Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Italian Easter Wheat Pie

When Beez's Italian aunties, Mary and Pucci, were much younger, they served this labor-intensive pie at Easter time. I got this recipe, which is very like theirs, from Cooks.com. It makes 3 pies. 

Part 1 - Preparing the Wheat
3/4 lb. spring wheat
1/2 c. milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. sugar
10 c. water

Place wheat and 5 cups of water in large covered bowl and refrigerate for 48 hours. Drain water from wheat and place wheat in a 2 quart covered pot with 5 cups of fresh water. Cook over medium heat until boiling then reduce heat. Let simmer at a low boil for 3 hours or until tender, stirring frequently. Add water as needed and do not let wheat stick to bottom of pot. When wheat is tender drain water out and add milk, salt, and sugar. Cook over low heat for 7- 8 minutes. Remove from heat; set aside and cool.

Part 2 - Preparing the Pie Crust
3 c. sifted white flour
3/4 c. sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
4 egg yolks
1 1/3 sticks butter
6 tbsp. milk or more, if needed
1 tbsp. lemon rind

Place flour in large mixing bowl and add sugar, salt, butter, mix well with fork. Add egg yolks, milk, and lemon rind mixing well. Take mixture and place on floured board. Knead until dough is smooth and manageable. Adding more flour or milk as needed. Place dough back in bowl, cover and refrigerate.

When ready to use cut dough into 6 parts. 3 parts for bottom and 3 parts for lattice tops.

Roll dough out on floured board large enough to cover a 9 inch pie pan. For lattice top roll out 10 inch strips and cut 3/4 inch wide, 24 strips for 3 tops.

Part 3 - Preparing the Pie Filling
1 1/2 lb. ricotta, regular or part skim
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
6 egg yolks
4 egg whites
1 tbsp. lemon rind
2 tbsp. orange marmalade
Prepared Wheat mixture

Place in large bowl ricotta and sugar mixing well until creamy. Add egg yolks, orange marmalade, lemon rind, and cinnamon; mix well. Add to bowl your prepared wheat mixture and mix evenly. Place in separate bowl egg whites and sugar. Beat until stiff. Fold stiff egg whites into wheat mixture.

Fill your three pie crusts with wheat filling evenly. Cover with lattice pie crust. Criss-cross 4 pieces on bottom and 4 pieces on top. Trim off all excess pie crust.

Bake in oven at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes. Check by inserting knife in center. If knife comes out clean pie is done. Remove from oven and cool before serving.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Green Tomato Mincemeat for Pies

Grandma Elva in Egypt (not that camels have anything
to do with mincemeat!)

Most "mincemeat" pies don't contain meat, although some do. Many are a mixture of dried fruits and a little brandy or other liquor. The only kind of mincemeat pie I have ever made is this one, which comes from my Mom, Ben's Grandma Elva.

This recipe sure does make a lot, but I guess when you have a garden full of green tomatoes and a frost is coming you are happy for any recipe that uses them up. You could certainly make just a fraction of this recipe, if you wish. Or you can just go ahead, make the whole recipe, use up all your green tomatoes, and freeze this by the quart for future pies and/or gifts.

5 lbs. green tomatoes
8 lbs. tart green apples (like Gravenstein, or Granny Smith)
2 lbs. seedless raisins
3 lbs. brown sugar
6 tsp. salt
2 cups cider vinegar
3 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. each nutmeg and cloves
Juice of 2 lemons and one orange
2 tsp. grated orange and lemon rind.

Quarter the tomatoes. Quarter the washed and unpeeled apples, and remove the cores. Grind together, draining off some of the apple juice if you wish.

Put all contents into a large pot. Cook slowly for 45 minutes. Cool thoroughly and freeze in quart containers.

Optional: Add a small can of crushed pineapple, a small can of grapes, and a dash of brandy to each quart.

Thaw and warm the mincemeat before using for pies. You can make the pie with a full double crust or with a lattice-top crust. Bake at 400˚ for 40 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.

Note: I am sorry to say that Grandma Elva's recipe does not indicate how many quarts it will make, nor does it indicate how much mincemeat you would use for a pie. My guess would be that 2 quarts would be enough for one large pie and a smaller one (or some turnovers).

Corn Dog Dressing Bake

Thursday night, Jessi and I were brainstorming an easy and cheap meal based on ingredients we both had in our kitchens. She found this potentially horrifying (though intriguing) recipe, kind of a corndog/T-Day stuffing hybrid. We had to modify it because we only had TOFU dogs. Then, it turned out that there was no milk in my fridge. And not so much cheese. And was the batter REALLY Frankenstein Green? Were we imagining that? We sure weren't imagining the desperate flight of my new furry roommmate, fearlessly darting from under my fridge to under my stove, angrily squeaking mousy epithets and scaring the living Bejeebus out of both of us.

"What was I thinking? This was a bad idea," Jessi said apologetically.

"Please go in the other room. Just case I blow us up," I instructed her, crawling inside the stove with a lit match and trying to forget the image of my grandmother with no eyebrows. Boldly go, young Ben...

45 minutes later, we pulled the monstrosity out of the oven, and though my unlevel stove provided one thin burnt side and one thick barely-cooked side, it was not green and... well, it was dang delicious! In fact, I'm eating the leftovers right now! (here's the original recipe, from "The Homesteading Housewife" on recipezaar.com)

--1 cup Celery, chopped finely
--1 Large Onion, chopped finely
--2 tbsp Butter
--2 packages Hot Dogs, cut into 4ths lengthwise, then each strip cut into 4ths again
--2 (8 1/2 ounce) packages Cornbread Mix
--2 cups Shredded Cheddar Cheese
--2 Eggs
--1 1/2 cups Milk
--1/4 cup Sugar (I recommend substituting in some Honey)
--1 1/2 tsp rubbed Sage
--1/4 tsp Black Pepper

Preheat oven to 400°F. In a skillet, combine celery, onions and butter. Saute until cooked, then set aside in a medium bowl. In the same skillet, saute hot dog pieces until lightly browned. Mix with the the celery and onions and allow to cool. In another large bowl, combine eggs, milk, sugar, sage, and pepper. Add 1/2 of the hot dog/celery mixture and 1 1/2 cups of the shredded cheddar cheese. Mix in, then add the corn bread mix. Spread the mixture into a greased 13x9 baking dish. Top with the remaining half of the hot dog/celery mix and sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese over the top. Bake, uncovered for approximately 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Apple Pie

1 recipe of pie crust (2 crusts)

8 to 10 Gravenstein or Granny Smith apples--you want a nice tart cooking apple
1 cup of brown sugar
1 tbl. flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 tsp. lemon juice

Line a 9 inch pie plate with pie crust dough. 

Peel and thinly slice the apples. Toss them in a bowl with the sugar (depending on the tartness of your apples you may need more or less than a cup of sugar), flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and lemon juice. 

Place the apples in the pie plate. Dot with butter. Top with the rest of the pie crust dough. Brush the top crust with some milk and sprinkle it with cinnamon and sugar, if you wish.

Preheat the oven to 400˚. Place the pie in the center of the oven and put some aluminum foil on the shelf beneath the one with the pie on it (not on the same shelf). This will catch any drips. 

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until the crust is nicely golden. 

Shoo Fly Pie

In one of our many conversations about pie, Jessi has mentioned Shoo Fly Pie. She's got family in Pennsylvania, where this pie's traditional deliciousness hails from. Supposedly, bakers would set these pies to cool on windowsills and immediately have to shoo flies away from the sweet smell. Hence the name... Here's a recipe that I want to try, from fabulousfoods.com.

--1 unbaked 9" Pie Crust in a pie tin
--1 cup Flour
--1/2 cup Light Brown Sugar
--1 tsp Cinnamon
--1/2 tsp Nutmeg
--1/3 cup Butter
--1 cup Boiling Water
--1 cup Light Molasses (OR 1/2 cup Light Molasses plus 1/2 cup Dark Corn Syrup)
--1 tsp Baking Soda
--1 Egg, beaten
--Whipped Cream for topping

Preheat oven to 325°F. Set the tin with the unbaked pie crust on top of a baking sheet covered in aluminum foil. Set aside. Mix the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and butter together into a crumb-like mixture, then set aside. In another bowl, add the boiling water to the molasses (or molasses and corn syrup) and stir to mix. Mix in the baking soda and beaten egg. Pour the mixture into the pie crust, then spoon the crumb mixture over the top of the pie (some will sink). Bake for about 40 minutes or until pie is medium set and dark brown. Serve warm or chilled, topped with whipped cream.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Pie Crust

My dad and his girls; Bucksnort on the left and me on the right

I always liked to cook--probably because I always liked to read and that included the directions on the cake mix box. My mom started me out with pudding, jello, and cake mixes, and then turned me loose with her cookbooks.

One Saturday, along about the time this photo was taken, the family went off on some errand for the morning, leaving me at home alone. There was a crate of Gravenstein apples in the garage that my mom had bought at the local farmers' market and I decided to make apple pies.

I scouted through Mother's 1950 edition of the American Woman's Cook Book and figured out how to make pie crust. By the time the family arrived back home, the apples were gone and I had 10 pies, wrapped in foil, tucked away in the freezer. That crust was good, too, and I still make it exactly the same way I learned to that day.

That's a true story. I was a weird kid.

For a two-crust pie:

2 cups sifted flour
3/4 tsp. salt
2/3 cup shortening
4 to 6 tbl. cold water

Sift flour and salt together into a large bowl. Cut in shortening with two knives or a pastry blender until the shortening is about the size of peas. Add water, using only a small portion at a time, until mixture will hold together.

Divide dough into two parts. Roll out on floured board to desired size.

Line the pie pan with one piece of dough, being careful not to stretch it. After the filling is in place, moisten the edge of the bottom piece of dough with cold water. Cover with remaining piece of dough, which has been rolled out and slashed several times in the center to allow steam to escape while the pie is baking.

Press the edges together with the prongs of a fork and bake according to the recipe for the filling selected.

For a pastry shell that is baked before the filling is added:

Roll half of the dough 1/8 inch thick, fold in half and lift into pie pan (or roll around the rolling pin to place it in the pan). Do not stretch dough.

After the crust is fitted, trim edges evenly, leaving a 1 inch overhanging border, which you will then fold under and back to make an upright rim.

Flute the edges using the thumb and index finger of one hand and the index finger of the other hand.

Prick the crust thoroughly with a fork, line it with waxed paper, and partially fill with raw rice or dry beans. Remove paper and beans or rice after first 10 minutes of baking.

Bake in a 450˚ oven for about 15 minutes or until delicately browned.

Scotch Eggs

I discovered this gem of tastiness while on a winter tour selling posters to college students with my good buddy Christopher Yustin. We were in a frigid stopover in Madison, Wisconsin when we discovered The Brocach Irish Pub, a joint for regulars that smelled of old wood and pipe tobacco. Christopher swears that they served the best Guinness stout he'd ever tasted and I tried a scotch egg dipped in Coleman's Mustard (a re-discovery!) for the first time. With brains a-buzzin' and taste buds tingling, we had a crazy snowball fight on the steps of the majestic capitol building. Then a policeman took notice and we skittered off into the night. I went back to The Brocach in search of the eggs twice more that week, but they were sold out both times. I feel lucky to have eaten one. Here's my approximation of the recipe:

--6 Hard-Boiled Eggs, cooled.
--1 lb Bulk Sweet Pork Sausage
--2 tbsp Worstershire Sauce
--1 tbsp Fresh Parsley, chopped fine
--Seasoned Bread Crumbs
--1 Egg, Beaten
--1 tbsp Water
--1 tbsp. Coleman's Spicy Mustard
--Vegetable Oil for frying

Mix sausage with Worstershire sauce and parsley, then divide into six equal portions.
Press each portion into flat "sheets" and wrap a hard-boiled egg in it. Roll in bread crumbs. In a small bowl, mix the beaten egg with a tablespoon of water and the mustard. Dip each sausage-wrapped egg in the mustard egg wash, then coat in bread crumbs again. In a heavy kettle, heat about 2 1/2 inches of oil to about 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Deep fry the eggs for about 5 or 6 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on paper towels, then cut in half lengthwise and serve with Coleman's Mustard. It's probably awful for you, but you must eat this at least once in your life.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Basic Fried Rice

Ben has been reminding me to be sure to add this recipe. It comes from Chinese Cookery, by Rose Cheng and Michele Morris. 

This truly is a basic recipe. You can add any number of vegetables that have been stir-fried--carrots, sugar peas, etc.--and any kind of leftover meat, cut into small pieces. Shrimp would be good, too!

2 eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
5 tbl. peanut or olive oil
1 cup chopped green onions
4 cups cold cooked rice
2 tbl. chicken broth
3 tbl. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 tsp. sesame oil

Beat eggs and salt in a small bowl. Heat 2 tbl. oil in a wok over medium heat for one minute. Pour in the beaten eggs. Stir continuously until eggs are cooked dry and separated into small pieces. Remove cooked eggs from wok and set aside. 

Heat 3 tbl. oil in wok over medium high heat for one minute. Add green onions and rice and stir fry for 5 minutes. Add the chicken broth, remaining salt (taste first!) and soy sauce. Stir to mix well. 

Stir in cooked eggs, pepper, and sesame oil. 

Serve hot. Makes 4 to 6 servings. 

Caesar Salad with Roquefort Dressing and Crispy Walnuts

In 1995, when I trotted off to NYU, I was housed in a dorm that overlooked Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, NYC. I was too thrilled to complain about being stuffed in an over-sized closet with 3 other guys. The two small rooms were connected by a tiny bathroom where I patiently sat on a folding chair, hunched over the toilet seat, stirring ramen noodles on a portable electric burner. That was the closest I ever came to "cooking" for my first year on my own. Sophomore year, I struck gold in the housing lottery, scoring a large room with a kitchenette. I also discovered Dean and DeLuca, a "fancy grocery store" in Soho that sold sophisticated ingredients at over-sophisticated prices. The first recipe I made on my own was from The Dean & DeLuca Cookbook, written by David Rosengarten with Joel Dean and Giorgio DeLuca. I had NOTHING in my kitchen, so I spent a small fortune on ingredients and cooking utensils. I stole plates, salt and pepper from the dining hall.

--2 cups Walnut Halves
--3/4 cup Confectioners' Sugar
--Vegetable Oil for frying
--1/2 tsp Salt
--Pinch Cayenne Pepper
--4 Flat Anchovy Fillets, rinsed and drained (or soaked in Milk to draw out the saltiness), then minced
--4 cloves Garlic, peeled
--2 tsp Sherry Vinegar
--2 tsp Fresh Lemon Juice
--1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
--1/2 tsp Dry Mustard
--1/2 cup Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
--4 heads Romaine Lettuce, washed, dried, and torn into bite-sized pieces
--1/2 cup Roquefort Cheese, crumbled

Simmer the walnuts in boiling water for 5 minutes until slightly softened. Drain and dry completely, then mix with the sugar. In a heavy kettle, heat 3 inches of vegetable oil to about 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Deep fry the walnuts in batches for about 1 or 2 minutes until golden brown, and drain on paper towel. Season with salt and cayenne pepper. Set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, mash the anchovies with the garlic to form a paste. Whisk in the vinegar, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and dried mustard. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil in a stream, whisking until dressing is emulsified.

In a large bowl, toss the lettuce with the dressing to coat, then add the Roquefort cheese and crispy walnuts.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Jessi's Skinny Manicotti

Here's a low-fat version of manicotti courtesy of Jessi. I grabbed it from her on the go, so it comes without measurements and without herbs and spices. I'll leave those things up to your ingenuity.

--Manicotti Shells, cooked al dente
--Frozen Spinach, thawed and drained
--Low-fat Sour Cream
--Fat-Free Small-Curd Cottage Cheese
--Shredded Parmesan Cheese
--Salt and Black Pepper
--Tomato Sauce
--Low-Fat Mozzarella Cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. While the pasta shells boil, mix the drained spinach, cottage cheese, sour cream, and shredded Parmesan cheese in a bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste, plus any spices or herbs that you prefer (oregano, basil, parsley, etc). When the manicotti shells have been drained and are sufficiently cool, spoon the spinach and cheese mixture into them. Place the stuffed shells in a baking dish, pour tomato sauce over and around them, then top with mozzarella cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 10 more minutes.


I first saw this made on one of Jeff Smith's Frugal Gourmet TV shows. I later bought his book, The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines so I could have my own copy of this recipe and all the others he was demonstrating in this series.

Note: Since I put this recipe on the blog, it's become our favorite bread. We just cut it up and freeze it and warm up a square at a time.

Makes 2


In a large bowl, mix water, yeast, and sugar. Stir in the oils and 1tsp. of salt. Add 2 - 3/4 cup of flour, mixing well until spongy. Add enough remaining flour to make stiff dough.

Turn onto floured surface and knead until elastic. Cover with bowl and let rise til doubled.

Divide dough in half, spread on greased cookie sheets using your fingers.

Mix crushed garlic with olive oil; brush over bread. Sprinkle w/ dried or fresh rosemary and kosher salt. Cover and let rise.

Bake at 375 for 1/2 hour. Cut into squares and serve.

NOTE: You can also slice squares in half horizontally for sandwiches.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Arancini (Rice Balls)

This recipe comes from Jeff Smith's The Frugal Gourmet Cooks with Wine.

2 cups short-grain rice
1 quart homemade chicken stock
1/2 cup (1/4 pound) butter, melted
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup grated cheese (Parmesan or Romano)
2 eggs, well beaten
1/4 pound lean ground beef
1/4 pound lean ground pork
1/2 cup each (diced, about 1/4 inch): Genoa salami,mortadella,provolone cheese,mozzarella cheese
2 additional beaten eggs for dipping
2 cups Italian seasoned bread crumbs for coating
Peanut oil for deep-frying

Wash and drain the rice and place in a 2-quart saucepan which can be covered. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil, uncovered. Once boiling, reduce heat to low and cover, simmering for 20 minutes, and then remove from heat and leaving covered for another 20 minutes.

In a mixing bowl, stir into the rice the melted butter, parsley, parmesan or romano and the beaten eggs. Gently but thoroughly blend and leave to cool.

In a skillet, saute together the ground pork and beef. Drain off any fat and cool. Add to this the diced coldcuts and cheeses, mixing all together well by hand.

With moist, but not wet hands, form a ball of the rice mixture roughly the size of a golf ball (about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 inches in diameter) in the palm of one hand, and, using the other thumb, make a depression as deep as the first joint of your thumb. Into this depression, place some of the meat/cheese mixture. Pull the rice surrounding the hole over the filling to cover and seal the filling.

When all of the balls have been formed in this fashion (you may or may not have a bit of filling left over), dip each ball quickly in beaten egg and then roll in breadcrumbs to coat.

Heat the peanut oil to 350° in a skillet or wok. You want the oil to be about as deep as the radius of your finished rice balls. Fry the rice balls a few at a time, gently turning with a spoon until light brown all over.
Drain the cooked rice balls on brown paper and keep warm until serving.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Baked Polenta

This recipe comes from Jeff Smith's The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American.

1 quart water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup polenta
1 cup grated parmesan cheese or romano cheese
1/4 cup butter, melted or olive oil

Bring the water to a boil. Add the salt and slowly stir in the polenta. Turn heat to medium and stir constantly to avoid lumps. After the mixtures begins to thicken you can stir less frequently. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until very thick.

Pour into a greased loaf mold or bread pan, and allow to cool in the refrigerator overnight.

Cut into 1/4-inch slices and layer like tiles in a baking dish. Pour the butter or oil over the top and then the cheese.

Bake in 375º oven for 20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and all begins to brown just a bit.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Old-Fashioned Rice Pudding

Mom says that she was never satisfied with any of the rice pudding recipes that she made when I was growing up. I remember her complaining that this particular recipe never turned out right, but I just figured that was because we treated it as a convenient "round 2" for left-over rice, tossed it in a dish and zapped it in the microwave. But I certainly don't remember her using brandy... Whether she liked it or not, I still enjoyed her rice pudding. This recipe comes from The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American, by Jeff Smith, but it supposedly originates from Thomas Jefferson.

--1 1/2 cups Milk
--Pinch of Salt
--5 tbsp Sugar
--1 tbsp Butter, melted
--1 tsp Vanilla
--5 Eggs, beaten
--1/4 cup Brandy
--2 cups Cooked Long-Grain Rice
--1 tbsp Fresh Lemon Juice

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix milk, salt, sugar, vanilla, butter, eggs, and brandy. Add the rice and lemon juice, mix and pour into a greased 8x10 baking dish. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake for 50 minutes, or until lightly brown and the custard has set. Test with a table knife, sticking it in the center of the dish. If the knife comes out clean, the dish is baked. Top with a little milk or maple syrup.

Egg-Masa Tortillas

The original version of this recipe came from my old Sunset Mexican Cook Book. Mine is from 1974, much older than the edition that this link will take you to.

These are crepe-like, delicate, and very delicious--perfect for making enchiladas. For years I had no idea what Masa Harina was, or where I would find it even if I knew, so I just blithely substituted regular flour and a bit of cornmeal and we loved the results. Now that Masa Harina is as available as white flour, I'll have to try the real stuff in this recipe some time, as I always have it on hand in these enlightened times.

2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1 tbl. melted shortening
1/2 cup Masa Harina (dehydrated masa flour)
2 tbl. regular all purpose white flour
1/4 tsp. salt

Beat together the eggs, milk, shortening, masa, white flour, and salt to make a smooth batter.

Dip a spoonful of batter onto a greased hot griddle, swirling the batter to round out the cake to a 5 or 6 inch diameter. Bake lightly on each side.

Makes 10 tortillas.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Flour Tortillas

The original version of this recipe came from my old Sunset Mexican Cook Book. Mine is from 1974, much older than the edition that this link will take you to.

2 cups unsifted flour
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup lard (or shortening, which I've always used. Lard probably tastes better. Either way, you are lost on the way down that bad cholesterol/trans-fatty road*)
1/2 cup lukewarm water

Mix flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut in lard or shortening with a pastry blender. Add water gradually, tossing mixture with a fork to make a stiff dough. Form into a ball and knead thoroughly on a floured board until the dough is flecked with air bubbles.

At this point, you can grease the surface of the dough and cover tightly. Refrigerate for up to 24 hours, returning it to room temperature before proceeding. Frankly, I never even noticed this part of the directions until now, and always proceeded directly after kneading to the next step.

Divide dough into 8 pieces, roll each into a ball, then roll each ball out as thinly as you can. You are shooting for a tortilla about 8 inches in diameter.

Bake on a hot ungreased griddle until freckled on one side--this should take about 20 seconds. Flip the tortilla and bake on the second side.

Serve immediately while still warm.

*or are you? See this new info on lard vs. shortening

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Corn Tortillas

From left: My dad's Aunt Nellie, me, my mom, little Bucksnort, and Jimmy and Jerry's Grandpa

One of my favorite childhood vacation memories comes from a quick trip over the border with my family from Nogales, Arizona into Nogales, Mexico, back when I was 8 or 9.* We walked around the town, and were attracted by the sound of laughter and hand-clapping coming from down an alley. We followed our ears and peeked through an open door into a tortilla factory, where some laughing women were chattering in Spanish and patting out tortillas by hand. I never forgot the sound and the wonderful smells.

When I grew up, I wanted to recreate some of that experience for my family as far as I could. I got my recipe for tortillas from Sunset's Mexican Cook Book. The link is to a much newer edition than mine. My copy was published in 1974 and is falling apart through years of use. There may be more authentic ways to make tortillas, but at the time this was the best information available to me.

You will need a tortilla press to make these, although you are welcome to try the hand-clapping method, just as I did at first. We got our press from Amazon.com because we were living in New Hampshire at the time. Now that we live in New Mexico, I suppose we could get one in just about any hardware store.

2 cups Masa Harina (dehydrated masa flour)
1 1/2 cups warm water

Mix masa flour with warm water until dough holds together well. Using your hands, shape the dough into a smooth ball. Divide the dough into 12 equal-sized pieces, then roll each into a ball.

Press each small ball between waxed paper pieces in the tortilla press.

Peel off the top piece of waxed paper carefully. Invert the tortilla, paper side up, onto a preheated, ungreased medium-hot griddle. As the tortilla becomes warm, you will be able to peel of the remaining paper.

Bake, turning frequently, until the tortilla looks dry and is lightly flecked with brown specks--about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.

Serve tortillas while still warm.

*This was the same vacation as when we visited Jimmy and Jerry's Grandpa's ranch.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Sunday Grits

This recipe comes from The Green Chile Bible; Award-Winning New Mexico Recipes. It's part of a pig-out weekend New Mexican breakfast.

4 cups boiling water
1 cup grits
1 tsp. salt

1/4 lb. butter, cut into chunks
1 - 4 oz. roll of garlic cheese, cut into chunks (we never have this on hand, so we use Monterey jack cheese instead, and add a shake of garlic powder)

1/2 cup of roasted, peeled, and seeded green chiles, diced
4 eggs, beaten

Add the grits and salt to the boiling water. Cover and cook for 3 to 5 minutes until the mixture becomes thick, stirring occasionally.

Remove pan from heat and stir in the butter and cheese. Return to low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the cheese and butter are melted. Stir in the green chiles; fold in the eggs.

Pour the mixture into a buttered casserole dish. Bake at 400˚ for 20 - 30 minutes, until solid. Serves 8 to 10.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Fried Fish New Orleans

This recipe comes from Jeff Smith's The Frugal Gourmet Cooks With Wine. It is one of those dishes that you can cheerfully chow down on when you are young. You know your digestive system is aging when, as happened with me the last time I ate this, you are up all night with a really impressive case of heartburn. Ben may already be at the borderline age for this, but he keeps remembering it fondly...

2 lb red snapper or whitefish; cut 1 1/2" square pieces 
Tabasco sauce to taste
2 eggs; beaten
3/4 c water
3/4 c flour
1/4 c cornstarch
1/4 tsp. baking powder
Salt to taste
Freshly-ground black pepper
Peanut oil for deep-frying

Place the fish and Tabasco sauce in a stainless-steel bowl. Let marinate for 20 minutes. 

Mix the batter by whipping the eggs, adding the water. Blend the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, salt and pepper together in a dry bowl, using a fork. Gently stir this into the egg/water mixture. Do not try to get out all the small lumps. It will not matter. Do not overmix. 

Heat 4 cups of peanut oil to 375 to 400 degrees. Dip the marinated fish squares into the batter, then deep-fry until light brown, about 4 minutes. This recipe serves 4.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Chicken Dinner Crepes

I'm not entirely sure if the memory of this dish is real or not, but I swear that mom made this once or twice. Or maybe not. But here's a recipe, from The Frugal Gourmet, by Jeff Smith.

--1/2 lb Mushrooms, washed and sliced
--1 cup Green Beans, cut into inch-long pieces
--1/2 Green Pepper, chopped
--1/2 Tomato, Chopped
--2 cups Cooked Chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
--1 cup Bechamel Sauce
--Salt and Black Pepper
--8 Crepes
--Fresh Grated Swiss Cheese

Saute the mushrooms in butter and set aside. Saute the green beans until just hot, then add the green pepper and tomato. Saute until all is tender, then add the cooked chicken and the mushrooms. Blend in the Bechamel sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Fill the crepes with the mixture, roll up, and place in a greased baking dish or casserole. Top with Swiss Cheese. Bake at 375 Degrees Fahrenheit until the cheese is melted and the filling is hot.

Wild Rice with Dried Cranberries and Pecans

The title of the recipe pretty much says it all, but I will give you the proportions anyway.

We came across this recipe as a handout from The Healthy Buffalo in Chichester, New Hampshire, where we used to go for low-cholesterol meat. I can't find the recipe itself right now, but this is how we made it.

1 cup wild rice or wild rice/brown rice mixture
2 cups of water, chicken stock, or chicken bouillon
A pinch of salt if you are using plain water
1/2 tsp. butter or olive oil

1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup toasted pecans, chopped

Bring the rice and lightly salted water or chicken stock to a boil. Add the butter or olive oil and stir well. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and continue to cook over very low heat for 45 to 50 minutes or until the rice is cooked. Stir in the cranberries and pecans.

Optional: Add some finely chopped sweet or green onions to cook along with the rice and water.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tortilla Skillet

You can see that this is one of those flexible recipes that comes in handy when your tortillas are about to go stale. You can add any number of things to this skillet: Chopped green chiles, chopped fresh tomatoes, black beans in addition to or instead of the beef, etc. 

1/2 lb. ground beef
1 small onion, chopped up
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 15-oz can of tomato sauce
1 cup salsa
1 cup frozen corn
1/2 cup water

Chile powder, oregano, cumin, salt, pepper

4 or 5 flour or corn tortillas
1/2 cup grated cheese

Saute the onions and garlic together for a bit; add the ground beef and cook until all the pink is gone. Add the tomato sauce, salsa, corn, and water. Season with the chile powder, etc. to taste. 

Bring to a boil, simmer for a few minutes while you chop up the tortillas. Stir in the tortillas and the grated cheese. Cook for another 10 minutes or so, until it is of a consistency that pleases you. 

I like this with a dollop of plain yogurt on top. Non-heart healthy alternative: Sour cream. 

Sauce Hollandaise

Hollandaise is an emulsion sauce, another family of French "mother sauces." I had to look at quite a few Hollandaise Sauce recipes to find the right one. It's an easy sauce to mess up, so I wanted to find good clear directions. This is from taste.com.

--3 Egg Yolks, at room temperature
--2 tbsp Water
--1 and 1/2 sticks Unsalted Butter, at room temperature, cut into 1 tbsp slices
--2 tbsp fresh Lemon Juice
--White Pepper (or Cayenne Pepper)

Place a heatproof bowl over a medium saucepan that is quarter-filled with water. The bowl should fit snugly into the pan without touching the water. Remove the bowl and bring the water to the boil over high heat. Uncover and reduce heat to very low so the water is barely simmering. It is important that the water is barely simmering while making the sauce - if it is too hot, the egg yolks will cook too much and the sauce will curdle. Place the egg yolks and the 2 tablespoons water in the heatproof bowl and place over the pan. Use a wire balloon whisk to whisk the mixture constantly for 3 minutes or until it is thick and pale, has doubled in volume and a ribbon trail forms when the whisk is lifted. Add the butter a cube at a time, whisking constantly and adding another cube when the previous one is incorporated completely. It should take about 10 minutes to add it all. If butter is added too quickly, it won't mix easily with the egg yolks or the sauce may lose volume. At the same time, it is important that the butter is at room temperature and added a cube at a time, so that it doesn't take too long to be incorporated - if the sauce cooks for too long, it can curdle. The sauce will begin to thin when you start adding the butter. However, once the emulsion is established (after about the third cube), it will begin to thicken again. It will continue to thicken as the remaining butter is added. Remove the bowl from the pan and place on a heatproof surface. The cooked sauce should have the consistency of very lightly whisked thickened cream. Whisk in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Sweet and Sour Chicken

After years of making Sweet and Sour Pork, it finally occurred to me that I could probably make a healthier version using chicken. I tried just substituting chicken for pork in my recipe, and cooking the chicken just until browned, then adding the rest of the ingredients and simmering until the chicken was done and the sauce thickened. However, I found the results a little bland, probably because I didn't want to use any salt. So I took a look around on my magic interweb machine here.

Many recipes I looked at directed you to deep fry the chicken pieces, but we know that won't do. This recipe should do nicely. I found it at--where else--Sweet Sour Chicken.Com, where you can see some other versions, as well. Of course, I would take their advice and reduce the sugar (and probably the oil, as well).

Quick and Easy Sweet and Sour Chicken

1lb (450g) of white chicken meat (eg. chicken breast), cut into cubes or strips.
2 onions, sliced into squares
2 green peppers, sliced into squares
1 can of pineapple chunks (or pineapple rings cut into squares)

4 tablespoons of cornstarch
6 tablespoons of sugar
8 tablespoons of vinegar
8 tablespoons of tomato puree (or 12 tablespoons of ketchup)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 cup of water

4 tablespoons of light vegetable oil (such as canola oil)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cooking Directions

1. Heat the pan over medium-high heat. Add salt to the oil once the oil has heated up.
2. Fry the chicken cubes until they are white (but don't over do it; they shouldn't be cooked through)
3. Add the onions and green peppers, and stir-fry for about 3 minutes (or until the green peppers are almost tender).
4. Add the pineapple chunks and cook for about 1 minute (or until the pineapples look cooked)
5. Quickly mix the water, sugar, vinegar, tomate puree and soy sauce together. Then add in the cornstarch and mix thoroughly until you have a paste/slurry.
6. Add this paste/slurry mixture into the pan and stir fry until the sauce thickens.
7. Remove from heat and serve.

If you prefer a less sweet version, simply add less sugar. Likewise, use less vinegar if you prefer a less sour version. Remember that tomato ketchup is quite sweet, so if you use more ketchup, your dish will become sweeter.

Sauce Mornay

This is a variation on Bechamel Sauce, turning the white sauce into a cheese sauce. It's based off of the Bechamel Sauce recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child and Simone Beck.

--A NOTE ON EQUIPMENT: The recipe actually calls for a heavy-bottomed, 6-cup enameled, stainless steel, lined copper, porcelain, or pyrex saucepan and the use of a wire whisk for mixing. If you use anything with a non-stick coating, use a nylon whisk instead. A thin-bottomed pan is a poor heat conductor and may cause the sauce to scorch. Aluminum can discolor a white sauce.

--2 tbsp Butter
--2 tbsp Flour
--2 cups Whole Milk, brought to a boil with 1/4 tsp Salt
--White Pepper
--Pinch of Nutmeg
--1/2 cup of Grated Cheese (any cheese can work, but the classic is Swiss Gruyere or a Swiss Gruyere/Parmesan Blend)

In saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Blend in the flour, and cook slowly, stirring, until the butter and flour froth together for 2 minutes without coloring. This is now a white roux. Remove the roux from the heat. As soon as the roux has stopped bubbling, pour in all of the nearly-boiling milk at once. Immediately beat vigorously with a whisk to blend liquid and roux, gathering in all bits of roux from the inside edges of the pan. Set saucepan over moderately high heat and whisk until the sauce comes to the boil. Boil for 1 minute, stirring. Remove from heat, and beat in salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Let sauce cool for several minutes, then stir in cheese. If the sauce gets stringy or clumpy, whisk in several drops of lemon juice or dry white wine while heating sauce over medium heat.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Aimée's Lazy Man's Chili

Like everything else that Aimée has made for us, this dish is absolutely delicious. She serves it with corn chips or cornbread.

2 lbs. ground beef
1 pkg. ranch dip mix (1 oz.)
1 pkg. taco seasoning mix (1.25 oz.)
1 - 10 oz. can tomatoes and green chiles, drained
2 - 14.5 oz. cans tomatoes with onions
2 - 12 oz. cans chili beans
1 - 11 oz. can corn, drained
1 tbl. Tabasco sauce

Brown the beef in a large pan and add the remaining ingredients. Cook on medium heat for 35 minutes.

Serve topped with grated cheese and/or sour cream.

Sauce Veloute

Veloute Sauce is another of the French "mother sauces", using stock instead of milk. This is from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child and Simone Beck.

--A NOTE ON EQUIPMENT: The recipe actually calls for a heavy-bottomed, 6-cup enameled, stainless steel, lined copper, porcelain, or pyrex saucepan and the use of a wire whisk for mixing. If you use anything with a non-stick coating, use a nylon whisk instead. A thin-bottomed pan is a poor heat conductor and may cause the sauce to scorch. Aluminum can discolor a white sauce.

--2 tbsp Butter
--2 tbsp Flour
--2 cups Veal, Chicken or Fish Stock (not made from bones that were roasted), brought to a boil
--White Pepper

In saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Blend in the flour, and cook slowly, stirring, until the butter and flour froth together for 2 minutes without coloring. This is now a white roux. Remove the roux from the heat. As soon as the roux has stopped bubbling, pour in all of the hot (nearly-boiling) stock at once. Immediately beat vigorously with a whisk to blend liquid and roux, gathering in all bits of roux from the inside edges of the pan. Set saucepan over moderately high heat and whisk until the sauce comes to the boil. Boil for 1 minute, stirring. Remove from heat, and beat in salt and pepper to taste. Sauce is now ready for final flavorings or additions as you wish.

If not used immediately, clean sauce off inside edges of pan with a
rubber scraper. To prevent a skin from forming on its surface, float a thin
film of stock or melted butter on top. Set aside uncovered, keep it
hot over simmering water, refrigerate, or freeze it.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Chili con Carne

This is really just a big old vegetable stew with a little meat for flavoring--especially if you add all the optional vegetables. 

1/2  lb. ground beef
1 onion, chopped 
2 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 cup celery, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped

1 15 can tomato sauce
1 tbl. chile powder
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. oregano
salt and pepper to taste

3/4 cup water
1/2 cup red wine

2 cups kidney beans, cooked and drained. I suppose you could use canned beans, rinsed and drained) but the kind you cook from scratch are better for you.

Brown the onion with the garlic, add the meat and cook until all the red is gone. Add the celery, green pepper, and tomato. Stir well. Add the tomato sauce and seasonings. 

Add the water, red wine, and kidney beans and bring the mixture to a boil. Turn down heat and cover pan. Simmer for 2 hours, stirring every once in a while and adding water, if necessary. OR in Instant Pot, 20 minutes on chili/beans setting.

Optional additions: Chopped green chiles that have been roasted, peeled, and seeded; chopped carrots; additional chunked up fresh tomatoes.

Sauce Bechamel

I have a possibly fictional memory of eating baked crepes with chicken in them, but mom has no recollection. My research into a recipe took a sharp turn at the use of Bechamel Sauce. Soon, I was deep in the rabbit-hole of French sauces. I have yet to try making any of them, but will try posting the purest versions that I can find, then give my best efforts in the kitchen after-the-fact. In my search, I've seen versions of Bechamel Sauce including stock, veal, onions studded with cloves, bay leaves, cayenne pepper, and nutmeg, plus varying opinions on using hot milk versus using cold milk. But, since Bechamel is one of the basic French "mother sauces," I assume these variations are really just off-shoots of Bechamel. They probably even have their own names. I'm posting a version that I know I can trust, from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child and Simone Beck.

--A NOTE ON EQUIPMENT: The recipe actually calls for a heavy-bottomed, 6-cup enameled, stainless steel, lined copper, porcelain, or pyrex saucepan and the use of a wire whisk for mixing. If you use anything with a non-stick coating, use a nylon whisk instead. A thin-bottomed pan is a poor heat conductor and may cause the sauce to scorch. Aluminum can discolor a white sauce.

--2 tbsp Butter
--2 tbsp Flour
--2 cups Whole Milk, brought to a boil with 1/4 tsp Salt
--White Pepper

In saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Blend in the flour, and cook slowly, stirring, until the butter and flour froth together for 2 minutes without coloring. This is now a white roux. Remove the roux from the heat. As soon as the roux has stopped bubbling, pour in all of the nearly-boiling milk at once. Immediately beat vigorously with a whisk to blend liquid and roux, gathering in all bits of roux from the inside edges of the pan. Set saucepan over moderately high heat and whisk until the sauce comes to the boil. Boil for 1 minute, stirring. Remove from heat, and beat in salt and pepper to taste. Sauce is now ready for final flavorings or additions as you wish.

If not used immediately, clean sauce off inside edges of pan with a
rubber scraper. To prevent a skin from forming on its surface, float a thin
film of milk or melted butter on top. Set aside uncovered, keep it
hot over simmering water, refrigerate, or freeze it.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Stuffed Fish

Dry toasted bread, cut up
Finely chopped onion
Finely chopped celery
Chopped fresh parsley
Thyme (dried or fresh)
A dab of butter
Fish bouillon
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix the bread, onion, celery, parsley, and thyme. Lightly moisten the bread mixture with fish bouillon in which you have melted a bit of butter. 

Use as stuffing for a whole fish, or place between fish steaks or fillets. Bake at 350˚ until the fish flakes easily with a fork. 

Chicken Piccata

Another recipe from The Frugal Gourmet, by Jeff Smith. It's a wonderful Italian standard. Note: This recipe gives portions to serve 8 (or 4, if you eat like I do).

--1 Small Yellow Onion, peeled and chopped
--2 Garlic cloves, crushed
--4 Green Onions, chopped
--2 tbsp Olive Oil
--8 Chicken Breasts, boneless and skinless, pounded flat
--1/2 cup Flour
--Salt and Black Pepper to taste
--2 tbsp Butter
--2 tbsp Dry Sherry
--2 tbsp Fresh Lemon Juice
--1 tbsp Capers, chopped

Saute the yellow onion, garlic, and green onions in the olive oil until tender. Remove from pan and set aside. Mix the flour, salt and pepper, then lightly dredge the chicken with it. Brown the chicken in butter, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Add the sauteed onions and garlic. Over high heat, add the sherry, lemon juice and capers. When this has thickened into a nice gravy, remove from heat (if it becomes too thick, add a little chicken stock or water). Garnish with thin lemon slices and fresh parsley.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Oma's Fruit Salad

1 8 oz. pkg. Philadelphia cream cheese
2 tbl. mayonnaise

2 cups miniature marshallows, cut in half
1 small jar of Maraschino cherries, cut up
1 15 oz. can of crushed pineapple, drained

1/2 pt. whipping cream, whipped

Cream the cream cheese and mayonnaise together. Stir in marshmallows, cherries, and pineapple. Fold in whipped cream. 

Refrigerate overnight before serving. 

Potato Leek Soup

This was another easy soup that Marsha and I used to make. We ate it a lot because it costs about $.47 to make. And it's delicious!

--3 Russet Potatoes
--1 Leek stalk
--Kosher Salt or Sea Salt
--Fresh-Ground Black Pepper
--3 to 5 tbsp Butter

Wash potatoes and cube. Leave on the skins. Cut the leeks into 1/2 inch pieces, then rinse well in a bath of cold water (leeks like to collect mud, so it's a futile effort to clean them until after they have been cut). Put the potatoes and leeks into a stockpot and add water to a level of about half an inch above the veggies. Cover and simmer over medium heat for about 45 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Season with a lot of salt and pepper to taste, then stir in the butter.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Heart-Healthy Grocery List

Our family doctor has asked us to lower our cholesterol through diet. Since both Beez and I have high blood pressure, both could stand to lose some weight, and one of us has a diabetes issue, I started looking at information about the best foods for us to eat. Planning out the best meals to answer all of our needs can be complicated--foods to include daily or weekly, foods to avoid, etc. etc.

I decided that I should just dive in and start somewhere, so I started with diets believed to be "heart-healthy." For my past three posts, I've given us all an outline of heart-healthy foods from three sources: HowStuffWorks, WebMD, and the Mayo Clinic.

I've done this mainly to de-mystify the whole thing for myself, but thought that I would share what I found through this blog. Now, combining the foods from these three sources, plus a few suggestions from our doctor, I've made a list of recommended foods. The list, printed up and taken with us to the grocery store, will serve as a reminder of the foods we need to include in our weekly diet, and we can add other grocery "needs" at the bottom of the list.

I must share this with you: Since we started our attempt to eat a more healthy diet, the blood sugar levels have dropped from "borderline acceptable" to "good"--and, very exciting for me--we have both started dropping a few pounds.

alcohol (red wine)





cholesterol-lowering margarine (like Smart Balance, Benecol, or Promise Activ)

dairy (fat free milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese)

eggs (maximum of 4 eggs per person a week)

fruit (fresh and dried)

lean meat


nuts (especially walnuts and almonds)


olive oil



seafood (salmon, pollock, tuna, herring, mackerel and swordfish) - 2 servings per week

soy protein


sweet potatoes

whole grains (whole wheat flour, ground flaxseed, brown rice)

Whole Chicken in a Bag

I can't recall whether mom actually made this once, or whether I watched it in an episode on TV, or whether I read it in the cookbook as a child, but when I saw this recipe again in The Frugal Gourmet, by Jeff Smith, a vague memory sparked to life. In the memory, my younger self was thinking, "Chicken... cooked in a paper bag... what a wonderful idea!" And this vague memory sparked to life because of the deja vous I experienced when my older self had the exact same thought. And, really folks, what doesn't sound better than chicken cooked in a paper bag?

--2 tbsp Olive Oil
--2 cloves Garlic, Crushed
--1 tsp Whole Thyme
--Juice of Half a Lemon
--Salt and Black Pepper to taste (Kosher Salt or Sea Salt sounds good to me)
--1 Whole Chicken, about 3 pounds
--Parchment Paper
--Paper Bag, lunch sack sized
--Aluminum Foil

Preheat oven to 375 Degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare a dressing of oil, garlic, thyme, and lemon juice. Rub the bird with this dressing and season with salt and pepper. Tear off an 18-inch long piece of parchment paper and carefully wrap up the chicken. Place the bundle in the paper bag, then wrap in aluminum foil. Place the bundle on a rack in the oven and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes.