Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Pigtails and Frog Legs: A Family Cookbook from Neiman Marcus

Once upon a time, I was strolling through Neiman Marcus (we used to have one in downtown Minneapolis) with my husband and this caught my eye.

Now, I don't usually pay full price for new cookbooks, but I had to get it.  A cookbook illustrated by Chuck Jones?  How could I resist?

Okay...there may be one or two people out there...somewhere...who have no idea who Chuck Jones was.  Luckily, our local history center has an exhibit right now and I can show you this.  Take a minute.  (Thanks, Dave!)

And now that we're all on the same page, I'll go on.  So, a cookbook illustrated by Chuck Jones.  Apparently Neiman Marcus solicited recipes from its "InCircle Members" (no clue!) to do a fundraising cookbook for several children's charities.  Somebody found out Chuck Jones was one of their members and they asked him to do the illustrations. Unlike many fundraising cookbooks, the recipes in this book passed a panel of professional chefs.  And then they got Michael Jackson to write the forward.  (1993)

I like this cookbook a lot.  It's a great family cookbook, and I really need to dig into it more.  I love the recipe for Green Enchiladas, but best of all is The Á La King.

I don't think I had ever had chicken á la king made from scratch before.  I'd had cafeteria versions, and boil-in-bag versions, frozen dinner versions, and I *think* somewhere way in my past I had encountered a canned version.  My reaction to those was basically "it's okay".  But I tried this, and suddenly I knew why people had spent so much time attempting to make a quick and easy version.  But this is fairly quick and it's certainly easy, although you might have to buy an ingredient or two that you don't normally keep at hand.  Here's the recipe -- stick around for my notes on it afterwards.
The Á La King

1/2 cup green pepper, diced
1 jar (4.5 oz) sliced mushrooms, reserve 1/4 cup liquid
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup milk
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup frozen peas, cooked
2 to 3 cups chicken, cooked and cubed
1 4 oz jar pimentos, chopped
1 pkg (6-count) PEPPERIDGE FARM puff pastry shells

In large skillet, sauté green pepper and mushrooms in butter for 5 minutes. Blend in flour, salt and pepper. Simmer, stirring until mixture is bubbly. Remove from heat. Stir in half-and-half, milk, broth and reserved mushroom liquid. Heat to boiling. Stirring constantly, boil for 1 minute. Add peas, chicken and pimentos. Cook 4 more minutes. Serve in pastry shells.
Serves 6

To start, I should say that I have never even purchased Pepperidge Farms puff pastry shells. I have no idea if you can even still buy them. But this is a flexible recipe (another one!  I like those) and it can easily be served on rice, refrigerator biscuits, drop biscuits...oh, probably mashed potatoes too if you want. What else?  Canned mushrooms are fine.  Half a cup of cream and 1 1/2 cups milk...red (sweet) pepper instead of pimiento.  Even the original recipe is very flexible on the amount of chicken involved.  And it tastes soooooo good!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The History of Pho

Lucky Peach published an excerpt of Andrea Nguyen's The Pho Cookbook (should I be italicizing all titles?) in their magazine and posted it online as well.  Here is her take on the history of pho.

Oh, and if you've never had pho, ask around, find the enthusiast, and go where they tell you.  Don't be afraid of the word "fatty".  Put everything in, and enjoy!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

In Defence of English Cooking

Let's talk about George Orwell.

Everybody knows 1984.  If you went through the American public school system, there's a pretty good chance that you had to read it.  Or maybe you saw one of the movie versions. But did you know he was actually considered one of the truly great British writers and had several other books to his credit, both fiction and nonfiction?

I had to read 1984 for school. I didn't care for it.  However, some years later I wound up listening to an audiobook version of his Down and Out in Paris and London and I thought it was wonderful.  In it, he talks about living poor in Paris and London (hence the title) and doing a LOT of dishwashing.  In the accounts of his time in restaurant kitchens, he is writing a predecessor to Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential.  I found it absolutely fascinating.

So when I saw a listing for In Defence of English Cooking by George Orwell (Penguin Books, 2005) I snapped it up.



Well, I'm blaming Penguin Books for this one.  This was published as one of the "Pocket Penguins" done for their 70th Anniversary.  It's a slim volume, only 58 pages, and it consists of four essays.  "In Defense of English Cooking" begins on page 54.  The last two pages are a list of all 70 Pocket Penguins.  Yes, I bought it for three pages.  It reads like a newspaper opinion piece on the ideal British foods. So...not quite what I was hoping for.

Now, maybe this is still the book for you.  But I'd recommend getting a copy of Down and Out in Paris and London instead.

Essay: In Defence of English Cooking

In Defence of English Cooking at Amazon

Down and Out in Paris and London at Amazon

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Peanuts Cookbook

The Peanuts Cookbook.  It came out in 1969, which is probably about when my sister got it.  I went through a phase of liking anything Peanuts, as many kids did, and for a while this was great.  In reality, it's a cutesy little book that was put out to capitalize on the fact that somebody had gotten the license from Charles Schulz to do a Peanuts cookbook.  It's cute, it is very pink and green (the interior sticks with the same color scheme as the cover, a pink panel in a green border), and there is a recipe on the left-hand page and a four-panel comic (which may have a tie in to the recipe, or not) on the right.

The recipe selection?  Meh.  They found some things that would tie in to the comics. Doughnuts, macaroni and cheese, and a steak tartare recipe for Snoopy (only to be fed to dogs, or maybe cats).  Mostly they took kid-friendly recipes and changed the names.  Sally's Scrambled Eggs, Lucy's Lemon Lollipops, Charlie Brown's Brownies...you get the idea.

The one recipe I remember making, and making more than once, is Great Pumpkin Cookies.

Great Pumpkin Cookies

1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup shortening
2 eggs
1 lb. can pumpkin
2 3/4 cups flour, sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1 cup raisins
1 cup pecans, chopped

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix sugar, shortening, eggs and pumpkin thoroughly. Sift dry ingredients and add to pumpkin mixture. Blend well. Add raisins and pecans. Drop batter by teaspoonful on uncreased baking sheets. Bake 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned. Makes about 6 dozen

A delicious snack while you're waiting for the "Great Pumpkin."

I don't remember the pecans ever being used in ours.

Amazon link to The Peanuts Cookbook

Monday, May 16, 2016

A busy month, Eurovision, and food history

Have I mentioned that this month has been extraordinarily busy?  Or at least it feels like it.  It's the last month that the kids are in school, the yard and gardens need to be finished, a dinner party, garage sale, ripping up carpeting...and Eurovision.

Eurovision shouldn't be a big distraction for me, here in the middle of the US.  But we've watched faithfully for more than a decade, and I can't help but get caught up in it a little.  But I'm not the only one.

Here's a link for you to the blog of Dr. Annie Gray, food historian, TV presenter, and Eurovision fan.

I Love Eurovision

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Quick and Easy Indian Cooking

I have no yogurt in the house.  Okay, this may be tough, but here goes....

Madhur Jaffrey came into the public eye as an actress.  She was born and raised in India, then traveled to London to join the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1955. While in London, she was so disappointed in the food that she asked he mother for recipes and began to teach herself to cook.  She did lots of radio and theater work, and her first film, Shakespeare Wallah, came out in 1965. Her first cookbook, An Invitation to Indian Cooking, came out in 1973.

This is not that book.  But it is my first Madhur Jaffrey cookbook.

I was introduced to this book by a friend, who convinced me I needed a copy.  It wasn't hard -- he cooked for me. Mango lassis FTW!  I have now been conditioned by this book to start salivating as soon as I see it.  Everything we have tried has been delicious, and it really is easy.  Quick...well, it might depend on how good you are at prep.  Assembling everything once you have it ready to go is simple, but some of the recipes require a fair amount of chopping.  The recipes may not look simple at first glance either, especially if you have been seduced by cookbooks that promise results with only three ingredients.  She uses lots of spices and this makes the ingredient list twice as long as the instructions, but when the most difficult part of prepping them is finding where they are in your cupboard, I don't think you have to worry much.  (YMMV -- my cupboards are full but generally organized.)

The lamb recipes (Lamb Stewed in Coconut Milk!) are good. The chicken recipes are good (Silken Chicken!). The lentil recipes (Whole Green Lentils with Cilantro and Mint!) are good! There's even a Hard-Boiled Eggs Masala that is great when you have no idea what to make for dinner.  And the Mango Lassi.... *sigh*

I think the recipe I'll give you is one of the first we made after getting the cookbook.  It's good for picnics and potlucks, can be served at any temperature, and eaten with fork, toothpicks, or fingers.

Delicious Chicken Bits
Murgh ke mazedar tukray

1 1/4 pounds boned, skinned chicken breasts (4 breast pieces)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1/2 teaspoon ajwain seeds
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon bright red paprika
3/4 teaspoon salt
About 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut each chicken breast piece into thirds, lengthwise, and then crosswise into 3/4-inch to 1-inch segments. Put in a bowl. Add the black pepper, turmeric, cayenne pepper, cumin, thyme, garlic powder, paprika, salt, and 1 tablespoon of the oil. Mix well and set aside for 10 minutes or longer.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a wok or large, nonstick frying pan over very high heat. When the oil is very hot, put in the chicken. Stir and fry quickly until the chicken pieces are lightly browned or turn opaque on the outside. Put in a baking dish, cover loosely with oiled waxed paper (which should sit inside the dish and directly on the chicken pieces), and bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until the chicken pieces are just cooked through. If not to be eaten immediately, remove the chicken pieces from the hot baking dish to prevent them from drying out.

Serves 6-8

I want a mango lassi....

Shakespeare Wallah on YouTube

Madhur Jaffrey's Quick & Easy Indian Cooking Shakespeare Wallah - The Merchant Ivory Collection Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Crabby Cook Cookbook

Let's talk about Jessica Harper.

This is the first Jessica Harper I was ever really aware of:

Later, I was amused to see her pop up in one episode of one of my favorite TV shows, Wiseguy.  She was the horrible soon-to-be-ex-wife of main character Frank McPike.

Poor Frank. (I would have done a picture of her instead, but I couldn't find a screen cap of her character. I also looked for Frank in the rain. How has no one posted a screen cap of Frank in the rain?!?)

Anyway, it's not either of those Jessica Harpers I wanted to talk about.  Let's try Jessica Harper, wife, mom and cookbook author.

All the same Jessica Harper, just a little mileage between them.  The first thing that caught my eye was, of course, her name.  Jessica Harper wrote a cookbook?  O-kay...quotes from Ruth Reichl and Valerie Bertinelli on the cover.  We're still in "celebrity cookbook" territory, but you could do worse.

And then I opened it up.  Here, this is going to go *way* too long, but I'm going to type in all of what I just randomly opened it to (except the recipe). I think you'll like it.

I'm feeling really out of step with the world. While browsing through Real Simple magazine, I stumbled upon the results of a survey of 2,600 women that revealed their top five wishes: (1) a spouse who makes more money than the current spouse, (2) plastic surgery, (3) to tell her boss exactly how she feels, (4) more kids, and (5) separate bathrooms.

As for number 1, it sounds like they want to swap the current spouse for a richer one. I so do not want this. Finding a new spouse would be way too time-consuming and would involve going on dates to places like Hooters. Besides, I like my spouse, although I hate the word "spouse," which makes him sound rodent-like.

As for number 2, I once saw a terrifying documentary of a facelift that totally put me off -- way too much gore -- plus it's barbaric and anti-feminist and also I'd be afraid I'd end up looking like the pilot of a plane that's going way too fast.

Number 3 is irrelevant because I am my own boss and I tell myself exactly how I feel 24/7, which is sort of irritating, but most likely I will not fire myself as jobs are hard to get these days.

And 4? Nope. Had 'em, love 'em, done.

Number 5 is another story. On this one I'm finally in synch with the women surveyed. I believe it's in the best interest of romantic partners to avoid seeing each other doing things involving floss, shower caps, bandages, ointment, razors and...all that other stuff. The bathroom should be like Vegas: what happens in there stays in there, out of a spouse's line of vision. The best way to achieve that is with a his/hers setup.

But I'd give up the separate bathrooms in a heartbeat if someone would grant me my fondest wish (and I'm stunned it's not number 1 on the R.S. list): I wish my spouse could cook.

This shrimp recipe is so simple that anybody's spouse could prepare it, even mine. (And I wish he would, so I'd have more time to look into building that second bathroom.) While he's at it, it wouldn't kill him to make a little rice to go with it.

Yup, getting long.  And I haven't even given you the recipe yet!  But before I do, let me finish.  I like the book, the recipes look good.  She has a Peg Bracken-like snark that makes it fun to read, although it's definitely a cook book and not a food book.

This recipe I just made last night.  It's kind of like stacking loaded nachos in a casserole and baking them -- and there's not anything wrong with that!  You probably want a salad with it, though.


Abby's Casserole

Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced (optional)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 pound ground beef
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups tomato sauce
1 can (14 ounces) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
6 corn tortillas (8-inch size)
2 cups grated cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, or a blend

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat, Add the onion, and the jalapeño if you're using it, and cook until they are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.

3. Add the beef to the skillet, raise the heat to medium, and cook, breaking it up with a fork, until it has just lost all it's pink color, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chili powder, cumin, oregano, paprika, salt, and pepper, and cook until well mixed, 2 minutes or so.  Add the tomato sauce, reduce the heat to low, and simmer the mixture to blend the flavors, about 10 minutes.  Then add the black beans and the corn, mix well, and set the mixture aside.

4. Place a tortilla in a 10-inch, straight-sided casserole dish, and spread it with about 2/3 cup of the beef mixture. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup of the cheese. Repeat these layers five times, ending with cheese. Cover, and bake for 30 minutes.

5. Remove the cover and continue baking for 10 minutes, until the casserole is bubbly. Serve hot.

Variation Once I was halfway through making this and realized I had no tortillas. I used tortilla chips instead, and my daughters actually liked it better.

The Crabby Cook at Amazon

Friday, May 6, 2016

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Garlic Lover's Cookbook

I believe this book was purchased from a used book store because my boyfriend was going to be hosting a garlic party, and we wanted some clever ideas.  It was compiled from entries into competition at the Gilroy Garlic Festival.  What's that?  Never heard of the Gilroy Garlic Festival?

"...the only town in America where you can marinate a steak just by hanging it out on the clothesline." -- Will Rogers

Gilroy, California's claim to fame is being the "Garlic Capital of the World", although if you look on Wikipedia you can see that they also do well with mushrooms and wine.  Annually since 1979 they have thrown the Gilroy Garlic Festival, one of the largest food festivals in the country.  I think it must have been that first festival that was documented in Les Blank's wonderful "Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers".  (Well worth searching out. How many films do you know that have Alice Waters and Werner Herzog in them? But I digress....)

I'm torn between giving you the recipe for Limas and Sausage Italiano, Sherried Oxtails or Succulent Sautéed Shrimp.  I think the shrimp wins.  It's shortest to type and the quickest and easiest to make.

Succulent Sautéed Shrimp

Shrimp vary in flavor, depending on the area and how fresh they are when served. Garlic is a very good seasoning to use with shrimp whether they are highly flavorful or bland.

1 lb. raw shrimp
1/4 cup butter
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. parsley flakes
1 tsp. chives
3/4 tsp. seasoned salt
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 tsp. tarragon leaves
1/8 tsp. cayenne or red pepper

Shell and devein shrimp. Melt butter in chafing dish or skillet; add lemon juice and seasonings. Sauté shrimp in hot herb butter over medium heat 8 minutes or until pink, turning once. Serve hot, preferably on a bed of rice. Makes 2 or 3 servings.


Delicious!  And if you have a bag of shrimp in your freezer, you can have dinner from scratch in the time it takes to make the rice.  I have been known to fake it with pre-cooked shrimp, and while fresh herbs may taste best, those in your cupboard are fine (and are also what the recipe measurements are for).  I've also been known to double the butter and seasonings, as it is nice with the rice.

The Garlic Lover's Cookbook on Amazon

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Are you familiar with Lulu Peyraud?

If you've ever read Richard Olney's book, Lulu's Provençal Table, you know who Lulu Peyraud is.  At 98, she is still with us, and here is a piece on her from Saveur magazine.

Lulu Peyraud, the Cooking Queen of Provence

Monday, May 2, 2016

The gap between food people eat and food people talk about

Slate says,

If you are what you eat, America is Allrecipes

And there's nothing wrong with that. Go forth and cook!  With all my cookbooks, there are still many times I google ingredients, thinking "Now, didn't I read a recipe like...?"

Wonky veg!

And from Huffington Post UK, what ASDA is doing to promote fresh veg consumption!  I wish they'd do this here.

School lunches around the world

This may just explain American politics.

What school lunch looks like around the world.