Friday, May 30, 2008

Time to tell the story of my blog name

It's Friday and I feel a bit silly, so I thought I would give the explanation of how my blog got its name.

I'm afraid once I do this I won't have any readers left because you will all think I'm completely nuts.

It all started when I was about eight years old. As the child of a single mother, I spent a lot of time at my grandparents' home while she worked. I happened to hear them talk about eating a rhubarb pie. Maybe someone had given them one (they didn't go in for pie baking themselves) or they bought one. I don't remember the context of the conversation. I just know it was the first time I ever heard of a rhubarb pie. I thought the word was sort of silly. ROO-barb PIE. If you said it enough, it made you laugh - or so I thought.

One day my friend Maria and I were in one of the bedrooms playing a game of Othello. Eight-year-olds are not terribly good at strategizing in games like that (at least Maria and I were not). The game was getting dull and had reached a stalemate. I wanted to end it. She did not.

I had this wonderful idea for ending the game: I would freak her out. But how? I remembered my grandparents and their rhubarb pie. I kept thinking about what a silly word "rhubarb" was. I said it out loud. "Rhubarb pie." Then I made it into a conversation. "Rhubarb pie? Rhubarb pie!" Then I began to giggle. This really was silly. "Rhubarb pie," I repeated, raising up as much laughter as I could. Soon rhubarb pie was like my own private joke. I began laughing and repeating "Rhubarb pie" over and over again. I got really into it. I was slapping my knee and everything.

My friend was sufficiently freaked out and began to put the game away. My trick had worked. This made me laugh even harder, but at this point, I was too carried away with rhubarb pie to even vocalize my satisfaction. I fell off the bed laughing and shouting, "Rhubarb pie," and began rolling around until I had pretty much laughed myself into a fetal ball on the floor, still muttering, "rhubarb pie."

A week later Maria and I and a few of our friends were playing, "Make me laugh," (basically we had to get up in front of our friends and try to make them laugh -comedians we were-I always lost because I laugh so easily). Maria got up and said, "Rachel, this is you." She began saying, "Rhubarb pie," and laughing, complete with knee slapping. I couldn't contain my laughter for more than a second.
(Believe it or not, Maria and I are still friends. She owns a very cool clothing boutique in my neighborhood and actually gives me discounts. Now that's a true friend. I do sometimes introduce her to people as the original victim of a rhubarb pie laughing fit.)

Now it seems to this day, I will almost always laugh at the words "rhubarb pie." I have friends who will whisper it in my ear during solemn occasions or pass notes that say it while watching theater performances. I have one friend who will scream, "Rhubarb pie," to me when I'm already in a laughing fit just to see how hysterical I'll get. Just a few short years ago, many years after the original incident, I was having dinner at my grandmother's house and she offered me a piece of strawberry rhubarb pie and couldn't understand why I burst out laughing at the question.

I might as well point out that I'm laughing hysterically (with tears in my eyes) just typing this.

When I was first thinking of doing a food blog, I was discussing names with my friend Mike. He said the obvious name for it was Rhubarb Pie. I wasn't sure I wanted the name to just be Rhubarb Pie, but I realized he was right. It would be weird if Rhubarb Pie weren't prominent in a food blog, so it became The Essential Rhubarb Pie.

A few years ago there was a commercial on TV, I think it was a car commercial, where a man decides to take a different route to work. This leads him to stop at a completely different place to eat, and there he encounters something completely new in the dessert case - rhubarb pie. My brother was watching this commercial with his then-roommate. He commented how much I would love this commercial because I think rhubarb pie is so funny. Roommate thought about it for a moment and said, "Rhubarb pie is pretty funny."

I'm not a huge fan of Prairie Home Companion, but Garrison Keillor likes to say, "Nothing revives a guy like a slice of rhubarb pie." A slice of pie, or a slice of my blog? You decide.

Mama's little baby love rhubarb, rhubarb
Bee Bop A Ree Bop Rhubarb Pie!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Once Again My Mashed Potatoes Will Give You A Heart Attack

I just can't seem to stop adding things I shouldn't be to mashed potatoes.

Last night I decided to try Bobby Flay's Chicken Chasseur recipe. Actually I tweaked it a bit, but his recipe was the inspiration. It was the first Bobby Flay recipe I ever made. In the show where I saw him make it (I actually watched this time because it wasn't a grill show) he made a potato gratin where he poached the potatoes in cream. I knew I couldn't make those without killing my husband, so I opted for mashed potatoes.

I put my potatoes on to boil and got the stuff ready to mix them with. Then I realized something. I didn't have milk. The only milk I had was dated. I thought I had some heavy cream or half-and-half left over from the party on Sunday, but I was wrong. All I had was buttermilk left over from baking the chocolate cake. (Em, have I mentioned lately how much I loved your cake? I loved your cake.) I was about to use it when I spotted something else. You see, when I made the crostini for the party, I didn't use all of the goat cheese I bought. I had a hunk of goat cheese sitting in the fridge just begging me to use it.

I had my qualms. Could I do this to my husband. I rationalized that goat cheese has no lactose. But he just doesn't like cheese, period. As I have pointed out before, he only likes certain cheeses under certain conditions. There is no way he will ever eat anything that comes from a goat. Sometimes he can be a huge weenie. But did he have to know there was goat cheese in the potatoes? Would he really taste it? Would he really noticed the texture? Would he?

I took a chance that the answer would be no.

Heart Attack Mashed Potatoes #234057

2 pounds Yukon Gold Potatoes - boiled to fork-tender and peeled
2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
2 teaspoons white pepper (or to taste)
3 oz. goat cheese at room temperature
1 head garlic
Olive oil for drizzling

Heat oven to 300 degrees. Cut the top off a head of garlic and drizzle with olive oil. Loosely wrap in foil and bake for an hour. Meanwhile, prepare and cook the potatoes.

When potatoes are done mash well with a masher. Squeeze soft roasted garlic in with them. Add goat cheese and mash really well to fully incorporate and hide any cheese-like traces from your husband. Add butter. Add salt and pepper and adjust seasoning as you see fit.

I ate half of these potatoes before they even made it to the table.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Monthly Mingle - Blog Event

Lately I have been structuring my dinner parties Italian style. I put out some nibbles or antipasti for when guests arrive. I serve a first course or primo piatto of soup, pasta, or rice. Next I serve a secondo piatto of meat and a vegetable side or contorno. Finally, for the dolce, I serve one of my trademark homemade desserts. I find spacing out different types of food makes the pace of the meal more leisurely and I don't overwhelm people with the amount of food on their plates. Serving a starch as a separate course also helps people really enjoy a good plate of pasta or risotto.

It used to be that I didn't serve antipasto (or as my southern Italian relatives would say, anitpast'). I just poured glasses of wine when people came in and ushered them to the table. I realize that I was either making guests feel rushed or else I was encouraging them to hang out in the kitchen (and my kitchen really doesn't have room for more than one person at a time). Having some nibbles out also gives me more time to relax and make last-minute food preparations. I'm not pressured to have everything ready for the table as soon as everyone walks in.

The antipasto (or hors d’Ĺ“uvre if you want to be French about it) I chose for my mother's and uncle's birthday dinner this weekend served a dual purpose. Not only did I have nice nibbles for the family, but I also made up a new recipe for a blogging event. This one is from Meeta of What's For Lunch Honey, hosted by Mansi of Fun and Food.

I decided to go with crostini for my dish. Who doesn't like to eat those crispy, flavorful bits of olive-oil-splashed bread? Crostini leave a lot of room for imagination since you can top them almost any way you please.

In this case I had to make the dish vegetarian. I decided to do a sampling of crostini rather than just one kind. The base for the crostini is the same, but I decided on two very different toppings. One is suitable for the lacto-veg folks. The other is vegan (or would suit people who don't like cheese). If you're a die-hard carnivore, you could add a slice of prosciutto to the cheese crostini and some bacon to the mushroom topping.

The cheese one can be used with any type of oil you wish. I used macadamia nut oil, but hazelnut or walnut oil would be equally good. Even a high quality olive oil would work well (particularly a flavored one).

Crostini Duo

For Crostini
1 baguette, thinly sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbl chopped fresh thyme
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix together thyme and olive oil. Brush over all of the bread slices and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake on a cookie sheet in a single layer for 8-9 minutes.

Sherry-Mushroom Topping
8 oz. cremini mushrooms (or mushrooms of your choice)
2 large shallots finely sliced
2-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry sherry
2 Tbl. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Clean mushrooms and place in food processor. Pulse until finely chopped.

Heat olive oil in skillet. Add shallots. When they are soft, add garlic and cook till fragrant. Add mushrooms and cook until they soften. Add sherry and turn up the heat a little until the liquid has mostly evaporated. Season with salt and pepper. Spread over crostini.

Goat Cheese Topping
8 oz goat cheese
1/4 cup Macadamia nut oil
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
Salt and pepper

Place oil in a bowl and add rosemary. Let sit at least a half an hour so that the rosemary infuses. Spread the goat chesse over the crostini and then spoon the infused oil over each one. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and garnish with rosemary leaves.

The finished product.

Celebrating Birthdays with a Legendary Recipe

I have mentioned in the past how I credit The Frugal Gourmet with teaching me how to cook. It was the first cookbook I ever bought for myself and some of the recipes are permanently in my repetoire (particularly Jeff Smith's chicken piccata).

For my 21st birthday my mother bought me a copy of The Frugal Gourmet Cooks with Wine. A month later my grandfather's birthday came up. I broke out my new cookbook for the occasion. I found a recipe in the French section called Pork with Wine and Grapes. It sounded interesting, so I made it for Grandpa's birthday. Although there were only four of us at dinner that night (my grandparents, my brother, and me) we managed to finish off an entire pork roast. Then we took slices of bread and began soaking up the remnants of the sauce. Considering my elderly grandparents didn't have big appetites, it was pretty amazing. I made the recipe a couple more times for family occasions and it always received rave reviews.

Over the years I acquired more cookbooks and then came the internet, which is a major recipe source for me, and The Frugal Gourmet books were sort of retired. I didn't make the Pork with Wine and Grapes for quite some time (especially since my husband won't eat pork). Still everyone remembered the recipe. My brother even asked to borrow the cookbook once so he could make it himself. It's one of those recipes that once you eat it, you never forget it.

I decided to resurrect the recipe for a birthday party I gave for my mother and uncle this weekend. They were born two years apart almost to the day. He is one year and 364 days younger than she is. The long weekend was the perfect time to have a party for both of them. I wanted to make the dinner memorable, so I decided that everyone would love to see that pork dish again (chicken cutlets for Kevin).

The dinner started with an antipasto that will be discussed in a separate post.

I made my own version of stracciatella soup as a first course. This one consisted of homemade stock with leeks and spinach. The eggs were clumpy rather than strandy, which was a bit disappointing for me, but the soup was pretty tasty. It actually tasted better than I expected it to.

Then there was the pork. Oh that lovely pork. I knew we had to have something green and nutrtious to counteract the guilt from all of that cream and booze, so I threw in some roasted asparagus on the side.
Looking at these photos it seems the color green was the theme for the food this night.
Dessert was Emeline's Amore Chocolate Cake, which was incredibly rich and tasty. I served it with homemade caramel ice cream on the side.

It suffered a bit from Short Bundt Cake Syndrome, but was very delicious. (Thanks for putting this recipe on your blog, Em.)

Think there is enough ganache on this? Maybe I should have put some more.

Now for the recipes:

Stracciatella Al Breve Cuoco Di Disordine

1 Gallon chicken stock (homemade if you have it) - I was serving 10 people at this party.
1 Leek, washed and thinly sliced
1 Package baby spinach leaves
2 Tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Eggs
1/4 Cup freshly grated parmesan

Heat stock to simmering. Add leeks and cook till soft. Add spinach. It should soften quickly. Mix eggs and parmesan together and add to soup, stirring to create ribbons. Season with salt and pepper if needed.

Jeff Smith’s Pork With Grapes and Wine Sauce

3 Pounds pork Butt boned and tied

1 Onion peeled and sliced
2 Garlic cloves peeled and sliced
¼ teaspoon rosemary, whole
1 bay leaf
¼ Teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons olive oil
¼ Cup brandy
2 Tbl butter
2 Tbl olive oil
1 Cup dry white wine
½ Cup whipping cream
2 Pounds white seedless grapes removed from stems

Prepare the marinade and marinate the meat 2-3 hours, turning several times.

Remove the meat from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Heat a pot or dutch oven large enough to hold the roast. Melt the butter and add the olive oil and brown the meat, turning several times. Strain the marinade and add it to the pot. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 1 2/2 – 2 hours or until meat is tender. You may need to add more wine. Add ¾ of the grapes to the pot and cook 5 more minutes. Remove the meat from the pot. Stir the cream into the pan juices and cook 2 minutes. Adjust the salt if needed. Slice the meat on a platter, pour the sauce on top and garnish with the remaining grapes.

Frugie recommends you serve with polenta, but I like to just take some nice crusty bread and sop up the extra sauce with that.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Well This Just Made My Day

I didn't have much time to view my blog this week. Right after my show was over I was whisked away to Calgary on a business trip (my first time ever in Canada). I couldn't get online while I was there as my cheapskate company won't give me a laptop and my cheapskate self won't use the hotel business center.
I had a nice trip (although it was quite cold and rainy) but it was even nicer coming home and returning to my blog to find that I have been given my first blogging award. Susan of Sticky Gooey Creamy Chewy (or just call it Yummy Yummy Yummy Yummy) bestowed the Blogs That Make My Day award.

Well, that just made my day. It was a badly-needed boost and it reminds me that while the food blogging world has its share of uppity people, most of you guys are incredibly awesome and sweet and fun to share blogs with.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I don't have any fascinating food stories from Calgary unfortunately. I just have one slightly sad one. You see, I didn't want to just head to Calgary without having a day to recover from the show. I asked that I not leave Monday.

By insisting that I go a day later, look what I missed at my hotel.

Monday, May 19, 2008

FN Ladies, Please do something about the HAIR

Remember Sara Moulton? She always appeared on TV looking neat and professional with her long hair tied back.

Why will no one else follow her example?

Yesterday morning I was puttering around the house, getting ready for the matinee performance and occasionally catching bits of FN. I saw a whole lot of female cooks that day and a whole of lot HAIR. It's really pissing me off.

First I caught the end of this new show. The food didn't look bad, but the hostess was incredibly annoying. She talked a mile a minute Rachael Ray looks quiet by comparison. Maybe it's just new show nerves and this woman will calm down eventually, so for now I forgive her for it. What I don't forgive her for was her cascading long blond mane that looked as if it could fall into her food at any minute. Would a ponytail be too much trouble.

Next I caught some Ina Garten. I know Ina's hair is too short for a ponytail, but she constantly has that stringy hair of hers falling forward. She needs a barette or two, a headband, a hairnet, SOMETHING. When her hair falls forward into her face, does she have to keep pushing it back? Do I want to know?

I caught a few minutes of Sunny Anderson as well. Another cook with no concept of kitchen sanitation. If she were in a professional kitchen, would her hair be cascading down her neck like that? It's a nice style, but the kitchen is no place to be showing off your great hair.

I don't need to watch the Food Network to know that Rachael Ray never ties her hair back. I guess ponytails are too intimidating for her needs-it-dumbed-down audience. I think I saw some old footage once of her pre-FN show. Her hair was in a ponytail then. What gives? She has a habit of touching herself a lot. I keep thinking she must be getting hair in her food.

I haven't watched any of the new Ingrid Hoffman shows. I understand that both the food and her image have improved. She's toned down the whole blonde-and-cleavage thing. I caught a coming attraction or two. Her hair may not be as blonde, but it's still down and threatening to shed right into the salsa.

Giada is the only one who ties her hair back, but she only does it about half the time. Sandra Lee puts her hair up if it fits with the theme of her outfit.

I know FN wants it to be all about looks, but cooking isn't about looks! You can tie your hair back and still look good. This is basic kitchen sanitation folks.

On a completely different note, the show was quite a success. Once I was out in front of an audience I really had fun. I feel like I really come alive in a whole new way on stage. I got a lot of compliments on my performance. People don't just tell me they like my singing and dancing, but they like my presence and how I carry myself. I guess a big smile can cover a lot of flubs (because I certainly had a few in dance numbers).

Kevin tried to take photos, but he wasn't in a good seat to get many. Same with video. I'll have to pay for the professional one and maybe if I'm lucky I can find a way to get some of it online, but I'm not counting on it. Kevin did snap a photo or two during intermission.

Meet Dixie Andrews. Think of her as Maxine's evil twin. We had an awesome hairstylist for this show.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Ginger Creamsicle Muffins - Because I'm Just That Crazy

I think I may be a little bit crazy. With the show opening tonight, I probably should have spent my one night off sleeping, rehearsing, preparing myself – anything but baking. Baking, however, was precisely what I did. Baking is actually a great way to blow off steam. It may not be helping my performance, but it’s keeping me calm (if not exactly sane and rational).

The baking alone may not be crazy, but the fact that I’m entering my baking into a blogging event probably is. I never really think my recipes are up to par with so many experts out there. Besides, this is a baking event. While I love to bake, I’m not so skilled that I can easily whip up my own baking recipe.

Still, something about Helene of Tartlette’s Sugar High Friday (Also Jennifer of Domestic Goddess) drew me in. If I’m going to use my Friday night baking, why not try to come up with something new and enter it in an event? It’s not as if hosts and participants of blogging events are going to publicly humiliate me and say, “Your recipe is horrible. Don’t ever enter a blogging event again," on their blogs.” (At least I have never seen a blog event host do this.) My confidence in my ability to be among the foodie world has been shaken a bit lately after getting sort of scolded on one popular food forum and then flat-out rejected by another. I want to prove to myself that I can really play with the big kids, so I decided I'd throw my new muffin recipe out there.

The theme of the event is citrus. When I think of my favorite citrus fruits, I think of oranges and limes, and to a lesser degree, lemons. I prefer the taste of lime in savory foods, but oranges I like in both savory foods and desserts. Although lemon desserts don’t top my list of favorites, I do sometimes crave a good lemon cake or lemon bar.

I decided to come up with an orange dessert. I had some crystallized ginger in my cupboard and some extra oranges in the fruit bowl, so it seemed like a natural pairing. It was my original intention to make orange-ginger muffins with just the cystallized ginger sprinkled on top. That seemed a little too ordinary. I thought about some of my most beloved ingredients. There are few things I love more than mascarpone. I came up with the idea of mixing the crystallized ginger in with mascarpone and putting that into the muffins to give them a nice creamy element.

I'm not hugely fond of heavy spice in desserts, but I thought it worked well in these. They gave off a wonderful Christmas-y aroma when baking. The creamy element in the mascarpone gave a nice contrast to the cake-like muffin and the ginger bits gave it a little chewiness.

I never said they looked pretty.

Here is the recipe. Enjoy.

Ginger Spice Creamsicle Muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 Cup+ 2 Tbl sugar
Grated zest of one organge
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2/3 cup orange juice
1/2 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
8oz. mascarpone
¼ cup crystallized ginger
1 teaspoon orange extract.

Preheat oven to 150 degrees. Grease 12 muffin cups.

Combine mascarpone, orange extract, 2 Tbp sugar, and cystallized ginger. Set aside.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom, and salt. Mix in sugar.

In a separate bowl combine grated orange peel ginger, orange juice, eggs, vanilla and melted butter.

Add wet ingredients to dry. Stir until dry ingredients are just moistened.

Pour into 12 muffin cups. On top of each muffin, add a dollop of the mascarpone mixture.

Bake for 20-25 minutes. Cool muffins well before removing them from the pan as the mascarpone is a bit runny when it's hot.

Friday, May 16, 2008

New York Area Readers

Need some entertainment this weekend?

Who: The Harrison Players Community Theater

What: "Sentimental Journey: A 1940s Musical Flashback"

Where: Veteran's Memorial Building, 210 Halstead Ave., Harrison, NY (easily accessible via I95 and right down the street from the Metro North station)

When: Saturday May 17 at 8 PM, Sunday May 18th at 3PM and 7PM

Why: Because I'm so beautiful and brilliant that you want to watch me.

How: However your can.

I know it has nothing to do with food, but it's my blog and if I feel like not posting about food, I will. ;-P thlpt!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Fitting in some cooking (Now with photos!)

You may have noticed that I haven't been posting any recipes lately. In fact, I'm hardly posting at all. Well, if you have been keeping up with what's going on (and why haven't you?) then you know that I'm still in the throws of rehearsals. "Hell Week" is upon us. We open in 6 days and I don't have much time to hang around the house and cook. I spend a lot of time getting prepared meals at Stew Leonards in Norwalk lately.
Today I had some time before rehearsal to whip up something, but my brain is too fried to be creative enough to come up with something new, so I had to use someone else's recipe. My answer came from Amy and Jonny at We Are Never Full. All I had to do was open up the blog today and find Fusilli with Salsa Di Noci and Mushrooms (or is that e funghi?) It looked quick, simple and delicious. What else could I want? It would last me a couple of days, so I wouldn't have to worry about dinner for a couple of nights. No more oversalted prepacked pastas and chicken dishes for me.
I decided to try a new brand of pasta today. No one had long fusilli at the grocery store, but everyone makes a short one. I went with this one.

It was the name that got me. I just saw the name Garafolo and wondered if my pasta might start making witty sarcastic remarks or start snarking on George W. Bush when I tried to eat it.

The big question of the day was whether or not the walnut sauce would irritate my allergies. The recipe called for boiling the nuts before grinding them up. If this removed the bitterness, perhaps it might also remove whatever it is that makes my mouth burn when I eat them? The sauce looked so good, I decided to take the chance.

I got to work on it. I started by putting the walnuts on to boil and cooking up my mushrooms.

There was a time when I didn't like any mushrooms at all. There are still several varieties of mushrooms I don't like, but I think that cremini mushrooms create a good start to most pasta dishes.

I took my soaked nuts, bread, parmiggiano reggiano, and some fresh thyme and put it in the food processor. I tweaked the WANF recipe by using copious amounts of heavy cream rather than just a quarter cup of light cream. I'm naughty that way. I really didn't intend to use that much, but my sauce was kind of pasty, so I kept adding more cream to thin it out.

Here is my finished product. Very tasty. Does it burn my mouth? Just a little. But it's worth it!

I finally did get that Best Buy gift certificate, but I didn't buy the new camera yet. The photos are courtesy of my new cell phone.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

There is a middle ground folks!

Sorry for making another Food Network rant, but I just had to say this.

While browsing the foodie message boards recently, the subject of the Food Network and its assemblage-style cooking shows came up. One poster said this:

"My non-foodie friends remind me that they LOVE Sandra Lee, Giada, and Rachael because it's the kind of cooking they can actually do. They don't want to cook like me: a 3-day process just to roast a chicken because one has to brine, dry, roast, rest, broil, etc. Sure, the quality of their cooking is not as good as mine, but that's why they go to restaurants. I can see their point."

Would someone explain to me where this all-or-nothing mentality came from?

There is a myth out there that you either need to use expensive, processed, or fake-out shortcuts or else you will spend your day slaving over a hot stove. According to this new school of thought, measuring, chopping, and roasting all take too much time, or a ridiculous amount of skill. You can't make a high-quality meal all by yourself, so don't even try.

There is also a heavy reliance on the Shortcut Gurus. There are plenty of chefs out there who have presented simple and quick recipes that don't require advanced cooking skills. They did it before Rachael Ray and Sandra Lee came along, and they did it better than Rachael Ray and Sandra Lee ever could. They will also continue to do it long after Lee's and Ray's 15 minutes have expired. Sandra Lee does nothing special. You can find her recipes (or similar ones) on the backs of soup cans and Cool Whip packages and in the food advertisements in Ladies Home Journal. What she does is nothing new. Rachael Ray has no technique. She throws things together and in that sense creates a reliance on her recipes because she doesn't teach people how to cook (and if you knew how to cook, you really wouldn't need her shows). Viewers are just buying the persona that the Food Network sells so well.

The anti-baking thing is really going too far as well. It has bled from Rachael Ray and Sandra Lee (who at least is willing to bake things using mixes) and is seeping into other shows. All over the net people are beginning to notice Giada's reliance on boxed mixes lately. I've seen her do homemade cookies and cake in the past. What gives? Now even a simple batch of cookies is beyond the time and skill constraints of Mr. and Mrs. Average America? Despite the fact that I have rehearsal almost every night and dance classes on the few remaining nights with a few hours on the weekend to see my husband and my horses, I managed to bake a chocolate banana bread last night. I had it out of the oven and cooling before my husband came home from work. I made it from scratch. It wasn't difficult. It was delicious. It didn't ruin my evening to make it.

(As an aside, I still laugh at how once again this week they showed the back to back Good Eats episodes where in the first one Alton shows how easy it is to make a simple cake. In the next one he showcases frosting and says that no homemade cake will ever taste as good as one you make from a mix.)

This morning I saw Jamie at Home. I watched him make a venison stroganoff. The recipe looked quite easy. Now I know it is probably out of the reach of the average cook because it contained things like venison and these gigantic mushrooms that looked like they grew on another planet. (I was afraid they would eat Jamie before he ate them.) but I could easily see swapping out some beef chuck for the venison and some grocery store mushrooms for the alien monsters and still have a decent, homemade dish. Nothing looked complex. It didn't look like it took too long either. Jamie also used a very reasonable amount of meat. The venison cut looked pretty small. Compare that to Rachael Ray and her belief that one should serve two pounds of steak to four people. She claims if you eat well, you can eat more. Considering that every season of "30 Minute Meals" seems to showcase Rachael's butt getting noticeably bigger, I think I have to question how well she's eating and what she's eating more of.

I have to laugh because right after Jamie came Sandra. She made these mushroom and pepper crostini with seasoned ricotta cheese. She felt the need to use bottled italian dressing and Italian herb mix in the same dish (can we say "seasoning overkill"?). Then she took a bag of crostini to spread it on. She commented that she couldn't see why anyone would want to make their own. You have to cut and toast bread and it might take TWENTY MINUTES. How difficult! How time-consuming. Why would people want to do it? Hmmm...maybe because pre-packaged foods are high in salt and sugar? Maybe because they are more likely to have artificial ingredients? Maybe because homemade crostini taste better?

(Another aside, I wanted to throttle Sandra when she said, "Crostinis". THE WORD CROSTINI IS ALREADY PLURAL. YOU DON'T NEED TO ADD AN S. Anyone else who ever says something like "raviolis" or "spaghettis" or "strombolis" or "cannolis" should also give herself or himself a virtual throttling from me.)

I also feel I should point out that just because something takes long to cook doesn't mean you lose an evening to the kitchen. It takes and hour to roast a chicken, but you don't have to sit there for an hour and watch a chicken roast. You can watch TV, play with your kids, clean the bathroom, surf the net, and do anything else your heart desires while the chicken just sits in the oven and does its thing. Ditto for baking, or coq au vin, or a quality, slow-cooked chili.

I have to stop watching the Food Network. It's just making me too crazy.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Apple Loaf - With Feathers

Since Kevin is a huge lover of turkey burgers, it also follows that he is into turkey meat loaf. I've never been fond of meat loaf of any kind. He used to love eating traditional meat loaf back when he ate red meat and is now more than happy to eat turkey meat loaf if I make it for him.

For years I experimented with all kinds of turkey meat loaf recipes. I tried adding sauteed vegetables. I tried making a meat loaf "cake" where the meat was layered with a mixture of nuts, cranberries, and spinach. No matter what I did, it never tasted all that good to me and the texture was generally that of the dreaded "hockey puck" variety.

Then one day I received inspiration from the most unlikely place. I got it from from Ray. She Who Must Not Be Named (from this point forward anyway) made one of her infamous burger recipes using turkey, apples, onions and celery. She said it was meant to echo the flavors of her mother's apple stuffing. I have to admit I was intrigued. Perhaps she had hit on an idea to give turkey more flavor and moistness. I decided to use that idea to create a meat loaf.

The first time I made this recipe I was in Wild Oats (now Whole Foods) buying ingredients when I began to wonder what the bread element in this recipe would be. Bread crumbs can create a rather dense texture, but what kind of bread would I use if I tried soaking bread in milk? I passed by the salad bar when I saw exactly what I needed. She Who Must Not Be Named said her burgers were based on stuffing right? Well, what kind of bread makes awesome stuffing? Conbread! There were big squares of cornbread for sale by the salad bar. I had my bread.

Really good meat loaves (ones I might actually enjoy) usually have more than one kind of meat in them. I'm limited to poultry when I cook for Sir Pickypants, so all I could do was make this a turkey and chicken loaf. How exactly would that be interesting? The answer came at the meat counter. I bought some chicken sausage links, removed them from the casing, and added them to the ground turkey.

Last night I decided it was time to trot out the meat loaf recipe again. It would feed us for the next few nights. I thought since there was a Thanksgiving theme involved, I would add some dried cranberries to the recipe for the first time.

I apologize for the dried sage. I forgot to buy fresh.

If you make this, make sure you get a sweet sausage. If you can get a chicken breakfast sausage or a chicken apple sausage, go for that. Don't get anything spicy or with a dominant herb or cheese in it. That will overwhelm the delicate flavors in the meat.

I like the fact that this is reminiscent of the corbread-apple-sausage stuffing I made for Thanksgiving last year. It keeps my stuffing-making skills sharp.

I didn't know what to call this meat loaf. It's not turkey loaf since it also has chicken and it's contains other stuff. I thought about making some kind of pun like Meat Loaf Most Fowl, but I was afraid it wouldn't sound appetizing. The working title right now is Feathers and Fruit Loaf.

Feathers and Fruit Loaf

1 pound ground turkey (not all white meat please)
4 big links chicken sausage - removed from casing
1 4"x4" square cornbread, crumbled
1 small onion, finely diced
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and diced
2 ribs celery, finely sliced
1/2 cup dried cranberries (optional)
1 tsp ground sage (or use 1Tbp fresh if you have it)
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
1 Egg
1 Tbl vegetable oil

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat oil in a skillet and add onion. Cook until it begins to soften. Add celery and cook till soft. You will not believe how good two ingredients cooked together can smell. Seriously. Onion and celery cooking together give off the most fantastic smell ever. Add apple and cook a little bit. Remove the mixture from heat and put in a large bowl.

Add crumbled cornbread, cranberries, sage, and salt to the sauteed veggies. Taste it for seasonings. Do this now because you are about to add things you shouldn't be tasting. Mix in the turkey, chicken, and egg. Combine well. Use your hands. It mixes the stuff better and it's more fun that way.

Put mixture into a pan and shape into a loaf. Bake for about 45 minutes or until your internal temperature hits about 160 degrees.

I bought way more cranberries than I need and I actually have some time to myself tomorrow night and I'm just dying to bake something. I just found the perfect way to use up those extra cranberries.