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Archive for March, 2007

If you look to the right of this posting, you will see a calendar. The dates that are in boldface type are the dates that I’ve added new posts to this site. You can click on any of those dates and that day’s posting will appear. I just figured it out. I thought I was just putting a nice calendar up for your convenience. I wondered why some of the dates were in bold type. Hmmmm.

Clever, very clever, these programmers are. I used to be one, way, way back in the dark ages of computer programming, long before personal computers were invented. Long before Microsoft and Windows and Apples and Macs. Back when the whole room-sized computer, noisy as heck, and very temperamental, had a grand total 16K memory. Whew! How things have changed!

I’m having a party here tomorrow and today I’m doing all the cooking. I doctored up potato salad from a grocery store, made corn salad, and pasta salad. (If you use the calendar on this page and click on the date March 23 you will find the recipe for pasta salad.) Usually grocery store potato salad isn’t worth bringing home. It’s too sweet, too bland, too something or other. I must admit I make good potato salad but I didn’t relish the thought of preparing ten pounds of it. A local IGA in West Milton, Ohio makes a darn good subsitute and I sometimes add a few things to make it “my own.”

I added some chopped celery, chopped red bell pepper, green olives, and some red French dressing, just 1/4 c. for the whole ten pounds. I also added some chopped red onion. Let me tell you it is hard to gently fold those ingredients into a large bowl of potato salad. I hope I didn’t mush it up too much. My taste test found it to be fine.

My neighbor Fern had a party last night and had some leftovers. I am getting the benefit of some of that and trading her some veggies that I hadn’t had time to prepare for a veggie tray that she had leftover. Also, she has a fruit salad that she won’t be able to finish up herself. It pays to have good neighbors, Fern and Jake are the best. Jake gets home from work before Mac and often he’s kind enough to do snow removal duty for us. I wish you all had neighbors as wonderful as the Havliceks.

Until next time, happy dining!

Morgana

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Although it was in my plans, I didn’t fix chicken last night. After catching up with my foodie blogs in the morning, cleaning up the house, running errands, grocery shopping, and planting pansies, I was more in the mood for quick hamburgers than any chicken fixin’.

The hamburgers were good. In the past, we tried to find the best type of ground meat to use for burgers. We read every article we could find on choosing the best meat, grinding it ourselves, combining types of meat, salting, seasoning, frying, grilling, broiling, and then choosing condiments. We tried lots of the suggestions with varying degrees of success. We finally settled for half ground chuck and half  ground sirloin, but we occasionally just use ground chuck. After trying various seasonings and seasoning combinations, we usually just use salt and pepper. However, rather than seasoning the individual patties, we season the all the meat before forming the patties.

One technique that is definitely worth remembering is to form the patties as loosely as possible while still having them cohere. We used to pack them tightly and press the heck out of them while they were frying in the skillet. That’s the way Momma used to do it. No wonder the burgers were dry and hard. There was nowhere for the juices to go but out into the pan. Keeping them loosely packed, and not pressing them down, leaves little spaces for the juices to hide until you bite into one and enjoy the flavor of the beef. The burgers are also much more tender.

I used to eat them rare or medium rare. I still love them that way but, unless I am grinding my own beef, I will cook them to medium. No mad cow disease for me, if I can help it. I did buy chuck roasts and grind the meat at home for a while, but it was such a pain to get the grinder out and wash all the pieces that I quit doing it. If I intended to do it myself I would buy a meat grinder instead of using the clumsy Kitchen Aid attachment to my mixer. 

Another thing we like to do is to toast the buns, sometimes buttered, sometimes just plain. I put them under the broiler for a minute or two until golden brown. It’s a little thing but I think it makes a big difference. I also do it with hot dog buns. But be sure to set a timer for a minute or two or you’ll burn them as I have once or twice.

Blue cheese burgers seem to be in vogue now. I have inserted crumbled blue cheese in the centers of burger before cooking. It’s okay, but I prefer the taste of the beef without the blue cheese. I’ll take the crumbles on my salad, thank you very much.

Tonight we are having pork chops probably with the pork seasoning that I mentioned in an earlier posting here. I have some fresh broccoli to steam and some potatoes to bake, and with a lettuce salad we’ll be all set. I do need to remember to make some dressing. Where’s the blue cheese?

By the way, check my post on Goody-Goody Sauce for hamburgers. Try it – it’s an easy recipe. Just  click on this.

Hope you enjoy your dinner tonight. We will.

Best to you,

Morgana

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picture.jpgWe’ve made it through four letters of the alphabet, the ABC’s of Vegetables. We’ve looked at artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, and cabbage and lastly, dandelion greens. I hope you’ve found at least one recipe that appeals to your culinary adventurous spirit. In doing my research, I have. I found asparagus and cabbage recipes that I plan to fix in the near future. I have them in the stack of about 2,356 other new recipes that I plan to fix in the near future.

I have realized that if I prepare a new recipe for dinner each day, or even three new recipes, I will never use all the recipes I have clipped or bookmarked or saved on one of our three computers. It is a little discouraging, especially since I keep on looking and saving more. I cancelled subscriptions to four of the cooking magazines I was receiving. Now I’m down to four and I plan to cancel one that I used to really enjoy.

Cook’s Illustrated has become tiresome. I have decided that the recipes can be too complex, not difficult mind you, just too complicated to be worth the slight increase in their tasters’ enjoyment. I have tried a lot of the recipes “perfected” by the magazine’s staff and just can’t say that they are often worth the extra step(s) recommended. The last issue comes with an invitation to subscribe to their online site for more recipes and tips. Sorry, but if I’m already paying for the magazine, the last thing I want to see at the bottom of an article is the suggestion to join the online version to see more information about the article. So, I’m going to cancel it. That will reduce my clipped recipe increases by a few per month.

Part of the problem is organizational. If I want to fix a chicken breast recipe for example, I have too many places to look. It can be overwhelming, to say the least. Often I will just say “Heck with it. I’ll just fix a quick saute and deglaze the pan.” Of course, then I have to decide with what to deglaze the pan. Wine? Vinegar? Do I add herbs? Fresh? Dried? Do I need to shop for ingredients?

Every year I declare my resolution to go through my recipes (as if I could do it in a year!) and weed them of repeats, ones that no longer are appealing, or ones that are just too unhealthful for me. You know what they say about the road to hell being paved with good intentions. I must be near pergatory by now.

Anyway, tonight we are having chicken. Maybe I’ll find a new recipe to fix. I have a new cookbook to look through.

Morgana

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We’re still on our trip through the alphabet with vegetables and now that we’re at “D”, I could only find “dandelion greens” and “daikon radish.” I’m sure there must be more “D’s” but since any more must be very limited in availability I decided to stick with the only one I have any experience with and that’s dandelion greens.

Dandelions are the scourge of lawn purists, yellow heads bobbing up among blades of grass, spreading leaves smothering new growth, seeds hiding in gardens waiting for spring’s warmth to pop up unbidden and nearly un-pullable. Yes, I know the flowers are pretty and I enjoyed blowing the white seed heads just like any other child does.  Each one of those spent dandelion flowers probably has hundreds of seeds ready to land somewhere and start growing anew. The taproot grows deeply and stubbornly and once established , the weed (definition of a weed:  any plant growing where it oughtn’t ) holds on for dear life to the soil around it.  This is why homeowner’s and lawn managers resort to chemicals to prevent or stop the growth of the little devils.

By the way, what is the origin of the name “dandelion?” It comes from the French words “dent de lion” or “lion’s tooth,” so called for the deeply lobed shape of the leaves. 

What about the culinary uses?  I’ve  heard of dandelion wine but  never tasted it.  I understand  dandelions are used raw in salads, young leaves and flower buds, but I’ve never tasted that either.  That leaves me to discuss dandelion greens.

I love cooked greens, collards, kale, mustard, chard.  Definitely a comfort food, dandelion greens are required in some homes for a New Year’s Day traditional meal.  We often have it then, with pork and cornbread. Here is how I fix a “mess of greens.”

Greens – serves 8

4-5 pounds greens, all one kind or a mixture

a couple of ham hocks

1-2 onions, chopped coarsely

2 quarts water, or more

1-2 t. salt

pepper

Hot sauce, optional

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Remove the tough stems and ribs from the greens.  Wash the greens in cold water, three times, or until water is totally clear of sand and mud.

Chop the leaves in roughly 1/2″ pieces.

Put water, ham, and onion in a large stockpot.  Bring it to a boil. 

Add the greens a large handful at a time, stirring after each addition. Return pot to a boil.

Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer the greens for an hour or two.  Remove the ham hocks and cut off any meat if you want to add it to the greens.

Serve with the pot “likker” and hot sauce, if desired.  Soak it up with  cornbread.

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Although it’s more of a cold weather dish for me, it’s great any time of the year.

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Pasta Salad

We’re out of town for the weekend visiting our daughter in Knoxville.  She is expecting a baby girl in a few weeks and we wanted to see her, her husband, and 18 month-old son, Hank, before the big event.

She’s a good cook, as is our other daughter.  They are both not only competent in the kitchen but also cookbook readers; must be in the genes.  We were treated today to a  vegetable hoagie sandwich on a baguette. It was loaded with cheese, tomatoes, green peppers sliced very thin,  red onion, vinaigrette, and red pepper spread (hoagie spread).  She sliced the baguette into 12 easy to handle pieces.

Along with the sandwich, we had pasta salad.  The recipe follows without exact amounts for some ingredients which she adds according to her preference at the moment.   

LEXY’S PASTA SALAD

1/2 lb. pasta (campanelle) cooked and drained

12 cherry tomatoes, quartered

1 head broccoli, divided into florets, washed (blanch if desired)

14 oz. can black olives, halved

scallions, sliced, to taste

sliced pepperoni, cut in half

15 oz. jar marinated artichokes hearts, cut in bite-size pieces

Vinaigrette (red wine vinegar; half olive, half canola oil; garlic; dijon mustard; little bit of mayo and dijon mustard; and.  salt and pepper.)

Mix all in a large bowl.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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The Lowly Cabbage

Kentucky Pride CabbageWell, mon choux, what shall we say about the lowly cabbage? Cole slaw? Cabbage rolls and cabbage soup? Boiled cabbage? Sauerkraut? Cabbage is certainly presented in a variety of forms, world wide. Easily grown, easily stored, it has been a mainstay of diets everywhere, and it provides a good dose of vitamin C.

I love cabbage rolls, filled with meat and rice, and cooked in a tomato sauce with a little sauerkraut. We have a restaurant in town that specializes in Eastern European food and I enjoy the menu’s cabbage rolls on a cool evening in the fall or winter with a good beer.

There are many variations of cole slaw, from the Dutch word koolsla, meaning cabbage salad, some made with vinegar and oil and some made with mayonnaise. Both have their merits and their fans. I prefer the creamy version, although I rarely prepare it. I have a great recipe, with the unusual addition of cilantro, from one of the Cook’s Illustrated books.

Mac and I enjoy braised red cabbage in the fall and winter. Give me a good pork roast, some kind of potatoes, and red cabbage and we’re in hog heaven, a rather apt expression.

BRAISED RED CABBAGE

(This makes a ton, so feel free to halve the ingredients if you’re not feeding an army.)

1 head red cabbage, 2 pounds, quartered, cored and cut the quarters into thirds
2 T. butter
1 onion, sliced
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced
2 bay leaves
10 juniper berries (optional)
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/3 c. cider vinegar
2 T. sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Rinse the cabbage in cold water and set aside. In a large pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Saute the onion and apples for 2 minutes until they begin to soften. Add the bay leaves, cabbage, juniper berries, and broth. Cook for 5 minutes until the cabbage begins to wilt. Stir in the vinegar. Add the sugar, salt andpepper and cook for 20 minutes until the cabbage is soft. Give it a stir now and then. Serve and enjoy. (This recipe was adapted from the Food Network.)

COLESLAW – CREAMY

(Don’t let the salting and draining the cabbage section put you off. This is supposed to keep the cabbage crisp. I didn’t mess with it. I just proceeded to prepare the slaw without salting the cabbage. Don’t use the 1 teaspoon of salt, however. It would probably be too salty if you added that much to the final preparation.)

1/2 (one-lb.) head green cabbage, shredded fine or chopped (about 6 cups)
Salt
1 medium carrot, peeled, shredded
1/3 c. buttermilk
2 T. mayonnaise
2 T. sour cream
1 small shallot,or 2 scallions minced
2 T. minced fresh parsley leaves (or 1 T. cilantro)
1/2 t. cider vinegar (or 1 t. lime juice of using cilantro)
1/4 t. Dijon mustard (omit if using cilantro)
1/2 t. sugar
1/8 t. black pepper or to taste

1. Toss the cabbage and 1 teaspoon salt in a colander or strainer set over a medium bowl. Let stand until the cabbage wilts, at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours.

2. Rinse the cabbage under cold water. Press, but don’t squeeze, to drain. Pat dry with paper towels. Place the wilted cabbage and the carrot in a large bowl.

3. Stir buttermilk, mayonnaise, sour cream, shallot or scallions, parsely or cilantro, vinegar or lime juice, mustard, if using, sugar, 1/4 t. salt, and pepper in a small bowl.
Pour the dressing over the cabbage and refrigerate until read to serve. (Can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

4. Add more buttermilk, mayo or sour cream if you need to.

Enjoy!

Morgana

Photo courtesy Kentucky Department of Agriculture

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Kirby – A Dog’s Life

He came into our lives in October, 1996, a scrawny, long-legged bundle of energy, about to enter his third, fourth or fifth life. If cats are said to have nine lives, surely dogs must have more than one. This dog, rescued from a Washngton, DC animal shelter, started his official “second” life when our daughter took him home to her small apartment already occupied by two cats. When the cats refused to accept his still puppy-like ways, he started his “third” life in Ohio with us.

He must have thought that he was in heaven. A large fenced back yard, another dog to play with, a nice house, warm in winter, and cool in summer, and two more people who would grow to love him like no other dog. Our dog at the time, Jesse James, was five years old, and somewhat set in her ways, but she accepted Kirby and the two of them chased around the house and yard with wild abandon.

How to describe Kirby? Part terrier, part hound, deep chested, tiny waist, long, skinny legs. Sparse fur which grew in a coarse-looking manner, but was surprisingly soft to the touch. Mostly white, with a few large tan spots, black spots on his pink skin, big ears, long tail, with one eye rimmed in black which made it appear smaller than the other. He was definitely an original. He always drew attention wherever he went. “What kind of dog is that?” was heard countless times. Our standard answer was “He’s a Kirby,” a true one and only.

He had the mannerisms of Tramp, from the Disney movie, spunky, and boyish to the nth degree. His favorite pastime was chasing tennis balls, a not unusual activity for dogs, but he did it in his own way. When my husband mowed the lawn, he would throw the tennis ball for Kirby, who would run at speed to fetch it. He was smart enough to drop the ball right in the path of the mower to ensure that it would be thrown again immediately. This made lawn mowing take a little more time, but he never tired of chasing the ball during the whole hour and a half, and he would gladly sacrifice a torn claw to retrieve the ball after one bounce.

In his first life, Kirby must have known love and attention. He came to the animal shelter totally housetrained, understanding the word “NO” and quickly learned the boundaries of our unfenced front yard. He was obedient, always came to us when called, and although a little destructive in the beginning, quickly learned what he was allowed and not allowed to chew on. He only strayed once, during a heavy snowstorm when he wandered between two neighboring houses and found himself on the street behind us, slightly disoriented. We were outside with him shoveling snow and when we missed him, we scattered and luckily found him right away.

When Jesse James died, we waited a year to get another dog. The new one was Little Dixie, a Maltese puppy. Kirby’s gentle nature let him adopt her and put up with her chewing on his heels, ears, and tail. In spite of the great difference in their sizes, the two of them played and chased each other around the house. His only fault was in not sharing toys with her. He would carry his stash of toys upstairs, one by one, and hide them from her in a guest bedroom. If we bought tiny toys for her and big toys for him, he learned to leave the tiny ones alone, but he never let her play with any of his.

We have always wondered what his early life was like. When our daughter first adopted him, he was filthy, with grease stains on his back. He had obviously been living on the streets for a while. I’m sure he had some unpleasant memories but he kept them to himself. His only outward fear was of thunder and fireworks, a common fear for dogs. He was boarded over one fourth of July weekend while we were back in DC visiting our daughter. When we returned, the kennel owners told us that he had escaped the kennel and they had no idea where he was. We were horrified and spent two days with the help of friends searching for him. When we finally got a phone call telling us that he was found, we were so relieved. During his flight, probably caused by his panic at the sound of fireworks nearby, he was clever enough to go up to the front door of a house where the lights were on. He looked in the screen door and the people inside finally saw him and were kind enough to give him food and water. He stayed on their porch overnight and they finally let him inside to rest. I must have walked and driven right by that house several times while I was searching for him never knowing he was safe inside. Those wonderful people called the animal shelter who had already been notified by the kennel. They put two and two together and that’s how Kirby was rescued yet again. He sat on my lap during the twenty minute ride home and cried the whole time, as if trying to tell me about his frightening adventure.

That was the last time he was boarded at that place. They never told me how he managed to get out, if they even knew. He definitely didn’t like confinement, maybe due to  his memory of being at the animal shelter in DC. When we found a reliable indoor boarding kennel, with several doors between the boarding area and the outside, we were lucky that Maureen, the kennel mistress, developed a deep connection with Kirby. He was only in a cage at night, when the kennel staff left for the day. The rest of the time, he was allowed in the staff room, the office, the supply room, wherever he wasn’t in the way. They gave us a photo of him curled up in an empty kitty litter box in their storeroom. Another time, he slept wrapped around their fax machine, on the counter in the office. But eventually, as he got older, his extreme fear of being caged was more than he could bear. During his last kenneling, he destroyed the heavy stainless steel kennel door, and became so distraught that the kennel mistress had the vet in the facility examine him and sedate him because his life was in danger.

Fortunately, he survived the ordeal and we decided never to kennel him again. We found “Ark Angels”, a pet sitting service that was a loving alternative for the times we had to leave town for a few days. Wonderful neighbors filled in when family emergencies prevented our arranging for pet sitters. Our DC daughter eventually moved to our town and Kirby was reunited with his original “Mommy” rescuer. Although he lived with us, the two of them had a special bond, evidenced by the way he “talked” to her whenever she came to our house.

He also “talked” to my sister from New York. She loved Kirby as if he were her own. And the two of them would sing “You are My Sunshine”. He would relish the opportunity to sleep in bed with her whenever she spent the night with us.

Yesterday, unquestionably the hardest day of our life, we had our dear Kirby put down. After a mercifully short illness, heart failure, he was unable to do much more than lift his head. He refused medication after a few days and we stopped forcing the pills on him. We spent his last few days giving him small bits of steak, scrambled eggs, and more steak. Our dedicated vet and his wife spent a generous amount of time with us and we finally left Kirby there, secure in the knowlege that he was in no pain and would never have any more fears. Oddly enough, we had a thunderstorm soon after we arrived home. It was some consolation that Kirby was not bothered by those thunder claps. It was the only bright thing in the whole dark, dismal day.

I know the pain we feel will ease, but there will always be our deep, abiding love for the very special dog Kirby who will be missed by many, many people.

UPDATE:
It’s been three months and I still cannot read this without crying. I suppose I always will.
We did get another dog, a black male cockapoo, who is adorable. If “Knuckles” develops into a dog just half as great as Kirby, we will be lucky indeed.
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