Wednesday, December 30, 2009


I'm all about this Lemon-Lager Chicken from November, Ellie Krieger's Sweet and Spicy Grilled Cheese on really good sourdough, TechGirl's Turkey Chilli, and the Halibut with Coconut-Red Curry Sauce (I used grouper instead of pricey halibut) were all wonderful new additions to my treasured recipe collection.

And, should the winner of this year's crown be unable to fulfill her responsibilities or be caught posing nude with penguins or whatever, I'm sure any of them will step up to Recipe Of The Year status. 'Til then, Roasted Vegetable-Rosemary Chicken Soup gets the scholarship and the gym membership and the other fabulous bennies of being Recipe Of The Year. It's fabulous and it was my first and best recipe of 2009.

2009 in General
It's easy, especially for my Eeyore-tendency self, to think that the pay cuts and the foreclosure signs and the FLOODS here in Atlanta earned 2009 a kick in the ass on its way out.

And yet.

The US inaugurated our first African-American president. You may agree or disagree with his policies, but the fact remains that this was a history-making event. [And yes, he won the Nobel Peace Prize, which seems rather premature to me but peace was, frankly, lacking this year]

Sully! Chesley Sullenberger averts disaster and lands his passenger-laden plane in the Hudson River. I mean, I can barely parallel park.

Octuplets are born. And thus, a nursery becomes a giant Whack-A-Mole, which God never intended. Go ahead and flame me, I said it.

Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff went to jail. And not, unlike certain pedophile movie directors, in a Swiss chalet.

The Governor of South Carolina went "hiking." Because that's what those crazy kids are calling it these days.

Passengers overpowered a terrorist bearing explosives on a flight. So now we scan and bag our own groceries, bring our own bags to the store, AND tackle evil-doers in mid-air. We do it all!

It may not have been introduced this year, but I discovered Behr Paint + Primer in one. Where have you been all my home-owning life?

President Obama tells America's school children, via televised message, to work hard and stay in school. Thousands of parents yank their kids out of class that day in protest. I swear to God this is true.

Taylor Swift rises to astounding popularity. Do I think she's a musical genius? No. But it's refreshing to see a young woman rise to such great heights in the entertainment world without flashing her chamber of secrets every time she exits a car.

Facebook! 2009 as touted as "the year your parents join Facebook", but I like to think of it more as the year your way-cool aunt joined Facebook. Besides reconnecting with old friends, I've friended old acquaintances that I never knew all that well. Weird, but very cool. And I got the best message recently, from a college friend saying "You have no idea about this, but advice you gave me in college changed my life and I've pursued a career of social justice ever since." WOW.

Glee glee glee glee glee!!! I adore this show! Although my high school choir had a bitter middle-aged choir director nothing like Will Schuester, and we tended to sing more about sunsets than bust out Kanye. And speaking of busting out, click to CHECK OUT Mercedes singing "Bust Your Windows."

Glee In Real Life - who didn't love Susan Boyle singing "I Dreamed A Dream"?

My older niece came out with the statement "Ice cream helps me with my anger issues." Me too, Cutie.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Why Fish? Why Seven? Why Now?

Maybe it's my stage in life, maybe it's having lost my grandfather last month. For whatever reason I'm really feeling Italian lately - and not in a nasty, stereotypical "Jersey Shore" kinda way.

Hearing no other ideas from the household peanut gallery it was time for a somewhat-traditional Italian Christmas Eve. My 80-something grandmother (she was married to her two-years-younger second husband for years before he found out her age, so I'm not telling) seemed to be a good source of info, so I gave her a call from the car.

[Side story - both of my grandparents could not - simply could not - understand this "being allergic to shellfish" business. As if I made it up. As if God would exempt me for the sake of heritage. As if it were some trendy malady and I'd hopped on the bandwagon. Remember the scene in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" when everyone freaked out about the boyfriend being vegetarian, and the aunt said "It's OK! I'll make lamb." That, but "shrimp."]

Me: I'm picking up fish for dinner tonight. What side dishes are traditional?
Grandmother: It's the Feast of the Seven Fishes. That's a lot of food, Steph. Who had room for side dishes?
Me: Fair enough. So what did y'all used to have?
Grandmother: Smelts. Shrimp, of course. Usually some tuna. Baccala*, which your aunt adored. My father loved spaghetti with anchovies, or sardines - you're probably not going to make that one, I guess. And he always had to have scungilli (eel). You could do something easy, like flounder. And of course we had all the other stuff that goes with it.
Me, fingers crossed: Other stuff?
Grandmother: You know, the vegetables.
Me, finally getting somewhere: Really? What did you have?
Grandmother, thinking.... : The usual stuff. Potatoes, I guess. Nothing fancy.


The DeKalb Farmer's Market is an amazing, thriving, international foodie paradise with a lot of things I've never heard of and can't pronounce and would love to try. And on Christmas Eve, if you were in the fish section then chances were good your last name ends with a vowel. An immediate community bonded; there was recipe talk, antipasto ideas, complaints about Aunt Rose, Aunt Mary, Uncle Sal, etc.

I will, at some point, post the recipe I made up for dinner tonight. I'm going to enter it in a contest, and to be eligible it has to be unpublished (yes, even on my own blog).

And the answer to the questions.... why fish, and why seven? It appears no one knows for certain. There is a theory that the idea comes from the Seven Hills of Rome - um, there's fish in them thar hills?? I don't get it. There is another that it's rooted in the traditions of Catholicism, which I don't understand well enough to detail.

This much I do know. Whether your December tradition is calamari or grilled pork or take-out, tradition matters. My grandmother's memories of her own childhood holidays, then sharing them with her children and grandchildren, are giving her comfort now. My grandfather's two biggest concerns with me were that I would forget I was Italian and/or turn Republican. And he may have considered those the same thing, Rudy Giuliani nonwithstanding.

The fish was on the table. And it was, if I say so myself, pretty darn good. And steamed veggies on the side - nothing fancy.

*Baccala is salted cod. Starting at least four days prior to serving it has to be soaked - with the water changed every six hours - to get the salt out. One of my friends once said it was something you would take to war as a physical weapon, a threat, and - if absolutely necessary - food.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

OCD Eggs

Meaning, of coure, Off-Center Deviled Eggs. CLEVER, no?

My BFF has been known to call my cell, from the grocery store, as she debates one cut of meat vs. another. She can cook, but doesn't get the same enjoyment from it that I do - and after knowing her for (gulp!) nearly thirty years, this is how it is.

So the latest question from my burgeoning-with-child friend was "There's a right way and other ways to hard-boil eggs, right? And how do I get the yolk in the middle and not off to the side for when I make deviled eggs?"

You know what? She's right. There's more to boiling an egg than just boiling water.

The part about keeping the yolk in the middle? EASY, and probably not what you were expecting. The day before you're going to cook them, take the eggs out of the carton and replace them, on their sides, in the carton (or in a casserole dish). You won't be able to close the carton. Keep them on their sides for 24 hours before cooking, and you too will have Martha-esque yolk-in-the-middle eggs.

And of course, that really only matters if you're hard-boiling.

Don't boil the water first. Put a single layer of eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water; the water level should be about an inch above the eggs. Add one teaspoon of baking soda to the water, which will help make your eggs easier to peel. Bring to boiling over high heat - crank that flame up!

Once boiling, reduce the heat immediately so that the water is just barely simmering. Cover the saucepan and set the timer for 15 minutes. Let them cook undisturbed.

When 15 minutes is up, run cold water over the eggs. You're done the hard-boiling part.

To be-devil the eggs-

6 hard-cooked eggs
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tp prepared mustard
1 tsp vinegar

Halve hard-cooked eggs lengthwise and remove the yolks gently.

Place yolks in a bowl and mash with a fork. Add mayo, mustard, and vinegar; mix well. If desired, season with salt and pepper. Stuff egg-white halves with yolk mixture. If desired, sprinkle with paprika.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

C is for Cookie

Holiday baking starts today. In an obvious attempt to ruin my life and my happiness my doc has put me on a gluten-free trial. It's not going all that well (I'm a SMIDGE cranky), and for darn sure I'm not going to inflict this on anyone else. In fairness, though, quinoa pasta is actually pretty good. And my lifeline, since this Italian girl ain't no way giving up pasta.

So this year's baking (being given away, with some held out for Sweetie) is decadent. Dark chocolate, intense vanilla, creamy fillings, the works. Cookies are not health food.

These are seriously rich; I can't eat more than one or two (honest) at a time. As crisp, flat cookies they don't ship well (too fragile), so it's best to keep them at home. And easily accessible.

Brown Sugar Ginger Crisps
November, 1989 (Bon Apetit or Gourmet, can't tell from the ripped-out magazine page in my recipe binder)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp anilla
1/2 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger (3 oz)
1/4 tsp ground ginger

Perheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together flour, bakng powder, and salt. Beat together butter and brown sugar in a large bowl until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Beat in yolk, vanilla, and gingers.

Add flour mixture and mx at low speed until just combined.

Drop heaping teaspoons of dough about 3 inches apart onto ungreased baking sheets and bake in batches in middle of oven until golden, 13 o 15 minutes. Coool cookies on shets on racks 5 minutes, then transfer with a metal spatula to racks to cool completely.