Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Wonder Bars

About 5 years ago, before we had even met her, my oldest son's then-girlfriend, now wife, bought a cookbook published by her college, and told him to give it to me.  I thought that was really nice, and I've used it a couple of times.  Well, in August, after Ryan took up complaining about how boring it was to have cake all the time (and I had to discard the last quarter of a cake, because it went stale when no one ate it!), I returned to Ashleigh's cookbook for a few desserts.  This was one that everyone particularly enjoyed.

WONDER BARS:

CRUST:
1 stick butter or margarine, melted
1 box yellow or vanilla cake mix
1 egg at room temperature (drop it in a cup of very warm water for 5 minutes)
FILLING:
2 eggs at room templerature
1 tsp vanilla extract
8 ounces cream cheese (regular or low fat)
3 cups confectioners sugar
3/4 cup flaked coconut
3/4 cup chopped nuts(I used walnuts)

Generously grease or spray a 15"x10" jelly roll pan.  Stir together the yellow cake mix, butter and 1 egg, and press into the pan (the mixture will be fairly dry).  Beat the eggs, vanilla and cream cheese for a minute, then add the confectioner's sugar, and beat until very smooth.  Stir in the coconut and nuts, and pour over the crust.  Bake at 350F for 45 to 50 minutes until lightly browned.

These are very rich.  They are very delicious.  Even my nut-hater and coconut-haters enjoyed them immensely.  I suspect that Ryan would like me to put some in a care package to college one of these days!  (Yes, I send him baked goods, because I can.  And because on Tuesday he commented that he always thought I was a good cook, but he especially appreciates my food now.)

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Book Review: The Big Fat Surprise

If you've stopped by at all in the past year, you know that my dearly beloved is now on a heart-friendly diet.  That is a lot harder than it sounds, salads notwithstanding.  Example: There just plain is no good substitute for real, good old fashioned butter.  There might be a tub margarine that has a close enough flavor, but nothing works quite the same for sauteeing, or for baking.

So, one fine Saturday I was reading my Weekend Wall Street Journal, and on the front of the Review section there was an enormous article about the debate between animal fats and other fats, etc.  A week or 2 later, there was a similar article in Time Magazine, stating that fat is not such a villain.  Given both of these articles, I ordered this book, and have spent a couple of months reading it.

THE BIG FAT SURPRISE
By Nina Teicholz

Ancel Keys is the father of the American Heart Association's accepted diet.  This book traces the beginnings of that diet, from his research (which was flawed) through the acceptance of the premise that people should not consume cholesterol from animals.  This was a reversal of his earlier research, which had concluded that consumption of 3000 mg of cholesterol per day didn't significantly raise serum cholesterol, although his reasons for that were not made clear.  The author traces this recommendation from its beginnings through the changes that have come about in commercial food preparation as a result.

I can't begin to do justice to a summary of this book.  I spent 2 months reading it, because there were many studies cited, and I tried to at least look up every one of them, despite the fact that I'm not qualified to properly analyze them.  One thing that I did take away from this book is that the "Obesity Sextette" as it was called in the early 1900s - heart disease, arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, gallstones and diabetes - rose dramatically starting around 1900, when people started using more plant based fats, sugars and carbohydrates.  Actually, I'm now cooking in a state of confusion.

I wasn't certain how qualified Nina Teicholz was to write this book, which evidently began as a research assignment by Gourmet Magazine, for which she was a writer, into trans fats (which raise triglyceride levels in the blood, a big indicator of heart problems), starting in 2004.  But she studied biology at Yale and Stanford, and earned a graduate degree from Oxford, thus I'd conclude that she is probably pretty qualified to analyze this subject.

If food, fats and/or heart disease are of interest to you, I'd highly recommend this book.  It's not difficult or highly technical reading, despite the fact that I made it more complex than it needed to be.We'll see, through my dearly beloved's required many-times-per-year blood testing, how some of my moderate changes in his AHA recommended diet affect him.

This delayed Thorsday book review is brought to you by Natasha, who comes to visit every 2 to 4 weeks, and loves lounging on the lawn!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

September 11, 2001

The morning looked just like this, but the news reports said it was anything but a beautiful September day.

We should never forget.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Chicken French

For the past 2 summers, Ryan worked in the bag room, cleaning golf clubs and bags, at a country club just down the street.  I was thrilled; it's the only job available within a mile of my house, so his commute was really easy - a big plus when work and school had to be balanced.  Anyway, one of the things he loves about this job (besides good pay, meeting the pretty girls who work at the snack shack near the pool, and meeting important people from the area) is that there's an "Employee Meal" at 5PM or so each day.  Evidently, the kitchen brought out whatever the chef felt like serving - be it an experiment, a mistake ("fish parmesan" anyone?) or just too much of the lunch special.

So, one night, Ryan came home and announced the the Employee Meal had been Chicken French, and I should make that.  Soon.  I told him that I never heard of such a thing; it sounded made up, and Ryan took great upset at my statement.  So I did some research, and discovered that it is evidently an upstate New York thing; I then set about making my son happy.

CHICKEN FRENCH
(Inspired by Ryan)

Chicken, cut into strips (I used 3 pounds of boneless, skinless thighs)
Olive oil
1/4 cup of flour
1/4 tsp salt
10 turns of black pepper
2 eggs, beaten with 2 extra egg whites and 1 tsp water
1 tbsp white sugar
4 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup butter
4 tbsp (4 cloves) minced garlic
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tsp low-sodium chicken base
1 cup water
1/4 cup cold water whisked with 2 tbsp cornstarch
Lemon slices

In one shallow bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and pepper.  In another shallow bowl, beat together the 2 eggs, 2 egg whites and 1 tsp water until smooth.  Add the sugar and Parmesan cheese.  Heat the olive oil in a large skilled.  Dredge the chicken strips in flour, then coat thoroughly with the egg mixture, and saute in the skillet for about 4 minutes per side.  (It took me 2 batches to do this; I removed the cooked strips to a plate, covered with my pan lid, and repeated the above.)  Remove the chicken to a plate and cover it to keep warm, then melt the butter in the same skillet.  Add the sherry, lemon juice, chicken base, and stir together.  Whisk the cornstarch into the cold water, add to the skillet, and bring to a simmer, cooking for a minute after it simmers, until the sauce thickens.  Return the chicken to the pan and cook for another few minutes, covered, until it's cooked through.

  Top with lemon slices, let them heat in the pan for a minute, and serve with rice.

I made this twice in August, because Ryan loved it.  Actually, everyone liked it, even Mark, our resident fussbudget.  This recipe isn't exactly the ones I found online; to start with, they called for whole chicken breast, and didn't add the water, so there was almost no sauce.  Still, my variation was well received, and that's what matters.

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Garden Tuesday: Plums

Late last week, my lawn service guy mentioned that he'd been eating plums from the trees in our orchard.  So after the work day was finished, I took my basket, wandered down to our little orchard, and picked some plums.

They were sweet; they were perfect.  They were gone later that night.

Of course, I didn't take a picture of the plum trees because (a) it was dusk and (b) they aren't that easy to see, being backed up to our property line fence and the trees between our house and the neighbor's.  That's ok; the plums were pretty enough.

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

Friday, September 5, 2014

James Beard's Oatmeal Carrot Cookies

Ryan found this one, too, after he had located the meatloaf recipe.  He told me that his father likes cookies, everyone likes oatmeal cookies, and making them would be good amusement for a Friday night.  I made a couple of minor changes, and here they are!

JAMES BEARD'S OATMEAL CARROT COOKIES

3/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1 cup grated carrot
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/4 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup oats (quick, steel cut or rolled)
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Cream the butter until fluffy; add the sugar and blend well.  Beat in the vanilla and egg, then add the carrot.  Sift together the flour, powder and salt and beat into the creamed mixture, then stir in the oats and walnuts. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto cookie sheets and bake at 375F for 10 to 12 minutes.

The cookbook says this makes 2 dozen.  I think it made about 5 dozen, and here's why:  While I was making them, friends of Ryan started arriving at the house, around 10PM, for an all night Risk (board game) marathon.  The first two arrived about a minute after the first 2 sheets came out of the oven, and so I offered them cookies: they're teenaged boys, and that species likes cookies, right?  And then another boy arrived and had cookies, and I think the last 2 boys had cookies after they'd all consumed the pizza the last 2 boys had brought.  And there were still cookies for my dearly beloved.  So 2 dozen is just not the right count.

These cookies stayed soft and moist, and were well received by adult men and teenaged boys.  It's proof positive that the incomparable Mr. Beard knew what he was doing!

Happy Weekending, everyone!



Thursday, September 4, 2014

Thorsday Book Review: Chasing the Sun

It turns out that the "magical book fairy" is none other than our friend Pam at Sidewalk Shoes!  I didn't even know she had my address, so I never knew I'd won her book giveaway.  It was a wonderful time to win, since Ryan was leaving home in August, making it a sad month.

CHASING THE SUN
by Natalia Sylvester

Andres is a successful, self made businessman in Lima, Peru in the 1970s.  He and his wife, Mirabel, have a son and daughter, but their marriage is tense.  About 4 months ago, Mirabel left Andres, but ultimately she returned.  So, after an argument over the phone, Mirabel didn't come home one night.  His anxiety became fear the next day, when he received a telephone call stating that she'd been kidnapped, and the ransom was $1,000,000 - a sum Andres didn't even come close to having.

The first half of the book is told entirely from Andres' point of view, while he's working with a hostage negotiator to secure her release.  During that time, he recalls for us their recent history, along with remembering when and how they met and married.  It all felt really sad, all the more so because during this time he went to visit an old family friend, who had at one time been his girlfriend, who had been kidnapped a couple of years back and was now hospitalized for mental health reasons.  It was enough detail for me to get a sense of the entire history of their relationship, and conclude that Andres and Mirabel should never have married.

This was a very moving and sad book.  It's also scary to think that this sort of thing could have been a common occurrence in a nearby country like Peru (the author notes that this book is based on an event which actually happened in her family).  4/5

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

James Beard's Meatloaf

In his last couple of weeks at home, Ryan was continually campaigning for me to cook "something different", and plumbing the depths of my cookbooks in pursuit of that perfect "something".  One night, when I had a 2 pound package of ground beef at the ready, he announced that he wanted a new and exciting meatloaf, and found this recipe in The New James Beard Cookbook, copyright 1981, found at a used book sale a while back.

JAMES BEARD'S MEATLOAF

2 pounds ground beef
1 onion, grated
1 carrot, finely shredded
3 garlic cloves, chopped

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon crushed rosemary
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 egg white, slightly beaten
1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs soaked in 1/4 cup cream or milk

Combine the meat, onion, carrot and seasonings, and mix well.  Mix in the eggs and soaked crumbs.  Form into a firm loaf and place in a baking pan.  Optional: place bacon strips across the top.  Bake at 350F for about an hour.

Note that the original recipe also called for one pound each of ground pork and veal, which I didn't have (and didn't need a 4 pound meatloaf, anyway), and proportionally more of everything else, along with some Tobasco sauce, which I also didn't have (and don't like).  Given our fat reduction program hereabouts, I used egg whites only, and soaked my bread crumbs in milk instead of cream.  It didn't matter; the meat loaf was delicious, anyway.  I'd thought there would be some for lunch the next day, but Ryan and his father both went back for seconds.  It was just that good.

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

Friday, August 29, 2014

College

Well, last weekend we took Ryan off to Penn State.  Here are Mark and his father, preparing to unload the trunk while Ryan trotted off to collect his room key (and a free t-shirt).


His room is a perfectly normal college room, complete with concrete block walls (they have to keep rowdy young men from kicking holes in walls somehow, plus block is pretty fireproof).  I was impressed by the amount of shelving in the room.  Here they all are, making sure the bed is adequate in size, and rumpling the bed I'd just made for him.  Gotta get to feel at home somehow!

Ryan's room was not carpeted, so I ordered him an area rug from the website for the big-box store with the blue sign that's in every city.  Hey, shipping was free, and I sent him some granola bars as well, so he's a pretty happy boy.  Me, I'm adjusting to a too-empty house.

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Garden Tuesday: Concrete!

For the past few weeks, I've been on a home decorating kick.  Nothing major, mind you: lampshades (they get really ugly after 25 years), blankets, new sofas for the room Dan redid last fall.  Well, when driving home from the furniture store, my dearly beloved spotted a sign for concrete statues.  So we called them.  Turns out that right here in little old Scranton, PA, there's a fourth generation caster of concrete garden statues.  Of course, we had to buy some.  His prices are insanely good: $700 for all of this:

2 lions for the front porch, with 6" high bases:

This base, pedestal and urn:

My artsy daughter was here last weekend, after we dropped off Ryan, to keep us company, and she planted Catmint, "Jeepers Creepers" and something else, the name of which escapes me.

We'll check in again in a month or so to see if the plants grow or not.

Happy Garden Tuesday, everyone!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

I Got a Book?

Last week was very busy.  Next week will be even busier.  Ryan goes to college on Friday.  I'm rather depressed about it, truth be told; I'm going to miss the "little" weasel.  So I don't know how much I'll be posting for the next week or 2.

Last Wednesday, when I was taking Mark somewhere, we found a box that Fedex had delivered to in front of my gate.  Shoot, it's not like they don't know how to open the gate and walk through it.  It's not even like they can't see the house and know they can walk 150 feet from the gate to the front door.  It's just that the damn fool driver is lazy.  Anyway, I had Mark grab the box, tossed it into the back seat of the car, and promptly forgot about it until yesterday.  (Good thing I went out and found it; it poured much of Tuesday and Wednesday, and into Thursday morning.)  So, when I opened the box, I found this:

I didn't order it; there was no packing slip, no note and no return address.  So the book is of mysterious origin, but I'm looking forward to reading it.  There's nothing like a nice, new book to catch one's interest, is there?

Hope you've all had a wonderful weekend.  See you at some time!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

My Lawn

I'm pretty sure my lawn is a Chem-Green man's dream: Oh, to have to turn this into pretty grass, and charge these people out the wazoo for 10 acres of perfect grass!

Or, we could just accept the clover and move on.  It's green, it uses different nutrients than the grass does (so never needs fertilizing), and it's actually good for some trees, again, for the nutrients.

How's your lawn looking?  It's pouring here today, so the grass is growing!

Happy Tuesday, everyone.