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Sunday, August 05, 2007

I've started a new blog

For those of you who visited here from time to time (you've probably given up long ago) you realize that I have not been the most prolific blogger. Well I hope to change that with my new blog at http://www.lulu.com/briancummings. Most of my energy over the past nine months has been taken up with a project I've been working with Atmos Energy. It's a new recipe website www.atmosenergycooks.com and it officially launches this week.

Since the web site is loosely based on my two books, I thought it would be easier to blog about food and other things in one place, thus this blog is coming to an end (though I'll leave it up for awhile) and I'm making a committment to keeping the new one a little more current and a little more interesting.

Visit me at my new place.

Eat Well.


Sunday, October 01, 2006

A New Cookbook by Yours Truly

I've finally finished my second cookbook. I thought it was just what the world needed. After all, a search on Amazon for cookbooks only turns up 46,829 results. If I bother to get an ISBN number, there will be 46,830.

The book is called "Get This Cookbook First: It Has All the Kitchen Stuff Your Mom Tried to Teach You." Why this book? Well, as I explain in the introduction:

It’s been rumored that while people in their 20s and 30s appreciate good food, they haven’t the foggiest idea of how to cook it. I disagree. They do have the foggiest idea. That’s the problem. They never really paid attention to what Mom or Dad did in the kitchen—if Mom and Dad did anything at all.

It will teach you how to cook things you can eat. It won’t make you trendy. It won’t introduce you to food exotica or fusion cooking. But it will give you the skills you need to put together a meal that will leave your guests smiling in contentment.

Cooking and eating together is making a comeback, especially among men. Browse through on-line dating ads. There are a lot of folks that list “cooking” as a favorite pastime. In fact, in Japan, cooking is the number one hobby for young men. Worldwide, membership in an organization that celebrates the idea of slowing down to enjoy food—aptly called Slow Food (www.slowfood.com)–is enjoying steady growth.

The organization is dedicated to—among other things—“the revival of the kitchen table as a center of pleasure, culture and community.”

Despite our continued connectedness via mobile phones and instant messaging, sitting shoulder to shoulder (or toe to toe) and sharing a meal is, well, nice. Real nice.

The book is divided into four sections. The first, “What to Get after You’ve Found the Kitchen,” is a handy reference guide with everything you need to know about kitchen equipment, basic ingredients, cooking methods, cooking techniques and food safety.

The second section, “Some Things You Can Eat with Your Fingers (and Some You Really Can’t),” is full of easy recipes for hors d’oeuvres, soups and salads that you can serve your guests as a prelude to a great dinner party or mix and match in any combination for an evening of grazing.

The third is called “The First Course: Soup or Salad or Both.” It covers pretty much what the title says—soups and salads. Not the kind of soups you would have for a main course (they’re in the next section), but the kind that you sip delicately before dinner. There are also several recipes for salad dressings—including one for that the dressing turned condiment, ranch.

The fourth section is called “The Protein on the Plate.” Here, you’ll learn everything you need to know about putting a great meal on the table. There are tips on how to grill, sauté, boil and roast your favorite kind of protein. There are recipes for one pot stews, chili and soups, for pasta as a main course and some simple, step-by-step guidance on making the kinds of sauces—from gravy to barbecue –- that add the fine to fine cooking. I think this section is the most fun.

The next section is called “The Next Most Important Thing on Your Plate: The Starch” that covers the things that go with the protein or just after it; side dishes like potatoes, grains, pasta and rice.

Then comes the section on things you may still not be willing to eat called “What You Didn’t Eat as a Kid: Vegetables.” It has several recipes for things that made your mother so happy when you ate them. You still don’t have to eat them, but it wouldn’t be a cookbook without them.

Finally, there is a section that makes the book even more useful. It’s is called “Menus and the Wines That Go with Them,” which is pretty self-explanatory.

Each recipe is followed by a shopping list to make it easier to pull together all the ingredients you might need. Folks who have read the pre-publication edition like the shopping list a lot.

Like my first cookbook, which I am now "publishing" on my wiki, this one will be available on Lulu within the next week or so. I should have the test copy this week, make any changes next weekend (a few folks have caught a typo or two and I found some some recipe errors) and offer it up for sale. I'm going to keep it around $15. An e-book version will be available through the same folks who bring you The Seductive Chef for something under $10 probably.

So stay tuned. While you're waiting, try this recipe. And do it with the garlic salt.

Cauliflower Popcorn

Serves 4
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes

Popcorn’s not just for dinner anymore. Now you can have a version as a healthy snack. What a great way to get in a serving or two of vegetables. The long roasting caramelizes cauliflower’s natural sugars and makes it sweet. Most recipes call for 60 minutes in the oven, but mine burnt at 60. 45 minutes seemed to work well. But maybe my oven thermostat is off.
1 head cauliflower
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon salt (great with garlic salt too)
  • Preheat oven to 425°F.
  • Trim head of cauliflower into bite sized florets.
  • Toss the florets with the olive oil and salt.
  • Spread them on a baking sheet and bake for about 45 minutes or so, turning every 15 minutes until the florets are golden brown.

The shopping list

  1. 1 head of cauliflower
  2. Olive oil
  3. Garlic Salt

Saturday, September 09, 2006

They're right: Chicken and Balsamic Vinegar Go Great Together

A recent piece I read somewhere (maybe the NY Times?) talked about how well chicken goes with balsamic vinegar, and how often the combination turns up in Italian cooking. They really do. I stumbled on that fact the other night when I needed to perk up a rather bland sauce that I made for two sauteed chicken breasts we were having for dinner.

I splashed in some balsamic vinegar with the idea that it couldn't hurt and, wow, it was great. Here it is, without the story.

Oh, by the way, I'm continuing to add stories and recipes to my wiki, so pay me a visit there and add one of your own. The story doesn't need to be long. It just needs to be real (or imagined.)

Chicken Breasts with Mushrooms and Balsamic Vinegar
Serves 2
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes

2 skinless chicken breasts
¼ cup flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoon butter
¼ cup white wine
½ cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons chopped shallot or onion
½ pound of mushrooms sliced
3 teaspoon minced thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried
1tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon corn starch
¼ cup cold water

First: On a plate or a piece of waxed paper, mix flour with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Dredge each breast to coat both sides. Shake off excess.
Second: Pre-heat a heavy sauté pan on low heat. Add the oil and butter. When the foam subsides, add the chicken and increase the heat to medium. Cook about 3 minutes, turn and do the other side for 3 minutes as well. Both sides should be browned.
Third:Transfer to a plate and keep warm in the oven.
Fourth: Sauté the mushrooms in the remaining butter and oil, adding a little more butter if needed, for about two to three minutes. Add the shallots and sauté for another minute or so.
Add the chicken broth, wine and thyme and stir, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan.
Fifth: Return pan to medium-high heat, add the chicken and cook for another 10 minutes or so.
Remove the chicken to the dinner plates.
Sixth: Add the tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Mix the cornstarch into the cold water and stir the slurry into the mushroom broth mixture. Cook stirring for one to two minutes until the sauce thickens.
And finally: Serve, spooning the sauce over each chicken breast.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Visit my Wiki

Thought I'd try something new. Since I don't get around to posting all that often, which means I don't get much (read any) traffic, I thought I'd try a Wiki. Maybe no one will go there too. I put up the whole breakfast chapter of my book. But it could encourage other like-minded folks to add something like a story or a recipe.

Try it.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Lets Marginalize the Fringes

The habit of Republicans and Democrats to run to the right or the left to capture their party's base and its nomination for whatever elected post is coveted, has marginalized most of us who sit somewhere slightly to the left or right of center.

I think its time to marginalize both party's bases.

I'm getting fed up with being disenfranchised. I hover around the center. A social liberal, a fiscal conservative.

I happen to believe less government is better, but the poorest of us--economically, educationally, and intellectually--need bootstrapped, sometime forever.

Tax cuts are nice but not at the expense of a balanced budget.

For believers, God can be part of American life, but there's more to Him than Genesis and Jesus. And if you're a believer, seek out like-minded people in places other than public schools or government buildings. Try your church.

We made a mess of Iraq for all the wrong reasons, but can't just walk away.

Pro-life and pro-choice are not mutually exclusive.

Unfettered capitalism and globalization are not inherently good. They are amoral economic systems that need to be controlled and managed by moral people.

But if I run to the Democrats for leadership as my parents did, there's a whole bunch of shit to embrace (or at least silently acquiesce to). Never-ending entitlements to more than just the truly needy, partial birth abortions and abortion-as-birth-control, political correctness run amok and a constant ambilvalence that fears to offend.

If I run to the Republicans--as I did with Reagan (much to my father's dismay)--there's yet another ration of shit with which I must at least not disagree. Never ending entitlements that enrich the enriched under the cover of economic stimulation, the criminalization of an intensely personal decision that is best left to a woman and her God, the demonization of others who don't look or talk just like us (or at least like we do now, two or three generations later) and a certitude and righteousness that ignores reality.

A pox on both your houses.

I'd like to see a new party begin that is firmly anchored in the middle where the vast number of us are. A party for people who are equally put off by the vitriolic spewing from both the left and right. A party for people who resent being simplified into red and blue then transparently manipulated in the name of God, 9-11, Social Security, health insurance or the poor. A party led by someone who does not use pollsters, consultants and advisors to find then cynically pander to our dark side.

If we were the base for a party like that, just think of the kind of government we might have.

Let's start a new party and marginalize the fringes for a change.

In the meantime, since this blog is supposed to be about recipes, here's one that is American as apple pie.

Mom's Apple Pie
Makes one, two crust pie

For the crust
2 cups flour
3 cup shortening
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons ice cold water

For the filling
6-7 apples: Choose a firm fleshed apple like a Golden Delicious or a Granny Smith, although a Granny Smith is slightly more bitter and may need more sugar, depending on your taste buds.
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon flour
¾ cup sugar
One egg white beaten with a tablespoon of water.
Three strips of aluminum foil to cover the edge of the crust for part of the time

First: Pre-heat the oven to 425°F. Using a pastry cutter, blend the flour, salt and shortening until the mixture is the consistency of small peas.

Second: Slowly incorporate the three tablespoons of cold water until the dough gathers up into a ball. Avoid overworking the dough or you'll end up with a tough crust.

Third: Split the dough into two equal portions; cover the unused half with plastic wrap to keep moist; and using a lightly floured rolling pin, gently roll out the other half into a large circle on a floured, smooth dishtowel. Hold a nine-inch pie plate upside down over the circle to ensure that it's about two-inches in diameter wider than the pan. Lift up the dishtowel and flip the dough into the pan, gently pushing the dough into the corners.

Fourth: Core and peel the apples, slicing them into bite-sized pieces. Pile them onto the pie pan; sprinkle with cinnamon, flour and sugar.

Fifth: Roll out the other piece of dough to about the same size as the first. Use the towel to gently lift it and place it on top of the apple-filled pie pan. Trim the overhanging dough, leaving a ¼ inch all around.

Sixth: Crimp the top and bottom crusts together using your thumbs and index fingers to form little ridges, or press the tines of a fork around the edge to seal. Trim off any excess dough. Using a knife cut four, one-inch slits into the top of the pie to vent the steam.

Seventh: With your fingers or a pastry brush, brush the beaten egg white and water onto the crust. Crimp the aluminum foil strips around the outer edge of the crust to cover.

And finally: Bake in the 425°F oven for 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 350°F, remove the aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes more.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Another Thing The French Got Right

It's their onion soup. I forgot how good it is until I made it again last night. The occasion was a joint celebration of my son’s re-assignment to Fort Gordon, Georgia and my son-in-law’s 39th birthday.

The soup was followed by Michele’s salad (named in honor of a friend who concocted it) beef tenderloin with béarnaise, twice baked potatoes, green beans with slivered almonds and a raspberry chocolate cake from Central Market (which is sort of like a Whole Foods or a Trader Joe’s for those of you not from Texas).

It was a great dinner in honor of two great people—my son and the guy who keeps my daughter happy and my grandchildren enjoyable.

My son’s departure for Ft. Gordon is his reward for re-enlisting in the Army—that and a $20,000 re-up bonus. He spent the last two-and-a-half years with the 1st Cav, a year of it in Baghdad, where he earned a Bronze Star and an Army Commendation medal—both for valor—and two purple hearts. We're all verry proud of him.

He was facing the prospect of another tour come October and wisely decided that re-enlisting for three years for a guaranteed (insofar as the Army can guarantee anything) tour of duty in Georgia for at least two of them was a better option that getting re-acquainted with the Mahadi Army. Too many close calls the last time.

Assuming the elite in Washington (whoever they happen to be at the time) don’t go off on another pre-emptive misadventure in the name of promoting democracy, oil, Christianity or capitalism; or protecting America from real or imagined weapons of mass destruction; or changing one rabid regime for another, he should get out of the Army alive albeit with memories that make mine of Vietnam the stuff of daydreams.

Over dinner, he was talking about going back to Fr. Hood this week (he’s on leave) to get with his buddies for an April 4 reunion marking Black Sunday, which was described by one general as “the biggest gunfight since the fall of Baghdad.” That’s when he got his Bronze Star. It was just a few days after they arrived in country and marked the start of the longest year of our lives.

That’s we all cheered when he said he was re-enlisting to avoid another trip back to a pointless hell and why we all gathered for dinner to send him off.

Although Brian isn’t leaving for a week, schedules were such that we had to move his celebration up a week, colliding with the planned celebration of Todd’s birthday.

That’s one reason beef was the main course. It’s Todd’s favorite. He comes by his beef bias naturally, having been raised on a ranch. In fact, the picture that has been in his wallet the longest and was only reluctantly moved behind my daughter Kim’s, is of a youthful Todd with a massive prize winning bull.

He’s now the head of IT for a Dallas bank and lives in the suburbs, and although he avers that he’ll never go back to ranching (too hard, he says) he still wants to raise a cow now and then. During his and Kim’s brief “ranch phase” –when they lived on eight acres in the country and had a horse—he did raise a rather tasty cow we called T-Bone. Shortly after T-Bone was snugly resting in butcher paper in our freezers, Riley, grandchild number one, was born and the moved back to civilization commenced. It’s tough to push a stroller along the side of a dusty dirt road.

Future cow raising (which I'm certain will be part of my grandchildren's upbringing) will have to be done on someone else's ranch.

But when his next cow graces our table, we'll be sure to serve it with French Onion Soup.

Here’s the recipe for the French Onion Soup.

Serves six to eight

5 cups onions, which is about 1½ pounds thinly sliced or about three fist-sized onions. This is where a mandolin comes in real handy.
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons flour
2 quarts of beef stock
½ cup dry white wine or vermouth
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons cognac
1 cup each parmesan and gruyere cheeses, grated and mixed together.

First: “Sweat” the onions slowly in the butter and oil in a covered four-quart, heavy bottomed pot for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Take your time. Don’t rush this step or the next.
Second: Remove the lid, add the salt and sugar and raise the heat to moderate. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring frequently until the onions turn a golden brown. Be sure to watch them closely so they don’t burn. Again, don’t rush this part. It’s what makes the soup so good.

Third: While the onions are cooking, heat the stock to boiling.

Fourth: Sprinkle the flour onto the onions and stir for three minutes.

Fifth: Off heat, combine the boiling stock with the onions. Add the wine and salt and pepper to taste.

Sixth: Simmer for about another 45 minutes skimming any scum that rises to the surface.

And finally: Just before serving, stir in the cognac. Pass the croutons and the grated cheese.