Saturday, May 23, 2015

Pommes de Terre Rissolées Rapides

Doesn’t the name of this recipe sound ... pretentious? This is how to - BING! - make Pommes de Terre Rissolées Rapides aka Instant Hash Browns without peeling, shredding, julienning, or doing anything else that requires work. 

Have you ever stared at a mountain of restaurant french fries you couldn’t eat because the serving was too big? And your Cousin Vinnie owns the joint and he’s in the mob and you wouldn’t look good in cement boots and you can’t stand the waste when the restaurant throws stuff out and you’re scared to tell Vinnie hes over-serving and his customers are getting fat and it’s all his fault. Is that what’s bothering you, Bunky? 



Dice ’em!

Heat ’em on a griddle or on the slammers electric chair!

Dish ’em up for breakfast! And never let Vinnie know.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Thunder and Lightning

Punster Peter Battistoni aka P.B.
My Facebook friend P.B., whose identity I have sworn to keep secret, has a punny sense of humor. P.B. shares his puns with his Facebook friends almost every day. One of P.B.’s puns inspired me to make this simple scone recipe. But first, his latest bon mots: 

I was almost caught in a lightning storm. Luckily, I bolted inside.

Har-har-har-har! Um ... I guess you had to be there. My response:

Knock knock! 

Who’s there? 
Thunder who?
Thunder enlightening. 

Har-har-ha- ??? Really??? Oh. Well, now. Let
’s move on, shall we?

Thunder and Lightning:

1 c. currants or craisins  
2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 c. shortening
Enough milk to make a soft dough, about 3/4 c.
Oil for frying, as needed

Plump currants or raisins (see Note); set aside. Combine dry ingredients. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add milk and fruit all at once, stirring just until moistened. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough with floured pin until dough is about 1/4-in. (0.7 cm) thick. Cut into 2-1/2-in. (6 cm) rounds. Fry in a small amount of oil at medium-low heat until golden, about 2 min. per side. Serve warm or at room temperature, with or without jam. Makes 2 dozen.

Note: See Index for How to Plump Dried Fruits

Further Note: My guess is that these scones got their name after being cooked over a fire during an electrical storm. Maybe the lights went out? Maybe P.B. presented everyone with another pun? (Lord, I hope not). As for this punster’s identity? His secret
s safe with me.

Play time’s over! I need to return to my writing project! xox Nicole

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Dinner Party Series: Fabulous Femmes Film Fest

Alice, our lovely photographer!
This year marks the 4th annual Fabulous Femmes Film Fest, a little party I try to give each May, gathering a few friends to enjoy a meal and a couple of Oscar-nominated films. I encourage you to host your own FFFF if you have a flat-screen TV and enjoy watching movies. 

As you may know, I love to play with color. This year, I used a pea-green cloth with matching plates and accessories. From time-to-time, the tables I set dont use conventional dinner table items. I like to pluck objects from all around the house, setting the table with oilcloth or newspapers (if that works with the theme I’ve chosen), tying cloth napkins with butcher twine, using an oil lantern on the table, using baskets plucked from here and there, and generally trying to put together fresh, fun ideas. 

With my mental plate piled high this year, I prepared a simple lunch that involved only minimal effort. If youre phobic about giving parties, why not do the same?

Using three cans of condensed tomato soup to make seven large servings, I prepared Looped Soup, an economical and dead-simple recipe youll find in the Index under Soup (Hot): Tomato (Looped). 

Slicing bagels in half, I arrayed three types of fillings so my guests could prepare their own sandwiches. I bought sliced turkey breast, sliced Swiss cheese, lettuce, sandwich pickles, tomatoes, and cucumbers. I also bought sliced smoked lox, cream cheese, capers, and red onion. I diced and prepared eggs so my guests could make their own egg salad sandwiches. And I bought the third course - a small, tiramisu-style cake - to save myself some time. 

My past blogs indexed as Dinner Party Series say a great deal about simplifying home entertaining, but these three points bear emphasizing:

1/ Given your level of energy, experience, and the size of your work space, don’t try to do more than you can do. Entertaining friends at home isnt a contest.
2/ Start your preparations early! Thats important. Set your table a day or two ahead. Plan your menu, taking out the utensils, serving dishes, and everything else youll need, well in advance.
3/ Place small notes on or into each empty serving bowl and tray, reminding yourself what needs to go in each. Make a tick list of each task necessary to get there, and you’ll feel more organized. Be sure to watch the clock!

So here’s how the meal looked! I set the tray of empty mugs on the table for show, removing them to the kitchen to be filled with gin-laced soup, which I served in the living room. Using a funnel will keep the soup from splashing against the sides of the mugs as theyre being filled. 

This was a casual meal - the FFFF is always a casual occasion - so after everyone had their mugs of soup, we allowed a good pause before the next course. After my guests made their own sandwiches, we once again retreated to the living room.

With lunch over, we were ready for main event - movies!with popcorn, lots more talking, and later, cake and tea. All in all, plenty of fun and not too much work. I hope these photos will inspire you to do something similar! 

Best Tip Ever: Fill a 30-cup coffee urn with water, bringing it to the boil midway through your party. When you offer coffee, use instant granules, filling your pot or cups with boiling water from the urn. When you offer herbal or regular tea, fill your pot or cups directly from the urn, too. This is my #1 tip for keeping things simple at a large party. The best place to buy these urns is on Craigslist or at a restaurant supply house. If you buy a used urn, be sure it functions as it should before you hand over your money. Getting a seven-day written warranty is also a smart idea.  

Start with a basic buffet setting: I often change it many times!

I usually add an extra setting and extra cutlery, just in case!
I served a gin-splashed tomato soup in these mugs.

Imagine where each food item will go after placing the basics.

Fresh, cold water is an essential! Water was more popular 
than the champagne cocktails I served as my guests arrived.

Among the basics: A good supply of napkins - 
with extras on hand in the kitchen, just in case!

Bagels dont dry out and are sturdier than sandwich bread
for making build-yer-own sandwiches.

Cream cheese, lox, thinly sliced red onion, and capers.
Do your grocery shopping a couple of days in advance.

Let your table be a happy jumble of candles, flowers, and food!

Use parsley to fill those otherwise-empty spaces.

Your gracious host! Let this photo be you!

Friday, April 24, 2015

A Note From an Absent Blogger

One down, one to go! A few months back, I begged off blogging on the excuse that Ive been working on a couple of must-do book projects. The largest of these is now complete; the next is partially written.

During my break, Ron has been doing all the cooking while Frankie, our temperamental fish, has been living on tinned sardines and caviar. It will be several more months until I return. 

I miss you and hope you miss me back, readers!

xox  Nicole

Friday, March 20, 2015

Product Review: Induction Ranges

Our oven caught fire in late December, the cause being a pool of grease so deep I could have swum in it. Times flies when youre having fun: A few days after that, the stove top exploded. I guess its not the brightest idea to boil a kettle dry on the high setting of a glass-top stove. Its also not super-smart to rip the kettle from the molten glass with which it has fused, thus tearing a hole the size of a dime in the stove top. Nor is it brilliant to continue cooking after the above happens, assuming the hole will magically repair itself and all will be well. It wont, and it wasn’t. The result could have been dangerous and disastrous. 

The eventual explosion dug a crater the size of Kansas into the stove’s glass top, as well as ripping open a crack as wide and deep as the Mariana Trench, which is pretty wide and deep. To set the stage, it was a dark and stormy night ... 

Surveying the shattered surface of our stove, I briefly understood how Dante must have felt when he peered through the Gates of Hell. The upside was that this did seem like a great opportunity to hang up my apron and enjoy a whole bunch of restaurant meals. Whoo-hoo!

Ron had other ideas, among them that there were no restaurants in our immediate future. Instead, we bought a $2,000 induction range - money I’d hoped to spend on having the cellulite from my hips pumped into my lips, with plenty left over after selling my remaining cellulite to thousands of thin-lipped, thin-hipped women in Switzerland. 

I’m not exactly sure how induction ranges work, but any magnetic pot that snuggles up to any element of one of these stoves will immediately develop a strong, electromagnetic, Clooney-esque attraction to turn on” the element and heat things up. 

If your pots are non-magnetic (wool doesn’t count), a handy conversion ring will reverse the pot’s polarities, which - while sounding scientifically impressive - I cleverly made up. 

With this ring, the stove’s electromagnetic, pheromonic, Clooney-esque features will now become strongly attracted to you, turning on” and heating things up even if you haven’t shaved your legs for an entire week. This is why older women are willing to pay so much money for an induction range.

Ha-ha, fooled you! Metal pots and induction stoves dont really work that wayI also have no idea how the conversion ring works. All I can say is that the ring is precious, as this world-famous scientist from the Institute of Ring Physics is about to explain: 

Why are induction ranges so popular? Because they have all the advantages and none of the disadvantages of cooking with gas. Watch as this unsuspecting woman attempts to scramble eggs on a gas range:

Induction ranges are fast! Place a pot of water on an element, and the next thing you know, the water will be boiling. Reduce the heat, and the water will simmer almost as quickly as I did when Ron told me I probably wouldn’t see the inside of a restaurant for the next 46 years.  

Now, the oven. With its technology scientifically, athletically, and esthetically different from other ranges, induction ovens are slow to preheat. You know all those recipes that instruct you to set your oven’s temperature before you start to cook? This is the time to take those recipes to heart! Preheat an induction range early - typically 20-to-25 min. - to reach 400 deg. F. 

Most (but not all) induction ovens lack a self-cleaning function. Unless you’re an ammonia-breathing alien, the chemical fumes from the standard oven’s self-cleaning process haven’t been doing your lungs any good. Environmentally friendly induction ovens need cleaning more often than self-cleaning ranges, so don’t allow dirt to build up and the job will be easy. Or just hire some kitchen help.

Overall, I like our new range, and will do my best not to blow it up. Which brand did we buy? I’m not telling. This is an objective review, Dollinks - not an ad. Do online research, check prices, stick with a recognized brand, and ask the advice of friends who have an induction range. Induction ranges are great - but if a salesperson promises you can cook in a woolen pot, shop elsewhere.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Off the Eatin’ Path

Ive been pondering the joys of cannibalism. I know that’s hard to digest. My daughter Erin has long been a set buyer for the movies. Right now, she buys much of the fancy stuff used in Season 3 of Hannibal. I’ve never watched Hannibal, and until recently had no idea what the show was about. So I emailed Erin to ask: “Is your show about Hannibal Lecter, or Hannibal crossing the Alps?”

Erin knew I genuinely didn’t know, so this was her reply: “Neither. It’s a kids’ show about a small chipmunk who goes on an adventure across the Alps while eating other chipmunks.”

I told husband Ron that I finally knew what Hannibal was about. He nodded wisely. Or maybe he just nodded off. Ron does that a lot when I talk about complicated stuff, like should I have my body parts “lifted” so I can tell the insurance company they were “stolen.” 

“Wha-? Wha-?” he said, pretending to have been asleep which I know he really wasn’t because his head jerked up the moment I told him how much a full body lift would cost in USDs. “No worries!” I said. “I know a guy who knows a guy who can do the procedure in rupees.” 

To show me that he’d actually been paying attention, Ron emailed Erin to ask: “Is the chipmunk on a snowboard or on skis?” 

“Hes on a little sled made of flattened chipmunks, pulled by squirrels,” she replied. 

Erin then admitted that Hannibal is a made-for-TV prequel to the Hannibal Lecter character so brilliantly played by Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. I have no idea how lambs and chipmunks connect, but I’ll take Erins word for it.

“Ha-ha,” I wrote back, signing off “YOM” - my short form for “Yer Old Ma.” Only later did it occur to me that (considering Hannibal Lecter enjoys having his pals for dinner) “YOM” sounds alarmingly like “YUM.”

So no recipe today. I thought of writing one for Lamb’s Brains (which I once ate in Australia), but Id hate having angry readers throw rocks at this blog. For now, I’ll give recipe-writing a pass as I resume the large writing project on which I’ve been working for a very long time.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sweet Onion Pie

Food confuses me. Until a few weeks ago, I assumed “pilates” was a Greek appetizer. Wrong-o. I also used to think “Sherbet was a tip on a hot stock. It isn’t

The food Costco sells confuses me even more. Costco is the world’s third largest retailer, yet still manages to convey the impression that it’s the county fair of food retailing. The demonstrators who hand out free samples are a big part of that mystique. Trained to remain calm under pressure, they never snap, as I would: “The pizza will be ready in five minutes. Don’t push, sir. SIR!!! Don’t push. 

“Ma’am? Could you please remove your son’s nose from the hot glass of my toaster oven? The pizza will be ready in four minutes. 

“Sir? Yes, you, bozo! Please don’t drool on my demo table. The pizza will be ready in three minutes…” 

Costco recently sold my sister a machine called - (I don’t want to be sued! Let’s reword this!). Costco recently sold my sister a no-name machine (nudge-nudge, wink-wink) that buzzes up fruit to make smoothies so dis-gus-ting (not the machine’s fault; my sister doesn’t know how to cook) that my sister never eats the purées she produces, instead turning them into fruit-based facials to eliminate wrinkles. She now needs another machine to eliminate fruit flies.

One chilly winter’s day, my pal Leslie and I took refuge in Costco. We made the mistake of shopping on a weekend lunch hour (Translation: Costco had free food up the ying-yang. I think Costco sells Ying-Yangs in a handy pack of 10 dozen, not far from the Doritos). Ravenous, we descended on the demonstrators’ samples like seagulls on a sandwich. 

After stuffing our maws with every morsel we could, Leslie and I  covered our heads with winter scarves, faked Russian accents («Что эта очень вкусный еда? Я должен пробовать его!»), and circled the store a second time to eat still more free food before spending $2,042.69 on groceries (or maybe $204 … decimal points also confuse me).

Leslie and I had sampled something like $1.41 worth of free food in tiny paper muffin cups. Any behavioral psychologist worth his Tostitos will name free food as the No. 1 factor guaranteed to drive crazed shoppers into a food-buying frenzy. 

I once heard an elderly man ask a Costco butcher how much salt was in Costco’s scrumptious roast chickens. “Salt? There isn’t any salt!” came the butcher’s assuring words. As the customer happily placed a chicken in his cart, the butcher added sotto voce: “They’ve been brined, is all.” The old guy froze, thought for a moment, and then shrugged. “Well, that’s okay, then.” I now rate Costco’s food super-confusing. 

What does this have to do with Sweet Onion Pie? I happen to know that Cougars hang out at Costco, where you least expect to find them. Oh, I’ve seen them in their push-up bras, false eyelashes, hair extensions, and kitten heels, trolling for younger men.

When they find an unsuspecting victim with no wedding ring and a $9.99 frozen pizza the size of a truck tire under his arm, the Cougar will “innocently” block his path, asking in a pained, weak voice: “I can’t lift this 50-lb. sack of onions. Can you help me?” 

The moment he does, he’s trapped. Ramping her push-up bra a tetch higher, the spider says to the fly: “Even though I’m single, I’m making Sweet Onion Pie tonight. Why don’t I just be very forward and ask you to dinner at my house as a way of expressing my thanks?” 

Mesmerized by her, um, conversation, the guy ditches the pizza and agrees to be there at 8. This isn’t confusing, at all. Ladies! If you’re single, you must shop at Costco! And learn to make this delicious main-dish pie that I’ve adapted from The Joy of Cooking.

Sweet Onion Pie:

Pastry to make one 9-inch pie (see Note)
3 tbsp. butter or margarine
2-1/2 lb. (1.13 kg) sweet onions, thinly sliced
3 whole eggs
1 c. dairy sour cream
1 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh parsley and/or 1 tsp. celery seed
1 egg white, slightly beaten
3 or 4 crumbled, cooked sausages, drained and blotted of fat

Preheat oven to 450 deg. F. Line a 9-in. pie pan with pastry. Trim and flute pastry edges; prick base with fork tines. Transfer pastry-filled pan to freezer for 10 min. On a circle of parchment trimmed slightly smaller than the interior of the pie shell, place enough pie weights to keep the pastry from bubbling and breaking. Bake unfilled shell 10-to-12 min., until slightly browned. Cool shell thoroughly on wire rack. Do not turn off oven.

Melt butter or margarine in large, heavy saucepan. Add onions, stirring over low heat until translucent. Cover pot, sweating onions over lowest heat until cooked through. Set aside until thoroughly cooled. In a medium bowl, combine whole eggs, sour cream, and seasonings. Stir into cooled, cooked onions, combining well. Set aside.

Brush slightly beaten egg white over baked, cooled pie shell. Heap slightly cooled onion mixture into partially baked pie shell. Crumble cooked sausage over onion mixture in shell. Bake 10 min. at 450 deg. F. Reduce heat to 300 deg. F., cooking an additional 25-to-30 min., until crust is golden. Serve hot. Makes 4-to-6 servings.

Note: The Index to this blog has several excellent recipes for pie pastry filed under Pies: Pastry.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Cream of Cauliflower Soup with Goat’s Cheese

Alas! My camera has died! RIP, camera! Never mind, Dollinks. Ill improvise. Most of the time, all you ever see in the photos that accompany this blog are my hands. Hands, I can give you! They just wont be my hands and they just wont be cooking

From ...

There! That should satisfy your desire for hands that tell a story. Today (because I urgently need a break from other writing projects), I have a delicious and wildly simple recipe for a cauliflower soup that tastes like “more” - because thats what youll want once you try it. You’ll love this velvety soup and its gluten-free thickener!

Cream of Cauliflower Soup with Goat’s Cheese:

1 tbsp. butter or margarine
2 leeks, white part only, sliced thinly (see Note)
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, diced
2 c. chicken stock (see Another Note
4 c. water
1 large cauliflower, sliced as flowerets, small stems remaining
1/4 c. uncooked white rice (no substitutions)
1 large bay leaf
3/4-to-1 c. drained, crumbled goat’s cheese
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Flurry of fresh parsley, finely chopped, as garnish (optional)

In a large pot, melt butter or margarine over low heat. Add leeks, onion, and celery; cover 5 min. to “sweat (see Another Note - Re-e-ally?), stirring occasionally. Add stock, water, cauliflower, rice, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer 20 min., until rice is cooked and vegetables are soft. 

Cool almost to room temperature. Remove bay leaf. Add to blender goblet 2 c. at a time, blending on “high” until mixture is smooth and creamy. Wipe pot to remove any remaining solids such as bits of leek. Return soup to pot on medium heat. Stir in crumbled goat’s cheese. Season to taste. Garnish with parsley. Serves 6.   

Note: Leeks are expensive. Instead, I use sliced, dried leek stems, available in Persian food stores and in the ethnic foods section of large grocery stores. The taste is indistinguishable from the flavor of fresh leeks, at a fraction of the price.

Another Note: If youre keen to make it yourself, see the Index for How to Make Stock (Poultry).

 Another Note - Re-e-ally? The veggies, Dollinks - not you.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Butchart Gardens’ Ginger Scones

Picture this: It’s bedtime in the Time Zone and at the Latitude Where I Live (“Nicole! Come to bed! Itbedtime in the Time Zone and at the Latitude Where We Live!”). Ron will just have to wait! I don’t check this blog’s mail very often these days, because I’m not blogging recipes at the moment, but I happened to check it late this evening. Zounds! 

A very kind reader has searched out the Ginger Scones recipe she and I were both looking for in November, 2012. This recipe comes to you courtesy of the world-famous Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia. I was so excited to see it that I yelled “Stop the presses!” even though they werent actually running. 

I’m sorry I can’t give this lovely lady the proper thank you she deserves, but she didn’t leave her name in the note she sent me just moments before I logged on. So here’s the scoop: I’m giving you the web link she gave me. The recipe’s right near the bottom, but first, you may want to pore through page after page of sumptuous photos of the (once again) world-famous Butchart Gardens. 

The photos are almost as delicious as the recipe! Thank you, madam! I’m grateful not just for the photos; not just for the recipe; but for being able to use the words “stop the presses!” and “scoop” in this blog. I’ve always wanted to say that, and you gave me the opportunity.

“Nicole! Come to bed! Yes, I will ... Ginger scones in the morning?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Dinner Party Series: Meringue for Pies

The scene: A small, intimate dinner party. The meal: Smoked Salmon Penne (recipe to come another time). Dessert: No-Crust Lemon Meringue PieThe lemon recipe? None. Heres the dish:

And heres the secret - a commercially made lemon filling mix. No one knew the difference and everyone offered accolades. Pour the hot, cooked mix into six 1/2 c.-sized ramekins. The Meringue recipe? A snap! 

Meringue for Pies:

3 egg whites, chilled and beaten to form soft peaks 
3/4 c. granulated sugar

Gradually beat in sugar until Meringue stands in stiff peaks and no grainy feeling remains when mixture is rubbed between thumb and forefinger. Heap Meringue high over the hot lemon mixture (if its hot, the Meringue won’t shrink). Bake at 425 deg. F. for 3-5 min. or until Meringue is lightly browned. This makes enough Meringue for 4-to-6 ramekins or an 8-in. pie. 

Havent I always told you that presentation fools the taste buds? If this persuades you to give a Dinner Party, go ahead and use a mix - and don’t feel guilty!

Note: Make and consume Meringue-Topped Pies on the same day. If you don’t, the Meringue will be rubbery and tasteless.