Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Cookies (again).

Even though all my cooking has been in Karen Hunter's kitchen lately, I wanted to share with you the latest incarnation of the Frog Commissary's Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies. Due to a lack of chocolate chips anywhere in walking distance of Temple's campus, I used Cadbury semi-sweet chocolate bars, chopped up. The "debris" created by chopping the chocolate laced the cookie with chocolate, a side effect I very much appreciated.

2009 is now upon us. I am already promising more recipes and stories about cheese (thanks to "A Passion for Cheese") and a trip through Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", stopping to pay homage to all five mother sauces.

I've wanted to share this poem for weeks now (based on my one of my favorite Psalms), but I think in the spirit of a new year, it is particularly appropriate:

O Taste and See
Denise Levertov

The world is
not with us enough.
O taste and see

the subway Bible poster said,
meaning The Lord, meaning
if anything all that lives
to the imagination's tongue

grief, mercy, language,
tangerine, weather, to
breathe them, bite,
savor, chew, swallow, transform

into our flesh, our
deaths, crossing the street, plum, quince,
living in the orchard and being

hungry, and plucking
the fruit.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas Lasagna.

When people ask me how I learned to cook, I never answer my mother. But in the process of making dinner for a few friends, I found that I wasn't quite sure how to order the layers in a lasagna. So I called her to ask a cooking question, probably for the first time ever.

You see, my mother makes a killer lasagna--without a recipe. She doesn't make it often, but when she does, it seems that I eat it for three meals at least without complaint. A few years ago my family decided that it would be fun to just have lasagna for Christmas. We had three different types: my mother's (obviously; a meat lasagna), a vegetable lasagna, and a seafood lasagna. It was arguably one of my favorite Christmases ever. My father was less than pleased ("Where was the ham?") and it never happened again.

I still can't help but think, as the holidays approach, of the now infamous "Lasagna Christmas". I had been craving both lasagna and comfort food in my last two weeks at school, so I decided for our Tuesday get-together to try a lasagna (spinach prosciutto lasagna, to be exact). My experience was less than satisfactory. No one complained except me, of course. I thought there was an imbalance of flavor--too much spinach, not enough ricotta, not enough sauce, not enough prosciutto (is there ever?). It probably didn't help that I half-assedly doubled the recipe. That's why the photo shows a double-stacked plate of leftover lasagna, with plenty of extra mozzarella and vodka sauce. I was eating leftover lasagna for days, mostly without complaint.

I came home, to sweet Coopersburg, early this evening. I was told Christmas dinner is at our house this year, and the menu is yet to be decided. I'm voting for lasagna, but only if my mother makes it.

Monday, December 15, 2008


My Uncle Dave is an architect. I think he missed his life's calling as a short-order cook. Every summer, for the week my family is at the shore, he cooks breakfast. When we were younger, he'd shape pancakes into daschunds and Mickey Mouse ears (actually, he stills does that). He's also brave in his flavor choices. Chocolate chips, obviously, are a favorite. This year he treated us to apple-cheddar and pecan pancakes. He also makes a killer omelet.

Last fall I decided that pancakes would be a good idea. I grabbed this recipe from who-knows-where, wrote it down in my sketchbook, and it worked like magic. The pancakes contained no water or oil, but rather vanilla, butter and whole milk. If you're already familiar with "mix just until combined", you can make a fantastic pancake. Pancake batter, like muffin batter, is supposed to be a little lumpy.

I make a fantastic homemade pancake mix, but I cannot, for the life of me, shape and flip a pancake. These, again, are one of my creations that tastes better than it looks. Uncle Dave certainly has me beat. I can't offer you any tips besides use a thin, metal spatula and try not to flip the pancake onto the floor, or worse, your shoe (it happens).

(Magic) Pancakes.
Makes a stack.
1.5 c flour
3 Tb sugar
1 Tb baking powder
1/4 t salt
2 eggs
1 1/4 c milk
1/2 t vanilla (eyeball it. I like a lot of vanilla, you should know this by now)
3 Tb butter
Half a bag of chocolate chips (optional)

1. Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in one bowl.
2. In another bowl, melt the butter (let it cool a little bit as to not curdle the eggs!) and add the eggs, vanilla, and milk. Whisk it good.
3. Make a well in the flour mixture. Pour the wet ingredients in and mix just until combined with a wooden spoon.
4. Here's where things get messy. Drop about 1/4 c of batter at a time onto a greased skillet on medium heat (already hot). Add the toppings (like chocolate chips) as the first side cooks. When it feels loose, flip it (it should only take a minute and a half to two minutes). Flip it. It should only take thirty seconds to a minute to cook the second side.

I just want to remind everyone that pancakes are especially good at night. In fact, that's when most people I know request them.

I am, admittedly, a few posts behind. It is finals week. But that also means there is more comfort food coming out of my kitchen than I know what to do with.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Looks can be deceiving.

I have finally decided to post the lentil soup recipe. A good photograph is impossible to take--this Lentil Soup is ugly. Looks can be deceiving. It arguably one of the best soups I've ever eaten and a favorite recipe.

As with most recipes I make time and time again, I tend to remember that first encounter. It is customary to skip the Monday after "musical season" ends, and the Monday after "Fiddler on the Roof" was no exception. I was not in "Fiddler", I was lucky enough to enjoy it (and I truly mean this, one of the best shows I've ever seen). As a thank you and an excuse to get together, I invited a good portion of the cast over for lunch on their Monday off. I made this soup and a Karen Hunter Catering signature salad with pears, walnuts, and Gorgonzola cheese. The meal was hearty and wintry. Like Anatevka.

I made the soup again for a welcome back dinner this fall. I know, I know--it was blazing hot (I was in the kitchen--you don't think I know?). Nothing seems to get the sweat out like a bowl of soup though, besides maybe a curry.

Here, at last, is its latest incarnation. I made a few changes to the recipe, particularly to the broth. Feel free to substitute chicken broth, add different vegetables, and invite a few friends over. It feeds an incredible amount of people.

Lentil Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 medium onion, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 pound lentils (approximately 1 1/4 cups)
4-5 Vegetable Stock Cubes (I like Rapunzel Brand's Sea Salt and Herb)
8 cups water
4 to 6 fresh thyme sprigs (optional)
1/2 box pasta
1 cup shredded Parmesan

Heat the oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, and celery. Add the garlic, salt, and pepper and saute until all the vegetables are tender, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juices. Simmer until the juices evaporate a little and the tomatoes break down, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Add the lentils and mix to coat. Add the water, vegetable stock cubes and stir, being sure to break up the cubes.. Add the thyme sprigs if using. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover and simmer over low heat until the lentils are almost tender, about 30 minutes.
Stir in the pasta. Simmer until the pasta is tender but still firm to the bite, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Ladle the soup into bowls. Sprinkle with the Parmesan, drizzle with olive oil, and serve with a crusty bread.

The result is more of a stew than a soup, I realize. When reheating, be sure to add a little water. Also, when you stir in the pasta, you may notice there isn't enough water. In this case, add just enough to cover. Try to keep the recommended ratio of cubes to cups of water--you don't want the soup to be too watery.

And don't skimp on that Parmesan, especially if you have the good stuff. It adds a depth of flavor that is in perfect harmony with the heartiness (but not heaviness) of this soup. That Giada may be on to something.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Parmesan and Pretzels.

On Sunday night, I was in need of comfort food (see entry below). I made a pot of Giada's Lentil Soup and have been eating it for every meal ever since. There's still a bowl in there, waiting to be photographed for you, dear reader, but I just couldn't fathom eating it again. I'm a foodie. I get bored. So that recipe will have to wait.

This evening, I was inspired by Marc's pasta creation (and by pasta creation I mean frozen and vegetables and penne). Don't tell Marc/Sandra Lee I said this, but I gather my dish was a little more interesting. I sauteed some garlic in some olive oil while the pasta boiled and whisked it with the zest and juice from half a lemon and plenty of salt and pepper. I blanched some green beans and dinner for one was on the table. I also added some Parmesan cheese, because (dare I ask), how can you not?

Speaking of Parmesan, I can't even tell you what a difference there is between "shaker" Parmesan and real Parmesan. The flavor in the latter is so much stronger, nuttier, creamier, and more apt to melting than its cousin (if we even go so far to say cousin...distant, distant relative is more like it) in the plastic canister.

Later, God knows why, I was inspired to try soft pretzels.

I just tasted one, and while they're okay, I'm not entirely impressed. I did have an awful good time kneading the dough, so I'm likely to give it another try. For someone with a background in ceramics, I am awful at shaping the dough. Two of eight pretzels look decent (and are the ones that show up in the photos) but have already been promised to two lovely girls in my Spanish class.

I sent the following to my mother today and even posted it on my facebook. This is exactly what the progressive church has been saying for years, summed up in less than a minute by Jack Black:

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die
If the video isn't showing up, check it out here.

"Obamanation" and Kathy Najimy's "I love you, Jesus" sent me over the edge. And after all my years in catering, I know for a fact that is exactly how rich white people feel about shrimp cocktails, too.