Heavenly Hash

So the past seven days are really a blur. The details of our week are vague; however I am pretty sure I have not made a meal since last Sunday. A funny concept since I spent the entire week entertaining. Note to self: cooking and entertaining are not mutually exclusive!

Suffice it to say, between hosting Easter parties, our church Wednesday night supper, and shuttling children with overloaded dance cards, I spent the week wired on grande-non-fat-one-Splenda-lattes.

Thank goodness I had the weekend at my mother-in-law’s to come down off my adrenaline buzz. I caught up on several FoodTV and HGTV shows, watched Gidget and It Runs in the Family, and finished needle pointing one of the elephants on my son’s Noah’s Ark stocking. I didn’t cook, wash, clean or even make my bed! And, it was delicious.

Our Easter feast was traditional with expected favorites including spiral glazed ham, potato salad and baked beans. Perhaps the unsung hero of the day was the Heavenly Hash. I remember a variation of the dish my grandmother added to holiday meals, so today’s rendition struck my tongue as one part nostalgic and two parts unfamiliar. In my wildest dreams I could have never come up with this concoction of marshmallows, cherry pie filling, pineapples and Cool Whip. Yet the sugary-sweet pink cloud stole the show. When asked what the best part of the meal was the girls responded without hesitation, ‘the pink stuff’.

In my opinion Heavenly Hash gets a bad rap. Yes it’s sinful, but thankfully it’s not addictive. In fact, Heavenly Hash is one of those dishes you are embarrassed to admit you actually really like. But, it’s so damned good eventually you just give up and dive in head first.

Don’t get me wrong, Heavenly Hash definitely has its place. The pseudo fruit salad dessert wannabe isn’t fit for every affair. It won’t grace the occasional table and might only make a cameo if requested by really insistent children. Or will it?!??!

As I was driving my snoozing family back home down I-35, I resisted the temptation to plan this week’s meals. The weekend’s not over yet! Besides I’m still noshing on chocolate eggs, jelly beans and secretly dreaming of Heavenly Hash.

Heavenly Hash
1(14 ounce) can
sweetened condensed milk
1 (16 1/2 ounce) can cherry pie filling
1 cup miniature marshmallows
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup pineapple chunks
1 large container Cool Whip, thawed

Mix all ingredients together. Refrigerate overnight.


Sunday Supper

After church the boys took off fishing while the girls and I stayed closer to home and played outside, worked on art projects and whiled-away the hours. I even got in a sacred hour of needlepoint. My goal is to finish the children’s Christmas stockings while they are still young enough to believe in Santa!

I must confess the day seemed like something out of a Laura Ingalls Wilder book. You know the scene; women folk sit around the hearth darning while the men venture into the wild to hunt and gather dinner. Only in this modern version, Ma and the girls were snuggled in front of a Sony watching Disney Channel movies while Pa and the Boy trotted up the road in an SUV to shoot pellet guns and to see if the bass were biting.

Under the influence of my bucolic daydream, I busied myself in the kitchen in eager anticipation of my boys return from the wilderness, er ranch. We gathered around the table tonight tired from a weekend well spent. I served a whole roasted chicken, fresh white corn on the cob, roasted in their husks drizzled with butter and salt, stewed okra & tomatoes and cornbread baked in my cast iron skillet. The children love corn on the cob and we use these nostalgic ear holders I used as a kid. The novelty that these yellow plastic corncobs were mine when I was a little girl never ceases to get a rise out of them.

My reverie of a little house on the prairie must have really gone to my head because somewhere between church, needlepoint, playing with the girls and husking corn, I baked up a sinful (for a Sunday anyway) apple-pecan cake. Spiked with allspice, cinnamon and, in my opinion a generous whop of Jack Daniels, the spongy cake was met with sheer delight by all of us. No doubt the babies will slumber well.

Tomorrow’s reality will hit hard. Travel schedules, preparations for the holiday weekend and a host of obligations will swoop in like a heavy rain in a mere few hours. The simple nature of this weekend will soon be gone but not forgotten. After all, we will always have Sunday supper.


Mussels for Muscles

Its spring in Austin and today was one of those chamber-of-commerce type days that defines why we live in our town. The morning air was crisp and without a cloud in the sky the sun warmed us to what we affectionately call California weather. A 75 – 55 split.

We headed out with the girls to Town Lake for a quick jaunt on the hike and bike trail. We could talk of nothing else except how perfect spring is in Austin. After meeting our daily fitness requirement, we immediately treated ourselves to a trip through Whole Foods. Mussels were calling our name and we gathered up a pound or two, some shallots, garlic, fresh bread and salad fixin’s.

Husband and I spent the rest of the day in the yard, clearing, cleaning and planning. Working all day in the earth fresh with the smell of dirt, mulch, flora and fauna our appetites were whetted for a taste of the sea. Gratefully, mussels are quick and easy.

To make a steaming pot of mussels I first sautéed two shallots and two cloves of garlic in a bit of EVOO. When the shallots were soft, I added two cups of good white wine and let the mixture come to a boil. Gently I dropped in the mussels and covered over medium heat for about 6 minutes. When the mussels were done, I removed them to a big white bowl and quickly whisked in two tablespoons of butter to the simmering sauce. I topped it off with salt, pepper and a little chopped tarragon. The presentation of mussels is always so glam. I love a dish that looks and tastes so good, but really requires minimal effort. Paired with a simple mixed baby greens salad and yummy ciabatta bread for mopping up the delicious wine sauce, the mussels were just what our tired muscles needed.


Just Like Martha Used To Make....

I’ve read my new prized possession Classical Southern Cooking cover-to-cover. I confess, I’ve read it three times. Damon Lee Fowler’s anthology of southern cooking is as much of a lesson in early American history as it is a cookbook. Fowler brings to life the earliest recipes from the South which are steeped with the flavors of their rich European and African heritage.

Tonight I felt honored as I joined the ranks of women throughout the South by cooking a meal passed down through countless generations.

Trout Steaks with Wine and Rosemary is a recipe from Martha Custis Washington. It first appears in writing around 1749 when she was still married to her first husband Daniel Custis. However, Fowler notes that the recipe, which originated in England, was probably much older than the mid-seventeenth century manuscripts from which it can be traced. You can imagine my trepidation as I embarked upon cooking a 300 + year old recipe that traveled from England with the first settlers to America and was made popular by Martha Washington. I dove in head first and savored every moment of my humble attempt to ‘make dinner’.

No pressure, really.

Trout Steaks with Wine and Rosemary
Serves 4

4 trout steaks, cut 1 inch thick
Dry white wine
4 T butter
2 sprigs rosemary, plus additional for garnish
2 thin quarter-sized slices fresh ginger
Lemon juice to taste (optional)
1 lemon cut lengthwise into 8 wedges
Parsley sprigs for garnish

Place the steaks in a deep, lidded skillet that will just hold them in one close-fitting layer. Pour in enough wine to completely cover them. Take out the steaks and set them aside on a plate.

Add 3 T butter, the rosemary, and the ginger slices to the wine. Turn on the heat to med-high, bring the wine to a good boil for 3-4 minutes to mingle the aromatics with the wine, but not long enough for any to evaporate.

Add the fish, reduce the heat, simmer and cover the pan. Simmer until the steaks are cooked through, about 4 minutes. Remove the steaks to a heated serving plate.

Turn up the heat and reduce the liquid to a nice glaze, about ½ cup. Remove and discard the ginger and rosemary. Freshen the sauce with lemon juice if desired and swirl in the remaining tablespoon of butter. Pour the sauce over the fish, garnish with lemons, rosemary and parsley.

Okra & Tomatoes
Serves 4

4 or 5 fresh tomatoes, scalded, peeled and seeded and coarsely chopped
Or 2 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes, with juices
2 cups sliced tender okra pods
¼ C chopped yellow onion
2 T butter
S & P to taste

Put the tomatoes and their juices, okra onions and butter in a deep stewing pan and turn on the heat to med-high. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to prevent ticking and scorching, then reduce the heat to a slow simmer.

Season with a healthy pinch on salt and a few liberal grindings of black pepper. Stir well and let the mixture simmer, uncovered until thick, about an hour. Check the pot and stir it occasionally to be sure that the vegetables have not become too dry. Just before serving taste and correct the seasonings.


Soul Food

We served up a different kind of nourishment in the kitchen today. The sustenance didn’t come from any of the five food groups, but from each of the senses. My children have grown fond of a phenomenal folk musician named Eric Bibb. Earlier this week I happened upon a new CD and we’ve been singing along to Judge Not Your Brother for a couple of days now. The song sings a parable about a street confrontation with a panhandler. The children recognized the story was about one of the men who live under the bridge near our church we pass several times a week. Why these men are begging for money is often the subject of discussion. As is why I sometimes give money and sometimes do not. Although not completely foreign, the subject matter in Bibb’s profound lyrics still needed explanation to my children of 6, 4 and 3 years.

The questions the children were asking were tough for me to explain, so this afternoon we used crayons, markers, and paint to express what the song meant to us.

Judge Not Your Brother (lyrics by Eric Bibb)

Passed a young man on the street dressed in rags couldn’t have been more than 25
Lying on the sidewalk in a sleeping bag and a sign that read:
Your kindness keeps me alive
I remember I stopped and turned around couldn’t hold my tongue saying something about that sign bothers me
So I asked him, “Why’s a guy like you healthy, white and young living off working folk’s charity?” He said,

Judge not your brother
Walk a mile in his shoes
You see he’s doing the best that he can do
Like me and you

My mouth fell open wide shocked by the truth
The look in his eyes was wise and sad
He said, “Brother, I was born a rich man’s son, but I gave it all away, every last dollar I ever had”.
He wanted to know how it felt to be humbled by disdain, pity and indignation.
He asked me if I’d read the book Black Like Me. He said it was his inspiration.

Judge not your brother
Walk a mile in his shoes
You see he’s doing the best that he can do
Like me and you

Just when we think we know what’s really going on
Life serves us a surprise
A lesson to learn again and again
‘Cause we’ve all been victimized by prejudice and lies

Judge not your brother
Walk a mile in his shoes
You see he’s doing the best that he can do
Judge not your brother
Walk a mile in his shoes
You see he’s doing the best that he can do
Like me and you.

I started the afternoon project thinking I would teach the children something. From their illustrations, they gleaned a thing or two. But, as always I am humbled by my role as a mother and I realized the lesson Eric Bibb was teaching was for me. I have been judgmental lately and this song struck a chord. It fed my soul, nourished my heart and plated up a hearty reminder that we are all just doing the best that we can do.


Comfort Food

When paired together the words comfort and food conjure up all kinds of possibilities in my culinary imagination. Generally, I think of homey favorites like garlic cheese grits or a warm chicken spaghetti casserole with crunchy garlic toast. Really stick-to-your-ribs kinds of dishes that come from my mother, mother-in-law or lately Paula Deen. We’ve all got our favorite comfort foods. When I am sick I immediately wish for my mother’s Matzo Ball Soup. For birthday breakfasts we always have pigs-in-a-blanket. My nephew turned three this weekend and I have never seen so many pigs-in-a-blanket before in my life. I must have eaten a baker’s dozen myself. After all it was a birthday party and the taste of the flaky biscuits and the salty sausage was expected even before the pigs were in sight. During the first few weeks of one of my pregnancies all I wanted was avocado & tomatoes drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Unfortunately for my waistline, during my last pregnancy my comfort food consisted of PB&J sandwiches and large quantities of milk. Hmmm….

So, when Husband asked me to make him Strawberry Shortcake I looked at him quizzically. This was not something I expected him to request. He went on to explain that Strawberry Shortcake was his father’s favorite dessert. Pawpaw (as our children affectionately called him) died two years ago this month. And husband has been missing him a lot lately. With this in mind, the children and I set out to make Daddy the best Strawberry Shortcake ever. We washed our hands, mixed the dough, kneaded the dough and used an old mason jar to form perfectly shaped biscuits. For afternoon snack the children begged to taste the biscuits hot out of the oven with butter and honey drizzled all over. We sweetened the strawberries and let them rest in their vanilla-sugar bath in the refrigerator.

Dinner was delicious, a healthy and simple affair. Inspired by the cookbook Pace of Provence, I served artichokes for a first course. I found the most beautiful purple baby artichokes at Whole Foods this morning and couldn’t resist. Little Bit ate the most. She quickly mastered the tooth scraping technique and savored the nutty flavor of the purple gems. The main course called for Monkfish. My fishmonger, Brayden, didn’t have Monkfish today and recommended the gorgeous fresh sea scallops instead. Not a cheap substitution, but the scallops delicately wrapped in basil and prosciutto then steamed on a bed of green onions were delicious. With a dollop of Farmer’s Cheese atop each scallop our dinner was perfect.

Finally, after much anticipation the children revealed to their Father the big surprise for dessert. Brimming with excitement they retold the recipe and how each of them participated in a special way to make the shortcake. While we were all indulging in the decadent dessert I briefly imagined Pawpaw at the table with us. Oh how his eyes would have glistened at the sight of his grandchildren measuring, kneading, baking and tasting his ultimate comfort food.

Reflecting on memories and savoring the present joy of today, I’ve added Strawberry Shortcake to my list of Comfort Foods.


Just Because.....

Have you ever been given the most perfect gift for no reason at all??? I was the recipient of such a treasure today.

I was at Mom's house today picking up some platters for a soiree chez moi tomorrow and out of the blue she hands me a package. I ripped into it and tears welled up in my eyes with joy as I pulled out.....

You guessed it! Damon Lee Fowler's Classical Southern Cooking.

Ah! The joy. The surprise. And it's not even my birthday. I'm still skipping around like my children on Christmas morning.

Thank goodness Mom reads my blog. And, that I shamelessly begged for the cookbook a couple of posts ago.

Thank you, Mom. If I ever write a cookbook it'll be for and because of you.



For the record I went AWOL on some far fetched attempt to try the Fat Flush Regime. Who was I kidding??? I'm sure it's a great alternative for countless folks attempting to not only lose weight, but more importantly dramatically improve their health. Let's just say I failed. After one week, I felt fine. But after two weeks without caffeine (decaf is taboo too), carbonation, wine, dairy, wheat or any kind of fat other than 2 T of flaxseed oil, I was feeling well...bored. And a little pissy too.

Have no fear. I'm back in the saddle again. And with a vengeance. To celebrate my epiphany tonight I dressed the table with a sensuous fare from my Barefoot Contessa. Subconsciously, I must have been planning this meal for several days. I happened upon a Chefography Show on Lifestyle featuring Ina Garten. I knew most of her success story from reading her cookbooks cover to cover and watching her FoodTV show. But, this show was all I needed to pull my head out of the salt-free sand I've been buried in.

It doesn't get much better than the Parisian inspired meal I made this evening. Allow me to elaborate....

Filet of Beef au Poivre
Herbed New Potatoes
Baby Mixed Greens tossed with blue cheese, sliced roasted almonds and Jamie's Dijon Vinaigrette
Paired with a hearty Cabernet Sauvignon

All on a Tuesday night.

No gut(s), no glory. Literally.



So, what is your favorite cookbook? I need to know.

My all-time favorite resource is The Joy of Cooking. There are days when I'm so tired I have actually forgotten how long to hard boil an egg. Or the time I was 1/2 way through an artichoke and I needed to know exactly how to get the heart out in tact I went right to JOC. What does the internal temperature of a medium-well tenderloin register? Consult JOC. But, beyond an amazing reference book, I have seldom (ok never) tried one of the thousands of recipes in my well loved JOC. Please let me know if I am missing something and which recipe(s) you recommend I try immediately.

My latest cookbook craze is over Every Night Italian and Barefoot in Paris. My longtime reader(s) will recall, I was given both of these gems by Husband for Christmas and most of my cooking since the holidays has been inspired from these sources.

Giuliano Hazan is famed Italian cook Marcella Hazan's son. I would so love to be invited to the Hazan's family Christmas dinner. Can you imagine? In Hazan-the-son's newest release, he offers up simple Italian meals with the promise that they can be prepared in 30 minutes or so. His recipes are not designed to be a hurried affair aimed to beat the clock, but because the simple and well paired ingredients are so perfect the preparation is really minimal. And the results delicious.

I love everything about Ina Garten. I'm a sucker for her cookbooks and her Food Network series. I love her mis en place, her table settings, her flowers, even her husband Jeffrey is cute! With her of course. So, it came as no surprise that I would love Barefoot in Paris. When I read and follow her recipes I feel like I am back in Paris learning to cook for the first time. Her recipes remind me of living in the 7 eme chez Mme de la Pereuse and the amazing feasts we used to prepare. Everytime I open the Contessa's cookbook I feel like I am transported to un petit bistro a Paris. See how virtual The Schell Cafe is?

I have about 150 cookbooks. I would have thought more, but I counted twice. So, after almost two months of wearing the pages thin on my newest favorites, it's time to mix it up a bit. Here is my latest cookbook wishlist. Feel free to send me any or all of my objects of desire! And, if you don't actually feel moved to send me a cookbook, please send me your recommendations and reviews! And, don't forget to tell me your favorite cookbook. I'll add it to my list.

SaucyMomma's Cookbook Wish List

Lost Recipes Marion Cunningham
Fannie Farmer Marion Cunningham

Spice Island

Cooking for Mr. Latte Amanda Hesser

The Man Who Ate Everything Jeffrey Steingarten

The Artful Eater Edward Behr

How to Cook Everything Mark Bittman

LuLuÂ’s Provencal Table Richard Onley

Cooking at Home CIA

Classical Southern Cooking Damon Lee Fowler****

The Silver Spoon

**** This cookbook is out of print. PLEASE check your shelves, your mother's or grandmother's. If you have this cookbook I will promise to cook you every meal in it as payment! (Yes, I know I can get it on ebay. But, the last price I saw was over $300. ) Now go call your mother!


The Un-Risotto

Giuliano Hazan's Risotto Finto has been on my list to try for over a month now. I chose tonight simply because I had everything in the pantry. That I had everything on hand was more luck and a generally well-stocked pantry than any kind of super planning on my part. Hazan's meals are simple and keep my family happy so I return again and again to his cookbook for inspiration.

Dubbed the un-risotto, the dish calls for a rice such as Arborio or Carnaroli, but the preparation is not the same as in a traditional risotto recipe.

1/4 c finely chopped yellow onion (I used more!)
3 T butter (I used EVOO)
1 1/2 C risotto rice (I used Carnaroli)
2 1/4 C beef broth
1 yellow bell pepper
4 oz ground pork
1 cup peeled, diced tomatoes (I used a can)
1 cup frozen, tiny peas (thawed)

The Risotto

Put the onion and 1 1/2 T of butter and heat over medium heat until a rich golden color. Add the rice and stir until well coated. Add broth, cover and cook at a steady simmer for 15 minutes.

The Sauce

While the rice is cooking, peel the bell pepper and cut into long thin strips. Put the remaining 1 1/2 T butter and pork in a skillet and heat over medium-high heat until the pork is lightly browned. Add the bell pepper and continue to cook until tender.

Dice the tomato and add to sauce. Add peas. Season and cook for 5 minutes and remove from heat.

Add the pork sauce to the rice, stir well, cover again and cook for 5 more minutes.

The Dinner Bowl

Husband said dinner reminded him of the Italian Pork Chops his mother used to make. Little bit ate the most. She luvfed it!

The yellow peppers stole the show. Their tender sweetness accented by an occasional pea complemented the savory almost nutty flavor of the rice.

Unbelievable? Nah. But, the un-risotto was a tasty and easy fix for a cold Monday night. Try it, you'll like it.


Pinocchio Pie

Husband has been away. He'll be home for a late super tonight, so the hot pepperoni pie will be ready for his arrival. I think I've published the recipe before but here it is:

3/4 c pepperoni, diced
3/4 c muenster cheese, cubed
3/4 c flour
2 eggs
1 c milk

Place ingredients in bowl in the order given. Stir with a slotted spoon until all lumps are out (except cheese and pepperoni). Pour in buttered pie plate and bake at 400 for 30-35 minutes. The last couple of times I made this recipe the children complained that the pepperoni was too spicy. So, I asked my deli man what would make for a savory substitute. He gave me an Italian salami with a hint of fennel, but not so much heat. He told me to remember its name as Pinocchio. So, as I'm apt to do I've renamed the dish Pinocchio Pie. Hopefully the children will enjoy it's name and new and improved milder flavor. And, if anyone lies to me and pretends they like it if they don't...their nose will grow!


One Hot Tamale!

The best part about this amazing tamale is that I didn't make it! Actually, that's not true. I would love to know how to make tamales. But, after a long week, it was very nice to simply steam the tamales, toss a salad and slip into something a bit more comfortable -- my glass of red wine, of course. The beauty of this tamale, however, is actually how it landed on my plate in the first place.

After a long haitus without a housekeeper, Maria and I finally found each other. She is eager to help and I am desperate for it. I have many faults and poor housekeeping graces the top of the list.

Muchos Gracias, Maria!


I got tagged for this meme by amamgets over at life its ownself. I'm not really sure what a meme is, except that you are supposed to answer the questions. For those of you who read this, you are supposed to answer the same questions in your own blog. So, here goes....

1.Grab the book nearest to you, turn to page 18, and find line 4: “When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.” Genesis 15:17

2. Stretch your left arm out as far as you can and see what you touch: The Spring Boden catalog or my pink ipod.

3.What is the last thing you watched on TV? Grey’s Anatomy

4.Without looking, guess what time it is: 4:10 p.m.

5.Now look at the clock. What is the actual time? 4:32 p.m.

6.With the exception of the computer, what can you hear? Little girls giggling (two seconds ago it was fighting) and a make-believe Darth Vader running through the house.

7.When did you last step outside? What were you doing? Ten minutes ago. I was saying good-bye to the tile guys, hello to a friend picking up her daughter and good-bye to Mia. It’s cold outside.

8.Before you started this survey, what did you look at? My email.

9.What are you wearing? My workout clothes from this morning. Black shorts, long white t-shirt and REI fuzzy vest.

10.Did you dream last night? I don’t think so.

11. When did you last laugh? Earlier this afternoon with DD and her friend at Russell’s Bakery. They were enjoying valentine cupcakes and talking to each other, giggling and telling jokes. I actually belly laughed at one of their jokes.

12. What is on the walls of the room you are in? Hmmm. Lots of bookshelves. All bookshelves except for the window. Books, photographs, objets d’art, stuff that needs to find a home…

13. Seen anything weird lately? Can’t think of anything off the top of my head. How boring is that?

14. What do you think of this quiz? Kinda fun. The verdict is still out for me on meme’s. What is MEME an acronym for anyway?

15. What is the last film you saw? At the theatre? This is embarrassing…either the airport flick with Tom Hanks or the one where he is stranded on the island and talks to a soccer ball. Those are the last two movies I’ve seen in a theatre. Oh, I take that back. I saw Madagascar with the kids.

16. If you became a multi-millionaire overnight, what would you buy? We’d probably give most of it to the church, then to the University of Texas, and then we’d make sure our children’s educations were funded. After that I don’t know...maybe weekly massages for life?!?!?!

17. Tell me something about you that I don't know. I lived in Siberia, sang “Crazy” with a Rastafarian saxophone player in the metro in Paris for money, and took Japanese for a year in college.

18. If you could change one thing about the world, regardless of guilt or politics, what would you do? I wish every child had a home. And, I would adopt as many as I could physically, emotionally and financially take in.

19. Do you like to dance? Not really. If I could look like Ginger and Fred I might think more of it. But, I only look natural hollerin’ “Bullshit!” at the Cotton-Eyed Joe.

20.George Bush: Regardless of what you think of him as President, he actually looks pretty cute in running shorts.

21. Imagine your first child is a girl, what do you call her? Exactly what I named her. If we had a third little girl, I’d want to name her Vivian after my grandmother.

22. Imagine your first child is a boy, what do you call him? Exactly what I named him. If we ever have another, we’d like to name him Boyd for Husband’s family.

23. Would you ever consider living abroad? BTDT. Absolutely! I would love for our family to go somewhere for a year. What an experience of a lifetime…nothing books or lectures can teach you.

24. What do you want God to say to you when you reach the pearly gates? “Well Done My Good and Faithful Servant. Welcome Home.”

25. 4 people who must also do this meme in THEIR journal: anyone who reads this far, consider yourself tagged!


Aloha! Tito's Vodka

This week’s menu selection was all over the proverbial recipe map at The Schell Café. We roamed from Hawaii to Rome with a stop at El Arroyo in between.

Tuesday night I made Spicy Eggplant with Chicken from the Honolulu Junior League Cookbook Another Taste of Aloha. This was a welcomed diversion from the Provence and Tuscan inspired meals I’ve fallen into the delicious habit of preparing. The Asian flavors of ginger, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar danced across our palates making us think we were eating lettuce cups at P.F. Chang’s. I served the dish with Forbidden Rice. I remember reading about this beautiful rice in one of my foodie mags. The rice appears black, but cooks a deep eggplant purple. The nutty, flavorful rice was tasty as well as pretty on the plate. (I would have documented this gorgeous pairing, but my previous plea for a new camera has gone unanswered).

Spicy Eggplant with Chicken

1 tsp fresh gingerroot, minced
3 T soy sauce
1 T rice wine vinegar
3 cloves garlic
1 T sugar
2 – 3 fresh red chili peppers, minced with seeds
1 tsp cornstarch
¾ lb eggplant, sliced diagonally ½ inch-thick
¾ lb ground chicken or turkey (I used turkey)
2 T evoo
Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

Mix the ginger, soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, sugar, chili peppers, and cornstarch. Set aside.

Sauté the eggplant in the oil in a large skillet until the slices are slightly browned. Set aside. Sauté the turkey in the same pan until browned. Return the eggplant to the skillet and add the sauce. Cook until thoroughly heated. Garnish with cilantro. Serves 4.

Hump Day at El Arroyo. ‘Nuf said.

I am taking complete liberty to rename tonight’s dinner. To give credit where credit is due, the Philadelphia Jr. League calls this recipe Zesty Linguine in Rosy Tomato Sauce. For me it’s called Saturday Night Linguine in Tito’s Vodka Sauce. Any recipe that calls for ½ cup of vodka would be better on a Saturday night. It took all the will power I could muster not to sip a chilled glass of Tito’s while I made this sauce. But, the weekend is still 24 hours away. Or maybe I’m coming down with something?

The sauce filled the house with an intoxicating smell of garlic, onions, plum tomatoes and, well, vodka. Smelltheroses came to pick up her son at just the right time and got a spoonful of the sauce. My apologies to her though as she tasted it before the final touch of seasoning and 3 tablespoons of Parmesan Reggiano blessed the sauce. The cheese cut the spice of the crushed red pepper perfectly.

The girls fell asleep before we sat down for dinner, but DS actually liked the linguine. Alert the media. I think he enjoyed twirling the noodles on his spoon and slurping them with great gusto more than he appreciated the taste, but regardless of the reason, he ate. And Husband requested that I make the sauce again soon. I think I will. Saturday night. And I may get a little sauced off the sauce and enjoy my usual vodka on the rocks with three olives.

Saturday Night Linguine with Tito’s Vodka Sauce

2 T evoo
3 T butter
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28-oz) can Italian plum tomatoes
1 T chopped fresh basil
1/8 tsp dried red pepper flakes
½ c vodka *
½ c cream
3 T grated Parmesan Reggiano
12 ounces fresh linguine (I used whole wheat)
Freshly ground black pepper
Chopped parsley for garnish

Combine the olive oil and butter and sauté the onion over low heat for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté another minute or two. Add the tomatoes, basil, red pepper and vodka. Simmer about 15 minutes until the sauce is reduced. Add the cream and simmer until thickened. Add the Parmesan Reggiano and blend well. Cook pasta according to package. Drain and add cooked pasta to sauce. Toss well and garnish with black pepper and parsley. Serves 4.

* For testing purposes only, I used Tito’s Handmade Vodka. On Saturday I plan to test the recipe with Grey Goose. I’ll let you know the results.


Pre Valentine Heartbreaker

Absentmindedly, I drew a heart on my son’s snack sack for school last Friday. I must have been thinking about Valentine’s Day and how much I love him. It just happened. Below his name, I made a big heart with a silly cupid’s arrow straight through the middle.

A few minutes later, he saw the sack and gave me a look of sheer horror.

“No, no, no, no, no, Mom,” he pleaded. “I can’t have a heart on my sack.”

I immediately saw the error of my ways and tried to remedy the situation.

“I’m sorry sweetheart (poor choice of timing for the endearing name), I just thought with Valentine’s Day coming up….” The roll of his eyes silenced my justification.

“Its way too embarrassing, Mom. Get me another sack.”

Ouch. My little boy is a few weeks shy of six. And, it’s not cool for Momma to draw little pictures on his lunch sack anymore. What’s next?!??!

I’ll share with you my attempt to save the sack and send him to school with an appropriately cool snack.

Yes. That is a snowman with an arrow piercing his head.

“Thanks, Mom. Cool.”

My heart feels like that snowman’s head.


Mis en Place

I learned from my query this week that my friend amamgets' quirky kitchen ritual is having everything perfectly in place, arranged like a photo shoot before she actual begins cooking. Amamgets is an amazing cook as well as a serious photographer, so her mis en place fetish is really just good time management. She can take a few photos, cook dinner and call it a day. I also learned from several uberbloggers, most notably The Amateur Gourmet, that photographs dramatically enhance a blog's appeal. Readers appreciate the intimacy and, afterall the purpose of the blog is to increase readership and keep any and all loyal reader(s) pleased. Hence, my attempt with the photos yesterday.

Tonight I share with you my mis en place.

Of course, I could have taken photographs that actually detail my preparation of the Salmon Steaks with Pistachio Butter. But in the spirit of intimacy I give you the reality upon which the success of my cooking adventures hinge this evening: red wine (it's Friday night!) and as the recipe reveals, pistachios. My inspiration originally comes from the McAllen, Texas Junior League Cookbook Some Like it Hot. I have a growing collection of Junior League Cookbooks from around the country, but this particular gem comes from a compilation of recipes from over 200 Junior League Cookbooks in The Centennial Cookbook. Call me old-fashioned (please not an anti-feminist), but I always wonder what Mrs. Robert So-And-So's kitchen was like as she prepared meals for her family. What was her most coveted kitchen utensil? Did she have quirky habits? The recipes are so real, reflecting the lives of thousands of community volunteers and homemakers around our country. For the record, I am a Jr. League drop out -- a story which would require an entire post, hum...perhaps entire blog. In my defense it doesn't involve anything risque or illegal.

Salmon Steaks with Pistachio Butter

So the photo doesn't really do the meal justice. Here is my personal plea: if you like the concept of photography on my blog, please let Husband know that I need a new and improved digital camera. You can reach him by posting here or at his blog The Spaghetti Bender. Please don't let me down. I need this camera. You need this camera.

My long-time reader(s) will note that I have yet to post a blog about baking or desserts. After the swell of the holidays I put baking pleasures on hiatus. But, after reading over 700 Junior League recipes last night, the temptation to make dessert was too much. I gave in to a simple, yet sure to please, Peanut Butter Pie with Pretzel Crust from the Reading, PA League.

First I made a simple pie crust with finely crushed pretzels, sugar and butter. Then I whipped cream cheese, confectioners' sugar, peanut butter and Cool Whip together for what promises to be too much. I tried to download some photojournalistic evidence of this pie, but after three attempts I have failed. Funny, two glasses of wine ago the photos above were simple to mis en place.


A la Carte

Serving Up Memories. Last night DS appeared to have the stomach bug DD caught earlier this week. But after a late night of laundry for me, the morning dawned with no further symptoms for him. Only DS was super disappointed as it was the kindergarten fieldtrip day to the Inner Space Caverns. As a consolation I took us to Nau's Pharmacy for lunch. Nau's still serves up burgers like it has since 1951 and the kids just love it. Mia joined us (it's really her special place to take the kids) and we all left full, happy and in need of a nap!

Off the Shelves. My latest find at Whole Foods is an addicting drink called Kombucha. Pronounced kom-BOO-cha, the bottled drink is a handmade Chinese tea that has amazing nutrients -- Probiotics, Amino Acids, Antioxidants and other fancy stuff. My favorites are Divine Grape and Citrus. Only 60 calories for an entire bottle. It usually takes me two days to drink a whole one. I feel healthier already.

Recipe Request. Smelltheroses asked for my Brussels sprouts recipe from last weekend. It comes from The Pace of Provence. These savory little cabbages are truly divine and loaded with vitamin C and calcium. Enjoy!

Choux de Bruxelles a la dijonnaise

1 T evoo
2 lbs fresh Brussels Sprouts, small, outer leaves removed
1/2 c white wine
1/2 c chicken stock or broth
2 tsp raw sugar
2 T Dijon mustard
3 T nonfat sour cream
4 fresh sage leaves chopped or 1/4 tsp dried sage leaves
2 T sliced almonds, toasted

Heat oil in large skillet. Add Brussels sprouts, wine, chicken stock and sugar. Cover and cook on medium heat about 20 minutes or until sprouts are tender, stirring from time to time. Meanwhile, whisk mustard, sour cream and sage leaves in separate bowl. Transfer sauce to skillet. Stir to coat sprouts. Cook 5 minutes over medium heat, until sauce thickens, stirring from time to time. Garnish with toasted almonds to enhance the flavor.

Weekly Staple. For the last couple of weeks I've made a delicious Ratatouille. It only takes about 30 minutes to prepare and it keeps for 4-5 days (if you don't eat it first). One night I served it with a roasted chicken. I also took a big batch of it to a friend who was in a horrible car wreck over the weekend. But mostly I keep this little gem hidden in the fridge for my own special lunches! Don't bother to reheat it -- I think it's better cold.

1 large unpeeled eggplant, diced
3 T evoo
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped (I use more)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 bell peppers, cut in medium pieces
1 lb zucchini, diced (about 3)
1 (14 oz) can stewed tomatoes
2 tsp fresh herbes de Provence (thyme, rosemary, oregano)
S&P to taste
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp raw sugar
1 sprig of parsley, finely chopped

30 minutes before cooking, sprinkle diced eggplant liberally with salt to tenderize. Set aside to drain. Heat 1 T evoo in large pan. Add garlic and saute 1 minute over medium heat. Add onion and cook 2 minutes, stirring from time to time. Remove from pan, set aside. Blot eggplant dry with paper towel. Add 1 T evoo to pan and cook eggplant 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from pan, set aside. Pour remaining oil in pan. Add bell peppers and zucchini. Cook 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and the rest of the sauteed vegetables. Add herbes, salt, pepper, soy sauce and sugar. Cover and cook over low heat 20 minutes. Uncover and cook over medium heat 10 minutes or until ratatouille acquires thick consistency.


Question For You

What is your most coveted kitchen item? Something you really could not do without.

And, while you're at it -- what is your most quirky kitchen ritual?


The Morning After

Risotto Coi Gamberi E Asparagi

Doesn’t that sound yummy? Well, it was. Only a million little things followed the dinner hour that precluded me from sharing. Most notably, DD caught an icky case of the stomach bug and so rather than savoring the perfect combination of shrimp and asparagus, I was doing loads and loads of laundry and clutching my Lysol spray bottle like a weapon to defend my territory.

Risotto doesn’t require as much skill as it does patience. A pinch of confidence helps too. The process is slow, constantly stirring and calls for a bit of intuition to know when and how much liquid to add to the precious beads of rice. Did you know to use a wooden spoon when making risotto or polenta? Metal alters the flavor of the tender substances.

The shrimp merits mentioning. I actually had not planned the risotto dish, but when I was at the fish counter at Whole Foods the monger told me that I should consider the just brought in catch from Florida. The shrimp were the perfect color of pink and so plump I just couldn’t resist. Glad I didn’t.

Risotto with Shrimp & Asparagus

8 oz asparagus
1/3 c finely chopped onion
8 oz medium shrimp (31-40 p/lb)
1 ½ c rice (I use Carnaroli)
Freshly ground black pepper

I bought a tasty sea scallop appetizer and a halibut spread from the fish deli at WF. The kids actually loved the halibut appetizer. This is a nice idea to keep in mind for a fun breakfast with bagels. Poor DD, who accompanied me to WF to procure the weeks groceries, slept through the dinner hour. I’ll make her another risotto again very soon.


Mouton & A Bottle of White

Once upon a time, there were three little children who had very discerning tastes. On a particularly dark and rainy day the mother had grown weary of small demanding voices. Had they not been served with love whole-wheat pancakes with fresh berries and bananas for breakfast? Were they not content with their much requested pepperoni pie for lunch? And was the otherwise dreary day not spent placating the little children with basketball, doll dressings, princess pretending and storytelling?

So, when the voices of those smaller than three feet demanded to know what was for dinner the mother, in an attempt to make the dish sound more appealing to her given audience and keep $20 worth of lamb from going to waste, well…told a tiny white lie.

“Mouton! Mes enfants! Ah! Le Mouton!” Exclaimed the mother with exhuberance.

“What's that (dear mother)?” the precious little children questioned.

“Why it is a special dinner that children in France eat only when they are very, very good.” This may be true.

“You mean like when Santa Claus comes or the tooth fairy?” At least they were listening.

“Exactly. Now, run go play. I’ll ring the dinner bell when the very, very special Mouton is ready.”

And the mother busied herself for quite sometime preparing the ever special Mouton.

Only, the mother wasn’t making Mouton. She was making a leg of lamb. Mouton in French is actually sheep. Lamb is l’agneau. The mother would know this because many, many moons ago she was a French major and actually attended cooking classes while living in France. But, l’agneau doesn’t roll off the tongue very pretty and mouton is just more fun to say. Plus, don’t they both go baabaabaa??? So, the children of this fairy tale believed they were eating mouton. A technicality really.

As our story continues, the children were happily playing elsewhere in the forest when the mother realized that both recipes for the evening called for dry white wine. Zut! The mother had no cooking wine left in her cupboard. Ever resourceful she remembered the other side of the wine cellar. The dusty side that never got opened -- its contents a distant memory.

“Why the white wine side of the vestibule of course! Perhaps I have a good bottle of white to use for my leg of lamb and my brussels sprouts,” thought the sage mother. Who really wasn’t very sage as she was fresh out of the needed herb as well.

The white wine side of the chiller contained several bottles of the less appreciated sort. Digging deeper and reaching further the mother felt a familiar bottle graze the tips of her fingers. “Ahhhh,” she sighed gratefully. For amidst all the white wine forgotten remained a glistening bottle from a journey long ago. The final from a case, the other eleven long ago consumed, though not in one sitting. It was a special bottle from a vineyard visited by the mother and the father a long, long time ago. You see, before the children arrived in this tale, the mother and the father, then merely the wife and the husband, traveled far and wide usually in search of a perfect meal and wine. On one such adventure, they stumbled upon a vineyard in the Russian River Valley and talked their way into a tour. Hours later they left the castle on the hill full of spirits and seemingly nonplussed by the two cases of reserve wines they had expressed shipped back to Texas to ensure they would be waiting ready to imbibe upon their return home. The wine that bathed the lamb and flavored the brussels sprouts on this damp winter evening was the final bottle of the 1996 Reserve Chardonnay from the Schlumberger Estate.

The leg of lamb called for 1 cup of wine and the brussels sprouts yet another. The leg of lamb was tender from its hour long bath en papillote in wine, lemon and mint. The brussels sprouts were truly sensational. Simmered in a cup of wine and equal amount of chicken broth then reduced with Dijon, sour cream and tarragon they exploded with an earthy flavor enhanced by toasted slivered almonds. The simple salad of mixed field greens with gruyere, dried cranberries and raspberry vinaigrette rounded out the flavors perfectly.

And the remaining ½ bottle of white? Well, the children ate their mouton. Or perhaps they did not. The mother cleared the table and scrubbed the dishes. Or perhaps she did not. The father bathed the children, read them a story and tucked them sweetly into their beds. Or perhaps he did not. For you see the only thing that remains certain on this particular white wine infused evening is that the family lived happily ever after.

The end.


Soup du Jour

Growing up I never really liked soup. I always felt like I was getting cheated out of a real meal. Plus, who likes canned soup anyway??? To be fair, I don’t dislike all soups. The tortilla soup at the Mermaid Bar is amazing. And, I recently had a savory pumpkin soup at Russell’s Bakery that was very tasty. However, I have the habit of skimming right over soup recipes in cookbooks. In fact, I can count on two hands the number of different soups I’ve ever made. There was the vichyssoise disaster about 8 years ago in which I had to run to the store flames-still-burning to buy one of those handheld blenders to puree the leeks and potatoes. In the end it turned out ok, but it was still just soup with a fancy name and a lot of effort. I’ve made tomato basil soup, corn soup, French onion soup, and even a cold cucumber soup. My aunt gave me a tortilla soup recipe when Husband and I got married. Now that’s a good soup. But, I’ve only made it twice in eight years. You get the picture.

So, why was I inspired to try a soup recipe tonight? Why didn’t I just skim over it as I read this month’s issue of Gourmet? Who knows? Maybe it caught my eye because it’s in the magazine’s section titled Ten-Minute Mains. There was also a photo (pg. 89) and that always helps. For whatever reason, I made the Italian Meatball Soup tonight. Predicting the littles wouldn’t warm up to the idea of the soup, I made them the risotto dish I debuted a few weeks ago. DD begs me at least once a day to make risotto and she actually helped me make the dish today. With so much anticipation for a command performance I feared she wouldn’t like the risotto as much as her memory believed. Alas, after enjoying three bowls of the treat she kissed me and said I was the best mommy ever. Hum. Not a bad return on my investment.

The soup was not met with as much glee. Each of the children took a thank you bite*, but that was about it. One actually drank the broth, but the spinach just threw them for a loop. And, husband? We dissected it like this – the soup was actually really good. It was full of fresh spinach, carrots, celery, onion and the white beans made it really hearty. But, the meatballs were not so good. I followed the fix-it-quick theme of the article and used frozen meatballs as directed by the recipe. So, I got what I paid for -- a good soup with frozen meatballs plopped in. I’ve already thought of a meatball recipe I’d like to try in an effort make this soup less of a quick fix. But, then it wouldn’t qualify as a Ten-Minute Main anymore would it?

I’ve come full circle and ended up right where I started in my thoughts on soup. For me soup du jour might as well be soup de l’annee.

* A thank you bite is a concept we learned from our dear friends and neighbors The Kruft Family. Each of their children (last count there were four) must take one thank you bite of everything on their plate.


Saturday Night Fever

I might have a fever or maybe just a general malaise. Thank goodness it was a lazy Saturday. For the first time in months, we had nothing on our calendar. I actually read a book for most of the afternoon. Reading is usually an indulgence saved for the final moments of the day. I felt extra sinful camped out in bed with my latest read.

I contemplated not cooking tonight. Despite the fact that I had everything prepped and ready to go, I just didn’t know if I could put my book down and wander downstairs with enough enthusiasm to make it happen. I sent the girls to tell their Daddy that I didn’t want to make dinner. Our nearly three-year-old daughter came back with a clear (enough) message from her father ‘him say we not want to wapste de sammon fishes, mamma!’

OK. OK. I’ll make dinner. But, I’m not going to clean the leeks. Or cook them either. I’ll make couscous instead. So there. Glad I proved that point.

Once I got to the kitchen I was really glad to be there. I briefly related to my children as they moan and groan on certain mornings about not wanting to go to school. Remind me to ask what’s not to like about pre-school? On such mornings everything is uphill. Clothing choices. Hair accessories. Lunch options. It’s all just bad. Miraculously, once at school they dart from my sight lost in the excitement and joy of being where they dreaded going. This is exactly where I found myself tonight.

Gratefully, I made the raspberry vinaigrette this morning as well as the lemon, garlic, coriander and fish stock marinade for the salmon. After the fish bathed in the juices for 20 minutes, it required only 15 minutes more in the oven and voila, dinner was ready. I tossed some greens, toasted almond slices and gorgonzola with the vinaigrette and fluffed the couscous with peas. The children took turns ringing the dinner bell and after saying grace, we ended our day with a simple meal. Once we got there it was wonderful.

Now I’m going back to my book.


Our Pace is All Wrong

About a week ago, I pulled The Pace of Provence off my bookshelf. I bought the cookbook several years ago and remembered I hadn't used it in a while. It's a fascinating book written by a French woman who lives in Seattle. She is also a nutritionist. Her recipes are traditional, healthy and very tasty. All of her meals have been adapted to be low in fat and heart healthy.

With the South of France as my inspiration, we dined happily on Halibut with Honey & Oranges, Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Glazed Carrots. OK, so I bought the brussels sprouts at Whole Foods, but I made the rest! I could write a whole post on the new Whole Foods in Austin. It's sensational. But, I digress...

The premise of Yolande Matore Hoisington’s cookbook is the pace and leisure in which the French honor their meals. Perfectly balanced and enjoyed as a slow ritual, it is striking how opposite our eating habits are in America. Meals are on the go, super-sized and processed. Even if you don’t frequent fast-food joints (my kids still think McDonald’s is the farm with ‘eieio’ animals), processed food is the major culprit. So, I’m not going to lecture, I’ll die of hypocrisy if I do. I’m just going to try to peel back the onion (so to speak) and keep meals natural and wholesome for my family. It won’t be easy. My kids have been asking for months now why they can’t have lunchables at school. The temptations are great which is why a market such as Whole Foods is so handy. It takes the guess work out of wondering what’s good and what’s fake.

In the meantime, it was a simple pleasure to dine with my family tonight. The children ate all their halibut (DD ate part of mine too!) and the glazed carrots were the second best I’ve ever had. My dear friend Claire made some a few years ago that were better. CFT – if you read this, please post the recipe. And, Whole Foods makes the best damned roasted brussels sprouts. OK so they are the only brussels sprouts I’ve ever had.

Here’s a healthy tip….I’ve been drinking a hot apple cider vinegar concoction every night: 1 cup hot water, 1 TBS Apple Cider Vinegar (with the mother) and 1 TBS honey. Read the benefits…can’t hurt.


I’ll end tonight’s post with a case in point. My DS (almost 6) protested going to kindergarten today. He wanted to play with his toys. He was tired. He never got to spend enough time alone with me. My fingers couldn’t dial the school office fast enough. We had the best hooky day! We went for a walk, he helped me pick out the eggplant and oranges at Whole Foods and we snuggled on the couch just for fun. It was a pace that couldn’t be duplicated every day or nothing would be accomplished. Or would it?


Welcome home

Husband was on the west coast all week. I hate it when he’s out of town. If there is a flipside it’s that the children know they get pizza for dinner and I usually don’t cook. Other than that, after a night or two it’s just not much fun being out-numbered by the littles alone.

One of husband’s favorite meals is spaghetti and meat sauce. I don’t actually follow a recipe when I make the sauce because I tend to use whatever I have handy. This proves to be problematic because sometimes the sauce is really good. And sometimes it’s just ok. So, it’s a bit of a game now I play with myself to try to make the best sauce ever. And, when I get the ‘Ahhh, now that’s a good sauce’ comment from husband I swear I’m going to write down every last ingredient so I can duplicate it over and over.

Tonight I used lean ground beef, ground pork, zucchini, onion, baby bellas, red bell pepper and some herbs. And of course some whole, peeled tomatoes and some crushed ones too. I didn’t bother to write it down, so the contest to create the best damned sauce continues. We are now our own worst critics.

Also, husband's flavor may have been tainted by the news he received from his annual physical today. The dreaded cholesterol is high. Under normal circumstances I don’t think there would be cause for panic, but husband comes from a long and wide history of serious heart disease and it scares us both.

So, expect to see lots of fish recipes gracing these pages in the near future. We both will benefit tremendously by healthier cuisine. Although it will mean I need to start reading some new cookbooks!

P.S. It isn't the time to post how yummy the Ricotta Drop Cookies are I baked today. I whipped them up this morning from the Cookies Unlimited Cookbook if you feel the urge to try them for yourself.


Easy As Pie

We took advantage of the holiday weekend and made a quick get-away to the ranch. Although short and sweet, it was nice to breathe the proverbial fresh air that the wide open range provides.

Tonight feels like a Sunday rather than a Monday. And I did not have time to make my usual beginning of the week pilgrimage to the grocery store, so after a quick inventory I determined I had just the ingredients for the North End Italian Cookbook's version of Pepperoni Pie. It just doesn't get any more basic than this:

¾ c diced pepperoni
¾ c cup Muenster cheese
¾ c flour
2 eggs
1 c milk

As I was cubing the cheese I thought of all the mothers around the world, tired from a long weekend, filled with bittersweet anticipation for the week ahead, and desperate to put something hot on the family table for dinner. Ironically, during my preparations a friend called and she too was 'cleaning out the fridge to make a frittata'. While the dinner table unites families in a sacred moment of togetherness, those who prepare these meals also share a common stockpot, so to speak. My menu inspirations come from all over the world, most recently from Italy and France. As I chop leeks, blanch almonds, peel and crush tomatoes, I imagine kitchens in villages throughout Southern Europe.

Vignettes play in my mind: a woman hushes her children during the final moments of a sauce that requires concentration and perfect timing; a group of friends gather in a cozy kitchen each bringing tried-and-true recipes served in favorite cookware; a young wife woos her husband with a meal better than his momma's; and children sit politely at the table, savor every morsel put in front of them and after being excused from the table and clearing their plates, promptly say, "Thank you, Mama" sealed with a kiss. OK. That final part is a fantasy shared by women throughout the world. Tell me where that scene exists and I'm on the next plane.

Off to pack tomorrow's school lunches -- leftover pepperoni pie.


Introduction to The Schell Cafe: December 26, 2005

My husband’s grandfather, Frank M. Schell owned the Schell Café in Cooper, Texas during the early 1900's. I never knew Grandfather Schell, but he must have loved serving great meals and having folks gather ‘round his tables. His son William B. Schell, my late father-in-law, finished every meal in the same manner, “Well, I have dined sufficiently.” From this strong line of men my husband inherited an appreciation for a meal well served.

More than half a century later, The Schell Café continues in my own kitchen and on these pages. The meals I make are a labor of love. And, my journal is a love story. For me, cooking is a joy that perfectly blends my past, present and future.

I often wear my Grandmother’s pink gingham apron when I cook. She made it in a sewing class and hand-embroidered her monogram on a pocket. I also use her cookbooks, measuring cups, utensils and her great old, Dutch oven. Cooking is more than just making sure my family gets nutritionally fed. When I cook I am honoring our past and making memories for the future.

Bon Appetit!

December 28, 2005

As luck would have it, the day I decide to keep a cooking journal (of sorts), I sliced through my left ring finger with the Wusthof knife I got for Christmas. Sadly, I cannot type….gladly, however, I did muddle through the recipes I am trying for this evening’s meal. In addition to the incredibly sharp Japanese-style knife, husband gave me two beautiful cookbooks: Every Night Italian and Barefoot in Paris.

Tonight’s menu comes from these new inspirations: Sea Bass in a Leek & Red Bell Pepper Sauce and a Vegetable Tian. Despite the unfortunate injury (ouch!), the smells of the rosemary infused veggies roasting and the raw leeks waiting for their hot bath in EVOO, a successful, if still painful, dining experience awaits.

The Daily Dish: A tian is actually a red clay pot indigenous to rural southern France. Hence, the name of the dish is the dish!

December 29, 2005

Ah…were it always like tonight. Yesterday, (before my knife injury) I made a Risotto, Ham and Cheese dish for this evening. The recipe recommended making the dish in advance for the flavors to blend. So, with the main dish already prepared, my time in the kitchen was brief consisting of only blanching green beans, roasting red and yellow peppers and heating the labor of yesterday’s love.

DS was at Mia’s for the evening so it was unusually quiet during dinner. Typically DS protests dinner. And, when one child defects they all jump ship. Tonight, however without their captain, the girls ate three bowls (each) of risotto and two heaping helpings of green beans. Husband was sufficiently stuffed and it was a delicious dish that definitely bears repeating.

And, as a complete afterthought, the morning started out with a simple culinary treat. Spying two very ripe bananas on the counter, I found a recipe for Banana Bran Muffins. These yummy and quick treats were well received by the littles. And, husband didn’t seem to mind a hot muffin to accompany his shot of espresso.

Baked Ham-and-Cheese Rice Casserole
Riso Al Forno
Courtesy of Giuliano Hazan Every Night Italian

French String Beans
Courtesy of Ina Garten Barefoot in Paris

Mixed Baby Green Salad
With toasted almond slices and SAS Sesame-Garlic Dressing

Lesson of the Day: The Proof is in the Pudding. We all know the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. After two very stressful days at work, Husband told me tonight that dinner was exceptional and that it was very appreciated to come home after a bad day to a nice meal. He continued that if he had come home to a box of Cheese Nips his mood would have been further exacerbated. For the record, Husband has had to resort to crackers on more than one occasion.

December 31, 2005

In which we begin our 9th year….

Husband & I are celebrating our 8th wedding anniversary tonight as well as the end of another year. We enjoyed a wonderful meal at La Fonda San Miguel last night. After all the hustle and bustle in my own kitchen for Christmas, I thoroughly enjoyed a night out. My knife nipped fingers and roux burned knuckles also appreciated the rest.

Tomorrow we head out for a week long trip (I intentionally refrain from calling it a vacation) to California. Our purpose is tri-fold: we are taking MIL to see her new great-grandson; we will let the kids’ imaginations run wild at Disneyland; and perhaps most importantly, we will watch our Longhorns steal the National Championship from the USC Trojans.

Happy New Year!

January 9, 2006

Re-entry is hard. We are all tired, still on an adrenaline high from the Longhorns victory at the Rose Bowl and our visit to Disneyland. Our homecoming has been a big dose of reality. A post-holiday messy house, laundry up through the chimney, and the realization that all the hustle and bustle of Christmas is no more than the usual overload of activities we pile onto our daily schedules.

Feeling the need to retreat to a simpler place and time, I decided to treat my family to a very basic, yet nourishing meal. And thus the tone is set for my debut dinner of the year. In anticipation of a hectic schedule with school, ballet, basketball, the chiropractor, a workout and all the housekeeping that comes with the first Monday of the year, I spent much of Sunday reading cook books (what a sacrifice!) and roaming the aisles of Central Market.

Planning is more than half the battle. So, with my meals for the week planned and provisions procured, there is no panic of ‘what’s for dinner?’

Tonight I made a tasty meatloaf. The recipe from Every Night Italian is light on ingredients and yet more flavorful than other meatloaf’s I have tried. It calls for a blend of three meats: pork, veal and beef. This flavorful mélange needed little enhancement: onions, an egg, some French bread, red wine and fresh herbs. Done. The sauce was simply sinful. Melted butter and whole, peeled tomatoes reduced with an entire onion. The recipe calls for discarding the onion prior to serving the sauce. Discard we did – as an appetizer with red wine. The onions were sweet and melted in our mouths. A nice hint of the meal to come.

From Barefoot in Paris I made another simple, yet hearty potato dish. Using my new Le Crueset casserole, I melted European butter (a first for me, I’m an HEB gal) and added a pound of fingerling potatoes (skin on) to coat. I covered the pot and let the potatoes bathe and the butter brown then finished it off by tossing the spuds with a handful of freshly chopped herbs: chives, marjoram, and oregano.

The meatloaf with the delicious tomato sauce and the herbed potatoes were met with great enthusiasm. DD liked the potatoes best. DDD preferred the meatloaf, and DS? Well…we managed to get him to eat his share before clearing his plate. Husband was completely happy and me? The house is still a mess, the laundry in piles, but my family ate well and everyone is sound asleep with full bellies. And that is the satisfaction of a meal well served.

January 10, 2006

All hail l’ail.

Looks can be deceiving. Dinner tonight did not resemble the masterpiece (ahem, airbrushed) photographed in my cookbook. But despite its more humble appearance, the Roasted Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic was sumptuous. I should have browned the chicken longer for a more rich color; however, it was cooked perfectly and fell off the bone into a pool of garlic and wine sauce. In a word: ‘Yum’.

Departing from the more Italian flavors of late, my palate welcomed the abundance of garlic. Here’s a juicy tidbit: Italians do not typically use garlic. I have it on a very reliable source that a true Italian, upon entering a restaurant and smelling garlic, will turn around in search of more authentic fare. Not true for their neighbors en France.

Paired with a Moroccan Couscous, the meal was more than I had hoped for. The couscous was filled with roasted zucchini, carrots, onions and butternut squash. Steeped in chicken broth infused with saffron and cumin the ordinary grains took on an earthy flavor that blended delightfully with the salty-sweet punch of the garlic. I thought about adding a handful of golden raisins and using fewer scallions than the recipe called for. In hindsight I would have followed my instinct. The onions were a bit too strong and a small burst of raisins would have been divine. Always follow instinct.

The children loved the drumsticks. The littles even helped us polish off our breasts and wings. The couscous was met with less fan-fare by the kids. Again, I think the softness of the raisins would have been more palatable for all. However, I loved the couscous and think I’ll add some crumbled goat cheese to it for a cold lunch tomorrow.

So no sleep is lost, 40 cloves is generally three heads of garlic.

January 11, 2006

Polenta: Italy’s cornbread

Who knew cornmeal could make such a tasty dish? As a native Texan, I grew up eating cornbread, so I know cornmeal has outstanding merits. But until tonight I had never attempted to make my own polenta. Although time consuming and a bid monotonous (after the roux anything seems like a breeze), once I turned the polenta out onto a pizza board and topped it with grated fontina cheese I couldn’t get it to the table fast enough for the littles.

“It looks like a fat, square pizza”.

“It’s not red”.

“Can we move to Italy and eat risotto and polenta”.

I served the polenta with an Italian Sausage Gravy. Gravy in Italy is as different to us as cornbread and polenta. This gravy was made with two varieties of tomatoes, browned Italian sausage, onion, sweet basil, mint and red pepper flakes. It was rich and perfectly matched with the polenta.

Tonight’s inspiration comes from a cookbook given to me by my dear friend Julie. Although she lives in DC now, she’s from the Boston area and for our birthdays we give each other regional cookbooks. My family thanks you, Jules, for an outstanding Italian feast!

North End Italian Cookbook
Polenta & Italian Sausage Gravy
pg 100-101