True Confessions of a Mid-Life Cook

There's a definite correlation between my profound love of music and how and what I've taught myself to cook. My favorite music to listen to and to perform is soulful, sensual, sometimes funky and always bluesy in nature . . . and that's exactly how I cook. I like to get my hands in the food. I chop, I knead, I stir with my hands. Sometimes I wear my big rimmed cowboy hat, nightie and Old Gringo boots in kitchen, sometimes a coonskin cap when the mood strikes and sometimes just an apron and a smile. Using the freshest of ingredients, I love to bringing a new spirit to old favorites. I am so to drawn dishes seeping in both Texas and Southern tradition,with a special affinity for those authentic old jewels found in South Louisiana.
Because they, too, are so powerfully soulful?

I've discovered being a good cook is a journey and not a destination. (Yes, I stole an over-used corporate slogan and made it my own--but it's still the truth) Every time we screw up, we learn. And in part, that's what this blog is about. Cooking fearlessly. With heart, with soul -- and with some damn good music to inspire. (If your three layer chocolate cake ends up looking like a Jerry Springer rerun or you cut the tip of your thumb off while making New Year's Day gumbo, WHO CARES?Proclaim Francine Reed's "I'm a Handful" your theme song. She would like that.)
We cook because we find ourselves kinda empty if we don't.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Little Blue Monday Crackers

Don't let these delicate little crackers fool you . . .they carry a powerful punch that will make any blue cheese lover bow at your feet when you share.  Easy.  And perfect for Monday night football watching. Eat them bare or crown them with a favorite topping such as a savory roast beef spread.  After all, beef and blue cheese is a marriage made in culinary heaven!

3/4 cup blue cheese, crumbled
scant 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup blue cornmeal (or yellow)
pinch of salt
1 beaten egg for glazing (optional)

(Line two baking sheets with wax or parchment paper.)

Preheat oven to 405.
Mix the butter, cheese and egg yolk and then work in the mixed flour, cornmeal and salt just enough to form a soft dough.  Shape the dough into a disc and refrigerate for for at least 30 to 45 minutes to rest.    Dust a surface with flour and a little corn meal.  Roll out pasty til a little under a 1/4" thick.  Cut in squares or half moons.  (Next time, I may use an extra small round cookie cutter for a more uniform look.)  Brush with the egg glaze right before putting them in the oven.  Bake for about 20 minutes until the edges are nicely browned.  Remove to a wire rack and cool.

Note:  Blue cheeses can vary greatly in taste.  Many centuries ago, cheese was left to age in some moldy cave and became streaked with bluish-green mold.  But rather than spoiling the cheese, the mold gave it a pungent and distinctive flavor, and blue cheese was born.  Since then, cheese-makers learned to inject or stir mold spores into different cheeses, and many still use caves to age them.

Play with different blue cheeses to come up with the combination you love the most.  The possibilities are endless.  See the following link:

Suggested listening:

Batman sings "Am I Blue?"

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Frozen Mango Margaritas

Hello sunshine! The skies have cleared, the sun has made a welcomed appearance, and our neighborhood is abuzz with yard maintenance action following a highly unusual 'monsoon season' in West Texas (or the closest thing I've ever seen to a monsoon season out here.)  Nothing greets a sweaty, weary yard girl quite like a fruity frozen concoction and this frozen mango margarita just may be my personal favorite.  Icy, a little tart, not too sweet.  Truly like biting into a cold, juicy mango.

Frozen Mango Margarita for Dos
Combine . . .
8 oz. 'Finest Call Premium Mango Puree Mix' (comes in a 1 liter bottle)
3 to 3 1/2 oz. 'Margaritaville Last Mango' tequila/mango liqueur

Blend until smooth.
Served in salted or sugared rimmed glass.
Garnish with lime.

Suggested listening: Jimmy Cliff " I Can See Clearly Now the Rain is Gone/Bright Sunshiny Day"

Monday, July 5, 2010

Momma Needs It Quick Blackberry Cobbler

Blackberries. I have such sacred memories of barefoot summers in East Texas eating these little jewels right off the vine. And gathering them in a borrowed apron from my grandmother's kitchen for one of Shirley Collier's unforgettable cobblers. 

Not much has changed for me over the years regarding my love affair with blackberries. I anxiously await their arrival each summer. And although they now make their appearance in the produce section at HEB in San Angelo rather than down a country fence line in Union Grove, Texas, they taste just about as sweet.

My recipes using blackberries are endless.  From golden little fried pies, to blackberry/red wine jam, to protein shakes and yes, of course, cobblers.  Every 4th of July demands a blackberry cobbler at my house.

This year, I was running out of time in the kitchen and decided to simplify things somewhat.  So what do I do? I head to the liquor cabinet, of course . . .where I came across a bottle of mango liqueur, which I knew would make a delightful addition to the filling. And then decided to create a quick crumble crust for a nice crunch. Although I don't have a specific measurement for each ingredient that I used, the end result was, well, "bombs bursting in air" good.  And from now on, this will be my standard blackberry cobbler. 

Five or six 12oz. cartons of fresh blackberries.
Enough sugar to coat well.
1/4 to 1/2 cup of Margaritaville 'Last Mango' Tequila/Mango Liqueur

Pour berries in large mixing bowl and add enough sugar to coat well. Stir GENTLY until berries are coated. Add mango liqueur and stir GENTLY one more time. Let sit for about 15 - 20 minutes while you make the crumble topping and prepare the baking dish.

Preheat oven to 350. Melt a few of tablespoons of butter and coat all sides of an 8"x13" Pyrex baking dish well.

1 cup cold diced butter (2 sticks) (Please use real butter always. No substitutes.)
2 cups white flour
1 cup granulated sugar

Pour flour into medium size mixing bowl.  Work in butter with pastry cutter or your hands until the mixture resembles coarse meal.  (I always use my hands just because.) Add sugar and mix in  well with your hands . . . or even your left foot for all I care. :) Just not an electric mixer. Jill. And Whitney.

Sprinkle a quarter of the mixture on the bottom of the prepared baking dish (you don't have to cover every square inch) and place in the oven for about 10 minutes until light gold.  Remove and then . . .

With a slotted spoon, drain berries lightly and GENTLY and place in prepared dish. (Reserve remaining liquid.) Dot with a little butter and then top evenly with crumbled topping and bake for almost an hour on a middle rack.  The last 2-4 minutes, move to a higher rack and broil until topping is nice and brown. WATCH CAREFULLY not to burn.

Serve with homemade vanilla ice cream and  reserved mango liqueur/berry concoction.

Take a bite and then kiss a patriot. Or whatever is close.  

Suggested listening:  Blackberry by the Black Crowes

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fresh Vegetarian Tacos

Recently, there have been some food changes at my house.  Someone, who shall remain nameless, has high blood pressure and so the cook in the family has had to think differently about how she prepares food.  Due to time constraints, focusing on landing and accepting a new job, I've neglected my blog.  But last night, I created something that hit the mark as far and being healthy and blog worthy all at the same time.

These initially started out as fish tacos, but when I discovered the talapia that I thought I had in freezer was MIA, I opted to go vegetarian.  The results were no less than remarkable.

Whole wheat tacos

Tarter sauce
Hellman's regular mayo (light has more salt) or your own homemade
Plain Greek yogurt
Juice of one lemon
Chopped fresh cilantro
Chopped fresh parsley (little bit)
One small onion, diced
One medium dill pickle, minced
Splash of pickle juice
Black pepper
Cayenne pepper
1 dash of Slap Your Mama Cajun seasoning

1/2 package of Mann's Broccoli Cole Slaw or any broccoli sprouts
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 peeled cucumber, diced
1 ripe Hass avocado, peeled and chopped

2 portabella mushrooms, chopped

Mix up your tarter sauce, using 1 part mayo to 1 part yogurt -- the remaining portions of ingredients
are up to you
Mix with broccoli slaw
Stir in other vegetables except for mushrooms

Heat a little olive oil in  a cast iron skillet to med hot
Cook mushrooms until soft and set aside

In same skillet, without cleaning, lightly brown your tortillas to bring out maximum flavor and assemble the tacos any which way you want.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

My Banana Nut Bread is All Sauced Up

This morning I noticed I had three bananas that were quickly reaching their ripening peak and I knew I would either have to make banana bread or throw them out. Well, I opted to make banana bread because I hate  throwing out black bananas. (They're PERFECT for baking.) And it's quick. And it's easy. And I had walnuts on hand (although I prefer pecans) which is most unusual. I won't make banana bread if I don't have pecans or walnuts so I decided that this was a sign from God to move forward.

Today, I'm also using Frangelico. I always use some type of liquor or liquer with this quickbread -- whether it be Frangelico, Amaretto, brandy, coconut rum or bourbon (I've even used Southern Comfort) -- because it adds depth to the flavor and ensures that it's ultra-moist without anyone knowing it's in there.

And when I have it, I'll throw in some coconut.  But today I don't so I won't.

I read somewhere that banana bread originated in the depression era at the time baking soda became a staple in America's kitchens.  It was economical, required little skill and was insanely good.  Some 80 years later, it's just as popular for the same reasons. 

10 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup or a little more of mashed ripe banana (about 3 med) with 2 tablespoons of Frangelico liqueur (or most any hard spirit you have on hand -- see above for ideas) stirred in
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs (room temp) whisked
2 cups cake flour
3/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
A little cinnamon, nutmeg and/or cloves (optional)
1 cup TOASTED pecans or walnuts (yes, toast them, it makes the world of difference - 400 degree oven on greased cookie sheet - 5 to 7 minutes, stirring once. Watch carefully - don't burn. I've burned them sooo many times!)

Preheat oven to 350
Lightly grease 9 1/4 by 5 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan with a little butter, set aside

Combine whisked eggs, mashed banana, sour cream and vanilla in a med bowl and mix well. (Some recipes suggest putting these ingredients into a food processor and process until smooth, and you certainly can do just that.  But I don't.   I like the occasional small chunk of banana in the bread.)

Sift dry ingredients into large bowl, stirring to mix.  Add butter and mix with electric mixer (med speed) until well blended, about 30 seconds.  Add banana mixture in three batches, scraping the sides of the bowl and mixing thoroughly each time.  Fold in pecans, or in my case today, walnuts.

Pour into loaf pan and bake until lightly browned, about an hour and 10 minutes.

Let cool 10 minutes before turning onto wire rack to cool completely.

Today's suggested listening is inspired by flies being in my kitchen (can't you hear 'em they're buzzin') this morning (it's SPRING!!) - and the fact that banana bread reminds me of both my mom and my Nana -- both being 'another child that's grown old.'  And I'm well on my way. :)

Bonnie Raitt's take on the John Prine classic, 'Angel from Montgomery'

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Buttermilk Cornmeal Pie with a key lime kick

I decided to bake a buttermilk pie today  because, well,  I had some buttermilk. And then I decided to add cornmeal to it to 'chess' it up a bit because I like the top 'crust' that the cornmeal naturally creates. 

I prefer a little tartness that lemons usually bring to this pie, but my Dillon isn't much for lemons and besides, I didn't have any.  But I did have a lime, so I thought 'why not.'  It dawned on me that we had some KeKe Beach Key Lime Creme Liqueur in the refrigerator that might make an interesting addition so I worked that in as well.  

The end result was no less than wonderful.  My husband, who is now beginning to understand just what a blog is, and has actually read parts of this one, said, "Take a picture of that damn pie."  In other words, it was blog worthy in his opinion.  So I did.  And here you go.

First make your favorite single 8" pie crust and bake it for about 8 minutes in a 425 oven. Set aside to let cool.

Set oven temp to 350

2 cups sugar
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
4 eggs, well beaten until light in color
1/2 stick butter melted and cooled
Juice and zest of one lime
1/2 cup buttermilk well shaken
1/2 cup KeKe Beach Key Lime Creme Liqueur


Mix dry ingredients in large bowl
Stir in melted butter
Stir in beaten eggs and add buttermilk slowly 
and then liqueur 
and stir until thoroughly mixed. 
Then stir in the fresh lime juice and zest and mix.
Pour over pie crust and  place in 350 degree oven for about 40 to 45 minutes until nicely browned

Let cool at least half an hour before serving. 

Note:  I continue to be very pleased with my little Canon PowerShot A1100IS.  The KeKe Beach bottle looks like it's suspended in air kind of, doesn't it?

Coconut by Harry Nilsson 

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Macaroni and cheese with crunchy panko topping

This rainy and cold day (so rudely interrupting a glorious spring break in West Texas,) demands a little taste of comfort to help my crew forgive and even possibly forget Mama Nature's latest little joke.  And when I turn to comfort food, its usually in the form of macaroni and cheese because it's a crowd-pleaser. It can hold it's own as a main course when paired with a green salad.  And it makes my eyes roll back in my head, warming my soul.

This is a such versatile dish with so many interesting selections of cheeses and spices from which to choose.  Today I'm using white Cheddar, Romano and Asiago cheeses because they are just the best when combined with the wonderfully crunchy panko topping (Japanese bread crumbs - don't worry, your larger grocery chain will have it.)

1 tablespoon seasalt
Chicken stock
1 lb elbow macaroni
6 tablespoons butter (3/4 stick)
6 tablespoons all purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 pound white cheddar cheese, shredded
4 oz Romano cheese, shredded
4 oz Asiago cheese, shredded
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups panko

Preheat oven to 325
Bring large pot of chicken stock to boil over high heat, add the mac and cook stirring some, until al dente, 7 to 8 minutes. Drain.

Melt butter in large saucepan over med heat. Sprinkle the flour over the butter and cook whisking continuously about 3-4  minutes (you're making a blond roux.) Add milk and whisk away until the sauce is thick and bubbly.  Add heavy cream, all three cheeses and the salt & pepper. Cook, stirring until cheeses are melted completely.

Add the macaroni to the cheese mixture and mix thoroughly. Transfer to a buttered 9x13-in baking dish and top with the panko crumbs.  Bake until hot and golden, about 15 to 20 minutes.I always broil for about 2 minutes to get the panko crumbs nice and brown.

Thoughts on variations:  My kids are somewhat mac-n-cheese purists and have only recently accepted the panko so if I'm cooking with them in mind, I keep it simple.  However, you can see where the sky is the limit on variations.  A few ideas:
  • Top with bacon crumbs and chopped sweet onion after baking
  • Stir in carmelized onion before baking
  • Add Italian spices to your cheese mixture and maybe a little cooked Italian sausage
  • Top with pulverized cheddar Gold Fish crackers before baking
  • Top with buttered bread crumbs, fresh Parmesan before baking
  • Add Albacore tuna and tarragon to the cheese mixture
  • Stir in a  touch of chorizo sausage and chopped cilantro
  • Add cooked CRAWFISH TAILS and a little cayenne or Zatarains seasoning or both!
Once you've made your own mac and cheese from scratch, it's doubtful that you'll go back to those Kraft boxes. I'm sitting here typing this watching one of my fourteen year olds in the kitchen sneaking more bites, after devouring a plateful just minutes ago.  His eyes are rolling back in his head, too . . .although he'd never admit it.

Note on reheating:  This recipe makes a bunch of macaroni and cheese.  Tonight I reheated a little of the leftovers  in a small Pyrex dish  when I was oven frying some fish in a hot oven (about 425) for 20 minutes.
This temp browned the bottom adding yet even more crunch to the panko that had settled and didn't dry it out.  Even BETTER the second time around.

Suggested listening:  ". . .like a school girl waiting for the spring."  That's me today.  Norah Jone's "Turn Me On."