every girl needs a greek chorus

a blog about hope


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Dolce Natale

image‘Tis the season to party, and this is a big weekend for me, a tea, an open house, a dance, and a concert reception. Ideally, I would contribute “finger food” to the refreshments at three of the events, so I’m trying to kill four birds with one stone, because, as you know, I am essentially lazy.

One of the invitations requests that “If your name starts with A-M, please bring a savory treat; if it starts with N-Z, please bring a sweet.  Hmmm…Is it acceptable to choose the category you want to provide by either your first or last name? Or does it just have to be your last name? In my case, it doesn’t matter, because both my first and last names fall in the “sweet” category. Ok, what to make…what to make…

Generally, I don’t bake cookies or even cupcakes, if I can get away with it. (See next Friday’s post for my lame excuses.) For instance, I wouldn’t participate in your PTA’s cookie exchange or your neighborhood’s cookie walk (I saw that on a sign, recently, and have no idea what that entails).

In the olden days, the Veterinarian and I used to throw huge parties at the drop of a hat. New Year’s Day? Open house for 75-100. Cast party? Buffet for 30 from 11pm to 4 am (and sometimes breakfast for those we forced to spend the night on our sofa). We always had a dozen recipes that people expected to find on our table, with my Amaretto Cheesecake at the top of the list.

Since I live alone and don’t entertain any longer (in my home, I mean; I’m still entertaining on stage and internet, right?), I haven’t made an Amaretto Cheesecake in at least five years. But that’s not finger food, is it? Or, is it? I’ve made it in 6″ versions to give as gifts, but, can I turn it into a mini-dessert?

Fast forward 10 hours

Well, I made them last night, and they were pretty good for breakfast this morning with a double espresso, so I think I’ll spread a little holiday cheer today!

Amaretto Cheesecake – yields 12 slices or 24 individual cheesecakes

For one large cake, use a 9-1/2″ springform pan.
For mini-cakes, line regular-sized cupcake tins with cupcake papers. (This is a great way to use up odds and ends of holiday cupcake papers, because they will be discarded before serving.)

Crust

1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs, finely ground (I use the food processor.)
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup melted butter

In a large bowl, thoroughly toss together the crumbs, sugar, and cinnamon. Stir in the melted butter.

For one cake: press mixture into the bottom and 1/2″ up the sides of the springform pan.

For mini-cakes: drop two teaspoonfuls of the mixture into the bottom of each paper and press only into the bottom.

Chill prepared crust in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes.

To bake, preheat oven to 375.

imageFilling

24 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
1/3 cup Amaretto liqueur

In bowl of mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until fluffy. Beat in the sugar, thoroughly, scraping the bowl and beaters. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the Amaretto. Pour into prepared springform pan, or spoon 2 Tablespoons of batter into each cupcake liner.

Bake one large cake for 45-50 minutes. Bake mini-cakes for 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. Centers will fall and possibly crack. Not to worry! Raise oven to 425.

image

It’s ok if center falls and cracks, because you’re going to cover it with the topping.

Topping

For one large cake:
1 cup sour cream
1-1/2 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon Amaretto liqueur

For mini-cakes:
2 cups sour cream
3 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons Amaretto liqueur

Spoon topping into the fallen center of the cakes and smooth with a knife or spatula. Return to hot oven for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack. Immediately garnish with chopped, toasted almonds. Cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours.

image

Just before serving, run a heated knife between the crust and the rim of the springform pan. (To heat the knife, run it under hot tap water and quickly dry with a clean towel.)

For mini-cakes, remove the cupcake paper. This works best if the cakes are very cold, because the fat in the butter and cream cheese sticks less to the paper when it is cold.

Garnish the cakes with either shaved dark chocolate or mini-dark chocolate chips.


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Thanksgiving Fantasy

Thanksgiving 2010 (2)

Thanksgiving past, table for 10, with the works, including place cards

Oh, God, I dread Thanksgiving.

And here it is, staring me in the face. I guess I have to clean the house this morning, after I get the stuffing made, the bird stuffed, and the dough for the rolls rising.

And find the skinny little candles that go in all the amber glass turkeys that march around the center of the table.  I’ll drag out the Lenox and my grandmother’s turkey platter and my silver and my Italian jacquard tablecloth with matching napkins that only see the light of day once a year.  That goes for the Lenox, too.  The Waterford stays in its storage box these days, while the equally fragile Riedel on the ridiculously long stems appears.

I see that I still haven’t dragged out the thousands of dollars worth of autumn candles and wreaths and other decorations that are stored upstairs.  Where’s the cornucopia that the Daughter painted in the third grade?  Good thing that I observe Advent, which starts Sunday, so I won’t be decorating for Christmas any time soon.

At some point, I need to change these yoga pants into something chic-but-grease-resistant and wash my hair.

Place cards.  Do I go with place cards, since we’ll have a guest, The Daughter’s beau?  Or is that over-kill?  There are only five of us this year, and most of us remember our names and pecking order at the table.  It’s over-kill, and we don’t want to frighten off this nice young man who bought me flowers at the ballroom dance debacle.

Oh, no!  I should have cleaned the ovens!

Does anyone really have that warm-hearted, sit-around-the-antique-pine-table-in-ladder-backed-chairs-with-a-smiling-lavender-haired- Grandma-in-a-lacy-apron-presenting-a-platter-of-bronzed-turkey-surrounded-by-fancy-cut-oranges-topped-with-maraschino-cherries-kind of Thanksgiving?  Did they ever?

Does anyone actually eat squash?

I don’t like turkey.  I don’t like cranberries.  I don’t like Jello.  And, most of all, I hate that slimy green bean casserole.  We don’t eat it any other day of the year, but, sadly, my family expects it on Thanksgiving because it was The Veterinarian’s favorite.  Years ago, another family always came for Thanksgiving dinner, and my friend recently told me that her now-married daughter doesn’t consider it Thanksgiving without the green bean casserole.  My own Daughter is now in charge of making it, because who can’t dump mushroom soup in green beans and top with canned French-fried onions?

I’d rather be remembered for my unique pumpkin pie which has ground black pepper as a key spice and candied ginger in the whipped cream topping.  The Daughter is going to make little pumpkin tarts.  Her date is going to make lemon bars for the family members who don’t eat pumpkin pie.  My Mother will make her candied sweet potatoes and charge me with toasting the marshmallows without burning them.  My Sister will make the cranberry mold, which is spectacular and which I can’t pull off.

I’ll get to flip the bird, not because I love to say that, but because The Veterinarian discovered that it gives a juicier breast to cook it upside down and then flip it.  I always held my breath, watching him flip a 24-pounder, but, without him and our friends, it’s just a 15-pounder this year.

Thanksgiving 2014

Thanksgiving 2014, with unironed tablecloth, table for 4

It will all be perfect, because there will be alcohol.  Trapped in my house for six hours, no one will be driving.  I charged the Daughter’s Beau with bringing a bottle of Prosecco under $20 to go with the brie and crouton appetizers (thank you, Wegman’s) and my Chipotle Butternut Squash Soup. (See?  I answered my own question about squash.)  There will be a pinot noir with the turkey and an ice wine with dessert.

Then, I’ll box up the leftovers in every spare plastic container, unless they remember to bring their own.  I’ll throw the turkey carcass in my huge stock pot, cover with water and a lid and bring to a boil for 20 minutes.  Then, I’ll turn off the heat (without uncovering) and let it sit on the stove overnight, when I’ll finish the stock.

I’ll hand wash the Lenox, silver, and crystal, throw the linens in the washer, start the dishwasher, and hit the sheets.

Finally, I’ll give thanks that I survived another Thanksgiving, another chance to be together with loved ones. If I’m lucky, there will be another chance next year.  Same time.  Same place.  Same menu.  Same love.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Cozy Crock Pot Cider

In years past, I always made this hot cider.  You have to omit the rum, if you have kids running around unattended, or, maybe not, if you want them to fall asleep.  (Just kidding!)

½ gallon apple cider

1 quart orange-pineapple juice

2 sticks of cinnamon

12 cloves, tied in cheesecloth

1 cup dark rum (or to taste – optional)

Combine all ingredients in crock pot and heat until warm, about 1 hour.


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Grandma’s Pancakes

Pancakes doggieOne of my most treasured possessions is a well-seasoned cast iron skillet that I inherited from my maternal grandmother, aka The Kentucky Grandmother.  In its 70+ years, it’s seen her fried chicken and fried green tomatoes and fried pork chops, as well as my fried roast beef hash and my not-fried shrimp etouffé.  It’s seen a lot of cornbread, as well as the lightest pancakes with the crispiest edges.  You can see this humble pan holding fancier fare, like Caramelized Salmon and Blackened Prime Rib in this blog.

The Daughter asked for her own well-seasoned cast iron skillet for her birthday.  Together, we chose an American-made skillet for $12.00 at T.J. Maxx.  I told her that I would start the seasoning job, but that a really smoothly coated skillet comes from years of use.  I was fortunate to receive Grandma’s, but, for a wedding present, a friend gave us a new cast iron skillet containing a Pineapple-upside-down Cake[i], which is almost quite-right after 43 years of use.

Pancakes butter

Buttering Grandma’s skillet. The Daughter’s new skillet has a convenient second handle.

I started by wiping it with oil and heating it overnight in the oven at 300°.  I’ve been cooking everything in that pan since I bought it; bacon, potatoes, fish, hamburgers, and steak.  That’s right, I’ve been frying stuff that I have no business eating, but that’s what a good mother does for her child.  This morning, we’re going to make pancakes.

A treat of waking up at My Grandma’s house was smelling coffee percolating on the stove (remember that?) and coming downstairs to her lightweight pancakes with the crispy edges that only a hot skillet can produce.  I’m not talking crêpes.  I’m talking pancakes that she made from the traditional Aunt Jemima mix, doused with Log Cabin syrup.  Sure, anyone can buy the mix and pour it into a pan, but, after trial and error, I discovered how she achieved the light and crispy effect with extra milk and lots of butter.

In the opposite order of a usual recipe, I’m going to give you the technique first.  Be sure to turn on the exhaust fan, because there will be a lot of burning (ie, smoking) butter.

I always use two skillets, so I don’t spend all day making breakfast for other people and have no time to enjoy my own cooking.  Place them on the burners over medium-high heat and heat for two minutes.  Test the pan by placing one teaspoon of butter in the center of the skillet.  It should sizzle immediately and start to turn brown.  Run the butter over the entire bottom of the skillet, using more butter, if necessary, until thinly filmed.  To make pancakes, place another one teaspoon of butter in the center of the pan and immediately pour one cup of prepared batter into the center.  It will spread out into the butter, which gives you those crispy edges.

Pancakes edgeWhen the top of the pancake is covered in bubbles, lift one edge.  If it’s brown, carefully flip it over.  Because the batter is thin, it may run, so your results may not be picture perfect.  Because I don’t like fat pancakes, I also flatten them a little more with the turner before serving.

The first pancake is always a dud, which we call the “doggie” pancake and is always reserved for — well, nowadays — the BFF.

One day, I ran out of Aunt Jemima mix, got creative in the kitchen, and produced my own recipe, based on one from the classic Betty Crocker cookbook.  If you don’t count the copious amounts of butter in the pan, it’s mostly fat-free.    With the help of a little apple cider vinegar, I created the tang of buttermilk.  Now, it’s the only recipe that I use.

Pancakes finishedGrandma’s Pancakes

1 cup skim milk

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1 egg

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

Lots and lots of salted butter

Pure maple syrup (I like the really dark kind.)

Pancakes batterIn a blender or mixing bowl with a spout, whisk together the milk, vinegar, and egg.  Mix in the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until smooth.  The mixture should be the consistency of gravy.  If too thick, add a little milk.

[i] The Veterinarian wanted a Pineapple Upside-Down Cake for our wedding cake, which didn’t make any sense to My Mother, who, after all, was paying.


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Cooking fresco

Prodotti freschi

Prodotti freschi

Tomatoes are everywhere, stacked in beautiful piles at farm stands.

I always knew that we were in the dog days of summer when My Mother picked tomatoes from our suburban garden and lined them up on a windowsill to ripen.  She made BLT sandwiches, tomato sandwiches, and a salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions dressed with red wine vinegar, oil, a pinch of sugar, and salt and pepper.

Too bad I don’t like tomatoes.  I should clarify.  I don’t eat raw tomatoes.  I don’t like the acid or the texture.  I don’t eat soups or sauces made with tomatoes that haven’t been seeded or peeled.  When dining out, I even inspect marinara sauce and pizza for seeds and skins.  Actually, I never order marinara sauce in a restaurant.

Today, I want to talk about what I do with fresh tomatoes in tomato season.  Oh, I know what people like with their tomatoes.  Just because I’m plagued with Picky-Eater Syndrome doesn’t mean that I can’t figure out how food should taste (as usual, I realize that I’m not making sense to most of you).  For our church cook-out this Sunday, I’ll make a platter of sliced tomatoes drizzled with a best-quality olive oil and garnished with sliced or fresh mozzarella, salt and pepper, and fresh basil.   The Veterinarian liked his tomato salad with Vidalia onion, but raw onions are a fellowship-killer, if you know what I mean.

Blessed with wonderful friends and clients in our veterinary practice, we never had a shortage of seasonal produce.  Once I learned to peel and seed tomatoes efficiently, I turned them into soups (Julia Child’s “Potage Magali,” a Mediterranean tomato and rice) or salsa or jambalaya or traditional tomato sauce, which I froze in baggies.

photo 3 (1)Then, I discovered this wonderful pasta sauce which not only uses fresh tomatoes but also that other bounty of late summer, fresh basil.  Many, many years ago, I watched someone make this on television and scribbled down the recipe, and, like most everything that I cook, I adapted it to suit my picky taste.  I do remember that the tomatoes were to be seeded and peeled, so I’m not adapting that.  I call it “Penne Rigate alla Vodka with Basil and maybe Mushrooms.”

In researching this recipe, articles repeatedly mentioned that it was an “American” pasta dish, not authentically Italian.  Curious, I pulled out my American edition of the Italian classic cookbook “The Silver Spoon” (“Il cucchiaio d’argento”), and there it is on page 298.  Now, this was advertised by Phaidon, the publisher, as “The bible of authentic Italian cooking.“  If the online authorities are correct, the Italians have borrowed an Americanized Italian dish; the great Melting Pot is flowing east, across the Atlantic to the Old World. However, “The Silver Spoon” contains no recipe for that known New World creation, Fettucine al Fredo, so I question the online authorities.  But, really, who cares?

Each online recipe is different (some include bacon or oregano, almost none have fresh basil), so which is the “authentic American penne alla vodka”?  In the culinary world, where the word “fusion” gets attached to traditional cuisine to indicate a blending of cultural influences, perhaps this is “Italian Fusion.”  Cooking is all about improvisation, using what’s available, using your own preferences or dietary requirements, creating something out of nothing, like art.  As a picky eater, I’ve been creating culinary art as long as I have been cooking.  That’s why I always recommend that you start with recipes and adjust them until they taste right to you.  Yes, it’s trial and error, and you’re going to err — a lot, in the beginning, but cooking with a fresh eye is an art and incredibly satisfying.   I have so little control over the rest of my life, but, when I’m in my kitchen, or even cooking in someone else’s, I am the Mistress of my Domain, so who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!

Penne Rigate alla Vodka with Basil and no mushrooms

Penne Rigate alla Vodka with Basil and no mushrooms

Penne Rigate alla Vodka with Basil and maybe Mushrooms

I should explain the name.  When I saw this made on television, the chef included mushrooms, which aren’t on this picky eater’s palate.  Thankfully, the Veterinarian and the Daughter weren’t even remotely as picky, so adding sautéed mushrooms gave the delicate sauce a little heft.  I imagine that you could also blend some of the cooked mushrooms into the sauce, but I wouldn’t eat that.

It isn’t difficult to peel tomatoes, but it’s a little trickier to seed them.  Bring a pan of water to boil and put in your washed tomatoes.  Return to a boil and simmer for three minutes.  Remove and plunge tomatoes into a bowl of icy water.  When cool, skins should slip off easily.  Cut the tomatoes in half and remove seeds and the stem end.  Measure tomatoes after peeling and seeding.

One last caveat:  Be sure to heat the sauce carefully after the vodka is added.  I once was gabbing with a friend on a flight and writing this recipe and my recipe for tortellini with prosciutto, peas, and fresh basil for her from memory.  Not paying attention, I wrote the ingredient “vodka” at the end and forgot to write “heat the vodka until the alcohol evaporates” in the directions.  My friend and her husband were overcome by the sauce in more ways than one.  By the way, this is the same veterinary spouse who ate my splintery cheesecake.  It’s a wonder she trusts any recipe that I give her!

2 Tablespoons butter

2 Tablespoons olive oil

¼ cup chopped onions

4 cloves garlic, chopped

2½  cups peeled, seeded, and chopped meaty tomatoes (such as Roma/Plum, about 8-10)

1 cup packed fresh whole basil leaves (dried won’t do), reserving little sprigs for garnish

Salt and pepper to taste

¼ vodka

½ cup heavy cream

Parmesan, freshly grated

One pound of penne rigate (ridged), cooked

Optional:

½ pound sliced mushrooms, sautéed

Red pepper flakes

Directions:

In a 2-quart saucepan, heat butter and oil over medium-low heat until butter melts.  Add onion and garlic and sauté until soft.  Stir in tomatoes, cook for one minute; stir in whole basil leaves, salt, and pepper, and simmer for five minutes.

Remove from heat and add vodka.  Return to heat and simmer for two minutes or until alcohol evaporates.

with The Daughter as my sous chef

with The Daughter as my sous chef

Remove from heat and carefully spoon mixture into food processor or blender.  [Or use an immersion blender right in the pan.]  Add heavy cream and process just until blended but still chunky.  Return to pan over low heat.  Adjust salt and pepper to taste or add in optional red pepper flakes to taste.  Stir in optional mushrooms.  Heat through.

Spoon sauce over hot penne rigate in individual dishes, garnish with freshly grated Parmesan and with fresh basil sprigs.

Makes four servings, without the mushrooms; six with the mushrooms.

[Note:  If you don’t sauce all of the cooked pasta, let it cool and freeze in zippered bags.  When ready to use, bring 1-1/2 quarts of water to a boil and drop in the frozen pasta.  It will reheat in 3-5 minutes, and any freezer dehydration will reconstitute.]


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Dizzy for Daiquiris

Havana ClubIt seems I actually may get to Cuba before I die, since the U.S. has resumed diplomatic relations with the largest nation in the Caribbean.  I’ve always wanted to see the pristine beaches and the incredible rain forest, the Spanish colonial architecture and the old American cars.  Oh!  And I can’t wait to bring home the rum.

When most people think of Cuba, they think of angry guys with beards, cigars, Cuban sandwiches, and rum.  I buy Havana Club rum when I’m in Grand Cayman to mix with Coca-Cola and a squeeze of lime.  It’s dark and rich with a hint of molasses, and the seven-year old sipping blend is about as smooth as some single-malts I’ve had.

One of those pristine beaches, near Santiago, provided the name for my favorite summer heat-quencher, the Daiquiri.  I’m talking about real Daiquiris made with limes, not that sickly sweet stuff that comes out of a mega-blender like a Slurpee.  In the early 20th century, legend says, some American engineers with a lot of time on their hands came up with the perfect antidote to the oppressive tropical heat.  It became popular in Havana’s bars and nightclubs, attracting the attention of Ernest Hemingway, no less, who inspired a variation, with grapefruit juice and maraschino liquid, that bears his name.

How a simply elegant drink became synonymous with strawberries or bananas and an avalanche of crushed ice, I’ll never know.  Over the years, whenever I’ve asked for a “lime” Daiquiri at a beachfront bar, the bartender has looked at me like I was nuts, until one day on Key Biscayne.

We were on vacation in south Florida in July.  That may sound like torture to you, but our Maryland beaches are darn hot and humid in the summer and more expensive than a luxury hotel in Miami, where it’s the off-season.  As we were sitting at the deserted pool, I begged the Veterinarian to surprise me with something icy-cold from the bar.  He returned with a plastic cup full of the most heavenly Daiquiri I’d ever had.

“Look, I got you a real Daiquiri!”  he said, proudly.  “Hey, don’t drink it so fast.  You’re not getting another one.  I never would have ordered it had I known that it cost $15.”

“What?!”

“The rooms may be cheap here in the summer, but the bar drinks are pretty stiff in more ways than one.”

They were so irresistible that I think we splurged on one more during our week’s stay, but when we returned home, we experimented until we came up with the perfect replica.  You have my permission to adjust this to suit your own taste, but you can’t use anything other than fresh lime juice or white rum.  Frozen limeade is too sweet.  Bottled lime juice is too bitter. Dark rum is just ugly in the glass.  Corn syrup is too thick. I’ve tried to use artificial sweetener, which mixes well in the icy rum and lime, but the sugar syrup makes a smoother drink.  You can add more syrup, if you’d like a sweeter drink, but it cuts the all-important thirst-quenching properties.

¡Salud!

IMG_5722

Still life with lime

Daiquiri – makes one drink

2 ounces white rum

1 ounce simple sugar syrup (see recipe below)

Juice of one freshly-squeezed lime

Ice cubes (not crushed)

Measure rum and sugar syrup into shaker full of ice.  Squeeze in the juice of one lime.  Shake and serve over ice in tall glasses.  Garnish with lime wedge, if desired.

Simple Sugar Syrup

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup hot water

Don't you feel cooler already?

Don’t you feel cooler already?

Place sugar in small, heavy saucepan over medium heat.  Stir in hot water until sugar is dissolved, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer mixture for 15 minutes.  Cover tightly with a lid and remove from heat.  Let sit until room temperature.  Pour into clean glass jar and store in refrigerator until ready to use.

[Note:  Because the mixture is boiling when you cover it, it will stay sterile while it cools.  Do not lift the lid while it is cooling, and refrigerate promptly within 60 minutes.]


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Function, Form — and Flames!

It must be July.  Heat waves are coming in, well, waves.  Yawn.  I’m not sure why the weather broadcasters are so frantic.  It’s called summer, people!  Remember when we had all that snow in February and March? I know that farmers in our area hope to save their crops from the deluge of rain we’ve gotten, but I just enjoy the warmth.

Every July, during what turns out to be the hottest weekend of the summer, the arts community in Baltimore throws a three-day festival they call “Artscape,” celebrating art of all kinds, visual, graphic, pottery, jewelry, glass, music, dance, and even culinary.  After all, what kind of festival doesn’t need food?  Last weekend, there were the usual hot dogs, grilled sausage, pizza, crab cakes, Boardwalk fries (doused with vinegar), funnel cakes, and even Thai and vegetarian specialties.

Tiny house from True North Guide Lab

Tiny house from TrueNorthGuideLab.com

But I wasn’t there to eat. I went to see my friend, Byron,  who was exhibiting and promoting his social enterprise model, featuring a micro-dwelling, or “tiny house” that he developed. His mission is to teach students the skills to build affordable housing for residences, businesses, studios, etc.  As Louis Sullivan, the great turn-of-the-century architect said, “form ever following function.”

During Artscape, Byron stayed in his tiny house, even when the temp hit 97, attracting all kinds of people, including a little boy from Honolulu who told me, “I’m going to build myself a tiny house and live in it.”

Tiny House becomes part of

Tiny House becomes part of “Artscape.”

If you’ve ever purchased anything at Ikea, you get the idea.  There’s simple beauty, innovative design, and economical construction.  Byron applies this idea to changing the way people consume resources, occupy space, and provide basic shelter.  Taking it one step further, he proposes to teach design and construction skills to young people who need it the most.  He explains it all on his company’s website, truenorthguidelab.com.

The Veterinarian would have loved a tiny house, which is the size of the first sailboat that we owned but with more headroom.  The walls are reinforced canvas over plywood. There’s the usual, large single berth for sleeping, a U-shaped settee and table that convert to another berth, and a three-burner cooktop.  Retractable solar panels provide energy for the LED lighting, stereo, and 12-volt fan.  As in marine design, there’s a place to stow everything, clothes, tools, food, supplies, cooking utensils.  Essentially, it’s smaller than my kitchen, which causes me brief guilt pangs about my carbon footprint.

Maybe he isn’t just educating youth; maybe he’s educating us about the excess of our lives, the flotsam and jetsam to which we’ve become addicted.  Friends were astounded when I wrote about my skillet collection in Pot Head.  Do I really need specialized cooking equipment that only gets used once or twice a year?  Do I really need eight whisks or 50 cookbooks?  Seven sets of china?  Dozens of glasses with specialized uses?

Could I prepare gourmet meals in a tiny house?  Well, yeah.  I’ve done it on boats, cooking on two-burner propane stoves with gimballed ovens.  I once met a French woman who sold crêpes (savory or dessert) from her 30’ sailboat anchored in the harbor of the Caribbean island of Bequia (one of the few places where the International Whaling Union sanctions traditional whaling with hand-thrown harpoons from small, open sailing dinghys, by the way).  In the afternoon, her husband would come by in a dinghy to take orders and return in the evening to deliver them.  Crêpe batter requires one mixing bowl, a fork or whisk, a small sauté pan, and one burner.  So simple.

On another sailing trip, halfway around the world on the beach of a tiny Thai island, I had the best shrimp tempura of my life, made by a woman cranking them out in one small sauté pan over a single propane burner.  Like the crêpemaker in Bequia, she used one mixing bowl for the batter and something to whisk it together.  There were a dozen of us gathered for dinner at an open-air grill, and she served us all in an efficient and timely manner, putting so-called “Iron” chefs to shame without a Ninja, Cuisinart, or electric deep-fryer (mine has gathered dust on the floor of my pantry closet for almost 20 years).

What kind of meals could I make in a tiny house with the one skillet?  Anything stir-fried (sayonara, wok).  Grilled sandwiches (arrivederci, panini grill).  Fajitas (adios, fajita griddle). Thinking completely off the top of my head, I probably could make an apple tart, if I topped it with something pre-baked, like shortbread (adieu, tarte tatin pan).  I’ve seen recipes in which fresh pasta is simmered in simple sauces, and my shrimp étouffée only takes one pan.  Even those old college standbys, hamburger stroganoff and tuna jambalaya (made with Rice-a-Roni — don’t judge it until you’ve tried it — I just can’t cook treats like Tournedos à La Vallière for myself every day, although it, too, could be done, laboriously, with just one pan).

No boat trip or visit to the tropics was ever complete without the Veterinarian’s version of the New Orleans classic, Bananas Foster.  In the Caribbean, there were bananas, butter, sugar, and rum in every port.  The ice cream was more problematic; it doesn’t always survive the dinghy trip from shore to boat successfully.  The same small boy in the Veterinarian’s heart, who would have loved living in a tiny house, also loved setting things on fire, but, for safety, he probably would have stepped outside it to flambé his dessert. In Mexico, he learned the showman’s trick of tossing the nutmeg into the flames to create “stars.” It was pretty spectacular on the back of a boat after sunset.

Flambéing terrifies me, so I light the rum with a long lighter or match, instead of using the stove’s flame to ignite it.  As I used to say to the Veterinarian in my best “schoolmarm” voice, “Be careful!”  Not only are the flames hazardous, but the hot syrup can produce a nasty burn.

Bananas Don

Bananas Don

Bananas Don – Serves 6

4 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced lengthwise and then in half, crosswise

¼ cup butter

½ cup dark brown sugar

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ cup orange-flavored liqueur, such as Grand Marnier or Triple-sec

½ cup dark rum

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Vanilla ice cream

Have all ingredients mise en place (ie, measured and ready) before starting.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter.  Stir in brown sugar and cinnamon until melted, smooth, and bubbly. Gently stir in the orange liqueur.  Add the bananas and gently cook on both sides until they start to soften, about two minutes.  Turn off the heat and remove from the burner.

Be careful!

Be careful!

Pour rum onto the top of the banana mixture and ignite with a lighter or long match.  Toss the nutmeg into the flames.  Carefully return the pan to the burner; gently swirl pan until flames die out.  If mixture is too thin, remove the bananas and cook the sauce down to the consistency of syrup.  Serve over ice cream.

[Note:  You can prepare the syrup through the addition of the orange liqueur, and carefully pour into a glass, heat-proof measuring cup or storage jar and keep in the refrigerator.  Reheat small amounts in a sauté pan, finishing with the bananas and rum.]


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Let the Grills Begin!

Father’s Day is upon us!  Summer is here and so is the traditional grilling season.  It used to be a novelty to cook outside before the advent of gas grills, when men did most of the grilling.  I remember my dad building charcoal fires and fanning flames.  He would terrify My Mother by shooting lighter fluid from the bottle at coals that wouldn’t catch fire properly.  I saw a man do that with a bonfire recently.  Ah, men.  Always the heart of 12-year old boys.  Gotta love ’em.  smh

Grilling Indoors

One of the reasons that we bought our house in 1981 was its indoor grill.  A modified A-frame, it was built in 1968.  The open brick chimney goes up through the central portion of the house, dividing the living room from the kitchen/dining area.  On the living room side is a raised hearth and fireplace.  On the other side is a built-in grill.  What a luxury in the winter or on a rainy day to build a charcoal fire and grill!  Or, for Thanksgiving or Christmas, to burn a log while we eat.

About 10 years ago, we won a fancy stainless steel gas grill and put it on the deck outside our back door. The charcoal grill is rarely used any more, because it’s so easy to pop out the back door and fire up the gas grill in any kind of weather, as easy as turning on the stove.  If I decide to have Caesar salad with grilled chicken, I just fire up the grill and make my one little chicken breast half.  I wouldn’t bother if I had to make a charcoal fire.

One of my favorite recipes translates especially well to grilling at home, at a picnic, or even on a boat. The chicken transports handily in its zippered plastic bag, and the mess of the marinade is easily disposable.  Anybody can make this chicken.  You can grill it on a grill or in a grill pan,  or even bake-and-broil it.

Here’s what it takes:

1 large zippered plastic bag

1 cup prepared Dijon-style mustard

¼ cup olive oil

2 teaspoons of your favorite hot sauce (I use 1 Tablespoon Tabasco); or to taste

6-8 chicken parts (meaty parts, like legs or thighs; I always use skinless, boneless breasts)

Gas, electric, or charcoal grill; stovetop grill pan; broiler pan for oven

Instant-read meat thermometer

ONE Tablespoon

ONE Tablespoon of Tabasco — you read that right.

In the plastic bag, combine mustard, oil, and hot sauce.  Add chicken parts and securely close.  Shake chicken in mustard mixture to coat thoroughly.  Place on a pie plate or glass baking pan and refrigerate for 2-6 hours.  The pie plate keeps your refrigerator from becoming a mess, should the bag leak, and gives you something to carry the chicken to the grill.

To grill:

Season cold grill or grill/broiler pan with a little vegetable oil.  Moisten a paper towel with a little oil and, holding the towel with tongs, wipe the grill.  Oiling the grate keeps the chicken from sticking.

Preheat gas grill or oven to 350° (convection oven to 325°) OR

Preheat grill pan for 1 minute on medium-high.

Remove chicken from plastic bag (melted plastic is toxic and too chewy, in case you didn’t know) and spread mustard coating evenly over chicken.

IMG_5290Place chicken parts on grill or in grill pan, cover, and grill for 7 minutes.  Turn 1/4 to make the “diamond-shaped” grill marks and grill 3 more minutes.

Wash out the pie plate so it’s clean for the cooked chicken.  Never put cooked chicken on a dirty plate.  (Google:  salmonella)

Turn chicken over, placing thickest part of chicken closest to the heat, but not directly over the flames and grill for 7 more minutes, or until thermometer inserted into the thickest part reads 160° for boneless breasts and 165° for thighs and breasts on the bone.  If it reads less than 160, clean the thermometer and cook the chicken a little longer.  (Again, Google:  salmonella)

Test until thermometer reads 160.

Cook until thermometer reads 160.

Serve with grilled vegetables and potato salad.  Or just a hearty green salad.  Overachiever that I am, in chilly weather, I serve it with toasted walnut risotto and asparagus roasted or grilled with garlic oil.  And lots of crusty bread with dipping olive oil.  And red wine (trust me on this) or a gigantic chardonnay.

Leftover chicken is delicious on a salad or mixed with a little mayonnaise into a salad or diced up in a cream or pesto sauce over pasta.  The possibilities are endless!