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."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Chicken flautas with citrus slaw and spicy avocado creme

I remember eating flautas as a small child at the El Chicos in Longview, Texas on Hwy. 80 about every other weekend. (Flautas and those to-die-for hot pickled onions from the relish dish.)    I loved everything about flautas.  I especially loved to order them just to hear myself say 'flautas' out loud. Quite melodic, don't you think? -- (which is appropriate because flautas translated into English means 'flute.')
Fast forward thirty-five years and my love affair with flautas hasn't changed much.  Although they are referred to as tapatios at times and some are made with *gasp* flour tortillas instead of corn, MY definition of flautas is corn tortillas stuffed with a seasoned, shredded meat - beef, chicken or pork- rolled tightly and fried to a brown, crispy heavenly flute.

In San Angelo, Texas, flautas/tapitios are served with cabbage piled on top and at my favorite neighborhood little Mexican hole-in-the-wall, they add this incredible tomatillo/avocado/jalapeno/cilantro creme over the flautas and lemon slices on the side.  OMG, OMG, OMG - I can't get enough of it.

Last night, I attempted this dish at home for the first time, tweaked it a little to make it my own, and had exceptional results.  Heads up:  This isn't something that you can just 'throw' together - it takes a little time and can be somewhat messy.  But the end result is very impressive. (I would have taken a picture of the completed plate but my camera's batteries ran out of juice.Yes, I said damnit. At least three times.)

Also, when I cook, I seldom go by a recipe, unless I'm baking, so I'm not good at recording exact measurements, especially with this dish.  But I'll give you what I can and trust that you can eyeball and taste your way through whatever you need to.

Chicken breasts - enough to make a couple of cups of shredded chicken
3 Ancho chilis,  (these are dried poblanos and although they are optional, they add such a flavor to the chicken)
Small package of white or yellow corn tortillas - I use white for no specific reason
Oil for softening  tortillas and oil for frying

First cook the chicken slowly in liquid for about 2 hours so that it shreds easily. I cooked them in a large, deep skillet last night on the stovetop. I quartered my breasts, poured a stout beer over them with  some water, added those delightful ancho chilis, covered and let them slowly cook, adding a little water as needed.

While your chicken is cooking, prepare your spicy avocado creme.
Take one ripe avocado, cilantro to taste, jalapeno to taste, (I used 3 UNseeded) a dollop of fresh sour cream, 4 tomatillos, and blend in food processor or blender until smooth. Add buttermilk and keep blending until the consistency is that of a relatively thick salad dressing.  Add a little garlic powder and  sea salt to taste and blend again.

At this time you can also get your slaw ready to go.  This is SIMPLE but you don't want to add your dressing until the last second to keep cabbage super crisp.  In a large mixing bowl add a package of shredded slaw and one med sweet onion, chopped.  In a cup mix the juice of 2 lemons, 1 lime, a teaspoon of sugar, two teaspoons of black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt.  Set aside.

Take out your ancho chilis, seed and peel off clear coating.  Chop and return to cooking chicken.

When chicken is tender, remove and shred with fork or chop up with knife and place in medium bowl.
Add garlic, cumin powder, chili powder, sea salt and black pepper to taste. Also add the cooked chilis and a little of the DELICIOUS pan juices to moisten the chicken.

Now here comes the messy part.  I have found NO other method of softening corn tortillas as effective as heating them quickly in hot oil. So, in one skillet, heat about a 1/4 inch oil on medium heat for softening tortillas. In another skillet, begin heating 1/2 oil over medium/high heat for frying the flautas.

Quickly add tortillas, one at a time, to med hot oil leaving only a second, GENTLY turn over with tongs for another second and GENTLY remove and let drain on paper towels in a tortilla warmer if you have one. If not, a large deep bowl will do to keep warm.  12 tortillas should be plenty for two people.

Using an oven mitt or  some paper towels, (the tortillas will be HOT), take each tortilla, add a heaping tablespoon of the chicken mixture to the side and roll tightly, securing with a tooth pick.  Add to hot oil, no more than three at a time. Fry until light golden brown on the bottom, then turn until the other side is lightly browned.  Watch carefully because they will brown quickly if your oil is hot enough.   Drain on paper towels.And yes, at some point you will need to remove the toothpicks.

Pour citrus dressing over cabbage and quickly mix.  Put four to six flautas on a plate, drizzle generously with spicy avocado creme, top with cabbage and garnish with a cilantro sprig.

I finally got this on the table at about 8:30 last night -- but it was well worth the wait.  The warm flautas with the cool, crisp sweet-tart slaw and the spicy avocado creme -- the BEST of this East/West Texas' girl's Tex-Mex cuisine.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Essence of Orange and Grapefruit Biscuits

What a girl can do with a basic biscuit recipe!   I've taken the beautiful Southern biscuit, have added a bit of fresh orange and grapefruit and a dollop of sweet citrus butter and ta-daaaa --- the newest breakfast favorite at the Halfmann's.

It takes about 10 minutes to make the biscuits, so it's one of those recipes that you can whip out there on a frenzied morning.  And homemade tastes SO MUCH BETTER than canned.

First, lightly grate the peel of one large orange and 1/2 a grapefruit. (When making zest, you don't want to grate more than just the top colorful part of the peel, the deeper 'white stuff' is bitter.) Note: I used the grapefruit only because I had it on hand. Although I found it to be an interesting addition, it is by no means necessary.

My favorite biscuit recipe:

Preheat oven to 425

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 stick COLD unsalted butter, diced into 1/4 inch cubes
2/3 cup buttermilk

Add first four ingredients and zest of orange and grapefruit (reserving a teaspoon of each to make citrus butter) into large mixing bowl and blend quickly with hands so it's well mixed. Add cubes of butter and work into flour mixture with hands and fingers quickly, so it resembles coarse meal.  Make a well with the mixture and pour in buttermilk. Again, working quickly and lightly with hands just until the dough comes together somewhat and you can form a ball with the dough.  Turn out on a lightly floured surface and press ball down and fold dough just two or three  times until smooth.  At this time roll out (make sure your rolling pin is floured) or press out to where dough is about 1/2" and cut with round biscuit/cookie cutter or small glass. Use all dough -- makes nine or 10 biscuits.

Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes.  You want the bottom of the biscuits light golden brown and the tops lightly browned.  Don't overcook.

While the biscuits are baking, soften 3 tablespoons of butter in the microwave  and add a squeeze of orange and a little squeeze of grapefruit and blend into butter along with the remaining two teaspoons of zest.
You can melt the butter, add the juice and the zest and then enough powdered sugar with a spash of milk to make a sweet glaze icing (see bottom picture.)  That's the way my kids like them, of course.

Spread a little or a lot of either spread in the middle of each warm biscuit and eat 'em up!

Suggested listening:  "Roly Poly" by Bob Wills and most recently The Dixie Chicks w/Asleep at the Wheel

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Savory Scone aka "My Uppity Texas Biscuit"

Scones are to the English what biscuits are to Southerners. Originating in Scotland in the 1500's, this quickbread has evolved from being made of oats and griddle baked, to a more delicate flour based bread, baked in the oven.  In England, they're served with afternoon tea.  At my house, this particular savory scone is served with a cup of coffee in the morning, or even a beer in the afternoon.

You will love my uppity Texian biscuits with apple bacon, sharp cheddar cheese and jalapenos.  Especially during this particular week, remembering the Alamo and all.  EASY to make. If I can, you can.

Should  you be baking these for breakfast, you can prep the night before.  (ie: frying the bacon and chopping stuff) If your mornings are like my mornings, time is of the essence.

3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
At least 2 teaspoons black pepper, I add more
1 stick chilled unsalted butter cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1 1/2 grated sharp cheddar cheese
4 green onions, thinly sliced (note: sometimes I brown a little chopped 1015 or other sweet onion with my apple bacon in addition to the green onion - just drain well on paper towels and pat the grease out of both the bacon and onion)
7- 10 slices apple smoked bacon
4 oz ham finely chopped (optional)
2 jalapenos, finely chopped (you can seed them if you want, I seed one but not both)
1 cup to 1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 410
I use my hands for most everything but if you have a mixer and would rather do it that way, have at it.
Mix first four ingredients in large bowl.
Add butter and work with hands/fingers (or pastry blender or mixer) until mixture resembles coarse meal.
Add all other ingredients EXCEPT for milk and mix just until evenly distributed
Make a well with the mixture and add one cup buttermilk, quickly and lightly mixing JUST until it sticks together. If the dough is too dry and won't hold together, add the remaining buttermilk one tablespoon at a time until dough can be formed into a ball.  DO NOT OVER WORK THE DOUGH, handle it as little as possible to ensure a light, not heavy, scone.

Flatten dough on floured surface to an 1/2" thick circle, using your hands or a rolling pin.
Cut into 8 pieces as you would a pizza. At this point, you can use an egg wash by whisking an egg and 2 tablespoons of water and lightly brush each wedge.  It makes a prettier scone, but it's not necessary.
Place on an ungreased cookie sheet  and bake for 20 minutes until bottom of scones are light brown and tops have browned slightly.

These may be just a tiny bit resistant to come off of the cookie sheet because the melted cheese likes to stick.  But with any spatula, you'll be able to remove completely.

Oh my, I just took a batch out of the oven and have taken that first, unbelievable bite. Mmmmm.
You just HAVE to try these!  And honestly, you want to eat scones the day you make 'em.  The next day, well, you might find them not so . . . uppity.

Suggested listening: "Breakfast Time" by Lightnin' Hopkins

(This is the first time I've used my Canon Power Shot to take original photos. I'm learning more about photographing food each day. I'm sooo excited but have a LOT to learn.)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Davy Crockett

 Today is the day I raise my glass to Texas Independence and pay homage to my favorite Alamo guy and the other brave souls who served this great state at Mission San Antonio de Valero in 1836.

I created this drink using Texas' premium vodka from Austin, juice of a fat pink grapefruit and lime from the Rio Grande Valley, sea salt from the Gulf of Mexico, and a jalapeno from Abbott's grocery store around the corner.

I call it The Davy Crockett.  Although Texas was declared a Republic today, the actual attack on the Alamo didn't begin until the evening of March 5 after a two week siege.  On March 6, 1836  . . .well, we all know that my Davy met a tragic fate. Rumored to be one of the only survivors of the Battle, I hear that the dastardly Santa A ordered him to be slain.

Remembering calamities such as this, ladies and gentlemen, is just one of the many reasons why we drink, is it not?

1 1/2 oz. Tito's Premium Vodka, ice cold
1/2 oz. fresh pink grapefruit juice, cold
Dash of green Tabasco (optional)
Good squeeze of fresh lime
Dash of sea salt
Rub the rim of the glass with a slice of jalapeno and use for garnish

After a few of these, it is doubtful that you will 'Remember the Alamo!' or much of anything else.

Suggested listening: The Ballad of Davy Crockett by the Kentucky Headhunters

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Stuff It - The Versatile Poblano

The poblano is a relatively mild chili pepper originating in the State of Puebla, Mexico. Dried it is called an ancho chile.  I adore poblanos because they're so versatile. From the classic chile rellenos, to the decadent mole poblano sauce, to my personal favorite, stuffed and baked poblanos. 

I stuff these peppers with anything I have on hand in the kitchen, and that's the beauty of it.  Healthy, low in fat and calories and absolutely delicious.

Today I'm stuffing them with shredded chicken and black beans. This example will  give you an idea of what can be done with the poblano.

Plump hen, cooked over night in crock pot.  Fill crock pot half full with water. Rub bird with olive oil and season with sea salt, black pepper, cumin powder and garlic and add a little of each of the seasoning to the water. Turn on low and forget about it.
6-8 poblano peppers
1 onion and one large bulb onion finely chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped fine
1 zucchini diced
1 or 2 jalapenos, chopped fine (seed them if you can't stand the heat)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
About 7 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 can Bushes black beans, drained well
1/2 cup frozen corn, heated in microwave and drained
1 cup of sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup light sour cream
1 Tablespoon minced cilantro
salt, black pepper, chili powder and cumin powder to taste 

Heat oven to 400.
Place the poblanos in 400 degree oven for 15-17 minutes.
Take out and let cool while preparing the stuffing.

De-bone chicken and reserve broth.
Shred chicken with fork, set aside.
In a med skillet on med heat, add about 2 tablespoons butter then add onion, zucchini, jalapenos and garlic and saute 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients to warm and cheese is melted.  Add a little of the reserved chicken stock if the mixture appears dry. (Freeze this delicious stock to use later.)

Chop off the top of each poblano (like a pumpkin) discard the 'lids.' Seed and rib the peppers.  Stuff with mixture, and place on greased cookie sheet or shallow baking pan in 400 degree oven for ten minutes until heated through.

At this point you can add additional cheese to top of the peppers and then broil for another 3 minutes if you want.

Today I think I'm going to make sauce by adding  1 avocado, a little cilantro, lite sour cream a pinch of sea salt. granulated garlic and a little buttermilk  in a food processor, adjusting ingredients to reach the right consistency. Spoon generously over peppers just before serving.  The tang of the buttermilk and sour cream works beautifully with the baked poblanos.

You can see that the stuffing possibilities are endless, can't you!  Shrimp, chorizo, rice, shredded beef, andouille . . .

Today I'm preparing this dish in honor of my absolute favorite Alamo guy Davy Crockett. According to my cousin's post on FB this morning, this is what was going on at the mission in 1836:

February 28: San Antonio de Bexar is tense but calm and quiet. Inside the Alamo, Davy Crockett (violin) challenges John McGregor (bagpipes, of all things) to a musical duel.

AND the man played the  . . .um, fiddle.  How hot is that??

learn more:

Suggested listening:  'Wayfaring Stranger' early Allison Krauss (age 16!)- Legend has it that Davy Crockett played this fiddle tune at the Alamo. (Link below.)

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Texican

It's time for the tavern-keeper to post another liquored-up drink, don't you think?  I'm reaching for this one about right now and then heading with friends out to the Stock Show & Rodeo.

1 1/4 oz of premium tequila - today I'm using Patron Silver
2 oz cranberry juice
1 teaspoon of freshly squeezed lime juice (please never-ever-ever use the bottled lime)
thin slice of lime for garnish

In a cocktail shaker with a little bit of ice, combine all.  Shake hard and fast and pour straight up or over ice. Garnish with the lime and serve.  After you drink it, you are allowed to call yourself a Texican.  After 4, who cares?

Suggested listening: 'Cowboy Man' by Lyle Lovett

Bock Beer 'Smashed' Potatoes

 Singing perfect harmony with the 'Rib-Eye to Die For,' 'Bock Beer Smashed Potatoes' are really the best kept secret on the food planet. With the smoky taste of ancho chiles, the delightful combination of Yukon Gold and sweet potatoes, and the malty flavor of beer, this relatively unknown side-dish will soon be one of your favorites.  My kids love them -- and trust me, they're a very finicky lot.

5 ancho chili peppers, pureed
2 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes
1/2 lb. sweet poatoes
1/2 lb. butter, cubed
1/2 c. heavy cream
1/2 bottle Shiner Bock or Zeigenbock or any malty beer  (NO LITE!!)
Sea salt to taste
Black pepper to taste

Soak chiles in water to cover until soft. Remove stems, ribs and seeds. Puree with 1/2 cup water in blender or food processor. It should yield about 1/2 cup ancho puree.

Peel, dice and boil potatoes until tender - what, about 20 minutes or so?  Drain.
Warm the beer, the heavy cream and the butter to slightly above room temp.  Cold cream and butter do strange things with the potato starch. Don't ask me what, I am no Alton Brown.

Whip the cooked potatoes together with an electric mixer. Add cream, butter cubes one at a time, ancho puree, beer and salt & pepper.

If I'm feeling a little artsy, and I can get my hands on it quickly,  I'll squeeze the potatoes out onto the plate from my icing tube with a large star lid.  But usually I just slap 'em into a bowl.  Either way, they won't last long.
Suggested listening:  "Beer Bottle Boogie" by Koko Taylor
(see link directly above)

Rib-eye to Die for

With it being the final weekend of San Angelo's big fat rodeo, naturally I decided on beef for dinner.  About a year ago I did a little research on how to cook a good steak inside. (Gasp) Which is unheard of in West Texas.

I combined techniques from a handful of recipes and came up with something that not only worked, but knocked it out of the ball park.

Mind you, I don't believe in eating a good cut of beef cooked anything over med-rare. If you prefer your meat medium well to well done, please eat a chicken. Or a pig. Beef is NOT meant to be eaten that way. (Chili shouldn't have beans in it either, but that's a entirely different topic, now isn't it?)

Having said that . . .

Get you a couple of well marbled rib-eyes or t-bones, about an inch thick. They must be room temperature. Heat a well seasoned cast iron skillet in a 400 degree oven.

Heat a stove burner to high or use a high flame. Rub a little canola or vegetable oil on your steaks and season generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper with a little garlic powder. Take the hot skillet out of the oven and place it on hot burner. Throw the steaks on and sear well on both sides.

Immediately place in 400 degree oven for 2 minutes. Turn steaks and put back in oven for another 2 minutes. Take out of oven and let sit for another 3 minutes before serving. Top with herbed butter or horseradish whisked with a little sour cream and lemon . . . or leave naked. Please, no steak sauce.(Pullllleeeeaasse.)

Being the beef eater that he is, my husband was floored with the hugely successful outcome and I earned yet another jewel in my Queen of the Kitchen tiara.

Suggested listening:  'Cow Cow Boogie' recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, Dorothy Dandridge, Ella Mae Morse and the Judds (see link directly above)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Butter Beans - MMMMMMmmmmm

My absolute favorite legume next to black eyed peas, butter beans are the only beans I cook without a ham bone or ham hock.  None is required  -- for slow cooked butter beans make their own irresistibly thick gravy.

But like all beans and peas, butter beans do need some type of pork fat to take the taste to soaring heights.  I happen to use bacon.  And ham. And last night a left over pork chop just because. And I have used the wonderfully Cajun andouille sausage before.  I haven't actually written out this recipe in exact measurements, but just loosen up and just go with it a little bit, you're sure to make the best butter beans ever.

One package bacon, all fried and chopped into small pieces and grease retained.
One package of butter beans.
1 large onion, chopped fine
1 large bell pepper, I used red last night, chopped fine
About 4 to 5  oz. of ham if you have it, chopped
About 5 generous shakes of Zatarain's Cajun Spice
Big pinch of marjaram
A little celery salt and/or a tablespoon of chopped celery leaves
Bigger pinch or two of poultry seasoning
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
Cayenne pepper, three or four shakes
3 bay leaves
About two generous teaspoons Lowry's Seasoned Salt
2 tsp black pepper

In crock pot cover beans with water (should be an inch or little more water over beans) Add a beer. Add about a tablespoon of bacon drippings.  Add all other ingredients except for last two, set crock pot to high and cover. Check on periodically to make sure there is enough liquid.  If not, add a little more water or beer.
Cook about three hours. Uncover and stir in Lowry's and black pepper. Cover and turn to low for a couple of more hours until beans are very tender and liquid has cooked down a bit. DON'T overdo it. You don't want to cook them to mush, they need to retain some texture.

Take out the bay leaves and let cool a little to thicken.
Now have at it.

OMG - It's like eating dessert, isn't it???
Suggested listening: Kevin Fowler's 'Butterbean'

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The 'Perfect' Crepe

Once upon a time, crepes looked -- and sounded -- too intimidating to me to prepare. Elegant, insanely thin, I thought that there was no way I could create a flawless crepe when my pancakes were 'iffy' at best. But one rainy day, not too long ago, I came across a version of this recipe, put on my little French maid apron and just went for it. I discovered 1)I CAN make crepes 2)They don't require perfection 3)They are indeed one of the most versatile little culinary concoctions on the planet.

Here is my perfect crepe recipe. We'll discuss varieties in a second.

2 eggs, room temp
2 tablespoons butter melted, not hot
1 1/2 cup milk
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tablespoons sugar

Place all ingredients in blender in order given. Blend on high for 30 seconds. Scrape sides of blender with small spatula and blend again for about 20 more seconds.
Put two to three tablespoons batter into a med warm, slightly greased 7" - 12" skillet. I like using a larger skillet because I can use my spatula more effectively when turning the crepe.
As you pour, tilt the pan in a slow circular motion to make a thin round crepe. THIS may take a little bit of practice, but within a crepe or two or three, you'll nail it. When the crepe is light brown (it won't take long) turn it. I've read that you can freeze them between pieces of wax paper but I haven't tried it.

Sometimes I add just a little bit of OJ, lemon juice, raspberry liquor or whatever sounds fun (the possibilities are endless)to the batter and use a little less milk. You can stuff the crepes with lemon curd, any sugared fresh fruit or preserves. A cream filling of blended cream cheese, plain Greek yogurt, sugar and almond extract is excellent combined with a little fresh fruit. Top rolled crepes with powdered sugar or sugared fruit a garnish with a sprig of mint.

For savory crepes, just put about about a teaspoon of sugar in the mixture instead of a tablespoon and use your imagination. I've used endless combinations of garlic powder, black pepper, rosemary, poultry seasoning, tarragon, cayenne pepper . . .the list goes on and on -- depending what I'm planning on stuffing them with. I used a wonderful combo of chopped fresh cilantro, black pepper, garlic powder and cayenne pepper for my south of the border crepes stuffed with shredded chicken or shrimp and topped with an avocado verde creme.

I end up making some type of crepes about once a week now. Why? Because they're SOOOO easy. And good. And versatile. And because I CAN! And if I can, darling, you can, too.
Suggested listening: "Yes, We Can Can" by Allen Toussaint, the Pointer Sisters, Harry Connick, Jr.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Pain Perdu - The Queen of French Toast

Eating Pain Perdu (lost bread) on a lazy Sunday morning in South Louisiana is as close to a religious experience as this girl can get. No need for morning Mass when you're relishing bite after exquisite bite of this breakfast favorite, what we who dwell outside the border of LA call 'French toast.'

Pain Perdu takes French toast to the next level -- and I assure you after one taste, you'll never go back to what us West Texans have known French toast to be.

You begin with dried out, day (or two) old French bread. Cut an inch or an inch 1/2 thick. I use about 12 slices and let them dry out in my oven overnight.

5 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup half and half
1/4 cup FRESH SQUEEZED OJ (come on, it's worth the little effort)
2 pinches of nutmeg
2 pinches of ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 pinch salt
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier (optional -- but I use it every time)
2 tablespoons canola oil

Beat eggs and sugar well in large mixing bowl. Add remaining ingredients EXCEPT for oil, and mix well.

Heat oil in large skillet over med heat. Work with 3-4 slices of bread at a time, dip bread in egg mixture and submerge for a couple of seconds. Remove and put into hot skillet. Fry, turning once, until deep golden brown on each side.

Top with powdered sugar and zest of one orange and serve with warm maple syrup. Or fresh fruit in season, or your favorite preserves.

Ohhhhhh, and prepare yourself ---- you WILL be moved to say your Hail Mary's . . .Catholic or not.
Suggested listening: 'Church' by Lyle Lovett.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mardi Gras at My House - YAY for Beignets!

Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday always means crawfish beignets (ben-YAYS) wherever I may be. This is my savory take on the traditionally sweet beignets (deep fried pastry similar to donuts doused with powdered sugar) that have made places like Cafe Du Monde legendary.

Try these, damn it! Even if you haven't worked with yeast before, you've gotta start sometime? and this recipe is a good one to start with as any. I assure you, EVERYbody (kids LOVE 'em, too) will be asking for more.

Okay . . here we go:

1/4 c water
1 tsp sugar
1/2 evaporated milk
1 1/4 oz package of INSTANT RISE yeast (about 1 tablespoon)
3 to 3 1/2 cups southern wheat flour OR all purpose flour
1 egg
2 tablespoons canola oil
3 med cloves garlic
1/2 small green bell pepper, chopped (I sometimes use a combo of green, gold and red)
5 green onions, chopped
1 tsp salt, celery salt or a good Cajun seasoning
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 tsp Creole mustard or any stone ground mustard
1/2 lb cooked crawfish tails (or peeled boiled shrimp)

In a med saucepan over LOW heat, combine water, sugar and evaporated milk and heat to 100-110 degrees. (NO HIGHER - will kill the yeast. NO LOWER, will not activate the yeast. If you don't have a thermometer, trust your wrist. The mixture should be nice and warm, not in the least bit hot.) Stir in yeast well and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes until foamy. (Not foamy? Either the mixture was too hot, too cold, or you are using out-of-date yeast. Throw out and start over, no big deal.)

Lightly oil a 6 qt bowl -- or something close to 6 qts. At this point you can either go to a food processor, or use your hands, but combine 3 cups of flour and all other ingredients and mix well. If you're using a food processor, it will chop your vegetables fine, and if you're not, chop them fine by hand before combining.
Dough should be smooth and non sticky. Add flour if still sticky, 1 tablespoon at a time. Process about 15 seconds to knead, or knead yourself turning about 4 times. Place the ball of dough in the oiled bowl, turning over once so it's lighted coated overall with oil.

Cover with plastic wrap and place in warm, draft free place. I usually heat my oven just a LITTLE, turn off and place bowl inside. Let rise until doubled in size, about an 1 1/2 hours. Punch down dough and turn out onto a lightly floured surface.

Roll out into rectangle until about 1/2 inch thick. Working at a diagonal to the rectangle, with a sharp knife cut dough into 2-inch-wide-strips working from left to right. Then make a second series of cuts going the opposite angle to make diamond shapes. Carefully place on baking sheets. Roll out leftover dough and repeat the process until all dough is used. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rise about 45 min but do not allow to double in size again.

Heat 3 inches of oil in a saucepan to 350 degrees or until 1" bread cube browns in 65 seconds. Carefully slide beignets into oil, 3 or 4 at a time, DO NOT over crowd.
Fry until golden on both sides and drain on paper towels.

You, friends, family, people on the street will LOVE these little Mardi Gras jewels. If you have any questions about this recipe be sure to e-mail me @!

OPTIONAL: Easy Remoulade Sauce for beignet dipping
* 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
* 3/4 cup vegetable oil
* 1/2 cup chopped onion
* 1/2 cup chopped green onions
* 1/4 cup chopped celery
* 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
* 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
* 3 tablespoons Creole whole-grain mustard
* 3 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard
* 3 tablespoons ketchup
* 3 tablespoons chopped parsley leaves
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
* 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process for 30 seconds. Use immediately or store. Will keep for several days in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Suggested listening? "Iko Iko" by James 'Sugar Boy' Crawford and Dr. John


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Who Dat?? Brunch

To kick off a glorious Super Bowl Sunday . . .

Green Onion, Sausage and Shrimp Gravy w/Biscuits
Slow Cooked Grillades over Stone Ground Garlic Grits
Shrimp Remoulade
My Crawfish Pie
Crepes Suzette
Pain Perdu (French Toast)with Cane Syrup
Bread Pudding with Bourbon Creme
Grilled Sausage
Creole Cream Cheese with Fresh Fruit
Cafe au lait
Creole Bloody Mary

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Let Them Eat . . .is that a cake?

It is no secret. I am a BAD cake baker. I'm not talking about single layer Pyrex dish cakes. I'm talking about pretty, layered cakes like the six layer coconut beauties that my beloved Shirley Mae Collier used to bake for my birthdays when I was little. Each of my attempts have proven to been disastrous, beginning with first one I baked for my new husband on his birthday when I was great with child some sixteen years ago. (I swear I had chocolate icing in my hair and ears.)

It has now become a Zaruba/Halfmann tradition for Mom (me) to bake ugly birthday cakes. Like Dillon says, "They look like crap but they taste great!"

"It looks like a Jerry Springer birthday cake," Zach observed one year. Whatever that means.

"What the hell?" said Bruce when I lovingly presented his first to him.

This year Zach and Dillon's cake will not disappoint, even though I did buy three new cake pans last week in hopes that they will help me out some.

The following is my exceptional chocolate cake recipe that I use every year for Zach and Dillon. (Ben prefers strawberry shortcakes for his birthday. Smart kid.)This recipe is 'da bomb' and can be easily made 'your own' by adding nuts, fruit, liquor, whatever you want.

UPDATE on 2/2: This is one damn good lookin' cake! The best lookin' cake I've EVER attempted!


* 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
* 3 cups light brown sugar, packed
* 4 eggs
* 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
* 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
* 1 tablespoon baking soda
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 3 cups sifted cake flour
* 1 1/3 cups sour cream
* 1 1/2 cups hot coffee


* 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
* 16 ounces cream cheese, softened at room temperature
* 8 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
* 1/4 to 1/2 cup cooled coffee (start slow, can be runny if you use too much)
* 4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
* 6 cups confectioners' sugar


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 3 (9-inch) cake pans. Cut 3 circles of waxed paper or parchment paper to fit the bottoms of the pans, then press them in.

In a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (or using a hand mixer), cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and eggs and mix until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla, cocoa, baking soda and salt and mix. Add 1/2 of the flour, then 1/2 of the sour cream and mix. Repeat with the remaining flour and sour cream. Drizzle in the hot coffee and mix until smooth. The batter will be thin. Pour into the prepared pans and bake until the tops are firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (a few crumbs are okay), about 35 minutes. Halfway through the baking, quickly rotate the pans in the oven to ensure even baking, but otherwise try not to open the oven. Let cool in the pan 10 minutes. Turn out onto wire racks and let cool completely before frosting.

Frosting: In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and cream cheese together until smooth. Drizzle in the melted chocolate and mix. Add the coffee and vanilla and mix. Add the sugar, 1 cup at a time, mixing after each addition. Mix until well blended and fluffy. To frost the cake, use a spatula to cover 2 of the cake layers with frosting. Stack them together. Flip the third cake layer over and rest it on the top to create a very flat top for the cake. Frost on the sides and top. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.