Archive | October, 2010

A Cursory Lesson In Anniversary Dining

25 Oct

Our anniversary dinner is over. Time to shelf it away in the special celebration closet and move on to life’s normal conventions.

Our dining experience was a tremendously successful one; however, we’ve learned a few important lessons that I would like to share with you.

Lesson #1:  Be mindful of restaurants with a 5:1 wait staff /table ratio.

Lesson #2:  Resist restaurants with valet services.

Lesson #3:  Begin mind-searching next year’s dining alternatives, which will address Lessons #2 & 3. Do this while you are contemplating ordering dessert.

Lesson #4:  Make peace with your bill.  Realistically, it’s not useful to fantasize about offering dishwashing services so late in the game.

Lesson #5:   And finally. Be grateful for all the anniversaries past and those to come.

On The Chopping Block

23 Oct

         Tomorrow (actually, today, but was last night when I wrote this and, apparently, was late from the ball) will mark the 17th year of our marriage, though we’ve been together (not in the co-habit way) for twenty. Of those years, I guess we’ve only spent a handful engaged in any marked, celebatory way which included getting dressed up (or down) and being served a lovely meal out. Various reasons prevented us from doing so, mainly because we either (a.) couldn’t find a sitter, or (b.) it was cost prohibitive–usually both.

Well, the kids can sit themselves now, and we’ve come by way of a few more bucks. At least, enough to have a meal out at a restaurant that doesn’t have an attached car port.

So, hubby and I decided to make reservations to the restaurant with the strangely malnourished-looking beef cow logo. They’re known for fine dining and attentive service–all well and good. But, it’s their aged beef that makes them especially popular among the fine dining crowd.

I perused their online menu today, just to get an idea of their offerings and to help make it easier for me to make a speedier decision once it was my turn to order. I’m one of those orderers who lament over the menu, finally making a half-hearted choice, only to find that I want everyone else’s plate, but mine. I figured, if I approached this pre-menu task much like a standardized test–that is, by way of eliminating those items I’m certain are incorrect, than the likelihood of choosing correctly would be to my favor.

Well, that plan failed miserably, when I saw the prices. Does a $45 steak really taste significantly better than a $20 one? What’s so special about a lettuce wedge doused with blue cheese dressing and bacon sprinkles that would justify a $7 pricetag? Pssst. It’s iceberg lettuce.

So, now I have to decide how best to order tomorrow’s anniversary dinner. How best to approach this will take a certain amount of decorum and the finesse of a Wall Street banker. And, I hate myself for it. Afterall, it’s our anniversary and I want to eat well and enjoy the experience.

I’m banking on the thought that the kids will understand when we don’t bring home the traditional after-dinner cheesecakes.  I figure, what we save in cheesecake dollars, will enable us to afford a new heater for the van. Seems like an even trade.

Surely, even Kaukab would find this a plausible solution–eventually.

Look Who’s Cookin’?

21 Oct

My, My...That Apron Sure Looks Familiar

 

Violin girl decided to break out the box of raspberry bar mix to placate her sweet tooth, along with her brothers.’  On closer inspection, violin girl also decided to break out my apple apron. She said it made her “a better baker.” 

Next Best Thing to Homemade

 

Here’s the thing. I’m not much of a baker, as I’ve mentioned previously. Oh, sure, I can make a nice dessert, if I want to take the time to do so, but I don’t really enjoy the baking process. All the measuring and such wears on me. I much rather toss things about, drizzling and stirring–being a part of the cooking process from start to finish.

So, when someone offers to bake a treat for the family, I say, “Go right ahead; you have my blessing!” I’m even willing to toss in an apron for your trouble.

Courtesy of Violin Girl

 

These are easy. No recipe required. Just the box.

Of course…Kaukab doesn’t bake with boxes.

You dondt no nuhteen!

18 Oct

A bit ago, I mentioned that my hubby and I had a wonderful fish dinner, Saturday night. And, that would be true. No bread pudding. That…would also be true. Same goes for the grits.

What we didn’t have were turnip greens.  These we had a week ago, during my birthday dinner. What we had were these:

Exhibit "K" for Kale

 

I think I actually put a smile on Kaukab’s face with this one.

Sadly, No Bread Puddin’

18 Oct

Hubby and I had the chance to take up a dinner out Saturday. (All three kiddies were at violin girl’s gig.)

We went to one of our favorite spots, Bluegrass Kitchen, hungry for their grilled fish dish. It comes out on a terrific-looking white plate, set atop the most flavorful wilted turnip greens and the smoothest of grits. Yep. Greens and grits. Two of the most under-rated (if prepared well) and under-served food items outside the deep South.

Although Kaukab is quite familiar with greens of all states, she generally used them in soups (remember the lentil soup?) or sauteed with garlic and olive oil, with a touch of salt. That’s all I knew about them. Grits, she implied, were a close cousin to what Kaukab referred to as Farina. Personally, they seem more sisters than cousins, but we’ll keep that between us, if you get my drift?

So, back to the dinner. Every time we go to Bluegrass, Hubby gets the fish. Not wanting to seem hum-drum in my food selections, I survey the menu–countless times–thoroughly engaged in the various offerings: meatballs atop smashed potatoes–too heavy so late in the evening; seared tuna with wasabi mashed potatoes–again, the mashed potatoes seem too heavy. Plus, the wasabi doesn’t seem appealing tonight, as it normally would have. Note: They do serve more than mashed potatoes; it’s just that on this particular night the chef seemed to have gotten a great deal on them. Or, maybe he thought it was Thanksgiving. No matter, hubby and I ended up with the fish. We’re close to celebrating our 17th anniversary (next week) and by now we’ve settled into a routine-of-sorts. I think the numerous fish selections are a reflection of that.

What’s fast becoming a routine with me, is looking for bread pudding. My dear foodie friend, Agnes (a character grander than her small-town life), and I had the most amazing bread pudding at the Bluegrass about a year ago. It was a key-lime pudding with warm caramel sauce, and it was so different from anything bread pudding-ish. I never thought I like bread pudding–until this one came along.

Ever since that meeting, we have become engaged in searching the world over (well, not the whole world) for a bread pudding to surpass, or even match, our expectations. I have since tried three. None even came close. Agnes doesn’t even want to talk about it. It’s become too disappointing a matter.

While at Bluegrass, last Saturday night, I noticed on the dessert menu two words which brought it all back. Bread Pudding. There it was, taunting me, like a perverse dessert could only do. It wasn’t the key-lime one. Not even caramel sauce. But, it was bread pudding, and I had decided that I would have some. It had been so long. At other times, we’ve seen it on the menu, but by the time we had finished our dinner and were ready to order, the blasted pudding was gone! This night, I believed, was meant to be mine.

Sadly, after eating the beer-laced cheese fondue and the requisite fish dinner, I had no room left for the puddin’.

Darn you, bread pudding!

Vegetable Soups Are Like Meatloaf–No Two Are Alike!

16 Oct

My Vegetable Soup

Kaukab never made vegetable soup. Wasn’t a staple in her Lebanese home. I think I became aware of the soup in the middle or high school cafeterias, as so much of the American cuisine. It’s where I first became enamored (if food could do that) with the lettuce wedge, draped with a foreign-looking mess of pickle-dotted, flesh-colored dressing.

My college-friend, Teri–a northern West Virginian (yes, the “northern” distinction matters, particularly to the “Northerners.”) grew up knowing all about vegetable soup. Her mother and sisters (6, total) would can tomatoes at summer’s end and use them to make an array of recipes, including soup. It was at her home that I first tasted vegetable soup that wasn’t poured from a can (sorry, Campbell’s), and it tasted so good.

Teri’s soup consisted of the all-important requisite vegetable, namely cabbage. And for many years, I stuck with this standard. Along the way, I learned that other vegetables were required, if you were going to call your soup, “Vegetable.”  Green beans, peas, potatoes–among them.

Then one day, after realizing that I had forgotten to buy cabbage, that I could still make the soup. It meant that I could try other vegetables, instead. I searched my freezer to see what, if any, vegetables I had that I could use to substitute. There, I found corn and spinach.

These worked well. In fact, from that point forward, I intentionally omitted the cabbage and used these two ingredients. In the last couple years, I’ve added freshly sliced zuchini to the mix.

So, for anyone who likes vegetable soup, don’t be afraid to make it your own. Here’s my recipe:

VEGETABLE SOUP

1/2lb. ground chuck

1 lg. onion, cut in half lengthwise, then each half  thinly sliced lengthwise

1 med. zuchini, or 2 small ones, first sliced lengthwise, then each long slice, cut crosswise, about 1/8″ thick (just not too thick or thin)

80z. frozen corn

6 -8oz. frozen spinach

2 veg. or chicken boullion cubes (I use Knorr brand only) Do not pre-dissolve cubes with water. If you can’t find, use Kitchen Basics liquid bouillon or some other comparable one. If using liquid, reduce water by 1/2.

1- 28oz.can crushed tomatoes (I’ve also used canned peeled whole tomatoes, plum preferred, just break them up) If you can’t get a large can, use 4 small cans.

Water (use empty tomato can, and fill twice) If using small cans, fill each empty can with water.

5 – 7 shakes of Worcestershire (or about 1/4C)

1 T. dried, crushed Italian herbs 

3-4 drops Tabasco

 Veg. Oil (I use Canola oil)

2 – 3 T. sugar, to taste

salt and pepper, to taste

First, using a large stock pot, heat pot on high, and pour just enough oil to cover the bottom. Into pot, put meat and onions. Lightly brown meat, stirring it and the onions. Once browned and onions are transluscent, add tomatoes and worstcheshire, and stir. Add water, and turn up heat to high.  To that, add frozen corn and spinach and stir to loosen. Once comes up to boil, add in boullion cubes. Stir, to help dissolve. Add salt, pepper, tabasco, sugar,and Italian herbs to adjust for taste. Give it one more stir, then turn down to Med-low and cover, lid slightly tilted. Cook for about 35-40min. then add zuchini. Stir, and re-cover. (At this point, if it looks like it might need additional water, then add some–another 1C should do it) Continue cooking another 25 -30min, or until zuchini is tender, but not mushy.

Next up…MEATLOAF!

Kaukab’s probably throwing up her hands, at this point. In my head, I hear her ask, “Aaah, What for you do dat!?”

 

Guacamole–Not on Kaukab’s Mezza Table!

15 Oct

Guaca--Whaaat!?

Kaukab’s mezza table exists for only one purpose–to feed anyone who comes for a visit–no matter how full the tummy. And on this table is served a whole host of Mediterranean dishes, all of which are carefully and generously prepared by experienced hands.

Avocados weren’t a part of the menu selections. It took me many years later to discover them…far away from Kaukab’s table.

The thing about Guacamole is that so many Americans think you have to use mayo to have a good, traditional dish. I used to be one of them. Then I had some in the Yucatan and discovered Guacamole without mayo. Everything about it changed for the better. The taste was cleaner, lighter. From that point on, I quit the mayo.

Over the years, I tried different ingredients–adding some, excluding others–until I came to making it this way:

4 Avocados (preferrably, Haas), cubed (Note: Please save one pit, to be used later to preserve the guacamole, so as not to turn brown while waiting on your guests.)

1/4 of a small red onion, finely diced (about a 1/4C. or slightly less) OR 1 green onion, finely sliced. If white part of onion is rather large, make a slit lengthwise, then slice across.

1 small jalepeno, finely diced

1/2 of small bunch cilantro, finely chopped

1 small lime

6 or 7 cherry tomatoes, quartered

extra virgin olive oil, just a little for drizzling

2 – 4 drops of tabasco

1/8tsp. cumin powder

sea salt, to taste

Gather your ingredients.

The Ingredients

Here’s how to cut an avocado and remove the pit–in case you needed to know:

Take your knife and make a cut, wedging the knife into the top of the avocado and gently, but firmly, moving the knife downward and around the other side, turning the avocado with your other hand, to meet back to where you started. With both hands, twist apart. Using your knife, attack the pit with force, and twist to remove. Something like thus:

Knife Attack

To cube the avocado, run a small knife lengthwise and then crosswise, making small cubes, which can then be spooned out into a bowl.

Cubed and Ready to Scoop Out

Into bowl, put cubed avocados, onions, jalepeno, and tomatoes, and cilantro. Add lime, first start with 1/2 and add more until has a bright limey flavor (I used 3/4 of the lime).  Finally, add the cumin, tabasco, and salt, to taste. Drizzle a little olive oil, just enough to moisten.

Ready for Mixing

Mix together, gently. You could sprinkle a little parmesean on it, too. I don’t think Kaukab would mind. We lost her at “Guacamole.”

Lentil Fever

11 Oct

Driver boy had one of those 24-hour bugs Saturday. Fever-chills-fever-chills. Good thing for him, Kaukab lived fours hours away. Otherwise, he and Kaukab’s daughter would have been pelted with verbal pleas and admonitions of “Make some lentil soup. It good for him!”  So, I did what any respectable daughter would have done. I stayed away from the phone and went out to lunch with a friend.

A Pita Pit shop had just opened up and we were excited to try it out. I had been to one about a year prior and remembered it fondly. Everyone working there seemed to know enough about Greek cuisine to competently prepare pita sandwiches for the foodie masses.

Well, this shop hadn’t quite lived up to the task. Sure, the shop is only a few weeks old and I realize there’s a learning curve to be drawn. But, when the girl at the counter answers my question, “Is that goat cheese?” (asked, only because I couldn’t see the container’s contents) with an uppity declaration of “No, it’s feta cheese,” it’s clear to me that the curve is going to be quite large. Note: My falafels were too crumbly and difficult to eat. Make of that what you will, counter girl.

Afterward, I took my friend to one of my favorite places to shop for spices and such. It’s a little shop owned by an Indian couple. Everything in there is fresh and cost-friendly. Where else can you get  7  ounces of vacuum-sealed crushed red pepper flakes for $2.49? (Take that, McCormick!)

As we were walking about, I came upon a couple of shelves holding several packaged-varieties of lentils. Green ones, red ones; little and big. All there–just staring me in the face. It’s as if Kaukab, not to be out-smarted by her daughter’s evasive phone-sitting, had planned the whole scenerio.

And, I nearly bought some. I went so far as to hold several of them, debating whether I’d really use them to make Kaukab’s soup. After all, driver boy was hurting and in need of something nourishing.

After some debate–all 60 seconds-worth–I decided to buy these, instead:

Lentil-Free Zone

 Much prettier than lentils, don’t you agree?

29 ‘n Holding

10 Oct

Two days ago I celebrated another birthday. (Thank you.)

For me, turning another year was met with mild inattention on my part. I figured, ‘What does it matter, really?’ I found myself think-speaking Kaukab’s rendition of, “What da beeg deel? You da onlee one wit a birtday!?”

Reluctantly, I bought into her premise. In our house, birthdays stopped being such a big deal after we kids reached kindergarten age, and for me, that meant sooner-rather-than-later–having a “late” birthday–when schools allowed kids to enter kindergarten before they turned five.

As the day developed, I found Kaukab’s words becoming softer and softer.  Her words were silenced with exclamations of birthday wishes, from old and young. Throughout the day, I was happily reminded of what a wonderful gift another birthday meant.

I’ve had friends who’ve been met with life’s ultimate challenges: death, cancer…you name it. Yet, through it all, not one of them ever complained about turning another year older.

But, for some odd reason, those of us who’ve clicked off decades from our birthday odometers seem to delight in the pronouncement to others of like clicks, “Hey, 29 ‘n holding!”  And, like a good soldier, I laugh along, acutely aware of my foolishness. When I think back to that age, I don’t see anything remotely similiar to my present-day life. No husband. No kids.  Lots of free time.

By the time the kids and I had returned home from the day’s outings, I had been bathed in birthday wishes in all forms possible. Even got some FB ones, which is a feat in itself, since I don’t have an account. (Thanks, driver boy, for posting on your wall!)

Hubby brought me some pretty red roses. Three. Always three–one for each of our babies.

But, the best birthday gift came in the form of a pink and black oversized shoe box, set upon our porch floor. Inside were these lovely treats:

Best. Birthday. Cake. Ever!!

All, courtesy of the Watters Sisters. These wonderful girls live over an hour away from us. They made these the night before and delivered them to my front door (blissfully unaware of our starving cats lurking about) because they knew how much I loved their rolls, and because, violin girl had asked them.

Why would I ever want to hold on to 29 ?

Fall Cookery

6 Oct

Pork Roast w/Vegetables

Cool weather makes me yearn for hearty fare. Soups loaded with summer’s final bounty. Early fall’s root vegetables. Kaukab always made a lentil with swiss chard soup to soothe our colds. She was raised in the rural Lebanon hills where they counted on the land’s natural properties to provide them with medicinal aid. I hated lentils as a child. Thought them rather ugly. I preferred chicken noodle soup from the can. I was a spoiled American-born child who didn’t appreciate Kaukab’s soup. And, she told me so.

You might be wondering why I’m talking about lentil soup when the picture above looks deceptively like pork roast. Simple answer: It’s pork roast. Complicated answer: I didn’t have lentils, nor swiss chard, to make Kaukab’s soup. (The thought of her disappointment is unnerving.)

What I did have were two minature pork roasts and some onions and carrots.

Onion Twins

I’ve always wanted to roast whole pork tenderloins, but thought it difficult. It really isn’t. As long as you start with a nice rub, of sorts, and make sure to pan sear them, everything else just falls into place. Plus, these were pan-roasted–on the stove. Here’s what I gathered up to make them.

2lbs. ea. (or just under) pork tenderloins (mine were on sale)

2 onions, thinly sliced (cut onion in half, lengthwise; then thinly slice each half, lengthwise)

carrots (could saute mushrooms–halved, and would’ve, if had)

dijon mustard

2T to 3T Apple Butter, or 1/4C  Apple Cider

2C water or veg. broth

dried thyme

sea salt

cracked black pepper

Canola oil

2 T flour (optional, to thicken)

I first smeared the loins with a dijon mustard. Then, salt and pepper. End with dried thyme. Rub so both sides are covered. On high heat, pour enough oil to coat pan. Sear loins until both sides are with a nice brown crust.

Nice and Crusty

Remove from pan, and plate. Tent with foil while cooking onions. Next, saute onions over med. high. You should have enough pork fat rendered to cook these. Add a bit more salt and pepper to these while cooking. Stir often, until translucent and beginning to turn brown around some of their edges. Like this:

Cooked onions

Add apple butter and stir into the onions. Turn up heat to high, and add the water/broth, careful not to steam yourself. (If you’re using apple cider instead, then turn up heat first, and add the cider, along with the water/broth.) Scrape the browned bits from the pan’s bottom. Bring back to boil and then add back the pork loins and their juices.

Apple Butter

Onions w/Apple Butter Liquid

Pork in Broth

Cover pork (slightly tilted to let broth reduce) and turn down heat to medium-low. After 30min., add in thickly-sliced carrots. Continue to cook another 30min to 40min.

Almost done. Still needs more time to reduce.

Turn Up Heat to Boil and Wisked in Flour/Water (to thick liquid consistency)

Turn down heat to medium, cover slightly and continue cooking down liquid until thickens.  Should take another 20min.

Ready To Eat!

I hope, one day, to honor Kaukab by making her lentil soup so that I can share it with you. Kaukab would expect it.

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