Friday, January 7, 2011

Irish Kids CAN Eat Chili Sauce!

Irish Catholic kids growing up in the suburbs of Boston in the 70’s (1970’s that is) didn’t get much of a chance to experience the spicier side of life. I was one of those kids. On the rare occasion when pepper made it to our dinner table, it was largely shunned as being ‘too spicy’. The memories are vague, but I believe pepper only made an appearance when someone (Uncle Ray who grew up in Tennessee and therefore loved spicy food - yeah, I don’t know what that means either, but it’s what we were told) came to visit. My introduction to Scoville units came when I was about 12 years old and my family was on vacation in Washington D.C. We were eating dinner in a restaurant (a very rare occasion, I assure you) and I had ordered shrimp. I’m pretty sure I didn’t know what shrimp were but ordered it anyway. They were bland. Everything that ever touched our dinner table was doused in salt. We went through salt the way I now go through flour. At this particular restaurant and on this particular night and with my brain being filled with rebellion as I edged toward my teen years, I decided to buck the system. They fought over the salt shaker and I reached for a mysterious bottle filled with red liquid. The word ‘Tabasco’ on the front meant absolutely nothing to me. I had never seen it before. My father warned me. My mother didn’t know what it was either and wasn’t focussed on me anyway. The red liquid came out in tiny drops. One, two, three...and was instantly absorbed into the shrimp. I was used to thick liquids that lay on food like blankets, smothering the original flavor out of whatever lay underneath. Shake, shake, shake went the bottle.... I would not allow myself to cry. I did, however, look absurd with my tongue hanging in my water glass for the rest of the meal.

Some time between my 12th year and my current status of 45-years old, I fell in love with chili peppers. Originally I was enchanted by the rip-it-up heat produced by the various peppers, but now it’s the depth of flavor I most admire. Years ago I was introduced to Sriracha hot chili sauce. (Sun-dried chilis mashed into a paste and combined with garlic to make a sauce.) In the beginning, I used it in Asian food and not much else. Today it makes its appearance in everything from meatloaf to beef stew to scrambled eggs to tuna melts. Yup, tuna melts. Last night’s dinner of chicken-fried rice contained the sauce and wasn’t spicy at all. A light hand added just a little somethin’ something’ without any of the heat. Do yourself a favor and check this stuff out. The smell alone is intoxicating....

Tuna Melt a la Sriracha

Okay, so this isn’t even really a recipe, but it’s a great way to introduce yourself to this sauce. I believe that the tuna melt is one of the greatest pleasures life has to offer (a GOOD tuna melt and just ONE of the greatest pleasures). It can be made anytime and always, always, always bring satisfaction...

1 can tuna fish (Albacore)

some mayo

couple of shots of Sriracha

Good whole grain bread

Good extra sharp cheddar (I really like Irish cheddars)


Mix the tuna, mayo and sriracha together. Spread one piece of bread with tuna mixture. Layer cheese on top. Top with other piece of bread. Generous slather outside of bread with butter. Cook with butter side down on grill pan. Slather butter on exposed bread. Cook until bottom is brown. Turn over and cook the other side until cheese is melted. Cut that sucker open and squish it to watch the cheese ooze down the side. Eat with salt and vinegar potato chips and a Diet Pepsi and you will have just eaten one of my very favorite lunches.

Go buy a bottle! They sell it right in the supermarket. Take the top off and breathe in deep. You’ll thank me...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Grateful for...Worcestershire Sauce!

As the finish line comes into view on the marathon that has been 2010, I’m taking a moment (or two) to focus on the things in my life for which I am grateful. While cleaning people and double ovens still top my list of things that make me smile, I am aware of the other things...

This being a food blog and all, I will attempt to stay on topic. Food items. There are many unsung heros of my kitchen. The ingredients called on frequently that I probably could live without, but wouldn’t want to. These poor essentials live lives of anonymity where, even though they are called on several times a week, they are never ever given top billing in the title of any dish. My fingerprints are all over their bottles. My kids know their aromas well. They are called ‘the secret ingredient’. Um yeah. Well, I’m letting one of them out of the closet today and singing his (he’s definitely male) praises. Worcestershire Sauce....I must say that this guy has been hanging around my refrigerator for decades and was rarely called on unless I was serving steak. I grew up with a father who put it on steak so that’s what I did too. The kitchen of my childhood housed it somewhere when it was not being used, but I am at a loss to tell you where. Sadly, the Worcestershire Sauce of my adult life has suffered a similar fate...until this year. I’m not sure when it happened, but sometime in 2010 I was at a loss for an appealing ingredient to add to something and decided that the smell of the Worcestershire Sauce was something of a ‘must add’ to my dish. Oh my! The miracle sauce transformed my dish...and my mind. I now buy the stuff at Costco - because I use so much of it!

While the ingredients listed on the bottle of the sauce are not something I would have thought to mix together (anchovies, tamarind, molasses, garlic, vinegar, chilies, cloves, shallots, sugar, and blah, blah, blah chemical), two guys in England did. Great story here (or legend, I’m not sure which). Story goes that Mr. Lee & Mr. Perrin mixed this stuff together and tasted. Absolute horror. They stuck it on a shelf for a few years and forgot about it. Someone decided to do some house cleaning one day (I’m guessing) and discovered the long-forgotten bottle. The brave soul opened it and was rewarded with what we know to be Worcestershire Sauce today.

The following recipe started as a Better Homes ‘New Cook Book’ recipe (the big red and white plaid book), but has been so modified over the years that it scarcely resembles the original anymore.

Beef Stew

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

2 tsp salt

3 lbs beef stew meat cut into 2ish-inch cubes

2 tbsp cooking oil

1 medium onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp dried thyme, crushed

3 cups vegetable juice cocktail

1 cup water

1 tsp instant beef bouillon granules

3 tbsp worcestershire sauce

few dashes bottled hot pepper sauce (I use several)

2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed

2 cups sliced carrots

In a plastic bag combine flour and 2 tsp salt. Add meat cubes, a few at a time, shaking to coat. In a large Dutch oven brown meat, half at a time, in hot oil. Return all meat to Dutch oven; add onion, garlic, and thyme. Stir in vegetable juice, bouillon, worcestershire sauce, hot pepper sauce and water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Cover; simmer 1 1/4 hour or till meat is nearly tender. Stir in potatoes and carrots. Cover; simmer for 30 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper as needed.

Perfect winter meal. Serve with biscuits. A friend’s son calls this goulash. Call it whatever you want, but don’t forget that it is the Worcestershire sauce giving it that rich depth of flavor that cannot otherwise be achieved. Dig your bottle out of the refrigerator and start experimenting. It’s a wonderful compliment to any dish containing beef...and then some!

Friday, October 29, 2010

An Obsession With...




the domination of one's thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, image, desire, etc.


the idea, image, desire, feeling, etc., itself.


the state of being obsessed.


the act of obsessing.

The obsessed brain is an exhausting place to be. The constant ebbing and flowing; the need to improve; the mania to keep creating, searching, doing..... Donuts. I’m talking about donuts, of course. Obsessions are a constant with me. While some obsessions are not particularly interesting or endearing to my family (parsnips, for example), this one is. The donut obsession was triggered by an article from the Chicago Tribune’s Food Section (Wednesday - the best day of the week). ‘Morning glories’ proclaimed the above-the-fold title. I think it was the haphazard stack of donuts next to the steaming cup of something, luring me down below-the-fold that really hooked me. The stack led to a recipe for buttermilk donuts. The recipe had ingredients that were already in my kitchen and promised me 1 1/2 dozen donuts in about 45 minutes. I decided to challenge the Tribune and see if all this was true. Out came the ingredients and sure enough, within 40ish minutes, my kids (who were just rising to consciousness) were stumbling blindly down the stairs, being led on a current of vanilla-scented air. Success with the first go-around! I won’t bore you with the details of the batches that have followed, but will tell you that my daughter’s cross country team friends hope the obsession continues for a long time to come.

Buttermilk Doughnuts

4 1/4 cups flour

1 tbsp baking powder

3/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp cinnamon

pinch grated nutmeg

2 eggs

1 egg yolk

3/4 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup buttermilk (I have also used whole milk with equally great results)

3 tbsp butter, melted

vegetable oil

Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl. Beat together the eggs, egg yolk, sugar and vanilla in another large bowl with a mixer until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Stir together the buttermilk (milk) and butter in a large measuring cup. Alternately beat the dry ingredients and buttermilk mixture into the egg mixture, a third at a time, until a soft, sticky dough is formed.

With floured hands, place dough on a floured board; gently roll out until the dough is 1/2-inch thick. Cut the dough into doughnuts, using a doughnut cutter or 2 biscuit cutters (1 larger one about 3 inches in diameter and 1 smaller one about 1 inch in diameter). Collect the scraps; roll out to form another batch of doughnuts (this batch may be a little tougher than the first as the dough has been worked).

Meanwhile, fill a deep fryer or large saucepan with oil to a depth of at least 3 inches; heat to 350 degrees (or until oil is shimmering). Gently place the doughnuts in the oil, being careful not to crowd. Fry until puffed and golden, 1 1/2-2 minutes per side. Drain on a rack; cool slightly. Frost and decorate as desired. Our favorite topping is a simple sprinkle of powdered sugar.

If you have any left over (if), these are great the next day...for the squirrels in your back yard. Don’t waste your time eating them day-old. Just make another batch....see how these obsessions work?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Shrimp Salad - On the Fly!

Usually there is nothing good about opening the freezer - while the sun is still struggling to raise itself from the other side of the planet - and seeing the ribs you were going to take out to thaw, already dripping. Come on, say it with me ‘ahhh sh**’. You know what follows. The crazy thought that somehow the plug came out of the wall....even though the light is on. Then the burst of strength as you pull the refrigerator out from its fridge cave so you can check the back - looking for...I don’t know what. When acceptance finally settles in, the real work begins. The mad dash to remove all the perishables...wait, that would mean everything, right? Yup. And so it goes. Bag after dripping bag of stuff either gets tossed in the trash or run down to the already stuffed basement freezer/refrigerator. I’m not looking for sympathy as I know there are plenty of worse things...waking up with a water heater that has kicked up its heels in the middle of the night (cold shower, anyone?); dishwasher that has regurgitated all of its liquid contents all over the hardwood kitchen floor while you slept; cat that has disemboweled a mouse during the night and left it as a gift at the foot of your daughter’s bed... I know. This is not a story of sadness, it’s a story of discovery! While I did discover some pretty interesting bits of Bosworth culinary history, I also found a bag of shrimp I had forgotten about. Yay! A new dinner plan was hatched! Not really hatched, more like fertilized. Ribs were quickly shoved out of the way and in their place a different kind of summer meal started to grow - mentally.

Because I have recently gotten a job and started taking a class (both of these are new endeavours for me), my always-scattered, manic mind is on mega overdrive right now. The shrimp (and dinner) were completely forgotten until about 20 minutes before I was due to leave for my evening class. Four kid faces and one adult husband face stared at me as I started packing up my stuff to leave. ‘What’s for dinner?’ Oh yeah, dinner. I had the shrimp....and nothing else. Quick scan of the refrigerator (complete with its new whatever-costs-$200-part) revealed a ‘not much’ scenario. Today’s blog entry is not so much a recipe as a survival lesson. Here goes...

-1 lb shrimp...into a frying pan with equal parts butter and olive oil. Saute until pink (maybe 3ish minutes). Couple of twists of the pepper grinder over the shrimp. Shrimp off the burner and into a bowl.

-Refrigerator reveals leftover iceburg lettuce (I know, I know...the kids like it on tacos though). Lettuce chopped and onto a large serving platter.

-Fruit bowl reveals two avocados. Peeled, sliced, onto the serving platter with the lettuce.

-Cantaloupe sitting on the counter. Peel, chop, add to serving platter.

-Add cooled shrimp.

-Quick run through the sauces, condiments, ‘stuff’ in the refrigerator door. A mango habanero dipping sauce is located. Pour a bunch into a bowl. Splash some soy sauce, water and lemon juice (or any kind of citrus) into the dipping sauce. Mix it all together. Taste. Pour sauce over entire contents of serving platter.

-Chop up some basil. Scatter over the top.

-Slide platter onto table with 5 plates and forks.

-Kiss family good-bye.

And that is how we sometimes have to roll at this house. Real food. No call to Dominos. Crisp, sweet, creamy, little spicy, crunchy and really delicious. While I don’t wish this scenario on you, it is always comforting to know that much can be made from little when in a pinch. That’s amore, eh?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cantaloupe Caprese.....ahhhhhh!

Weeds deserve our respect....and loathing. Bi-polar? I know. The emotional swings have been annoying, even to me. The summer of ’10 has proven to be a hot, wet one in the Chicagoland area - perfect for growing weeds. My tomatoes are fairly tasteless, my peppers are not growing at all (except the serranos), the zucchini....well, I got one. My list of complaints over my lack of food production go on and on. But the weeds....they are thriving! Because the builder of my house liked to do whatever was quick and easy for him (she said bitterly), the foundation on one side spills out under the soil for a few feet. Nothing can grow there. Every year I put decorative flower pots, filled with flowers to disguise this wasteland. This year the flower pots are engulfed in a splendid display of one-foot high weeds. From a distance it doesn’t look bad...well, from a distance with one eye closed and the other one squinting... As I was getting up the courage to go and attack this weed patch, it got me thinking of another time in my life when the plants could not be controlled. If you’ve ever grown any kind of vining vegetable/fruit plant, you know that they can take over a place while you’ve got your back turned, pouring a glass of lemonade. In this previous case, however, I was not complaining...too much.

Cantaloupe. The word itself is beautiful. Roll it around in your mouth and tell me it doesn’t feel good. I can never spell it, but I love saying it. And eating it. Years ago when I still lived in Massachusetts, I planted a few beautiful little plants with barely four leaves on them. Little mounds with furry green sticking out. I couldn’t understand why the directions insisted on a few feet between mounds, so I simply ignored that point. As usual, I lived to regret it. Monster vs. Aliens. Have you guys seen that movie? It’s a kids movie that came out a couple of years ago. The pumpkins in the patch grow wild, sprout legs and chase little kids around. Yeah, my cantaloupe plants were something like that. As long as I could hack off a cantaloupe every now and then, I didn’t mind. It would take an act of God, some high-octane manure and hourly prayer/chanting to grow anything resembling a cantaloupe on the soil I now call home. I have to buy them. No mind, they’re still good. This summer, along with the weeds, my recipes for cantaloupe products has been abundant. I thought we had had it all when I came across a recipe in La Cucina Italiana magazine that was sort of an ‘aaahhhhhh’ moment for me. We eat a lot of caprese salad here - tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. La Cucina substituted the tomatoes with cantaloupe. Aaaaahhhhhh.... A sweet, comfortable, luxurious breathe of amazing! This is a ‘must try’...seriously. Couldn’t be easier and will leave you thinking about summer - warm breeze, flip-flop summer - for a long time to come.

Caprese di melone con pesto leggero

(melon caprese with a light pesto)

1 packed cup fresh basil leaves

1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 tbsp pin nuts

fine sea salt

1 small (about 2 lb) cantaloupe, halved crosswise, seeded, sliced

3/4 pound fresh mozzarella

Combine basil, oil, pine nuts and generous pinch salt in a food processor (they recommend blender...I couldn’t get it to come together in a blender, but you may be able to); puree until smooth. Adjust salt to taste.

Arrange cantaloupe on a plate, inserting slices of mozzarella in between. Drizzle pesto over entire plate. Serve. It’s really that easy!

Although my kids have always loved (and continue to love) the original caprese salad, they have begged for this version since first trying it. My husband, who is a purist, also loves this! Indulge your’s so worth it!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

From Mad Men to Marmalade

'I'm going out to get a bucket of chicken.' states the glamorous, beautiful and very pregnant Mrs. Draper (who normally makes home-cooked meals for her family). For those of you who follow Mad Men, you know who she is. I am currently watching season three in an attempt to catch up with season four. As I watched the DVD this morning, it got me thinking... Although the 50’s and 60’s were an amazing period of time in our country’s history, I believe it was a space of years that messed with our food in unforgivable ways. The frozen, canned, plastic-encased stuff that replaced real food lowered the bar to such a level that we are still recovering from it today. How could someone go from cooking a homemade pot roast one day to pulling a previously-frozen slab of pseudo-meat on a piece of aluminum out of the oven and call it good? Preachy and judgmental of me - yes. Shortly after learning that if you can read, you can cook, I discovered the secret. The secret of real food. All (or most) of the food you can buy in containers from the store, can be created for real in your very own kitchen. And, most importantly, it tastes better! Oh yes, and no chemical additives means it’s better for you. Revelation!!

My son Owen is six. He loves food. He loves learning about food. He loves experimenting with food. He loves cooking food. And, at a young age he learned that anything he can pick up in the store that is enclosed in a container, he can probably make at home. Even if it doesn’t work out to be better tasting, it’s fun to try. He’s a sauce guy. Loves sauces of every kind. Jams and jellies fall into that sauce category for him, so when he went to eat his beloved orange marmalade on his muffin one day, and all of the sudden shouted out ‘Mom, can we make orange marmalade?’! I knew we had moved into a new area of food prep. ‘Sure!’ We gathered ingredients, researched recipes, labored over getting the orange slices out of the membranes and ..... it was pretty bad. ‘Too much lemon.’ He stated. ‘Why did they have us put lemon in there?’ I was much more concerned with the 5 cups of sugar we had just introduced to our beautiful orange mixture. The marmalade hit the trash. But we were undeterred. Peach season is upon us now. The boy loves his peach jam. And so, we tried again. SUCCESS! Great flavor! Really easy and quick. I can see you smirking right now. I am not losing my mind. Yes, you can get really good single-batch specialty jams. Is mine better than that? Maybe better, maybe worse. We have messed around with the original recipe now to include serrano chilis and (drum roll) BACON with the peach (completely awesome!) and made it in small batches so as to avoid all that canning stuff. It’s fun and easy and can be done in the time it takes to make any sauce you normally make for your food. Did you think those jelly guys did some magic stuff that we lay people couldn’t do? I did. Now I know that’s not true.

Bacon and Serrano Peach Jam

2 lbs fully ripened fresh peaches, washed, peeled, and pitted

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

2 serrano chilis (I’m sure you can use any kind of chili here, I just happened to be growing these in my garden right now), chopped, seeded, membranes removed

5ish pieces of bacon- chopped and cooked

1 pkg powdered fruit pectin

1 cup mild-flavor honey

Chop or coarsely grind peaches and serranos, blending with lemon juice (I threw the whole thing in the food processor and let it do the work). Measure prepared fruit, packing down in cup. You should have 2 full cups. Place fruit and lemon juice in a 6-quart stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Add pectin and mix well.

Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. When fruit is boiling, stir while slowly pouring in honey, blending well. Continue stirring and return to a full rolling boil. When boiling cannot be stirred down, boil for 4 more minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in bacon. Alternately stir and skim (taking the white foamy stuff off the top) for 5 minutes to cool slightly.

At this point the authors of the original recipe tell you to can it or freeze it. This makes a batch small enough to eat in a week (or a couple of days at my house), so there is no need to go through the whole canning process.

EASY! FAST! INTERESTING! I encourage you to keep experimenting with added flavors or just eliminate the chilis and bacon and stick with the original. You can take this recipe as far as your imagination will allow. The original recipe, btw, was created by Carol Hupping and the staff of the Rodale Food Center in their book ‘Stocking Up’. Enjoy!

P.S. The jam pictured above was the first batch we made so it doesn't have the serranos or the bacon in it. Technical difficulties prevented me from downloading the pictures of the 'fully-loaded' jam.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Chicagoland Twist on an Indiana Classic

The conversation went something like this:

‘Linda, have you ever heard of a place called...I’ll spell it, g-n-a-w-b-o-n-e?’

‘(speaking phonetically) Naw bone? Yeah, I’ve heard of it.’

‘Is it far from your house?’

‘About a half an hour, why?’

‘Gourmet Magazine just wrote about some place called the Gnawbone Food & Fuel in Gnawbone, IN. They apparently make amazing pork tenderloin sandwiches! Have you ever heard of pork tenderloin sandwiches? It’s an Indiana thing.’

‘Um yeah, I’ve had them before. Everyone has them. Liz, the Food & Fuel is a gas station.’

‘No, it must be a different place. Up for a road trip?’


So I loaded up the kids and drove five hours from Naperville, IL to Madison, IN. The next day, with my sister and her two sons also packed in the minivan, we headed off to Gnaw Bone, IN to taste-test some raved-about tenderloin sandwiches. The Food & Fuel IS a gas station. The Food & Fuel tenderloin sandwiches were pretty terrible (gas station food terrible), but at least the service was...terrible too. The Gourmet Magazine article was proudly displayed across the front of the counter that encased the unsmiling, unpleasant woman responsible (allegedly) for taking orders and providing food. I couldn’t possibly have made this story up and I have pictures to document our efforts. We ate the leather-esque sandwiches (complete with gas station quality hamburger bun and limp supermarket tomato) in the fix-it bay area of the gas station. Could have been charming and cool....wasn’t. I learned a very important lesson that day that I take with me going forward.... I’m just kidding. I didn’t learn any lesson and that same indulgent sister has accompanied me on other dreadful search and discover food missions since this one. I’m still optimistic/naive enough to travel anywhere to try food I’ve read or heard about. The upside to this particular adventure (other than some really good ice cream further down the road) was my desire to figure out how to make a GOOD pork tenderloin sandwich.

If you’ve read this blog before then you know that I hold pork tenderloin in very high esteem. I LOVE pork tenderloin. The thought of forcing it into an unnatural state was a bit painful for me however. A very short-lived pain, I assure you. Because the flavor of pork is so amazing, very little - in the way of flavoring ingredients - needs to be added. My family and I believe the ‘sandwich’ part of the ‘pork tenderloin sandwich’ adds nothing so we have chosen just to eat the pork cutlets. Feel free to encase in a good-quality bun if you want.

Chicagoland Pork Cutlets (as opposed to Indiana Pork Cutlets)

1 2ish pound pork tenderloin

1 cup panko (Japanese style) bread crumbs

1/3 cup regular bread crumbs

1 tbsp dried thyme

1 tbsp dried oregano

1 tsp dried mustard

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp fresh cracked pepper

2 eggs lightly beaten

2 tbsp water

dash of tabasco (this can be left out, but I love a little zing in my food!)

3/4 cup flour

Vegetable oil

Cut across pork tenderloin making 1-inch thick discs. Place one disc between two pieces of parchment paper or wax paper. Pound with meat mallet until 1/2 inch thick. Continue doing the same with remaining discs.

Heat 1/2 inch vegetable oil in large frying pan (I use a paella pan because it’s big and deep) until shimmering.

I use 3 pie pans for this next step. Place flour in one pie pan. Combine eggs, water and tabasco in second pie pan. Mix panko crumbs, regular bread crumbs, thyme, oregano, mustard, salt and pepper in the third pie pan. Take the first cutlet and dredge in the flour, completely covering. Dip the cutlet in the egg wash. Coat the entire thing with the panko mixture. Complete 2 or 3 at a time - depending on how many will be cooking at once. Slide these gently into the oil to cook and then prepare the next 2 or three. I have found that if the cutlets sit, already completely prepared for more than a couple of seconds, they get mushy. Do not crowd the pan or the temperature will drop and the cutlets will soak up too much oil, thereby making them greasy and soggy. Cook 2 minutes per side. Remove to an waiting plate covered with paper towels to absorb excess oil.

This recipe takes minutes to create. The pork is tender on the inside and really crunchy on the outside. And, best of all, the flavor of the pork tenderloin is allowed to be itself! Amazing pork flavor with crunchy exterior!!