Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Story Behind No Food Left Behind

Boys and Girls Cookbook
Originally uploaded by Food Fanatic.

I got started cooking the way most people did. I watched my mom. When I was about 9 or 10, I had a Girl Scout project assignment to cook an entire meal for my family. My mom and I sat down and decided on meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I can’t say for sure what recipe I used, but I’m willing to bet that it was the recipe from “Betty Crocker’s New Boys and Girls Cookbook.” I still have that cookbook. Most of the pages are falling out of it and the meat loaf page is very stained and worn.

The first few pages of the cookbook have all kinds of hints for preparing and eating a meal. That’s right … there is even a page covering “Setting the Table,” “Fun at Dinnertime” and “Good Manners at Mealtime.” Re-reading that page, I see that I follow a lot of their suggestions still today. We set the table and take care that it is set correctly, and we stress good manners at the table, unless it’s “elbows on the table night,” which we have sometimes.

When I was growing up, we moved around a bit. My Dad was in the Air Force, and we always lived quite far from my parents’ home state of Iowa. My Mom was the one in who family that kept us from going nuts with all the moving. Each time we moved, she treated it as a new adventure … another chance to learn about the customs and culture of our new location. One of the main ways she did that was through food. When my family and I moved to Indian Land from Minneapolis in 2002, our new friends would sometimes say “bet you don’t get too many grits up there in yankeeland, do you?” Well, the fact of the matter is, a frequent guest at our Saturday morning breakfasts at home was grits. My Dad would cook them up with fried eggs and bacon. I also ate red beans and rice a lot growing up. Along with moussaka (a Greek dish with eggplant), rolladen (a German beef roll) and other ethnic dishes.

I became a cook in my own right after my wedding in 1982. We had no money to speak of. We watched every penny and never did anything for entertainment that cost money. Except grocery shopping. Every other Friday night, my husband and I would go to the grocery store and buy groceries. We worked from a two-week menu and listed every single item, right down to the ketchup. If we were feeling flush, we would each get a “treat,” like a special jar of pickles or a box of brand-name cereal.

It was the menu writing that really got me to try new recipes. I cooked meals for four to six people, even though there were only two of us, because then we would have leftovers for lunches. We could not afford to buy our lunches. Each day I would come home and make a full meal of two or three items – usually a main dish and vegetable side, maybe a starch too. Every Sunday night we ate at my parent’s house. It saved money, and my Mom and I would cook together most of the time.

I still jot down a sketchy menu before I go to the grocery store. Now I go once a week so I can take advantage of any specials that are running and so my produce is fresher. From May to November, I also get a half-bushel of organic produce from Sammy Koenigsberg, a farmer in Wesley Chapel, NC. He grows a wide variety of veggies for some restaurants in Charlotte and also has about 24 of us “shareholders” that reap what he sows. I’m never quite sure what is going to show up in the box from farmer Sammy, although I can make fairly good predictions based upon the season. But it is this box of goodies that continues to stretch my culinary talents. It’s from the farmer that I learned how to roast garlic, make basil pesto, and sauté greens with olive oil and garlic, tossing them with hot spaghetti with for a magnificent lunch.

My philosophy on eating is that everything deserves to be tried at least once. And so my philosophy on cooking is that food should be prepared in such a way as to make people want to taste it. It’s always easier to taste food that is not intimidating or ugly.

And now for the bombshell. There is one food that I have left behind. It is lima beans. I’m telling you … no matter how many times I’ve tried them, I haven’t found any that I’ve liked. If there are a couple in my food, like in a stew or a pot pie, that’s one thing. But if there is a pile of limas on my plate, I’m likely to leave them behind. A friend of mine says I just haven’t had them prepared the right way yet. So if you have a lima bean recipe that you think I should try, send it on in to the newspaper. I’ll try it. I’ll try anything.

For The Lancaster News

Broccoli Raab Spaghetti

Broccoli Raab Spaghetti
Originally uploaded by Food Fanatic.

12 oz thin spaghetti
2 or more cloves of garlic, chopped
red pepper flakes
4 tablespoons olive oil
8 cups chopped broccoli raab
4-6 cups chicken stock or water
parmesan cheese

Break the spaghetti into 2-4 inch lengths. In a large skillet, sauté the garlic and red pepper flakes in oil. As soon as the garlic turns translucent, add 1 cup of chicken stock or water. Add the spaghetti and salt to taste. Stir until all the pasta is well-coated with oil and water. It may take some time for the spaghetti to wilt enough to settle into the water.
When the spaghetti has become flexible, add the broccoli raab. As the mixture cooks, add more stock or water – 1/2 cup at a time – stirring constantly, to keep the pasta from sticking. Stop adding the liquid when the pasta is almost done. Continue stirring until all the remaining liquid is absorbed. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

Adapted from a recipe by Edward Giobbi in Fine Gardening Magazine.

For The Lancaster News

Dried Cranberry and White Chocolate Biscotti

Coffee Cookie News
Originally uploaded by Food Fanatic.

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries (about 6 ounces)
1 egg white
6 ounces good-quality white chocolate (such as Lindt or Baker’s), chopped, or white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large heavy baking sheet with parchment paper, foil or a Silpat® baking sheet. Combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a medium bowl. Sift or whisk to blend. Using an electric mixer, beat sugar, butter, 2 eggs and almond extract in a large bowl until well-blended. Mix in flour mixture. Stop the mixer and stir in the dried cranberries.
Divide the dough in half. On the baking sheet, with room for some spreading, shape each half into logs approximately 2 1/2 inches wide, 9 1/2 inches long and 1 inch high. Whisk the remaining egg white until foamy; brush the egg white on the top and sides of each log.

Bake the logs until golden brown, about 35 minutes, until they crack and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. The logs will spread a bit. Remove from oven, but keep the oven turned on. Cool logs on a rack for about 10 minutes. Using a serrated or electric knife, cut the logs on a diagonal into 1/2-inch-wide slices. Arrange the slices, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes; turn biscotti over. Bake about 5 minutes longer, or until they are dry.
Stir the white chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water until smooth. Using a fork, drizzle the chocolate over the biscotti. Let stand until chocolate sets, about 30 minutes. The biscotti can be stored in an airtight container for a week or frozen.
Makes about 28

From Bon Appetit magazine, posted on
For The Lancaster News