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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A Blogger Cookbook Fundraiser

I was honored to be asked and even more honored to be included in the new book, "And They Cook, Too" a fundraiser for Doctors Without Borders, that was compiled and edited in record time by Ginger Mayerson and Kathy Flake. I haven't seen a copy yet, but the table of contents looks inviting.

There are more than 75 recipes including four of mine (pancakes, vinaigrette dressing, roasted chicken and cream puffs) and some sexy excerpts from my good friend Ginnie Bivona's book, "The Seductive Chef."

But, as Ginger explains, the book is "not just a step-by-step collection of wonderful dishes that will grace any table, but the varied and beautiful voices of some of the best bloggers online. Some of these recipes tell a story, some explore the idea of food, some just tell you how to cook it, but all of these recipes have been blogger tested, tweaked, and perfected, sometimes for years."

Can't wait to get my copy.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

A Taste of The Oscars

Moms were out in force tonight.

I didn't count the number of times that Oscar winner thanked their Moms, but I did count the times they mentioned their Dads. Once. And it wasn't even a thank-you. Someone--I didn't note who--said hello to his 83-year-old Dad.

Dozens of Oscar winners thanked their Moms. Philip Seymour went on and on about his. I'm sure she deserved it. Wonder what happened to Dad?

His Dad, like most, are unsung heroes to their kids and most of the world. Agreed, some are shits. But wouldn't you think that out of all of those winners, a few had Dads worth mentioning? Moms always get the credit. Ever see an NFL player mouth "thank you Dad' into the Monday Night Football camera?

That's where my head was at during the Oscars. Unsung heroes. Dads just became the most obvious. I dwelled on the people who weren't getting awards. Here we had 40 million people watching hundreds bestow awards on dozens for doing make believe. I'm not criticizing those were nominated nor those who won. It was a ceremony to celebrate one--albiet a visibile one--of the professions that men and women undertake to put food on the table.

And that's what you and I do every day. We trade our time and our skills for money that we use to satisfy Maslov's hierarchy of needs and buy beer. But what we do is less than heroic. Admit it. One awardee--again, I didn't write his name down--nodded toward all those people who"take risks with no cameras rolling." But he was talking in global terms about things like human rights, starvation, global warming and free speech. Things you and I don't get to be heroes about. We're barely getting Maslov fed and the cameras aren't rolling while we do it.

No microphones get thrust in our face when we find the right words to make fractions come alive to our grade schooler, or when we nail it in a memo recommending a new marketing strategy to the boss, or when we get ready to harvest the first crop of tomatoes from our backyard garden.

Life is unsung for you and me. That's not bad. It just is. But why do I feel pangs of resentment for those people who garner fame and money for doing their job as well as I do mine. Jealously? Probably. Did I pick the wrong job? Maybe. Am I measuring success by the wrong metric? Surely.

I have a wife who loves me, kids ask for my opinion, and grandkids who light up when they see me. Probably a better metric than saving pagan babies.

Reese Witherspoon, in her acceptance speech for best actress, quoted June Carter's philosopy as being "just try to matter." I think we should go one step furhter. my philosophy is " make this a better place than you found it"...even if the cameras aren't rolling.

And since this is primarily a recipe blog, let me finish with a recipe of my Mom's. It's for her apple pie. I'd love to do one of my Dad's but he was old school and wouldn't set foot in the kitchen. But I still owe him thanks. And he loved Mom's apple pie.

Mom’s Apple Pie: The Recipe
Makes one, two crust pie

For the crust
2 cups flour
2/3 cup shortening
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons water
Ice cold.

For the filling
6-7 apples
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, 2”x12” 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.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Vegetarianism Could Save The World, If Only You Don't Weaken

The flavors are bold in this quickly prepared dish. We first made it using sun-dried tomatoes that were given to me as a gift by guy who worked for me. The tomatoes came soaked in olive oil and were the first I had ever tried. They were superb, and the recipe was pronounced a winner. The employee is another story. We ultimately parted company and he sued me for discrimination—he was gay, but who knew? Better yet, who cared? He lost the suit, but we still make the dish.

Just don't get sued. It really sucks and can be awfully expensive, even when you're right.

But more about the recipe. It's vegetarian (Petra take note) and one of the few in my repetoire. It's not like I'm a rabid red meat guy. I eat fish and chicken more oftern than beef. But I don't know if I could live my life on soy protein.

My daughter, Carey, tried. When she and her friends rented a big house on St. Charles Street in New Orleans in their junior year at Loyola, she (and the rest of the house) decided to become vegetarians, primarily for economic reasons. Meat, after all, can be expensive. When she announced this to us, rather than protest—which was always useless with Carey (and the rest of the kids come to think of it)—I loaned her my copy of “Diet for a Small Planet,” which has a lot of real good vegetarian recipes.

My wife just rolled her eyes. The book also has a hard-edged political slant that advocates a grain-based diet as the salvation of the world. My wife, in her wisdom, knew that the book would quickly turn what was an economic decision on the part of a half-dozen, socially awakening young women into a political one.

Surprise, surprise, it did. My daughter and her friends became righteous advocates for a way of life that repudiated animal protein as a waste of land, grain, water and energy, while celebrating a grain-based diet as the salvation for the millions of people who die of hunger every year.

I think some of her friends remain vegetarians to this day. Carey, truth be told, fell off the wagon one cold Alaskan night as she was driving home in the frosted, fog-shrouded darkness after a day of counseling AIDs victims in her Jesuit Volunteer Corps job in Fairbanks. (My kids are altruistic. They get it from their mother.)

“I saw the Kentucky Fried Chicken place open, lights blazing in the night,” she said (or roughly that), “and my car pulled into the parking lot. I got out, went in, and gorged on fried chicken and mashed potatoes. It was wonderful.”

Beef was not far behind.

It was probably the beginning of the death of a knee-jerk liberal.

When she returned to the lower 48, she tried to stay true to her altruistic roots taking a job in Fort Worth counseling the same kinds of folks who drove her to chicken in Fairbanks—this time with a focus on strippers who needed health care.

But the lure of chicken and beef (with all their conservative overtones) proved to be too strong. Law school followed and now she spends her days litigating for insurance companies and her nights eating steaks, roasts, hamburgers and beef tacos. Although she maligns Bush at every opportunity, she actually said something nice about McCain the other day. So dies a liberal.

One of her favorite vegetarian dishes in college and while she was living “in community” in Fairbanks was tuna roll-ups, a dish her mother served, but only when I was out of town.

The recipe is simple and the meal is ghastly.

Open a can of mushroom soup. Mix a few tablespoons of soup and a handful of shredded cheddar cheese with a can of tuna and spread the mixture on crescent roll dough pieces. Roll them up and place them in a casserole dish. Ad some milk to the mushroom soup and heat on the stove. Pour cream of mushroom soup over the roll-ups and bake for 30 minutes or so. It’s a poor man’s crepe, with abominable taste, but loved by children and desperately poor college students.

For a truly interesting vegetarian dish, try this.

Pasta with Sun Dried Tomatoes
Serves four

2 large cloves garlic , minced
¼ cup onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2/3 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
½ cup chicken broth
¼ cup Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
1/3 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
3 ounces of mild goat cheese
Ground parmesan cheese
½ pound of your favorite pasta

First: Sauté the onions in the olive oil over moderate heat until soft (about five minutes). Add the garlic and sauté for about a minute more. Add the tomatoes and chicken broth and simmer until the liquid is reduced by a third.
Second: Stir in the olives and parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste. Keep the mixture warm.
Third: Bring a pot of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta until it is al dente, which is Italian for “cook it long enough for it to be firm but stop before it gets too soft.” Drain the pasta, reserving about two cups of the cooking water.
Fourth: In the serving bowl, whisk together the goat cheese and about a half-cup of the reserved cooking water until the cheese is melted. The mixture should be smooth and somewhat water. Add the sun-dried tomato mixture to the cheese and water mixture. Toss the sauce with the pasta. If the sauce is too thick and the pasta clumps up, add more of the reserved water.
And finally: Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.