Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A is for: Apple.

Have you ever noticed that noise can be delicious?
In particular I am thinking of the snap and crunch of crisp apple skin and the sound.. when you chew the apple.. it brings me to texture.
Firm but pleasantly soft, grainy but also smooth, juicy but also a little sticky.
Such sounds lead to texture and texture to taste.
A sweet yet also tart with a flavor that does not linger too long on the palate but leaves a pleasant taste in your mouth.
Raw. It is fruit of the Earth, unharmed, unchanged by the hand of man, beautiful and delicious.

An apple a day.. beats two carrots and a banana.

Rediscovering Ingredients

It was not until very recently that I discovered how many ingredients I have taken for granted. Simple, delightful things that make eating more pleasurable and cooking more rewarding. So with this I will begin a voyage, a rediscovery of ingredients with hopes to emerge more knowledgeable and with greater respect for each ingredient separately and what it is able to create when joined with other ingredients.

Rediscover with me. I will enjoy your company along the way. I welcome your thoughts and for your own discoveries to be made and shared with me and others.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Comfort food for two.

The mushroom had always been mysterious food entity to me.. As a child I never understood or admired its earthy aroma, light-turned-dense texture and all around funky-fungi-ness.
Once upon my childhood I had a showdown with my dad at the dining room table because, come five o'clock, there sitting before me, was a chicken pot pie that, to my dismay, came bearing mushrooms. Rebellion set into my innermost mushroom-dismaying core and I exclaimed boldly my profound disliking for eating that which was, in my preteenaged mind, nothing more than fungus - no different than athlete's foot. Arms crossed and eyes transfixed on the pie I sat through scolding, bribing and to my utterly horrified disgust a sentence said so casually, so audaciously that to this day I have not forgotten it: "Pretend it's ice cream." Blasphemy. Never had I heard my father say something so blasphemous. After all, ice cream, the holy trinity of cream, sugar and love could not be compared to this pie which was filled with dirty fungus that some sort of animal must have walked on at one point! To my, now humble, triumph I must say I never did eat that pot pie - but spent time in my room pondering my complete lack of disrespect for ingredients and for the people in Africa who were starving because I didn't eat my pot pie.

Fortunate am I to say that time, taste and tempers change and what seems to have been a forgotten, unfavored ingredient has not only caught but captured my attention with a gumption I have never known of another.
While fingering through a cookbook by none other than Donna Hay I found what I could only then think of as a challenge to my taste buds: Mushroom Ragout Pappardelle.

After a quick shop for a scant 7 ingredients I was ready, perhaps not mentally, for a challenge.

Heating a frying pan over high heat I added 2 1/2 tablespoons of butter (Paula Deen would blush at the tiny amount!), 1 clove of crushed garlic and 2 teaspoons of thyme leaves, left whole and cooked this mix for approximately 30 seconds. Next I added 1 lb of baby bella mushrooms and 1/2 lb of shitake mushrooms (the recipe calls for 1 1/2 lbs mixed mushrooms, halved) and cooked for approximately 5 minutes (do not toss them in the pan - leave them alone to achieve a lovely brown color). Then I added the recommended 1 1/4 cups of beef stock and simmered until the mushrooms softened, around 4 minutes.
While all of this fungi cooking was going on I was cooking 14 ounces of Pappardelle (a wide egg noodle which took three seperate trips to grocers for me to find!) in salted boiling water, until al dente. I drained it triumphantly and of course, tasted for seasoning to check my salt content. Then I tossed the pappardelle with the mushroom/stock and placed in large pasta bowls.
You can top this with goat's cheese or parmesan, approx. 5 ounces of either, and serve.

The recipe says that this serves 4 but let me tell you, I went back twice for "seconds".

Even now all I can think of is the wasted years I spent turning up my nose at these lovely fungi-jewels! Who knew that a portabella mushroom tasted like meat? No one told me that! I love myself a steak - and what a replacement that would be! Glorious mushrooms, my lovelies, how could I forsake you? This dish was, is, the ultimate comfort food. Next time I think I will add a dash of sherry or Marsala wine.

And by the way, if you don't serve this with a nice crusty sourdough loaf.. you're as crazy as I was.

Enjoy, my darlings!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Let them eat cake.

One of my all time favorite things (aside from chili) is pastry. I love dessert. Of all the desserts I've ever had my all time, cream of the crop, tip top, up and down favorite is: a Cannoli.

There is something about the sweet/savory cheese filling, the crunch of the pastry and sweetness of powdered sugar and chocolate chips that makes my mouth water. So one day I was sitting around thinking about Cannoli and Cake and decided to make a Cannoli Cake. I went through a few recipes and found one from The Good Housekeeping Book of Desserts. It's just right on ANY occasion. Especially Mondays.

Enjoy. xo

Cannoli Cake
1¼ hours 30 min prep SERVES 12


6 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar (divided)
3/4 cup all purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large oranges
2 tablespoons orange-flavored liqueur (optional)

1 (32 ounce)container ricotta cheese
1 (8 ounce)package cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup semisweet chocolate , mini pieces
1/3 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips (for feather- design on top of cake)

3 tablespoons margarine or butter , softened
3 tablespoons milk
1 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups whipping cream


Begin a day ahead to make Cannoli Cake.

-Preheat oven to 375°F

-In small bowl, with mixer at high speed, beat egg whites until soft peaks form; gradually sprinkle in 1/2 cup sugar, beating until sugar completely dissolves and whites stand in stiff peaks. (Looks kind of like hair mousse!)
-In large bowl, using same beaters and with mixer at low speed, beat egg yolks, flour, baking powder, salt, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 2 Tablespoons water until blended. With rubber spatula, gently fold beaten egg whites into egg-yolk mixture, one-third at a time.
-Spoon batter into UNGREASED 10 inch by 3 inch springform pan. Bake 30 to 35 minutes until cake is golden and top springs back when lightly touched.
-Invert cake in pan on wire rack; cool completely in pan.
-FOR BRUSHING CAKE LAYERS: From oranges, grate 2 teaspoons peel (use the rest of peel for the filling) and squeeze 1/3 cup juice (IF NOT USING LIQUEUR, INCREASE JUICE TO 1/2 CUP). Stir liqueur into 1/3 cup juice; set aside.
-FOR THE FILLING: In large bowl, with mixer at low speed, beat ricotta, cream cheese, rest of the grated orange peel, confectioners’ sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract until smooth. Stir in 1/4 cup semisweet-chocolate mini pieces.
-With metal spatula, loosen cake from edge of pan; remove pan side. Loosen cake from pan bottom; remove pan bottom. With serrated knife, cut cake horizontally into 2 layers. Brush orange-juice mixture evenly over cut side of both layers.
-Place bottom cake layer, cut-side up, on cake plate. Spoon ricotta-cheese filling on center of cake layer. Spread some filling out to edge, leaving a center rounded to achieve a dome effect.
-Cut a small wedge out of remaining cake layer; and gently rest cake layer over filling. (Cutting wedge will allow cake layer to bend, without cracking, to fit over dome shape.).
-PREPARE VANILLA-CREAM FROSTING: In small bowl, with mixer at medium speed, beat 3 Tablespoons margarine or butter, softened, 3 Tablespoons milk, 1 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar, and 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract until smooth, adding more milk if necessary until mixture has an easy spreading consistency. In large bowl, using same beaters and with mixer at medium speed, beat 2 cups heavy or whipping cream until stiff peaks form; fold confectioners’-sugar mixture into whipped cream. Spread over top and down side of cake.
-In a heavy small saucepan over low heat, heat remaining 1/3 cup mini pieces, stirring frequently, until melted and smooth.
-Into waxed-paper cone, spoon melted chocolate. (Or, use small decorating bag with small writing tube.) With chocolate, make feather design.
-Refrigerate cake until filling is firm for easier cutting, about 3 hours.
-TO MAKE WAXED-PAPER CONE: Cut square of waxed paper; fold in half into triangle. Lay triangle on flat surface so wide side is at top. Fold left-hand corner down to center point. Take right-hand corner; wrap it completely around folded left-hand corner, forming cone. Both corners meet at center point of original triangle. Fold in these ends twice to hold together. Fill cone two thirds full; fold top over.
-MAKING FEATHER DESIGN: Piping circles on Cake: Using paper cone with tip cup to make 1/8 inch diameter hole, pipe melted chocolate on top of cake in concentric circles, starting in center and moving to edge of cake. Start with small circle in the middle of cake and go around each circle to the edge. This should be 6 circles.
-Drawing spokes towards center: Before chocolate hardens, quickly with tip of toothpick or small knife, draw lines in spoke fashion, about 1 1/2 inches apart around edge of cake; alternate direction of each spoke, first from edge to center of cake, then from center to edge.
-Completing feather design: Continue around top of cake, alternating direction of each spoke to make attractive feather design. 16 servings.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

holy habanero, batman!

Chili has the ability to transcend all other dishes, at least in this girl's mind, when cooked properly. However it is very challenging to master the flavors, textures and appearance of chili due to the fact that you are leaving it at the mercy of your pot and flame for the better part of at least 4-6 hours.

Recently a friend and I were asked to judge a chili cooking contest. Above all things is chili and I could not imagine a better suited contest for me to judge. However there was something along the lines of dread in the forefront of my mind while sitting in a chair waiting for instructions. What if these were bad? What if they were so spicy they numbed my tongue? All of these things haunted me but at the same time I was excited once they closed the judges into the back room with 10 different versions of this delicious stew.

Armed with a Styrofoam bowl and plastic spoon for eating, a purple crayola marker and Styrofoam plate to make notes on as well as my score card I was ready to begin.

We decided (much to my chagrin) to start with the "HOT" category. My fellow judges were someone who's husband was a chef, a firefighter who loved chili, myself and a friend. As the lid was peeled back from #1 we hovered over the Tupperware and took a whiff. It didn't smell too spicy.. This chili was made with black beans, red beans, cubed stew meat and a tomato base. Perhaps there were some jalapenos diced up and thrown into it. With much expectation for a fantastic flavor we dug in.. one spoonful to each of the 4 judges. As we chewed we watched each others reactions waiting for the burn. Alas we were much disappointed. "Maybe it was mislabeled?", we asked each other... but it didn't matter. All we could do was mark down what we thought on our notes. My notes read -'A decent meaty flavor, acidic tomato base needs sugar - a mild chili to say the least.' Once finished we rinsed out our bowls in an effort to save the environment and moved on to #2. As we peeled back the lid of the Tupperware we were instantly assaulted by what I can only describe as "the sting". "Habeneros live here!", it exclaimed! And I have to admit that although my tolerance for heat is pretty high that first bite knocked me out of my socks. It took a second for the heat to introduce itself but when it did we were all dancing around the kitchen exclaiming to whoever could hear that this was, in fact, appropriately labeled as a HOT chili. Later we would learn that the name of this chili was, Aftershock. It mainly consisted of ground beef, an assortment of beans, tomato and habenero pepper. Brown sugar very subtly said hello and then hid away under the heat once it was in the back of the mouth. Thanking whoever had laid out the saltines we dug right in... once we began to chew these pasty morsels from heaven the heat began to subside although even now I will not forget the tingle of the lips, the heat tip toeing on the roof of the mouth and resting on the sides of the tongue. The heat stuck with us for another three chili's. Deciding we should throw away the bowls after being assaulted by this molten stew we armed ourselves with clean utensils and with expectation of fire we peeled back the lid of #5.

Chili #5 smelled a little less potent and with eager mouths we dug in. This chili was a little soupier, again with a tomato base and the beginning stages of molasses and brown sugar. Still burning from #2 I would have to say that our heat sensors were inaccurate. Nonetheless this ground beef chili would not get rave reviews from any of the 4 of us. In fact we were disappointed in its lack of flavor and intensity.

I took a swig of my Pepsi and wiped out the bowl with a paper towel and readied myself for the next bowl. On to #8... Lifting the lid was intoxicating. First came the smell of molasses strong and silky smooth. Then came the deep richness of a higher fat ground beef and the sharp biting of red pepper flakes. As we dipped our spoons I think we all expected a good flavor but a let down as most of the others had been not very HOT. So we take a bite and we're all standing there thinking, hey... this is pretty good.. then all of a sudden this heat comes around the corner out of no where taking its sweet time crawling up the tongue. This is what we in the chili eating world refer to as a slow burn. And man, this is a s-l-o-w BURN. Pretty good flavor there as well.

#9 turned out to be a little more like bean dip, much to our dismay, and the flavor missed the mark. Obviously a hint of cumin biting on the tail end but all in all felt like it should have been on a taco or a fajita or something. Didn't even hit the chili mark in my book.

So that was all for the spicy chili's. 5 chili options and only two did I really consider spicy at all.

Rankings for HOT chili - First place goes to #2, Aftershock

Second place goes to #8, we'll refer to this as Slow Burn chili

Third was pretty randomly chosen, more for flavor than heat. #1

Next we move on to the "Exotic Chili". Thank goodness there are only two.

#11 The first chili when opened looks normal- almost like ground beef but the meat seems finer. Could this perhaps be ground pork? No, in fact, this is ground turkey. With the same flavors of tomato, bean, molasses. This flavor is deeper, more intense, and by-golly I would eat a whole bowl of this! A little lacking in the heat but hey, all in all this is the best one yet!

#12 Opening this one lets out a puff of earthy smelling steam. Something is different here. Luckily we know that this meat is venison. Ground up venison, tomato, beans, molasses. The flavor is what I can only describe as sweet and earthy. NOT a traditional taste for chili by any means fitting the Exotic category well. All in all I'm not a fan so this gets the number two spot.

Finally we move on to the traditional chili's. I can't begin to tell you what any of them tasted like because they were all forgettable. Boring. The one that won first place only got it because we had to pick one with the "best" flavor and that best suited the bill. But it was pretty much like the rest. Tomato based, heavily tomatoed should I say... sweet just a little bit, a touch of molasses and a bit of ground beef and beans.

Second place got there because this person was the only one to serve their chili with garnishes. Cheese and red onions make this chili stand out a little and certainly it's worthy of second place.

Third place was a randomly chosen number. I would have to say that these chili's were a little disappointing.

After all the tasting we went on to taste and judge some desserts that were, for a lack of better verbiage, really crappy. In the end I went back for a bowl of #11 and a piece of lemon cream pie.

So here's my version of chili. It's my personal taste and I love it. Pretty easy, too.

Enjoy. xo

Ms. Mystery's Chainsaw Chili

Prep Time: 30 Min Cook Time: 2 1/2 - 3 hours Serves 10 - 12

Ingredients:(You absolutely can use dried beans that you have cooked yourself- makes it much tastier! For all intents and purposes this is the "Faster" version.)

2 (28-30 ounce) cans plain tomato sauce
2 (28-30 ounce) cans peeled and diced tomatoes
2 cups diced onion
2 Tbsp. onion powder
2 Tbsp. fresh chopped garlic
1 1/2 lbs bacon, diced
2 lbs medium or spicy sausage
3 lbs ground beef
1/2 cup bottle hickory barbecue sauce
1/8 tsp liquid smoke
1 cup dark lager beer (Sam Adam's is my preference)
1/2 cup chili powder
4 (15.25 oz) cans kidney beans - rinsed and drained
1 (15.25 oz) can pinto beans - rinsed and drained
2 beef bouillon cubes
1 Tbsp. Italian Seasonings
1 tsp. Cumin (optional)
Brown sugar to taste.
Salt and pepper to taste.


In a large stock pot over Medium-High heat brown your bacon, sausage and ground beef. Once this is browned remove with slotted spoon and place in bowl. Drain half of the grease, keeping the other half in the pot. Add your diced onion and cook until it is golden in color (caramelized) then add beans and garlic,. Cook 3 minutes being careful not to burn your garlic. Add the 2 beef bouillon cubes, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, barbecue sauce, liquid smoke, beer, onion powder, chili powder, Italian seasoning, cumin (optional). Reduce this liquid by one third over medium heat. Once the liquid is reduced by one third add bacon, sausage, ground beef and stir to combine. Cook covered for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste. Add brown sugar to taste. Cook until it reaches desired consistency. For me the total cooking process takes close to 3 hours.

I like my chili thick and not too sweet.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The hazards of grocery shopping... part two.

Maybe it's something in the air... the smell of fried chicken, pleather and cheap perfume. Something that makes you wander the aisles of Wal Mart until you have successfully wasted two hours getting absolutely nothing. Or maybe it's the money that's burning a hole in your pocket. Either way you can not just "Go to Walmart" you STAY at Wal Mart. Whether you're stuck in the deli aisle behind a mob of angry lunchmeat terrorists or stuck in line behind the family reunion that went to Wal Mart to buy twelve hundred pounds of unmarked produce you are bound to get stuck there at least twenty minutes longer than you originally planned. Want to grab something quick on your lunch break? Go to Subway. Want a new pair of tennis shoes? Go to Payless. Want a discount price? Go to the dollar store. If you're in a hurry do not attempt to go to Wal Mart. An episode in the parking lot got me stuck there at least 1o unplanned minutes more than I wanted to be there for a few weeks ago... Need to know? Well, since you asked.
This story involves me, my car and a rogue shopping cart. On the one day that I should go to Wal Mart to buy dryer sheets (shame on me!) I got into a car "happencident" with a shopping cart. I was driving into the parking lot on a sunny Monday afternoon - I even drove into the right lane with the arrow pointing in the right direction (don't even get me started on the people who MUST see the arrow and just drive the wrong way anyways) and what do you know, there is a rogue shopping cart that must have either escaped its pen or was left behind by a time-frantic customer.... sitting in the middle of the lane and I could not have gotten by it on either side without seriously demolishing the tail end of a Prius or a Camry.. Also at this point I was in such a tight fit between the cars on either side of me I could not open my car door.. So I think to myself, what should I do? Should I push it with my car? Should I put my hand out the window and try to reach it or should I climb out of the window of the car and move it? While these thoughts are dancing in my mind an elderly lady in a Oldsmobile BOAT got behind me- I mean centimeters from my bumper- and began to honk. Out of the corner of my eye I see the cart boy with a train of carts walking towards the store -not 20 feet from us. I know he sees me and my dilemma and he KEEPS walking. (A+ for customer service!) So I'm sitting there... helpless... Ozzy's "Crazy Train" pounding in my ears. My blood pressure must be rising, I'm thinking to myself. So while I'm debating what to do I see the Oldsboat behind me pushing it into reverse. Praise! Hallelujah! There's my out! So I kick the gear into reverse and look in front of me and to the side... then to the back... what now? A truck is behind me and again I'm in the same predicament. I can't move. I can't get out of the car. So then, when all things seem dire and hopeless and I feel that I'll be stuck in the Walmart parking lot for the rest of my life a little man in a cowboy hat comes walking along with a shopping cart... he's walking towards the car to my left... Prius.. no wait.. maybe it's the next aisle over... oh pleaseeeee let it be the Prius. YES! He sees my situation and abandons his shopping cart in the middle of the road to move the empty shopping cart. So he's walking it back into the store... thank you~ but now... his shopping cart is in the middle of the road. The truck behind me honks and I raise my hands in signal that I can't go anywhere.. and where's the cowboy?
Finally after almost 10 minutes and two songs later I can get my car into a parking spot with enough time to back out and go home.

...After all, the dollar store is on the way.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The hazards of grocery shopping... part one

Being a woman isn't really an excuse because I know plenty of men who love to shop. There are people who love clothes shopping... gadget shopping... and grocery shopping. Those of you who fall under the last category "lovers of grocery shopping" are a twisted bunch, in my opinion. Especially if you do your grocery shopping at Super Walmart.

If you take offense easily you should press on because the truth is sometimes a little backhanded and what I have to say about the crowds and about walmart is no joyful dissertation.

For centuries bargain shoppers across America have flocked to this overpacked, understaffed bustling treasury of prepackaged processed food and jettison. With "Rollback Savings" as the slogan of middle-low class Myspace pages we've certainly given in to the consumer mentality they are banking on. I for one have been and will again shop at Wal mart. But for what it's worth there are a few "beefs" (no pun intended) that I have with this place.

The first is the staff at my local supershack. WHY oh WHY are there so many people working in the craft department but never enough working at the deli? At the lowest point in my walmart shopping debacle I have waited TWENTY MINUTES for sliced meat. Simply for the fact that I wanted to see how long it would take for them to slice meat I wasted almost half an hour of my life. I will never get it back. This woman behind the counter dawning a freshly stretched hair net asked me "What can I get ya?" and I asked very politely for one half pound of thin sliced turkey. This request would be the death of me. My first mistake was not specifying the brand and genre of turkey I would like. "Do ya wanna have smoked, hickory smoked, honey baked, roasted, Jeannie-O, Sara Lee, Boar's Head..." OH. MY. GOSH. So I specified very clearly, "I would liked Roasted Jeannie-O turkey, sliced thin." And she looked at me like I'd asked for a deep fried mars bar. I repeated myself, again, making sure to pronunciate my words clearly and it finally seemed to seep in. So she goes over to the meat case and gets out the END CAP of a roasted turkey. Dread setting in to my mind now... She turns to me and says, "Hun, we're all outta roasted turkey by Jeannie-O can I getcha Sara Lee? But it's not on sale, you'd have to pay the full price." By now there is a line of angry huffing customers waiting for their super bargain deli meat and I am feeling the pressure. So I say, "Yes, yes that's fine I'll take whatever you've got." So she finally gets the meat out of the case after rewrapping her end cap of Jeannie-O and unwraps the Sara Lee and we're finally getting somewhere when she turns around and says, "Hun, what number do you want me to slice the turkey on?" All I can do to keep myself from screaming is say, "As thin as you can get it without actually shaving it." I can hear the woman behind me shaking her head and drumming her fingers on the cart handle. If the looks could kill I would be six feet under by now.
So finally we're at the slicer and she has unwrapped the meat and all I can imagine now is that this woman is going to turn on the slicer and slice her fingers off and then some angry customer behind me will yell, "Look what you've done!" and kill me.
But she gets slicing and seems to be doing well until I realise that she has started to shave the turkey. I decide this isn't a big deal and watch her finish up. I'm dreading the next question but I know it's coming... "Would you like something else, hun?" And the question that has been bouncing around in my mind.. Do I really need cheese...? Finally I decide that turkey without cheese is like peanut butter without jelly.. so I say, "Yes, one half pound of Stella Provolone Cheese." (I'm prepared with a brand name this time.) And it's like the entire line behind me is groaning and whispering about me. My palms are sweating now. Where are these people? Shouldn't there be more than one deli slicer person here? Are they all at lunch, what's the deal? So she gets my cheese and I'm thinking yes, this only took a few seconds and then she turns around and scratches her face with her gloved hand and I'm thinking.. oh crap. So she says, "Sorry I need to go get a new glove and the box is empty so I have to go in the back and get a new one." I'm practically shaking now. There is an angry mob of people behind me who just want a pound of roast beef and I am in the way of them getting it. I'm afraid for my life.
So she comes out with her new glove, all smiles and chipperness and I'm about ready to reach across the counter and...
So she gets the cheese and brings it to the slicer and starts slicing a piece and then she picks the piece up off the counter, turns around and announces, "IS THIS THIN ENOUGH?" And all I can do is meekly shake my head that it is. She goes back to the slicer and starts to slice and I'm looking at the clock thinking... "that can't be right..." and when I look back at her she is INDIVIDUALLY seperating each slice of cheese with a piece of deli paper.
So I'm getting ready to run when she turns around, finally done slicing, and wraps up the cheese. She puts the sticker on it and says, "Can I getcha anything else?" And I SWEAR I could hear the lady behind me begging me to say no. Twenty minutes. That is the time it took for me to get a half pound of turkey and a half pound of cheese.

This is only part one, folks. Part two.. that's a whole other story.