Friday, August 22, 2008

There's No 'Tear In My Beer' Cheese Soup with Salmon Toasts


When I was a kid, across the street from us, there lived an English family. The mom of that family emigrated to this country when she married her husband. Lily was a petite, dark haired woman, much shorter than her very tall husband, and she spoke with the loveliest British accent. I listened with fascination to her homeland tales, and observed with great interest how she continued on with the customs of her native country. For example, Lily never drove a car; in fact they didn’t own a car. She rode her bicycle everywhere including to the grocery store. She liked to buy her produce daily, and as regular as Big Ben, you could see her head out at the same time every day to the grocery store. The way she pronounced my name encouraged my sister to call me the same ... “Poo-la”. Of course, my Italian grandma pronounced my name “Pole –la”, and I thought it was so cool than one name could be pronounced differently all over the world. Even back then, I was fascinated with accents, languages, and cultures other than my own.

Perhaps that is why I enjoy the Olympics so much. Although I appreciate a close finish, I’m not into competition much; rather, I love the stories associated with the athletes. I admire their determination and perseverance. Their guts. Doing what they do away from home in front of thousands. Plus, since I homeschool, the Olympics are one gigantic social studies and geography course. As I write this, the athletes representing Great Britain have earned the third most Gold Medals. Considering the fact that Great Britain's global square footage is relatively small, they certainly have a large presence in the Olympics and the World. I’d love to visit the English countryside someday, and stop in a pub and order real, bonefide fish and chips. Tonight’s Olympic menu will be the last installment in the series (I'm heading out of town for a couple of days), and it honors the cuisine of my childhood neighbor’s homeland (as well as some wonderful Blog friends) ... Great Britain.

When thinking of English food, several things come to mind. Of course, they make the best fish and chips on the planet, and they also lay claim to some wonderful pub food, fry ups, holiday recipes, and desserts. I searched the internet as well as scoured through my cookbook library (I have a *thing* for cookbooks) searching for something unique, easy to prepare, and that scores top points in the flavor. I was in the mood for soup today, plus I had some smoked salmon in the fridge that I wanted to use. Tell me what you think of the menu I came up with. And my apologies to my English blog friends if I totally missed the mark!

How does ‘Cheese and Ale Pub Soup’ served with ‘Smoked Salmon with Watercress, and Horseradish Cream Toasts’ sound? This was a brilliant meal ... not heavy at all, yet very full flavored. I kind of winged it based on all the info that I read. I served it with a simple plated salad of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and chives from my garden. I absolutely loved, loved, loved this. This was seriously good. This will be making regular appearances on my table. Once you try this, you will fall in love with England. Here are the recipes:


See the finely grated carrot? It added a wonderful texture to this creamy soup. Yummm!

Cheese and Ale Pub Soup

½ stick of butter
¼ cup onions chopped fine
2 small spring onions chopped fine
¼ cup grated celery fine
1 medium carrot grated fine
¼ cup flour
2 cups ½ and ½
½ cup milk
2 generous cups freshly shredded Sharp Cheddar cheese (not pre-shredded)
½ generous cup beer
White pepper to taste
Snipped chives
Smoked paprika

In a 3 ½ quart saucepan, melt the butter on med high heat. Add all of the onions, celery, and carrot and stir. Heat until tender, not quite 5 minutes. Wisk in the flour and cook for about 1 minute. Slowly wisk in the ½ and ½, and milk. Cook and stir for about 5 minutes. Stir in the shredded cheese, small handfuls at a time, until all has been added and cheese has melted. Stir in the beer. Cook on low heat for about 5 minutes more; do not let it boil. Stir in white pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with chives and paprika. (NOTE: This is not gluten free. Next time I make it, I'm going to modify it so my gluten free kiddo can have some, too. She still dined quite well tonight, feasting on chicken and rice, as well as smoked salmon minus the bread!)

Smoked Salmon with Watercress and Horseradish Cream Toasts

1 palm sized piece of Smoked Salmon
10 Watercress leaves
½ teaspoon Horseradish
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons mayo
5 thin Toasted baguette slices
Smoked Paprika

Break the salmon into medium sized chunks. On each toasted baguette slice, place enough salmon to cover most of the slice. Dollop a ½ teaspoon (or more!) on top of the salmon. Top with two watercress leaves. Sprinkle with paprika.

By breaking the salmon into chunks, you don't have to worry about the toppings toppling off the toast. See how yummy this is? The cheddar soup pared beautifully with the salmon. Just looking at this photo makes me want to start singing "Britannia Rules the Waves" and "God save the Queen"! ok, ok, don't get cheeky ... I'll just hum it! :-D

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Fantastic Performance Pumpkin Fritters

Today as I was chauffeuring my youngest to her swimming lesson, all the while feeling very proud that I had managed to feed the troops, get the laundry started, change the bed sheets, shower and get us out of the door by 9:20 am with minimal stress, I began to think about the Olympics. Tell me what you think of this. They should have an Olympic category for moms (and dads) to demonstrate how to manage a household and not, you know, go crazy. Moms from all over the world could demonstrate their multitasking skills of feeding, bathing, diapering, clothing, cooking, cleaning, laundering, improvising, budgeting, bandaging, refereeing, coaching, chauffeuring, and carpooling all within say ... a tidy 5 minute time frame. Can you just see a row of mom’s at the ready ... and then with lightning speed completing their task, hitting the buzzer, and throwing both arms up in the air shouting, “Done”!! Yes, it would be quite the event and one where every participant wins a gold medal just for taking on the challenge.

There is a beautiful young woman from South Africa who has taken on quite a challenge, and is the type of athlete who inspires everyone ... not just athletes. Have you heard of Natalie du Toit? She’s an Olympic swimmer from South Africa, and she carried in her nation’s flag at the opening ceremonies. I hadn’t heard of her until today, and her story is one of such great personal triumph that I just had to share her with you. Check out the link and be prepared to be inspired. Folks like Natalie encourage me to persevere and not let roadblocks break my stride. In simpler terms, she embodies the phrase, “when the goin’ gets tough, the tough get goin’”. In Natalie’s honor, tonight’s Olympic culinary adventure recognizes the cuisine of South Africa.

South African cuisine is a mixture of many cultures. I found recipes for stews and curries that made my mouth water. Some recipes contained ingredients I never heard of, and others contained familiar ingredients used in new ways. Based on my recent dessert making success, I thought I’d try out a sweet treat recipe called quite simply Pumpkin Fritters that I found on the good ol’ World Wide Web at 3men.com.

Pumpkin Fritters remind me of a warm, fancy donut that you’d find in a fine bakery. Covered in cinnamon sugar, these little fried fritters are considered a side dish; however, I think they would make a lovely breakfast pastry or after school snack. I did change the recipe a tad based on my cupboard contents. Plus, I altered the ingredients to make it gluten free. I’ll post the regular recipe as well as the gluten free changes.

These were good! You should have seen my littlest pumpkin’s eyes light up when she realized that there are foods like this that she can enjoy. Hubbyman snarfed down several in one-bite increments, and my older girl chowed down as well. I liked them, but one was enough for me as I’m not a big sweet eater. My son thought they were ok, but ate all of his anyway. I mean, come on, it was coated with cinnamon sugar! I think these would be great additions to breakfast trays at Thanksgiving and Christmas. In fact, I’ve filed away the recipe to use again when the holidays roll around. See how pretty they are on the inside? They are heartier than a donut, but not heavy. Uh, if they do add a mother venue to the Olympics, I'm really going to have to do something about those fingernails.

Pumpkin Fritters

- 2 cups cooked pumpkin, mashed (I used canned sweet potatoes and they were a terrific substitute).
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoons of sugar
- 1/2 cup flour* (See below)
- pinch of salt* (See below)
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder* (See below)

- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 6 tablespoons sugar

Combine pumpkin, egg, sugar, flour, salt, and baking powder in a bowl, making a soft batter. Fry spoonfuls in shallow oil till both sides are lightly browned. I just used a regular sized skillet, and a slotted spoon to turn them. Watch carefully as they can burn quickly. And, boy oh boy, if you aren't used to frying in oil, be careful not to burn yourself when you turn them over. Drain on paper towels. By the way, they weren't greasy at all.

In a plastic baggy, combine cinnamon and sugar. Gently toss each fritter with the mixture. Serve warm.

*Gluten Free Changes: I substituted a Gluten Free Baking Mix for the flour, salt, and baking powder. It worked beautifully.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Golden Goodness - Banana Dessert

What do you think of the Olympics so far? Isn’t it amazing how the Olympics influence so many lives at home and abroad? Think of how many girls cut their hair like ice skater Dorothy Hamill, and how many kids want to play soccer, or learn to swim, or ride their bikes all because they were influenced by the excitement of the Olympic events. I wonder how many young children this past week have watched the competitions and thought to themselves, “I want to do that. I can do that! When I grow up, I’ll be in the Olympics!” Whether it's about the Olympics or some other interest, I’m big on encouraging little beings to believe in themselves. After all, we’re all witnesses to Olympic history, watching a young man from Maryland who believed in his dream and has won more gold medals than any other Olympian, plus set multiple world records in swimming. What an amazing accomplishment! I’m sure when he returns to the States, he will be given an grand welcome.

Now, if you will, imagine the wonderful welcome for an athlete who not only has won a gold medal, but is the only medalist for his country! How proud and excited he must be, and how proud and excited his countrymen must be for him. As I write this, the country of India can proudly boast claiming the Gold Medal in Men’s Shooting, 10m Air Rifle. This is a significant win for the athlete, Abhinav Bindra, as he is only the third athlete from that country to win an individual medal since India started competing. Over the years, India has won team medals, but only two other athletes have won individually. Congratulations to Abhinav Bindra on pursuing his dream and achieving such a great accomplishment!

In honor of India’s gold medalist, tonight’s culinary salute to the Olympics recognizes the diverse and wonderful cuisine of India. I love Indian food, and am lucky to have several restaurants near me that serve up the most delectable delights. Yummy dishes like chicken tikka masala, lamb vindalo, masoor dal (red lentils), sookhi gobi (spicy cauliflower), and lets not forget soothing mango lassi’s, and those delectible gulab jamuns (cardamom donuts in rose sugar syrup). Before moving west, I’d never had an opportunity to sample these terrific dishes. Now, thanks to cultural diversity, I’m spoiled. Isn't it amazing how all these wonderful dishes unite people in one world. I like it! It’s a goooood thing.

My hubbyman thinks desserts are a good thing. A very, very, gooood thing. Um, I’m not a big dessert eater or maker. I don’t know why exactly. I don’t dislike desserts; I just don’t ever crave them. I’m willing to sign up to cook just about anything for a meal, but I shy away from desserts. Hubbyman, who can never be called shy, however, loves desserts. All desserts. He must never, ever know that Marjie makes brownies every Tuesday. That said, he has been burning the midnight oil lately, so I thought I’d be a sweet wife (get it? dessert -- sweet yeah, I'll stop now) and make a dessert that he’d enjoy, and that my kids would like, including my little gluten-free-er. There is a lovely Indian dessert made with red bananas, cardamom, and brown sugar that fit the bill quite nicely. Even better, it requires cooking on the stove … not baking in the oven. Sign me up!

I’ve seen red bananas at the store forever now, but I had no idea what to do with them. As soon as I saw this recipe, I new I had my chance! Have you ever eaten a red banana? What did you think of it? I liked them. Here's how it went ... Red bananas peel very easily.

The yummy goodness within is similar in texture to a regular banana, just more "fuzzy".

When you slice them, they have kind of a golden striped center. (Hey, just like the gold medals!) They taste great, and were very easy to work with. Here's the recipe:

Red Bananas with Cardamom
aka Golden Goodness

3 small red bananas, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
¼ cup butter
½ cup packed brown sugar
Juice of 1/2 lime
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
Vanilla ice cream
Chopped pistachios

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat.

Add brown sugar, and stir occasionally until sugar has dissolved. Stir in cardamom and lime juice.

Gently place bananas in the pan. Cover and heat for 3 minutes. Serve immediately with vanilla ice cream.

Garnish with chopped pistachios. Done. Finito. Complete. Viola! Look at the golden hue!

This recipe is kind of like bananas foster, only there's no alcohol or flambe-ing. The flavors work so well together, although next time I think I'll leave out the lime. The caramel hardens when it hits the cold ice cream. Oooh, the crunchy goodness was amazing. I used my fingers to pick up the big pieces. Shhh. Don't tell the kids!

Do you believe the glorious color of these golden beauties?!! If your computer allows it, go on and click on this photo to enlarge it. We'll wait for you. It'll be worth it. Don't you want to scoop this up? The bananas are not mushy at all! They are just perfect texture wise, and the flavor ... YUM! Plus, like most things posted here, this is gluten free all the way, baby!

I initially saw the recipe for this in a Betty Crocker Cookbook called Indian Home Cooking by Raghavan Iyer. (Hey. I like Betty. I learned many basic cooking skills from her books.) Although I modified it, I’ll still tip my hat to Betty and Raghavan with a thank you for a tasty dessert. After eating their servings, my dessert lovin' kids and dessert crazed hubbyman were scraping the pan with spoons trying to get every last bit of caramel.

Uh oh, is that a spoon? Well, I had to, ya know, sample it. I concede to all dessert lovers everywhere. This was gooood. I think it’s safe to say that this lone, individual dessert claimed a gold medal.

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PS: I've been having some glitches with my outgoing email. *sigh* If you've sent me an email msg, please know that I'm trying to respond!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Olympic Dynamic Duo - Sausage and Beer!


Which Olympic events are capturing your interest? Are those events different from what you watched when you were a kid? The countries participating in the Olympics sure are different from when I was a youngster cheering on the athletes. Of course, those were the days when the Berlin Wall was still quite erect, and the letters USSR blazed across the back of athletes’ jackets. Governments have come and gone, new countries have formed, and old countries have reunited, yet one constant still remains strong. That “WOW, How’d they do that?” factor when watching the athletes literally reach new heights and set new records continues to amaze and delight those riveted by the games.

Now a days, my children watch German athletes compete under one flag rather than two like they did when I was a kid. As I write this, Germany has the 3rd most gold medals of all the participating countries. With more events left to take place, it will be exciting to see who stands tall on the podium.

Tonight’s menu honors the cuisine of Germany. German food is comfort food. Lots of yummy sausages and hams, crunchy kraut and savory potato dishes, chewy noodles and apple pastries, and don't get me started on those chocolate deserts!

Today, I found myself on the East Side of the big town getting school uniforms for my girls. Yep, they wear uniforms and I love it. No worries every morning about what to wear, and laundry is a snap. Anyway, there is a charming German deli about 5 minutes from where we were, so of course we stopped in. I love it when fate works for me like that!

I love deli’s. Real deli’s, not the pseudo-deli counters at the mega supermarkets. I’m talking about old world deli’s, full of home crafted unusual meats, pungent cheeses, and imported delights from the old country. The sounds of heavy accents are common place, service is not rushed, and the food is outstanding. We left the deli with ingredients to complete our Olympic Dynamic Duo, including wonderful Weisswurst (pronounced “vice-vurst”) sausage, seasoned sauerkraut imported from Deutchland, and a couple chocolate treats for the kids.

I love wiesswurst, and even better, so do my kids. (Can you hear the angel chorus at that statement?) Some folks call this bratwurst, but that’s not completely accurate. This sausage is very finely ground, mildly seasoned, fully steamed/boiled at time of purchase, and only requires a few minutes on the grill to give it that wonderful grilled flavor. One bite of these babies, and your tummy will make happy noises and your feet will do a happy dance. Mine did.

Preparing our Olympic feast was a snap. One onion, sliced in half rounds (I love half rounds), and slowly caramelized with just a wee tad of my go-to three: canola oil, olive oil, and butter. It took about 25 minutes over med/low heat. Um, I do stir my onions when they are slow cooking. I know that would make the food network groan, but it works for me. For the sausages, I simply made slits in them, every inch or so, to minimize splitting open as they grilled. They were grilled for 3 minutes per side on a medium hot grill, then nestled into a crusty, chewy roll, and topped with tangy, crunchy kraut, caramelized sweet onions, and a drizzling of spicy brown mustard.

Have mercy, these were good! Ok, ok, my kids ate theirs plain, and my gluten free baby had hers on a stick, but all in all the meal was a success. (I purchased the sticks at the craft store, baking section/candy sticks.) These beauties were served alongside creamed potatoes and fruit on the side. I wonder how you say YUM! in German?

Do you like kraut? I like good quality kraut ... just a hint of tang, lots of crunch, and mild flavor. How about onions? I like onions, especially these slow cooked, yummy caramelized gems. What about mustard? I love most mustards, especially this grainy one. Surprisingly, I'm not that crazy about straight up Dijon, but like it mixed in stuff.

You can, of course, purchase bratwurst at the store. Make slits in the sausages, about an inch or so apart, the entire length of the sausage. Poach at a low boil in water or beer, covered, for 20 minutes, adding more liquid as needed to keep the sausages poaching. Remove from the pan, and grill or broil about 3-4 minutes each side until golden and done. The sausages may split open even more … no problemo --- they hold more goodies in the bun that way!

Oh, and check this out!!!

Do ya see it? It took me a while to catch it, and I got so sophmorically excited when I finally did. Check out the label on that German beer. PAULAner! Ha! It's that fate thing again! I had asked hubbyman to pick out a German beer to go with our sausages, and look what he did. Ah, the man does has a sense of humor. Neither of us are big drinkers, we aren’t teetotalers either, but to tell the truth, I don’t know when the last time was I had a beer. That said, this beer was actually pretty tasty and stayed refreshingly cold in the frosty mug. It paired marvelously with our meal, and I actually enjoyed it. Hubbyman kept his loyalties alive, and opted for an Oregon microbrew. It’s a darker beer, almost black, and he enjoyed it.

Tune in again to see where our Olympic culinary travels will take us next.

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Now here’s something we hope you’ll really like (I sound like Rocket J Squirrel):

On a completely different subject, my youngest Olympiad would hold her own if there was an event titled “Learn how to sew on your own.”

Here’s a photo of the prototype little top that she made this afternoon. It’s 100% hand-sewn, including buttons and button holes.

She’s forever drawing up clothing designs, and this afternoon, she sewed this completely by herself. Not bad for 9 years old! Someday in the near future, in a store near you, you may find yourself purchasing her clothing creations!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Olympic Stir Fry 2008

Can you imagine winning 11 gold medals? Accomplishing what no athlete before you had done? Forever being known as the first athlete to reach that pinnacle of success? Wow. Talk about standing out in a crowd!

Tonight's culinary adventure was a crowd pleaser. Do you like Chinese food? Do you make it yourself or do you mostly order carry out? I don't know how authentic our homemade meal was, but it was meant to honor the wonderful cuisine of China. Deemed Olympic Stir Fry 2008 by my oldest child, it recognizes some of the cooking techniques of the 2008 Olympic Host Country.

I love Chinese food. All those different textures and tastes making friends with my taste buds. Prepping for the meal took the most time with lots of chopping, some marinading, methodical stir frying, and a final grand mix together with a sprinkling at the end. Whew. Just look at this gorgeous baby bok choy.

I love bok choy, especially the little baby variety. I’m sure it’s loaded with good for me vitamins, and look at how easy it is to chop up.

Don’t these green babies look terrific!

This pepper is from my garden. I just love stepping outside and picking what I need. It makes my tummy happy.

This stir fry was tummy pleasing good. I’ve been reading cookbooks and recipes all week long, and still couldn’t decide upon just one. So I did what I usually do, and you probably do this often as well, I came up with my own version and kept my fingers crossed. Tell me what you think of this.

Olympic Stir Fry 2008

Main Ingredients
3 lbs boneless, skinless chix breast, cubed into bite sized pieces
1 lb raw shrimp, medium sized
2 baby bok choy, rough chopped
1 green pepper, cut in 1” pieces
3 green onions, cut in 1” pieces
½ cup sliced mushrooms
3 “coins” of ginger
½ cup sliced almonds (I used slivers because it's what I had.)

Vegetable Oil For Stir Frying (I used canola; peanut would be great. Don't use olive.)

Marinade Ingredients:
3 teaspoons corn starch
2 Tablespoons Chinese Rice Wine (or dry sherry)

Sauce Ingredients:
1/3 cup chix broth
2 garlic cloves, minced
Couple shakes of white pepper
4 teaspoons Chinese Rice Wine (generous teaspoons)
3 Tablespoons Soy Sauce (I used tamari wheat free)
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Glaze Ingredients:
2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons chix broth (or water)

Instructions:

In a large bowl, combine the cubed chicken with the marinade ingredients. Set aside for about 20 minutes. Heat about 1 tablespoon of oil in a wok on med high heat. Toss in the almonds and stirring constantly, toast them for about 20-30 seconds.

Be careful because they can go from being toasted to being burnt quickly. Remove them to a papertowel lined plate. (Optional – sprinkle with salt.) Next, add another 2-3 tablespoons of oil to the pan, and working in 2 batches, stir fry the chicken. You don’t rinse off the marinade. When chicken is golden brown, remove from the wok and place in a large bowl. Add more oil if needed, and stir fry the second batch of chicken. Remove when golden and add to the 1st batch of cooked chicken. Next, if needed add a dollop of oil to the wok, and stir fry the shrimp. Remove and place in a bowl as soon as they turn pink on both sides. Dump out any liquid in the wok. Now prepare to stir fry the ginger. In the drained wok, add another dollop of oil, and stir fry the ginger coins for about 1 minute. Remove and discard. In the gingery oil, add the bok choy and green onions all at once, and stir fry until slightly limp. Remove and place in another bowl. Add the mushrooms to the pan and stir fry. Remove and place in bok choy bowl. Combine the sauce ingredients in a bowl and pour into the wok. It will immediately boil up. Return all the cooked ingredients to the wok and toss in the sauce. In a small cup, combine the glaze ingredients and add to the wok.

The glaze thickens the sauce and gives the food a glorious sheen.

Serve immediately over rice, and sprinkle with the almonds. Prepare to make yummy sounds as you eat.

Couple things:

1. Notice the chicken and shrimp are not seasoned with salt and pepper. I was concerned that they would taste bland, but I shouldn't have worried. The sauce and all the flavors of the food, provide all the seasoning needed.

2. Prepping of the meat, shrimp, and veggies took me a good 45 minutes. It wasn’t hard, just time consuming.

3. Don’t be tempted to combine stir frying ingredients. The wok would get too full and everything would end up steaming. Have everything prepped before you begin. The stir frying goes fast. Be sure to have lots of bowls ready to place the stir fried food in.

4. I used almonds, but you could easily substitute cashews or peanuts.

My husband ate multiple helpings of this. My kids liked the shrimp the best, and had fun trying to use chop sticks! And, as usual, this was a gluten free all the way, baby.

Check out these blogs for some other great Chinese recipes. Steamy Kitchen and Rasa Malaysia. The women behind these blogs create and share awesome recipes ... I love their food!

I wonder what cuisine we will visit next? Germany? Greece? Great Britain? Any suggestions?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Podium Worthy Polenta


Are you enjoying the Olympics? In keeping with the Olympic theme of meals around the world, tonight’s culinary adventure honors the Italian athletes competing in the 2008 Beijing Games. As I write this, Italy can boast 3 Gold Medals, 3 Silver Medals, and 2 Bronze Medals in the areas of Fencing, Judo, Archery, Cycling, and Shooting. Athletes with names such as Maria, Giulia, Marco, Giovanni, Margherita, Mauro and more have stood on the podium to receive their world recognition. I just love these names …especially because I have relatives who boast the same ones!

I'm a star spangled girl that boasts an Italian heritage (notice how I manage to squeeze that fact into just about every post? ;-D), so preparing an Italian meal was a piece of cake. My roots are Southern Italian and so tonight we dined on food that would feel right at home on my relatives’ tables. Our gold medal meal consisted of a lovely Parmesan and Pecorino Polenta topped by a marvelous Meat and Mushroom Ragu. Accompanying those star performers was sliced Italian Sausage that was first poached and then pan grilled. Green beans with a delicate butter garlic sauce rounded out the meal.

Before I begin, let me just ask you a quick question. Do your pots and pans all fit nicely on your stove top? As my children get older, I’ve been slow on the uptake in figuring out that I need to be preparing larger portions for my own little Olympians. Now that I’ve finally stepped up to the podium, I find that I’m using all four burners on the stove for every meal. Sometimes the pots and pans fit nicely, other times not so much. I have an electric stove with the standard 2 small – 2 large burner set up.

Inevitably, I need 3 large burners and one small. *Sigh* I still regret not getting that gas line run and getting a gas stove. This one may be pretty to look at, but a) I’ll never get a black topped stove again, and b) I prefer stoves where the control panel is across the front, not in the back where I get to singe my arm whenever I adjust the temperature! My old stove was a stainless drop in and very easy to clean. This one is both black and stainless, and the black shows every little speck of everything. See the ragu splatters on the back control panel? I do use the grill year round, and that frees up the burners, but I don’t grill every night and so I need to get creative here. My family won’t eat casseroles (you know … because the food touches), so that is out. I take advantage of the crockpot, too, but don't want crockpot meals all the time. My cooking comfort zone is using the cooktop. I think about my friend Marjie and how she literally manages to prepare meals for her family of 11. As I rearranged and shoved and rearranged my fridge to accommodate a week’s worth of groceries, I remembered her post where she showed how she fits in all the food to feed her gloriously large family. I fear that I covet her kitchen! How do you juggle cooking on your stove/cook top?

Back to tonight’s menu. I adore polenta and can pretty much make it in my sleep. The homemade version is infinitely better than the ready made stuff, and doesn’t really take long at all. I’ve seen recipes where they want you to cook it for 45 minutes stirring constantly or some such thing. Who has time to do that? Here’s how I was taught to make it. Now you, too, can enjoy this yummy golden goodness in about the same amount of time as it would have taken to make pasta.

Paula’s Podium Worthy
Parmesan and Pecorino Polenta

2 ½ cups of milk (I use 1%)
½ cup of cream
½ cup of chix broth or water
1 chicken bouillon cube (yeah, I know it’s like a salt lick, but it works here)
2 Tablespoons butter
Dash White Pepper
Dash Season Salt
Dash Garlic Powder
Dash Onion Powder
1 heaping cup of Corn Meal (Yep, just regular yellow corn meal works great here)
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
¼ cup grated pecorino Romano cheese

In a 3 qt non-stick sauce pan, combine the milk, cream, broth or water, bouillon cube, butter, pepper, seasoned salt, and garlic and onion powders. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Watch it carefully when it starts to bubble because it will boil over quickly. As soon as it has reached a rolling boil, take it OFF the burner. Turn off the stove. Very slowly, WHISK in the corn meal. (Do not whisk in the cornmeal while the pot is still on the stove … it will bubble up and could splatter and burn you.) After it has been whisked in, stir in the cheeses. You can serve immediately - creamy style. If you want to cut out shapes as I did, you can pour it out to cool and firm up, and then you can cut into shapes.

If you want to cut out shapes, butter an oblong baking dish.

The bigger the dish, the thinner the polenta. Sometimes thin is good; sometimes thicker is good. I did thick.

Once you have buttered the dish, pour in your polenta.

Butter the back side of a spoon, and using the buttered side,

spread the polenta out evenly into the dish being sure to press down firmly.

Let sit for at least 10-15 minutes.

Try not to sneak a bite. I tried not to and, um, failed. Hey, I was …um … I was testing for seasoning. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Just testing to make sure it was seasoned correctly.

Ahem. Moving on. The polenta will firm up as it sits. After waiting 10 minutes or so, cut into shapes. You can use a knife, a biscuit cutter, or as I did, a cookie cutter.

My kids chose the star shape in honor of the Olympic stars. Just press and release just as you would with cookie or biscuit dough. Cute, huh?

That’s it! In just beyond the time it takes to boil water, you could be having polenta instead. If you want fancy shapes, it takes just a little longer. I usually just spoon it up, but today was a special exception. And, feel free to jazz up your polenta. Do you prefer spicy foods? Add some hot red pepper seasoning. Want to create unique flavors … add a smokey cheese or pungent cheese like smoked gouda or gorgonzola. Polenta works great layered in casseroles, too. And, if you are lucky enough to have leftovers, you can fry it up in the morning to go with your eggs. Yum, yum, yum!

Yuuum! Talk about a star spangled meal! This Podium Worthy Polenta pairs well with just about everything, too. Veggie saut├ęs, meats, poultry, fish, ragu’s, and plain ol' butter … they all go great with this. Try it and let me know what you think! And, as usual, this is gluten free all the way, baby!

Turn in next time when our culinary adventures continue with meal homage’s toward China, France, and more!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Gold Medal Carnitas

I’ve been humming the theme song from the movie Rocky all night. You know the one I’m talking about. It’s mostly an instrumental song, and starts with trumpets sounding out as Rocky starts running up the proverbial stairs of triumph. I’m sure this song is stuck in my head because of the Olympics and the fact that this song played during some part of the Opening Ceremonies.

Do you like to watch the Olympics? As a kid, my sisters and I loved to cheer on the athletes. One of my sisters had a huge crush on Mark Spitz, and hung the poster of him with all his gold medals adorning his neck on the wall of the bedroom we shared. I still remember my nervous excitement when Olga Korbut successfully completed the first ever blind backwards flip off the top bar of the uneven bars. As she swung around and reached for that bar, the crowd went wild! Even though she wasn't from my country, I remember being so excited for her ... someone I never met, someone from a different country, and someone with different customs.

Even as a little kid, I have always been fascinated with other cultures. Their customs, their languages, their cultures, their foods … everything! Perhaps it’s because I’m the daughter of an immigrant; perhaps I’m just a curious cat. Whatever the reason, my interest in other cultures remains at a high level even today. Never is this more apparent to me than in this blogsphere. Through the wonders of the internet, my world has expanded by keystrokes, and I’m able to see images and “talk” with people that I never would have met otherwise. I’m able to “visit” other communities and cultures, and learn how to prepare their foods, enjoy their stories, and ultimately spread a little bit of peace and harmony across the globe. Yeah, it sounds hokey but I stand by my belief. The internet makes my world a little bit smaller, a bit more friendly, and a whole lot more interesting!

In honor of the Olympic games, my menu for the next several meals will tap into the cuisines of nations other than my own. Tonights culinary adventure celebrated the flavors of Mexico. I’ve never been to Mexico, but boy oh boy I’d sure love to go someday. Mexico boasts several different types of cuisine, and I love them all. For our meal this evening, we enjoyed taco’s filled with scrumptious carnitas. Oh my friends, let me tell you, this was soooo good. Served with a bright, festive Pico de Gallo, some freshly shredded snowy Cotija cheese, and some creamy guacamole, we gobbled every bit. As usual, my little carnivors ate theirs plain, but hubby man and I piled on the works. How do you like your tacos?

I used the Carnitas recipe posted by Homesick Texan. I’ve made carnitas many times over the years, and her recipe was intriguing in that it was so simple to do. My old recipe, which is also very good, requires both on the stove and baking time. This recipe, was done on the stove and finished in less than two hours. The results were … well let’s put it this way, there was absolutely zero left. None. Nada. Not even a teeny weeny speck left. As I was dishing it out, my daughter kept saying to me, "Pile it on, Mom. Just keep piling it on!"

4 lbs pork shoulder/butt, cut into large chunks
2 cups water
1 cup orange juice (I used Orange Tangerine)
1 teaspoon salt
Sprinkle Garlic Powder

Isn't this a lovely hunk of meat? Check out that marbling. This is what a pork butt/shoulder looks like. So, start out with a gorgeous hunk of pork. Then get out your best knife, and slice it into large chunks ... approx. 4 x 2. In a large dutch oven, place all of the above ingredients. Turn the heat to high, and bring to a boil, uncovered.

Eweuuu! Doesn’t this look like it should contain eye of newt or something? Trust me it gets better. Once it boils, turn the heat down to a decent simmer, and simmer for 1 ½ - 2 hours, uncovered. I didn’t skim the “foam” that forms.The liquid will boil off, and the rendered fat will be left in the pan (lots of it). Once the liquid has boiled off, brown the meat in its own fat until all sides are browned. Once browned, remove from the pot. Shred or cut into bite sized pieces.

See? I told you it gets better. Here’s the end result after shredding. We're talking Gold Medal Carnitas. Mmmm .... the aroma is fantastic.

Look at that! No, no, no … don’t look at my finger print pattern. Check out that lovely little morsel held in my fingers. See all that browned goodness on the outside, and soft, tender heaven on the inside? That, my friends, spells flavor. Oh yeah, this is gold medal stuff for sure. 'Scuse me for a second while I devour this bite ... uh, I touched it ... it can't go back in the serving dish after I touched it. Oops, touched another piece. Oh man, Yuuummm!

These lovely veggies and fruits, transform into a bright Pico De Gallo – Veracruz style. This is the first time I made this, and the results were very good. The inclusion of both cucumber and radishes added a “crunchy” component to the Pico party, and actually complimented the carnitas quite nicely. In fact, this type of veggie salsa is designed to compliment meat. Don’t you just love these colors?

Here’s the recipe, adapted from the cookbook titled Mexican Cookery, by Barbara Hansen. It’s an old book, but I reference it often.

2 red tomatoes (I used heirloom varieties)
1 yellow tomato
1 small cucumber – diced
1-1/2 Tablespoons onion – diced
2 radishes - sliced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro
Juice from ½ lime
1/4 Jalepeno pepper

Combine all the ingredients. Season with sea salt to taste. Notice there is no garlic in this? The flavors stand up just fine without it. Try not to eat it by the spoonful.

How do you like your guacamole? Chunky? Creamy? A little of both, perhaps? This is just a basic recipe that I got from a lovely gal I used to work with. Her husband was from Mexico City, and this is how he likes his guac. My hubby likes to have bits of avocado in his guacamole, so I prepare this both creamy style with some chunks left.

Guacamole

2-3 ripe Haas avocados, peeled, pitted, and cubed
1 Tablespoon of chopped tomatoes
Dash of garlic powder
1 teaspoon diced onion
Juice from ½ lime

In a bowl, combine all the ingredients with a fork. I also added about a 1/4 teaspoon of minced jalepeno. Mash with a fork to your desired “chunkiness”.

For another awesome pork taco recipe, check out For The Love Of Cooking's blog entry dated 08/08/08. (Don't you just love number anomalies? I'm into that kind of thing. Yeah, I like math.) Be prepared to drool on your screen because her recipe is killer.

So what “country” or “culture” should be represented next at my table? Tune in next time to see what gold medal performance will be making its way onto the blog!

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Olympic Heart of Gold

Speaking of Gold Medal performances, my girl has a heart of gold. As gorgeous on the outside as she is on the inside, for the second time in two years, my daughter donated some of her stunningly beautiful long hair to “Locks of Love”. Locks of Love is a great organization that makes and donates wigs to children who’ve lost their hair due to illness.

Today my girl had 15” cut off her hair, and is now sporting a darling, sassy hairstyle. She told the stylist that her only criteria was that she still be able to put her hair up for when she plays sports. I think the stylist did a great job, and my girl did a good thing. She’s a true champ all the way.