Monday, February 25, 2013

Commercials and the Ruination of Television

A few weeks ago I tried to watch a show on the Cooking Channel. After 15 minutes of what seemed like one endless commercial, I gave up. Granted, my judgement was unscientific. Subjective.

So this Saturday I sat down with paper, pen ,and timer,and watched "The Little Paris Kitchen", with Rachel Khoo.

Here is what I watched:

17 minutes of Rachel Khoo cooking. 13 minutes of commercials. 20 different commercials in that 13. This was a break every 4-5 minutes.

And I watched all this on a service I am paying 100 dollars a month for.

I rest my case!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Estate Sale Diaries-February 22,2013 Nashville , Tennessee

On Friday and Saturday I went to the same estate sale three times. I was certain there were things I had overlooked, so I went back twice. And I was right to.

The sale was in Williamson County, and not a quarter mile from Edwin Warner Park. It was in a subdivision of McMansions in one of the richest and most Republican counties in the United States. On one side of Vaughn Road were the more modest houses, and the sale house was one. On the other side, guarded by security gates ,there were Tudor replicas and faux Tuscan villas.

Even at eight there was a line, though many of those closest to the front door were represented by canvas bags used as placeholders, put down by a buddie who arrived early. Later his Ebay re-seller and dealer friends showed up and went to their bags, jumping the line.The common people grumbled about this, but they actually had little to fear since the first day prices left the re-sellers little margin. They came back the next day when everything was 50% off and made off then with the silver candelabras.

And what was the General Public buying the first day?

An Ottoman. Grocery bags full of cleaning supplies from the laundry room and foils and wraps from the pantry. Tool sets. Big clay flowerpots. Books from the dozens in the study-James Patterson,Anne Rivers Siddons,Michael Connelly, Maeve Binchy,Rosamunde Pilcher, biographies of the various Bushes, including Barbara. These were two dollars ,but the Civil War and Nashville histories, of which there were many, went as high as 12 dollars.

They sold none the less, as did a large framed print of General Robert E Lee. And some astute ladies,scouring the upstairs bedrooms, found hand sewed linens and lace. They raided the shoe closet and left it bare. They decimated the pocketbooks-

There were the usual tables of glass ware and silver services, ignored the first day, absconded with the second. An antique dealer from Franklin, who I talked to in line,had told me it was hard for her to figure out what people wanted to buy these days. Of one thing she was certain.

No one wanted glassware.Unless it was half off.

The basement held luggage, two tables of Christmas decor, three ancient childrens' sleds, that I doubt saw more than one or two days of snowy hillsides in 40 years. There was a six inch high pile of doormats.

"She had one for every season and every holiday", one of the Estate Sale staff told me. Cornucopias, hollies, carved pumpkins, tulips, and Easter Bunnies.

A peculiarity of this sale was how much stuff was still in wrappers, and never opened. Napkins and linens. Bath soaps. Fancy knife sets and pewter salad servers hand cast in Norway.

The sale was crowded, the checkout line long, and standing there allowed me to spy and people watch. I saw once again the All In Black Boho couple. He was in tight black leather with his white-blonde hair tied in a topnot. He had multiple facial and ear studs and was carrying a poodle. Black of course. His wife was noir as well. Her hair was the color of a carrot. I have seen her in closets before, looking for evening wear, ball gowns, and inspecting the furs-

And what did I buy, besides a rug and a hand vacuum?

A vintage Mouli grater-

A set of antique Limoges dessert plates-

An oversized spice jar-

A pewter salad set-

A vintage Juice-O-Matic-

A duck serving dish-

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Note-

Blogger has changed. Again. I have to get used to the new format for loading photos, and I will, but it will be hard to live with the hair trigger that publishes posts when one only wants to preview them, and the out of no -where links to photos.

Leek, Onion, and Blue Cheese Pie

A few weeks back I caught the end of a recipe on one of the America's Test Kitchen shows on PBS. The visiting cook had made a special pastry dough, then had stuffed it with leeks, mushrooms, and Gorgonzola cheese. This sounded good to me, so I decided to make a savory pie. It turned out very well, and since the pie dough came from a box,the dish did not take much time.

3/4 stick of butter

2-4 tablespoons of olive oil

Dash of sea salt, and a dash of celery salt

5 leeks, cut into thin rounds and washed, then dried with a towel or salad spinner

16 oz sliced mushrooms-I used Baby Bellas.

5 oz crumbled blue cheese

1/4 cup heavy cream

2 pie crusts

9 inch pie dish and a large skillet or saute pan

1 egg, beaten

1 tbs of grainy mustard, but add a little at a time if you like to suit your taste.

Melt the butter in the skillet, add the olive oil, then add the leeks. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Saute the leeks on medium heat until they are soft, then add the mushrooms and mix well. You may need to add a bit more olive oil. Continue to saute until the mushrooms are soft.

Now add the crumbled cheese and mix well after lowering the heat to medium-low. Next add the cream and mustard and continue to cook until the sauce has thickened, as shown in the first photo.

Fit the pie crust to the pie plate, then prick the bottom with a fork a few times. Spoon in the filling, as shown in the second photo, then take a paring knife and make five or six slits evenly around the crust.

Now brush the crust with the beaten egg. This will give the pie a shiny golden brown crust.

Bake the pie in a pre-heated 425 degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes, though I advise keeping an eye on it after 30 minutes to make certain it does not get too crispy.

And here is a slice-

This was so good I dispensed with bacon and eggs this morning and ate pie for breakfast.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Skillet Cornbread with Creamed Corn and Green Chilies

This recipe,minus the green, diced chiles, came out of my Quick-bread baking Bible "The Southern Heritage Breads Cookbook". Once useful, but now ignored and sold for a quarter at McKay Used Books, "Breads" was one of a set published by Southern Living magazine and Oxmoor House in the early 80's. Should you be lucky enough to find one, buy it and bring it home. If you don't have room for it make room. Toss out that Chef's restaurant cookbook with its recipes for Anchovy Foam with Chocolate Sauce.

I will begin on a practical note. This recipe calls for a preheated cast iron skillet which will be in the oven at 400 degrees for 40 minutes. Do not even attempt this recipe if you do not have a thick oven mitt, and even then add a towel to take it from the oven for safety's sake.

Cornbread with Corn

1 cup of self-rising cornmeal( I used White Lily Buttermilk Cornmeal)

1/2 cup butter, melted

2 eggs,beaten

1 cup of canned creamed corn

1 cup of sour cream

2 tbs grated onion (I substituted a shake or two of onion powder)

1 4oz can of diced green chilies

Mix all the above well. I recommend a spatula for best mixing.

Spray a 9 inch cast iron skillet with canola oil baking spray and put in a 400 degree oven for 3 minutes.

Remove the skillet carefully and pour in the batter.

Bake 40 minutes till golden brown. Allow to cool ten minutes before slicing into wedges.

"Breads" says this will feed six to eight people.

Do not expect any will be left over. It would go well with cooked greens, vegetable soups, fried chicken or by itself with some Guava jelly.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Oops! Forgot Two Photos On My Previous Post-

My apologies. I forgot I had to upload two photos so readers would know what I was alluding to. It has been a long day! The car photos are now on the updated post.

Passing through Leiper's Fork-February 11,2013

This preserved Land Trust farm, dating from 1801,is just outside the village of Leiper's Fork on Tennessee State Route 46. Parked just outside the fence was this police car, and just inside the fence this Dodge Charger.

If you do not recognize the cultural importance of these cars you are not American,you are under 45, and you grew up without brothers who hogged the TV.

Monday, February 11, 2013

En Masse!

A few weeks back, after one of our warm and rainy spells, I drove home from the clinic where I worked overnight. I took Post Road, through West Meade, and found the shallow roadside puddles and pavement alive with American Robins. They were all over the road, in the bushes, in the trees, some barely missing being hit by my truck. The wet spots must have been filled with unwary earthworms lured out by the brief warmth.

The southern garden writer Elizabeth Lawrence called these thrush visitors "Yankee Robins", for they migrate by the millions to the unfrozen ground south of the Mason-Dixon line. They also reap berries beyond number from the bush honeysuckles,privets, and ornamental hollies.

The privets and honeysuckles grow on the wood edges, on property lines, in abandoned fields. Park managers and homeowners curse them and call them invasive. The birds call them a banquet. The landscapers of apartments and subdivisions plant holly hedges,such as the one in front of my porch.

The Robin mob found them yesterday. The robins park themselves in the trees, then drop in squads onto the bushes, stripping the berries. They move underneath branches inside the hedge, and bring the hedge alive. They were absent, and the air was silent only briefly this morning when a Cooper's Hawk was perching and surveying-

Humans have been good to robins. Mowed lawns, ornamental berried hedges, warm side- walks that lure the red wiggler and the nightcrawler. To these birds Nashville is the Gold Coast, the Fortunate Isles, the Land of Plenty.

But only for another month or so. By then the hedges will be ragged, and instinct will send the robins north and aloft to the thawing fields of Minnesota and Michigan.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Brunch Idea

I have written about scrambled eggs with salsa before, but I believe this to be an improvement on the old recipes I posted. It would make an admirable brunch idea.

I used a commercial Salsa Casera -Herndez-, which is sold everywhere in the Mexican or Hispanic food aisle. It comes in 7 oz cans, and for every egg, one needs to use 1 oz of salsa, added as the eggs are scrambling away in a cast iron skillet or non-stick pan. When the eggs are done, put them on a medium flour tortilla that has been fried in canola oil. You can dress this with more salsa on top and a side of sour cream. Haute cuisine this is not, but it is fast and tasty. Four eggs scrambled with 4 ounces of salsa casera will feed 3 or 4.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Neutral Fishing Ground

My brother Sam in New Hampshire sent me this tonight in an email. He found it in an old newspaper at a neighbor's house. And I thought pronouncing"Pemigewasset" was bad!

Click photo to enlarge, but you still will not be able to pronounce the name of this lake!

The Estate Sale Diaries,February 8, 2013

I was sixth in line today at an interesting little estate sale in West Meade. The usuals were ahead of me,including the box lady who is always looking for silverware, and some gentleman re-sellers discussing a sale they went to yesterday that attracted 200 people at the start. They were dismayed by not only the crowd, but by the prices that left them little margin-

This West Meade sale had more crystal and more silver plated urns and creamers than I have seen in months. Big tables were covered , but the buyers were non-existent.I dwell outside the fringes of fashion, so I do not know if people still care for tea sets and crystal canisters anymore. Do engaged couples still register for them? Or are these remnants of the past midcentury fit only for time capsules or junk shops?

There were cookbooks, but I already owned some of them, and wasn't interested in the rest, which belonged to the "healthy cooking" camp, which I find tedious and lacking in joie de vivre. The only book I took home was a hardcover of Mark Twain's autobiography , which I found in the living room. There were some books in the bedroom, including an oversized hardcover pictorial tribute to the daytime TV soap "All My Children". I left it there.

I found this fine tray on a table with the crystal. I think it is brass, and its motif of wine glasses, grapes, tablets that may be a Haggadah , and distant pyramids make me think it was used during Passover. It is a beautiful thing, and well worth $12.00.

I also found this wire basket by Dary Rees Originals-

And this strange little utensil, which opens and closes like a flower. I have no idea what it is for.

Here are two other kitchen tools. A vintage slotted spoon /spatula with "Kitchamagig" etched on it.Etched as well a list of what it can do:Strains;Drains;Beats;Blends;Whips; and Mixes. A regular kitchen in itself! Beside it a double roller pin I will use on puff pastry and homemade pasta. My present rolling pin is marble, and I worry it will roll off the island and smash my foot- This little thing looks safer.( It was also made in the USA.)

Lest I forget I also bought two Emile Henry bakers-one a gratin dish and the other a lasagne dish.

Altogether a pleasant little sale,which I would not have been able to go to had it not been for my sisters Nancy and Bopsie, who sent me a VISA gift card for Christmas.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

What's Cooking, Thursday, February 7- Vegetable Broth

* This is a photo of the vegetable broth I made two weeks ago. I used it in Leek-Potato Soup and in a Cannellini Bean Stew with Beet Greens, Spanish Chorizo, and Hot Paprika.

I do not make my own beef broth, and unless I roast a whole chicken, I do not make chicken broth either. There are bouillon cubes,bases, and canned broths aplenty that I use, and I do not despise them.

Vegetable broth is different. I make it from scraps of potato and onion peelings that I stash in the freezer. I also toss one carrot, one potato, a garlic clove, half a whole onion, two bay leaves, and the green tops of leeks into a pasta pot and cover them with three quarts of water. I add a little kosher salt, then bring the pot to a boil. Then I lower the heat to simmer, cover it and let it steep for three to five hours.

I next strain out the used vegetables, and I return the pot to the stove. Now I turn the heat up to low, put the lid back on askew, and allow the broth to reduce by 1/3. One can use the broth as is without reduction, but its flavor will be diluted.

I think the secret to this is in the leek tops. I use four to six.

I had to separate and wash the ones pictured here, as they had mud secreted inside the leaves. This is common with leeks, as growers mound up dirt against the stems as they grow to keep the leek bottoms white-

There is no straining out fat globules and scum with this broth as there is with poultry and meat broths.

I consider the leek the king of vegetables, and its flavor defines this broth. Use it in Cream of Potato and Leek Soup, which cures low moods and fits of anxiety, at least for the duration of the dinner hour. "In headaches and in worry/Vaguely life leaks away,/And Time will have his fancy/Tomorrow or today". So wrote W.H. Auden.

But not while you are eating leek soup. Had Eve reached for a leek instead of an apple, the world would be a different place.

* I will be making Leek and Potato Soup later today. I may take a picture of it and post my recipe, though I am certain recipes for it are all over on-line.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Chicken Salad the Improvisational Way

This morning, after writing "Dining with Miss B.", I defrosted a few cups of chopped cooked chicken I had in the freezer.
I was determined to reproduce Miss B.'s chicken salad ,even though I had no pecans and no celery.

I did have pine nuts, courtesy of Trader Joe's, where they sell big packages cheap. I had 5 baby marinated canned artichoke hearts, left over. I had celery salt, which is becoming one of my favorite flavor rescuers.

I took the two cups of diced chicken, and added 3 heaping tablespoons of mayonnaise and a scant teaspoon of grainy style Dijon mustard. Then I shook a generous amount of celery salt in, and taste tested the mixture.

Excellent so far. I added a cup of green grapes, sliced in half, then added a 1/4 cup of pine nuts. I shredded the artichoke hearts with my fingers, tossed them in and mixed everything well to coat with the mayonnaise and the celery salt.

Was it good?

Absolutely it was. And as good as Miss B.'s, despite the substitution.

There is a lesson here. Substitution is not settling for the lesser. It is not failure. It is creative, and it is using your wits. Every decent cook, I think, eventually becomes an improviser, and this is what keeps our cooking fresh, and alive.

Dining With Miss B.

I worked with Miss B. the other night, and it was a good night since she had managed to get a feast of croissants, chicken salad, and potato chips through checkpoint. Getting food through a prison checkpoint is a gamble. Some nights the officers send casseroles through the xray machine without comment, other nights they will not let them through, and confiscate them. After all, there may be a cellphone buried in there somewhere-

Miss B., not a Miss, but a long married woman, brought a pie in one night. The officers were adamant. No pie inside the compound. These officers were crafty. They knew what Miss B. would do. She told them to go ahead and eat it, and I believe that had been their plan all along. She brought in boxes of fruit for the clinic staff at Christmas. No fruit on the compound either. The Director of Nursing went up front to put the fruit into safe-keeping so people could pick up some on their way out.

But the pears and oranges, as we say down here in the South," took legs", and walked away in the officers' pockets.

The chicken salad Miss B. made was not an exotic dish. It is a southern luncheon staple. Recipes abound among old aunts, church ladies, in the old spiral bound community cookbooks such as "Nashville Seasons", in magazines such as "Southern Living" and "A Taste Of Home".

Miss B's version was sublime. Anything home-made that comes into a prison is sublime when the diner's alternative is a snack cake from a machine in the Street Staff cafeteria. I asked Miss B. for the recipe.

"Well, you get you three cans of chicken and add in mayonnaise and celery, and pecans, and cut up grapes", she said.

How many grapes? How many pecans?

Miss B. was puzzled. "Why, you add as much as you want", she said . Later she told me to take the leftover salad home, and I ate it for lunch and dinner-

Miss B. does not stop at feeding people. If you come to work and complain that you cannot find a simple slip to go under a 9 year old's dress, Miss B. will put herself on the case. If she cannot find one in a country store somewhere, she will make one for your little girl. From her hands come christening dresses, and baby blankets, For while she would smuggle in some piece work to keep her occupied during down time in the clinic.

No more. No books(not even the Bible), no magazines, no knitting, no nothing allowed inside. No Internet. No smoke breaks, no leaving the compound to drive to the mini-mart on a food run. No going out to your car either for any reason. Thank God for Miss B.'s food.

And if we are lucky, and Miss B. is talkative, we can hear her take on the world situation, which she considers dire. Miss B. thinks people will be leaving cities and moving out to where they can grow potatoes and lots of chickens. Miss B. grew up in the country up in Kentucky. She told me she learned to drive when she was seven. Her father taught her so she could pull a trailer of hay with the family car. When she went off to school she chose nursing, and she has been doing that for 45 years. For her, as it is for me, work in a prison clinic is the best of retirement jobs.

* A Note-In the South "Miss " is used before the first name of women of a certain age. No one calls a twenty year old "Miss". Whether one is married has no bearing. "Miss" is used as a term of respect.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Today's Kitchen Oddity

I bought this spoon for fifty cents at an estate sale yesterday. Logic pointed to it being a jelly or candy spoon fitted with a thermometer on the end. Today I tested it in hot water, and the thermometer jerked its way up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

I have seen a lot of cookware- in stores, in cookery catalogs,at estate sales- but never anything such as this.

Quite the kitchen conversation piece!

The Estate Sale Diaries-Weekend of February 1 and 2, Nashville,Tennessee

Thursday morning I drove to West Meade to an estate sale that did not look promising, though one is never certain until the doors open. There were not many of us in line, and those who carried canvas shopping bags were told to leave them outside. The estate sale girl gave us little see- through plastic bags instead, since her company feared a criminal conspiracy of the light fingered, though I am sure pilfered items ride out in pocketbooks more often than they do in canvas bags.

This was a meager, sad little sale, and what was offered could have fit in one room. I think that on this one the estate sale company wasted its time and the heirs wasted their money. There were few books, though I did find the old"New York Times Heritage Cookbook". There was no cookware. There was a crystal mortar and pestle, an item that made as much sense as a crystal frying pan or a pair of mud boots with stiletto heels. Someone had tagged the mortar at twenty two dollars. At three dollars it would have been interesting. At twenty two it was ridiculous.

I did find the flower topped Aynsley china salt and pepper shakers there.I also bought the little plate with the French waiter.

Best of all was the lovely watercolor of the ancient port of Acre. I thought it the best thing there-

Friday I went up to the Catholic retirement village to another sale. It was 17 degrees with a miserable wind. Despite this, some of the women in line lacked coats, mittens or hats. And these were older women. I knew they were real Southerners at once, for The Law of Belles forbids disfiguring bulky clothing, frost bite be damned.

One woman, a neighbor, said the dead woman had collected quilts, though I saw not one. She did cook, and I picked up a stainless steel Italian saucepan, and a peculiar looking spoon that looked as though it had a sort of thermometer in the handle- Perhaps for making jelly?

I bought home an old crystal dish with gilt and cranberry glass, a green and blue pitcher, and some pretty enamel flower pins. Jewelry brings out the magpie in me. I wear it rarely. I tuck it away in my nest, as the bird does.