Monday, January 31, 2011

Mongolian Hotpot--The Girlfriend Test

Well, that’s what we called it. Sounded foreign, exotic. If the label alone scared off the girl, all the better. Who needs vapid genes? I go for intrepid every time. When one has sons like Brooklyn and Chicago, one needs to be watchful. Like their father (except in one notable instance), they go for cute.

Before Brooklyn met and married London and when Chicago was still living at home, we had a test for new girlfriends. Or rather I had a test. DH could care less. Is she cute? Can she carry on a conversation? Stuff like that is all he cares about. He might diss the girl later, but he wasn’t into testing her limits. I definitely was. After all, this could be the future mother of my grandchildren. What’s she made of?

Okay, I’ll admit that starting the test when the boys were dating at 16 may have been, well, premature, but that meant that I had perfected my testing skills by the time things were likely to get serious.

In the interests of supporting mothers of sons who are dating, I am sharing this simple test with you. Two words. Mongolian Hotpot.

I have absolutely no memory of where this originated. Maybe we had it at a restaurant and I said, as I usually do, “I can make that!” Or maybe people in a novel I read dined on it. Beats me.

The upfront work of prepping veggies is a bonus. You get to spend more time grilling the girl than slaving away in the kitchen. All is done before the little thing arrives. That allows lots and lots of conversation before dinner. By the time the sweat beads appear on her trembling little lip, you are ready for the final test: Mongolian Hotpot.

Simply put, I heat broth of some flavor with onions, carrots, and mushrooms and let it cool down. I strain out the veggies and it is ready to reheat again to boiling in a fondue pot set in the center of the dining table alongside the plate of veggies and bowl of brown rice.

Also prepared in advance are the veggies: green onion stalks, whole mushrooms, bean sprouts, spinach leaves, celery and carrot matchsticks, and thin slices of chicken, shrimp, and beef. Put a loaf of bread out, and voilà, dinner is served.

Each person skewers what heesh would like to start with and lets their fork sit in the boiling broth until done to taste. Sometimes one loses one’s food and has to go fishing for it. And of course, your food comes in contact with others’ food, and might be considered, by the squeamish, to be contaminated. How well does the young woman cope with the fishing and the touching? I watch. What does she choose? I watch. Can she carry on a conversation while fishing? I watch.

London passed the test, even though she is not an adventuresome eater, so we welcomed her into our family. Chicago has a new girlfriend, Minnie, whom I am eager to test. Could it be why Chicago has not brought her home yet? Nah? He doesn’t know about the test? Does he?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What Makes a Recipe a New Recipe?

Nancy the Nun, DH’s sister (I mean really—she’s a sister sister!) was visiting us recently from one of those states with old mountains—Tennessee, Kentucky, you know, one of them. And I was cooking away. It’s what I do.

Of course one tries to do one’s best to feed one’s sister-in-law sister. Who knows what pull she might have for, er, later? So I was whipping up something I am trying out for a possible entrant into the Pillsbury Bake-Off (PBO)and she asked what I thought was a naïve question.

In my previous professional life, the term “naïve question” meant a question asked by someone specifically to stimulate thinking and thoughtful response. A planned question. It was purposeful and not really meant to elicit a specific answer.

Now, that’s not what Nancy the Nun’s question was. She just was curious and wanted to know. She didn’t really care that she kick-started my aging brain.

She asked, “What makes a recipe new? How do you know?”

Beats me!

I am always inventing culinary experiences that I call new recipes. But are they?

So here’s what I told her. Chime in below in the comments section to enlighten me if I misspoke.

I look around in my cupboards, refrigerator, freezer, counter tops—wherever food might lurk—and decide what’s for dinner. Or what I might want to enter in the PBO. I put it together in what my taste bud in my head thinks will be a delectable combo. (Mostly I’m right—mostly—hey, everybody can have one or two or . . . well, some less successful experiences.)

I have on occasion gone to and typed in ingredients to see what their recipe bank suggests. But that is rare. Typical behavior for me? Wing it!

Do I know if my recipe is original? No. But I call it original because my proportions and ingredients are unlikely to match another’s recipe exactly. Could I hunt for it to see if it’s original? Probably. The web is amazing that way. Still, why go to the bother?

Unless you are entering your recipe in the PBO, that is. My guess is they have a whole team of scourers (not cleaning people) who search the All Recipes site and others hunting for those who have ripped off other peoples’ work.

They exist, sadly. We see them in these blogs all the time. I work hard at giving credit where credit is due. But, I may inadvertently claim something as mine that is not.

After all, cookies will have flour and sugar and butter in certain proportions. Is it plagiarizing to take a basic cookie recipe and change the additional ingredients and then call it your own? I don’t think so.

Basic chemistry requires proportional cooking. That can’t be copyrighted. Ideas can’t be copyrighted. Only text. And making a significant percentage of change to textual ingredients should be okay to claim originality. Right? Or do you think I’m wrong?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Food Porn

Who would have suspected I would succumb? Searching for sites that showed luscious curves, moistly exposed. Artistically displayed against a background meant to enhance their wares. Food porn. A field I was only vaguely aware of until I began connecting, social-media wise.

Did you know what a big deal it is? I mean, all of us foodies have heard about “food stylists”, those guys/gals who stage food for magazine shoots. Sure. And the rumor is it isn’t even food. Just painted plastic meant to look like food. But I never believed that. Like Santa, magazine food is real food. How could they fool an amateur like me?

But “food porn” is the term all over the foodie sites referring to the sinfully richly displayed recipes my virtual friends are making. And they enter these photos in contests and send them off to magazines for publication. Who knew?

Typing “food porn” into Google yielded 19, 900, 000 hits! Wikipedia offers a definition. “Food Porn Daily” (at is a site telling you everything you need to know about it. And the pictures. OMG! Stop licking your screen!

A quote on their site from The New Yorker says it best: “The point is to get very close to what you are filming, so close that you can see an ingredient’s ‘pores’ (You should believe the dish is in your living room), which then triggers some kind of Neanderthal reflex. If you’re flicking from channel to channel and come upon food that has been shot in this way, you will be hardwired as a human being to stop, look, and bring it back to your cave.”

Well, we all do know that this is one area of food in which I have little interest in pursuing—except as a voyeur. There is something delightful about coming across a photo of Oreo Smash in its blue bowl that makes we want to bite into my computer screen. (Visit Amy’s “Very Culinary” blog at and scroll down.) That is one beautiful picture.

Or happen upon Recipe Girl’s Fudgy Caramel Brownies (at her blog and tell me you didn’t almost stick out your tongue to catch a drip of that caramel.

Do you think you could get your family to eat green chips? Take a look at the Crispy Kale Chips (at Laura’s Best Recipes at and tell me you don’t think they look tempting.

Or Ethan Adeland’s “Tastes Better with Friends” ( Potato Leek Soup photographed in a snow bank and his astounding Cherry Snowball cookies from his grandmother’s cookbook. Yum, yum!

And Reader, these are merely a few of the food porn opportunities that await. You’ll be bringing a fork and spoon to your computer once you discover food porn sites. And telling people that you, a highly respectable parent/teacher/crossing guard/librarian/contractor/file clerk, are into porn—well the look they’ll give you will just be the cherry on the top of your delight!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Correction Alert! Wild Cinnamon and Cup Cakes

I added more to the previous post than was needed. Drop the "e".

The microwave chocolate cake recipe belongs to Ethan Adeland at "Tastes Better with Friends". You can follow him on Twitter @EthanAdeland

My apologies to you and Ethan. I really hate to spell someone's name wrong. My bad. My really, really bad!


I’m hugely into cooking, not so much into clean up, so when I find something that lets me feed a horde, and all I have to do is dry the water off the pan, I’m there!

I have an article for omelets in a bag, written for camping meals, that was published in the 1960’s or 70’s. This thing is not new, but it is one of the best-kept secrets ever.

Okay. Disclaimer. Not one of the slide-zip plastic freezer bag companies endorses this use of their bags. Lawyers were involved, I’m just sure of it.

Still. This is so cool, you gotta do it. Kids, adults, adults who are kids—everybody loves fixing this breakfast.

So there’s some upfront work for you. All in all, this is a way to provide simultaneous omelets for a crowd. I’ve served as many as 12 at once. Now tell me your little omelet pan or regular skillet can do that!

So, regular style omelet making has you slicing and dicing (and now that I have my new paring knife, this is a cinch!) green onions, red and green bell peppers, bacon, sausage, mushrooms. Shred some cheeses.

Get out the sour cream, and salsa and you’re good to go. All these things can be done before the slug-a-beds even wake up.

I like to have my Cran-Lemon Cream Scones as a side (see recipe on this blog). Put out a couple of juices. Have the java, tea, and cocoa ready for your Keurig (see earlier post).

Put all the add-ins into little dishes. If you’re into fancy-schmancy, that is. I make people scoop it out of the containers or plastic bags I stored them in after slicing and dicing. Honestly, isn’t the point of this to save you work! Why wash what you don’t have to. And any extras have to go back into the bags, so cut out the middle man, is my advice, and dip from the bags/bottles.

Jostle those folks out of bed.

Put on a huge pot of water to boil. Next get out FREEZER zipper bags and a Sharpie permanent pen. While they are sipping their first cuppa, tell them to write their names on the bags. Did you notice I italicized, bolded, and capitalized “freezer”? Regular plastic bags—unh unh. No. No.

Each person cracks two eggs and adds them to the bag. Direct them to moosh the eggs to a lemony look. (That is a poetic way of saying, “Lose the yellow eyeballs.”)

Each person adds in what appeals to them. Squeeze out all the air you can, then seal the bag. You’ll be surprised how much adults enjoy playing with their food. Even DH, who isn't sure which appliance is the stove, likes doing this meal. With help, everyone can participate.

When all the bags are ready, slide them into the boiling water. Stand all bags upright. Bring the water to a boil again. If you are only cooking a few, boil for 13 minutes. If cooking a crowded pot full, move the bags around a couple to times to rotate position and cook for 15 minutes.

At the end of the cooking time, remove bags from the boiling water, letting each person fetch shis own. Show them how to open the bag and roll the omelet onto the plate. They can put on a dollop of sour cream or salsa. Breakfast is served.

No oil is added, so this is a more healthful omelet than some others you’ve made.

Trust me. Your family and friends (even some of your enemies) will love this omelet.

And clean-up is a cinch! Who couldn’t love that even more?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wild Cinnamon and Cup Cakes

Once upon a time, my good friend Gina (who co-stars in my culinary mystery “Dinner is Served” series) and I started a food mixes company. Hey, why not? How hard can it be to start up a company, develop recipes, sell product, and provide full-time income for two women?

Right! I see you got it immediately. While we were long on energy and ideas, we were not so much into marketing strategies. Those were two words we didn’t seem to know the English translation for. Marketing? Strategies?

Add to that our somewhat different styles. If you read my bio, you see that I think “measurement” is a four-letter word. Gina was a math teacher. So, great as my ideas for recipes might be, putting that to paper so we could replicate the recipe hundreds of times was ummm, challenging for me. But I did get the hang of it. I’m not stupid after all, just lazy and impulsive.

A tip indicating our longevity prospects should have been sales. Our biggest bucks came from selling at friend’s craft and yard sales. Right! You get the picture. We had vague plans for selling on the Internet, but we didn’t have a clue how one went about such a thing. We did talk to someone about putting up a website for us, but he was going to charge us $$$.

What was the name of this great incipient company, you ask? What did you sell?

Picking the name was a cinch. We were at a meeting for teachers, waiting in the entryway for the doors to open, when someone complimented me on my most recent hair color. I was known for ranging from “Hisbiscus” (a shade of purple) to “Lucious Mango (an orange-y red). I used to say (actually, I still do) “So many reds, so little time.” But back to the story. I had just become “Wild Cinnamon” and one of our friends said, “That would be a great name for you company.”

Indeed! I loved it! The name implied we were spicy, untamed, yet traditional. Perfect.

So we registered “Wild Cinnamon” with the AZ business folks downtown and we were official. We created easy-to-prepare mixes for soups, dips, salad dressings, cookies, and other things.

One of our best sellers (now this is all relative, you understand, when I use the term “best seller”) was our ingeniously named “Cup Cakes”. These were mixes one added water and oil to and then put into the microwave to bake in a 12-ounce glass mug. Add water to the frosting packet, and dessert was ready in a couple of minutes. One could purchase the mugs from us as well. We had a range of flavors from “Tropical Paradise” to “Spice” to the most popular of all, “Chocolate”.

And it was pretty good, but this recipe is better! I follow @EthanAdelande on Twitter, and he has created a great 5-Minute Chocolate Cake for the microwave. You can find it and more on his “Tastes Better with Friends” blog on at Visit his blog and see for yourself what other yummy things he has concocted.

From Ethan Adelande’s

Revised and Better than Ever 5 Minute Chocolate Cake

4 tablespoons of flour

4 tablespoons of sugar

2 tablespoons of cocoa

1 egg

3 tablespoons of milk

3 tablespoons of oil

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

A handful of chocolate chips

1 – Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl.

2 – Add the egg and mix well.

3 – Pour in the milk, oil & vanilla and mix well.

4 – Place the mixture in a tall glass or mug and into the microwave and cook for 3 minutes at “high”.

The cake may rise over the top, but it will settle, don’t be alarmed! Let it cool and eat out of the mug or tip it out onto a plate.

Sharon’s Note: I like to make a little cocoa/sour cream/confectioner’s sugar glaze for the top or put some more chocolate chips on top and let them ooze over the sides of the hot cake. Yummers!

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Creative Lunch Box

In the interest of full disclosure, you need to know that the author of this book is the mother of London, my oldest son’s wife. There has been no remuneration or special favors (flavors???) provided in order to review this book. Not that I’d turn them down, but none were offered.

Little Bro loved our mother’s homemade bread—because he sold the sandwiches she made at school to kids whose mother’s did not bake 7 or more loaves of bread weekly. He was quite the entrepreneur. He bought the school lunch with his proceeds and had money left over. Wish I had thought of that.

It started innocently enough. We didn’t have enough money in our family to buy school lunches, so Ma packed ‘em every day. After a couple of weeks, Little Bro asked for an extra sandwich each day, which Ma happily prepared. Growing boy and all.

After another couple of weeks he requested a third sandwich. Wow! Hungry guy! It was when he requested the fourth sandwich that she broke him. Tied to a kitchen chair with rope from the barn, he finally confessed what he had been doing. She offered to make 12 sandwiches daily if he’d split the take with her, but that didn’t work out very well. So, back to one sandwich and she’d better not hear he didn’t eat it. She smelled his breath every day after school for a week just to make sure.

The school lunch program in America has come under justified attack in recent years. Too much fat and processed food. Jamie Oliver brought the issue to the forefront with his reality TV show, and Michelle Obama has pushed for better school meals. In light of all the negativity and economic realities, more parents are preparing lunches for kids to take to school.

If you have (had) kids for whom you pack(ed) a lunch, you’ll immediately recognize the value of Ellen Klavan’s little treasure, The Creative Lunchbox: Easy, Nutritious, and Inviting Meals for Your Child (Crown Publishers). Few of us make delicious homemade bread to entice our children’s taste buds, but there is much more one can do.

When Brooklyn, my oldest was little, I’d cut his sandwich into puzzle pieces for him to assemble. I’d put little notes in his lunch box to read—a joke maybe, or riddle, sometimes “I’m thinking of you right now.”

I digress. Ellen includes ideas of this sort along with innovative lunches to entice even picky eaters. Her eleven chapters are: Lunchbox Realities, Commonsense Nutrition, Pack It All In, Add Some Fun, Sandwiches, Salads, Hot Meals, Drinks, Quick Breads and Muffins, Something Extra, and Desserts.

Not only is this a delightful little cookbook, but it is filled with information about nutrition and practicalities like packing hot foods. And one important lesson she comes at from many angles is your child is more likely to eat the lunch you prepare if you involve your child in the lunch box choices.

Ellen’s sense of fun (Halloween Cucumber Monster) and style (Sandwich Roll-Ups with festive toothpicks) shine throughout the book. Her child-tested tips fill the pages offering a veritable cornucopia of creative lunch ideas. This book will go a long way toward ensuring your child eats more healthfully and joyfully at school. My brother would have made a mint if Ma had this book!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Vinegar—The Under-Appreciated Condiment

“A-haunting we will go, a-haunting we will go, heigh ho, it’s scary-o, a haunting we will go.”

Thus began each meeting of my childhood group, The Ghost Club. We marched in a column, clothed in sheets stolen from our beds. It was a summer thing. You know how those summer affairs are. Hot and heavy for a while, forgotten once the weather turns cooler.

We had a whole series of rituals we performed from singing our anthem to drinking vinegar ala communion. In fact, I remember no business at this meeting, just rituals and costumes and vinegar. The drink was meant to weed out those who weren’t truly serious about our organization.

And it is true, we didn’t have kids clamoring to become members, so maybe it worked. Or, maybe because we lived in rural Ohio, the mere thought of riding your bike 3 miles in the summer heat and humidity to drink vinegar didn’t appeal to more than a few of us. Whatever. We were an elite group.

So, as I wrote earlier, being a vinegar aficionado from way back, I couldn’t believe there was no day honoring it. So, I am declaring tomorrow, January 15th, National Vinegar Day. Unfortunately for this new holiday, I can’t seem to find a food quote that flatters vinegar. There are all these really positive sounding quotes for chocolate, but not so much for vinegar. Why is that?

First, the diff between white and apple cider vinegars. Yes, I know they are different colors. But why?

First, vinegars are made from alcohol, so apple cider vinegar is made from fermented apples and distilled white vinegar is made from fermented grain or sometimes by adding acetic acid to water. Thus the color difference is explained. Apple cider vinegar has a fruitier taste compared to the grain-alcohol taste of distilled white vinegar.

Apple Cider Vinegar is mainly used for cooking and food preservation purposes. The acidity ranges from 5-6% acidity. You see apple cider touted as a health aid because of the minerals and malic acid it contains that distilled white vinegar does not.

White Distilled Vinegar is mainly used for cleaning purposes and disinfecting. It is good for external body use on sores, sunburns, and itches. The acidity ranges from 4-7% acidity. If you find 10% acidity vinegar, be careful. It can burn your skin.

I love word origins (called etymology). Vinegar came to us from the Latin vinum aegrum (meaning “weak wine”) into Old French vin aigre (meaning “sour wine”).

To celebrate, perhaps you’d like to make some flavored vinegars to spice up your salads and marinades. Try these:

Here is one tweet-style for you tweet freeks (or is that tweat freaks?):

Orange and Bay Vinegar Recipe:

2 boil 2.5c cdr vngr N strlzd jr+zest.5 orng/8 fr baylf Por vngr on Lid it Lv n snny plc ~2wk Strain Por n2 nu strlzd jr Kp cool/dry/drk

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

National Vinegar Day--NOT!

Can you believe it? I just found this out, or believe me, I would have reported it to you sooner. I just discovered there is no National Vinegar Month. Or National Vinegar Week. Or even National Vinegar Day. I mean c’mon! Marzipan gets a day? Chocolate-Covered Cherries gets a day? Frozen Food gets a month? And who decided that Bubblegum gets a week???

What are these people thinking, these people who create food holidays for EVERYTHING and they leave out vinegar??? Tell me whose drinking glasses marzipan has saved from being tossed? Vinegar saved mine. When did peanuts bubblegum remove decals from things? Vinegar has eliminated those pesky things from glass and plastic.

Describe how delicious salad dressing made with chocolate covered cherries is. Eww. I almost couldn’t finish typing that sentence! Now vinegar! Delicious, delectable, describable salad dressings! Yeah. Mouthwatering, matchless marinades. Yeah.

If you’d like to have a list of ways to use vinegar in cleaning, laundry, health, garden, automotive, pets, or cooking, you will find this site “1001 Uses for White Distilled Vinegar” helpful

To right the wrong, I am declaring Saturday, January 15th to be National Vinegar Day. This will give you time to inventory your current stock of vinegars and decide which vinegars you still need.

Shockingly, a recent highly subjective informal survey revealed that 91.3% of American households have only apple cider and white distilled vinegars in their pantry. Where is the balsamic? The rice wine vinegar? Woe is me!

For now, until I can rectify the injustice, do me a favor. Two favors. Inventory your vinegar stash. Buy some new kind of vinegar you haven’t tried before. And (oh, yeah, a third favor), go clean something with white vinegar.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Coca Cola—The Real Thing—for Lots of Things

Do you want the good news or the bad news first? I typically choose the bad news to get it over with and then end on a positive note. DH asks, “Do you want the good news or bad news first?” but it doesn’t matter. He tells me whichever news he wants to tell first. Sigh. Why bother asking?

Back to my good/bad news (It really is all about me!), I gotta tell you, there’s not a lot of good news to be had with this article. The link is further on in this post so you can read the article for yourself, but I have to say I was excited that there were 40 more uses for Coca Cola. I always have “the real thing” on hand. Can’t stand Pepsi. I know, I know. Millions of you do. So sue me.

The number one use for Coke is, well, duh, drinking it for enjoyment. Nothing like those “tiny bubbles” to perk me up in the late afternoon while I’m sweating over how to entertain you here. And, of course, we all know you can use Coke in cake and barbecue sauce (recipe to follow).

So, I eagerly opened the link and discovered, ta da . . .

Coke isn’t such a good thing to be putting into my mouth. Regularly. With abandon. No, Coke is much more utilitarian. Who knew?

The author categorized the uses for us, to make it easier to locate one for your need. I’m not sure the guys at the Coke company are especially happy with this particular kind of publicity, however.

So here goes. I will select a few of my “favorite” uses and you can read more at “40 Creative Uses for Coca Cola” at .

Cleaning—1) degreaser: pour one can into your washer with greasy clothes; 3) clean your toilet bowl with one can, let sit for an hour and wipe away stains; and 9) pour a can over your corroded car battery terminals (whatever the heck that is!)

Health and Beauty—18) to de-gunk hair (seeing a theme here?) and boost shine, use Coke instead of conditioner; 20) to remove chewing gum from hair, soak strands in Coke; and 23) use alone or on top of sunscreen as a tanning lotion.

Miscellaneous—34) soak coins in Coke to remove dirt and tarnish; 35) boost your compost pile decay rate with the extra acid from Coke; and 38) remove rust from a tight bolt so it’s pliable again.

Enough bad news, now for the good news: Cooking!!!

Cooking—11) marinades for meat to tenderize and add a subtle sweetness; 14) gravy from coke, flour, and seasonings; and 16) Coke softens shells on hardboiled eggs making them easier to peel.

Here’s a BBQ sauce you can brush over cooking meat after it’s been on for a while.

The Real Thing BBQ Sauce

¾ c Coke

½ c extra strong black coffee

1 T brown sugar

1 c catsup

1 ½ T Worcestshire sauce

2 T spicy brown mustard

1 T liquid smoke

Despite the “bad news”, I can’t give Coke up. Surely if I cut back to a liter a day, I’ll be okay. And, it might keep my “pipes” running smoothly, too!

Friday, January 7, 2011

My Pillsbury Bake-Off Losers

I’ve cleared my calendar for March 25-27, 2012. That’s planning ahead, you say. Well, yes, of course it is. If I block out those days now then nothing pesky (like a writing critique group or cleaning my house) will be what keeps me from attending Pillsbury Bake-Off 45.

You can enter this contest too, if you’d like, but with only 100 of us going, your odds are, well—let’s be honest here—not so good. Still, you have until April 18, 2011 to enter your recipes. You can get the details here:

I grew up with the Pillsbury Bake-Off. Having always been an intrepid recipe creator, for years I would tell people, after they complimented some dish or another, “Oh, I’m going to enter the Pillsbury Bake-Off some time.”

Maybe it was one around one of those decade birthdays that cause one to pause and reflect, but I sort of mentally slapped my face when I heard myself make that assertion—again!—and I said to myself, “Put up or shut up.”

Hmm. Once I made the commitment, I figured the whole family had made it with me. They loved (mostly) my creations, so surely they wouldn’t mind eating the same recipe a few times while I perfected perfection.

I’m not a big rule follower. I’d rather make rules then follow them, but, I figured it was their contest, so I checked out what Mr. Pillsbury had decided to require. Good thing I did. Remember when the Pillsbury Bake-Off required flour? Their flour? The times they are a changin’.

You better check out the website now. Who knew back in the day--when the only required ingredient was Pillsbury flour--that in the future the products would include: Smuckers, Fisher nuts, Jif PB, Progresso broths or bread crumbs, Muir Glen tomato product, Crisco oil, Land O Lakes eggs or butter, Hershey chocolate, McCormick extract or spices, or Eagle Brand milk—Oh, and maybe one of at least eleven Pillsbury products?

When I made my run for the million bucks, Pillsbury pie crust and Jolly Green Giant products were among the options. So, I entered four recipes: two sweet ones (that’s always on their list), an appetizer, and an entrée. I guess even then I thought it might be my only entry, so I’d better shoot my wad!

To his credit, DH was very supportive the first nine times I served Green Corn Tamale Crowns. Chicago and Brooklyn, not so much. But they were kids. They’d learn to love this dinner when we ate it off the new matching plates I would buy with my winnings.

I love the green corn tamales at Macayo’s restaurant in Phoenix. They began here in the 1940’s with some family recipes and have since created a small chain that has crossed out state lines (legally). That is the taste I wanted to re-create for my entrée.

And I did it! I loved my Green Corn Tamale Crowns. I baked them in one of those fluted cupcake pans and upended onto the serving plate (thus the crown part of the title). They included creamed corn, Mexicorn, and cornmeal biscuits.

Looking back, I probably missed some clues that I might not sweep the three categories I entered. The neighbors began turning down invitations for drinks and appetizers after the first few times of weekly servings of Green Corn Tamale Bites (a clever twist on my main dish category that was sure to grab the judges’ attention).

And the kids refused dinner when Green Corn Tamale Crowns were on the menu for the night. There was a band practice I didn’t know about or they had to study for a big test the next day. “A test on Saturday?” I remember asking. Tough school!

So, I sent off the four recipes. I remember sitting at my computer everyday for a month, checking my e-mail several times an hour for the announcement I was a finalist. Do you know they don’t even acknowledge the receipt of your entries? I almost sent them off again, certain that cyberspace had eaten them. Imagine my shock when they announced the finalists on their website along with their recipes.

So, I have four Pillsbury Bake-Off losers. Not everyone can make that claim, however. At least I tried. So should you, if it’s on your bucket list.

Everybody loved the two sweets, however, and I still make them. Here’s one:

Apple Pielet Wings

1 box Pillsbury pie crust

1 can apple pie filling

Shaker of mixed cinnamon and sugar

Put parchment paper on your cookie sheet. Preheat oven to 375°. Roll the pie crust out to make it thinner. Cut ~13 circles of dough from each of the two crusts in the box. Then roll out the leftover crust and re-roll to get as many circles as you can from the dough. Sprinkle the inside of each dough circle with cinnamon sugar. Chop up the apple pie filling to make smaller bits. Put a teaspoon of filling in the middle of the circle, fold over, crimp with a Pampered Chef crimper thingy, and sprinkle the crescents—like little pilot’s wings—with cinnamon sugar. Bake until brown. I don’t know—maybe check if golden in about 12 minutes.

Undaunted? What is your Pillsbury Bake-Off entry going to be? Comment below and share the ideas with all. Happy baking (or stewing or frying or . . .).

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tweeted Tweats Contest

It’s possible that I am a reincarnated cryptographer from WWII. Possible, maybe even probable. How else to explain being the only one in my family who does crossword puzzles and other word games and whose favorite Christmas and wedding gifts were dictionaries?

Oh, I hear you! Jumping to conclusions again, are we? Huh! Being able to go beyond, to imagine, to try out alternatives, those characteristics defined the cryptographers who saved the world back then. I’m proud to claim that I (might) have been one of their company.

I think my past life explains, too, my fascination with tweeting recipes and cooking tips. I LOVE these little mini-puzzles. I bought Maureen Evans book of recipe tweets as much for the little word puzzles as the actual recipes I could make—It is unique among my cookbook collection. She was the first to tweet recipes, and now many of us do. Still, she reins as the “queen of tweats”.

Of course, the rules are, well, rules. Twitter will not (I know because I tried to circumvent their rules by re-writing the Twitter program code after I broke into their system one weekend) let you use more than 140 characters. That includes spacing and punctuation! OMG! Who chose 140??? Why not 125 or 150? It was probably somebody’s IQ or something like that.

Still, one can tweet recipes. I do every day. I’m going to let you try it here. I’ll tweet the best one left in comments by midnight, MST, January 12th. Of course, I will give you credit! You can be a “tweat king/queen for a day”, too.

First, the recipe has to be written clearly enough that I could follow it. You can get creative with spacing (2 cups can be 2c). If you don’t have space enough for ending punctuation, capitalize the next word to signal ending punctuation without having to use it. Abbreviate common cooking and food words (e.g., “evoo” for “extra virgin olive oil”, “t” for “teaspoon”, “T” for “tablespoon”, and “mx” for “mix”, etc).

While I occasionally cut a recipe in two and tweet it in parts, I only do that for ones with a filling and base. This is not the case here. One tweet for this recipe.

Ready to go? Here is a recipe I am going to tweet for National Hot Pastrami Sandwich Day. Try it, and then post your effort in “comments”. On January 14th, I’ll announce the winner and post your tweet along with mine.

My BFF, Pattycakes, makes the BEST reuben sandwich, but she uses corned beef not pastrami. You can choose either one for your tweeted recipe entry.

Pattycake’s Reuben Sandwich

2 slices rye bread, seedless

1 slice Swiss cheese

6 thin slices pastrami (or corned beef)

3 tablespoons sauerkraut, well-drained

1-2 tablespoons sour cream

butter to spread on bread for grilling

On one slice of rye bread layer Swiss cheese slice, pastrami (or corned beef), and sauerkraut. Put sour cream on one side of second rye slice. Put sour cream side down on top of other ingredients and press together. Spread butter on both sides of the bread, grilled-cheese style, and grill the sandwich until brown on both sides.

And, btw, Happy National Whipped Cream Day! Check out my recipes and cooking tips for today on Twitter (@good2tweat).

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Good to Great

Why did I put up with him for so long? He wasn’t very helpful. He seemed determined to thwart my attempts at creativity. On more than one occasion, he wasn’t to be found when I really needed him.

A great paring knife cannot be overrated. And I didn’t have one. He, my knife, was barely good.

DH is not a great picker-upper-of-hints, so every year for my birthday, Christmas, anniversary—you name the gift-giving occasion—he asks me for a list. Do I ask DH for a list? No. I pay attention to things he says throughout the year, entering the ideas into a file on my computer for ready access. Is that so hard???

So how could he miss that I really, really, really needed a great new paring knife. So, dutifully (it’s what wives do), I put to buy a great paring knife on my list for him. Actually, great doesn’t communicate to DH, so I told him to buy me an “expensive paring knife.” That always works.

I know, I know, I know. Expensive doesn’t always mean “great”—still, he’d have a better shot at success if that was the guideline.

So, the story he told Christmas Day was, it worked. He went to his favorite store to buy me kitchen goodies and told the clerk he wanted an expensive paring knife. The helpful clerk assisted him. As DH tells it, he was taken aback at how much such a short thing could cost. Oh, goodie! That bodes well for me and future cutting adventures!

He picked it up to take to the register to pay, and the clerk swiped it out of his hands. “I’ll carry that to the register for you, Sir.”

DH: “Oh, that’s all right. I know the way. I’ve been here before.”

Clerk: “It’s our policy, Sir.”

DH (offended): “I’m not going to steal it.”

Clerk: “I didn’t think you would. No, this is so you don’t cut anything or anyone on your way.”

At this point in DH’s story, I started laughing. Like DH would even know which end of a paring knife to hold to do damage!

So, the clerk escorted him and my knife to the register, and I got a great new paring knife—with no blood from wrapping accidents.

How do I tell him he has just begun to replace every darn, dull, cheap knife in my kitchen? I better wait until the next gift-giving occasion when he’ll be in a better mood.

Here’s my much-easier-to-make bruschetta mix recipe, Twitter-style. I just slice right through those Romas! Get more “tweats” from me @good2tweat.

Bruschetta Mix: 8 Roma tom/3 minst grlc clv/1 sliced grlc clv/2T evoo/3T chopt basil Mix + 2T Asiago. 1T on evoo toasted brd slices + asiago