Monday, January 31, 2011

This Shiksa's Goin' Kosher (Sorta)

It's been a few weeks since I left the old house, and I'm moving on again. I've spent some time camping chez Jeremy and his dad, Stuart, to whom I am enormously grateful for their hospitality despite their affection for the overly fatty (albeit successful) Atkins diet that has been featured in some recent posts. I am also immensely grateful to others who offered me room both in their homes and in their hearts ... truly, I can never adequately repay any of my friends (both in real life and in cyberspace) for their care.

But as of this weekend, I have yet another new kitchen and a new eating regimen: I am staying at the apartment of a beloved snowbirding friend (who prefers not too much recognition for her profound generosity, or else I would probably write a sonnet to her despite not being a poet!). And that beloved snowbirding friend is not only a vegetarian, but she keeps kosher, too.

So, I am going from meat and rich sauces to foods more in keeping with my own desires: light, nutritious, and featuring lots of fruits and vegetables and whole grains. And this shiksa -- [SHIK-suh] = non-Jewish woman (officially, anyway, though I consider myself to be a secular Jew) -- is going to maintain a kitchen according to the Jewish dietary laws.

Now, I know the rules of kashrut ([kahsh-ROOT] = "fitness," literally): no mixing meat with dairy products, and keeping all their respective dishes and cookware and utensils separate ... cracking open eggs one-by-one and inspecting them before combining them with anything, discarding any that have even a pinprick's-worth of blood ... no pork or shellfish. I know to look for hekhshers [HEK-shers], which are symbols indicating that an item has met rabbinic approval. But I've never actually lived it, so this is an exciting adventure!

People think that kosher food is somehow different, when in fact it is simply certified as meeting the terms listed above (an admittedly abbreviated list, but those are the really critical points so as not to overwhelm anyone). All of the items pictured above are kosher ... yup, every one of 'em from the name brands to the generics. If you were to go to your own cupboards, I'll bet you'd find all sorts of hekhshered items, such as:



Hershey's Kisses

Frank's Red Hot sauce

Mueller's noodles

Land o' Lakes margarine

Grey Poupon mustard

Gold Medal flour

Oreos

Near East couscous and rice

Coffeemate

Nutella

Chex cereal


While there are dozens of symbols, usually some variant on a "K," the most widely accepted certification is the OU [just say the letters "o" "u"]; it's usually found in a bottom corner at the front of a package, but sometimes found at the end of an ingredient list. This means that the Union of Orthodox Rabbis has approved the item. The OU -- which has been certifying foods since 1924 -- is the crème de la crème.

Of course, it's much easier to keep kosher in a vegetarian kitchen -- no mingling of meat and dairy, or accidental sullying of dairy dishes/cookware with fleishig ([FLAY-shig] = meat), can take place ... whew! 'Cause it's one thing to know the rules, it's another thing to put them into practice. But I assure you that I will devote myself to the care of my friend's home, and ask a rabbi (I happen to conveniently work with two of them!) if I have any questions.

And should I feel the need to eat meat or to devour anything treyf ([TRAYf] = not kosher) like a cheeseburger or a pepperoni pizza, I can always drop in on Jeremy and his dad or eat out ... :)



The Things We Find Inside




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Friday, January 28, 2011

International Week -- Transylvanian Goulash


Every time the subject of goulash comes up in conversation -- and it actually does come up in my conversations, sometimes! -- people tell me about a dish they make with ground beef that almost sounds like a soupy sort of sloppy joe mixture. I'm sure it's fabulous, and I've made similar meals myself. But it's not actually goulash, especially if the macaroni that many folks mention in the same breath is added to it ... really, I mean it.

According to the online Budapest Tourist Guide, goulash "was (and still is) a very popular dish among herdsmen in Hungary. They made it in a cast-iron kettle hung above open fire, out in the fields. Herdsman is gulyás in Hungarian, so that’s where the dish’s name comes from." The basic ingredients are a tomato base, meat, onion, sometimes green pepper and always paprika.

The basis of my own recipe comes from an article in The New York Times Magazine section from February 5, 2006. It featured Transylvanian Goulash, though unfortunately no reason for it being Transylvanian vs. Hungarian is given; both territories were once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, so the basic dish would have been tinkered with throughout the region.

The article told of Joseph Wechsberg, the supreme authority on Austro-Hungarian food who once wrote for The New Yorker and for Gourmet, whose book entitled The Cooking of Vienna's Empire was published by Time-Life in 1968. A friend and collaborator said of Wechsberg: "His writing about food ... was so unbelievably precise, you couldn't argue with it."

And so, when I found the recipe for Transylvanian Goulash that had come from Wechsberg, I knew I had found the real thing. I tweaked it slightly, eliminating a mixture of cream and flour which would only serve to thicken it a bit at the end, but that's not a particularly radical deviation; it's not as though I took out the sauerkraut.

Yup -- sauerkraut. The goulash starts with pork cubes, adds sauerkraut and caraway seeds, and includes a bit of tomato sauce for the base. Long, slow cooking in the crockpot turns these few basic ingredients into an amazing melange of flavors, and a bit of sour cream offered for serving -- to be stirred in, if desired -- makes it richer. I have a note scribbled on my modified version of the original that simply says "EXCELLENT!!!"

Please don't think that sauerkraut is only for hot dogs ... trust me here. Even my beloved friend Wendy, who loathes anything vinegary, really enjoyed this and said that it's very well balanced and smooth. Jeremy ate two huge helpings, and was sorry there wasn't more!

Make a batch of goulash, and you'll come home at the end of the day to a house that smells amazing with the tantalizing promise of dinner, and you'll nourish both your body and your soul when you indulge in this delicious meal ....


Transylvanian Goulash

2 tablespoons oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2-1/2 pounds pork chops, cut into 1" cubes
1 pound sauerkraut not from a can, drained and rinsed well
3 cups chicken broth
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1-1/2 teaspoons caraway seeds
2/3 cup tomato sauce
splash of hot sauce, if desired
sour cream, for serving

In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium heat; add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is translucent.

Layer the onion/garlic mixture, the pork cubes, and the sauerkraut into a crockpot, alternating layers. Combine the broth, salt, paprika, caraway seeds, and tomato sauce; pour over the pork. Cover and cook on "high" for 4 hours or "low" for most of the day. Serve the goulash with a splash of hot sauce and/or some sour cream, if desired.

Serves 4-6.





Thursday, January 27, 2011

International Week -- Stilton Pâté

Before we move along to today's post, I have to share my BIG, exciting news: My Scottish Oatmeal Shortbread post made the front page of the prestigious Food News Journal yesterday -- I'm in "Best of the Blogs"!!! Here's what they say about themselves: "Monday through Friday FNJ brings you the best in food current events: the most intriguing articles, the liveliest essays, and the best from the bloggers." Whee!!! I'm absolutely giddy ... :)

Okay, now on with today's recipe ....

This may be the easiest (although the least colorful!) recipe I've ever given to you. It's not quite as easy as telling you how to boil water, but it's not too far off.

In deciding what recipes to feature for International Week, there seemed to be a little bit of "something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue" involved despite this not being an intentional protocol for picking the foods. Monday's pasta dish was old, one I've made before; yesterday's soup was borrowed from my dear friend Connie. And today's was both new and blue!

Despite never having been a vegetarian, I was given Linda McCartney's Home Cooking many moons ago. Most of the recipes are very quick and easy, but I haven't used the book in years and years. I remember making some sort of cheese dumplings once and having them not hold their shape as they simmered; they just fell apart and turned into a mess of spinach and blobs of ricotta floating in the water. That was enough to deter me from using the cookbook again, but still it lingered in my collection.

But as the countries were reviewed (and next time, "trips" to continents beyond Europe will be featured), England seemed like a nice choice to feature. The Brits aren't exactly noted for the quality of their food, although some items -- like clotted cream and scones -- are justly famous. And Stilton, a gorgeous strong blue cheese, is divine! So, a recipe by a famous resident of the English countryside which featured one of my favorite treats seemed to be worth tasting.

Go buy some Stilton or some other good blue cheese, stir it together with a few other ingredients, and have yourself some exceptional pâté. It's essentially a glorified dip, but why not elevate it and indulge in a little sophistication??? I liked this recipe so much that I might actually give the cookbook another try some time. It has been redeemed ... :)

Stilton Pâté

4 ounces crumbled Stilton
juice from 1/4 lemon
4 ounces cream cheese
2 teaspoons snipped chives
2 tablespoons milk

pinch of kosher salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper

Mix everything together and place into a serving bowl. That's it! Serve with vegetables, crackers, whatever strikes your fancy. You can also thin it out a bit more and use it as a chip dip or as a salad dressing.






 Tell Us Something Good

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

International Week -- Polish Dill Pickle Soup


One of my dearest friends in the world, Connie, is 100% Polish; she's also married to a man who's 100% Polish. They are some fabulous cooks, and make a kielbasa that is a true work of art and a most generous gift some years at Easter. (There are too many demands and insufficient quantity to feed all of the ravenous hordes, so I have resigned myself to not being on the "in" list every year ... alas!)

Anyway, Connie is a great cook, as I've already said. So when I went to a horrendously bad Polish restaurant last year, where the one and only redeeming food was the dill pickle soup (don't even ask how leaden and flavorless the blintzes were ... with a filling made from canned mushrooms!), I asked Connie if she would share her recipe with me. (She did; here's the post from AnnArbor.com. And that's her son Andrew, one of Jeremy's best friends, doing the "bunny ears," fyi.)

Connie's soup is very easy to make, and it is some seriously astounding comfort food. But the soup at the restaurant had some flecks of carrot, potatoes, and dill, which Connie's lacked.

So I tinkered a bit by using the original recipe as a base but then adding the other ingredients. It's still Connie's soup, in my opinion, just with a bit more stuff in it.

And it was truly, wonderfully, amazingly delicious!

It may sound odd to pour in juice from a pickle jar, but why use plain ol' water when you can add some depth of flavor? Connie's late mother-in-law used to add a bit of vinegar in her version of this Polish classic; but there's an entire jar full of brine just waiting to find a purpose other than swimming around cucumbers! Do it Connie's way, which she learned from her own mother, whom we call Busha ([BOO-shuh] = grandmother). Busha is in her late 90s now ... the woman knows a thing or two!


Polish Dill Pickle Soup

1 pound pre-cooked kielbasa
1 cup water + water to cover kielbasa
1 tablespoon bacon fat or butter
1 small onion, chopped
3/4 cup juice from a jar of dill pickles, preferably Polish
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 medium potato, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup chopped dill pickles
1 teaspoon dried dill
slices of caraway rye bread, toasted and buttered, because as Connie puts it: “Of course, you have to have a good rye bread to go along with it.”

Place the kielbasa into a medium saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil; lower heat and simmer for 1/2 hour. Remove the kielbasa from the saucepan saving the liquid, and slice to desired thickness.


Heat the bacon fat in a small skillet and saute the onion just until translucent. Add to the reserved cooking liquid.

Add the 1 cup of water, the pickle juice, salt and pepper to the saucepan with the onion. Bring to a boil, then add the potatoes and carrot; cook for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork.

Combine the sour cream and the flour in a medium bowl, then slowly stir in 1/2 cup of the broth until smooth

Whisk this mixture back into the saucepan, bring just to a boil (small bubbles around the edge of the soup), then remove from heat.

Stir in the chopped pickles, the kielbasa and the dill. Serve hot, with the toasted rye on the side.

Makes 4 generous servings.





Its Hump Day!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

International Week -- Scottish Oatmeal Shortbread

I am thrilled to announce that this post was named one of the daily "Best of the Blogs" by the prestigious Food News Journal on January 26, 2011!!!


My maternal grandmother was always extraordinarily proud of being Scottish, and of being descended not just from MacGregors but from the Rob Roy branch of the MacGregors. So, having been raised to bask in this heritage (though it's just one of many facets to my mutt-dom), today is a holiday which I celebrate every year: Robbie Burns Day.

Robert Burns was an 18th century poet whose most famous lines are undoubtedly the lyrics to Auld Lang Syne. He was a hero to the Scots, who celebrate his birthday every January 25 with special Burns Suppers that most notably feature haggis -- a dish, according to Wikipedia, "containing sheep's 'pluck' (heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally simmered in the animal's stomach for approximately three hours. Most modern commercial haggis is prepared in a casing rather than an actual stomach." Yum!!!

In all honesty, I have never tried haggis ... and I'm not ashamed to admit that it's not on my "to do" list, either. Instead, I prefer to celebrate with shortbread cookies, an infinitely more delicious representative of Scottish cuisine!

Oats are a staple in Scotland, even though Samuel Johnson once referred to them as: "A grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people." And Scottish chef John Quigley has called shortbread "the jewel in the crown" of Scottish baked goods. So, why not combine them into a perfect little treat???

Delicious with a cup of cocoa or tea, these cookies are an ideal way to celebrate a literary birthday on a cold winter day ....

Winter: A Dirge (Robert Burns - 1781)

The wintry west extends his blast,
And hail and rain does blaw;
Or the stormy north sends driving forth
The blinding sleet and snaw:
While, tumbling brown, the burn comes down,
And roars frae bank to brae;
And bird and beast in covert rest,
And pass the heartless day.

"The sweeping blast, the sky o'ercast,"
The joyless winter day
Let others fear, to me more dear
Than all the pride of May:
The tempest's howl, it soothes my soul,
My griefs it seems to join;
The leafless trees my fancy please,
Their fate resembles mine!

Thou Power Supreme, whose mighty scheme
These woes of mine fulfil,
Here firm I rest; they must be best,
Because they are Thy will!
Then all I want - O do Thou grant
This one request of mine! -
Since to enjoy Thou dost deny,
Assist me to resign.



Oatmeal Shortbread

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
1 egg
2/3 cup quick-cook oats
3/4 cup unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 325F. Grease an 8"x8" baking pan.

In a mixing bowl, cream together butter and 1/3 cup sugar; stir in egg. Add oats, flour and salt; mix well. Press into the prepared pan.

Combine 1 tablespoon sugar with cinnamon; sprinkle over the batter. Bake for 25 minutes until shortbread is set when pressed lightly.

Immediately take a sharp knife and cut shortbread into 16 cookies. Let cool completely.




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Monday, January 24, 2011

International Week -- Pasta con Aglio e Olio

This plain-looking pasta dish is ridiculously simple, yet flavorful beyond my ability to describe it. It takes almost no time to prepare, and yet is remarkable for its richness and ability to satisfy. And it has a secret ingredient which you'll likely not guess -- and which most people who eat it won't guess either -- that provides less of an overpowering assertion and more of an "umami" [ooh-MAH-mee]: that indefinable savory "je ne sais quoi" quality that cannot be discerned but which makes its presence known.

This is another recipe shared through my ex-husband, from an Italian immigrant he met a few years ago. I'm told that the man's English was rather poor, but his eyes and his smile shone as he described this dish in the foreign (to him) language, because his love for it is so pure and abundant.

Now, first let me translate the Italian name of the dish for you: Pasta con Aglio e Olio [PAHS-tuh kohn AHL-yo eh OHL-yo] means "Pasta with Garlic and Oil." Oh, how woefully inadequate that title is, even in the more beautiful language!

Because the sauce for the pasta contains not just garlic and oil, but also anchovies.

Yup, you read that right -- anchovies. Those little fuzzy, smelly fishies that can guarantee you won't have to share your pizza with anyone if you plop some of 'em on top.

And yet, once they've melted into the garlic oil -- and they will essentially melt, leaving only miniscule traces of their existence -- those anchovies impart a flavor so full of depth, with a hint of smokiness and a touch of saltiness that isn't readily identifiable as "salty," that you will simply want to inhale platesful of this dish.

You could add peas or carrots or spinach or tomatoes or any other vegetable to this meal to brighten it up and to add nutrition. But sometimes simplicity is precisely what you need.

Pasta con Aglio e Olio (Pasta with Garlic and Oil)

pasta of your choice, for 4 servings
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 2-ounce can anchovy fillets in oil, drained of most of the oil
2/3 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon butter
parmesan, for serving

Cook the pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the red pepper flakes and garlic, and cook just until the garlic starts to turn lightly brown. Add the anchovies.



Cook, pressing down on the anchovies with a spoon, for 5 minutes or so, stirring to break up the anchovies.


Add the broth, and bring to a boil. Cook until sauce is dark brown and reduced by half.


Stir in butter, then pour sauce over pasta; toss to coat pasta with the sauce.


Serve with parmesan, and mangia bene! [MAHN-juh BEH-neh] = eat well!





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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pork in Creamy Mustard Sauce

One of Jeremy's favorite meals is not only Atkins-friendly, but it's one of the easiest dinners possible; it also requires only a few ingredients, including the givens of salt and pepper. How great is that for a busy weekend or a weeknight when you're tired after work???

I usually make this with pork chops, but happened to have some ribs on hand so I substituted. Jeremy didn't seem to care, and was just giddy at having eaten "real food" 3 nights in a row (chicken, turkey burgers, and now this). My baby needs me ... :)

It's not too spicy, but has some "oomph" to it. And the sauce could easily be served over chicken, too, I think. I'm not sure what else to say ... this is just good, simple, comfort food ....

Pork in Creamy Mustard Sauce

1 tablespoon oil
1 tablespoon butter
2-1/2 pounds country-style pork ribs
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup half-and-half
1/4 cup Dijon mustard

Heat oil and butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Cut the ribs in half, then season with salt and pepper; add to the skillet and cook until browned on each side and firm to the touch, about 15 minutes. Combine sour cream, half-and-half and mustard; pour over ribs and cook for 5 minutes until sauce thickens a bit.

Serves 4.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Blue Cheese-Stuffed Turkey Burgers


Day 2 of the Atkins Diet, chez Jeremy and Stuart, offered burgers -- turkey burgers, to be specific. But that's kinda boring, especially if you can't put the patties on any bread at all to make things more interesting.

I didn't have any nutmeg with me, which I always add to turkey burgers; so I worked with salt, pepper and garlic powder. I had to liven this up a bit! So I combined equal amounts of blue cheese and cream cheese, then stuffed a dollop of the mixture into the centers of the patties. (For the boys, anyway; I had mine plain, just trying to get some nutrition into me. The Food Floozie is havin' a hard time being seduced by any food lately, thanks to stress and a cold which then devolved into bronchitis. Bleah!)

But I have digressed ....

As an accompaniment, I also served a mix of bacon and onion -- way too much fat for lil' ol' me, but a flavorful addition to the plate for Jeremy and for his dad ....

Blue Cheese-Stuffed Turkey Burgers

(Please remember, as I said yesterday, that without my usual toys and tools a lot of these measurements are approximations. And this is how I made it for 3 people, only 2 of whom had stuffing in the burgers. I know -- it's not entirely helpful, but it's the best I can do for you right now ....)

1 package ground turkey (I think the package is 18 ounces ...?)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
2 tablespoons cream cheese
3 strips bacon, cut into 1" pieces
1 small onion, halved, sliced

Combine the turkey, salt, pepper and garlic powder; form into 3 large patties. Combine the blue cheese and cream cheese. Spread 2 of the patties into large, flat rounds; divide the cheese mixture between them, then roll the turkey around the filling like a ball, then flatten the balls into patties.

Cook in a large skillet over medium heat for at least 5 minutes per side, until the burgers are golden brown and firm when pressed.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, cook the bacon and the onion over medium heat until the bacon is golden and crisp and the onion is caramelized.

Serve the bacon-onion mixture over the stuffed burgers, and make your hosts happy at dinnertime ... :)


Mingle 240

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Birthday of the Trees


The Jewish celebration of Tu B'Shvat [TOO bayshuh-VAHT] -- The Birthday of the Trees -- begins tomorrow night at sundown. In recent years, it has been common to hold a seder with ritual protocols and readings; but I'm just planning to enjoy traditional treats like dried fruits, nuts, olives and citrus. You know me -- I'm always there for the food!

(FYI: At work, we have beautiful trays of fruits and nuts which were ordered from the Houston Pecan Company to enjoy in honor of the holiday; they do a fabulous job, so if you ever need to send gifts or just want some goodies for yourself, be sure to order from them!)

Anyway .... A town like Ann Arbor, of course, is a perfect place to celebrate Tu B'Shvat! Planting trees and enjoying the fruits that they bear are two of the primary traditions for the day, perfect for my beloved town's eco- and health-consciousness. Nurturing trees is so vital a tradition in Judaism that Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai (who lived from 30-90 A.D./C.E.) is quoted as saying: "If you should be holding a sapling in your hand when they tell you the Messiah has arrived ... first plant the sapling, then go out and greet him."

According to MyJewishLearning.com: "The Bible expresses a great reverence for fruit trees as symbols of God's bounty and beneficence. Special laws were formulated to protect fruit trees in times of war and ensure that the produce of trees would not be picked until the trees were mature enough and tithes were given from them. In order to calculate the age of trees, both for determining when they could be harvested and when they were to be tithed for the Temple, the Talmudic Rabbis established the 15th day (Tu) of the month of Shvat as the official 'birthday' of trees."

As opposed to many Jewish holidays where it's traditional to eat cholesterol-laden challah or latkes fried in oil (which is, of course, half the fun!), this is a party where you're actually encouraged to eat nutritious fruits. So whether you eat a savory meal like the chicken dish I offer below, or enjoy fresh fruit out of hand, join me in celebrating Tu B'Shvat as we wait through the frigidly cold winter until all those beautiful trees bloom again in spring ....

Braised Chicken Thighs in Lemony Olive Sauce

3 tablespoons oil
3 pounds chicken thighs
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 small onion, halved, sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons shawarma spices (available at Middle Eastern markets; substitute a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne, cardamom, and garlic powder if needed)
1/2 teaspoon ground sumac (available at Middle Eastern markets)
1/3 cup Sicilian Lemon Balsamic Vinegar (available at
Fustini's Oils and Vinegars)
3/4 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup green olives with pimientos, chopped

Heat oil in a large, deep-sided skillet over medium heat. Season both sides of the chicken with the salt and pepper, and place into the skillet skin-side down.

Cook for 10 minutes until nicely browned. Turn the chicken over and cook for 5 minutes on the other side. Remove the chicken to a plate.

Saute the onion and the garlic until the onion is translucent. Sprinkle in the spices and cook for 1 minute.

Combine the vinegar and the broth; pour into the skillet and bring to a boil. Return the chicken to the skillet, skin-side up.

Cover the chicken, then turn heat to "medium-low" and cook for 35 minutes. Place the chicken on a serving platter and boil the sauce down to reduce it until it has thickened. Stir in the olives.

Pour the sauce over the chicken, and serve hot.

Makes 4-6 servings.



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Monday, January 17, 2011

Chicken in Creamy Cheese Sauce


I've been staying with Jeremy and, God help me, with his dad -- my ex-husband, Stuart, with whom I actually get along quite well -- for a few days while I figure out where I'm headed now. They're on the Atkins diet, on the buddy system; in exchange for their hospitality, I've not only been cooking but specifically making dinners that meet their dietary restrictions.

And just what are those dietary restrictions??? Fat: bacon, cheese, eggs, chicken, pork, beef, and a token green vegetable every once in awhile. Bleah.

Jeremy raved about it at first, as he indulged in all those foods that most diets forbid. But Stuart's not much of a cook, though he's enjoyed playing with the combination crockpot/pressure cooker his sister gave him for Christmas. Jeremy was growing most weary of seeing slabs of beef on a plate, served with ketchup.

So, when I started to slice an onion and cut up a chicken breast and pour in some cream and grate some cheese -- not to mention checking to see that 2/3 of a cup of peas would only cost 7 of the day's allotment of 20 grams of carbohydrates -- there seemed to be, shall we say, a fair amount of anticipation.

Jeremy just "mmmm"-ed and told me how nice it was to eat "real food" again. Even Stuart smiled sort of sheepishly, having tried hard but not having any particular cooking skills, and told me how much he was enjoying his meal. I was happy ... :)

I'm going to have to approximate the recipe, as I didn't have all of my usual accoutrements for scribbling notes, noting times, measuring ingredients, etc. But with items like the ones I used, you can really hardly go wrong!

Chicken in Creamy Cheese Sauce

2 tablespoons butter
1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 2" pieces
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 large red onion, halved, sliced
1/3 cup chicken broth
3/4 cup cream
3/4 teaspoon thyme
3/4 cup shredded Swiss cheese

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the chicken, salt, pepper and the onion; cook -- stirring occasionally -- to brown the chicken. When the chicken pieces are firm and the onion is caramelized, pour in the chicken broth; bring to a boil, then reduce by half. Add the cream and the thyme; let it bubble until reduced by about half. Stir in the cheese until it melts.

Serves 2 generously. Can be served over pasta or rice to serve 4.


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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Gratitude List


I don't normally post on weekends, though I may do another round of the NaBloPoMo in February ... it was good for me to have my writing as a focus and a distraction last spring, and it would be a good exercise to work on again now.

But when I saw on Leanne's From Chaos Comes Happiness that there is a gratitude blog hop hosted by Maxabella Loves, I just had to join in. I have been mired in stress and a bad cold/bronchitis and many other miseries this week, and yet it has all shown me that I also have extraordinary blessings to be grateful for:

Jeremy and his dad, Stuart (my ex-husband), who have taken me in for several days and shared their home, their food, and their love when I've been not only in crisis but also sick with either a bad cold or bronchitis (it's a little of both). They've brought me medicine, made me chicken soup, tucked me in when the Nyquil put me into a coma, complimented me on the meals I've cooked for them, worried about how much weight I've lost so quickly because of stress, and most of all welcomed me when I needed refuge. Here's a funny: Stuart even cleaned the bathroom for me! (And if you know Stuart, he makes Oscar Madison look like Felix Unger, so this was astounding!) They have made me feel at home when my own home was no longer welcoming.

My beloved friend Wendy, who picked me up last weekend and took me out for distraction and company, listening and empathizing as I whined and cried and poured out my broken heart. She has let me rant, question, debate, wail, and vent to my heart's content by phone, in person, by email and by chat. She has even offered to come help me pack under soul-crushingly tense circumstances. I would not still be here without her.

Tom's cousin Kathy, who sent a poignant and lovely comment which truly touched my heart. She's offered me kindness, prayers, peace, encouragement and hope ... she is a good, good woman.

The people I work with, who have been so supportive as I've been so miserable and frazzled this week. One gave me a ride to the repair shop where my car was being worked on, saving me from standing in the snow and waiting for the bus. Another, in particular, has gone so far beyond the usual roles of "co-worker" and "friend" that I cannot adquately describe what a truly rare gem of a human being he is -- a mentsch to show all the other mentsches how it's really done.

My blogging buddies -- particularly Robin, Leanne, Judy, Michelle, Beth, Karen, and April -- whom I've never met but who have offered such generosity of spirit, such warmth, such affection, and such affirmation. I've always maintained that people bond over food, and it seems that I've bonded with some wonderful women here, even though we've never actually shared a meal together!

I am immensely grateful to have been immersed in so much kindness and friendship and love when I've been so suddenly shocked and uprooted. It kinda makes me feel a bit like Jimmy Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life," when everyone rallies 'round him at the end to help him out of a mess he didn't create but found himself caught up in. Every time a bell rings, know that each of my angels listed above has been given a brand new shiny, sparkly set of wings ... :)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Tagged

Leanne of From Chaos Comes Happiness -- she with the radiant smile and the generous heart -- has tagged me and is interviewing me quite extensively with the questions that have been posed!

Here's how she phrased the invitation to bare my soul: "So, ladies, here's the story . . . copy the below 19 questions and answer them on a post of your own. OR . . . don't. I really don't mind! But, it's a fun way to learn a little more about your blog buds, and I'd love to learn more about each of YOU!"

So, since this gives my faithful readers a bit of a break from the endless parade of food -- and it also permits me to share some wretchedly sad news that I've been trying to figure out a way to announce -- let's go on with the show, shall we ...?

1. If you have pets, do you see them as merely animals or are they members of your family?

When we had pets, they were "the babies." They had their own seats on the furniture (the cat made a dent in the back of one chair!), and the dog even had a little pink "princess coat" with a faux leopard collar. I'm not an Alpha anything ... they had me wound 'round their fluffy little tails ... :)

2. If you can have a dream to come true, what would it be?

"Ya gotta have a dream! If you don't have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?" (from "South Pacific") I had a lot of dreams that have recently been dashed, so I'll have to think a bit on that one now.

3. What is the one thing most hated by you?

Oh, there's a long list -- lack of integrity, betrayal, cowardice, child abuse, poverty, unequal division of resources. I -- the queen of indecision -- am only allowed to choose one???

4. What would you do with a billion dollars?

Pay off my credit cards. Fix up some family property. Support numerous good causes. I have simple needs.

5. What helps to pull you out of a bad mood?

Listening to Barry Manilow songs ... I know 'em all. "Mandy" and "When I Wanted You" have been played countless times in recent days.





6. Which is more blessed, loving someone or being loved by someone?

Although it is glorious to be loved, to have a full heart and the capacity to love is precious.

7. What is your bedtime routine?

In recent days I'm back to my old bad habits: fall asleep with the computer on my lap, sometime after 1-ish in the morning.

8. If you are currently in a relationship, how did you meet your partner?

Well, here's where my very sad and heartbreaking announcement comes in: I am still living (sorta -- stayed elsewhere for a few nights this week) at the house with Tom, but we're no longer in a relationship. It will officially be over when I figure out where I'm moving to. But he's recent enough that I'll tell you we met online through intervention by his older sister, who recommended that particular site to him and had thus been considered our guardian angel. We corresponded for weeks and weeks until finally meeting for breakfast just over a year ago. (Please also accept this as a deeply sincere apology for not having had the time or the focus to be able to keep up with reading all of my friends' blogs lately ... things are very stressful and painful, right now. Most of my posts this week had been pre-written, so it appears that I've been functional when, in fact, it's taken extraordinary effort to just get through the most basic aspects of daily life.)

9. If you could watch a creative person in the act of the creative process, who would it be?

A wedding cake designer, which involves sketching and baking and building and coloring and decorating a masterpiece.

10. What kinds of books do you read?

I've got rather an eclectic library -- books on linguistics and learning languages (Yiddish, Italian) ... fiction by Michael Chabon and Anne Tyler and Ian McEwan ... books about Jewish culture and history and religion ... dozens and dozens and dozens of cookbooks ... poetry (particularly by Irish poets, it seems) ... biographies of artists ... stories about travelling.

11. How would you see yourself in ten years time?

Truly, at this moment, I have no idea at all. Maybe getting paid to write about food, combining passion with livelihood???

12. What’s your fear?

At the moment, being alone and not falling asleep in anyone's arms for the rest of my life.

13. Would you give up all junk food for the rest of your life for the opportunity to visit outer space?

I suffer from severe motion sickness -- I ain't goin' into space anyway, so why give up guilty pleasures???

14. Would you rather be single and rich or married but poor?

I've always maintained that you can get through anything if you have love, sharing a 39-cent box of Kroger brand macaroni and cheese for dinner. The important thing is to have that someone to share the cheap dinner with ....

15. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?

Put on my glasses, 'cause I can't see otherwise.

16. If you could change one thing about your spouse/partner what would it be?

Continuing with the pretense from #8 that I'm close enough to having been in a relationship to use Tom as a reference, I would make it all better and make it all go away. Can't say anything less vague or more specific ....

17. If you could pick a new name for yourself, what would it be?

"Raya" [REYE-yuh], which is Hebrew for "friend."

18. Would you forgive and forget no matter how horrible a thing that special someone has done?

I've forgiven far, far more than I should have in this lifetime. But as Frank McCourt once wrote: "As long as you have memory, there's no catharsis." I can forget why I've walked down the hallway or what I ate for dinner the night before, but if there is any pain attached to it (a song, a date, an experience, etc.) it is permanent scar tissue on my heart and in my brain.

19. If you could only eat one thing for the next 6 months, what would it be?

Can I get away with saying "salad," which then offers leeway for egg salad, chicken salad, spinach salad, fruit salad ...???

Now the rules say that I must tag 4 others to answer these same questions ... decisions, decisions!

Candace: Mi Chiamo Candace

Judy: Cranberry Morning

Miriam: Meatless Meals for Meat Eaters

Robin: Your Daily Dose

Have at it, girls!!!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Blogging with Style


Well, it's been awhile since I've won any prizes -- culinary, blogging or otherwise. So it was quite the thrill the other day to get a message from the ever-amazing baking whiz Kristin, of Kuppy Kakes by Kristin, telling me that she'd given me the Stylish Blogger Award!!!

Of course, we all know these come with "fine print," so to speak. And here 'tis:

1. Thank and link back to the person who gave you the award.

Happy to shower MUCH gratitude upon Kristin for her tireless encouragement!

2. Share 7 things about yourself.

Oy ... I'm not that interesting! But rules are rules, I suppose. Hey -- here's a novel concept: I'll even mix it up and specifically not mention anything food-related today!

- I love old pop songs from the 70s, like Grand Funk Railroad's "The Loco-Motion," the Bee Gees' "Nights on Broadway," and Tom Jones' "It's Not Unusual." And Rick Dees' "Disco Duck" is just so bizarre that it has its own special category in the world of cheesiness!!!



- I've taken to wearing red lipstick in recent weeks. As much as I adore pink in virtually every facet of my life, I'm thinking that red -- the color of joy in Asia -- is a good one to wear for the new year.

- I was once told that I'm a "gregarious introvert." That would be very astutely true. I can schmooze with anyone and usually will! I'm the chatty one at work, the one people come down the hall to visit and kibitz with. And while I love interacting with people and give lots of hugs and affection, I'm really at my most comfortable in private with my own thoughts.


- I love to window shop. I can meander past windows, ooh and ahh over what's in them, and even stroll through a store picking things up and petting them and admiring them, and not spend one penny. I just like to see what's out there, but I don't necessarily need to acquire any of it.

- I need a new profile picture for the blog and for Facebook. I love the one with the pink heart-shaped sunglasses -- Jeremy took a great shot! But it's from summer ... time to update for winter.

- At Christmas, Jeremy gave me a great big fluffy throw pillow that I love! It's like a stuffed animal -- warm, cuddly. And it's pink!!!

- One of my friends from work gave me a sticker sheet today with numbers and their Hebrew names, for me to practice, 'cause I was a good girl ... :)

3. Pass this award on to 15 other bloggers.

Decisions are my downfall -- any regular readers know this to be true! Therefore, I am going to be extra generous and award this to everyone who reads today's post -- yay!!! (Rules apparently aren't really rules, 'cause I'm not capable of picking and choosing "winners" and thus following this one.) Anyone who meanders here and spends some time with me as I blather deserves a prize ... :)

4. Contact these bloggers and tell them about the award.

Consider yourselves notified and applauded and celebrated!!!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Glory of Green Bean Casserole


Yeah, I know everyone is thinking "I already know how to make this!" and "Didn't we already eat Green Bean Casserole over the holidays? She's kinda late on this post, isn't she???" But one of my favorite foods ever is Green Bean Casserole, and I ate it for dinner -- not with dinner, but for dinner -- recently. And so, I had to honor the lowly dish because we all know we adore it!

My mother never made it, so I'm a latecomer to its charms. But I have actually been known to make a batch of it all for myself, since Jeremy has never liked it (gasp!), just so I could have portions of it to take to work each day to treat myself for lunch.

I consider this to be one of the glories of the White Trash culinary world, like fried Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwiches. There is nothing glamorous or nutritious about it, and it has no sophistication whatsoever. And yet, it is a thing of true beauty.

Now, I have to clarify that I say "White Trash" with great affection here -- I am not willfully insulting any group of people; in fact, I'm heralding the cuisine! I've tried to improve the health quotient of Green Bean Casserole by using fresh green beans and even soy-based mushroom soup. And I am here to attest that these are not acceptable substitutions! You lose the creaminess, the saltiness, the "je ne sais quoi" that is inherent to Green Bean Casserole if you tinker with it. Do the "dump 'n' stir"! Watch that soup come out of the can in a gigantic glop! Feel the grease of those canned onions! And wallow in comfort food extraordinaire!!!

The history of Green Bean Casserole is very simple: it was created in the Home Ec division of the Campbell's Soup Company. And we all know it sells lots of green beans, condensed soup and fried onions at the holidays! But it's also a perfect meal for a cold Winter evening, served as the main attraction with simple cornbread muffins on the side.

I don't think a recipe is required for this -- God knows it's easy enough to find 1000 posts about it in any search engine. But I add a generous splash of Worcestshire sauce to the mushroom soup, and I use the entire large can of fried onions -- mix some in with the green beans, then use the rest to cover the top of the dish. If you're going to go slumming, go for the gusto!!!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Jeremy's Birthday Bonanza

Jeremy's birthday was yesterday, on the 10th, but we always start our celebrating on the 9th.

On January 9, 1991, my ex-husband and I went out to eat at a Chinese restaurant. Jeremy was a week late, lazing away in warmth and coziness as I was enormous and miserably uncomfortable. But at 3 o'clock in the morning, after going out for our dinner, I started to feel pains. And while he took his sweet time showing up, not appearing 'til 8 p.m. that night after being dragged out with forceps, Jeremy must have decided that he liked Chinese food enough that he wanted more ... at least, that's what his dad always says. And so, every January 9th since, we eat Chinese food.

Jeremy's and my favorite place is the Evergreen Restaurant; the place we'd gone to the night before he was born has closed, so we've at least come up with an excellent substitute!

The lunch specials are an exceptional value: for an average of $7, you get a bowl of soup, a small salad, and a generous plate of your entree served along with rice as well as a spring roll. It's just about the best lunch deal in town!

So, needless to say, the Evergreen is where Jeremy and I ate on Sunday. He took a break from the Atkins diet he and his dad are doing together and indulged in some celebratory Sweet and Sour Chicken (one of his favorite meals ever), along with Wonton Soup. But he doesn't like the ginger salad dressing, so I traded him extra wontons for extra lettuce. I absolutely love the dressing!

I ordered Mongolian Chicken (which is unfortunately not quite as vividly photogenic as Jeremy's meal!), with generous quantities of meat and lots vegetables. It was perfectly cooked, not too spicy. But the portions are always so generous that there was no way that either of us could finish our meals.

And that was just Day 1 of the party. On Day 2, we had cupcakes for breakfast: chocolate and vanilla marbling, per Jeremy's request, with buttercream frosting and a coating of mini M&Ms. What a way to start a morning!

Then Jeremy and I went to lunch at his very favorite restaurant, Conor O'Neill's Traditional Irish Pub. We always order the Galway Bay Mussels in a rich, creamy, luscious, garlicky sauce; and we always order extra bread because the sauce is so amazing that there is never enough served initially to sop it all up. (We had extra sauce once a few years ago, and I mortified Jeremy by asking for a container to take it home in. It was amazing on pasta for dinner the next night!!!) Jeremy actually said that these were so good that they are "conversation stoppers."

Then Jeremy ordered his requisite Reuben, which he orders anywhere that he finds it on a menu. But this one is his favorite, because it may not have the most overwhelming portion of meat but it has the tenderest of any. Jeremy said, "You know how embarrassing it is when you bite into your sandwich and a slab of corned beef pulls out and hangs on your chin 'cause it's too tough to chew???" Well, at Conor's you won't find that, Jeremy assures you!

Believe it or not, I didn't have too much trouble deciding on my own order that day ... some planets must have been in alignment for a brief moment! I chose Conor's Ploughman, a huge vegetable sandwich with melted cheese and pesto mayonnaise, served on whole grain bread. It sounded warm and gooey with a hint of nutrition, and just plain delicious. And it was, when I took one bite! After practically inhaling mussels and bread and rich sauce, I simply couldn't eat the sandwich. But that, in addition to some leftover french fries, would provide a lovely lunch for the next two days at work, wouldn't it??? I was a happy camper ... :)

In closing -- here, in honor of his birthday (which earned him a very generous $10 gift card, too, when I embarrassed Jeremy by asking the waitress if being the birthday boy came with any perks!), is Jeremy in his favorite booth at his favorite restaurant on his own special day ....

Monday, January 10, 2011

It Was 20 Years Ago Today ....

Today is Jeremy's 20th birthday ... I can hardly believe it. How did he (how did *I*?!?!?) get so old so fast??? Once upon a time, he was a little bitty 8-pound fluffy-headed thing that I could hold in my arms for hours!


(Yes, that's Jeremy sticking his tongue out at his dad the night he was born!)


Now he's 6'3", drives, smokes (groan ...), and bought himself a moped last week that he'd been saving for.


But even though he towers over me, Jeremy is still my baby -- my one and only, more precious to me than I can say!


Happy Birthday, Jeremy!!!





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