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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Food Magazine Overload

Food magazines. Sure it's fun and exciting receiving them in the mail. Yea, I like to pick one up occasionally whilst waiting to check-out in the grocery (I'm a sucker for a good food photo). But what do you do with them afterwards? Can't throw them away. That's like throwing away a cookbook. Can't give it away. What if you need to make that Armenian version of a meatloaf - your second cousin's in-laws might come to dinner one night.

I don't know about you, but I've got Gourmet magazines dating back to 1993! And, somewhere along the line I thought it was a good idea to be subscribing to three food magazines at once- I'm embarrassed to tell you for how many years. So, of course now I've got stacks of the things. Well, I've finally come across a system for actually using them that works, is simple and I'm willing to share (if you have already been doing this at home for years - I don't want to know about it).

I went out and bought 24 inexpensive cardboard magazine holders (Container Store). Rooted around in the painting section of my basement and covered the outside of each with 2 coats of leftover latex wall paint. Stuck a label on the outside of each. Here's the clever part. You must separate your magazines, not by title, or year, but by month. Yes, stick that May 1996 Food and Wine in with the May 2004 Cooks Illustrated, the Bon Appetit from November of 2001 with the November Gourmet of the same year. And here's the part that makes it work - have a magazine rack in your kitchen, next to your favorite easy chair, or where ever you choose. Every month you take your current months magazines and place them in your magazine rack. And there they are, just waiting on you, they'll take any spare moment you can give them. Of course, at the end of the month you put them away and get out the next months.

I can't begin to tell you how well this has worked for me. Now I have access to at least 20 magazines each month. Yes, some are very outdated, but I will usually find at least one redeeming recipe to keep it from the garbage bin. Here you can see all my magazine holders, organized by month - just waiting patiently for their turn in the kitchen.

Hot Chocolate

When I went to Paris I went to museums and restaurants. They have the best hot chocolate in the world. We had supper in a restaurant. There is a rule that is very silly. They can not walk on the grass. The butter tastes good too. But I was unhappy about my clothes. I even had a little money.

- my eight-year-old describes her visit to Paris

I found this among my daughter's papers from school this week. We had taken a quick trip to Paris last February, and I really didn't think it had made much of an impression on her. Of course I love that what she remembers best is the food. Her mother's daughter!

*And why was she unhappy with her clothing? We insisted she wear tights under her pants (it was February, after all).

Thursday, March 16, 2006

potted cheese

tomorrow being st.paddy's day and all, i've been to the store to pick-up the supplies for the annual dinner. corned beef, simmered lovingly til oh-so-tender, then gently napped with a simple sour cream, horseradish and mustard sauce. a heavenly mixture of mashed potatoes, cabbage and lots of grated dubliner cheese, baked til bubbly in the oven. really, it's heaven. a scoop of vanilla ice cream with crushed thin mint girl scout cookies for those who need anything else.

this year to start things off, i thought i'd whip up some potted cheese to go with those fabulous 'everything' flat bread crackers from Whole Foods. seems i've been collecting little tidbits and ends of cheeses for a while now and it was time to do something with them.

i love potted cheese. it's absolutely different everytime i make a batch.

what you want to do is collect all your miscellaneous cheeses and inspect them. cut off and dispose of any obviously moldy spots as well as anything that is as hard as a rock. firm cheese is ok. tough cheese is ok. you have to ask yourself this question: will my food processor be able to shred/chop this cheese? if you can't get a knife through it, it is probably too far gone.

now, roughly chop your cheese into manageable bits and whiz in the food processor until very broken down. we're not at the paste stage yet, but you don't want anything larger than say a grain of rice. the time all depends on how old/hard your cheese is.

next, add some softened butter to the cheese. unsalted would be nice, but if all you have is salted, that's fine too. the ration of butter to cheese depends on one thing only: how assertive do you want your potted cheese to be? the butter softens and rounds and smoothes the edges. my current batch of potted cheese contains: a hardened half circle of mimolette, a small wedge of rogue river blue that had not been opened (but had been in that darn refrigerator hiding, for quite some time), a small rectangle of Kraft sharp cheddar, an unidentified block of something semi-hard - my best guess is gruyere. process until almost smooth (or smooth, if that is what you prefer).

here comes the fun part: additions. i always crush a garlic clove or two in my mortal and pestle along with whatever herbs i've got in the house/garden that will enhance my cheese, not fight with it. usually thyme, but parsley is good too. a couple of black peppercorns crushed with the garlic is right up my alley. sometimes i also add a bit of mustard powder. i've never tried this but Carolyn suggests a shallot or two-and that's sounds tasty. i also go through my freezer looking for that zip-lock baggie with the left-over white wine in it. a tablespoon or two is always welcome.

mix everything together thoroughly, put in a crock and refrigerate. wait! you mean i can't eat it immediately? think about it. you've just taken every old, tired, beat up piece of cheese in your icebox and whirled it around with some heavy hitting flavors. wouldn't you want a night to relax first? take some time to get to know your new neighbors? let the flavors mellow overnight, trust me. and, if you are not going to eat this the very next day, take a moment to cover your cheese with some cooled melted butter. protect all that goodness.

so. now you've got potted cheese. once you're ready to consume, take it out of the icebox and bring to room temperature and serve with some crackers or crudite; or slather some on a good piece of bread and toast under the broiler. enjoy!

Sunday, March 12, 2006


the girl scout cookies have arrived (samoas, my favorite) the strawberries and artichokes were begging to be photographed. it's early march on the calendar, but spring seems to be here.

i see it in everything...

doesn't help that it's 82F in Atlanta today. as much as i want to i know i can't plant anything in the ground because our last frost date is april 10!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Trust your instincts

I did it again. I can't believe it. How many times can a girl tell herself to trust her instincts? Especially in the kitchen. It started off so innocently. Zipping through blogs, looking for some inspiration, something fun, something different. Wow! This sounds great. A basic chicken dish that will please everyone. You will like it soooo much, you'll want to make extra to freeze! All my friends will be dying for the recipe! So here's the idea: make a huge amount of this dish, then allow guests, or unsuspecting family members to put there own final touches to individual servings. Lots of little condiments, fruit, vegetables, etc. I know, I know - how could I resist such a tempting idea? Make everyone in my family happy at the same time? It's never happened before. Somebody is always the looser at our dinner table. Unconsciously I must have know something was kooky - I did not attempt to make this until Mr. Smoothy had departed on his annual golf weekend. I purchased the ingredients 2 days before getting down to it - what's the matter? What's holding me back? Something about the ingredients chosen, I'd never mixed these two main things together before. Is there a reason I've never seen this before? Something about the time - 1.5 hours in the oven for boneless breasts of chicken? The spice mixture sounded somewhat right, maybe that's what would pull it all together? Is that why it needed all that time in the oven? To mellow the mix and bring it all together? Well I was right. It was hardly worth the effort or time to make the darned thing. Talk about a dish that needed some pizzaz. No wonder someone had come up with the idea of adding all those little things on top, it was barely palatable without. Everyone had to keep on adding those little things on top. We ended up eating condiments, not chicken! My son and daughter look at me twice now if I talk about trying out a new recipe from an unfamiliar blog. I can see then looking at each other and saying it all with their eyes "remember the chicken?" I still have the lasagne-sized pan (full) in my refrigerator. I can't bear the idea of dealing with it. Besides, it's there as a reminder. TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS!

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Best Artichokes

The best artichokes ever? Saying a lot isn't it? But, I had them last night.

Yes, mother nature had something to do with it. Large, globe shape. Tight, firm leaves. Heavy in my hand, really just beautiful. Mr. Smoothy had brought them home from the local, and they sat overnight in the refrigerator drawer waiting. Calling to me.

Mr. Smoothy suggested a simple baked potato for dinner. But a craving set in. Besides, those picture-perfect globes would not be quite so bruise-free after another night in my veggie drawer.

A 45 minute steam bath followed by a grilling on the outside produced an artichoke that was sublime. Perfectly tender leaves and heart, smoky taste from the grill, bathed in olive oil and coarse sea salt, sprinkled with chopped parsley. Rifling through the close-to-bare refrigerator produced a dipping sauce with enough gusto to hold it's own combined with the grilled chokes.

And what's that little number in the other bowl you ask? It's a chickpea/sundried tomato/mozzarella salad and you already know how to make that.

Grilled Artichokes

2 large globe artichokes


olive oil

coarse sea salt

Trim artichokes: Cut stem end, pull off tough bottom leaves, trim bottom with knife. Cut top 1/5 of artichoke off. With scissors, trim each remaining leaf. Rub with lemon.

In steamer set over water, steam artichokes, stem end down til middle leaves are softened, move easily and can be pulled from choke. Be sure artichoke bottom (or heart) is also tender. Remove from heat, let cool until you can handle, then slice in half vertically.

Preheat grill, or grill pan, which is what I used. Rub artichokes with your best olive oil, being sure to get inbetween the leaves as well. Salt. Grill, outsides only. since the artichokes have already been cooked, you are looking for additional taste only, so grill until desired. Sprinkle with parley. Serve with sauce.

Empty Refrigerator Artichoke Dipping Sauce Olives, pitted, coarsely chopped (any color, I had both green and black; Nicoise and Kalamata)

salted capers, rinsed, coarsely chopped

thyme, parsley

minced garlic

lemon juice


Using the amount you favor, I prefer a chunky almost dip-like condiment, mix ingredients together and try to let it sit for a hour or so to blend before using.

    Sunday, February 19, 2006

    Shrimp Spread

    The result? Actually very tasty. Of course I felt I needed to update the recipe ever so slightly. The original had salt and cayenne pepper as the only seasonings. A little Essence mix from Emeril and a squeeze of lemon juice gave a welcoming modern nod. I also saved the shrimp shells and make a quick flavored stock in which to cook the shrimp. You don't have to do this, but it did add more depth. With a few minor changes to the recipe, I also felt perhaps a minor change in the name as well - Shrimp Spread.

    The photos here show the spread in a crock. I don't have a fancy Tupperware mold, and I'm not sure I'd use it if I did. You can mold it in a simple bowl or cup and dip quickly in hot water until released.

    Serve with crackers and/or crudite. My old family cook book also endorses freezing the mixture; remove from freezer and place in refrigerator on day before serving.

    Shrimp Spread - makes approximately 4 cups

    2 lbs. shrimp, with shells

    1 tsp. liquid crab boil

    1 tsp. salt

    1 can condensed tomato soup

    9 oz (3 3oz pkgs) cream cheese

    1 1/2 tbsp. unflavored gelatin

    3/4 cup celery, minced

    1/2 cup onion, minced

    1/2 cup mayonnaise

    1 tsp. Essence

    juice from 1/2 lemon, or to taste

    1. Peel shrimp and set aside. Place shells, liquid crab boil, and 2 quarts water into a 4 quart pot. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 10 minutes (the crab boil can emit pretty powerful fumes, so cover the pot here). Keeping the liquid, strain out the shells, return stock to pot, add salt and return to boil. Cook shrimp for approx. 3 minutes, depending on size, or until pink. Drain, set aside to cool slightly. Either pulse shrimp in food processor, or chop by hand - depending on how you'd like the texture of the spread to be.
    2. Put 1/4 cup cool water into a small, microwaveable bowl. Pour gelatin over and mix briefly. Set aside.
    3. In a small 1-2 quart pot over medium-low heat, mix together soup and cream cheese, stirring until well combined and cream cheese is completely melted. Transfer to a large bowl.
    4. Microwave gelatin on high for approx. 2 minutes, or until mixture comes to a boil. Carefully add to soup mixture in bowl, and stir well to combine. Add shrimp, celery, onion, mayonnaise, Essence, s & p and lemon juice to taste.
    5. Spoon into chosen receptacle, cover and press with plastic wrap, refrigerate until firm. I put my spread into a terrine, a couple of crocks and a cup or two - they were firm in 3 hours. If you use only one mold/container, prepare to have your spread spend the night in the fridge.


    • Say you only have peeled, devained shrimp from the market because they were on sale. These usually still have the tails on. Peel the tails and use them as if you had the full shell and continue from there.
    • No shells at all? You should still allow your water to be flavored for 10 minutes with the crab boil and salt before cooking the shrimp.
    • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper can be used in place of the crab boil.
    • For a major lift, use a fresh goat cheese log instead of the cream cheese. Substitute ounce for ounce.
    • Really, any combination of vegetables can be used, just make sure they are finely minced. Try to keep away from anything that might weep.
    • If you haven't got any Essence in the cupboard and don't feel like making any, a pinch and a dash of garlic powder, onion powder and paprika would be great.

    Friday, February 17, 2006

    A question

    A friend emailed me for suggestions on a New Orleans style hors d'oeuvre to serve at our next book club meeting. We had just finished 'A Confederacy of Dunces' by John Kennedy Toole and loved it, hence the menu selection. It got me thinking of course. Once upon a time I called the Big Easy my home, between the ages of 13-18, and surely I should be able to quickly come up with several mouth-watering representations. Well, sure. There's oysters Rockefeller, steamed shrimp with remoulade, any type of gumbo, oysters on the half-shell....I could go on and on but I think I'd begin to sound like Bubba from 'Forest Gump' listing all the things one can do with seafood. Those are the typical things you'd see on a menu. But, I wondered aloud, what did mom serve at all those parties she and dad were putting on? What was that concoction she was always taking over to other people's houses in a fancy Tupperware container? What about Shrimp Mold? No, not shrimp left to grow green fuzz in the refrigerator for a month. Mold as in what you form it in. You know, gelatin? Sounds very 1950's doesn't it? Well, I hauled out the old family cookbook to see exactly what one puts into something so glamorously called Shrimp Mold, and here is what it told me: condensed tomato soup and cream cheese. Hmmm. I remember it being very tasty. Was that just my 16 year old taste buds talking? Can it stand up to my significantly older, more well rounded ones? Off to the kitchen....