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Friday, November 30, 2012

What Would you Tell a 20 Year Old?


Fried food in any language is simply yummier.  What is it about the crispy goodness of almost any food after it has been transformed by frying?

Trickier still, is trying to master cooking techniques and recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation within a culture.  I can admit, I am more than a little intimidated by the idea of preparing Puerto Rican dishes.  I currently have no mentor, no reference and my favorite dishes are limited to what I have sampled from my younger sons favorite take-out place. It must be difficult to master the true flavors of any region in which a person did not grow up or spend a substantial amount of time living.  The food I cook is all adapted to my palate and experience - nothing is authentic.  Maybe I cook authentic New York?

We are quite passionate about the pork chops and rice and he decides to celebrate his actual birthday with one of his favorite meals.  A simple night at home is followed by a Harry Potter movie and I hope all of his birthday wishes have or will come true.



But, what does this birthday mean to me?  Well, I am no longer the mom of a teenager.  He has turned 20 and is/has been well on his way through his own life path to adulthood.  At 20, I was married and pregnant - in fact I gave birth to my older son just 10 days before I turned 21.

What would I tell my 20 year old self now?  

Well, it would be a lengthy conversation about what really does and doesn't matter I'd say, but I know my 20 year old self would have simply assumed she knew better than some "old lady" and probably would have forged on ahead the same way all over again.  

And really, that isn't all a bad experience - my road has had a few bumps, but mostly I have enjoyed the journey so far.

Also, this side (or top) of the hill in life still has a high appreciation for fried food, the love of family and making sure to have some pajama days.

It is our own experiences, tastes and sense of self that also keep us feeling Fed Well.















Tuesday, November 27, 2012

When Breakfast Needs Dessert


Nothing screams holiday meal more loudly than a sweet and decadent dessert.  Why should dinner have all the fun?  When scouting around the kitchen for just the right post-breakfast treat, why not open the white bakery box and dig right into a slice of wonderful?

Who makes the culinary rules anyway?  Who says you can't have pie after eggs?  Grab a slice of freedom and make sure it is topped with home made whipped cream (sweetened with a drop of vanilla and sugar) and dance around the room.




* This post does not apply to those suffering from diabetes or other health risks, are underage/minors who must currently listen to their parents regarding dietary habits or elderly parents under their adult children's supervision.  Always check with your doctor before staring this or any other new health regimen :)

I hope you heard the disclaimer above in the speed reading voice featured in most new medicine television commercials.

The point is, if you want to indulge every now and then, it certainly adds to the gleeful joyousness of feeling Fed Well.

Thankful Breakfast

On the third Thursday of November, the country celebrates Thanksgiving.  At my house, it has long been a tradition to also go deer hunting.  Not for me, but my Dad hunted, my father-n-law was a hunter, my husband hunts alone or with his brother and nephews, and my sons have gone to humor their father in the past.  Part of their tradition used to seem disruptive while preparing to host a major holiday, but now, I have incorporated it into the holiday.

In planning the menu for the day and taking a step back even further, when grocery shopping, I consider what Thanksgiving Breakfast will include.  Past menus have been pancakes or french toast with sausage, various egg dishes with or without meat, toast and potatoes.  This year I decided to saute green peppers and onions with red potatoes, brown sausage links and since it would be my youngest niece (no nephews or sons) at the table with my brother-in-law and my hubby, custom order eggs would be fine.

While the men talk about deer, my niece and I chat a bit about school, school sports she is participating in and of course, Christmas.  

Keeping with holiday serving sizes, I overestimated on both the sausage and potatoes, but it worked out fine.  A treat for the long weekend included left-over breakfast on Friday morning with all ingredients, including eggs, are tossed together in my favorite non-stick skillet.

 

A second Thankful Breakfast is served on left-over holiday themed paper plates with 2 small slices of Italian bread from the day before that has been re-purposed by toasting and buttering. 


 


All food traditions and shared meals have their own memories.  Looking forward to next year's Thankful Breakfast, wonder who will be seated at the table and which stories of being Fed Well will be shared.



















Sunday, November 25, 2012

Black Friday Tradition


For many, Black Friday is about shopping for Christmas, mad and crazy crowds, lines and alleged deals.  For me, Black Friday is about seeing three friends I have known since elementary school for dinner.  A group of women has been getting together for Black Friday dinner for probably almost 20 years or so, but I have only joined in for the last maybe 7.  The ladies are a mix of some who have known each other for most of their lives to virtual strangers as each year a new guest is introduced or a sister joins in the merriment.

I very much look forward to having a meal with my friends and catching up.  Through the highs and lows we are there to listen, offer support or advice, buy a drink and lend a shoulder if necessary.  I was the needy one this past year as my life blindly crashed into a speed bump with the force of a runaway train.  I am currently in clean up and recovery mode.  While we all agree that any individual has to do what they think will make them happy in their own life, it is truly a comfort to share with friends (and at other time family) that unconditionally stand by you and your choices.  It is an amazing feeling to also know that if I change my mind and my course tomorrow, they may scratch their heads a bit, but, they would stand by me and offer encouragement.

And so we had a few drinks and I ordered the Eggplant Tower appetizer with a side of french fries from The Mountain View Bar & Restaurant which is sort of a second home for many of us.  Also on their table were a few steaks, a second Eggplant Tower and the Lobster Ravioli (which I have reviewed in the past - Mandatory Cosmopolitan post).  One friend is concerned when the plates are cleared that she did not see my take a picture of my food.  It is a comfort to be known and cared for with depth and understanding.



The restaurant began to empty and the bar began to fill.  An additional component to Black Friday is the informal gathering of high school friends.  This year, I just can't do it and give my friends big hugs.  I slip off into the darkness and home before I change my mind.  This is where I need to be right now and the time spent with my friends has certainly left me feeling Fed Well.













Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgiving Main Course and a Birthday in the House for Dessert

The main challenge for cooking a successful holiday dinner is ensuring all of the components are hot and ready at the same time without being dried out, over done or cooled off and under done.  This year, I made a beautifully flavored and silky gravy which was bubbling hot and my sister kindly ladled into a silver tureen.  

"Wow," she said, "This gravy is really hot."

Though the tureen had a rim to keep fingertips away from the heat generated through the metal and onto body parts, I grabbed it from the top and cried, "Holy Smokes!"

Immediately my sons began to make fun of and imitate me.

"Oh, is this hot?  Let me stick my thumb in it and check," they laughed.

"I didn't stick my thumb in it," I smiled but the fact of the matter remained, the gravy was smoking hot!

I prefer my vegetables and side dishes without heaviness or creaminess.  Green beans are simply sauteed, sometimes with a dose of olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper.


White corn with butter


Stuffing with bread, sausage, finely diced celery and onion (some don't care for it so I try to hide it by making it is tiny as possible), salt, pepper, and egg.

The mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes must have been camera shy.


One 21 pound roast turkey plus an additional turkey breast to ensure enough left over meat for all guest.


Homemade cranberry sauce - simply follow the directions for boiling sugar and water on the back of the package of fresh cranberries and you are a genius.  The first year I made it, I think my family missed the sliced cylinder rings of jellied cranberry, but now they are accustomed to the homemade version.


Carrots and parsnips are roasted simply with olive oil and salt & pepper until soft.

The family is quiet for the first few minutes as food is passed and plated.  Everyone finds their favorites and I make a plate with a spoonful of everything which creates a mini-platter of food but I manage to plow my way through it.

For dessert, this year we all went with store/bakery bought - apple, cherry and pecan pies.  Always a birthday celebration at dessert since my younger son was born on Thanksgiving and though the date of the holiday changes, we always honor his entrance into life.


 He gave me a bit of a hard time for putting the candles in the pecan pie when he has a reaction to some nuts but when I explained I could not place the candles in the flaky crusts of the other pies, I was forgiven.

Wonder what his wish was...hope it was for all of us to remain feeling Fed Well.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving Appetizers, Opening Bites & Caramel Apple Martini

I have surveyed my family of four to see what their favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal is and hands down it is the appetizers.  Through the years I have and will continue to morph the menu with a mix of items I know are crowd pleasers and then throw one or two new items in to see how they rate.  My favorite part of this year's "cocktail hour" was the actual featured cocktail - the Caramel Apple Martini (though I kept calling it a Candy Apple Martini - you get the idea).

One shot caramel flavored (or infused) vodka with apple cider - shaken with ice in a shaker and poured into a chilled martini glass!  Oh my!

 
 I visit the Famous Italian Delilicious Pork Store for many of our tasty bites.  Including:



 Marinated Mushrooms



 Mixed Olives

  

 The Sweet Capicolo on the left and the delicate Prosciutto on the right



 A hearty loaf of bread



and the fresh mozzarella for me to make these skewers - half with tomato and Genoa salami, the other half with just tomato, plus


 Zucchini Flower "Pancakes"


 and our all time classic favorite must-have every year - fried pumpkin!

Ok, yes, I do cook one or two components for the starter course. 


 Biscuits with cheddar and chives 



and "Red Tortellini Soup".  This year the soup was modified but the normal recipe is:

cheese tortellini - cooked
crumbled and cooked sausage
one can white beans of your choice
One large can of chicken broth or 1/2 gal. of homemade 
Approximately equal parts tomato sauce

The biscuits and soup are a classic combo and complimentary pairing of tomato and cheese.

I survey the table and see everyone has their particular favorite and know the groups preference is clearly the pumpkin since that is the first platter to empty.

The small talk starts slowly then builds.  I have included an activity this year with a Thankful Tree.  On the "tree" (a large stick found in the yard compliments of Superstorm Sandy), I have attached construction paper leaves with all of our names.  All family members are asked to write a reason why they are thankful for that person on the back.  This idea was morphed from a friend who has everyone write what they are thankful for on a leaf.  I skipped a step since most people say they are thankful for their family.  

 
After all, it is family that truly keeps us Fed Well.



Sunday, November 18, 2012

Shameful Wasted Leftovers

Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your point of view), no photos will be available for this post.  In preparation for Thanksgiving the oven has been cleaned, the house spruced up and the refrigerator had to be cleared out.  An entire sink full of dishes were created in tossing unwanted leftovers.  The garbage pail had to be emptied because a variety of expired condiments were pitched.  I am saddened by the amount of waste both literal and financial my family of four can create in uneaten or never used food.

Last night while watching Food Network the Iron Chef competition involved celebrity chefs recreating dishes from Thanksgiving leftovers.  The biggest challenge in this, and I'm sure in many, houses across America is ensuring leftovers are eaten or that correct portions of food are cooked in the first place.  I try to plan meals around leftovers but it is the items that simply cannot be recreated into a brand new dish or if only 1/2 cup serving of something is left behind that it is wasted. At times is it simply unrealistic to thank every scrap can be consumed?  What if it cannot be thrown into a stir fry, soup or omelete?  

I am allowing myself to get off track here, but I do recall my mother-in-law feeding most uneaten food to the family dog.  Not going to happen here.

Any tips on cutting down food waste in our own kitchens?  If I could find a way to reduce the waste I am creating, I'm sure I'd sleep a little better at night and still feel Fed Well.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

American Heritage Lunch

When language is cleaned up or edited to be more politically correct I can't help but think of George Carlin.  The cafeteria at my place of employment offered a "Special Holiday" meal and dubbed it the "American Heritage" lunch.  Really?  It's not Thanksgiving?  Well, why not call it the "Historically Incorrect Celebration of the Pilgrims and Native Americans," or the "No One Ate Any of This but We Like It," or to pretty things up a bit and add some flair, "Autumn Offerings?"  

Honestly, can't you hear George Carlin ranting about the ridiculousness of this lunch title? Granted, I work with people from a wide variety of cultures, but guess what, we all live here.  The jig is up.  America celebrates Thanksgiving and has attached a certain menu to the tradition.  Does anyone believe the people who ate this meal hundreds of years ago enjoyed a nice pumpkin pie with whipped cream?  No.  Did the foremothers spend the night talking about Black Friday bargains or Christmas shopping in any way shape or form?  No.  Was anyone watching a game of any kind?  No.  But, still, American Heritage?  

Maybe if the meal included roast duck, or venison, or some other game meat with a hunk of bread and a single vegetable then it should actually be called a replica American Heritage meal.  However, if serving the traditional turkey, stuffing, sweet potato (or yam - I'm still learning about the geographical defining differences), cranberry sauce, beans and gravy - well then, it is Thanksgiving.





By the way, on or near May 5, our cafeteria celebrates, "Cinco de Mayo" and a few times a year offers random "Sushi Day," and a special "Super Bowl" menu, but mostly we love our grilled foods, specialty sandwiches, and some of the soups.  Doesn't matter what they are called.  Thinking of the humor of George Carlin also leaves me feeling Fed Well.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Cherry Danish with Sausage

Sometimes a person just wants an unusual combination of foods.  The balance found with a sweet and salty dish can be extremely satisfying and with just a look, a woman can certainly order or purchase whatever foods will fill the craving.

Craving.  Did I use that word?  No, I'm not pregnant, but I do believe everyone should give into their food cravings within healthy reason.  If pickles and ice cream are really something you want, then yes, enjoy.  I have also been known to indulge in french fries with a salad - the perfect balance of good vs. culinary evil.

So what did I have one morning at work for breakfast from the employee cafeteria?

Yes, a cherry danish and a sausage patty.


The most satisfying part was dipping some of the sausage pieces into the cherry ooze.  Would I order it again?  You bet.  The only thing I would change would be to warm up the danish for a few seconds in the microwave.

What is the most unusual food combination you have eaten?  Please share so all the odd combo lovers can feel the camaraderie and still maintain being Fed Well.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Deconstructed Faux Shepherd's Pie

Ground beef, chop meat, whatever you may call it, the ingredient seems to reappear in the same old recipes in this house.  Meatballs are the number one choice, tacos, meatloaf, and chili are the standards.  When I buy groceries I don't always have a plan for all the items I purchase and this week's mystery was how to use this meat in a way I was not tired of and would be appealing to at least 3 out of 4 family members.

A variation on a Shepherd's Pie seemed to be the answer, but honestly, I did not feel like doing much work.  

I began with a large saute pan of onions, celery and carrots in a splash of olive oil with salt and pepper.  

Once the veggies were a little soft, I added the ground meat directly to the pan to allow the vegetables some more cook and soften time.  

The mashed potatoes were prepared and served separately as was the brown gravy (which is a cheat - I use Bisto granules  

Creative, quick and fairly painless we enjoyed the less than glamorous but packed with familiar flavor meal.  It's a dish we don't have very often and though the vegetables were a bit more crisp than some may prefer, we enjoyed the modernized version.



Some flavor combinations, like meat and potatoes, are classic and while they may be revised through the generations, the profile stays the same.  The results leave the diners with a sense of comfort and a feeling of being quite Fed Well.

Tilapia with Garlic Cream Sauce and Pasta on a Tuesday

Making dinner for a family of four, or three or any number other than one really, can be a challenge.  Someone inevitably doesn't like an ingredient whether in the background or the main part of the meal and lucky me, my family is not shy about sharing their thoughts with me.  Here is a short sample of the "please try not to make frequently (or not at all) list,"

baked potatoes - I love them!!!

pasta - I could eat it four nights a week, but I am allowed baked ziti

grilled chicken - one son really prefers only fried chicken cutlets

any kind of soup with beef in it

tilapia - same son who does not enjoy grilled chicken  

"unusual" vegetables - my husband only admits to liking corn, broccoli, string beans and raw veggies in salad so all squash family is out, eggplant is a no-no and anything his mom didn't make when he was growing up.

And so I took a huge risk in preparing the following dish which includes both pasta and tilapia on a night when my younger son was home for dinner.  

I assembled the following ingredients:

The Fish
bread crumbs
butter
half and half
oregano
garlic
salt and pepper
chicken stock
cornstarch
one lemon

The tilapia was placed on a baking sheet then one side sprinkled with bread crumbs to coat, salt, pepper, oregano and then sprinkled with lemon juice before broiled.

The thin spaghetti was prepared according to package directions then drained.  In the hot pot, melt one half stick of butter with about 3/4 cup of half and half.  Whisk about a tablespoon of cornstarch with approximately one cup of chicken stock then add mixture to butter/half and half mixture.  Add garlic and oregano to taste as well as more salt and pepper.  Dump pasta back in pot with sauce to coat then remove spaghetti with tongs and use remaining sauce to drizzle over fish.

Even the skeptic was happy.


I COULD NOT STOP EATING THIS DISH!


Every so often I rebel against the cries of family members and simply cook what I want.  They will adapt.  Also, in all fairness I should confess I cannot, will not, not with a fox not in a box, eat cabbage.  I can't think right now of any other foods that don't leave me feeling Fed Well (though I know I love some far more than others)!











Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sunday Snack in the Sun

On an unseasonably warm Sunday afternoon, I have decided to abandon regular chores and simply enjoy the sun with a book.  Since I was old enough to read I have been a fan.  Not only would I escape reality by devouring entire series or favorite authors as I was growing up, I also read everything with words from the back of a cereal box to my mother's gossip magazines.   Today, I try to finish "White Teeth," which was a loaner from a co-worker/friend. 




The sun is warm and comforting, but at high noon, I am ready for a bite to eat.  Some crackers, a wedge of Laughing Cow cheese and halved grape tomatoes with salt and pepper are the answer.  Simple, satisfying and full of flavor - the tomatoes are crisp and juicy to the bite.  Healthy snacking may take a second or two longer to put together than simply ripping open a bag of chips but leaves me feeling Fed Well while I linger a bit longer in the sun to read and escape reality.




























Saturday, November 10, 2012

The White Wolf Restaurant for a Special 40th Birthday Dinner


For my sister's special 40th birthday dinner, we went to a special restaurant to her - the one in which she recently had her wedding reception.  The owner greeted her by name and offered his birthday congratulations.  Very nice personal touch.

My husband has a "thing" for French Onion soup.  He has likely tried hundreds of varieties over the years and so it was no surprise he sampled the White Wolf version. When I looked over he had eaten it all so it must have been quite tasty :)




I started with a potato pancake appetizer and shared a few with my Mommy.  Though my mother enjoyed them, she said, "They are good.  Not as good as my mother's, but good." 

Potato pancakes are kind of like tomato sauce.  I have never had the same type twice.  These were kind of like deep fried mashed potato patties.  My favorite version are the shredded potatoes with shredded onion that is mixed with very little flour then fried in a cast iron skillet.  These were delicious in their own way.


I often select an appetizer as a main course, especially if I know I will be having dessert.  Tonight I ordered the pumpkin ravioli with brown butter and sage.  The seasonings and spices screamed autumn.  Even the photograph captures some of the flavors.  The pasta itself was tender and the filling was savory pumpkin that was dense enough to be considered "meaty." 



A popular entree at the table was the Chicken Cordon Bleu.  My mother ordered hers with a baked potato...




while the Mr. ordered his with rice.


My sister enjoyed the Eggplant Caprese and her husband had the pasta special of the evening.  My younger son had the pulled pork sandwich.  All were given thumbs up or forks up reviews.

We talked about the devastation left behind from Hurricane Sandy, whether company's should offer Martin Luther King Day or President's Day as paid days off for all employees, education, alternative uses of foods and beverages by female inmates (for example, hair dye made from Tang) and the food in England.

Our server, Sara, took the cake my mother brought into the kitchen and lit the 4 and 0 candles.  A variety of employees, including the chef, came out singing, "Happy Birthday."  I love how when they plated the cake a dollop of whipped cream was added.


Here's hoping my sister had a joyous and happy day turning 40 and wishing her a lifetime of feeling loved and Fed Well.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Recovering from Hurricane Sandy with Laughter and a Diner Dinner

We were lucky - correction, we are lucky.  The storm came and went, we lost a few pieces of siding that were easily replaced and power for a few days.  We are not in the middle of the devastation but we are in the struggle to find gasoline.  We have lost beloved areas of our past family vacation spots at the New Jersey shore and are beyond words watching those who have lost loved ones, their homes, cars and battle to recover life as they knew it before October 29 and the uninvited Sandy.

In an effort to conserve gas, my older son (24) and I took one car to run some errands and met my younger son (19) out at a local diner for dinner.  I had already been laughing at myself thanks to my older son's spot on impersonations of some of my silly antics.  For example, we went to make some changes to our cell phone service plan and an electronic sign in is now required.  When faced with the flat touchscreen keyboard for some reason I switched from using my index fingers to my ring fingers.  ????  It was a sight.

Next, grocery shopping.  This experience is comical in itself because my older son will pretend he is going to throw two gallon jugs at the cart from the opposite end of the aisle or simply try to prevent me from pushing the cart by holding the other end with two fingers.  Back in the car, for some reason we started quoting funny lines from "Talladega Nights" "Kiss me on the lips" and then of course, "Step-Brothers" "So much room for activities".

We arrive at the Americana Diner and are immediately seated in a booth.  Let the laughter begin.  My sons end up quoting entire scenes from movies including "Pulp Fiction" Big Kahuna Burger scene (R rating for language) - though my sons did not use the F-bomb in their re-enactment.

How did we get to Pulp Fiction?  My younger son ordered the Hawaiian Burger - triggering the Kahuna Burger memory.  The menu version is grilled pineapple, Swiss and ham.  The modified and personalized version my son ordered includes a swap - instead of the ham - bacon!



I was able to snag a few of those crispy fries!

My older son ordered a classic cheeseburger (medium-rare) with waffle fries.  
 

 I confess, I also sampled a waffle fry!


I ordered a slice of quiche which came with a salad. Not exactly classic diner fare and no jokes could be made but I enjoyed my order.



By the time we left I had laughed so hard my sides hurt.  My sons had imitated me - in good nature and honestly, quite accurately.  It was nice to be out and away from reality for a little while but the feeling of being Fed Well came when we returned home to a warm house powered by electricity.  Made me forget for a little while that I only had 1/4 tank of gas and what the rest of New York and New Jersey was going through.  Laughter (and a good meal) are the best medicine.