the cheese into a food processor and add the hot broccoli. Process, adding milk as need until it is thick and fairly smooth. Serve immediately, or can be reheated in the microwave for a minute just before serving.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A distant memory

I'm sure everyone's used up their turkey leftovers by now. And those of you who didn't use all of it for sandwiches and salads probably found out a disagreeable truth: Plain reheated turkey doesn't smell very good, or taste very good either. It's somewhat acceptable when it's done with stuffing and gravy, but it's much better repurposed, with plenty of spices.

And when I say spices, I don't necessarily mean hot spices, although turkey marries particularly well with chilies.

Hot dishes that put a quantity of cooked turkey to good use include curries, enchiladas, mole (mo-lay, the dark version made with chocolate, cinnamon and chilies) and white chili.

So if you froze some of that leftover turkey, haul it out at your leisure, but don't just reheat it, improve it!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A simple but satisfying dinner

Spaghetti carbonara always brings to mind the great New Yorker writer Calvin Trillin and his effort to get it to replace turkey at the Thanksgiving table.

Spaghetti carbonara is a staple in the Richardson household throughout the year, although usually it is a dish of last resort when there's nothing fresh to fix. But that doesn't make it a bad thing. It is especially good to serve to company who drops in unannounced; nice but not special enough to inspire repeat unannounced visits.

Here's my recipe for it, although cooked bacon bits (the real thing) from the fridge sometimes sub in for the cooked bacon, making it REALLY fast food. This is for four people, but it is easily halved. Serve with a salad, stewed tomatoes or a side of your favorite green vegetable.

Spaghetti Carbonara
4 slices bacon, diced into 1/2 inch pieces
1 clove minced garlic
Freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces spaghetti, cooked until al dente
2 large eggs, beaten with 1 tablespoon each milk and pasta water
Salt to taste
4 ounces freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves

In a large saute pan or wok over medium heat, fry the bacon until crispy. Remove bacon with slotted spoon or spatula and allow to drain on paper towels. Remove all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat from the pan. Add garlic and saute for 30 seconds, and season with pepper. Add back the bacon and pasta and saute for 1 minute. Season the eggs with salt. Remove the pan from heat and add eggs, stirring quickly, until eggs thicken but do not scramble. Add the cheese and taste; adjust seasoning as needed with salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley.

To make with real bacon bits: Sauté garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add 4 tablespoons bacon bits and the pasta to the pan and season with pepper. Sauté until heated thoroughly. Season the eggs with salt. Remove the pan from heat and add eggs, stirring quickly, until eggs thicken but do not scramble. Add the cheese and taste; adjust seasoning as needed with salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The cycle of soup

The soups section in the supermarket seems to take up more and more of the aisle each year. Chefs have often, and often loudly, decried the American habit of thinking soup comes out of a can to the tune of "Umm, umm, good!" Some such as Wolfgang Puck have decided to add their soups to the mix. The varieties now are more numerous, but something about canning still doesn't do much for soups.

More cooks could become better soup makers if they just set aside their cookbooks once in a while and think about the cycle of soup.

First, you make a broth or stock. Take those trimmings that you would have thrown out, skin and tendons of meat, or the carrots, celery, tomatoes and onions slightly past their prime, and cover them with water and a little salt, add a bay leaf and a few peppercorns, and simmer for several hours. Strain and then you can toss the cooked remains into the garbage or compost. For meat liquids, put in the fridge or freezer until the fat congeals at the top, then throw that out, too.

If you're not ready to use it, put it in a container marked with the date and contents.

When you're ready, you can get creative. Use leftovers in your fridge if you can. If your broth is strong enough, a little vinegar on a cup or less of leftover pasta salad will be absorbed and add to the flavor of your soup. Or maybe you have a cup of leftover rice; add it to 2 cups of chicken broth, bring to a boil with the rice, then stir a little of it into a cup containing a beaten egg and the juice of a lemon. Turn the soup down to a simmer. Gentle stir the contents of the cup into the hot soup.

Experiment. If you like a combination of spices in a dish, chances are you will like it in a soup with similar ingredients. Just be aware that as a soup cooks, water evaporates, so the spices will intensify, and not all at the same rate. Chilies can be a lot hotter in soups, as can pepper. Basil may disappear (that's why it's good to add fresh basil just before serving). Lemon can brighten a bean soup; sherry can make it richer.

If you're lucky and you like soup, you may never have to throw out any leftovers again.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Eating locally gains support

The Nation's Restaurant News polled a number of chefs on what they thought were trends in the industry, and the good news is that many of them cited the increased use of local produce, meats and seafood as the top two trends. The other 18 top trends:

3. Sustainability
4. Bite-size/mini desserts
5. Locally produced wine and beer
6. Nutritionally balanced children's dishes
7. Half-portions/smaller portion for a smaller price
8. Farm/estate-branded ingredients
9. Gluten-free/food allergy conscious
10. Sustainable seafood
11. Superfruits (e.g. acai, goji berry, mangosteen, purslane)
12. Organic produce
13. Culinary cocktails (e.g. savory, fresh ingredients)
14. Micro-distilled/artisan liquor
15. Nutrition/health
16. Simplicity/back to basics
17. Regional ethnic cuisine
18. Non-traditional fish (e.g. branzino, Arctic char, barramundi)
19. Newly fabricated cuts of meat (e.g. Denver steak, pork flat iron, Petite Tender)
20. Fruit/vegetable children's side items
Source: The National Restaurant Association's What's Hot in 2010 chef survey

I'm not too wild about the newly fabricated cuts of meat - I like to know what part of the animal I'm eating, not some marketer's idea of what will sell me on eating it - but bring on more Arctic char! It's delicious.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Time to toss?

Photograph by Adam Woolfitt

My, how time flies when you're preparing four turkeys to feed a crowd, and dealing with the leftovers. If you've been wondering how long to keep said leftovers, or anything else in the refrigerator, freezer or pantry, check out Their database and tips are super.

Here's their advice for post-Thanksgiving storage:

Fridge: 3-4 days
Freezer: 2-3 months
Cut whole bird into smaller pieces before refrigerating.
Fridge: 1-2 days
Freezer: 2-3 months
Bring leftover gravy to a boil before using.
Fridge: 10-14 days
Freezer: 1-2 months
Store leftovers in covered plastic or glass container.
Fridge: 3-4 days
Freezer: 1 month
Remove stuffing from turkey before refrigerating.
Fridge: 3-5 days
Freezer: 10-12 months
Mashed potatoes freeze well; whole baked potatoes don’t.
Fridge: 3-4 days
Freezer: 1-2 months
Keep refrigerated; texture may change after freezing.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving do-aheads

Do you sometimes feel that you have little to be thankful for at Thanksgiving, after stressing out over cooking for a crowd? I wrote a story several years ago for The Sacamento Bee on "Do-ahead Thanksgiving" and the timetable and recipes that Dianne Phillips came up with still are about the best I've seen.

By Lori Korleski Richardson

Thanksgiving is a grand feast, with many dishes to choose from, desserts galore and a whopping brown bird as the centerpiece. It takes hours and hours to prepare. It comes to a table made special by painstaking decorating, the best your budget can afford. And for all this, what happens?

The whole shebang gets wolfed down in minutes so the gang can get back to the football games. Just who is giving thanks here? Certainly not the cook.

If this is your life, Diane Phillips can transform it and show you how to have as much fun as the rest of the gang on Turkey Day. How? Do-ahead Thanksgiving. "I came up with this idea about 10 years ago, after I had spent 12 hours fixing Thanksgiving dinner for 12 people and they polished it off in 10 minutes."

Phillips, a San Diego author of cookbooks and traveling cooking teacher, shows what can be prepared in advance so that "all you have to do on the big day is put the turkey in the oven and the last-minute preparation can be done in the 45 minutes that the turkey is resting after it's out of the oven."

Lest anyone question what a turkey would be like 45 minutes after it was baked, the turkey that was served to the students in one class came out 90 minutes before carving, and it still was warm and delicious. Phillips began her demonstration with a hot apple cake with caramel pecan sauce "because that's just the kind of girl I am." If there is an easier cake to make, it would be hard to imagine. Phillips said that it freezes well for up to two months. You thaw it out the night before, and then pop it into the post-turkey 350-degree oven for 10 minutes and serve, topped with the caramel sauce. It's super-moist and delicious, as we found out near the end of the class.

Then it was on to the make-ahead mashed potatoes, Gulliver's corn, green beans with sherried onion and mushroom sauce, and the do-ahead gravy. At the top of her steps to a painless Thanksgiving is "Relax!" -- and she means it.

On the green beans dish: "Blanch the green beans by bringing a large pot of water to boil, throw the beans in, bring it to a boil again, then drain the beans and put them in a bowl of ice water. They'll keep several days in the fridge that way. Keep the water boiling, and throw the pearl onions in, skins and all. Cook about two minutes, then drain and cool. The skins will slide right off."

On the gravy: "Want to know how to avoid lumpy gravy? Cook the flour and butter together for at least three minutes after the white bubbles appear. This is what keeps the lumps from happening. Make it thicker than you want it. It will look a little pale, but it will thin out and get its color when you add the fat-skimmed drippings on Thursday."

Her tips for turkey were simple, as well:
  • Use a fresh turkey, 16 pounds or less. Figure 1 pound per person if you want to send some home with people, 3/4 pound if you just want a few leftovers. If you have more people, buy a second turkey. The bigger ones are too tough and have too many tendons, and they don't cook as evenly. If you can't resist the bargains on the frozen ones, buy one and cook it for your family some other time.
  • Use a meat thermometer. Those little plastic pop-up ones are inadequate and inaccurate.
  • Scoop out the stuffing as soon as the turkey is cooked and put it in a bowl. Or bake it separately, in loaf pans, for about 45 minutes to an hour at 350 degrees, basting it with turkey drippings. Slice it as you would a loaf of bread and serve.

And every time Phillips dotted another casserole with butter, she'd shrug and say, "It's the holiday." She did make some allowances for those watching their fat intake, such as substituting whole milk for cream in some of the recipes, but she drew the line firmly against using just broth in one's mashed potatoes: "Ee-yew," she said, with a shake of her blond bob. "Promise me that none of you will do that!" "It's the holiday," she pleaded.

It also wouldn't work with the do-ahead theme. The advance potatoes rely on cream cheese and sour cream to give them the body to survive two nights in the fridge and come out all pretty and fluffy after a 25-minute bake in the post-turkey oven. Regular mashed potatoes are likely to turn watery or even discolor in that time.

Phillips warned that the participants may get some flak from family members who'd rather stick with tradition, even though her menu doesn't stray far from customary Thanksgiving fare. But to point out how silly traditions sometimes are, she told the story of the newlywed fixing her first holiday ham for her new husband. She cut off the end of the ham and threw it out; he wondered why. "Well, my mother always did it that way." So she asked her mother why they always cut off the end of the ham. Her mother said, "Grandma always did it that way." So mother and daughter went to ask grandmother why she always cut the end off the ham. "Simple," said Grandma. "It wouldn't fit in the pan otherwise."

The timetable

Start cooking Sunday; buy bird Wednesday.

Sunday: Make the apple cake and/or the pumpkin ice cream pie and freeze (the sauces can be refrigerated).

Monday: Make the Gulliver's Corn. Refrigerate.

Tuesday: Make the Curried Cream of Pumpkin Soup and the Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes. Blanch the green beans and make the sauce for that dish. Refrigerate.

Wednesday: Pick up a fresh turkey, allowing 3/4 to 1 pound per person. Make stock from the neck and giblets. Make stuffing and gravy; refrigerate. Wash turkey in cold water and dry well; cover and refrigerate. Set the table and cover with a sheet. Take the cake out of the freezer and thaw overnight in the fridge.

Thursday: Determine when you would like to eat. Calculate the cooking time, stuff the turkey, place it on a rack in a large roasting pan and bake as directed. If you don't stuff the turkey, put the dressing into a loaf pan and cook it with the turkey for 45 minutes to an hour. Remove the turkey from the oven and let it rest for 45 minutes while you heat the soup, the gravy and vegetable sauce on the stove, and bake the potatoes and corn in the 350-degree oven. Take out the green beans from the fridge. After 25-30 minutes, take out the potatoes and corn and crank up the oven to 400 degrees. Meanwhile, serve the soup and urge everyone to start without you. Carve the turkey. Remove the stuffing to a serving dish, or slice it from the loaf pans. Toss the green beans with the sauce. Turn down the oven to 350 degrees. Serve and enjoy!

For dessert, put the apple cake into the oven 10 minutes before you're ready to serve. Heat up the sauce. Serve up the cake and top with sauce. Or soften the ice-cream pie a bit by putting it in the refrigerator before sitting down to eat, then serve it with its sauce after the meal.

Recipes for some of the dishes discussed in Diane Phillips' class appear below.

Curried Cream of Pumpkin Soup


4 Tbs. butter

1/2 cup chopped apple

1/4 cup chopped onion

1/2 tsp. curry powder

1 Tbs. flour

2 cups pumpkin puree

4 cups chicken stock

2 cups half-and-half (light cream)

4 to 5 tsp. toasted coconut, optional


Melt the butter in a 3-quart saucepan and add the apple, onion and curry powder, sauteeing until the apple is softened. Add the flour and cook for 2 minutes. Gradually add the pumpkin and chicken stock, whisking until smooth. Add the cream.

Refrigerate until ready to serve. When ready to serve, heat the soup and garnish with toasted coconut, if desired.

Serves: 8

Per serving: 173 cal.; 3 g pro.; 7 g carb.; 13 g fat (8 sat., 4 monounsat., 1 polyunsat.); 48 mg chol.; 531 mg sod.; 1 g fiber; 5 g sugar; 75 percent calories from fat.

Green Beans with Sherried Onion and Mushroom Sauce


1 lb. green beans, stemmed, and cut into 2-inch lengths

Salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg

3 Tbs. butter

1 cup small pearl onions, sliced in half

1/2 lb. sliced mushrooms

2 Tbs. flour

1/2 cup chicken stock

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 Tbs. sherry


Bring 2 quarts water to a boil and add the beans. Simmer until they're crisp, but tender. Drain; season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

In a 10-inch skillet, melt the butter and add the onions, sauteeing for three minutes. Add the mushrooms and saute until the mushrooms give off some of their liquid. Add the flour; stir until blended.

Gradually stir in the stock and whisk until thickened. Add the cream and sherry, stirring until the mixture thickens. Add the seasonings and refrigerate until ready to serve. At that time, heat the sauce and add the green beans to the sauce.

Serves: 6

Per serving: 191 cal.; 3 g pro.; 15 g carb.; 13 g fat (8 sat., 4 monounsat., 1 polyunsat.); 43 mg chol.; 201 mg sod.; 3 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 62 percent calories from fat. 

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes


1 cup sour cream

1 8-oz. package cream cheese, softened

8 to 10 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and boiled until tender

4 Tbs. butter or margarine plus 2 Tbs.

1/3 cup chopped chives (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese plus 1/4 cup


Beat the sour cream and cream cheese together. Add the hot, drained potatoes. Beat until smooth. Add the butter, optional chives, salt and pepper. Rub the inside of a 3-quart souffle dish with 2 tablespoons softened butter. Sprinkle 1/4 cup grated Parmesan into the dish, and tip the dish, so that the cheese adheres to the butter. Turn the potatoes into the souffle dish and dot with butter and sprinkle with cheese. Refrigerate 2 to 3 days and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, until golden.

Serves: 10

Per serving: 308 cal.; 7 g pro.; 29 g carb.; 19 g fat (12 sat., 6 monounsat., 1 polyunsat.); 52 mg chol.; 237 mg sod.; 2 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 54 percent calories from fat. 

Hot Apple Cake with Caramel Pecan Sauce

Ingredients for cake:

2 sticks butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1-1/2 cups flour

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

1 tsp. baking soda

3 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped

1/2 cup chopped pecans

2 tsp. vanilla

Ingredients for caramel sauce:

4 Tbs. butter

1/2 cup pecan halves

1 cup light brown sugar

1 cup whipping cream


To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch cake pan. Beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, until well blended. Add flour, spices and soda and beat until just incorporated. Mix in the apples, nuts and vanilla. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Remove to rack to cool. Refrigerate the cake when cooled. Reheat in 350-degree oven for 10 minutes before serving.

To make the caramel sauce: Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add pecan halves. Add brown sugar and whipping cream, and cook, stirring constantly, until sauce boils and sugar dissolves. Refrigerate for up to a week. To serve, place a wedge of warm cake onto dessert plate. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and spoon hot caramel pecan sauce over all.

Note: A true taste of autumn, this cake and sauce can be made ahead and frozen (1 month) or refrigerated for 3 to 4 days.

Serves: 8

Per serving: 485 cal.; 5 g pro.; 52 g carb.; 29 g fat (15 sat., 11 monounsat., 3 polyunsat.); 115 mg chol.; 177 mg sod.; 2 g fiber; 31 g sugar; 54 percent calories from fat. 

Do-Ahead Stuffing


1 cup butter or margarine

2 cups chopped celery

2 cups chopped onion

4 quarts bread cubes

1 Tbs. salt

2 tsp. poultry seasoning

1/2 tsp. ground pepper

1/4 tsp. crushed sage leaves

1/4 tsp. crushed thyme leaves

1-1/2 to 2 cups chicken broth


Cook the celery and onion in the butter over low heat and stir until golden. Meanwhile, blend the bread cubes and seasonings. Add the celery-onion mixture. Toss lightly to blend. Pour broth over and stir to blend. Add more seasonings as desired. Can be refrigerated for 2 to 3 days.

On Thanksgiving Day, stuff the turkey, or the stuffing can be baked in greased loaf pans for about 1 hour, basting occasionally with turkey drippings.

This is a basic dressing, there are lots of additions that can be done while sauteeing the onion and celery: 1 pound sliced mushrooms, 1/2 cup dried chopped apricots, 1/2 cup dried cranberries, 1 dozen chopped oysters, 1 cup pecan halves, 1/2 pound crawfish tails.

Serves: Enough stuffing for a 14 to 18 lb. turkey

Per serving: 273 cal.; 5 g pro.; 28 g carb.; 16 g fat (9 sat., 5 monounsat., 2 polyunsat.); 36 mg chol.; 880 mg sod.; 2 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 52 percent calories from fat. 

Turkey Stock


Giblets and neck from turkey

1 large onion, quartered

3 carrots, chopped

3 ribs celery, chopped

1 tsp. dried thyme

1 bay leaf

2 tsp. salt

6 whole black peppercorns

Water to cover


Place all the ingredients into a 5-quart stock pot, and bring to a boil. Skim the foam from the surface of the stock, and then simmer the broth partially covered for 3 hours. Strain the broth, and skim the fat from the top of the stock. Use for gravy, or soup.

Note: This can be done the day before, or on the day you roast the bird.

Serves: 2 quarts 

Gulliver's Corn


2 bags (16 oz.) frozen kernel corn (defrosted)

1-1/2 cups whipping cream

2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. sugar

3 Tbs. flour mixed with 3 Tbs. melted butter or margarine

2 to 3 Tbs. plus 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese


Butter an ovenproof baking dish. Sprinkle 2 to 3 tablespoons Parmesan over the butter, tilting the pan to distribute the cheese. Bring the whipping cream to a boil. Reduce the heat and add corn. Simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in salt and sugar. Make a paste out of the butter and flour, and stir into the corn and cook until thickened. Turn corn into oven-proof dish, sprinkle with cheese and dot with butter. Refrigerate up to 4 days. Do not freeze this dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until bubbling and golden brown.

Serves: 8

Per serving: 310 cal.; 7 g pro.; 28 g carb.; 20 g fat (13 sat., 6 monounsat., 1 polyunsat.); 66 mg chol.; 717 mg sod.; 3 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 57 percent calories from fat. 

Pumpkin Ice Cream Pie with Butterscotch Sauce

Ingredients for graham cracker crust:

1 stick melted butter

6 Tbs. sugar

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Ingredients for pie:

One 16-oz. can pumpkin puree

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

3/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

3 pints vanilla ice cream, divided use

2/3 cup brown sugar

1 tsp. ground ginger

1/8 tsp. ground cloves

Ingredients for butterscotch sauce:

4 Tbs. butter

1 cup dark brown sugar

1 cup cream


Cook the pumpkin with the seasonings and sugar over low heat until the sugar dissolves and the puree thickens. Refrigerate until cool. Soften 2 pints of ice cream and beat it with the pumpkin mixture. Spread evenly over frozen pie crust. Freeze at least 2 hours. Soften remaining ice cream and spread over pumpkin mixture and return it to the freezer. Wrap and freeze for up to one month.

Butterscotch sauce: In a small saucepan melt butter, and add brown sugar. Add cream and stir until the sauce boils. Remove from the heat. Refrigerate until ready to use, then warm before serving over pie.

Note: This is a lighter ending to a heavy holiday meal than the traditional pumpkin pie.

Serves: 10

Per serving: 442 cal.; 5 g pro.; 62 g carb.; 20 g fat (12 sat., 6 monounsat., 2 polyunsat.); 60 mg chol.; 217 mg sod.; 2 g fiber; 41 g sugar; 40 percent calories from fat. 

Do-Ahead Gravy

6 Tbs. flour

6 Tbs. butter or margarine

4 cups chicken broth, or turkey stock


In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and whisk in the flour. Cook over medium high heat until the flour is incorporated. Gradually add the broth, whisking constantly and stirring until the gravy is thickened, and the mixture boils. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper.

Refrigerate 3 to 4 days ahead.

Thanksgiving Day: Heat the gravy, and when the turkey is done, pour off all the drippings into a jar, or fat separator. Skim or spoon off all the fat and add the drippings to the gravy.

Makes: 4 cups

Per serving: Per 1/4 cup: 59 cal.; 1 g pro.; 2 g carb.; 5 g fat (3 sat., 2 monounsat., 0 polyunsat.); 13 mg chol.; 250 mg sod.; 0 g fiber; 0 g sugar; 81 percent calories from fat.

And then, there's the day(s) after.

Turkey Sausage Casserole


1/2 stick butter or margarine

3/4 lb. sliced mushrooms

4 Tbs. flour

1-1/2 cups chicken or turkey broth

1/2 cup whipping cream

1 cup shredded Swiss cheese (or you can substitute cheddar)

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1 tsp. salt

Freshly ground pepper

3 to 4 cups cooked turkey, cut into bite-size pieces

1 lb. bulk sausage, cooked and drained

2 cups herbed seasoned stuffing or any leftover stuffing


In a large saucepan, melt the butter and saute the mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Sprinkle in the flour and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for one minute. Stir in the chicken or turkey broth and cream. Cook over moderate heat, stirring until the mixture comes to a boil. Cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese, mustard, salt, pepper, turkey and sausage.

Pour into a greased 2-quart casserole. Melt 4 tablespoons butter. If using dry herb seasoned stuffing, place it in a small bowl and toss with the butter. Sprinkle over the casserole. If using leftover stuffing, sprinkle it over the casserole and sprinkle the butter over the top. This may be covered with foil and refrigerated for 2 days, or frozen for 1 month and defrosted the night before Thanksgiving. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until top is browned and sauce is bubbling.

Serves: 6

Per serving: 667 cal.; 46 g pro.; 25 g carb.; 39 g fat (19 sat., 15 monounsat., 5 polyunsat.); 191 mg chol.; 1501 mg sod.; 2 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 57 percent calories from fat. 

Southwestern Black Bean Turkey Chili


Two 16-oz. cans black beans

1/2 cup butter or margarine

1 cup chopped mild fresh chilies

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped red pepper

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup chopped leeks

2 Tbs. dried oregano

1/4 cup flour

4 chicken bouillon cubes, crumbled

2 Tbs. ground coriander seeds

1-1/2 Tbs. chili powder

2 Tbs. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. sugar

4 cups water

2 cups fresh corn, or equivalent of frozen, defrosted

4 cups shredded cooked turkey or chicken


In a large stockpot, melt the butter over medium heat, add the vegetables, and cook for 10 minutes, until they are softened. Add the next 8 ingredients, and whisk until the mixture is combined and bubbles. Stir for 3 minutes, or until the flour is golden. Gradually stir in the water.

Puree 1 cup of corn and add to the chili. Add the sugar, the remaining corn, chicken or turkey and black beans. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately, or keep in the refrigerator for 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.

Serves: 8

Note: A great warm-up while watching the football game. From Diane Phillips' "Do- Ahead Thanksgiving" class, originally published in The Perfect Basket.

Per serving: 370 cal.; 30 g pro.; 32 g carb.; 14 g fat (8 sat., 4 monounsat., 2 polyunsat.); 91 mg chol.; 1224 mg sod.; 10 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 34 percent calories from fat. 

Flower power

Hibiscus is blossoming - not only for its healthful reputation as a food and drink ingredient, but for the dried flower's cheery red color and its wonderful flavor that has made it a staple in cuisines around the world.

According to the Nation's Restaurant News, hibiscus has caught on fire with American chefs. "I've used it hundreds of times over the years," says Joshua Skenes, the 29-year-old chef of Saison restaurant in San Francisco, who most recently offered a hibiscus granité. Before that he prepared a hibiscus-seasoned squab.

Hibiscus, which is most commonly (and economically) found in Mexican food groceries under its Spanish name, jamaica, is often brewed as a tea, but the infusion can be used in place of fruit juices or made into a syrup.

Here is the nutritional information on the ingredient, courtesy of


Jamaica Flowers 1 cup

Calories 28

Total fat (g) 0.365

Potassium (mg) 118.560

Calcium (ng) 122.550

Protein (g) 0.547

Carbohydrate (g) 6.447

Cholesterol (mg) 0

Sodium (mg) 3.420

Vitamin C (mg) 6.840

Vitamin A (IU) 163.590

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Spotty bananas still good

Bananas, yellow and smile-shaped, help many people start out the day with plenty of vitamins B6 and C, and of course, potassium.

But before you know it, those little green tips disappear and out come the dreaded brown spots. It's really hard to push those off on the family. They just know a mushy banana is inside and they aren't buying it.

If you're not in the mood to cook up a couple of batches of banana bread, try this tip to make very ripe bananas more appealing:

Slice the banana into a small bowl or cup, then splash with orange juice. Wait 3-5 minutes then serve. The acid in the OJ firms up the banana just enough to give it a less-mushy texture, and the orange-banana taste is a definite plus.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Edgy scallops

Scalloped edges may be long out of fashion, but as for scallops - the shellfish - they are edgy and always in style.

They are a fast food extraordinaire - 3 or 4 minutes each side until they turn the color of new pennies - and they play well with other fast foods.

Tonight, they took center stage with orzo, spinach and yam fries playing supporting rolls, all tied up with a lovely sauce that featured lemon juice, olive oil and garlic. A colorful (golden scallops, brilliant green spinach, bright orange yams) dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes, and few pans to clean.

Scallops' edge

Serves 2

4 ounces orzo (ricelike) pasta
6 scallops, rinsed and drained
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Juice of half a lemon
1 clove minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black
2 teaspoons dried basil
4 or 5 ounces baby spinach

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes, al dente. Drain.
  • As the orzo is cooking, whisk together 3 tablespoons olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper. Arrange scallops in a single layer in a shallow bowl or rimmed plate. Pour mixture over scallops. Sprinkle dried basil over scallops so that one side is coated with basil.
  • Heat a medium skillet over medium-high, and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. Place scallops basil-side down, and cook for about 3 to 4 minutes until dark golden brown. Turn scallops, and cook the other side. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  • Heat the marinade in the microwave for a minute, then add to the pan, scraping all the caramelized scallop juices and stirring well. Add the pasta and spinach to the skillet and toss well until the spinach wilts. Serve immediately, with the scallops on top, with a side of oven-baked yam fries.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

East-West brewfest

Jay R. Brooks (Brooks on Beer) had an interesting article on a collaboration of two of my favorite beers: Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Ale:
Collaboration beers are the epitome of the mythic win-win. Two or more brewers share their knowledge, stretch their creative muscles and create a beer that's usually greater than the sum of its parts. And beer lovers are treated to a special, limited edition beer that is usually made just once.
One of the most recent collaborations was between Sierra Nevada Brewing and Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. The pair embodies the very notion of opposites. One is West Coast — Chico — while the other is from Delaware. Sierra Nevada is one of the largest craft breweries in the country. Dogfish Head is considerably smaller. And while Sam Calagione, Dogfish Head's owner, has done countless collaboration beers, this is Sierra Nevada's first.
Calagione and Ken Grossman, Sierra Nevada's founder, have known one another for several years. They both served on the board of the Brewers Association, a trade organization that works on behalf of smaller breweries. Late one night — over a few beers, naturally — Grossman suggested the two create a beer together, using ingredients from their respective family farms and breweries to make the beer more personally meaningful.
Life and Limb
The beer was dubbed "Life and Limb," a nod to both the interconnections of the craft beer world and to family trees — both Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head are family-owned and run. And while a children's illustrator did a beautiful label evoking those themes, where it really came together was in the beer itself.
A blend of their two house yeasts was used, along with maple syrup from Calagione's father's Massachusetts farm and barley from Sierra Nevada (the same barley used to create their recent Estate Brewers Harvest Ale.) They also used birch syrup in the beer, and they believe this may be the first time it's ever been used in brewing.
The result is a strong, dark beer that defies categorization. It's 10.5 percent alcohol by volume, or a.b.v., and black as a starless night. It's also rich and slightly sweet, from the maple syrup, no doubt. Despite being so strong, it's quite delicate and complex. Its strength is well hidden by that complexity, making it a dangerous beer to quaff. This is a beer made to sip and share.
Available now on draft, beginning this week, 24-oz. bottles of Life and Limb will be available throughout the country, though in very limited quantities.
Reach Jay R. Brooks at Read more by Brooks at

Monday, November 16, 2009

Reggae curry - yeah!

A friend asked if I had any more lamb recipes, and yes, I do, but none are as amusing as this video of "Naked Chef" Jamie Oliver singing about how to make lamb curry.

via The Insider

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Nutrition data - will it just fade away?

Saw the item below (with the blue headline) in Nation's Restaurant News.

Can you imagine what would happen if the department of transportation dropped seatbelt regulations because drivers didn't like them much? Or if ski areas skipped publicizing the responsibility code because snowboarders didn't like like it much?

Businesses always resist regulations - until they have to comply and customers begin to appreciate the change. Remember the big stink after the Tylenol poisonings, and everyone resisted sealing their containers because of the added cost? But once it became widespread, companies even expanded it to such things as bleach, because, surprise, it prevent leakage and upped their bottom line.

Going lean on nutritional data

California Pizza Kitchen dropped calorie data when it recently printed new menus, in part because customers just didn't like it much. The change highlights the different ways California's chain restaurants are dealing with new and still-evolving rules that dictate how they provide patrons with nutritional information about the food they serve. Los Angeles Times

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A bad, food-related joke

Bubba is driving down a back road in Alabama.
A sign in front of a restaurant reads:

Lobster Tail and Beer

"Lord a'mighty," he says to himself,
"my three favorite things!"

Friday, November 13, 2009

Crockpot confit

Confit, pronounced CON-fee, is the slow cooking of a meat in its own fat. And one of the best meats for this is duck, especially the legs.

If you cut up a duck for its breasts for dinner, put the rest of the duck (legs, backs, wings, necks and giblets - everything except the skin) in a pan. Season well with salt, pepper, thyme and onion slices, cover and put in the refrigerator. It will need to marinate for up to 24 hours.

To get most of the fat needed to start this process, put the skin you removed from the breast in a glass container and heat it in the microwave for 15 minutes, covered. You should get about a half-cup per breast skin. Drain through cheesecloth and set aside.

The next afternoon or evening, brush off any remaining salt and put the duck in a crockpot. Heat the fat gently and pour over the duck. Turn the crockpot on low. After about an hour, if the duck isn't submerged in fat, add olive oil to cover. Check again in about three hours. If the wings get done first, remove them, cover and set aside. When the meat is all done, remove it from the fat and cool. When the fat cools a little, strain it through cheese cloth. You can skim the fat off the top from the liquid after it is refrigerated and use it for another confit.

Take the meat off the bones. You then have three options: Eat immediately, either as is, or crisped under the broiler; can the duck; or cure in a crock in its fat.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Frozen ducks were on sale last week; I bought three. I cooked a whole duck ... once. The amount of grease it threw off in the oven and having to clean said oven before I could cook anything else made me look for better ways to prepare it.

Although the fat is delicious, and gives the duck a lot of flavor, it's best not to consume too much of the fat. So now when I fix duck, I spend a lot more time in preparation, and most of the fat goes out in a pan for the birds after it's been used a couple of times.

The breasts are my favorite, and when deboned and skinned, not fatty at all. After lifting them from the breastbones, the bones go into a pot with the wing tips to make a stock, flavored with peppercorns, bay leaves and a sprig of thyme. The breasts go in the refrigerator, seasoned, salted and covered. After a few hours over low heat, when the meat clinging to the bones looks like it's about to fall off, strain the stock and throw out the bones and spices. Return the liquid to the pot and bring to a boil. Put the cold breasts into the boiling water. Bring them back to a boil, and cook for 4 minutes. Cool for about 5 minutes, then slice crosswise.

While the breasts are boiling, make a cherry sauce (this was enough for three breast halves):
1/2 cup sour cherries from a jar (reserve 1/2 cup juice)
2 tablespoons each of balsamic vinegar and sugar
1 teaspoon corn starch
Put the cherries, vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, and simmer until reduced to a glaze. Mix the cornstarch in the cold juice. Add to the saucepan and stir. If the sauce is too thick, add water until it thins to the consistency you like. Serve over the duck breasts.

Tomorrow: Crockpot confit

Monday, November 9, 2009

Parsing parsley

A common problem for cooks who don't cook with parsley on a regular basis is what to do with the rest of the bunch after you've snipped the 2 tablespoons you need for a recipe. If you don't use it, the bunch will become a slimy green mass in its plastic bag within a few weeks and end up in your compost pile (or worse).

Here's one idea. Chop the rest of the bunch, pull out the thick stems and dry the chopped leaves. You can air-dry them, or use the microwave.

After you have snipped, chopped or minced your parsley, spread it out on a paper towel on a microwave-safe plate. Put it in the microwave on high for 30 seconds. Remove from the microwave, cover with a second towel and pat out moisture. Fleck off any parsley that sticks to
the top towel and put the plate back in the microwave.

Cook on high for another 30 seconds, fluff up a bit, and put back in the microwave for another 30 seconds. Repeat. You should have a plate full of dried parsley after four 30-second sessions. To make sure it's thoroughly dried before you store it, let it sit on the counter for several hours, then put in an air-tight container.

The top photograph is one I took, comparing some parsley that I recently bought from a supermarket that has a pull-date of May 2010. Notice that the home-dried flakes are a deeper green. And as for taste, the home-dried actually had a true parsley flavor. The bottom photo by Tony Ramirez shows the bottle from which the smaller amount of parsley came.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Making bacon

Oven-cooked (top) and pan-cooked bacon.
Photos by Lori Korleski Richardson

When it's time to cook a pound or two of bacon for a crowd, oven preparation is the best, hands down. Not only can you cook the quantity that you desire, clean up is easier and you don't have to turn the strips if you put them on a rack set in your pan.

But if you're doing 8 slices or less, a large cast iron skillet on the stove should be your choice. Not only will you shave the preparation time by almost half, you will have some choice bits left in the pan when you cook your eggs.
Here are my notes from a comparison of the cooking methods. I used one pound of Smithfield natural hickory smoked bacon, thick sliced. (Although the nutrition facts on the back said there were 11 one-slice servings in the package, there were actually 14. That would take the calorie count down from 60 calories to 41.25 calories.)
  • Seven strips of bacon in a 12" cast iron skillet over low heat took 12 minutes to cook crisply. In order to brown them evenly, I had to cut them in the middle and cook the ends facing the center, and I had to turn them several times.
  • Seven strips of bacon on a rack over a jellyroll pan in a 350-degree oven took 20 minutes to cook to a nice brown color, but they were not as crisp. Perhaps cooking them at 375 degrees would produce a crisper strip.
Frankly, the mouthfeel of the pan-fried bacon was more satisfying, but the bacon flavor was more concentrated in the oven-fried version.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A taste of India

Garam masala, the spice mixture that, despite regional and even personal variations, gives a lot of Indian food its punch, is a true time saver on weeknights for cooks who want something on the table fast but with an exotic touch. Here's a simple supper based on the traditional lamb dish dilli ka saag gosht.

Lori K's lamb and spinach sauté

1 pound ground lamb
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil, optional
1 teaspoon garam masala, or to taste
6 ounces baby spinach
2 ounces (about 4 tablespoons) crumbled feta cheese
4 whole-wheat soft pitas or flatbreads

Brown lamb in a large cast iron skillet. Drain and set aside. Sauté an onion, adding a tablespoon of olive oil if needed. When nearly translucent, add the spice and sauté another 2 minutes. Add the cooked lamb and the spinach. Cook until the spinach wilts, stirring.

Meanwhile, warm the pitas or flatbread between folds of a towel in the microwave. When the spinach is tender, put the meat mixture on half the bread (it will be folded over to be eaten) and sprinkle with the feta. Serve with a pumpkin or carrot soup, or a salad.

If you like your food on the salty side, salt the lamb before browning. But be aware that feta is also a bit salty.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Baby lettuces: Best (almost) naked

One of the joys of the home garden is fall lettuce. As the nights get colder, the tomatoes and peppers wane, but perky little leaf lettuces keep chugging right along, except when a warm spell comes along and causes them to bolt (that's gardening speak for sending up a stalk and going to seed).

And picking off the leaves before they get too big ensures a tender, sweet salad. You don't need to do much to them; unlike lettuce that has spent too much time in the garden and then the refrigerator, they still have their delicate flavor. I'm sure you have a favorite dressing for salad, but now's not the time to show it off. Dress the tender leaves with a drizzle of good olive oil, then sprinkle with a grind of dried oregano, basil, red pepper, black pepper and sea salt.

The vinegar that adds so much flavor to most of your salads just overwhelms the fresh, baby lettuces. Save it for later, when your imported lettuces will need all the help they can get.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Vote tomorrow

OK, I figured sooner or later, Google AdSense would come to no good, and today is the day. I hope everyone does vote, but if you see an ad for McDonnell for Governor, rest assured that ad is not endorsed by this blogger.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Hash browns, or hashbrowns, revisited

With company visiting, hashbrowns were again served for breakfast. And again, they turned out splendidly. I do want to pass along a couple of tips that I don't think I stressed enough on my post of Sept. 26, or else the editors of the Washington Post weren't listening. A recipe they ran on Oct. 21 had this to say about the breakfast potatoes:
Making hash browns can be tricky. To get the onions caramelized just right and keep the potatoes crisp at the same time, cook them separately and toss them together with a spice mix just before you’re ready to serve them. This is a good way to use leftover baked potatoes; hash browns made with raw potatoes will turn out mushy.
Wrong! If the photo they ran with their recipe is any indication, what they ended up with were very tasty country potatoes, not hashbrowns. (I like the compound form of this word, since everyone knows that hash does not modify browns; the word is a contraction of hash-browned potatoes, so why not contract it to its logical end?) (Click here to see the Post recipe.)

The secret to using raw potatoes is this: Grate them into a bowl of water. Drain well, then dump the shreds on a clean, absorbent towel, roll it up and wring the potatoes dry. "Dry" is the key to nonmushy potatoes.

Heat the oil on medium heat before adding the potatoes, then, when you have them spread over the pan, lower the heat a little. Add finely diced onions and seasonings then, including dots or slices of butter if you'd like. In about 10 minutes or so, the bottom will be browned and you can turn your hashbrowns over and continue cooking until done.

If you put your onions in first, thinking that they will caramelize nicely, you will end up with burnt onions by the time the potatoes cook. If you put in the onions after the potatoes, they will steam as the potatoes cook on the first side, then when you flip the hashbrowns, the onions will brown as the second side cooks. Yum!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Cajun without a cookbook

Growing up with a Cajun mother, you'd think I would have been eating gumbo, jambalaya, étouffée and blackened steak every night. But no. My mother was a wonderful cook, but my Polish father, with one exception, pretty much called the dinner shots. That one exception was steak night; my mother insisted that we have rice, not potatoes, when she cooked steak, and the au jus flavored the white long-grain rice.

So it wasn't until I latched onto a copy of Paul Prudhomme's "Louisiana Kitchen" that I began eating Cajun food regularly at home. Oh, it was great; finally I didn't have to wait to go to Polly's or some other little greasy spoon near Elton (my mother's hometown) to get my Cajun food fix.

But any cookbook should be a road map, not commandments chiseled in stone. Take my jambalaya last night. Prudhomme has a ham and sausage jambalaya, a rabbit (or chicken) jambalaya, a chicken and tasso jambalaya. They are all pretty good, but most of them call for some tomato sauce or canned tomatoes. That just exposes Prudhomme's New Orleans training; most Cajuns do not cook with tomatoes, most Creoles do.

Tasso isn't expensive in Louisiana; but in many other places, it's rare and dear. And that defeats the purpose of Cajun cooking: making what's available taste wonderful. Tasso, for those of you who aren't familiar with Louisiana ingredients, is a smoky seasoning meat not unlike ham.

What is available here in Virginia is ham chips. They are fairly smoky, very salty, and work well as seasoning. I also had a pack of chicken thighs from the last time I cut up a trio of chickens. Voilà! I could work with that.

Lori K's jambalaya with chicken thighs and Virginia ham chips


Seasoning mix
3 California bay leaves, broken in half
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground sassafras leaves (filé)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
10 ounces Virginia ham chips
6 chicken thighs (bone in)
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 cup finely diced celery
1 cup chopped bell peppers
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 cups uncooked long-grain or basmati rice
4 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon liquid smoke


Combine seasoning mix ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

In a large cast iron skillet, heat the oil until it begins to smoke; add chicken breasts and cook until browned on both sides. Turn down the heat a little and remove chicken pieces to a large ovenproof casserole. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Cook the ham until it sizzles and add the vegetables and seasoning mix, stir well and continue cooking until browned, about 10 minutes. Add the rice and cook another 5 minutes, scraping and stirring the mixture. Put the broth in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Put all the contents of the pan into the casserole with the chicken. Add the broth, and put in the oven. Cook for 45 minutes to an hour, until all the liquid is absorbed. Remove bay leaves and serve immediately.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Save the Gulf oyster

Federal officials plan to ban sales of raw oysters harvested from the Gulf of Mexico unless the shellfish are treated to destroy potentially deadly bacteria, the Associated Press reports.
The Gulf region supplies about two-thirds of U.S. oysters.
About 15 people die each year in the United States from raw oysters infected with Vibrio vulnificus, which typically is found in warm coastal waters between April and October. Most of the deaths occur among people with weak immune systems caused by health problems like liver or kidney disease, cancer, diabetes, or AIDS.
"Seldom is the evidence on a food-safety problem and solution so unambiguous," Michael Taylor, a senior adviser at the Food and Drug Administration, told a shellfish conference in Manchester, N.H., earlier this month in announcing the policy change.
Some oyster sellers say the FDA rule smacks of government meddling. The sales ban would take effect in 2011 for oysters harvested in the Gulf during warm months.
The anti-bacterial process treats oysters with a method similar to pasteurization, using mild heat, freezing temperatures, high pressure and low-dose gamma radiation.
Treated oysters are "not as bright, the texture seems different," said Donald Link, head chef and owner of the Herbsaint Bar and Restaurant in New Orleans.
"This is an area the government shouldn't meddle in," Link said. "What's next? They're going to tell us we can't eat our beef rare?"
Until the 1960s, raw oysters were rarely eaten in the summertime. (The old adage was never eat oysters in the months without an R in them.) But changes in harvest patterns and advances in refrigeration and post-harvest treatment have made the industry a year-round business. About three-fifths of the Gulf's oysters are harvested during the warm months.
The FDA contends treating oysters would not affect the taste and would save lives. In 2003, California banned untreated Gulf Coast oysters and since then the number of deaths dropped to zero. By comparison, between 1991 and 2001, 40 people died in California from the infection.
The rule would not affect oysters harvested outside the Gulf. Oysters are harvested up and down the West and East coasts, but the bacteria is not found in such high concentrations there.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Lemons, and their well-preserved punch

Preserved lemon is an easy condiment to make, and can a punch to usually bland dishes such as baked fish, chicken or veal. It makes mayonnaise taste yummier in a tuna fish sandwich, and can be used anywhere you need an essence of lemon and salt. Somehow, when the lemon sits in its brine, it becomes at once more lemony and less tangy, and you can eat the entire lemon, rind and all.

Your homemade version probably won't look as pretty as the tiny lemons in a jar from Morocco, but you won't be paying upwards of $8 for them, either.

Easy preserved lemon

You'll need:
1 half-pint jelly jar with good-fitting lid
2 lemons (no wider in the middle than the inside of the jar)
Kosher salt

Sterilize the jar with boiling water and cool. Slice one lemon thinly; throw away the ends. Put in a teaspoon of salt in the bottom of the jar. Put each slice in one at a time, sprinkling each with kosher salt, until the entire lemon is in the jar. Sprinkle a little extra salt on top. Juice the other lemon and pour the juice over the sliced lemon and salt. Put the lid on tightly and shake to mix well. Keep out on the counter for about a week, shaking and turning upside down at least once a day. Put the jar in the refrigerator and the slices will be ready to use in about two weeks. When you're down to the last couple of slices, it's time to make a new jar. The lemon will keep in the refrigerator for at least 6 months.

Here's a simple recipe from blogger Kerry Saretsky to get you started once your own preserved lemon has mellowed:

Parmesan, Preserved Lemon, and Thyme Wafers

Serve these on top of a salad of baby spinach dressed lightly with lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, salt and pepper. Lemon heaven.
- makes 9 wafers -
2 tablespoons finely chopped preserved lemon
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Place the finely chopped preserved lemon pieces in a mesh strainer, and rinse very well. Dry on paper towels, and pat very dry.
Mix together the dry lemon pieces, the Parmesan, and the chopped fresh thyme leaves. On a Silpat- or parchment-lined baking sheet, heap little tablespoon mounds of the cheese mixture, leaving room for them to spread as they melt, and bake in the oven for 4 or 5 minutes, until golden. Allow to cool completely on the baking sheet, then lift off with a spatula and allow to rest on paper towels until cooled and hardened. If you're ambitious, you can form them into tubes while they are still hot.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Want to waste not? Tips to use leftovers

Making a great pot of chili last night, my thoughts wandered to recipe cooking vs. instinctual cooking. Most everyone, who has basic cooking skills and instructions that make sense, can cook from a recipe and have a dish that turns out well. (Of course, everyone who conveys a recipe hopes the instructions make sense, but you'd be surprised at how many don't, even ones that make it into a cookbook.) But the instinctual cook uses his or her senses on how a dish should be and goes on to make it unique. The advantage to this method is that one can use what is at hand, the freshest produce and most inexpensive meats, even bits and pieces of previous dinners, commonly derided as "leftovers."

The dishes that lend themselves most easily to this are melanges, and almost every cuisine has one or two of them. My standbys are chili, jambalaya, gumbo, spaghetti, curry and soups (five options can get most anyone through a week; if you have others, please let me know).

For the chili, I started with a pound of ground turkey and a tablespoon of olive oil. Turkey is bland, but much like tofu, it picks up the flavors around it. I season it as it's cooking with garlic, onions, cumin and oregano. And of course, chili.

I prefer straight chili. Prepared chili powder is OK, but it's a combination of chilies, cumin, oregano, salt and sometimes other spices, and you don't know how old the other spices are that go into it, since the smell of chili overwhelms the others. I use ancho powder if I'm in a hurry; otherwise, I like to use dried whole chilies (a combination depending on how hot I want it) stemmed and seeded, soaked in a little boiled water for 45 minutes, then puréed.

If I'm preparing a bowl of red, I add a can of beer and stop right there. But turkey doesn't hold up nearly as well as beef for that. So my turkey chili is what the sainted Frank X. Tolbert would refer to as "a rather tasty vegetable stew." (Those were the fighting words that led to the first chili cookoff, which gave birth to a cultural phenomenon that will continue this year in Terlingua, TX, Nov. 5-7.)

I added a 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes, then found in the refrigerator the following: 1 eggplant, which I had sliced and salted in preparation to sauté, but had a change of plans; 1 1/2 yellow bell peppers, which had been charred and the skins removed; a lonely carrot; a half cup of refried black beans. I rinsed the eggplant slices, trimmed the skins off them, then chopped them and the peppers coarsely before adding them and the beans to the pot. I peeled the carrot and shredded it into the pot. Then everything cooked for about three hours. The texture, no doubt thanks to the refried beans, was just right; usually if the chili is a little soupy at the end, I add a little masa harina to thicken the stew.

One taste and you, too, would know why it drives me crazy when people say they'd rather eat fast food than leftovers.

Now, no discussion on chili would be complete without a little travelogue on Texas, so here's one on Big Bend National Park, which will give you a little taste of Terlingua country.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Clueless"? Silverstone's "Diet" is kind, but kinda naive

Here's a short cookbook review that got rather short shrift in the Washington Post's redesigned Health section yesterday:

The Kind Diet: A Simple Guide to Feeling Great, Losing Weight, and Saving the Planet (Rodale Books, $29.95)

Alicia Silverstone is famous for her role in the '90s teen film "Clueless" and as a real-life vegan activist. In "The Kind Diet," Silverstone provides three approaches to cooking vegan: "Flirting," for people trying out meat- and dairy-free foods; "Vegan," for experienced flirts; and "Superhero," which is basically vegan with fresh, local foods grown in-season. The book feels straight out of La-La Land: lots of exclamation points, italics and such sentences as, "Get ready to meet the beautiful, delicious, God-given foods that will rock your world." Her intentions are good, if a little naive - "I believe that following the Kind Diet can lead to world peace" - and, to her credit, she gets preachy only when criticizing the "Nasty Diet" of meat, dairy, sugar and processed foods. The book is like a hijiki-tofu croquette (a seaweed appetizer that Silverstone recommends in the recipe section): People already interested in veganism might like a bite, but for everyone else, it's easy to turn down.
- Rachel Saslow

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Fast and French

French food, for most people, conjures up hours in the kitchen, striving for perfection of sauces and presentation. Not so for Jacques Pépin, born and kitchen-trained in France. He wrote "Fast Food My Way" (Houghton Mifflin, $30, 250 pages) five years ago, and although it's not a beginner's cookbook (there are no notes on basic cooking techniques), most of the recipes are, as promised, fast - which translates as uncomplicated and straightforward. Pépin also has included many menus, which is a great help in balancing out a meal.
It's a small book, but has lovely and inviting photographs by Ben Fink, all in bounce-off-the-page color.
The cookbook has a wealth of vegetable recipes and salads, and a few recipes for most kinds of seafood and meats. A substantial dessert section includes a tiramisu that is not unlike the one I hit upon when assembling one for a dinner for 100, and I'm sure it is just as delicious.
The recipe I used last night was definitely a winner: chicken breasts with garlic and parsley. Pépin says he adapted the idea from a traditional French way of cooking frog legs. Well, if he can adapt, so can I. I didn't have parsley, but my basil is loving this cool, wet weather, and I love the way it works with garlic and lemon.

Fast chicken breasts with garlic and basil
(adapted from "Jacques Pépin: Fast Food My Way")

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts (organic preferred; each about 7 ounces, cut into 1-inch cubes)
2 tablespoons rice flour (Pépin=Wondra)
1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil (Pépin=parsley)
1 tablespoon butter (Pépin=2 tablespoons unsalted)
1 lemon, quartered

Dry the chicken cubes with paper towels and toss them with the flour, salt and pepper in a bowl. Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet until very hot but not smoking. Add the chicken cubes and cook in one layer turning occasionally, for about 3 1/2 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine the garlic and parsley in a small bowl. Add the butter and the parsley mixture to the skillet and sauté for 1 minute longer, shaking the skillet occasionally to coat the chicken. Divide among 4 plates, add a wedge of lemon to each plate and serve within 15 minutes.

Editor's note: Want this cookbook? Click on the photo or the name of the book to go to Powell's Books; it's $21 there.