No Forks Necessary

When it comes to Pizza, it doesn’t get much more personal than that. It’s one of America’s true comfort foods and our preferences vary wildly depending on where we grew up, our food influences and individual preferences.

As far as I’m concerned it breaks into two major considerations: crust and toppings. I went for years selectively pigging out only on toppings and skipping the crust. No thanks, on that flavorless cardboard; I’ll just eat more of the greasy good stuff.

And so, it’s my great pleasure to announce a yummy, healthy pizza built on a yeasty homemade crust worth eating that’s prepared in less than 30 minutes! Here’s my pizza solution for a quick snack or a pamper-yourself-dinner that will work equally well mid week as on the weekends.

Thanks to our secret ingredient, cornmeal, we have a pizza that meets all of my criteria: 1) a devourable crust, thin, yeasty, chewy and crunchy, and 2) flavorful toppings that do not make a soggy mess, impossible to pick up. No forks necessary!

Here, the toppings begin with a garlicy spinach base. Consider this a starting point, it’s all about preference and mood. If you wish, forget the spinach altogether and simply replace it with lovely fresh tomatoes. Unless I am craving a heavy dose of protein or a sausage of some sort, I find a vegetable combination that includes mushrooms satisfying, flavorful and filling.

A footnote on preparing the pizza crust ahead: If fussing with pizza dough at the last minute is inconvenient, pre-bake the crust. Prepare per instructions, preheating oven to 400 degrees and bake only to set dough but not color it, about 7 minutes. Set it aside until needed. This makes the final assembly simply a matter of adding the toppings and baking.

Quick Cornmeal Pizza CrustA very malleable dough, that can be rolled as thin as desired. The cornmeal gives extra flavor, body and texture. Inspired by Lean Italian Meatless Meals, by Anne Casale
2 ½ cups flour, approx.
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 package quick rise yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup hot water

In food processor: Place 2 cup flour, cornmeal, yeast, sugar, salt into processor bowl. With machine running, gradually add olive oil and hot tap water in feed tube. Run machine til dough forms a ball and is briefly kneaded, pulsing if necessary, about 50 seconds. It should be slightly sticky. If too wet, add reserved 1/2 cup flour, 1Tbsp. flour at a time, and process for 5 second after each addition until dough reaches desired consistency.

Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and knead til smooth and satiny, about 2 minutes. Shape into a ball and dust lightly with flour. Cover with a towel and let rest for 10 minutes. Shape, top and bake as desired. Makes enough for 2 pizzas.

Note: To pre-bake crust: Preheat oven to 400 degrees, bake in lower portion of oven until set, but not colored, approx. 7 minutes. Set aside until ready to add toppings. Or follow directions for Pizza to roll and finish.
Spinach and Veggie PizzaA healthy and delicious solution for a pizza craving: from scratch and ready in less than 30 minutes. Suitable for snack, lunch, dinner or cut into hors d’oeuvres portions – highly portable.
9 ounces pkg. fresh spinach leaves, or 1 bunch cleaned and trimmed
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, slivers or minced, divided
1/2 teaspoon each salt, pepper, red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
Assorted Veggies on hand such as:
1 onion, slivers
2 jalapeno peppers, seed and slice
8 mushrooms, sliced, 1 cup or more
1/2 teaspoon rosemary
3/4 cup Muenster, and/or combo mozzarella, Swiss, jack, grated
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 recipe Quick Cornmeal Pizza dough
1 round or large baking sheet
spray for pan, cornmeal for dusting

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spray pan and sprinkle with cornmeal.

Prepare the dough per instructions and let rest about 10 minutes on floured surface. (You will only need about ½ a recipe.) Note: the crust can be prepared ahead, bake at 400 degrees just to set dough, but not colored, about 7 minutes. Set aside until needed. Increase temp to 450 for final baking.

Prepare the Spinach Base: In microwave, nuke the spinach 2-4 minutes or until slightly wilted. Drain in colander to cool and squeeze dry. In sauté pan, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil, add 1 clove garlic, the red pepper flakes, the fennel and toss until aromatic, add the spinach, and the salt. Heat to combine flavors, and set aside to cool.

Roll dough thinly on floured surface. Lay the dough in pan of choice, using fingers spread evenly to form a rim. Drizzle the dough with about 1 Tbsp. olive oil and evenly combine and spread with remaining garlic… Distribute the Spinach Base, then the other veggies, sprinkle with rosemary, salt and pepper. Top with cheeses and finish with a light dusting of oregano.

Bake in lower portion of oven for 11 – 17 minutes until bubbly, browned and crisp. Let cool briefly before cutting.

Hello, Gorgeous!

Yahoo! We finally made it to the highly anticipated Academy Awards Oscar Night and a much needed reprieve in the year thus far. We had gamely turned the corner on new years and shouldered our way through January enduring that utterly jolting re-alignment with life. It’s exhausting facing reality. I breathed a weary ‘adios’ to January and gleefully rejoiced February’s arrival. Hallelujah! Oscar Night is in the wings and accompanying it: another fabulous eatfest!

Yes, indeed! Lest we forget the occasion, in overview the 2009 Awards were showcased at the classy 3,332 seat Kodak Theatre in the heart of Hollywood. It was a night of style and wit. As usual the Oscar competition ran neck-and-neck with the banter of haughty fashion moguls wagging viciously over who most deserved the evening’s Best/Worst Dressed Categories. There were a few good moments, particularly Ben Stiller’s spoof of Joaquin Phoenix’s recent bizarre interview. Most unforgettable was the stellar collection of previous academy award winners lined up in tribute to this year’s Best Actor and Actress nominees and winners. It was a global year; we had plenty of international winners, as indicated by Best Film awarded to Mumbai’s Slumdog Millionaire, a clear runaway favorite.

Getting down to the real action, in honor of our sinking economy I scaled back and kept the fare pretty simple. The headliner, my favorite indulgence: Chicken Liver Pâté. Of course, there was crisp La

vosh and plenty of fresh veggies and olives for frantic nibbling as the suspense grew. Half way through I passed steaming cups of an incredible Rice and Cabbage Soup. Don’t let the name fool you, this stylish creamy risotto-like potage is the perfect foil to an assertive Pate. It’s filling, but just the ticket for a night of noshing.

All of the above can be prepared well ahead. I’m a big lavosh fan, my cracker of choice is topped with tons of seeds and flavors. It was an utter revelation when I discovered how simple these are to create – especially considering the hefty price they demand at the market! One trick I’ve discovered is to be certain the dough forms a very soft ball. Although a small amount of yeast is required, these are quick to make and only require a brief resting period before rolling out the dough. Bake them off, cool briefly, and break into chunks and store airtight.

I am addicted to chicken livers! At least once a month I crave them and I must have my fix. I can completely relate to the bloody scene in Rosemary’s Baby where Mia Farrow wildly ravages raw chicken livers while blood oozes down her face. My sentiments exactly! Granted, I prefer mine cooked a bit beyond raw – but there’s nothing worse than overcooked chicken livers.
I have prepared this pâté for years and continue to adapt it. Back in the day, butter was a hefty item here, plus a few glugs of cream. Over time I have continued to pare this down, now the addition of mushrooms increases the moisture content and enhances the flavors beautifully. Of course, not overcooking those lovely livers will allow moisture to remain in the pan reducing additional liquids and/or fat when pureeing. A few dashes of bitters work well as a nifty substitute for brandy. Allow the flavor to mellow and blend by preparing it at least a day ahead.

Chicken Liver Pâté
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 medium onion, chop
1/4 pound mushrooms, cremini or other, slice
2 cloves garlic, mince
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3/4 pound chicken livers, clean, trim and drain in strainer
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon tarragon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon bitters or a splash brandy
1 bay leaf or fresh herbs for garnish

In medium sauté pan over medium, heat 1 Tbsp butter; cook the onion until soft, about 5 minutes. Remove to holding plate. Add mushrooms and sauté til liquid is cooked off, remove from pan.

To pan add 1 tbsp butter, the mushrooms, garlic, 1/4 tsp. salt and pepper and sauté until liquid is released and mushrooms are soft. Remove to holding plate.

To pan add additional 1 Tbsp butter when bubbling add livers, the seasonings, the bitters or brandy, 1/2 tsp salt and red pepper flakes. Cook til livers are lightly cooked and barely pink; about 5 minutes. Allow to cool briefly.

Puree in blender with onions and mushrooms, thin as needed with beef or chicken stock, cream, milk or water. Adjust flavors, it should be highly seasoned. Chill covered in crock or oiled mold. Allow flavors to develop at least overnight or longer. Garnish with bay or fresh herbs.

Serve with crackers or crostini, olives, gherkins, crudités: radishes, celery, red peppers, cucumbers, endive.

Seeded Lavosh

Inspired by Lora Brody’s Pizza, Focaccia, Flat and Filled Breads for your Bread Machine
1/4 teaspoon yeast
1 1/2 cups flour or more if needed
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter, melted
3/4 cup warm water, plus 2 tablespoons
2-3 tablespoons water
5 tablespoons assorted seed mixture: 1 Tbsp. each: caraway or fennel, poppy, sesame seeds; 1 Tbsp coarse salt, 1 Tbsp. Montreal Pepper Seasoning, or to taste

In bowl of mixer combine all ingredients and mix with dough hook until dough comes together in smooth soft dough. Transfer to floured surface and divide in half and let rest for 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and lightly flour the backs of 2 baking sheets. Using plenty of flour, roll out one roll at a time slowly to length of cookie sheet. Brush each lightly with water and sprinkle with topping. Bake breads 10 to 15 minutes – browned in some areas and crispy in other with bubbled air pockets. Cool and break into manageable pieces. Makes 3 to 4 dz pieces.

Rice and Cabbage SoupRed, White and Greens, by Faith Willinger (The Italian Way with Vegetables)
1/2 medium cabbage
2 medium carrot, chopped
2 sprigs parsley

1 teaspoon savory, divided
2 cloves garlic, divided
14 ounces can chicken stock
6 cups water
sea salt, freshly ground pepper
1 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup Arborio rice, preferably
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

To make a light vegetable broth: bring stock and water to a boil, lightly chop and add rinsed cabbage outer leaves, carrot, parsley, half of the savory, and garlic. Add the salt and pepper and simmer 15 -20 minutes.

In soup pot over medium heat, add olive oil, then the onion and sauté til tender, add the remaining garlic and savory. Wash the remainder of cabbage, core and cut leaves into strips and add to pot, reducing heat to low and cook until wilted. Add 6 cups of the broth and bring to simmer.

Add the rice and mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally for 15-25 minutes, til rice is cooked al dente. Add broth to thin. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese. Serves 4-6 as first course. ~~

Tribute to Tom Jones: Trencher Chicken

As an aficionado of finger food, what could be more perfect than bonding with your partner and sharing a meal without utensils? Let’s just say, we are simply removing all the encumbrances and getting down to bare basics.

For years I collected cookbooks and related sources on what is now popularly referred to as ‘Food Porn’. ‘Aphrodisia’ is my preferential term, albeit far less sensational – it conjures up food that promotes Love and Beauty, from the Goddess of Love, Aphrodite. Of course, we still have the same end in mind: we’re talking about the vehicle and the methods we use to get there. It’s personal, it’s about the process. The whole package.

In support of Food Porn, nothing could be closer to the case than the literary and cinematic classic Chicken Scene from Tom Jones, one of my all time film favorites. Here, the womanizing fop and the pretty damsel have an out of body experience over a succulent roast chicken. The couple lustfully eye each other while erotically devouring a plump juicy bird with their hands – clearly in lieu of each other. Wholly mackerel, Andy!

Which brings me to the main course of the whole package: Trencher Chicken aka Chicken in Bread Crust. Back in Shakespeare’s day, when utensils might have included a hunting knife, or maybe a wood spork, food was often served on a trencher, a board possibly of bread and also the handy edible plate. In honor of St. Valentine, I offer you Trencher Chicken, a complete meal (in a bun) including vegetables.

A final note: due to the nature of the occasion the preparation steps are simplified. Who wants to be exhausted from cooking a fabulous meal, when the meal is the thing? In that spirit, I happen to have a half chicken on hand, so that is what I include here (for this event, it’s plenty for two people, really ;-). If you elect to follow in the footsteps of Tom Jones and use a whole chicken, proceed per instructions and bake up to 2 hours. Bon appétit!

Trencher Chickenaka Chicken in Bread Crust, a moist and flavorful meal; a recreational dining selection
1/2 recipe pizza dough

1/2 whole chicken, or @ 3 1/2 lbs halved
1 tablespoon olive oil, approx.
salt and pepper
1 whole onion, cut into large chop
2 cloves garlic
1 carrot, cut into thick rounds
2 small red potatoes, cut into 3/4″ pieces
1/2 green pepper , seeded, cut into large chop
1 tablespoon thyme, or 1 1/2 tsp dry
salt and pepper
1 egg, for wash plus 2 tsp water

Bring the pizza dough to room temperature or prepare and let rest.

In large pot, heat oil to medium high, add the halved chicken seasoned with salt and pepper and brown on all sides, 2-3 minutes per side. Remove from pan, add vegies and thyme, reduce to medium and saute to wilt, 8-10 minutes. Season and transfer to shallow dish and allow to cool.

Preheat oven to 325, lightly oil shallow baking pan about 10×14″.

Roll out the dough to form approx. 15″ square, a little thicker in the center. Place the cooled vegies in the center of the dough, set the chicken on top, bring the dough up and around the chicken by pulling up one corner at a time until 3 of the corners meet on top, pressing together. Bring the fourth up and over the others, sealing it together, making neat packet. Carefully lift the wrapped chicken onto baking pan and brush the bread with egg wash. Bake until bread is puffed, golden and cooked thru about 1 hour 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and let sit for at least 20 minutes – up to 1 hour. Use a serrated knife to assist in cutting to bread. Serves 2.

Note: a light sauce can be made with the pan juices. Add a handful of sliced mushrooms, 1-2 cups chicken stock or water to pot, stir to release any residue in bottom and simmer 30 minutes or as time allows. To thicken combine 1 heaping tbsp cornstarch in 1/2 cup water and stir into pan, simmer and allow to thicken.

Inspired by Susan Herrmann Loomis’, French Farm House Cookbook. ~~

Hungry & Grumpy? Try a Spanish Tortilla

Recently I came home later than usual only to discover I had not planned dinner. A big blank mist settled over me and my refrigerator as I poked about, looking for morsels and tidbits to satisfy the hungry, grumpy diner in me. Harrumph. It looked like eggs and maybe a potato.

Memories of Spain’s fantastic potato tortillas – frequently served as a tapas treat, came filtering back. Ah, yes, that’ll do ‘er! With a nod to the Spanish version which requires plenty of oil for frying, artful tossing in the pan, and attentive baby sitting, I instead opt for a gentler approach – one with the least effort and room for error. I begin by preheating my oven for an easy finish.
On further reconnaissance I unearth an onion, a few straggling cremini mushrooms and a couple ever present jalapeno peppers. This is looking more promising! Also there’s just enough marinated salad to round out the plate, along with a slice or two of dark bread – and a couple a spoonfuls of Romesco Sauce, gratefully salted away for such an occasion.

I can’t say enough about Romesco Sauce, if you haven’t tasted it, you owe yourself the distinct honor and pleasure of giving it a try. I treasure my supply of smoked paprika, which as far as I’m concerned, makes this a world class sauce. Similar to the French rouille, I actually prefer romeso for its depth and assertiveness. It’s all purpose at my house; I even use it as a base for pizza!

In the amount of time it takes to preheat the oven, the onion, garlic and veggies are sautéed, the potatoes are nicely pre-cooked and ready for their addition to the pan. I give my old standby quiche dish a light spritz with oil and begin assembling the tortilla. Done! Into the oven with just enough time to clean up the counters, handle a couple of odd chores, and return for a quick adjustment to low broil – and a gorgeous finish.

A recreational dining stalwart, I find the Spanish Tortilla extremely adaptable. Instead of mushrooms try sausage and/or other fresh vegetables. Serve it hot – or at room temperature, the Spanish preference. It’s good anytime, breakfast, lunch, dinner or in-between, and of course it’s the perfect candidate for brunch, picnics or potlucks. For that extra pizzazz, don’t forget the Romesco Sauce.

Dinner won’t be a mystery tomorrow night!

Spanish Tortilla with Potatoes and Mushrooms
Highly versatile and good anytime

2-3 medium potatoes, peeling optional, cut into 3/4″ chunks
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium green pepper, or 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded chopped
10 cremini mushrooms, trimmed and cut into 3 slices each
½ tsp. each dried sage and oregano
salt and pepper
6 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1/3 cup each grated cheddar and jack or meltable cheese of choice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees; spray a quiche dish, pie plate, or similar ovenware. Place potatoes in small pot, cover with salted water, bring to a boil and simmer about 10 minutes, until tender when poked. Drain. Combine eggs and milk, season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile in a sauté pan over medium heat, heat the olive oil, add onion and toss til fragrant; add garlic and green pepper, cook about 2 minutes, then add the mushrooms and cook to soften. Toss in the potatoes season with sage and oregano or 1/3 cup fresh parsley if available, and heat to combine flavors.

Spread the potato mixture into the baking dish, sprinkle with parmesan cheese, and pour the egg mixture even over the potatoes. Sprinkle with the cheddar and jack cheese. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the eggs begin setting around the edges. Change the heat to broil setting, about 400 degrees for possible. If not, lower the rack to move the dish further from away heat source. Broil for about 5 minutes or until center is set and the top begins to brown. Serves 6 ~~.

Romesco Sauce
An all purpose standby, good with vegetables and any earthy grilled foods

1 slice country bread, trimmed, toasted or dried, 1/3 cup crumbled
½ cup water
1 cup red peppers, roasted, cut into chunks
1/2 cup almonds, whole, blanched and toasted
5 cloves garlic, minced fine, about 1 T
2 tablespoons Spanish paprika, smoked
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or lemon juice
1/3 cup water (approx.) or any pepper liquid if available
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2/3 cup olive oil

Soak the bread in about 1/2 cup water to soften, squeeze with hand to remove liquid and form a smooth dough-like panade.

In blender combine red pepper, nuts, garlic, paprika and pepper flakes and pulse to puree. Add the bread and sherry. With motor running, gradually add 1/3 water of pepper liquid to incorporate, then add the oil slowly, process until smooth and thick.

Adjust seasoning with salt and additional vinegar as needed. It should have a slight edge from the vinegar, but not overpowering. If too thick, thin with more liquid.

Chill and let flavors mellow. Stored in fridge, it will keep for 4 -5 days or longer. Can be frozen up to 1 month, by why bother? Yield: approx. 2 ½ cups.

Note: If Spanish paprika is unavailable: soften 1 dried mild pepper – New Mexico or pasillo chile along with chile pequin, in boiling water for 5 minutes, drain and reserve the liquid for later and cool, remove any stems + dash smoke flavoring. ~~

Olé, Posole!

I wish you could smell this burbling cauldron of Posole. Succulent pork bites, onions, and assorted peppers all melding together in a spicy sauce heady with chilies, garlic, oregano and cumin. Shades of chili con carne, no beans! It’s almost time to add the pièce de résistance: hominy, and perhaps later a light sprinkling of cornmeal for extra thickening.
Simmer away my beauty: a tour de force worthy of Super Bowl Sunday or any other spectacular occasion!

For me, it’s all about the hominy aka posole or pozole – there’s something here that pushes my buttons. From the nutrition angle it’s sadly lacking: corn kernels that have been stripped of their bran and germ.

Hominy is addictive, while living in South Carolina I couldn’t get enough of it. Grits, or ground hominy, is standard fare there – at breakfast, lunch or dinner it’s used very similar to potatoes. In a sense, hominy plays well with others. It’s compatible, durable, has its own strength and character, but does not dominate.

I’ll let the Posole rest overnight. As with many hearty dishes, it’s even better the next day. Then, I’ll have plenty of time to set out a selection of toppings for dressing up the Posole according to personal whim and fancy.

There will be chopped tomato, green onion, cilantro, some avocado or guacamole, grated cheese and lime wedges to perk it up, and my old standby, Cabbage Salsa. Of course there will be chips and salsa and flour tortillas for ripping and wrapping. Oh, zippity do dah!

Red Chile and Pork Posole1 cup water, boiling
4 dried chilies, pasillo, jalapeno, ancho any combo
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, more if needed
3 lb boneless pork shoulder, cut – into 2″ cubes, or tenderloin
4 c hominy , yellow or white, two 16 oz cans drained, rinsed
1 medium onion, cut into small chunks
1 small anaheim chili pepper, cut up
2 tablespoons cornmeal, optional
1 1/2 cups shredded lettuce, or Cabbage Salsa (see Condiments)
3/4 cup sliced radishes
3/4 cup sliced green onions
1 1/2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese

Combine the boiling water and chilies and allow to soften about 20 minutes. Reserve the soaking liquid. Stem and seed the chilies. In a blender or food processor, puree them with the reserved soaking liquid along with garlic, oregano and cumin, salt.

In a large pot, heat the oil over moderately-high heat. Add the pork and cook until it begins to brown. Add onion and 1 or more anaheim or any other pepper type preferred. Stir in the chile puree and water to barely cover. Bring to a simmer over moderately-high heat, reduce the heat and cook at a bare simmer, partially covered, until the meat is falling-apart tender, 1-3 hours, depending on cut. Half way through cooking process add hominy. If desired thicken with cornmeal if desired, stir occasionally to avoid burning.

To serve: Ladle Posole into bowls and offer accompaniments.
Offer toppings: Cabbage Salsa or shredded lettuce, sliced radishes, sliced green onions, tomato, cilantro, lime wedges, avocado, grated jack cheese. Serves 6 ~~

Note: substitute equal amount of fresh chicken pieces and cook until tender

Rice Pudding Encounter

Rice Pudding has been pinging me from all over the planet. It wants my attention, and I resist.

First, I begin with my apologies to Rice Pudding. I’ve had an attitude that it’s bland, mundane, it takes too long to cook, and it has far too few healthy attributes. So why bother? There are more interesting things to think about. Like custard. I adore anything with custard.

This avoidance must go back to the egg-thing: that deprivation of eggs we were all tied up in knots over for so long. Way too much cholesterol and fat! And now, even women of a certain age are caught up in the need for more calcium – must take care of those bones! I’m consuming more milk, yogurt, and cheese than ever.

Ah, echoes of comforting custard, the sublime solution! Not too long ago, I even toyed with the idea of developing a custard cookbook. I’ve collected untold ideas, recipes, photos – all related to custard. You can rest easy; there will be plenty of those unctuous treats woven thru the entries here. Clafoutis, don’t get me started!

Not too long ago I had a container of leftover rice sitting in my fridge. Hmmm, Rice Pudding is calling, but I’m not answering. Instead, enter previously mentioned Stuffed Cabbage Rolls, an excellent decision. Shortly after that, while rooting through a cupboard; I noticed an abundance of rice – 3 or 4 different types. Of course, thoughts went to risotto, paella, maybe soup, surely not Rice Pudding.

Then the brain storm. Why not try making Rice Pudding in the microwave??! I consulted Barbara Kafta’s authoritative book, Microwave Gourmet and was intrigued. The door was open.

Even from Kafta’s perspective, pre-cooked rice is the way to go. As a footnote in that regard, I find it easier to boil my rice instead of steaming it. It’s a snap to simply add about 1/3 the prescribed amount of cooked rice in its raw form to plenty of boiling water and simmer away for about 20 minutes. When it’s al dente, pour the rice into a sieve or strainer and allow it to drain and cool until needed.

Wouldn’t you know, it took me two rounds to get Rice Pudding right? Round one, I let it cook away in the microwave, unsupervised. Don’t. Be wary until you know how Rice Pudding with get along with your microwave. Ignored, it boiled over and I had one sorry mess on my hands. Fortunately, it was retrievable and edible, just not smart.

Round two, I watch Rice Pudding like a hawk, nodding and smiling diplomatically; an occasional stir, I murmur appreciatively as it transforms into a creamy, dreamy delight. Yes, Rice Pudding, you have me convinced and I will share you with my friends.

Divine Resolution, worthy of a visual record, Rice Pudding is a success… except for dropping my sticky camera on the floor and traumatically jamming the telephoto lens. Ah, Rice Pudding, joy upon joy.

Simple Pudding, Simple
Ready in under 30 minutes. Inspired by Barbara Kafta’s Microwave Gourmet

3 cups cooked white rice (1 cup rice cooked yields about 3 cups)
1/3 cup sugar
2 cups milk
1/2 cup raisins
pinch salt
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a 4-quart glass measurer combine cooked rice, sugar, milk, raisins and pinch of salt. Cover with plastic wrap and cook in microwave for 5 minutes. Watch carefully towards end of cycle for boil over.

Remove wrap and stir well. Cover and cook 2 minutes longer, again watch carefully towards end of cooking cycle to avoid boil over. Repeat another 30 seconds longer, until it begins to boil.

With a fork beat remaining 1/3 cup milk, 1 egg and vanilla. Temper this with about 1/3 hot milk from rice mixture, and slowly add to rice, stirring to combine thoroughly. Cover and return to microwave for about 1 minute 30 seconds, avoid boiling. The milk custard should just coat the spoon. Serve warm or room temperature. Serves 6 ~~

Hi Ho, Silver!

It’s time to get back up on that pony and ride again. The holidays are over and I’ve simply run out of excuses. I have been away from the Blogosphere too long and I’ve dearly missed my favorite therapeutic indulgence, the enduring challenge of writing about food and sustainability.

It was easy this past summer and fall. The discoveries and revelations spun from the heady abundance of fresh, luscious produce created a sense of urgency worth sharing. Now, with winter in full thrust, thoughts and experiences surrounding comfort food seem far less compelling. Whatever!

I’ve noticed my style of eating (and yes, weight, too) has changed greatly with my shift in locales and seasons. When it was blazing hot outside, salads and lighter meals made sense. These days I have to work at my vegetable intake. The solution lately has been cabbage, a good thing since the markets are full of it. In my fridge, there is typically one rolling around, forgotten and patiently waiting for its number to come up. It’s especially handy in slaw form, a great crunchy addition to tacos and burgers.

A bit of further digging on the merits of cabbage tells me that it is high in vitamin C – a nice winter benefit. Also, the generic green cabbage will store 1 to 2 months in a cool place; a positive addition to soups and stews. I’m reminded of the French expression of endearment, ma petite chou, or ‘my little cabbage’. Very classy, indeed.

In this colder climate, I’m eating more, and thinking about foods I haven’t considered for years: cassoulets and chowders, and of course, things with cabbage… like Golabki, or Polish stuffed cabbage. I like making these little rolls when the need to play with my food emerges. This is a great social activity with kids or just a wonderful meditational exercise. The bit of brown sugar and raisins on the finish is reflective of the Polish influence.

Polish Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

1 cabbage head
1 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground turkey
1 cup cooked long grained rice
1/2 cup onion, finely diced
1/2 cup celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
½ tsp. salt and pepper, approx.

14 oz. can tomatoes, crushed
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
salt to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar, approximate
2 tablespoons raisins, approximate

Separate and blanch cabbage leaves briefly in boiling water. Drain and set aside. Reserve @ 1 cup water. Pre-cook the rice, if not readily available.

Oil 9×12″ casserole dish or dutch oven. Place unusable leaves on bottom of dish, with a bit of available sliced onion, an additional light sprinkling of dill and salt and pepper.

For the rolls: combine filling items. Place heaping tablespoonful of stuffing at largest end of leaf, roll and fold sides in, and finish roll. Place one layer of rolls close together, seam side down in dish. Add reserved water to moisten bottom of dish.

Top rolls with crushed tomatoes, and season with dill and salt and pepper. Sprinkle lightly with sugar and raisins. Cover the dish with foil and bake at 325 degrees for about 1 1/2 hours. Serves 4-6~~

Rainy Days and Tamale Pie

It was raining, cold, damp and miserable, with no let up in sight. I was content to remain indoors enjoying the rain as it pelted away outside; perhaps a bit of puttering, catch up on a stack of reading, take a deep breath and contemplate life. I built my first fire of the season and snuggled in for an easy, relaxed day.

By mid afternoon anticipatory thoughts of dinner begin to surface: something warm and satisfying, easy comfort food… a survey of the fridge offers no such solutions. In the freezer, however, I spot a small container of lentil chili, leftover from a previous feast.

My thoughts drift to cornmeal… ever since South Carolina I have been a big cornmeal and grits fan. I can’t get enough of it. I love grits for breakfast, polenta in the evening topped with almost anything, I love cornmeal in cakes, biscotti; you name it.

Not long ago, a friend shared a delicious handmade tamale purchased at a small downtown Mexican mercado. It reminded me of Costa Rica and the fabulous banana leaf wrapped tamales I enjoyed there for breakfast: a simple vegetable filling encased in creamy masa. Superb.

I flash on the tamale pie I labored over years ago for special company. According to others, it was a disaster. Perhaps it was a bit heavy on the cornmeal mush border… but what’s wrong with that? Nevertheless, it has been the brunt of endless family jokes and I haven’t made tamale pie since.

Well, why not? A quick search on line and I get a few good ideas and proceed with my simple, satisfying and highly enjoyable Tamale Pie. Note to self: continue saving those yummy lentils! I’ll be making this one again!

Since I adore anything with chilies in it, I tend to have a cabbage on hand for such occasions. This version of cabbage salsa, a salad or slaw of sorts, is the perfect accompaniment, and is equally as good with fish tacos to posole.

Rainy Day Tamale Pie
Easy comfort food

2 cups Chilified Lentils (see index)
1 cup cooked chicken, shredded (optional)
10 whole black olives
1 tomato, sliced, then halved
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded, divided
4 1/2 cups water, divided
1 cup cornmeal
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup yogurt

Spray 7×11″ casserole and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cornmeal Layer: In medium pot, bring 3 1/2 cups water and salt to a boil. Combine remaining 1 cup water and cornmeal together and gradually whisk mixture into boiling water. Reduce to medium low, cover loosely and simmer til thick and very tender, about 14 minutes; stir regularly to keep from sticking on bottom. Remove from heat and stir in yogurt.

To assemble Tamale Pie: Spread about 2/3 of cornmeal evenly over bottom of casserole dish. Combine chili and chicken and spread evenly over the cornmeal layer. Press the olives evenly into the mixture. Top with sliced tomato
and sprinkle with half of the shredded cheese. Spread remaining cornmeal in an even layer on top and sprinkle with remaining cheese. (Can be done ahead and refrigerated to this point)

Bake 30-40 minutes until golden. Let stand about 15 minutes before cutting. Serves 4

Cabbage Salsa
Excellent accompaniment with pork, chicken, or fish
1/2 head cabbage (8 cups) core, very thin slice and cut in half again
2 teaspoons salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 green onion, chopped
3 jalapenos, seed, minced
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 teaspoon pepper or red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon cider vinegar, or lime juice or to taste

Place cabbage in large bowl and sprinkle with salt. Let stand about 20 minutes then drain off any liquid.

Add remaining items and toss to combine. Chill until needed. Makes about 3 cups. This lasts very well. ~~

172′ Peel Revealed: World Heralds Apple Record

All the current political rancor and financial upheaval has me starved for any shred of enlightened, positive news. OK, the fact that our headline here stems clear back to 1976 may seem a bit dated or desperate to some. In truth, the prized peel was actually 172 feet, and 4 inches long – an understated bit of whimsical levity for these depressing times. (Hurrah!)

Another pleasant, non-controversial tidbit: October is National Apple Month. How reassuring to know that America’s revered apple is suitably honored with more than a sensational and fleeting 15 minutes of fame!

It seems that the ubiquitous apple is always around, so what’s the big deal? Thanks to cold storage technology, come those dreary days of winter, the apple is a frequent and welcome addition in many households. Once October appears again, we are blithely reminded how little comparison there is between a crisp, juicy, sweet apple fresh picked from the tree and last year’s mushy and flavorless counterpart.

And so with renewed gladness in our hearts and happiness abounding, it is time to embrace a new crop of apples – and this year they are excellent! But wait, there are so many varieties to select from, deciding on the right apple can be tricky. Fortunately, many markets now provide plenty of product information ranging from the state or country of origin to their flavor profile and suggested usage. Generally speaking, I tend to rely on the eye ball approach: apples for eating have wrinkles on their blossom end while apples that are good for cooking are smooth on the blossom end.

As stocks tumble and leaves fall, it’s comforting to remember that everything has its season, and the simplest pleasures are often the most rewarding. How appropriate, and what better reason to celebrate everyone’s pal, the humble and versatile apple. With apple cider, apple butter, apple pie…

Apple Oatmeal Cake
Moist and flavorful

3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup oats
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup light-brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large golden apples, core and chop
1/3 cup shredded coconut
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line and spray 8×8″ pan.

Combine dry ingredients and oatmeal and set aside. Chop the apples and set aside.

In mixing bowl, beat the butter, add the eggs one at a time. Add the sugar and beat til cream, about 5 minutes. Add the vanilla.

Stir in the dry mixture and mix well. Add the apples and coconut and mix to combine.

Spread into prepared baking pan and bake for about 35 minutes, or until bars tests done. Remove to rack and cool thoroughly.

Cut and sift with confectioner’s sugar. Serves 9 or more.

Apple Ginger ChutneyA nice accompaniment to roast pork, venison, duck, turkey or curries
6 medium Granny Smith apples, peel, core, chop
1 large onion, chop
1 clove garlic, mince
3/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup orange juice
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 cup golden raisins
2 tablespoons ginger root, peel, grate
1/4 cup crystallized ginger, mince
3 medium red jalapeno chilies, or 1 red pepper, seed chop
1 tablespoon mustard seed
3/4 teaspoon each salt, allspice, cinnamon, celery seed, red pepper flakes or to taste

In a large saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally over moderate heat til thick, about 40 minutes.

Cool and store in refrigerator. Will last at least 2 weeks or longer. Makes 6 cups. ~~

Running on Empty: Morning Fixes

I love breakfast, or more correctly, I love the idea of breakfast.
I visualize myself commencing my day stylishly savoring a favorite selection of morning foods: beautifully presented fresh fruit, wholesome breads enfolded in a lined basket, eggs one of a thousand ways, excellent coffee, all the trimmings.

For many years my schedule was so crazy erratic it was far easier to pass on breakfast altogether and deal with it later, perhaps on the weekend. I had the attitude if I couldn’t sit down and calmly enjoy my meal, I’d rather not; a bad habit and counter productive: running on adrenaline and coffee.

The breakthrough came when I finally made the correlation between my eating meals regularly and achieving optimum performance. I started recognizing that I didn’t fade unexpectedly, my mind was sharper, and my physical stamina improved. I began making an effort to eat something in the morning, and for a long time Raisin Bran was my uninspired, yet highly satisfying solution.

While living in Florida where fresh fruit is abundant year round, I got in the habit of cranking out a smoothie for a morning pick me up. Orange juice was usually part of the equation and whatever fruit happened to drop from the sky. I’d take a break with my smoothie, sit under my queen palm and watch the lizards chase each other.

Since I’ve been working from home much more this past year I’ve taken to preparing ahead a pot of a dried grain – such as oatmeal, along with some dried fruit for a quick warm up in the microwave when the urge hits.

Recently, I had one of those amazing ah ha! moments when I contemplated couscous as a breakfast option. Why not, indeed! The new crop of apples and pears coming into the markets make this the perfect time to include them as well.

Couscous with Honey and FruitFrom Herb and Honey Cookery
by Martha Rose Shulman

1 cup couscous
1 1/2 cups boiling water, pinch salt
1 tablespoon butter
1 apple, core and chop
1 pear, core and chop
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
4 tablespoons raisins
3 tablespoons apple or other juice
1 tablespoon honey

Topping: yogurt and honey

Place couscous in bowl, add salted boiling water, cover and let stand while preparing fruit, about 10 minutes.

Heat butter in sauté pan, add apple and pear, sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg. Sauté a few minutes, add juice and raisins. Cook stirring 3-5 minutes. Stir couscous with fork to separate grains and add to the pan; heat thoroughly, stirring occasionally. Serve topped with yogurt and more honey if desired. Serves 4-6.~~

Fruit Smoothie with Yogurt

1 cup orange juice
1 large banana, in pieces
2 tablespoons wheat germ, optional
1 cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon honey, (opt.)

Place all in blender and process for @ 30 seconds.