Sunday, November 27, 2011

A cornmeal meal and something exotic. . .

My mom mentioned she needed to buy cornmeal, reminding me I’ve had about a cup full in the cupboard for years. I mean years. I cooked some up for the neighborhood’s stray cats and they were unimpressed.
But I can’t seem to throw anything out, so I started to play. I imagined toasting a tablespoon full in a skillet and cracking an egg on top. I went to the internet to see if someone else had tried this. I found that during the Depression, people mixed cornmeal into scrambled eggs to stretch their egg supply. Now eggs are about the least expensive thing to make into a main meal. So I made a crispy-bottomed fried egg with success. Then I did the same with discs of baked sweet potato and served it with bacon that also had a dab of cornmeal to make it extra crispy. I could eat this all week. Now I just have a half cup of cornmeal to use up.
By the way, my mom claims they don’t make corn meal the way they used to. She means the meal is more fine now, and that makes for a too “slick” dressing. She likes a good texture in her mouth. I’m sure I can find her some coarse ground somewhere, because since she pointed that out, she kind of ruined the dressing for me.

Roger Mooking does pizza like my family does omelets; it’s a standing date. A weekly pizza is a good way to get the whole family cooking and clean out the fridge to create something new with leftovers. He makes some dough on Sundays, takes his girls swimming and returns to assemble custom pizza.
It’s all in his book, “Everyday Exotic: The Cookbook,” written with Allan Magee and based on the TV show. Mooking was once called “exotic” by a teacher and has decided to live up to the title. His tip is that everything from hamburger to five spice is exotic to someone, so experiment, taste and enjoy.
This book offers a new way of experience ingredients you know. Your macaroni could be made into a curry pie and a switch to blood orange will give your dish a glow. Photos of dishes colored with spices will entice cooks. Dishes aren’t difficult, they’re bold. They have long titles to reflect ingredients, such as Nori-Crusted Salmon served with Soba Noodle Salad and Green Tea and Papaya Barbecued Chicken served with Coconut Rice and Watercress Papaya Salad. Roast an eggplant with nothing more than salt and pepper and shave your veggies to make Broccoli Dust. He grew up in the Caribbean and cooks with what he calls Obedient Ingredients. Here’s something to make with what you already have in your pantry. Marinate some wings and top with a crunchy peanut and pepper mixture, that’s also in the book.

Peanut Butter Marinade
2 cups smooth, natural peanut butter
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup soy sauce
½ cup brown sugar

½ cup water
juice of two limes
Zest of one lime
1 teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
Place all the ingredients into a large bowl, stir to incorporate, set asice.
Store in a clean, air-tight container in the fridge for up to three days. Makes enough for four portions of Peanut Butter Chicken Wings.

Serving guests low cal vodka
We’ll come round to vodka in this discussion, so read on:
Invite your honey to the holidays with Honeydrop, a line of natural teas and juices with a spoon full of honey. Green Tea, Lemon Tea and Lemon Ginger Tea are new in the low-calorie line. I like the Blood Orange. I love how these natural companies have causes. Buy a Bottle - Save a Bee helps beehives get built around the country.
Hint Water takes it down a notch with a no-calorie unsweetened essence water in 10 flavors including Blackberry, Watermelon, Pomegranate-Tangerine, Strawberry-Kiwi, Mango-Grapefruit, and Raspberry-Lime. I’ve had some in the past and just tried another round, adding watermelon to vodka. Hint and Honeydrop are great ways for children to cut back on sugary drinks, and adults can work on their figures by mixing cocktails with them.

Voli Light Vodka makers say it is the first low calorie fruit and fusion flavored vodka in the world. Voli Light Vodkas are on average 25 to 40 percent lower in calorie than leading brands with natural ingredients. I got a great flavor and aroma from Lemon, Lyte and Raspberry Cocoa. Bottles look sleek, but don’t think this is all too girly. My husband liked the refreshing flavor combos you can concoct. The Orange Vanilla goes with apple cider and cinnamon stick; Lemon meets pomegranate and flamed orange zest to get Sympathy for the Devil; and Lyte, jalapeno and pineapple get you a spicy kick. The Voil Vamp, below, cuts calories big time:

Voil Vamp
1 1/2 ounce Voli Lemon (or Lyte)

1/4 ounce Chambord (Raspberry Liqueur)

2 ounce Cranberry juice

Top with club soda

Build over ice and stir

Serve in a “rocks” glass with lemon or lime twist. Calories: 135 (100 calories if made with diet cranberry)

Caveman treats
A cookie company gives you a brownie recipe that will no doubt satisfy cave men as well as your brood. Caveman Cookies are based on the back-to-basics principles of the Paleolithic Diet of natural stuff. I’ve tried and enjoyed the slightly sweet and chewing sensation of cookies in original, alpine and tropical. It wasn’t just me, my testers went for seconds, too.
The company goes for dairy and gluten-free ingredients, to satisfy the caveman inside us all is craving a simpler time when food was not processed and was free of additives with only all-natural ingredients that the body can easily digest. Visit to learn more, and try these:

Paleo* Pumpkin Pecan Brownies
(*Paleolithic except for the chocolate… so enjoy it as a treat.)
2 eggs

4 ounces dark chocolate

½ cup honey

16 ounce unsalted almond butter

1 cup coarsely chopped pecans, divided

3/4 cup pumpkin

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, lightly whisk eggs; set aside. Break chocolate bar into pieces and combine with honey in saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently. Remove from heat once chocolate is melted.

Add half the chopped pecans and all other remaining ingredients in bowl with eggs; pour in chocolate-honey mixture. Mix well. Pour batter into parchment-lined or lightly greased baking pan (9- by 13-inches) and sprinkle with remaining chopped pecans. Bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes until firm to the touch.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Giving thanks for pork belly, venison

Can pork belly salad “life changing?”
I was excited to be invited to the new Finch Hutton Restaurant on Boston Avenue in Nederland. I’d decided to try the pork belly salad discussed on the front page of the Port Arthur News. I asked around and learned pork belly is where bacon comes from. That, paired with pineapple, melon and a citrus dressing, sounded like a good adventure.
A waiter told me a diner had called the dish “life changing.” Well, I tell you, I haven’t stopped talking about mine. It was crispy, fatty and delicious. I was down two pounds the next day, so it must be a low-carb thing. I think the owner must have put it on the menu as a way to get more men to a fancy restaurant. The place is lovely, with a long design and gold-flecked walls that made as good an impression as my lunch. Other diners had beautiful plates. Entrée options include lamb burger, soft shell crab salad, New Orleans barbecued shrimp and grilled duck breast.

Love the holidays
Last week I had my first turkey of the season at the YMCA potluck and that evening attended an event with a Christmas tree. The potluck drew a Southeast Texas spread where cooks gave thanks with tamales and gumbo, too. The Silver Sneakers leader told me she had just tried quinoa with good results. While the food has been a highlight of every gathering I have attended recently, the chance to be with caring people has been the best part. Make sure you invited all the people you can accommodate to all your functions.

Any deer hunters in the house?
Probably not. They’re in the woods, right? I’ve had the pleasure of dining on a hunter’s catch only a handful of times. I’ve never had the challenge of seeking new ways to serve venison. Harold W. Webster Jr. has hunted and cooked across the country and you can bag his “The Complete Venison Cookbook.” The folks at Quail Ridge Press say it’s flying off the shelves.
Venison Steak Tartare with Eggs and Anchovy, Hot Venison Sausage and Apple Sandwich, Pepper Venison Burger with Stale Beer Sauce, Calcutta Venison and Venison Sausage and Seafood Ragout are some of the more unusual fare. There’s plenty of old school offerings in there, too. Don’t forget sides and dessert. Crackling Bread, Cranberry-Rice Stuffing, Mintade, File Powder and Horseradish Sauce (fumes require outdoor prep) are in this 419-pager. I’m impressed with the spread. By spread, I mean all the eclectic recipes. For an actual spread, try this:

Venison Marrow on Toast
Large venison upper leg bones
Saw the large upper venison marrow bones into 4- to 6-inch lengths. Roast bone pieces in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes or until fork can easily penetrate the soft marrow portion on the bones. Scoop out the marrow and serve as is or season with salt and pepper. Serve on toast.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Kick up the family’s fave: green bean casserole

Readers, y’all know I crave the exotic, but the classic holiday green bean casserole is not something I’ll ever turn down. Sometimes I add things that no one else thinks will be good, because they don’t want to stray from the original. I’ll have you know, the following add-ins are Campbell’s approved:

For added crunch, add ½ cup sliced almonds to the onion topping.
For bacon lovers, add 4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled, to the bean mixture.
For a festive touch, stir in chopped red pepper with soup.
For cheese lovers, stir in 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese with soup. Omit soy sauce. Sprinkle with an additional 1/2 cup additional Cheddar cheese when adding the remaining onions.
For Golden Green Bean Casserole, substitute Campbell's Condensed Golden Mushroom soup for Cream of Mushroom soup. Omit soy sauce. Stir in 1/2 cup chopped red pepper with the green beans.
For more ideas, tips and recipes for the holiday feast, visit
Can dessert get too adorable?
Pumpkin pie isn’t just for pilgrims anymore, two mini-cooks say. As if their tiny pies weren’t cute enough, they top them with tiny crust hearts or gingerbread people, etc. Some time ago, after a few pumpkin beers, Christy Beaver and Morgan Greenseth decided to get into the mini dessert business. Now they have a little book that tells you how to make pies in tiny mason jars, bake grapes into something heavenly and tempt with “Dirty Chai.” Savory Sweet Potato with Rosemary and Cayenne gets rosemary topping. These pies are just for one. They’re wee, and you won’t want to share. Here’s a topper from “Mini Pies”:
Basil Whipped Cream (for Sweet Strawberry Pie)
(Something you didn’t know you’d been missing out on.)
¼ cup heavy whipping cream
½ cup finely chopped and packed fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons sugar
¾ cup mascarpone cheese
Combine the cream, basil and sugar in a metal bowl. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and stir until the sugar dissolves. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for two hours to infuse the whipping cream with basil flavor.
Chill the whisk attachment and bowl of an electric mixer in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Strain the solids out of the chilled cream mixture. Combine the cream mixture and the mascarpone cheese in the chilled mixer bowl and beat until stiff peaks form.
From the “mother grain”
I fell for quinoa the very second time I tried it. My first introduction to this “mother grain” was as a breakfast cereal, but maybe that’s just not my thing. Then I had it seasoned with garlic, pepper and was amazed at its versatility. I love that you can buy it in bulk and flavor as you like, and now I love Roland’s packets that cook as easily as a boxed mac and cheese dinner. Nutritious Andean quinoa is rich in fiber and amino acids and prized for its high protein content. I started with Toasted Sesame Ginger over a green salad, had a breakfast of egg over Roasted Garlic, and am warming myself through the adventure of several more flavors. Here are ideas from the makers:
-Toss Mediterranean Quinoa with cherry tomatoes, feta, fresh basil, lemon and olive oil.
-Pack Black Bean Quinoa, cheddar cheese, beans, and salsa into a flour tortilla for a healthy burrito
-Top Roasted Garlic Quinoa with a wilted greens and a fried egg
-Substitute Sesame Ginger Quinoa for rice in any stir fry—try cooking cabbage with snap peas or mushrooms in ginger, garlic and soy sauce

Monday, November 7, 2011

It’s time to ‘relish’ the cranberries
If you’re going to use canned cranberries, at least consider the whole cranberries. Avoid the jellied stuff that has ridges from the can still showing. Then, get creative and add some real orange zest, red peper, marmalade, walnuts (or pecans from the Golden Triangle Sertoma Club sale) or something with a little spice and texture. Try it out a week ahead of your party and play around with it all.

Cake equals art
Lips, moustaches, clowns, clouds, tiny tea pots, sushi and poker chips are a few designs Molly Bakes has up her sleeve. When she lost her job, she turned to cake and her stall at London’s Brick Lane Market is all the talk. Abundant photos make readers of “Crazy for Cake Pops” confidant they can achieve desired results. Here’s a very simple recipe (the real work is in the designs):
Peanut Butter Frosting
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 ½ tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk
Cream the butter and peanut butter together. Gradually add the sugar, then continue to cream until light and fluffy. Finally, mix in the milk. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before using.

Something to drink with that?
I confess, I’m a “True Blood” fan, thanks to season check outs from my public library. Enhance your viewing pleasure with Tru Blood Beverage, a snappy carbonated water drink based on the libation vampires imbibe in the TV show. I sipped one of these straight and truly enjoyed the blood orange flavor. Of course, you can mix up concoctions like Lovin’ in the Coven or Faeries’ Nectar. Here’s one based on a main character’s name:
The Belve Compton
2.5 ounces Belvedere Orange
½ ounce lime juice
3 ounces ginger beer
3 ounces Tru Blood Beverage
Add all ingredients to a highball glass filled with cubed ice and garnish with an orange wedge.

Are you a Christian Dior cosmetics fan? Then you may be familiar with Icelandic Glacial Natural Spring Water. This past December, the company announced it would use this brand only to hydrate its skincare cosmetics products, because of its “optimal biological properties, including brightening efficacy.”
Just think how good it is as a beverage. I tried some of this good stuff that comes in a squared off bottle that looks like it was chipped from a block of ice. It’s bottled from Ölfus Spring, making it “microbiologically pure when extracted and free of even trace levels of contaminants, boasting a Total Dissolved Solid (TDS) level of 62 mg/l.” Purely delicious.