.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Not As Good As Pork Cracklins

misadventures in cooking

Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Year's Eve Appetizers

The tuna was perfectly seared and delicious, but the salsa was boring. Next time I'd do something with wasabi on top. Or maybe a squiggle of Razzpotle from a squeeze bottle.

The terrine was okay, but I bought a pre-sliced baguette at Whole Foods and it was stale. If I had had time, I would have grilled it and that would have made a huge difference.

A disappointing way to end cooking in 2005.

  • Seared Tuna with Tropical Salsa (Fine Cooking #69, p. 90c)
  • Goat Cheese, Pesto & Sun-Dried Tomato Terrine (Fine Cooking #61, p. 98c)

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Christmas Presents

Without a doubt, the most meaningful Christmas gifts I got this year were from my mother: old cookbooks, photographs, and postcards that belonged to my grandmother and great-grandmother.

Practical Helps on Cooking
was compiled and printed in 1926 by the Baptist Church of Evergreen, Alabama. It has my great-grandmother's name, Mrs. A.P. Sanders, handwritten on the cover. Those are pictures of her, Lorena Guy Sanders, and her husband Aulcie Paul Sanders.

The Rumford Complete Cookbook
(hey, I use Rumford Baking Powder!) was printed in 1924, with 1908 and 1918 copyrights. Tucked inside are handwritten recipes for Lemon Pie, Pear Relish (my grandfather's specialty), and Mrs. Tom's Cake.

Ryzon was another brand of baking powder. The cookbook copyright is 1918, but I don't see a print date. A newspaper clipping for Chocolate Cake and Mocha Frosting dated march, 1927 is tucked inside. Sounds yummy! Next to Ryzon Layer Cake, someone penciled "tested" and "good (illegible) cake." The Ryzon Chocolate Fruit Filling recipe says, "want to try this" next to it. Someone liked Ryzon Chocolate Frosting; it says "good" "May 14 1949".

My grandmother's name, Mildred Sanders, is inside The Kitchen Guide, but it isn't her handwriting. The book's introduction says, "This book on Cookery is not designed to be of the NOVELTY Recipe Type. Primarily, it is compiled to provide a practical and reliable guide. It will be found to contain an excellent collection of selected, tested and economical recipes, the kind most desired by discriminating women."

Speaking of economical, Save What You Have and ABC of Wartime Canning are definitely books that speak to a bygone time. ABC of Wartime Canning was published in 1943 and includes a section on planning menus using rations, as well as a "suggested weekly market order" to feed two parents and two children under twelve. Among other things, they recommend 18 quarts of pasteurized whole milk or its equivalent, 11 pounds of potatoes and sweet potatoes, 1 1/2 dozen eggs, five 1 1/2 pound loaves of bread, 2 pounds of sugar (rationed) and 1/2 pound of coffee (rationed). There's more to the list, but that gives you an idea.

I had fun reading some of the old postcards. I can't make out all the handwriting, but a typical one has a one-cent stamp postmarked March 31, 1915 and addressed to Mr. Hill Guy, Herbert, Ala. It says, "Hello old boy, How are you and your Mother & Father? All are well with me. Your old friend, H.E.M."

The one on top in the photograph is postmarked August 15 a.m. 1908, addressed to Mrs. Sallie Miller, Hills Infirmary, Montgomery Ala. "A merry good morning to you Sissy Dear. I am so glad to know you are better. Lovingly, (illegible)". Another postcard to Sallie says "Hello Sarah, how are you today hope you feeling better..." It goes on about getting a ride home, and closes with some discussion of skirt patterns. The writing is small and in pencil, so I'm only making out the gist of it. My uncle (James Paul Sanders, aka Uncle Jimmy)is the family genealogist and he says that Sallie is Sarah and that she is one of Lorena's (my great-grandmother) sisters.

These are all lovely Christmas gifts that have special meaning to me. Thanks, Mom!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Star Cut-Outs

Eric's hands are a little bigger than Fuzz's, but he's not too old to play with cookies. This is his handiwork with Food Writer color markers. My favorite is the tree with the presents under it.

I'm pretty much cookied out.

Christmas Cookies recap
Apricot Orange Bars
Double Ginger Crackles
Oatmeal Cookie Bars with Chocolate Icing
Christmas Trees
Oatmeal Raisin
Pecan Sables
Gingerbread Men


Everyone gets an E for Effort. I refuse to choose my favorite ginger person, but you can vote if you want to.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas Trees

I really should not be allowed to make cut-out cookies. This I know from experience. And yet I tried again. At one point I was posting frustrated messages to Anna, looking for support, not sure if I wanted to scream or cry. Some stuck to my silicon rolling mat. Some I rolled too thin. Some I rolled too thick. Some morphed into blobs while they baked. A few turned out fine. When the whole batch was done, I had a small freezer bag of cookies to decorate and a large bag on which I wrote "less pretty trees". Gary and Doris ate those.

I looked everywhere for Decorator's Icing for Little Hands, but to no avail. I procrastinated decorating as long as possible. Today I finally enlisted Gary's help and he was much better at maintaining steady pressure to outline them. After the outlines were set, I filled them in, and after that set, I played with stars.

I like the most whimsical stars the best.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Wild Rice Pilaf

Gary requested salmon for dinner and I flipped through some issues of Fine Cooking for side dish inspiration. I decided on this pilaf, because I happened to have dried apricots in the pantry and pine nuts in the freezer.

At dinner, he made a special point of saying several times how good the rice was. It's the same rice I always buy (Lundberg Country Wild, "a wild blend of gourmet brown rice"), I just don't usually make a pilaf and I don't usually add fruit and nuts. I guess I will from now on! I think I'll try it with dried cranberries and pecans, too.

  • Wild Rice Pilaf with Dried Apricots & Pine Nuts (Fine Cooking #20, p. 40-41)

Friday, December 16, 2005

"Brick-Roasted" Chicken Breasts

Recently, Cheryl and I had out Andrea Immer's "Everyday Dining with Wine" and it made me think that I should cook from it more often. Then again, I think that about a lot of my cookbooks.

This recipe is similar to Fine Cooking's Chicken Under a Brick, which I made back in February and we loved. That chicken is marinated and this is brined. That's a whole, partially deboned chicken, this is bone-on breast with skin.

It's wonderful! I highly recommend it. The only thing I would do differently next time is to either preheat my cast iron skillet in the oven for longer than the recipe recommended (5 minutes) or do it stove-top (as the FC recipe does).

Andrea recommended a Zinfandel, and since it's everyday dining, and since we had a Rosenblum Vintner's Cuvee on hand, that's what we drank. What a nice dinner! Sorry no photo; the batteries died just as I went to take the picture.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Chicken Stuffed with Prosciutto & Fontina

Another excellent method from Fine Cooking! The article is about stuffing large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, how to bread them, brown them and then they finish in the oven. These would be brilliant for entertaining, because you stuff and bread them up to 3 hours ahead.

The article includes a couple of stuffing suggestions and this one was really good. For even more flavor, you can add some dijon mustard (which I did) to the egg when you flour, egg wash and coat in breadcrumbs. You could also put herbs in the breadcrumbmbs (which I did not).

The chicken breasts are ginormous to make it easier to stuff them. So neither Gary nor I could finish one, and I'm looking forward to leftovers. Yum.

  • Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Prosciutto & Fontina (Fine Cooking #69, p. 61-63)
  • Mushroom Saute' (Fine Cooking #69, p. 65)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


There are so many good Fine Cooking recipes to choose from that I'm not sure if I would have I chosen this, except for the fact that my friend Sara made it and raved about it. Well, that and the fact that I hadn't yet cooked anything from the most recent issue. So I bought hot Italian sausage from Central Market and made a half recipe.

I have to say I am impressed with the sausage. It isn't greasy at all and it has just the right amount of heat. I used a few of my smoke-dried tomatoes from Boggy Creek Farm along with some plain old sun-dried tomatoes. This pasta has a lot of flavor going on and it all works. It works really, really well.

  • Pasta with Sausage, Olives, Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Cream (Fine Cooking #76, p.56)

Monday, December 12, 2005

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

I don't know where I got this recipe. It's in my recipe binder and it says, "the best oatmeal cookie recipe I've found so far. Maybe not oatmeal-y enough but pretty dang good." Apparently whenever I copied it, I was already a reasonably proficient cookie maker, because I didn't write down any directions, assuming I knew how to mix the ingredients.

I may have to make another batch.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

1 cup flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt

1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 egg
1 t. vanilla

1 t. orange zest
2/3 c. oats
1 c. raisins

350 degrees

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Rustic Chicken with Gruyere Polenta

This reminds me of chicken cacciatore, but I like chicken cacciatore better. The polenta is excellent! I might make this again and serve the polenta with the sauce as a vegetarian dinner, skipping the chicken.

I love thyme. But if there is a more tedious kitchen task than stripping off the leaves, I don't know what it is.

Oatmeal Cookie Bars

Christmas cookie freezing continues. Today's criteria were: must be a bar cookie, oatmeal preferred because I was given a huge canister, no nuts because Gerwe doesn't eat nuts, and since I haven't made anything chocolate, chocolate would be nice. I used dark, because that's what I like.

When Anna from Cookie Madness made these, she chopped up some purloined Halloween candy to go on top. Since I don't have a small child to steal from, mine are naked. I tend not to mix a lot of flavors anyway. Several years ago, Eric and I were discussing "mix-ins" with Amy Miller (she's remarried now, but I can't think of her new last name) and I told her I'm boring, I like plain flavors. "No, you're not!" she insisted. "You're a purist!" That sounds better.

Back to cookies. Somehow I missed the "and floured" part of the "greased and floured" instructions. And missed the pan size swap, so my whole recipe went into an 8x8 pan. Actually, I'm glad, because they didn't end up being too thick at all. They could use a little salt.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Double Ginger Crackles

The best so far!

I'm biased of course, because I love Everything Ginger. When I was at Sheri's, she let me polish off the last of her ginger gelato. The time before that, she sent me home with a suitcase full of Ginger Altoids. I nibble on crystallized ginger as candy.

Regardless of my bias, these cookies are truly awesome. Slightly crisp on the bottom, chewy in the middle, nice sugar crust.

  • Double Ginger Crackles (Fine Cooking #75, p. 45)

Friday, December 02, 2005

Salmon Steaks

Sometimes it's nice to buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sometimes it's nice to do a little butchering yourself. Same thing with salmon. The fillets are like boneless, skinless chicken breasts - just so darn easy and versatile. On the the other hand, salmon steaks (even though they're usually less expensive) are sort of... well, ugly. And who knows what to do with them? Alton Brown does. And ever since I saw the episode where he taught me how a couple years ago, I do too. I think that's when I decided he's a cool, geeky, genius. Plus, he's from my hometown and I've gotta love that.

Trim the bones from the cavity of the salmon steak. Alton says to use a a sharp paring or boning knife, but I like to use my kitchen shears. Then I get out my paring knife and trim the stomach flaps so that one side is missing about 2 inches of skin and the other side is missing about an inch of meat. Run your fingers across the surface of the fish, and if you feel any pinbones, use your handy-dandy pliers to pluck them out. Pliers are definitely AB-approved for the kitchen, in case you were wondering.

Roll the skinless part up into the hollow of the cavity. Then wrap the skin side around the outside to form a round that kind of resembles a filet mignon. Tie the whole thing around together with butcher's twine. (Don't tie it too tight or fish will pop out of the string when it cooks.) I keep my twine in a little plastic container with a hole in the top, so I can pull on the string with mucky fingers without contaminating the whole roll. Maybe you're organized enough to cut the right length before you get all mucky to begin with.

After you cook the salmon steaks (I like to grill them, but you could sear-roast, poach, or pretty much do whatever you like), snip the twine with your kitchen shears. Give it a little pull, and the skin magically comes off with it. So there you go. Ugly salmon steaks that end up sort of like beautiful salmon filet mignon. Amazing.

Pecan Sables

More cookies for the freezer!

When I grow up, I want to be just like Anna and Sheri. They are both inspirational to me.

These are nice, sandy textured cookies. Mine are a little large; I didn't have a 2-inch cutter, so my yield was lower, although there are more than what is shown in the picture.

I also accidentally rolled the first half too thin. I cooked that batch a little less to make up for it. The only one I've tasted is a thin one and I think they're just fine, although I think the thicker ones are a little prettier. But they're all pretty!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Corn Bread

While I had the Bread Baker's Apprentice out, I though I'd check in his recipe for corn bread, which someone on a message board recommended.

It's ok, but I doubt I'd make it again. For one thing, corn bread is a "quick bread", meaning that it uses baking soda and/or baking powder for leavening, as opposed to yeast. So it's the kind of side dish you can make on the spur of the moment. Except that this recipe calls for you to soak the cornmeal in the buttermilk overnight, which I think is pretty silly, even though I was willing to give it a try.

The other reason I probably won't make it again is that it's very sweet. Now, I'm not opposed to a little bit of sugar in my cornbread (I like it fine without, too), but not only is this too sweet, the sugar in it also makes the texture too much like cake and not enough like bread.

The good news is that the sweetness was nice for offsetting the spice of the chili. But still. Speaking of the chili, it's the same chili I made back in January, and pretty much the only chili I ever make. Love it.

Multigrain Bread Extraordinaire

I loved this bread last time, but I had to admit that it was a bit heavy and dough-y. I wondered if it had any thing to do with the extra flour that I had to add while kneading. The instructions said to sprinkle in flour if needed and that it should be soft and pliable "tacky, but not sticky". It took a lot of flour for me to get there.

This time, I decided to let the KitchenAid do the kneading, because the machine would be less tempted to add flour than I would be. The book says that even if you use the KitchenAid, you should do the last minute or two yourself. At that point, it was a little sticky, but nothing like what I had experienced before. I added a little flour and kneaded for a few minutes.

The first rise and the shaping were uneventful, but the second rise seemed to go very quickly. After about an hour, it looked perfect, but I hadn't heated the oven yet, so it had to wait. As soon as I was sure the oven was ready, I threw the bread in.

When the bread is ready, the recipe says its internal temperature should be at least 185-190 degrees. Last time, I checked after 40 minutes and it was 195 and rising. This time, I checked after 40 minutes and it was 203 and rising. I left it out on the rack to cool. It's hard to wait an hour (preferably 2, according to the book) but I did.

Oh wow. It's lovely inside. Much airier and nicer than before. I don't know for sure that it's because of the flour and kneading experiment, but that's my guess. If I'm brave enough to do all the kneading by hand next time, I think I'll use the dough scraper until it loses some of its stickiness, and then try to add just enough flour towards the end.

I left off the poppy seeds off the top this time. They drove me crazy last time, flying everywhere anytime I touched, moved, or cut the bread. I don't miss them.

Apricot-Orange Shortbread Bars

While catching up on all the food blogging that went on while I was away for Thanksgiving, I started craving something sweet to go with my coffee. I had read the December issue of Bon Appetit during the trip, how could I possibly have overlooked a recipe that Anna would end up calling "pure cookie nirvana"???

I went back to the magazine and sure enough, the recipe is there. Somehow, they hadn't seemed enticing at the time, but reading about them on Cookie Madness made me rush to the store for almond paste. Yipes, I had no idea the stuff was over $5 a tube. Now I need another recipe to use the rest of it.

This is a rich, delicious shortbread! Very buttery. The apricot and Grand Marnier filling is scary good, too. These really are delicious with coffee. I'm sending a few to work with Gary and will freeze the rest.

  • Apricot-Orange Shortbread Bars (Bon Appetit, December 2005, p. 145-146)