Thursday, January 27, 2011

Great Steak, Dr. Salisbury!

It really is just ground meat, after all.  Not really “steak” as we know it. And, usually, you’ll only find the humble Salisbury Steak (pretty high fallutin’ name for something so modest) in diners and homestyle restaurants. Right alongside the meatloaf. Or chicken and biscuits.

But the name comes from Doctor Salisbury! I imagined it was just named after a place – Salisbury Hill? Apparently James Henry Salisbury, a 19th century British physician was a big advocate of lots of meat -- red meat, no less -- in the diet, contrary to everything we read today. He believed that vegetables and starchy foods could produce substances that poison and paralyze the body’s tissues and cause everything from heart disease to tuberculosis to gout.

He claimed our teeth are "meat teeth" and our digestive systems designed to digest lean meat, and that vegetables, fats, starches and fruit should only be 1/3 of our diet. Starch is digested slowly, so it ferments in the stomach and produces vinegar, acid, alcohol and yeast, all of which were poisonous to our systems, he claimed.

His “meat cure” was a special diet that included Salisbury Steak, which should be eaten three times a day (!), with plenty of water to flush the body’s system.

All pretty interesting and certainly a signal that I was to try Salisbury Steak at home. I'm a great guinea pig. I don’t think I’ve ever had it. I’m always looking for different ways to use ground meat because we have a freezer full of beef/venison mix. (Talk about local! Some of beef is from Dude who lives down the road, and some of the venison, from our own woods.)

My husband could live – happily – on hamburgers three days a week. Probably pizza at least two of the others. I like just a little more variety. So when a sample of Cuisine At Home arrived with a recipe for French Onion Salisbury Steak in it, I earmarked it. Then, I saw a blog I follow, Casa en la Cocina, * posted another version. Karma strikes again. The photo in the Cuisine at Home made the glorified hamburger look very much like a steak. What really makes it special is the sauce, a little in the cooking method, and definitely the shape. It’s shaped into a nice oval, not round like a regular hamburger. I suppose that nurtures the notion of “steak.” I know we thought it was great comfort food for this winter that doesn’t seem to want to take a break.

Salisbury Steak
from Cuisine at Home

1 ¼ pounds lean ground beef
¼ cup minced parsley
¼ cup finely chopped onion
2 teaspoons shallot-pepper seasoning (from Penzey's)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
For the sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup sliced onions
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups low-sodium beef broth
¼ dry red wine
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon dried thyme

Combine the ground meat, parsley, shallot-pepper seasoning (or substitute freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt and increase the amount of chopped onions to ½ cup.)
Divide the mixture evenly into four patties and shape into ¾ inch to 1 inch thick oval patties. Place the flour in a shallow dish and dredge each patty in the flour. (Reserve 1 teaspoon flour for the sauce.)
Heat oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add patties and cook about three minute on each side or until browned and remove from pan.
Add the onion and sugar to the pan and cook about 3 to four minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook another two minutes longer. Stir in the garlic and tomato paste. Cook until the paste begins to turn brown in color, about 1 minute.
Sprinkle the reserved flour over and cook 1 minute. Then add the broth and wine, salt and thyme.
Return the meat to the pan; bring sauce to a boil and then reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer about 10 minutes.
Sprinkle a little fresh parsley and grated Parmesan if you’d like. I served the steaks on top of lightly buttered noodles with peas and spooned the sauce over all.
Makes 4 steaks.

*What I did differently from Cuisine at Home was to use sweet onions instead of scallions in the meat mixture as well as use the Penzey's shallot-pepper seasoning instead of shallots and pepper.  I also added mushrooms to the sauce mixture.  The magazine's recipe also suggests serving the steaks atop cheese toasts.

* Mary's, Casa en la Cocina, birthday is Friday, January 28.  Stop by and wish her a happy! *

Sunday, January 23, 2011

My Mom’s Best Cookie: Sour Cream Twists

In memory of my mother, who died six years ago today, I made her favorite cookie, which has been the family’s signature cookie for well over 40 years. And I have to say, Mom, they’re the best batch I’ve ever made! They turned out just the way they’re supposed to – a crunchy, caramelized sugar coating on the outside, a delicately flaky pastry-like cookie on the inside. Just the right golden color. Perfect!

My mother found this recipe when her first daughter got married many more years ago than I’m sure my sister Anne wants to remember! It was a simple wedding with a reception on the lawn of our parents’ home. I was all of five or six at the time, but I do remember the flurry of activity and I sure remember those cookies.

My older sisters tell me that Mom found this recipe when she was searching for something special for the reception. We thought it must have come from her favorite cookbook– Woman’s Home Companion – but maybe it was another (because I looked there.) Mom herself told us that it was an “old German recipe.” We thought that was a little unusual since she had an Irish Scot heritage and Dad was 100% Italian!

Every woman in the family learned to make Sour Cream Twists. Over the years, we’ve all contributed the recipe to many a benefit cookbook of any organization we’ve belonged to. I’ve taken them to book club, church potlucks, parties, card club, women’s meetings. We’ve all often been asked for the recipe. Once  I happily shared the recipe with a woman I admired as a great cook (who moaned so appreciatively as she ate a cookie in front of me.) She came back to me later and told me I must have left something out because hers weren’t quite the same as mine.

“Ahhh!” I thought, “It must all be in the technique of the twist!”

It did take me a while to get the hang of twisting the raw dough just right, and judging just how much vanilla sugar to roll into the dough. I do remember well my younger sister and I learning how to make the cookies with Mom. And how much raw dough we’d sneak in while she wasn’t looking.

We’ve all thought it was a unique cookie and not your standard fare. But if you do a quick Google search today, you’ll find hundreds of versions. And imagine the family’s dismay when our Sour Cream Twist, our family’s signature cookie, was featured in a 2005 Good Housekeeping magazine cookie contest! Not so unique after all! The Massachusetts woman who submitted the recipe said that a co-worker gave her the recipe. “She gave me the recipe for these twists, which are delicious – like puff pastry. That was 40 years ago and I still make them every year.”

So do I. And they are delicious. Mom made them for just about every occasion, no matter how special or ordinary. Someone coming home from college for a weekend? Sour Cream Twists. Great report card? Sour Cream Twists. Home on leave from the service? Sour Cream Twists. And certainly every Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Simply a family tradition we can’t -- won’t -- let go of.

The recipes I’ve looked at all have slight variations. More or less eggs or varying amounts of sour cream. But none of them have any sweetness in the dough; the sugar is added in the rolling later. They all have sour cream, yeast, flour, butter and vanilla extract in the dough. Mom always insisted on Fleischmann’s margarine and she used cake yeast. I think she would have easily latched on to using parchment paper or a silicon mat. Cleaning up those &*^$# pans of caramelized sugar was always tough.

I’ve messed around with the recipe from time to time – adding orange zest or crushed almonds or almond extract. But I always come back to the original.

Because they remind me of you, Mom. Especially today.

I miss you very much. Always will.

Sour Cream Twists

1 package active dry yeast
¼ cup lukewarm water
3 ½ cups flour
2 sticks butter
2 eggs
½ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For rolling:
1 ½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Dissolve yeast in water. Mix flour in butter in bowl with pastry blender until mixture is well blended. Beat eggs until foamy, then add yeast mixture and sour cream until well blended. Add the flour and butter mixture and mix well. Gather into ball and wrap in clear wrap and refrigerate at least two hours. (It will keep in fridge a couple days.)

When ready to bake, preheat over to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line rimmed baking pans with parchment paper.

Combine a mixture of 1 ½ cups sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla and blend well. Sprinkle rolling surface with some of this mixture. Using half the dough, roll it to a rectangle about 4 by 12 inches. Cut in half lengthwise, then each half into 12 even pieces. Roll the piece in the vanilla sugar, then twist it two or three times and roll it again in the sugar and place two inches apart on baking sheet. Follow same procedure with second half of dough. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until lightly golden brown on bottom. Remove immediately from pan and cool on baking rack. Store in tightly covered container about a week. If cookies lose their outside crispness, reheat in 350 degree oven for about five minutes.

Makes 4 dozen cookies.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Maple-y Apple-y Chicken Sausage Apps for Game Day

As I was straining my brain for ideas for a different snack to take to a football party, I finally remembered these simple sausage appetizers that we had at a family holiday party. Not only are they easy and tasty, they’re fun to eat. Using pretzel sticks as edible toothpicks is ingenious, don't you think?

Tiny meatballs or sausage in a grape jelly and BBQ sauce are always a popular item at parties like this, and these sausage bites are a unique twist on that favorite. The pre-cooked chicken sausages aren’t always easy for me to find (they sure do make them easy to make!) but next time I do find them again, I’m going to stick a few in the freezer so these are always ready to be made.

We’re headed to watch the Steelers and Jets play tomorrow evening. At least I think we’ll be watching. My husband – a Steelers fan, for sure – may or may not watch. At a game a couple weeks ago, he turned up missing out of a roomful of friends because, almost like me watching a scary movie, he was afraid to watch the next play.  I found him clipping his nails in the garage. Maybe if I’d had these ready, he wouldn’t have left at all!  

Maple-Glazed Apple Chicken Sausage Bites
from Better Homes & Gardens

1 12-16 ounce package cooked apple-flavored chicken sausage links
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon stone ground mustard
2 teaspoons snipped fresh sage (or ½ teaspoon dried)
16 -20 pretzel sticks

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut sausages into 1-inch slices. Place on rimmed baking pan (covered with parchment paper to save on clean-up). For glaze, in small bowl combine syrup, mustard and sage.

Bake sausage – unglazed -- for 8 minutes. Then, brush generously with the glaze. Bake for 8 minutes more until sausage pieces are well-glazed and heated through. Use pretzel sticks as edible toothpicks and serve on a pretty platter.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Let Them Eat Spinach Cakes

Spinach soufflé, frozen from Stouffer’s, is one of my secret pleasures. Does that make it an indulgence? I can eat a whole box by myself, and believe me, I have. If I knew that I’d be alone for an evening – “Oh, you have a meeting tonight? Won’t be home for dinner? That's too bad.” – I’d be smiling on the inside knowing I’d be digging into the freezer later for one of those orange boxes and baking one right up, just for me. I think the box says it has “about 3 servings.” Nope. I would eat the whole thing, happily, joyfully, no regrets.

Other people, alone for an evening, might dig into a carton of ice cream with a spoon, or open a cold can of baked beans, but I'd go for that smooth and creamy Stouffer's spinach souffle every time. 

I love spinach any ol' which way – fresh in a salad or on a sandwich, added to soups or pasta dishes, creamed alongside a steak. Growing up, spinach was a staple at the dinner table, but my mother always served it the same way – topped with hard-boiled egg and drizzled with vinegar. Although I still like it that way, I love creamed spinach.

My husband (he wants me to come up with a special name for him when I talk about him here; I’m thinking about it) doesn’t like the creamed or soufflé versions as much as I do, so I began to make mini soufflés in muffin cups and freezing them so I could easily have one for breakfast or lunch. When I go teach a day at school, they’re great for a quick reheat in the microwave.

I started making these after reading a South Beach Diet cookbook and then began fooling around with them a bit to suit me a little better (not just to make them more fattening!)

So here’s my new secret pleasure . . . Spinach Cakes. But it's not a secret anymore.

Spinach Cakes
adapted from South Beach Diet
12 ounces fresh spinach
¼  cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup Greek yogurt, plain*
2 large eggs, beaten
1 clove garlic minced
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg (or about 5 scrapes of a whole nutmeg on a grater)
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook the spinach in a non-stick skillet until wilted; cool slightly and chop finely. (Or use ½ 10-ounce block of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry. Or use a whole block and double the rest of the ingredients.)

Blend all together in a bowl and fill 8 paper-lined muffin cup (or grease them well.) Bake 20 minutes. Let stand a few minutes before eating.

Makes 4 servings, 2 spinach cakes a serving (about 140 calories a serving)

*Sometimes, I can't find Greek-style yogurt and it is more expensive.  So I've been buying non-fat plain yogurt and letting it sit in a strainer in the refrigerator for a few hours, or overnight, and I have thicker yogurt.)


(I just added the mushrooms in the picture to make the spinach cups a little prettier, ready for their close-up, Mr. DeMille.)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Proof’s in the Bread Pudding

I never had bread pudding when I was growing up. That’s probably because in a busy family with two parents working and four kids at home, stale bread was one rare commodity. It was a whole lot more likely for us to be out of bread completely!

Today, though, in an empty nest household, stale bread happens a lot more than I’d like, no matter how carefully I think I plan. I often freeze extra bread, sometimes make crumbs with the older stuff, but this time, I decided to make bread pudding. Just the name conjures up all kinds of cozy images and good cinnamon-y smells. I think I can smell a fresh cup of coffee along with it.

Many of the bread pudding recipes I’ve looked at asked for “stale Italian bread” or offered “ciabatta is best,” but they all said any stale bread will do. I think freezer burn is close to stale so I dug out a package of hot dogs buns that have been sitting in the freezer since Labor Day “just in case.” Here's my case.

A recipe from a beautiful blog, The Meaning of Pie, was my inspiration. The only things I did differently than Kelly was to sprinkle the dried cranberries and chopped walnuts (Christmas baking leftovers) over the milk soaked bread cubes before pouring the eggs over the mixture. I did let my hot dog buns sit on the counter naked so they would be drier. And I added a luscious and gooey vanilla sauce, so good I could have eaten it alone with a spoon. (Just a couple.) Eating the warm bread pudding, topped with the warm vanilla sauce and that hot cup of coffee almost makes winter worthwhile.  Next time, though, I'm thinking some brandy-soaked raisins would be nice.  And a little brandied-coffee, too.  That sounds like a real warmer-upper.

Bread Pudding
from The Meaning of Pie

About 4 cups (or more) torn bread, any leftover dried out bread you may have
2 cups milk
1 cup half and half
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Dash of salt
½ stick butter
3 eggs
Topping:  ¼ cup granulated sugar, ½ teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a casserole dish and fill it with torn bread. In a small saucepan, heat the milk, half-and-half, sugar, cinnamon, salt and butter until just melted and combined. Pour the milk over the torn bread and let it sit for about five minutes, being sure to submerge any bread pieces. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and then pour over the bread. Carefully fold the eggs into the bread mixture until they’re well incorporated.

For the topping, mix the cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle over the top of the filled casserole.

To bake, use a water bath. Place the bread pudding dish in a pan large enough to hold it and place them together in the preheated oven. Very carefully, pour boiling water into the larger dish so it comes halfway up the sides of the bread pudding dish. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out (pretty) clean.

Vanilla Sauce

½ cup butter
½ cup granulated white sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon vanilla

Bring all the ingredients except the vanilla to a boil in a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Curried Sweet Potato Soup -- A Warmer Upper

Yet another (beautiful?) snow day here yesterday in Pennsylvania. Single digits. More than six inches of new snow.  It really is beautiful, but after a couple hours of taking care of the horses, cleaning off the cars, shoveling, and a bit of a walk, I was more than ready to curl up by the fire with some comfort food. For me that has to be soup.

Here’s the serendipitous sequence of events – more like a stream of consciousness – that inspired this sweet potato soup:
  • I opened a new carton of non-fat yogurt to strain -- great way to imitate Greek yogurt, cheaply.
  • The foil lid liner had a recipe for creamy sweet potato soup.
  • That reminded me that I had some sweet potatoes in the pantry that were probably past their prime, or as my daughter would say, “Pretty sketchy, Mom.”
  • Soup was on my brain.
  • And I have yet another reason to use the new immersion blender I got for Christmas.
Almost karma, wouldn’t you say?

The result was exactly what I needed to warm me up and keep me content. The original recipe used canola oil and cumin. I used olive oil, added garlic and switched from cumin to curry – and increased the spice from a teaspoon to a whole tablespoon. I decreased the amount of broth from 1 ½ quarts to just 1 because I like a thicker soup, even if it’s pureed. I also had some fresh chives on hand, so I used that instead of cilantro. And I slipped in a couple tablespoons of sherry at the end, too. All in all, just a nice smooth and creamy soup, mellow with a bit of sweet heat.  A perfect soother.  Pretty color, too and not bad on the calorie front to boot.

By the way, it’s supposed to snow again tomorrow.

Curried Sweet Potato Soup
adapted from Dannon

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large sweet onion, coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon curry powder
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed, about 3 cups
1 quart (32 ounces) chicken broth
1 ½ cup plain non-fat yogurt
2 tablespoons sherry (I used Madeira)
Extra yogurt and chopped chives for garnish

Heat the oil in a soup pot. Add the onion, curry powder and garlic and cook over medium heat until the onion softens, three to five minutes. Add the broth and potatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes until the potatoes are very tender. Remove from heat and add yogurt and use immersion blender till pureed. (Or put in a blender, in batches if you need to; then return pureed soup to pot.) Return to stove to warm and add sherry if you want. Top with a dollop of yogurt and chopped chives just for a touch of pretty. Makes 8 servings -- unless you're really cold.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Cheesecake and Chili

Cheesecake is a lot like chili. We all have our favorite ways of making these classics. Our way, the right way, the only way. The cheesecake has to be baked in a hot water bath, or it has to have a sour cream topping. Or the chili has to have beans, or three kinds of beans.

A lot of us like to play with our food though. My husband fondly (I think it’s fondly) accuses me of never making chili exactly the same way twice. He’s right. I use what I have. No green pepper? Use red. No kidney beans. Cannellini are great. Just variations on a theme. (I’ve yet to make a white chili, though. That’s next.)

Same with cheesecakes. Sometimes I’ve used cookie crumbs for a crust instead of graham crackers. Some mascarpone with the cream cheese. Or ricotta.  Add chocolate. Or peanut butter. Or maple syrup.

I made a pumpkin cheesecake over the holidays. Seemed appropriate, being the holidays and all. I wasn’t exactly sent over the moon with it, but it was okay. Good, not great. And even though my husband ate two pieces, he whispered to me, “Stick with your regular one.”

The “regular” one is a very good one and has been my tried and true for many a year. The only variation I regularly entertain to that version is adding a little kirsch to the blueberry topping I sometimes make.

But last weekend, at my brother-in-law’s fifty-something birthday bash, my sister made what has to be hands down, bar none, no exceptions -- catching my drift here? -- T-H-E world’s best cheesecake. The texture was creamy, but still firm. Sweet but not drippingly so. The crust, perfectly crunchy and buttery.

Like me, my sister has stuck with the same recipe for years. While I landed on mine (from a now-defunct restaurant called Peter’s Pub in New Hampshire) by chance, her pick had the blessing of thousands, tens of thousands, of Bon Appétit readers. In the first ever  Bon Appetit reader survey in 1998, readers said they liked the magazine’s desserts best and the dish most got excited about was cheesecake. So the editors developed a brand-new recipe for this classic. And it’s been my sister’s "go to" recipe ever since.

I went back to my stained recipe to compare and found mine had no flour, no sour cream topping, no lemon juice, one less egg, same amount of cream cheese, and my crust recipe called for melted butter and cinnamon and my filling also had 1/2 pound butter. Interesting how sometimes, especially with baking, a few changes make all the difference.

I haven’t made this version yet, but believe me, I will. Right after white chili.

What’s your favorite cheesecake?

Strawberry-topped Cheesecake

From Bon Appétit 1998 Reader Survey Issue

Begin preparing this a day before serving.  Makes 12 servings.

Crust
20 whole graham crackers (10 ounces total), broken
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) chilled unsalted butter, diced
1/2 cup packed golden brown sugar

Filling
4 8 ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
A pinch of salt
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 large eggs

Topping
2 cups sour cream
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

2 16 ounce baskets fresh strawberries, hulled
1 18 ounce jar raspberry jelly

For Crust: Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Wrap foil around outside of 10-inch diameter springform pan with 3-inch high sides. Combine graham crackers, butter and sugar in processor. Using off/on switch, blend until crumbs begin to stick together. Press crumbs onto bottom and 2 ¾ inches up sides of springform pan. Bake crust 10 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool while preparing filling. Maintain oven temperature.

For Filling: Beat cream cheese, sugar, lemon juice, vanilla and salt in large bowl until very smooth. Beat in flour. Add eggs and beat just until blended, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl. Pour batter into crust.

Bake cheesecake until outer 2-inch edge of cake is puffed and slightly cracked, center is just set and top in brown in spots, about 55 minutes. Transfer cake to rack. Cool ten minutes. Maintain oven temperature.

For Topping: Whisk sour cream, sugar and vanilla in medium bowl to blend. Spoon topping over cake, spreading to edge of pan. Bake until topping is just set, about 5 minutes. Remove from oven. Run knife between crust and pan.

Cool hot cake in pan on rack. Chill overnight.

Release pan sides from cheesecake. Arrange whole berries, point side up, atop cheesecake; cover completely. Stir jelly in small saucepan over medium-low heat until melted. Cool to barely lukewarm, about 5 minutes. Brush enough jelly over berries to glaze generously, allowing some to drip between berries. Reserve remaining glaze in saucepan. (Cake and glaze can be prepared 6 hours ahead. Cover cake and refrigerate.)

Rewarm remaining glaze until pourable. Cut cake into wedges. Pass remaining glaze separately.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Nearly Naked Fruit Salad

Sometimes the food is so good, it can proudly go naked, or at least scantily clad. So it was with the beautiful fruit salad my sisters brought to my house for a Christmas Day brunch. We had a ham and broccoli quiche and pumpkin muffins and this masterpiece of a fruit salad. The mélange of colors, textures and tastes, all tumbling around together. Gorgeous looking and even better tasting.

Guess the source of this masterpiece? Julia. I have Julia on the brain this week since I’m halfway through reading As Always, Julia , the Letters of Julia Child and Avis Devoto.  Editor Joan Reardon does a masterful job of sequencing the letters and letting us peak into not just the friendship between these two amazing women, but the politics of the time, their marriages, their social lives, the publishing world . . . . and the food! I highly recommend this read.

My sister Lynn said she has been using a very simple fruit dressing (or “flavoring” as Julia labels it) she got from “The Way to Cook” and has been using it for over twenty years. She came upon it in near desperation, though. As she puts it, she and her husband were planning a big back-yard “to-do” and she had hollowed out a watermelon to hold her fruit. The fruit, however, was mediocre and she needed to salvage the investment. Enter Julia. (This is why we have our libraries of cookbooks!)

This Christmas, Lynn picked a beautiful mix of fresh fruit -- grapefruit, kiwi, pineapple, oranges, red and white grapes, blackberries, blueberries, honeydew melon, pomegranates and – my personal favorite – red raspberries. She wisely kept the red raspberries separate from the rest of the fruit until right before serving, to protect them an over vigorous toss, and mashing. I didn’t know until I tasted it, though, that it did have a light and simple dressing.   Simple. Subtle.  Perfect.

Like sheer organza.

The Immense Fruit Bowl
From Julia Child’s “The Way to Cook”

The Flavoring
½ cup sugar
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Macerating the fruits – One hour before serving. Fold the fruits in a serving bowl with the sugar and juices. Refrigerate, folding gently several more times.

That’s it!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Pork and Sauerkraut: A New Year Love Story



Here is an essay I wrote about my husband's love of pork and sauerkraut.  Me? I'm kind of ambivalent about pork and sauerkraut, but I do love my husband! 
 Happy New Year, Everyone!

I like pork and sauerkraut. I don’t love it. I love the notion that eating pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day will bring you good luck for the whole year. I want all the good luck that’s out there to be had. If the pork’s moist, the sauerkraut not too sweet, not too tart and if it’s just once a year, I can like it just fine.

My husband, on the other hand, loves pork and sauerkraut. Any time of year. Any day of the week. Every day of the week. Loves, loves, loves it. He’ll pass on the potatoes, but has to have hot dogs.

I didn’t really know about this love affair he had with pigs and cabbage before we got married. It was slow to reveal itself.

There were a few clues here and there, but I was blind to them. I vividly recall one evening when he picked me up from work and announced, “Name your favorite restaurant and we’ll go.” He had to be kidding: Here we were in our business suits, all office bedraggled (at least I was) and not really ready for a night out. But he was serious. No special occasion; he just wanted to treat me to something he knew I’d enjoy. After a brush of the hair and a swipe of lipstick, I directed, “Take me to the Hyeholde!”

And off we drove about an hour outside the city to the Tudor mansion of stone, dark wood and stained glass that was home to my favorite restaurant. I beamed as soon as we walked through the arched entry.

We had no reservations, but it was a weeknight so there was no problem. We were escorted through a warren of cozy rooms and were seated at a table for two near a wood burning fireplace. The room was lit overhead by crystal chandeliers and dark-shaded lamps at each table. The music was classical, the conversations quiet but not hushed. You could smell romance.

Gary surveyed the wine list; I, the hefty menu. It didn’t take me long: the rack of lamb had to be mine. They called it “Persille,” which I know now means parslied, but it sounded, oh, so elegant to me then. Gary suggested I order an appetizer to share. The pate arrived with sturdy slices of warm, pumpernickel bread. The creamy spread melted in my mouth. I recall he remarked, “Liver, huh?”

When my lamb arrived, Gary took a sip of wine and watched me revel in my first bite. Heaven! Garlic-laced breading, a little Dijon mustard and wine; perfectly tender meat, juicy, just a little pink. The bite I offered was pronounced merely good.

As our relationship matured and we were merging possessions, Gary hoisted a heavy box and asked, “What’s in here? Bricks?"

"Books," I answered.

“Books! I’ve never seen anybody who had so many books! Look at this! There must be a dozen cookbooks!”

“Oh, there’s a lot more than a dozen,” I said. “Try ninety-two.”

“My mother has one cookbook.” Another clue.

Those cookbooks helped me create many a great dinner in that not-so-well-equipped apartment. He’d often brag, “She cooks better meals for us at home than you’d get in any restaurant!”

Once he asked me if I’d make pork and sauerkraut. I demurred, logically observing that it was the middle of summer, not New Year’s Day. He didn’t care; he liked it. So I made it. He loved it. Three helpings worth.

Often while grocery shopping, he’d look at the meat counter and comment, “Pork’s on sale.” Or “Got sauerkraut in the pantry?” I’d get the hint. But the cook in me couldn’t resist adding apple, onion, or caraway, or something. Unacceptable. “Why mess with a good thing?” he’d say.

When he’d ask what was for dinner, and I told him, oh, something like chicken piccata or cannelloni, my biggest fan and best critic would say, “Mmmm. Sounds good.” But now and again I’d hear, “Haven’t had pork and sauerkraut in a while.”

“Now just exactly how often would you like pork and sauerkraut,” I wanted to know.

“Once a week,” he answered.

“Really?”

“Yep.”

“How about once a month?”

“Okay.”

The deal was struck. I would make pork and sauerkraut once a month. And he’d enjoy, uncomplainingly, my experimenting with new dishes, new foods and flavors. Paella. Saltimbocca. Cioppinno. Moussaka. All well-received.

I make our ritual pork and sauerkraut the same way every time now, once a month. Simple seasonings rubbed on the outside of the pork, a little stove-top searing. Pieces of kielbasa and hot dogs nestle on top and slightly sweetened sauerkraut top the whole mess and the slow cooker does its work for 8, ten, twelve hours. The longer, the better: “You gotta cut it with a fork.”

During the day, he’d smell the simmering pork and sauerkraut and say aloud, “Mmmm. That’s going to be good!”

Later, as he sat down to dinner, a smile spread across his face. His eyes closed as he took his first bite, just like I did with my lamb at the restaurant way back when, and declared, “Oh, hon, this is so-o-o-o good.”

Now what’s not to love about that?