Friday, March 28, 2008

The Butcher, The Baker, The Candlestick Maker

Even though I cook a lot, raw meat still leaves me a little squeamish. I mix my meatloaf with one hand immersed in the goopiness and the other holding firmly to the bowl. I have perfected the "plop" method of transferring slabs of steak, jiggly chicken breasts, and other slimy cuts from package to cutting board for seasoning and then on to pan for cooking. I would never make it as a Butcher. I just can't begin to like the touch and feel of raw meat.

Many years ago, I might have thought I was crafty. I would create cross stitch samplers and mop head dolls. I wove things with paper ribbon. The glue gun was my friend. But, now I look back and see that most of it was junk. Why did I think I needed that stuff or that anyone would want it? These days, I am certainly not a Candlestick Maker. I will purchase my household items, and they will be better quality and not nearly as tacky. I hope.

And what about the Baker? Surely someone who cooks all the time would also bake. Ummm...not really. Pillsbury is my friend. I do cook a lot. I toss this and that in a pot or pan with a nod to the general amounts and ingredients of an actually recipe, and usually I come up with some tasty dish. Baking is a different story. It required precise measuring, no substitutions, actually following a recipe. I have trouble with all that. I think of myself as a free spirit in the kitchen...alright, an uptight Virgo-ish free spirit, but still, I do what feels right at the moment in my psycho controlling mind. Baking wants to dictate my moments. That doesn't quite mesh for me.

Still, we can't live on Chips Ahoy and Little Debbie. I must venture into baked goods now and then. A house is not a home without dessert, right? Last night, I whipped up a pan of Peanut Butter Brownies. Yes, they did start with a boxed mix, but if you have your own favorite homemade brownie recipe (I am still searching for the perfect one for us), you could sub it into the recipe. These are perfect for all peanut butter and chocolate fiends. The brownie is rich and chewy, and the peanut butter layer is almost cake-like. I actually could pass for a Baker with Peanut Butter Brownies On My Plate.

Peanut Butter Brownies

1/2 cup oil
1/4 cup water
2 eggs
19 1/2 ounces brownie mix

Peanut Butter Filling
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
2 eggs

Heat oven 350.
Combine brownie mix, oil, water and eggs in large bowl; stir 50 strokes with spooon. Set aside.
With a mixer, combine peanut butter and margrine; beat until smooth. Add sugar and flour; mix well. Add 2 eggs; blend well.
Spread 1/2 of brownie mix into greased 9x13 pan. Carefully spread peanut butter mixture evenly over chocolate mixture. Spread remaining chocolate mixture over the peanut butter mixture.
Bake for 30-33 minutes. Cool 1 hour or until completely cooled. Store losely covered. (Serves 20)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Curling My Hair

Several years ago, I was sick of my hair style. I decided in my ultimate wisdom that I needed a perm. Why? I Have no idea. Maybe, I had nostalgia for the spiral curls that I wore in the 80s. Maybe, I was just insane.

My hair was not quite shoulder length when I went in for the hair appointment. My stylist, a long-time friend, tried to talk me out of putting my hair through that torture, but I was adamant. I wanted a perm. She relented. We rolled, and processed, and rinsed, and trimmed, and styled, and I was horrified. I didn't have the wavy bouncy cuteness that had been in my mind's eye. I was a freaking poodle. Shirley Temple was reincarnated. I hated it.

After a week and a half of fussing, fretting, crying, screaming, and even a professional blow out at another salon during a spa trip with the girls, I was back in my stylist's chair to have my hair straightened. No, it wasn't healthy for my hair. Yes, it was more torture than the original perm. And, yes, my friend and stylist did say, "I told you so." I deserved it. I was an idiot. She swears that she will never, ever, ever again perm my hair, even if I throw a screaming hissy fit. I don't blame her; in fact, I thank her for that.

These days, Shirley Temple is just a sweet drink, and not a description of my style. I am just not a sweet drink kind of girl. However, I have become partial to a rocked out Saucy Shirley now and then. Usually, I like my Absolut with just a little club soda and a twist of lemon. Silly girly drinks are for other girls, not me. Maybe it's the part of my psyche buried deep inside that wanted those bouncy curls and now craves the sweetness of this kicked up fruity drink. I don't know. I just know it is good. Let's just hope that I don't drink enough of them to curl my hair.

Saucy Shirley

1 (12 ounce) can 7-up soda
2 ounces Cherry Pomegranate Juice
2 ounces Absolut vodka
lemon slices

Wet rim of glasses and press into sugar.
Fill glasses with ice and pour in 7-up until ¾ full.
Add 1 ounce Cherry Pomegranate juice and 1 ounce vodka to each glass. Stir.
Garnish rim of glass with lemon slices.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Dressing Up

I will admit it. I always have a bottle of Hidden Valley in my fridge. There are some things that just scream to be dipped in this sinful, creamy concoction. It seems that whenever I give in to a junk food craving, calories, fat, and overall good taste are of no consideration. I must squirt Ranch dressing beside a healthy glob of ketchup (Heinz only, please) on my plate for dipping my steak fries, cheese balls, onion rings, and even chicken strips. Forget the extra marinara, I even dip my pepperoni pizza in Ranch. (Yes. You can slap me.)

However, when I fill my plate with salad greens, I usually want something more refined. I turn my nose up at the idea of the powdered herb flavors from that creamy, white dressing. It's good enough for my fried junk, but for my real food, I want a real dressing. I become a snob. I want to dress up my salad and showcase the fresh veggies. I don't want to disguise my greens under a snowy gush from the bottle in the fridge.

It's easy to dress up even a simple salad of baby greens and boiled eggs with a tangy, mustardy vinaigrette. The dressing wakes up the delicate flavors of the veggies instead of coating and weighing them down. It is all so fresh, the way I want my salads to be. My inner salad dressing snob is happy with Baby Greens and Mustard Vinaigrette On My Plate.

Baby Greens and Mustard Vinaigrette
4 hard cooked eggs
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
10 ounces mixed baby greens

Peel and chop eggs.
Combine next 5 ingredients and process until smooth with a hand held blender (or shake in a jar).
Place lettuce in a bowl, add dressing and eggs, and toss gently. (Serves 6)

Monday, March 03, 2008

Gag Them With Some Soup

I have previously mentioned how much I loved the Fresh Pea Soup that I saw featured on an episode of Barefoot Contessa. It's flavor truly is fresh, light, and wonderfully creamy and filling, while not at all heavy and cloying. I prepared my version minus the mint that Ina had used and with frozen peas, as fresh just aren't available this time of year. Each bowl full was an immense pleasure.

However, when I took leftovers to school on a day of subbing in Second Grade, I think that I was the only one who was in love with the beautiful green concoction. As the students were lining up for lunch, I pulled the Gladware from my bag and was met with a chorus of "What is THAT??!!??" The school colors may be green and white, but green soup was pushing things for those kids. They immediately made gagging noises at my explanation of pea soup and tried to rearrange themselves in line so as to not have to sit next to or across from me at the lunch table.

After they are settled in with their unappetizing trays of chicken nuggets, tater tots, and assorted almost-might-be-veggies, the class has a practice of observing 10 minutes of silence for focusing on eating before socializing takes over. During this time, only the teacher and those called on have permission to talk. Puke faces, held noses, and rolling eyes met my steaming bowl of soup. One little boy even asked if I could find another teacher to sit with them so that they didn't have to witness the misery that was my lunch.

I held fast and was amused with their disgust. They just couldn't appreciate the beauty of a pure and bright soup loaded with simple flavors that just shine. If you aren't gagging with the Second Graders, I invite you to add some Fresh Pea Soup to your menus. I am not sorry it jumped On My Plate.

Fresh Pea Soup

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups leeks, white and light green parts chopped
1 cup yellow onions, chopped
4 cups chicken stock
2 (10 ounce)packages frozen peas
2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup creme fraiche

1/2 cup chives, chopped
garlic croutons, for serving

Heat the butter in a large saucepan, add the leeks and onion, and cook over medium-low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until the onion is tender.
Add the chicken stock, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil.
Add the peas and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the peas are tender. (Frozen peas will take only 3 minutes.)
Off the heat, add the salt, and pepper.
Puree the soup in batches: place 1 cup of soup in a blender, place the lid on top, and puree on low speed.
With the blender still running, open the venthole in the lid and slowly add more soup until the blender is three-quarters full.
Pour the soup into a large bowl and repeat until all the soup is pureed.
Whisk in the creme fraiche and chives and taste for seasoning.
Serve hot with garlic croutons. (Serves 6.)
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