Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tropical Depression...Isn't that an Oxymoron?

While listening to the splatter of rain on my roof from Tropical Depression 16, which has now escalated into Tropical Storm Nicole, it occurred to me that the term "tropical depression" just doesn't sound right.  What I picture when I think of the tropics is warm sunshine, a fruity umbrella drink in my hand, and my toes in the water and my ass in the sand (thank you, Zac Brown Band.)  What's depressing about that?

In a moment of calculated spontaneity I thought I'd make it my personal business to make a public secret of some of my worst favorite culinary-related oxymorons and list them in orderly confusion. I hope you find this seriously funny, predictably random, and sinfully good.

All natural artificial flavor, bland spice, boneless ribs, cafeteria food, canned fresh, catfish, cold toast, daily special, disiplined gluttony, fish farm, fresh raisins, fresh sour cream, frugal gourmet, good fast food, Grape Nuts, ham steak, hot chili, kosher ham, meatless meat, mild jalapeno, non-alcoholic beer/wine, non-fat cream, oven fried, semi-boneless, sweet tart, turkey ham, twelve-ounce pound cake, vanilla fudge, and white chocolate. 

Well, that's all I have time for right now because I have to prepare for a board meeting.  Therefore, I won't be cooking dinner tonight but if I were to do so, on the menu would be - you guessed it - jumbo shrimp!


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hurricanes and Hangovers

I was watching Anthony Bourdain's show, "No Reservations" earlier and the city they were showcasing was one of my favorite food destinations, New Orleans.  I couldn't help but to remember my first visit to the Crescent City.  I was 22 years-old and my husband and I were there to celebrate our first wedding anniversary.  The first thing on the agenda?  Food!  We immediately set out to find the best places the city had to offer to satisfy our appetites - and found them we did!  Boudain Blanc from the Gumbo Shop, Muffaletta sandwiches from Central Grocery, Po' boys from Mother's, Beignets from Cafe du Monde, Banana's Foster from Brennan's, and the ubiquitous Jambalaya, Red Beans & Rice, and Gumbo found on almost every menu in town.  It only took us about one day to discover that if we got up early and stayed up late, we could squeeze in more meals per day.  Genius!  Good thing Nawlins is a great walking town!

The most talked about (still) tale from this trip was our visit to Pat O'Brien's bar in the heart of "Party Central" on Bourbon street.  We got settled in at our table and ordered up a couple of their world famous Hurricanes.  Beautiful, fruity, delicious, and huge!  Boy, did they go down easy.  As we're enjoying the dueling pianos I finish off mine and the hubby slips me the rest of his with only about 1/4 of it gone then proceeds to order two more.  Repat the process - drink mine and finish his.  All was well until I stood up to find the restroom.  The table rocks, a glass hits the floor, and bouncers come out of the woodwork.  Oops!  What's worse is that I discover the ladies room is up a spiral staircase...great!

I managed to survive the staircase scare and we headed for the front door to walk back to our hotel.  Since there is no glass allowed on the streets of New Orleans, the kind folks at Pat O'Brien's will box up your souvenir Hurricane glasses so you can take them with you to "remember" what a great experience you had there.  Mind you, while New Orleans is a great city, it still has some dicey areas.  I assured my husband that if anybody tried to mess with us I'd hit them with my four Hurricane glasses.  He had to keep reminding me that I only had three glasses because I broke one, to which I slurred my response, "Well, I drank four!"

We got back to the hotel and the first thing I do is lie down on the bed.  Bad idea!  So this is what "bed-spins" feel like!  Let's just say it was a very rough awakening the next morning.  Dry heaves are not the Breakfast of Champions!  I couldn't stand the thought of eating anything until about 3:00 that afternoon and discovered that a Jambalaya Omelet is great for hangovers...who knew?

Before we left the city we bought two packages of Pat O'Brien's Hurricane mix to bring home and share with friends.  That was 22 years ago and those same two packages have moved from house to house with us and have never been used.  I think I keep them as a reminder to never do that to myself again.  Have I experienced a Hurricane since?  Only the weather-related kind.  However, for those who want a little taste of what I went through I've included a recipe for a Hurricane cocktail.  Enjoy, my friends, because I'm not jumping aboard that crazy train again!


·         2 oz light rum
·         2 oz dark rum
·         2 oz passion fruit juice
·         1 oz orange juice
·         juice of a half a lime
·         1 Tbsp simple syrup
·         1 Tbsp grenadine
·         orange slice and cherry for garnish
1.    Squeeze juice from half a lime into shaker over ice.
2.    Pour the remaining ingredients into the cocktail shaker.
3.    Shake well.
4.    Strain into a hurricane glass.
5.    Garnish with a cherry and an orange slice

Laissez le bon ton roulette!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Lazy Morning

That's how my day started yesterday.  Got up around 8:30 (which really beats the 5:45 AM dawn patrol of the previous day), took my cappuccino and the dog with me to the backyard, greeted the sand hill cranes who had just arrived for breakfast, and gave a respectful nod to the alligator trolling the lake behind my house.  When I described this on Facebook, a friend replied that it reminded him of the Gordon Lightfoot song, "Lazy Morning," thus the title of this blog post.  As the day went on, I could really relate to these particular lyrics of the song, "Coffee's in the kitchen, woman on the run."

I'd invited my mom over for dinner and really wanted to pull out all the stops and give her a great meal.  I feel that I've been ignoring her a bit because we are so caught up with my mother-in-law who is rapidly losing her battle with ALS.  It's a bit of a juggling act around here these days.  But I digress...

Because I wanted to give my mom (and all of us, really) some comfort food, my first thought was to cook a pot roast.  Then I remembered that I had beef short ribs in the freezer and went with that.  Success!!  I browned them and then added all the classic braising ingredients - onion, carrot, celery, garlic, an entire bottle of red wine, fresh thyme, peppercorns, etc. Into the oven they went for hours.  I also decided to do a butternut squash puree to accompany the short ribs so I peeled and diced one and tossed it with a olive oil, brown sugar, salt & pepper, then put it on a baking sheet to roast in the oven with the ribs.  Once they were tender and carmelized I put them in the food processer with about 2 tablespoons of butter, a 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg, a 1/4 cup of brown sugar, a pinch of salt & pepper, and a splash of apple cider then zapped it into silky submission.  Delicious!  Another side dish was thinly sliced brussel sprouts sauteed in brown butter.  It was a culinary ode to Autumn even though it was still 90 degrees here in Florida!  The best moment of  the night was when my 76-year-old mother was trying to delicately remove the beef that was barely clinging to the bone of the short-rib (much like Tom Hanks holding onto his homemade raft in "Castaway") and said, "To hell with it," and picked the thing up with her hands and went to town!  Awesome!  We finished the meal with a Gingered-Pear Tarte Tatin and my mom and I enjoying the breeze and watching the sun go down from my back porch.  Much like how I started my day, only better.  Love you, Mom!


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Spiders, Herbs, & Kitchen Tools...Oh My!

I like to think of myself as a nurturer in each sense of the word...feed, protect, support, encourage, etc. and I'm pretty good at it when it comes to humans and animals.  Horticulturally, though, I'm a distaster!  I can kill bamboo, that's how brown my thumbs are.  Honestly, I was once buying plants to bring home and put in my garden when one of them took a nosedive out of the cart.  I guess it wanted to get it over with quickly rather than experiencing a slow, agonizing death at my hands!  This is why I've found it so surprising that I'm having great luck growing herbs in my backyard.  I've tried growing them in a pot with no luck at all.  Okay, that's my fault because I forget to water them.  But planting them in the ground has really been successful because of the beautiful Florida sunshine and the steady summer rain.  Therefore, I've become a bit protective, perhaps even nurturing, of my little herb garden.

This is why I may have gone a bit "buggy" this evening when I went out to check on the beautiful plants which are adding wonderful, fresh flavors to my kitchen.  We've been having trouble with banana spiders making themselves at home around the perimeters of our house, especially on my Fennel and Rosemary plants.  While they're generally non-aggressive, I've been bitten more than once while snipping fresh herbs to add to a recipe.  Tonight, though, I'd had enough!  I'd read that the best way to get rid of them is to tear down their webs.  I did that a week ago and they're back.  I knew I needed a kicked-up arsenal and my mind went straight to my kitchen torch.  You know, that propane-based little flame thrower that one uses to brulee things.  Well, call Andrew Zimmern from the Travel Channel's "Bizarre Foods" because I have some "bruleed" spiders he can munch on! 

Wait!  Before you call the ASPCA, please note that the above-mentioned Fennel plant was recently a haven for caterpillars and we painstakingly saved each one of them to donate to a local nursery's butterfly garden.  We discovered that squirrels enjoy caterpillars like Twinkies...cream-filled centers and all.  Ugh!

On the menu tonight:  Greek Salad with Mediterranean Grilled Chicken.  Keeping it light tonight because Mom's coming for dinner tomorrow.  Stay tuned!


Friday, September 24, 2010

Rainy Nights and Risotto

As I was sitting in the parking lot of my son's school today waiting for him to finish a make-up chemistry test while watching the rain come down, I was trying to find some inspiration for dinner tonight.  I certainly didn't want to make the downpour dash into the grocery store for ingredients, so I was thinking this would be a good night for some "pantry cooking."  Take what you have on hand and make it work.  Fortunately, I recently discovered a great iPhone app for foodies - Epicurious.  I've been a long time fan of them online, but I'm still getting used to the whole "world at my finger-tips" thing.  While perusing the plethra of options, I came across a recipe for risotto with shrimp, asparagus, and a hint of lemon.  Bingo!  I had all of those things already in my kitchen.

My son had plans with friends this evening but still had time for a home-cooked meal, so I was hustling to get it all together and feed my family in very restricted time constraints.  Ah, let the juggling act begin!  Husband gets home, son plans to leave, stir that risotto like your life depends upon it!  For those who have never made risotto, it's one of those quick meals that requires constant attention and needs to be served immediately.  But the good news is that you can prep and prepare it from start to finish in about 30 minutes.  Allow about 10 minutes of prep-time an about 18 minutes of cooking and constant attention.  Well worth the effort!

As it turned out, the son's plans got cancelled and I was able to slow things down a bit and make it an enjoyable meal that we could sit down at the table and enjoy together.  I love taking a recipe, using it as a guideline, then tweaking it to make it my own.  BTW, they loved it!

 Lemony Risotto with Asparagus and Shrimp
  • 6 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 3/4 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 1/4 cups Arborio rice
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 3/4 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan
Bring broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Add asparagus and simmer, uncovered, until just tender, about 4 minutes. Transfer asparagus with a slotted spoon to an ice bath to stop cooking, then drain. Keep broth at a bare simmer, covered.
Cook onion in 2 tablespoons butter with 1/4 teaspoon salt in a 4-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.
Add rice and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Add wine and simmer, stirring constantly, until absorbed.
Stir in 1/2 cup broth mixture and briskly simmer, stirring frequently, until absorbed. Continue adding broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently and letting each addition be absorbed before adding the next, until rice is creamy and tender but still al dente (it should be the consistency of a thick soup), about 18 minutes. (There will be leftover broth mixture.)
Stir in shrimp and cook until just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes.
Stir in asparagus, zest, remaining 2 tablespoons butter, parmesan, and pepper to taste. (Thin risotto with some of remaining broth if necessary.)  

I included the juice of the lemon along with the zest of another as a garnish and it made all the difference.  Freshness that added an additional burst of flavor to the recipe!

Enjoy and please contct me with any questions!

Kiss My Grits

I was reminded by a dear cousin yesterday that when writing about our family's food heritage, don't forget that grits practically flow through our veins.  Although I don't eat a lot of them these days, they were a staple on our grandmother's kitchen table.  I'm talking about real, slow-cooked grits, not that instant stuff where you zip open the little packet, add some water, and nuke in for a couple of minutes.  That mess is only good for plaster repair!

Please indulge me as I wax nostalgic for a moment about the summers I spent on my grandmother's farm.  My mom and her 5 sisters and 4 brothers were born and raised in Ozark County, MO and we would spend weeks up there playing "country mouse" every summer when I was a kid.  After riding in the car for two days, we knew we had reached our destination when we turned off the blacktop road and heard the crunch of gravel under the tires on the path that lead to the farm - the "longest driveway", I used to call it.  The sound of Grandma's dog, Lassie, barking the announcement of company coming to visit just added the sweet to the tea.

Those summers were a little slice of pure Americana!  Family would converge from Iowa, Arkansas, Florida, & California to join the ones who still lived in Missouri.  All the aunts would gather in the kitchen to cook and gossip (bless their hearts!), the uncles would do manly things like baling hay or feeding the cattle, and the cousins would skip rocks down at the creek (pronounced, "crik"), take turns churning the homemade ice cream, or jumping off the hay bales into the livestock feed.   Let's not forget the old truck in the front yard and the tire swing! 

The aromas that filled my grandmother's kitchen were as predictable as night and day...bacon grease and coffee - coming from the bottomless coffee pot that fed my Uncle Pete's caffeine habit.  Every time I step foot into a Cracker Barrel restaurant and breathe deeply, I'm transported right back to the place where a hug was just an arm reach away.  I sure wish my kids could have experienced a little taste of those idyllic summers but, alas, the old homestead was sold years ago.  However, I can still share those memories through my food.

I went back to that place a year ago and, thankfully, not much has changed.  This time I was the adult and the crunch of gravel was under the tires of a car that I was driving.  The further I drove down the "longest driveway" the more the years fell away and those childhood memories filled my heart with joy.

So, in honor of my family and their love of grits I offer this recipe.  This one is for you, Greg - love you cuz!

Cheesy Baked Grits
  • 1 quart milk
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup uncooked grits
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a medium baking dish.
  2. Bring the milk to a boil in a pot over medium heat. Melt 1/2 cup butter in the boiling milk. Gradually mix in the grits, and cook 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and season with salt and pepper. Beat with a whisk or electric mixer until smooth. Mix in the Cheddar cheese and 1/3 cup butter. Transfer to the prepared baking dish, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
  3. Bake 1 hour in the preheated oven, until firm.
Cheesy Baked Grits Recipe

This makes a wonderful side dish on its own.  You can also use it as a base for shrimp & grits, or top it with braised short ribs, country ham, etc.  The possibilities are endless.  Just have fun with it!


Thursday, September 23, 2010

You Had Me at Fried Green Tomatoes

Today was one of those days when I hit the ground running and didn't slow down or get home until about 6 PM so I got the day off from cooking.  Between indulging my masochistic tendencies (IE; hitting the gym with the trainer), visiting my seriously ill and bed-ridden mother-in-law, and spending hours in the hairdresser's chair getting my "naturally" sun-kissed hair touched up, there simply was no time for any kitchen therapy.  Yes, cooking for me is therapeutic.  Okay, it doesn't hurt that I often have a glass of wine in my hand at the same time as additional therapy.

Although I wasn't in the kitchen myself, I still managed to stumble across a culinary gem.  While reading the food section of the newspaper this morning over my cup of cappuccino I saw an article about local eateries that specialize in Southern fare.  Not surprising since Florida is South, but it's mostly a culinary melting pot with so many people from all walks of life making their homes here because of our beautiful weather.  But in this case I'm talking about real Southern cooking; biscuits and sausage gravy, collard greens, macaroni & cheese that didn't come out of a box, etc.  But what really jumped off the page and got the banjo strings of my heart strumming were the words, "fried green tomatoes."  Remember that long line of country cooks I said I come from in yesterday's blog?  This would be the signature dish of my heritage with each aunt claiming that hers are the best. Actually mine are, but let's keep that our little secret.

This particular dish I'm talking about is called Gullah Benedict and pays homage to South Carolina's low country cuisine.  Here are the players; fried green tomatoes, zesty shrimp, perfectly poached eggs, and spicy hollandaise.  While these had a country-fried-steak type batter on them instead of the cornmeal crust I prefer on my fried green tomatoes, the whole dish was really unique and delicious.  You can try them yourself at the Sun on the Beach Cafe on A1A in Satellite Beach, FL, a place I'd driven by for years and never thought to try because it looked like a little hole-in-the-wall.  This is a good reason I need to keep reminding myself that some of the best meals I've ever had are the little Mom & Pop places across the country. 

Looking forward to seeing what tomorrow brings!


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

On the menu: Lemon-Pepper Seared Salmon with Crimson Lentil Salad.

Welcome to Food for Thought!

I finally took the plunge and dove headfirst into the blogging world.  I'm not sure if I'm jumping from the frying pan into the fire, but I think I can take the heat.  Pun intended.

You may be asking yourself, "Who is this woman and why would I want to read anything she has to say?"  Let me take a moment to answer those burning questions.   I'm a woman who has spent the last 23 years raising children, supporting my husband's career, and doing some great things in my community.  I got two incredible "bonus"children when I married my husband and spent 6 years trying to conceive one I didn't have to send back when the visitation period was over.  Finally, through the miracle of modern science, I gave birth to a beautiful son in 1994.  It's recently dawned on me that my beautiful baby boy will be off to college in about a year and a half and I'd better figure out what I'm going to focus on once he's gone.  Thus, the birth of this newest baby.

As you might have guessed by the name of this blog and its description, I love to cook and please people through my food.  To quote a dear friend of mine who happens to be an award-winning executive chef, "Food is love.  Love is life.  Cook from the heart."  Well said.  I come from a long line of country cooks but I like to think outside the deep-fryer.  I'm not afraid to try new things and just make it up as I go.  My Facebook posts of my food experiments have gotten my friends begging for recipes and has really been the catalyst for this blog.  I'm going to make a concious effort to actually develop recipes instead of just going on instinct.  Actually, that's not true.  I'll still follow my instincts, but I'll try to actually measure as I go and write it all down.  Recipe development...yeah, that's the ticket!

To all who read this...thank you!  To those who never will...that's okay, too.  Join me on this journey and get a glimpse of the world through my eyes.