Saturday, February 14, 2009

Hail! Caesar salad dressing

This is a tangy dressing to be used lightly over Romaine leaves and tossed with shredded Parmesan and buttery croutons. Adapted from Sallie Y. Williams' "The Complete Book of Sauces." 

1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 anchovy fillets, rinsed, dried and chopped finely
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 1/2 large lemon, squeezed)
1 large egg, coddled (boiled in the shell) for 1 minute
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Mix all thoroughly. Makes about a cup (8 servings).

Friday, February 13, 2009

Cooking what's on hand

One of the stories my friend and good cook Al always tried to get me to do is making a meal from what's in the fridge. Since I cook a lot, I do that a lot. Not every night lends itself to blow-out meals, and trying to creatively combine what needs to be used before it spoils (with a little help from pantry items) is a joyful exercise for me.

Last night, it was the hummus that was on the verge of spoilage. It was a red pepper hummus, which seems to have a shorter shelf life than the regular. So a quick peek as to what's on hand and I came up with the following dish, which my husband couldn't say enough about as he polished it off.

Lori K's fast brown rice and artichokes bake

1 bag Success brown rice (see note)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 14-ounce can artichokes (8-10 count), drained
1 tablespoon butter
4 ounces red pepper hummus
Chicken broth
2 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the bag of rice in a saucepan and cover with water. (If you like your rice salty, put a teaspoon of salt in, too.) Bring to a boil, then keep on low for 10 minutes. Drain.
In a heavy medium-size skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat. Mix the crumbs and seasoning in a small paper bag.  Put the artichokes in the bag, two at a time, and shake until they are well-coated. Put on a plate and repeat until they are all breaded. Add the butter to the skillet, and when it is melted, put in the artichokes. Saute until browned on all sides.
Thin the hummus with a little chicken broth until it is the consistency of gravy.
Put the drained rice in a small casserole dish or pie plate. Pour the hummus gravy over it.
Arrange the sauteed artichokes on top, and sprinkle with cheese. Bake for 10 minutes or until the cheese melts. Serve.

Note: The hummus, rice and cheese combine to provide a complete protein in this dish. You can use regular brown rice, but allow 40-50 minutes extra for it to cook. Unlike Success white rice, which takes almost as long as regular rice to prepare (with half the taste), its brown rice is an incredible timesaver and tastes pretty good, too.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Feeling a little crabby about Valentines Day?

Valentines Day is Saturday, and if you're thinking of eating in, one can't-miss dinner course is crab. I've loved the crab cakes I've had in California and New Orleans, but the crab I've had in Virginia puts the Pacific and Gulf Coast varieties to shame.  "I Love Crab Cakes" was a bright and sassy one-seafood wonder book I came across a few years ago, and this recipe doesn't use much in the way of filler ingredients, perfect for the one you love.

Thierry's crab cakes

Prep time: 35 minutes | Cook time: 2 minutes | Serves 2 as main course

Thierry Rautureau, a chef transplanted from the west coast of France, owns one of Seattle's most-admired restaurants, Rover's. His recipe here is adapted from "I Love Crab Cakes" (William Morrow, $19.95, 160 pages). His version uses Dungeness crab, the most commonly available on the West Coast.

Notes: You will need 4 ring molds, 2 to 2-1/2 inches in diameter and at least 1-1/2 inches deep. Small tin cans, open on both ends, will do. For more color, replace the shallots with minced red bell pepper. Rautureau recommends serving the cakes with a clam aioli.

3/4 pound (12 ounces) crabmeat, drained, picked clean of shell and lightly squeezed if wet
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
2 tablespoons thinly sliced chives
1 tablespoon finely chopped basil
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dried bread crumbs
2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon thinly sliced chives

To make cakes, put crabmeat on a cutting board and chop into small pieces. No piece of crab should be larger than the size of a pea. (It's important to chop the crab so you get a tight pack in the mold without air spaces.) Transfer crabmeat to a bowl and add garlic, shallots, chives, basil and a little pepper to taste.

Set 4 ring molds on a work surface. Divide the crab mixture among the molds, packing the crab as tightly as you can into each mold with your fingers or the back of a spoon. Put the bread crumbs on a plate. Leaving the crabmeat in the mold, use a spoon to spread a generous, even layer of egg wash on top of the crabmeat.

Turn the mold upside down (egg-washed side down) onto the plate of bread crumbs. If the crabmeat is not even with the edge of the mold on both sides, push down on the crabmeat with your fingers so the egg-washed side makes contact with the bread crumbs. Generously spoon the egg wash over the unbreaded side of the mold and turn the mold upside down again to bread the other side, pushing down on the crabmeat if needed to make contact with the crumbs.

Both the top and bottom sides of the crabmeat in the mold should be evenly covered with a layer of egg wash and crumbs. Set the mold aside and repeat with the remaining molds.

Set a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil. When the skillet is hot, pick up a mold and place it in the pan, then use your fingers to carefully push the crab cake out of the mold, removing the mold from the pan. Repeat with the remaining molds. Cook the crab cakes until browned on the first side, about 1 minute, then carefully turn them over, using a spatula, and brown the second side, about a minute more. Set out 4 plates and set a crab cake on each plate.

Per serving: 460 cal.; 42 g pro.; 22 g carb.; 22 g fat (4 sat., 14 monounsat., 4 polyunsat.); 342 mg chol.; 862 mg sod.; 0 fiber; 0 sugar; 43 percent calories from fat.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sweet soul desserts

February is both African American History Month and Valentines, so what's more perfect than a book that's apropos to both? This is a review that I did a couple of years ago for The Sacramento Bee, and the book is still available (click here).

"Sweets: A Collection of Soul Food Desserts and Memories"

By Lori Korleski Richardson 


You can take soul food out of the South, but that doesn't diminish its draw one whit, as Patty Pinner attests in "Sweets: A Collection of Soul Food Desserts and Memories" (Ten Speed Press, $24.95). The Saginaw, Mich., woman grew up in a large African American family, where she helped her collection of aunts, cousins and her grandmother, My My, earn their town nickname: "The Queens of Soul Food."

Pinner includes more than 100 recipes in her book, but she spins at least that many tales about her relatives, neighbors and church members, gossipy and vivid, that recall a bygone era.

The desserts tested all were crowd-pleasers, especially the old-fashioned walnut-raisin pie. But for the most part, the recipes rely on entirely too much fat and sugar to suit most diet-conscious Californians.

The family philosophy is summed up on page 80 in a quote by My My: "If you go'n put sugar in something, put sugar in it." It was used in this case to explain why the original 3 tablespoons of sugar in the recipe for "Little of Nothing Pie" was increased to 1/2 cup when the "Queens" got hold of it.

If a little fat makes a piecrust flaky, the featured crust in "Sweets" must be the poster pastry for flakes everywhere. I've had many things leak out of my pie plates over the years, but Crisco hasn't been one of them. Until now.

And it's quite the mystery why that happened. The crust ingredients are quite similar to Crisco's basic crust recipe, except that an egg is added. It was incredibly easy to work with, rolled out without tearing, and I was ready to adopt it as my basic pie crust, too, until I saw that puddle on the cookie sheet I had placed on the rack below.

But everyone who tasted the crust loved it, so what's a little grease fire among friends? 
All told, readers of "Sweets" will get a good family history and some insight into what makes Southern cooking taste as good as it does. And there's plenty of cakes, pies, cobblers, puddings, candies, cookies, ice cream and other desserts for all experience levels to try.

Recipe: Old-fashioned walnut-raisin pie
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 50 minutes
Serves: 8

This spicy delight from "Sweets" (Ten Speed Press, $24.95) is similar to mincemeat pie in taste and texture.

1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust 

1 cup of walnuts, chopped 

1 cup seedless raisins 

5 eggs 

1 cup granulated sugar 

½ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¾ teaspoon ground allspice 

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 

3 tablespoons milk

Instructions: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 
Spread the walnuts and raisins evenly on the bottom of the pie crust. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat the eggs until they are frothy. Gradually beat the white and brown sugars into the egg mixture. Add the spices. Blend well. Add the lemon juice and the milk and mix well. Pour the mixture over the nuts and raisins.

Bake for 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the over and cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Dreaming of ice cream

About the time that little pints of Ben & Jerry's started showing up in the grocery stores, the half-gallon block of ice cream lost its cache. As most ice cream makers rushed to put their product in tubs, the block nearly went into extinction, relegated to the bottom of the freezer in its store-brand garb. But some brands still use the block, and some store brands actually are quite good as well, using high quality ingredients.

For cooks, the blocks are a boon. When cooking for crowds, the ice cream easily can be sliced and plated, with none of the fatigue involved in digging out 100 scoops. Even at home, squares form the foundation of spectacular desserts, whether atop plain cake and drizzled with a delicious homemade sauce, layered with brownies, or coated with chocolate and sandwiched between graham crackers. And the block has the advantage of storing more easily in the freezer.

To prevent "wax" forming on the surface of the ice cream in the opened carton, be sure to wrap it tightly with wax paper or plastic wrap.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Cooking simply for the common good

My dad used to claim that all he needed to cook was a sharp knife, a fork and a spoon. Growing up during the Depression, electricity was still pretty new outside of cities and not all that dependable. About the only time I've had to limit my dependence on the food processor and mixer is when I've gone camping. Yet when I read about people unplugging their refrigerators to lower their carbon footprint, I start to think of other little, and certainly less drastic, ways to do the same.

Another way to use resources wisely is to use every part of the animal that is slaughtered, not just the nice steaks or chicken breasts that come wrapped in plastic in the grocery store. I'll talk more about that in the future.

What's good for the environment often seems to come at great expense. In the days and months to come, I'll show you how to go green, save money and live well, too. Together, we can make a difference.