Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Eating Gluten-Free

Most of the folks we know who are striving to eat gluten-free are hungry for ideas about how to eat well while eliminating offending foods.  A great article by Karen Fernau with some good advice and great recipes in the sidebar showed up in today's "Arizona Republic." (If you happen to live in the Phoenix area, or plan to visit, there also is a list of the top 16 restaurants with gluten free menus.) Check it out!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Proof America is Still Cooking

Award-winning food writer Andrea Weigl interviews author Molly O'Neill on her latest book "One Big Table:  Portrait of American Cooking," a project that partnered her with America's Second Harvest (Now Feeding America).  Check it out!
Monday, March 28, 2011

A Family Feast

Birthdays are a big deal in my family.  So, of course, good food always holds a center-stage place in our birthday celebrations.  My mom’s 76th birthday dinner for 13 people the other night was no exception.  We pulled out the good china and dressed the table for springtime – despite the fact that we’d had four inches of snow just the day before.  
We started off the evening sipping sparkling wine from our favorite cellar – Schramsberg, and nibbling on a store-bought cheese & cranberry torte.  Sparkling wine (or Champagne) have become regular additions to celebrations and even casual gatherings; why save it only for New Year’s? 
The menu:
n  Salad tossed with a homemade Dijon dressing that included sunflower oil and sesame oil, garnished with wheels of a goat cheese/brie combo rolled in coarsely chopped walnuts.  

n  Grilled swordfish served with an avocado butter.  The recipe included fresh parsley, fresh lime juice, and garlic.  Yum.  The recipe came from one of my favorite cookbooks, “Stop and Smell the Rosemary:  Recipes and Traditions to Remember.”  (See Items We Love.)   My sister, Janet, had just bought Pier 1 Import’s Tasting Party Food Decorating set, so I used it to swirl the avocado butter on the fish just before serving instead of doing a dollop with a spoon.

n  We sisters always help each other out when we’re entertaining for a family event.  Janet made one of our family favorites – asparagus cooked with shallots, balsamic vinegar and butter.   My other sis, Susan, made a new recipe with wild rice, butternut squash, and mushrooms. 

n  With dinner, we served an Australian Chardonnay that paired nicely with the fish. 
Table tips:
n  I put together the floral centerpiece with a $16 mixed bouquet from my local grocery store.  I placed glass stones in a globe vase to help support the arrangement and chopped away on the stems to get the shape I wanted.  The gal at the florist department recommended I add three stems of leather-leaf fern sprigs, which at 29 cents apiece definitely helped finish out the arrangement without adding much to the cost.

n  I found the whimsical dragonfly napkin rings at Pier1.  They were on sale 20 percent off as recently as last Friday. 
It was a great evening, filled with laughter and tasty food; our mom at the head of the table glowing from the light of the candles as we sang happy birthday… can’t think of a better way to celebrate!  Happy Birthday, Mom!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Lidia Rocks!

I’m a PBS cooking show junkie.  Given we don’t have cable, I don’t have access to all those Food Network shows, but I think I would prefer all the true culinarians found on PBS anyway.  If I had an Italian mom, I’d want her to be Lidia Bastianich.  She’s smart, candid and makes amazing food that may require a bit of effort, but nothing that can’t be conquered in a Saturday afternoon.  Her cookbooks are full of beautiful photos, recipes and a bit of Italian history.  We were lucky enough to eat at Becco in NYC a few years back and the pasta was just outstanding. 

As Lidia says at the end of each show,

“Tutti a Tavola a Mangiare!”
(everyone to the table to eat!”

Friday, March 25, 2011

That's a lot of dough!

Traditions are only traditions if someone carries them on.  Someone’s gotta make grandma’s cookies, or buy the fruitcake for Christmas, or send out the birthday cards.  In our house, it’s making the noodles.  That job was always my dad’s – mixing the dough, rolling it out, cutting them up.  Then, cooking them in a big ol’ pot of beef soup for glorious beef ‘n noodles.  A year wouldn’t go by without dad boiling up a HUGE pot and feeding family and friends.

Years go by and the noodles become a bigger task for aging parents.  Perhaps this year we just won’t do it.  What?!  Okay, I don’t have a clue, but, bring it on.  Noodles can’t be that hard, right? 

The day before the family festivities, I break out the “leftovers” in the freezer from the prime rib I roasted for everyone at Christmas.  All those bones have to be good for something.  In go the onions, and the garlic, and the spices. After hours of simmering, the stock has become rich and meaty.

The morning of NoodleFest 2011, I spring out of bed at 6:30, determined that it will take me hours to mix, roll, cut, dry and cook all those noodles.  Starting at 7:30 after a few cups of coffee in me, I toss a dozen eggs, some water, a bunch of salt and almost 3 ½ pounds of flour in my amazing professional grade KitchenAid mixer with the dough hook.  Five minutes later, a gorgeous wad of dough is produced, ready for me to knead.  After getting my aggressions out on the dough, I clamp the handy-dandy Atlas Pasta Roller (bought for me by dad years ago at Viviano & Sons in St. Louis) to the counter and start rolling, from thickest to mid-thin (we like our noodles chewy in our family).  By 9:30 the noodles are rolled, cut and drying on the granite counter.  Really?  That’s all it took? Cake.

An hour later, with guests to arrive at noon for lunch, I start tossing in the noodles bit by bit.  A noodle or two – stir. Repeat.  Over and over again until the counter is empty and the pot is full.  The trick now is to keep stirring over low heat so they don’t stick together and they don’t burn on the bottom (a nightmare story in our family lore, but I don’t want to go there). 

At 12:30, I gather in my dining room with my husband, teen daughter, sister (happy birthday Lill!), parents and grandparents.  We each take a bite.  I am relieved.  They are silky, chewy, beefy and wonderful.   I get cheers from the family.  Dad compliments me on how good they are. Torch passed. Though I may create many other new family traditions for my family to follow, some old ones are just too tasty to let die.