Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Taste and See

 For my first ten years of cooking, I hardly ever tried a bit of what I was making, in the early stages. Instead, I would taste near serving time and then, usually, add a mad flurry of seasoning in a desperate effort to make the dish taste as I'd hoped it would.

 Of course, that only works to a degree, and it wastes a good deal of spice or other seasoning, because the flavors have to do all their work upfront instead of being able to meld and deepen through cooking. You also tend to use more salt, and who needs that?

 Now, it's not a bad idea to add a small shower, at the end of cooking, of the seasonings you used early on, to bring up and brighten those flavors-- a sort of callback. This goes for uncooked foods, too; anything you prepare can benefit from a final sprinkle. But that tactic should be done as freshening, rather than an attempt to do a major adjustment. Real adjustment comes from gradual, attentive tasting and adding, from letting time work it's magic. The adjustment in my own approach was just as gradual, but steady, once it began.

 My epiphany came while cooking for work-- taking care of young children and their parents, I found myself cooking for families with different palates than my own, who were used to using less salt in some cases, and had drawers of spices very different from my own stock of favorites. My crazed dump-in-a-half-jar system was not appropriate, I knew, for tender young taste buds. Neither did I wish to stress my employers' budgets that way, in the name of caring for them.

 So, I began to taste for seasoning, and to get a sense of the ingredients I was cooking with, during the chopping stage of prep. It is difficult to cook decently with food you didn't pick out personally, without tasting first. The tomatoes can look ripe and rosy, and still taste flat, bland and watery. the carrots may be sweet or bitter and soapy. Tasting as you chop informs your understanding of the textures of the food as well-- and that can be critical to the success of a dish. Knowing how hard, how ripe, how juicy an ingredient is, will help you know how much heat to apply, or how much of a tenderizing element, such as vinegar, that you might need to add.

 This must seem pretty obvious by now, yet so few cooks of my acquaintance do this, that I'm  surprised.  Many talented home cooks I know, never taste. They still turn out good food, but imagine how mind-blowing their dishes could be, then, if they took these extra steps during meal prep.

 The final burst of clarity came after I began working as personal chef to a fantastic boss with a sophisticated, well-traveled sense of taste. Her palate, and her husband's, had been honed by living in some of the finest food cities on the planet, and I wanted very much to please and delight, as well as nourish them. I found myself using fewer seasonings, in lesser amount, to greater effect than ever. I often asked my boss to taste along with me, thereby getting a sense of what she enjoyed. We talked about the food, and I got to experiment freely, in a truly well-equipped kitchen. My cooking, after a long evolution, had solidified into a recognizable style that was generally pleasing and always well accepted. My food had gotten better, my use of ingredients had reached new heights--  a more judicious and informed way of seasoning had truly transformed my cooking. I went on to serve other clients, with their own unique senses of taste, and today, sampling the raw material before cooking is second nature to me.

 What about you?


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Making Food Difficult, or Making Do?

 Quite often, as I am hanging around food and recipe forums and blogs, looking for inspiration, a new approach to an old idea, or maybe even-- shock of shocks-- to learn something from other experienced cooks, I find myself disheartened as I read, by the human need to deify some process or skill, tool, or recipe. It's happened so much recently, I want to speak about it here.

Example: making your own pie crust used to be the norm, but because it is not anymore, people now fear it; and when they fail the first time, they assume it is due to the recipe, or that pastry-making is such a difficult and arcane process that you must have wizard-like powers and a magic spell to pull it off.

 You don't. What you need is practice, so that you can get beyond the fear that leads to the few mistakes that may ruin your pastry. And a little understanding of the chemical facts, though just practicing will get you there. It's actually very simple and straighforward, but try telling that to someone that messed it up once. They won't believe you, no matter your experience and skill.

 Instead, they'll spend hundreds of dollars on specialized equipment, cookbooks and flours. They'll listen closely to authoritative blowhards who tout "foolproof" recipes or complicated methods. The fact that my grandmother made superlative flaky, light and tender crusts with the cheapest of ingredients, a simple old rolling pin and a floured tabletop, makes no impression on these people. Her lack of formal culinary education doesn't convince them they could do the same with practice. They want instant success, they want Credentials, and they want to learn something more impressive than the fact that the chunks of cold fat, barely blended into the flour, will cause the forming dough to puff around them, and then melt in the oven, leaving hollows that make that flaky crust. It's just the truth-- it's not sexy, it's not scary, so why make use of it?

 When you complicate it, you rob yourself of the chance to grow naturally as a cook. It's sort of an odd idea, to want to avoid giving yourself time to make mistakes and learn from them, when you could just pump cash into the problem. The approach extends to everything from cookware to the proper way to use EVOO. People get a little information, and then let guidelines become sacred laws; people see a professional on TV use a technique, and then defend every aspect of that experience, making it precious. And when it isn't working, they go looking for a new object of worship, a new guru, a pan made with more expensive metals.

 It's cooking, it's baking, and though there are some truths that hold-- like the temperature at which water will boil at a given elevation (and depending on the purity)-- most things about cooking, indeed, about recipes themselves, are changeable, adaptable. Most elements of cooking get better with practice. If the recipe didn't work for you, why not try to figure out why, instead of deciding that the person who encouraged you to try it was wrong? Why not read up on the process a little more, so you can see where you might have gone wrong, then try it again and see what happens? Surely, if you have extra cash to spare going from recipe to recipe in search of perfection, you can afford to retry a recipe; and the bonus is, you'll have some understanding of it already, having tried it once. You're more likely to succeed the second time, with care and attention. It's far more practical than starting over from scratch with another unfamiliar recipe.

 Learning to make the recipes, techniques and tools at hand work for you, is learning to rely on your own taste, your intuition, yourself. It is, in fact, learning to cook. And once you've given yourself permission to explore what once went wrong, you'll better understand why when it goes right. You won't need to search for the right recipe to fit your ingredients most of the time-- instead, you'll understand how to adjust recipes to suit what you have, how to substitute one tool for another, how to make a dish go from "meh" to "wow!" without a run to the store.

 Cooking is a most personal endeavor, and you alone can set your comfort level-- but you alone can push your own boundaries. That, I believe, is a better type of search.

Peace, Mari 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Willpower Wednesday

 Tomorrow is a big day for foodies here, and a big twinge for some of us vegetarians. We may go through the year dealing comfortably with other people's eating habits, as we should; but the day we have to face a huge and obvious carcass can be trying. It's not an anonymous hunk, it's got wings and legs and you know exactly what it's suppose to look like.

 And then there are the other mealtime trials. Cooks putting bacon in the green beans, gelatin in salads or pies, people slathering whipped cream on the otherwise safe desserts before the vegan gets a slice. It's a like an obstacle course on the table, all while sitting with your family that loves you-- sometimes to death!

 This is why people go out to drink heavily on the Friday after. Family Drama is a flippant phrase that doesn't begin to cover the reality some of us face each winter.

While the vegetables served have always been the true heart of this feast for me, the other necessary element, sharing, is more important than the food, yet so bound up within the complex web of food-related memory and emotions, the simplest detail can set off a schism, fueled by family dynamics that seem impossible to change.

 Pumpkin pies-- who makes them now that the former family baker is gone, and do they spice them the way you like? If you bring wine, are you supposed to please the hosts or the other guests with your choice? Little rivalries can expand in the heat of the holiday oven. Siblings and relatives  push our buttons as we plan our gatherings. The imperfections in how we love one another rise to consume us.

 Some years can sail by with barely a flutter of dysfunctionality, some drag you down before you even get to Thursday, with a weight of discord you cannot seem to remove. You know it will be worse once you're there. It's like a sick TV show-- let's just stuff 20 people with unresolved issues into a room meant for eight and see what happens!

Don't forget to bring that wine.

 If you decide to give it a rest for one November, one December, you know you're going to pay. I've thought about doing that, this year, myself, with a weight on my chest as I contemplate it only because of my mother. For reasons I can't comprehend, she needs this from us, even though she will experience as much tension, as little pleasure, as the rest of us. It won't be nice, there won't be good conversation, there won't be a sense of togetherness, but only the appearance of that.

 Maybe that's all we can do, some years-- show up for the sake of showing up. Avoid our expectations of the event, good and bad, and try to be our calmest, kindest selves going in. Family, friendships, marriage, art, all require this of us, to keep showing up no matter what it costs. Investment through sheer time put in, which hopefully pays a dividend here and there.

 Or maybe it means I need to refocus, and shift my perspective. To be thankful that whatever tattered family rituals are wrapped around it, and however much of my pie gets eaten, tomorrow is just another Thursday, and in 24 hours, it's over again.

Peaceful feelings to you; today, tomorrow and all the rest of this November--


Monday, November 12, 2012

Neat Ideas from Other Foodies

 With all the crazy baking hype happening on the foodie side of the 'net, it's hard to decide what to make now, and what to make later, when life is calm again. I like to laze my way through old stacks of holiday mags, and re-read classic entertaining cookbooks, too; the other day I pulled The Silver Palate Good Times off the shelf and enjoyed it all over, letting it set little sparks in the cooking cave of my brain. Great way to spend some downtime if you don't start pressuring yourself as many of us do, come November.

 Don't go crazy overthinking it! Pick one or two stellar new items to make; get it done, then move on if you like.

 My tea bread, here, is a must for December.

 BUT-- here are a few great links from other blogs or sites, to give you a fresh outlook.

Beautifully shaped dinner rolls, enhanced with some of the seasonal fruit that they resemble. This neat take on a harvest presentation can also be applied to any fairly firm yeast bread recipe you are comfortable making. Cheese bread comes to mind, as does a fruity stollen dough, brushed with cream and sprinkled with orange or gold sugars to further "pumpkinise" the look.

 Here's a link to a gorgeously cool, but simple to make, fizzy drink for any party or special night, from The Cocktail Lady-- she's been on a quest to find the perfect drink for lo these past 269 days, and here, she just may have found it.

This is a link to a fine, more warming drink. We'll just have to get past the blog title, because it's a neat blog:

 And to go with the drinks, a trippy little dip that won't bloat you with high salt content, and is a bit different than the usual, from Sodium Girl:

Or, some spicy-sweet nuts that blow away prepared nut mixes, from Food and Wine:

 Then some beautiful vegetables that could MAKE the feast, in a twist on the standard recipe, from epicurious. They include two ways to serve.

And a spicy little number that throws out the usual cauliflower notions, from Cooking Light. Interesting, colorful, and tasty:

Different dessert dreams? How about these pretty, pale pear-pops spiked with Riesling? These could freshen everyone up after a dense meal, and still leave room for a thin slice of pie.

 Thinking of what you could do to shake up those traditional guests, now, aren't you?

 Peace in your planning, 

Friday, November 9, 2012

The White Stuff-- Sour Cream Ice Cream

 It's the second week of November, and my family has already held the secret meeting where they decide who will host the various holiday dinners of the next few months.

 Not me-- big surprise! I'm not upset, since I can't afford it this year anyhow. And if that small slight is the worst of the power plays that occur over these winter holidays, I'll be happy and grateful.

 You know how it is-- half of your family thinks your a) food, b) spouse/friends, c) living space, or d) religious ideas, are too weird to entrust a whole, important gathering to YOU. So someone else takes the lead, then bitches about how the load always falls on them. Or something like that. And you, or me in this case, are relegated to bringing the salad.

That's how it was for me in my twenties, until the one year I campaigned harder than usual to be allowed to bring a dessert. I brought a chocolate mousse cake glazed with ganache and sprinkled with dark cocoa-- and I haven't brought the salad since, unless I really wanted to in a given year.

 That is why I now spend extra prep time on finding a special dish to bring to each family party I attend. They forgive me for being myself, at least temporarily, and remember my pies, cakes, lasagna, or green bean salad fondly. I let it go, that they cannot understand why I want to be included in the discussion/decision. It isn't the only way to achieve harmony, but it works for me.

 I think I've found the perfect thing for this year's hell holy days: a rich, melt-in-your-mouth sour cream ice cream that would be perfect with just about any pie imaginable. And, as many of my new and old favorite recipes tend to be, it is both simple in concept and easy to make.

 The reason I stumbled across it so early in the season of frantic recipe searching, is that the hubby-man is conducting a coffee tasting of the newest Starbuck's Christmas Blend today, for his Coffee Master certification; and he asked me to find a dessert that would complement and bring out the flavor. The new blend, to be introduced in stores soon, is a lighter roast, with a fruity acidity that I immediately knew I wanted to showcase. We did several tastings, and the surprise flavor that blew us away, was when I dipped a finger into some sour cream leftover from a taco fest, and then sipped the Christmas Blonde brew. We agreed, it was a special match. But instead of making a cookie or cake with sour cream, I searched for an ice cream recipe, and found this jewel, that tastes as rich as cheesecake, putting the tangy sour cream flavor right up front.

 I've paired it, for Garrett's event, with a simple lemon biscotti studded with candied ginger; but the original article the recipe came from suggested a pairing with fruit pies, and I can't think of any pie or cobbler that would not be enhanced by a scoop of this. You could eat a bowl of this on its own, or with fresh fruit-- raspberries, pears, mango, sauteed apples. But if you want this to shine even brighter, put a scoop on top of a fruit pie, even a mince or pumpkin, and it couldn't fail on a walnut or pecan pie, a cranberry crisp, or instead of the usual whipped cream on top of rice pudding or any chocolate cake or custard.

 And now, I'm hungry! The recipe is from, and first appeared in the much-mourned food mag, Gourmet. My own notes follow.

Sour-Cream Ice Cream 
Gourmet | July 2009
by Ian Knauer
yield: Makes about 5 cups
active time: 15 min
total time: 6 1/4 hr (includes freezing)

1 (16-ounces) container chilled sour cream (full fat, not light or fat-free; they're too watery)
1 cup chilled half-and-half
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Equipment: an ice cream maker

Purée all ingredients with 1/8 teaspoon salt in a blender* until mixture is smooth and sugar has dissolved. Chill until very, very cold.
Freeze mixture in ice cream maker. Transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to firm up, about 6 hours.
Cooks' notes:
 •Cream mixture can be chilled up to 24 hours.
•Ice cream can be made 3 days ahead. Let soften 20 minutes in the refrigerator before serving. 
*Mari's notes-- I used a whisk to blend the mix thoroughly, and it wasn't difficult. The mixture is rich and soft, so do worry if your ice cream maker can't get it super firm. It will firm up nicely, in a covered container, in the freezer, preferably overnight, but give it more than the 6 hours suggested even if overnight isn't possible, just to make sure. There's nothing more annoying to try to serve, than not-set ice cream! Once firmed, it does need a little time to soften, as noted, but I'd check it at 10 minutes instead of 20, to be safe.
Enjoy, and have a great weekend--


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Scenes from a Storm

We've been prepping for Sandy for a few days. It seems there is always more to do, and then the problems that crop up, like an already leaky basement and a malfunctioning sump pump, get in the way, taking up time, cash and energy. Three things I'm perpetually short on.

 Boo hoo, right? At least we're not under water now. I hate to think of all the small animals that have lost their lives or homes to this storm, unable to get to high enough ground. They may have instinct, but they don't have our resources. The damage continues to increase, to human and animal alike.

 Before tomorrow, when the storm is supposed to hit us here in WNY, let's take a minute to help, if we can, those already affected.

 You can donate here.

 Meanwhile, look over your own preparations: Do have extra water, not just for drinking, but for washing hands, feeding animals, flushing toilets? Do you have a flashlight in every room, for easy access? Have you cooked food ahead of time, so you won't have to eat packaged junk exclusively, should we lose power?

 Hope so. And don't forget to check in with elderly or infirm neighbors that may need assistance-- make a plan with them, about how often you'll call on them. See if you can help them now, getting what they need. I have to do this myself, so I sign off here, with one extra cool link-- how to waterproof matches.

 Stay safe, stay warm, and if I don't see you before then, Happy Hallowe'en!


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sweet Fruits of Fall

 Throughout our house, you'll see the colorful evidence of cooler weather-- squashes, gourds, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, eggplant, all clustered as decoration on the buffet, tables and hearth, while they await their turn in the oven.

 I love the sweet smoky flavor of October, when I make our first fireplace fires, bake our first pumpkins for pies and muffins and pancakes, make chili with leftover chunks of whatever roasted peppers and squash I bought the week before. And I'm sad that our local farmer's market will be ended for the year. I stock up on the few vegetables that have held out, knowing they will be sweeter and perkier in taste, precisely because of the cold temps we've had here.

 As of this writing, I've made butternut soup once already, baked some yams, and eaten my way through half an orchard full of apples in the form of salads, on sandwiches, in stews and breads. I'm still on the lookout for perfect grapes to press into flatbread, and more dark greens like kale and chard, that are always at their best around this time of year. I'm ready to mess around with some cranberries, now, too, throwing them into anything I make, like this fruity chutney, full of peppers, craisins and slivered almonds for crunch:

 We've had a fondue dinner, and a giant baked apple pancake for a weekend breakfast. I've got red pears for a tart, maybe, and peach juice blend waiting to be used in Peach Oats Brulee.

 Eating these dishes a few times per year, at the moment when the foods they're based on are at their peak, is one way I can always connect to the world under my feet. It feels good, it feels right, it keeps me earthy and productive. And a meal you prepare by grabbing just what you can chop and throw into the oven, is a boon to any writer.

 It's also a great way to make sauce, chili, or ratatouille-- put the appropriate chopped veg on a towel to absorb liquid for a minute, set in a large pan and coat lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with oregano and rosemary or the other seasonings that make sense, and let your oven do most of the work. You might have to stir after 25 minutes or so. Oh my, what a task. It's done when it hits the texture you like. For sauce, there's no more to be done but to toss with your cooked hot pasta, or ladle over polenta. If the sauce is too thin, add and stir in a Tbsp. or so of tomato paste, and let bubble away a bit longer.

 Or you can drizzle a bit of vinegar onto the roasted veg for a salad, and top with chopped nuts; maybe serving it over fresh, raw spinach leaves, or a bed of shredded apples or pita.

 Easy, warming, tasty, perfect for now.

  Eat well; October is almost gone!



Thursday, October 18, 2012

Muffin in a Mug-- Gluten-Free!

Sweet "crockpot lady" Stephanie O'Dea is always looking for a way to make the gluten-free life easier, and here she has hit a home-run. Basically a riff on the old cake-in-a-mug recipe, this little number bakes up a quick, hearty gluten-free breakfast after just a minute of mixing and a minute in the microwave. It's also low in sodium, sweetener, and has just enough fat to make it toothsome.

 Here's her original post, rejigged a little for mixing ease, and followed by my flavor changes in the notes.

Muffin in a Mug, by Stephanie O'Dea (adapted slightly by Mari Kozlowski)

The Ingredients:

1/4 cup flax meal

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon ( sometimes I use pumpkin pie seasoning)

1 egg

1 tablespoon butter

1 1/2 teaspoons sweetener, I use honey

1 tablespoon fresh or frozen blueberries (or smashed banana, shredded apple, etc)

hearty coffee mug sprayed with cooking oil*


The Directions:

Put the first 3 ingredients into a large glass measuring cup or small bowl, and whisk to combine. Add the next three ingredients-- no need to melt the butter or get it to dissolve–if it’s still in a clump, it’s okay. 

Now stir in the blueberries or whatever fruit you’re using. Pour into a greased coffee mug and microwave on high for 1 minute.
Let it sit for a bit, then pour onto a plate; or you can just eat it out of the mug with a spoon. It should appear mostly dry on top, and have pulled away from the sides of the mug a bit. The butter will have melted and made a tiny bit of a “sauce” with the melted blueberries. YUM.

The Verdict:

This is a pretty customizable recipe; feel free to swap out the honey with splenda, agave, brown sugar, etc. There isn’t a drop of flour, making this a naturally gluten free muffin, and if you use non dairy butter it could certainly be dairy-free and I’m imagining an egg-replacer would work okay. If you change up the ingredients and it works, let me know!

*Mari's notes-- I greased my mug with butter, and used a generous Tbsp of grated apple, with maple syrup to sweeten, along with apple pie spice. Came out as a hearty whole-grain tasting muffin that has no grain! And pretty good and filling. I didn't get a "sauce" effect, as she does with frozen blueberries, but it was unsweet enough for me to be happy dolloping on a bit more syrup. It takes a minute to mix, a minute to cook, and a minute or less to sit and set-- that is one quick, nutritious breakfast muffin!

 Hope you enjoy this recipe, and if you riff on it, please let me know what you do, and how it worked out. I'd love to post your version.

 Peace, Mari

Friday, October 12, 2012

PB Recall Widens

For all of us that love peanut butter and other nut-laden products, the bad news is in-- the Trader Joe's PB recall has expanded, to products you might just have on your shelf now. Check out this link and look carefully at the list of over 100 products that may be contaminated with salmonella. Some of the products affected were apparently produced as long as 2 1/2 years ago!

While there's no sense in worrying over past meals now, you should look at your pantry shelves and make certain you aren't using any of the affected items.

 Here's hoping that we can all eat our PB fear-free in the future. Wishing good health to you and yours. Peace,


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Off the Shelf: Beet Salad from The Silver Palate

 My friend Robert once called beets "the organ meat of the vegetable world." He was right. Like gizzards, kidneys and such, fresh beets are have a sort of muddy spiritual darkness about them. They come from a inside a living thing in a significantly different way than your average eatables. The beet is like a hard little heart you pull from the earth, and like a heart, it seems to still pulse with life's energy, while it smells like a dead thing. Many people dislike or even fear them, and few know how to cook them anymore.

 Personally, I love 'em.

 As a kid, I don't think I ever ate fresh ones-- they were one of the few vegetables my cook-from-scratch mother bought only in canned or bottled form, along with sauerkraut and spinach. The one time she tried to make fresh spinach back then, it was still too sandy for us kids, and we hated it. Now we all love the fresh, but that is easy when it comes in flat baby leaves, pre-washed in bags.

 Beets are another story.
  Fresh out of the ground, they look like something an alchemist might want to work with-- gnarly, unattractive, dirt-colored and sprouted with strange hairs.  When I peel them, the detritus could almost be a pile of rat tails and hide.
 Discussions about beets on cooking forums tend to make the best methods for preparing them seem arcane and complicated. But it's not tough to cook fresh beets. It's not even scary, unless you're wearing white, about which I'll say-- Don't. Or you'll soon be wearing white splattered with fuschia. Aside from that, all you need is a cutting board you don't mind getting temporarily stained, a vegetable peeler, and a heavy, sharp knife-- a 6" chef's knife, if you have one.

 Then you can handle them in several ways: roasting them whole and peeling afterwards, peeling them first and roasting whole or chopped, steaming them, peeled or not, or peeling and boiling them chopped. You can even grate them and serve them raw, which is often more appealing to people that believe they dislike the beet.

 I like to peel them first, no matter what. The stain washes off my hands immediately this way, and although I may get a few less of the nutrients that were hanging out under the skin, I'm sanguine about the loss.

In the classic and incredible original Silver Palate Cookbook, beets appear in several lovely dishes, but my favorite of them is the Beet and Roquefort Salad with Walnuts. A vegan variation leaves off the cheese in favor of a sprinkling of fresh dill, and having made each version repeatedly, I can say happily that either is simply delicious.

 I've owned the SP cookbook since my early twenties, and this recipe is the reason! I first tasted it at my late ex-MIL's home, after watching her make it. So enjoyable was the salad, I begged to borrow the book and it's companion tome, The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook. It was tough giving them back, but finally I did, and soon after, purchased the pair for my own in hardcover through a cookbook club. I've been using both books, for recipes, tips, and inspiration ever since. I'm happy to share this wonderful, seasonal salad with you now, and so honor the memory of Anginette; a generous, creative cook who taught me several key lessons of the kitchen, and of entertaining, and of family life.

Beet and Roquefort Salad with Walnuts 

8-10 medium sized beets
3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
3 Tbsp walnut oil
1/2 C shelled walnut halves
1/4 lb imported Roguefort cheese
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

 Wash beets well, and trim stems and roots without piercing the skin. Drop the beets into a large kettle of boiling salted water and cook until tender, 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the beets. Drain, cool, and peel beets, and cut into julienne.

 In a mixing bowl toss the beets gently with the vinegar and walnut oil. Taste, and add more of either if you like; there should be just enough to coat the beets. Cover and chill until serving time.

 To serve, toss the walnuts with the chilled beets and arrange in a shallow serving bowl. Allow to return to room temperature. Crumble the Roquefort evenly over the top (or sprinkle generously with chopped fresh dill), and grind on black pepper to taste. Serve immediately. 6 to 8 portions.

 That was how I first had it, although I believe Anginette simply sliced her beets. I sometimes do, too, but most often now, I roast the peeled, quartered beets in a Tbsp of olive oil, and use a little more oil in the viniagrette, not the full amount as given. (You may want to use paper towelling to dry the peeled beets on, before roasting, or do what I did and use an old purple napkin that won't take any harm from such use.)


 Today I cooked a pumpkin in the oven at the same time as the beets, and roasted the cleaned seeds in oil and sea salt-- so I'm using that oil, seeds removed, in place of the walnut oil, which I'm out of at the moment. The flavor from the pumpkin seeds should help replace the nuttiness, as will toasting the walnuts... using the oven on the second cool day of the month, I made sure to get my money's worth!

(ready to roast!)

 And I'm not chilling the salad, as written above. There are reasons for chilling the beets in their nutty oil-- it helps the simple, strong flavors penetrate them, and the vinegar does its job in the marinade better, too. My way of roasting them brings out their sweet earthiness enough that I can skip the chill if I want, and just let the dressed beets sit awhile before garnishing with the nuts and Roquefort.

 Another change I often make is to use a milder blue cheese, but add instead the bite of a tangier vinegar, like raspberry. I'll often add some dill along with all that. But this time, I've switched up the flavors a bit, roasting a clove of garlic alongside the beets for extra oomph, and sprinkling them beforehand with garam masala from Penzey's. I'm adding a handful of dried sweet cherries, the toasted walnuts are broken smaller to cover more ground, and as a final assault on tradition, I've put Champagne vinegar into the pumpkin-seed flavored oil to make the dressing. These small tweaks have turned an already yummy salad into the main dish of our Sunday Supper. The flavors are still clear and simple, but not as austerely perfect.


 And who could believe such a pretty meal came from those nasty looking roots?     

 Have a lovely evening. Peace, Mari


Friday, September 7, 2012

Looking Ahead...

 It's good news that gestation crates for pigs are becoming a thing of the past... what about the future? Well, we have to take it slow, I think. Real change comes in time.

Here's a link I happened on today, while reading about the recent promises from Qdoba and Jack-in-the-Box to end their support of that cruel crating practice. There's wisdom in Wayne's post, and I just had to share it.

And I'd like to introduce something else: A new, semi-regular feature here, Off the Shelf will comprise recipes and reviews from my own, and borrowed, cookbooks. The recipes will be given both as originally written, and as adapted by myself in the case of real changes. Similar to Tried and Tweaked Thursdays, but with more history, and perhaps recipes that haven't been tweaked beyond all recognition!
 I hope to learn how to use the blogger categorising gadget very soon. It should make searching veg@large easier for all of us.

 Peace, Mari

Friday, August 31, 2012

A Link to the Future, and Kickin' Green Beans

A not--so-shocking article I found in my email box this a.m.:

 Enjoy your weekend, and the weather, while the seasons change. Here's a neat little recipe that livens up a picnic. I may have posted it before, but there's getting too much of this tangy salad!

 GREEN BEANS with TWO MUSTARDS from Madhur Jaffrey's Cookbook, adapted by Mari


3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 super-full Tbsp dijon mustard

freshly ground black pepper

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

5 Tbsp olive oil

1 1/2 Tbsp yellow mustard seeds (can use brown, if necessary)

3 cloves garlic, peeled and cut into thin slivers

1 1/2 lbs green beans, trimmed

 Set a large pot of salted water to boil (should be just slightly saltier than your natural preference).

Put the lemon juice in a small bowl, add the dijon, 1 tsp salt, black pepper and cayenne. Mix and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a small cast iron frying pan over medium heat. When hot, put in the mustard seeds. As soon as they start to pop (this takes just a few seconds), put in the garlic. Stir until the slivers turn a light brown, take pan off heat, and allow to cool slightly. beat the cooled oil mixture into the lemon juice mixture until you have a creamy dressing.

The pot should now be at a rolling boil. Drop in the beans and boil vigorously for 3-5 minutes, just until crisp-tender. Drain thoroughly. Put beans in a large bowl, beat the dressing again and pour it over beans. Toss to mix. Serve cool or at room temp.

 I have found that although you can make both beans and dressing a day ahead, it is best to let the dressing come close to room temp again, and dress the salad just before serving instead of mixing the two way ahead of time; it keeps the beans fresher looking, and avoids greasiness.
 We love this salad, especially with grilled foods. So delicious and savoury.

 Peace, Mari

Monday, August 27, 2012

Baking Essentials: Vegan Chocolate Cake

It was a hot and moist day, when I made my mother's birthday cake for an Ice Cream Social Birthday Party this past July. Besides the oppressive heat, there were a few new challenges to meet for Mom's birthday this year.

 Recently, Mom was diagnosed with congestive heart failure; and in the interest of helping her manage that, I'd like to make sure that treats and goodies on special occasions are still special, but not lethal. It's easy to say, "Just this one day will be fine," but those holidays and treats add up. I want to be able to make many more momentous cakes for my mother, so I decided to start immediately with the more healthful alternatives.

 Some in my family were off dairy, for the time being, which is fine with me. There were also small children, and people of all ages, to please.

 Luckily, I had just the cake! It's been in my repertoire for ages, and when Mom requested a dark chocolate cake (she always wants chocolate for her b-day), I knew I had the perfect choice. It's a far cry from the ludicrously rich layer cake I did for Mother's Day; but it has been a reliable company cake for years. It's divinely dark and moist, looks chic, and takes well to any fancying up you might want.

 Plus it's the second simplest chocolate cake to make in the world. You can even mix it in the pan, but I go the extra step and use a bowl. Most versions of this recipe also tell you not to grease the pan, but I have since the second time I made this, because it comes out of the pan better (duh).

 I first found it in Moosewood Cooks at Home, and have since seen many versions, called by different names. They got it from House & Garden magazine in 1976, under the fairly accurate name of Six Minute Chocolate Cake. That's prep time, not baking time. But still, a quick cake, which just happens to be lusciously vegan, and to work well with olive oil, which I prefer to vegetable or canola oil for most uses.

 A few things: It's a light, liquidy batter, so if you want to add chip or nuts of any kind, make them small-- mini-chips, finely chopped nuts, dried cherries chopped very fine-- and sprinkle them over the top just before baking. They'll mix in on their own. The batter is just too light to support heavier items, and those that are mixed in will fall to the bottom, making the cake stick and likely come out of the pan in a broken, messy state.

The lightness makes icing, (if desired), rather than frosting, a better bet, though honestly I tend to serve it with a sauce or fruit couli, or some coffee granita on the side. Killer combo, to me.

 Don't be afraid to change the flavor profile-- if you add chopped nuts or chopped, dried cherries, you might want to lessen the vanilla and add a drop of almond extract. I've also made this with a Mexican Chocolate-inspired spice blend of cinnamon, coriander and ancho chile powder (Penzey's has a good one) and even hotter, cayenne.

 Or try a nice pumpkin pie spice blend, or just ginger, with some finely diced candied ginger on top. Mint extract is a good choice, too, and then you can serve it with a scoop of something cold and vanilla-y, like Tofutti, and a mint leaf garnish, for an elegant presentation.

 This is dark chocolate we're dealing with, so the options are almost limitless. Tweak as desired.

 One last detail: for a chic looking plated dessert,  make this in four or five giant muffin cups-- plan on four, but depending on size, you may get five. You can serve it on whichever side is the prettiest, I like upside down, which makes it look not at all like a cupcake, but more of a restaurant-style personal dessert cake. My average yield is four big cupcakes and a smaller greased ramekin-- cook's treat!

 For my mother's birthday party, I doubled the recipe and made it in my lasagna pan-- the equivalent of a 13x9 oblong pan, or two 9-inch round pans. It doubled flawlessly, and when turned over and iced, looked very glossy and pretty, with a cold cherry puree on the side.

Vegan Deep Chocolate Cake

1 1/2 C unbleached flour

1/3 C unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 C sugar *

1/2 C oil ( I like olive, but you may use canola or vegetable oil)

1 C cold water or cooled brewed coffee

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 Tbsp vinegar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch square or 9-inch round baking pan, or other pans as suggested above.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt and sugar. Set aside.

In a 2-cup measuring cup, measure and mix together the oil, water or coffee, and vanilla. Pour into dry ingredients and mix the batter with a fork or small whisk, till smooth.

Add vinegar to batter and stir quickly; there will be pale swirls in the batter where the vinegar and bakign soda are reacting. Stir just until vinegar is evenly distributed throughout the batter, and pour into prepared pan.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or about 20 minutes for cupcakes. The cake is done when you can press a finger very lightly to the middle and it springs back, is dry and set on top, and the cake has pulled away slightly from the sides of the pan. Cool in pan on a wire rack at least 15 minutes.

 Serve as suggested above; this cake is very good chilled, too.

 *Tops Markets, and Trader Joe's, both carry Florida Crystals brand sugar, a light turbinado sugar processed without bone char. Beet sugar, although it has a higher glycemic index, is also standardly processed without bone char, and is cheaper than cane sugar. It's the kind you see in every grocery store, that isn't marked as cane, but just as Granulated Sugar.

 Peace, Mari

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Miso of Your Dreams

  A casual mention here of the Miso Dressing from the long defunct The Juicery restaurants in WNY has brought about many requests, recently, for that recipe. For those who have asked, and those that haven't, YET, I submit it here today for your pleasure.

 The dressing was served at The Juicery on several dishes, and was available by request. It's supposed to be fairly thick, a creamily salty, rich, tangy emulsion with just enough sweetness in it, made to balance  the flavors of almost anything you put it on-- green salads with fruits and nuts, a bread and tomato salad, steamed vegetables, in a wrap or sandwich of any sort. I liked it on the Lite Bite: a small green salad of frilly lettuces topped with a large rounded scoop of the Juicery's very rich, cuminy Hummus, flatbread triangles on the side.

 But the uses of this dressing go way beyond. It could easily be a dip, it's a natural, if counterintuitive pairing, with feta and pita and all dishes that go with them, it's wonderful dripped onto a veggie burger, it makes the sliced cuke a snack of the gods, and I'm dying to try it on sweet potato fries. I've enjoyed it with almond butter and lettuce on wheat bread. Of course, it would enhance a vegetarian sushi plate.

 This recipe, given me by my niece who was, at the time, working at the Juicery Cafe in Amherst, NY, makes a large quantity-- a gallon, in fact.

 It won't be enough.

 But it does keep very well in the fridge. Or you can do as I often do-- make a smaller quantity using similar proportions* and your own sense of the proper taste/consistency to get it right. If making it as a dip, you may want to scratch the soy, or edit it down to a few drops, and add water just till thick enough, instead of the given proportion.

 As for the oil, we have it on good authority that the restaurant used an olive oil/vegetable oil blend. I use olive oil, with a little extra-virgin thrown in for fruitiness. But it takes well to canola, sunflower, or straight veg oil, or a combination of these. Corn oil is too heavy, IMO.

 As for the miso, white or yellow are first choices for this, but red or darker work too-- you should taste as you go, and adjust. It shouldn't be too salty to lick straight off your finger. And you'll want to lick it off your fingers!

PS-- a little blended into your hummus is out-of-bounds yummy.

The Juicery's Miso Dressing

makes about 1 gallon

8 C oil

4 C water

1/2 C lemon juice

1/2 C honey (vegans can use a slightly lesser amount of agave, and adjust to taste)

1/3 C wine vinegar (they used red)

1/4 C soy sauce

3 tsp chopped garlic

10 oz chopped onion (1 big onion)

1 3/4 C miso paste

 Measure and add all ingredients into large blender. Blend till smooth. Store in refrigerator.

*Proportionally, if you started with one C oil, you'd use a scant 1/2 C water, about 1/4 C miso or less. The rest of the ingredients, you do to taste, adding maybe a 1/4 C chopped onion, a clove minced garlic, and drizzling the liquids in by a tsp at a time. When it tastes delicious, it's right.

 This stuff really is the bomb, as requests for it from several different states/countries will atttest. I hope you try it soon. It's perfect for fall salads, and end-of-summer grillfests.

 Peace, Mari

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

No-Cook Summer

Despite having more time to cook because of my computer woes (and therefore, less time spent facing a screen) this summer, I haven't much wanted to cook or eat, and I'm sure most of Buffalo feels the same way-- too hot to eat, until it's too late to care.

 But given the past few reasonable, milder days, I have some appetite now-- but still crave cool and fresh over warm and gloppy. That's how I think of cooked food, today.

 It's a good time to make tabbouleh, to have meal-in-a-bowl salads, to buy hummus and pita from Pete's Lebanese Bakery and set out chunks of tomatoes and cukes on the side. It's a good time to let olive oil be the the most fattening non-frozen food we eat. I'd rather have spicy, room temp food than a take-out pizza, even if pizza weren't so expensive to have delivered.

 What about you? How do you cope with an overdose of summer?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Tried and Tweaked Thursday: Bean, Corn & Rice salad

Hot today again in the Buffland, but the breeze is keeping us alive. Yesterday was pure hell, and we're glad it's done. Heat has its effect on our appetites, except for the cat's-- he's as hungry as ever, but as his meals require no application of heat, I don't mind.

It's been a week of salads so far, and there's no end in sight, so I'd like to share one of my oldest, tastiest, easiest meal-worthy salads, with some chopped tomato or avocado on the side, or small quesadillas, maybe.

 Of course it makes a good, substantial second dish, too. From one of my ancient Food & Wine Magazine back issues (January 1986, from an article called "Beautiful Beans"). This is a big hit whenever I make it, and the components are usually hanging around in the pantry.

6-8 servings

3 1/2 C cooked, converted rice, cooled

1 can (16 oz) pink beans, rinsed and drained

1 1/2 C cooked fresh corn kernels or 1 12-oz can corn niblets

1/2 C chopped scallions

2 pickled jalapeno peppers, stemmed seeded, deribbed and minced

1/3 C safflower or corn oil**

2 Tbsp fresh lime juice

1 Tbsp cider vinegar

1 Tbsp (packed) brown sugar

1 tsp chili powder

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground cumin

 In a large bowl, combine the rice, beans, corn, scallions, and jalapenos. Toss to mix.

 In a small bowl, combine the rest of ingredients. Whisk until sugar dissolves and the mixture is well blended.

 Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat. Let stand at room temperature, tossing occasionally, for up to 4 hours before serving, or cover and refrigerate for up to three days.

**Mari's notes-- I have made this with safflower oil, and it is good, but most I use EVOO, and it is good too, though of course doesn't look as pretty just out of the fridge! If you use it, let the salad sit out a bit first, so the oil can liquefy again.

It's a good-looking, somewhat spicy salad, more than the sum of it's parts. Also fine with just a slice or three of sliced pickled jalapenos for those that can take too much heat, and I have made it with fresh chilies of various kinds as well. 

Oh, I always use thawed, frozen corn, except when I was able to get Trader Joe's Cut Sweet Corn, a lovely crisp canned variety that tastes as good as fresh. But I did try once with niblets, and quality ones work well. Kidney or pinto beans are a decent sub, but the pink ones do seem best to me here. Enjoy!

  Peace, Mari

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Almost Instant Cool

 Knowing that all over the States, it's hot, hot, hot, means to me, you'll all know where we're coming from here, as we look towards a week that promises intense temps and crazy traffic, all at once. Independence Day and the surrounding weekends means grilling for meatists; but at my house in Kenmore NY, we're eating as coolly as possible. Pickles, sliced zuke, bread, a little cheese sometimes, dips, nuts and snacks of fresh fruit or edible whole pea pods, with mostly big salads for dinner.

 One day it might be Greek style, one day, raw taco salad. Two are more frequent repeaters: First, I like to do a veg-filled variation on the big Italian salad, an Italian-American family institution. It's a cross between anitpasto and green salad, at its best, full of different tastes and textures. Grace Parisi recently put out a recipe for her version, here, in Food & Wine magazine, and it's a good one, but mine is a stand alone meal, and needs more substance, even.

 Instead of starting with the greens, I begin filling a large bowl with various chopped, sliced or shredded vegetables, like zukes, cukes, marinated chickpeas or cannellini, halved olives, roasted or fresh peppers, pickled corn or green beans*, pepperoncini, peas, onions in some form, carrots if they're sweet, raw fennel or celery, you name it.

 If some of these have been, heat permitting, quickly charred on a griddle or hot frying pan, so much the better for textural variety. A hard peach or pear goes surprisingly well, too, just slice thin for easy chewing. When the bowl is almost halfway full, I finally stop chopping. (Note-- tomatoes, obviously, are great, but hubby-man doesn't care for them, so they go on the side, here).

 I toss all those crisp and crunchy things with mixed lettuces, shredded cabbage, spinach, escarole, endive, (tender dandelion greens if you have them but not too many), a smattering of whatever likely cheese is on hand, torn rye or Italian bread or croutons, fresh herbs, dried oregano, and maybe pine nuts.

 Then, let it sit and blend its flavors while the dressing is made: minced garlic, a pinch of onion, a dollop of dijon to help emulsify, and half each fresh lemon juice and red wine vinegar, with just enough EVOO to make a viniagrette. Season with salt and pepper, and add a combo of dried or fresh herbs-- I tend to go for fennel seed, rosemary, oregano and mint or dill, but basil and parsley, savory or thyme, are fine too. Use a premixed blend like penzey's Green Goddess or the ever-versatile Italian seasoning, if you like. Just make sure you love the taste, and that it isn't overly salty, since the pickled veg & olives in the salad will "salt it up," too. You might like a drop of honey in your dressing, and more oil-- I prefer mine thin and tart, and use as little as possible to wet the greens.

 It's worth it to toss salads about twice as much as everyone on TV seems to; the blend and flavor is improved with patient tossing.

*Keep jars of brine from store-bought pickles, and add thawed frozen corn, sliced green beans or slivered carrots to the liquid, along with a pinch of extra salt, a dash of extra vinegar, and any herb you want to add. After about a day, you've got freshly pickled veg that'll perk up any salad, is good on a sandwich, or on top of a taco. It's a good way to upcycle!

The second best salad we do lately is the super fruit and nut bowl-- greens both tender and crunchy, a honey mustard dressing (equal parts honey mustard & cider vinegar, with a little oil to taste), and every fruit and nut we have in the house, excepting, usually, bananas. Craisins and raisins, dried or fresh apricots, strawberries and plums, blueberries and watermelon, filberts and cashews or walnuts, all fit in, with maybe one single, blander veg, like cuke or yellow squash, to play off of all that sweet & tart. This is a far more filling meal than it appears, too, so don't think you have to have slices of nut bread on the side-- it's nice, as is a wedge of blue cheese and crackers-- but not needed.

 In the coming week, I'm prepping my house and yard for an ice cream social in honor of my mother's birthday next weekend, so I'll be making ice cream and maybe toppings, and hopefully, not melting, myself.

 Keep cool! Mari

Friday, June 22, 2012

Fresh Minute

I'm into crisp, this week. If I'm having a taco or sandwich or bowl of pasta, I'd just as soon top it with a quickly made fresh salsa of minced vegetables/fruit instead of cheese.

  (cukes, 'matoes, cilantro)

 That's how to get through the heat. Lucky for me, the Farmer's Market starts tomorrow.

 See you then! Peace, Mari

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Cool Food-- Pics Only

Tomatoes, sprouts, onions, seeds, croutons, viniagrette.

And in the late afternoon, sharing a growler of Saranac's Blueberry Blonde Ale.

 Keep cool--- Mari

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Last Word on Food...

...On my cookbook shelf, is my hot-off-the-press copy of the glossy new fourth edition of The Culinary Institute of America's Garde Manger.
 Isn't it lovely??? The stylish cover drew me irresistibly.

 At 75 USD, it is a book I would normally try taking out of the library, and keeping through several renewals. But having let various gift certificates to B&N stack up in my drawer, and being a member of the B&N club, I got it-- with free express 3-day shipping-- for just over 41 USD, tax included.

 Yes, it was cheaper online, with the member discount and a coupon, than in the Niagara Falls Boulevard store. Where, I say with disgust, it was not on the shelves, and would have had to be ordered for pick-up anyway. Disgust, because every other giant tome from every corner of the known earth was there, except for this basic resource. Why, in Buffalo, NY, should I be able to get that revered Italian compendium, The Silver Spoon, easier from my local bookseller than any edition put out by the CIA?

 And apparently, oversized cookbooks that are either exhaustive in scope, or that obsessively focus on a single ingredient, are in vogue just now. The shelves were drooping under the weight of them all, from an 850 page book on barbecue to a drinks manual that would terrify Dale Degroff.

 Did I want some of them? Yes. But nowadays, when my cookbooks are more for jump-starting my inspiration than for strict use of recipes, I don't spend cash on a book unless I've already perused it well, and know beyond a doubt that it will lift me up in the kitchen, time and again.

 Buying used books is a thrill that lets me break that rule. But I digress--

  Garde Manger contains more than enough solid technique and excellent recipes to open a restaurant from, and I'm especially intrigued by the cheese-making section. How much better, for one thing, will my fermented nut cheeses be, when I've made classic, fresh mozzarella? I look forward to understanding the cheese process from every side possible, except perhaps that of raising goats.

 Even the section on charcuterie is interesting, and I think will yield great vegetable experiments. Learning to go beyond my current cooking knowledge is a privilege, and having the means to do so, such a gift. So thanks, again, Janet & Terry, for those gift cards!

Q: What are three older cookbooks you couldn't do without?

 I'd pick The Silver Palate cookbooks, and not just because my favorite pie crust recipe is in one. Otherwise, it would have to be, you guessed it, Laurel's Kitchen, which always brings me back to basic family style vegetarian cooking, yet has so many recipes perfect for impressing meatists.

 And Madhur Jaffrey's Cookbook, which I've cooked my way through almost completely, over the years. The rice recipes alone make it a necessity for me.

 Do tell what your faves are, and don't be shy that they're not vegetarian.

 Peace, Mari



Friday, May 25, 2012

Nutty Approach to the Heat

Summery weather here in Buffland has me looking for more quick, easy raw dishes. Being hunched over the stove on an 80 degree day is not to my taste; and I'm too scattered in the mornings, too busy searching out a luscious breeze, to use the crockpot much yet.

Besides, raw food is full of water, and life; it's hydrating, and energizing, and cooling, all at once. And the sheer bulk of uncooked vegetables makes them filling. That's what I'm wanting now, and that's why I find myself using raw nut 'meat' for many creations.

 (Maybe we should even try to get beyond that description, and call it a filling, but that seems vague and easy to misunderstand. Ah, well, I'll leave the label issue for another day).

 If I just begin by soaking some almonds, cashews or walnuts for a while in the afternoon, I'm good to go come dinner prep-time. You can soak them for as little as an hour before use, to make them more easily digestible and blendable with flavorings, but if you have the presence of mind, start them at lunchtime and drain and refrigerate a few hours later. Catch the drained soaking water to use as a vitamin treat for your houseplants or garden.

 After draining, grind half the nuts fine, and half a little chunkier, for texture and chew factor,
(I use about 1 1/2 C for two people, but use more if you like-- leftovers keep well in the fridge for days), and then add your flavorings, tastings as you go-- a few drops of extra virgin olive oil, or sesame or walnut or basil oil-- a minced clove of garlic, and then seasonings appropriate to your dish, plus a grinding of sea salt. Note-- before adding the oil, the mixture should hold together well and not be too goopy and wet-- if it is, scoop it out to a bowl and grind a handful or so of unsoaked nuts fine, add to the original mixture and let it soak up the extra moisture. Then proceed with adding your spices as usual.

If you're not sure what you'll creating, add a simple herb, like dill or thyme, or fennel seed, that can blend well with many cuisines. In any case, set the nutmeat aside in the fridge, if you can, for a half hour, to firm up a bit, and let it pick up the taste of the seasonings.

 We like to have raw taco nutmeat salad, piling small mounds of cumin & chili-scented nutmeat around a bed of shredded lettuce, shredded cabbage or carrot, with sliced zukes or cukes, peppers of course, jicama, onion if we want, orange or apple bits, corn sliced off the cob, maybe some guacamole, all topped with chunked raw salsa or coriander for juiciness.

 Don't be contained by conventional ideas of taco ingredients either-- for one thing, our US version of tacos is hardly authentic; for another, it's really the seasonings and the combo of creamy/crunchy that make it anyhow. I often throw some slivered broccoli into both cooked and uncooked burrito mixtures, and the addition works. Don't even be hard-nosed about using all raw, here-- run hot water over frozen corn to thaw, squeeze out the moisture, and add to your salad. A sprtiz of lime will freshen the corn flavor, of you have some on hand.

 You could use sesame oil instead, and make raw pad thai, using uncooked vegetables, and some soaked glass noodles to fill in your favorite recipe. The nut meat can be formed into small balls or coins, or just crumbled, and you won't need to add crushed peanuts for nuttiness, unless you want to!

 Using minced onion, dried oregano and savory in the nut mix makes a good flavor base for mini-sliders-- finely chopped pickle or a spoonful of relish added works, too. Form the tiny burgers right after grinding and seasoning the nut mixture, then do the half hour chilling. Serve on buns or green salad with your usual toppings, or eat them on top of a pile of coleslaw or a bed of sliced mushrooms dressed with raw shoyu or a viniagrette.  Some crudite or fresh fruit on the side makes a meal.

 The same flavors of oregano and onion, plus dill and/or mint, turn your nut meat into a souvlaki filling for pita or to top a salad with-- use the nut meat in place of feta if you're trying, as I am, to use less cheese. Make a traditional salad of chunked tomato, peppers, cucumbers, and olives; or put that all onto spinach or lettuce and add croutons, for a great meal. Olive oil and red wine vinegar make the perfect, simple dressing, while lemon juice and parsley dress it up and add authenticity.

 These are a few of my regular raw nut dinner standbys-- but I'd love to hear your ideas. Enjoy!

  Peace, Mari

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Drinks 'n Things

Some quick happenings in the area, that you won't want to miss-- I know I have to miss both, and don't want to!

 Another The Dude Hates Cancer event, and for fans of wine and sport, Bases Merlot-ed for Shakespeare in the Park.

 Doesn't that sound like a ball?

 Peace, Mari

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Seeing Pink

 For a Mother's Day luncheon with my sisters, I was tasked with bringing the dessert, and asked for a cake. This could have presented a problem, since some in my family don't like chocolate, some don't like banana, some eschew walnuts. Which meant that my down-pat, go-to cakes were off the table.

 This the cake I made--

I saw it on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens magazine, and couldn't resist, especially after reading the words "Pink Lemonade Cake." I love lemon, and I knew everyone else would too. It was pretty, with four layers comprised of two different shades of pink, inside.

 What I didn't realize was that this beauty would call for a full 2 pounds of butter, most of which went into the frosting, along with 32 ounces of-- wait for it-- Marshmallow Fluff.

I'm serious.

And you know what? It was delicious, and not difficult, with a stand mixer to help. If you make the frosting on one day, and then the cake the next, you won't even have to handwash the mixer parts in between, as I did, you can throw them in the dishwasher instead.  Just make sure you take the frosting out for an hour before using, to soften. 

For once, I followed the recipe almost exactly; I didn't rush out and replace my lovely coloring gels with liquid red food coloring, and neither should you-- just tint carefully, and make sure the second panful of batter is a slightly deeper pink than the first.

Never having made buttercream without real butter, I can't say how this frosting recipe would turn out using margarine-- but the cake could easily accomodate oil instead of butter, using the same amount of fat (1 Cup). 

This is what the cake looks like inside:

And here is the recipe, perfect for a special day when you don't mind throwing your calorie counter out the window. Hey, my younger sister eats gluten-free and dairy-free, and she had a small piece anyway-- and said it was worth it.

Pink Lemonade Cake

 Makes: 18 servings (from BH&G, May 2012)

Prep: 1 hr Bake: 350°F 35 mins to 40 mins Cool: 1 hr


1 cup butter (2 sticks)

4 eggs

3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups sugar

Red food coloring

1 1/3 cups milk

1/4 cup frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed

1 teaspoon pure lemon extract

1 recipe Lemonade Butter Frosting


1. Allow butter and eggs to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, grease two 9x2-inch round cake pans. Line bottoms with parchment; grease paper. Flour pans, tapping to remove excess; set aside. In medium bowl stir together 3-1/3 cups flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In an extra-large mixing bowl beat butter with mixer on medium to high for 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar, about 1/4 cup at a time, beating on medium until well combined. Scrape sides of bowl; beat 2 minutes more. Add 1/8 tsp. red food coloring; beat to combine. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

3. In bowl stir together milk, lemonade concentrate, and extract (mixture will look curdled). Alternately add flour mixture and milk mixture to butter mixture, beating on low after each addition just until combined. Remove half (4 cups) the batter; spread in one pan. In remaining batter, stir 1/4 tsp. red food coloring. Spread in second pan.

4. Bake about 35 minutes, until tops spring back when lightly touched. Meanwhile, prepare Lemonade Butter Frosting.

5. Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove layers from pans; peel off waxed paper. Cool completely on wire racks. Trim off domed tops of layers so cake will stand flat. Cut each layer horizontally in half, making four layers. Brush crumbs from layers.

6. Place one dark pink layer, cut-side down, on a plate. Spread 1 cup frosting just to edges. Top with a light pink layer, followed by second dark pink layer, spreading frosting on each just to edges. Stack final light pink layer, cut-side down. Spread frosting on top and sides as desired.

From the Test Kitchen

•Tip Evenly color layers: To incorporate food coloring evenly in batter, add the first portion of food coloring to butter and sugar mixture before adding eggs.

•Tip Lemon Garnish: Thinly slice lemons and remove seeds. Coat with sugar then arrange on cake just before serving.

Lemonade Buttercream Frosting

Yield: about 6 cups


3 cups(6 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 16-oz jars marshmallow creme*

1/4 cup frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed

1 cup powdered sugar

2 teaspoons pure lemon extract


1. In very large mixing bowl beat softened butter with mixer on medium for 30 seconds, until light and fluffy. Add marshmallow creme and lemonade concentrate. Beat until smooth, scraping sides of bowl. Add powdered sugar and extract; beat until light and fluffy. (If frosting is stiff, soften in microwave no more than 10 seconds, then beat until smooth.)

2. Frost Pink Lemonade Cake. To store frosting, cover and refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 1 month. Bring to room temperature before frosting cake. Makes 6 cups.

From the Test Kitchen•Tip Room-temperature butter ensures that the frosting will be creamy and spreadable.
•Tip * If only 13-oz. jars are available, add 6 oz. (1-1/2 cup) marshmallow creme.

Nutrition Facts (Pink Lemonade Cake)

Servings Per Recipe: 18***

***note-- you can't get 18 pieces by cutting the cake into large wedges-- which you won't need anyway, since the topping is so rich and the cake so satisfying. What you do is cut the top two layers into smaller squares, and so on. I used my old Betty Crocker cookbook for guidance, and still didn't make that many slices, but it is a large cake! If I can find an online source for this method, I'll post it here later.

 Peace, Mari 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Their Love is Cold

 I'm speaking of our local ice cream parlors and shops, of course. We may still have frost at night here in Buffland, but the warm days call for cool treats-- so here's a short list of some of the best I've been to in the last 2 summers. Lucky for me, Kenmore is home to some of the best pizza and ice cream in our area. And most of it comes through local, or locally owned, chains or stores.

 At Anderson's, you can get nearly any kind of shake, malt, sundae, or cone, but I adore the Raspberry Craze smoothie, a vegan treat that, for 50 cents more, you can make into a real pick-me-up by adding soy protein. This filling, lowfat snack of a drink is made with berries and apple juice, and it's thick, chilling, and super-fruity. The only possible drawback-- tiny raspberry seeds, but I don't mind them.

 Anderson's also serves great curly fries, a large and tasty veg burger, and even boasts a gluten-free menu.

Hanna's Frosty Treats, on Colvin in Buffalo, is both very inexpensive, and a sweet place to grab a cone. They use wonderful ice cream from Perry's, always a sure thing. We've especially liked the Creme de Menthe and Grasshopper sundaes, and when I only have a few bucks to spend, we can each get a cone and have change left. But be warned, the large cones here are a damn good size, and I've never been able to finish one. The biggest I can sometimes handle is a medium.

 There is covered outside seating, and friendly people from the neighborhood hanging around. They know a good thing when they taste it.

Reid's on Elmwood is a tradition, and for good reason. They also serve Perry's, and burgers and dogs and other reasonably priced fare. The large sunny deck that surrounds the shop makes for fine seating and eating. I try different flavors every time I go there, and have never been disappointed yet. They have flavors you don't see everywhere, and it's a family-owned business that rightfully prides itself on customer service.

 *Note-- cash is king at Hanna's and Reid's, so plan accordingly.

 While Hanna's and Reid's are open seasonally, Condrell's on Delaware Avenue, like Anderson's, stays open all year. With specialties like Maple Cider sundaes in the autumn, it's easy to see why they can last throughout the year.

 The decor is sort of a bright, kitschy fifties style, with old-timey posters on the walls, and it works for them. They have lavish sundaes and lovely candies, too.

 Get a small sundae and pile on the works, unless you have an appetite like the Hulk-- or have one of their excellent hand-dipped shakes. It's a little more than what you'd pay elsewhere, but totally worth it, and you can top off your unique ice cream adventure with a nice espresso or coffee, as well.

 I'd be remiss if I didn't put in a good word for my local Dairy Queen outpost on Elmwood-- although it's a big chain, you get very good service at this location. The employees are young, (and cute), and  always attentive and enthusiastic; and they make the best Peanut Buster parfait in WNY.

 DQ is open later than most ice cream places, too, and you can use plastic to pay, which makes them an easy option on many a hot night. I can't tell you how many times we've arrived there just before close, and waited in a short line full of students from the nearby dance studio, all replenishing their calcium, I guess. But the lines move fast there, and there are plenty of tables.

 Farther afield, the irreplaceable Parkside Candies on Main & Winspear in Buffalo, near UB's South Campus, serves up some of the best ice cream anywhere in a spectacular old-time soda shop atmosphere. The vaulted ceiling and tiled floors enclose a cool, spacious setting that is unmatched in its slightly shabby grandeur. They have soups, sandwiches, shakes. etc., all with tableside service, all at the lower end of reasonably priced.

 When yours truly was growing up on nearby Heath Street, 40 years back before the neighborhood was a complete student ghetto, I adored going into this shop and buying a solid maple sugar candy shaped as a Canadian maple leaf. They were so sweet I never finished them in one sitting. And the sponge candy was to die for!

 My favorite taste here, nowadays, is the deeply flavored, subtle and wonderful coffee ice cream, when they have it. If you want to spoil your Mom this week, bring her to Parkside, for ice cream and memories.

 Did I say this was a short list???

 Well, not as short as it could be, but I can't end it without mentioning the $6 milkshakes at Lake Effect Diner, a place that is an experience unto itself (pics below), Sweet Jenny's on Main in Williamsville-- home to maybe the best cinnamon ice cream ever-- and the newcomer, the Parker-Hertel Sweet Shop.* The baked goods there are homemade and wonderful, the service is friendly, the place is pretty, and the ice cream, awesome. Check it out soon!

 (The counter at Lake Effect-- one of the last authentic dining car diners in America).

Have a beautiful day--

Peace, Mari
*Sadly, the Parker-Hertel Sweet Shoppe is long closed, and after several other quickly closed businesses ran their course in the location, it has been expanded into the now well-established Daily Planet Coffeehouse. Good food, good music, great espresso.