Saturday, December 12, 2009

Week 3

I didn't cook from the Women of Great Taste this week. Instead I cooked my mother's goulash and ate it 3 days in a row. Perhaps it was a byproduct of meeting my sister, Judy in Kansas City last weekend. Kansas City is our home town and we enjoy going back to where it all started including driving by St. Luke's, the hospital where we were born. Mother claimed that she didn't know she was carrying twins and they didn't do ultrasounds 58 years ago. We stayed at my sister Jane's condo just off The Plaza, my parents favorite area for eating and shopping.

The closest Judy and I came to cooking over the weekend was heating up a really nice jar of artichoke and spinach dip from World Market. We enjoyed pizza at Minsky,s and then went back to Eggcetra's (adjacent to Minsky's and I believed owned by the same person) for breakfast the next morning. Both eateries are places were my daughter, Rachel, worked at when she lived in K.C. and both are excellent.

But the highlight of the trip was our drive down highway 71 to find pecans. We had to go half way to Arkansas but finally found the road side store in Rich Hill. When you buy fresh pecans you can either buy them cracked or shelled. The cracked pecans have been put though some sort of machine that basically cracks and mostly shells the pecans but you have to separate the shells from the nuts. Not a difficult job and a much cheaper way to buy a large quality of pecans. The down side to buying pecans only days off the tree is that the ones you buy in the grocery stores always taste dry and stale after that.

I brought my several pound bag of nuts home and started looking at ways to use them before they went bad or I would have to put them in the freezer. So far I have used them in pumpkin pancakes that were delicious and chocolate chunk oatmeal cookies that were heavenly if I do say so myself. I've been looking at a recipe for honey pecan squares that may be perfect. And there are many recipes I could use from Women of Great Taste.

So hopefully next week I will have another recipe for my friends to try and me to report on.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Week Two

This week was a pretty easy week as far as the recipes went. Baja Nachos and Cheese & Artichoke Torta. Very little cooking involved. No fancy ingredients. For the Baja Nachos I needed grated cheddar cheese, green chilies, black olives (I had some left over from last week), green onions, mayonnaise, tiny shrimp and round tortilla chips. What are tiny shrimp? I bought the smallest I could find but ended up cutting them into pieces. I made the mistake of buying them already cooked from the grocery store and they really lacked flavor. I also got lazy and bought grated cheese. It's funny how we remember certain things, like my sister, Susan, insisting that packaged grated cheese is dried out and it is much better to grate your own. She is right. Besides being less fresh, packaged grated cheese has added potato starch and powdered cellulose to prevent caking and natamycin to inhibit mold. Block cheese on the other hand has only pasteurized milk, salt, cheese culture. and enzymes. After mixing all the ingredients I spooned the cheese mixture onto the Tortilla chips. The recipe called for 40 chips so I am guessing you stack them on top of each other, otherwise the dish you would have to use wouldn't fit into the microwave. Instead I did a layer at a time.

For the Cheese and Artichoke Torta I had to roast a red bell pepper, something I've been wanting to try. The instructions said to broil until "the sides start to blister and turn brown". What I wasn't sure about, was do I just stand it up right on the rack or do I set it on it's side and rotate it as the sides blister? I decided to do the latter which worked fine. I then put the pepper into a brown bag for 20 minutes as instructed and it was easy to peel. The rest of the ingredients consisted of marinated artichoke hearts, minced fresh parsley (I now have a bunch of parsley in the fridge that will most likely go bad), cream cheese and a package of ranch-style salad dressing mix. The hard part of this recipe was layering the vegetables between the cream cheese.

My daughter, Kate, was over to sample the results as well as my roommate, Kim and myself. We all decided that the nachos were definitely editable and pretty yummy despite the bland shrimp. I am becoming less adverse to black olives. I won't be eating them out of the can but I won't be picking them off vegetarian pizza either. But the torta was not so great. As Kate put it, it looks great on paper (roasted red pepper, artichoke hearts, parsley and cream cheese how can you go wrong?) but I think the cream cheese overwhelmed the vegetables, and if I were to do the recipe again I would cut down on the cream cheese and use some other flavoring for it.


I know that some of us late baby boomers are resistive to new technologies and new forms of communication. I'm still working on the texting. But I think we may find it invaluable as our minds continue to fail. For instance this week I needed to mail a package to my nephew, Cal. I got to the post office congratulating myself for actually getting there in a timely manner. My nephew, John, is still waiting for the items he left at my house four months ago. Anyway, I'm at the post office and realize that I have forgotten to bring the address. I'm not looking forward to riding the bus all the way home and then back again. I decide to call Cal's father, Bill hoping he might have the address in his head. He doesn't. And then I suddenly remember that I have an IPhone! I can access my email which has the address. Eureka! I mailed the package and then when I got home if found the note I was going to include still in my purse. So what I am thinking is, when I get really demented my daughters can program "home" into my GPS in my IPhone and I will be able to find my way. Hopefully.

I'm spending the weekend in Kansas City with my twin sister, Judy. We probably won't cook but I'm sure we are going to eat. Looking forward to a relaxing weekend.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Week 1

I began this journey because I wanted to expand my taste as well as my cooking skill and the first recipe in Women of Great Taste challenges me with black olives and capers, foods I no not like. Olives if encountered are easily picked out of foods and I have only tried capers once before. Capers are pickled buds of the caper plant, and to me taste similar to the olive.

The recipe, Aegean Salsa named after the sea between Turkey and Greece, is a base of eggplant, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, garlic and celery, flavored with wine, Worcestershire sauce, black olives and capers.

This week I also prepared the second recipe, Pita Crisps, and the third, Hummus.

My adventure began at the grocery store looking for items I never use, olives, capers and tahini sauce for the hummus. After 20 minutes I resorted to asking for help and a nice woman, busy with the Thanksgiving crowd found each item I needed and even recognized me when I returned the next day for more food.

Preparing the salsa was a time consuming job of dicing vegetables. Several weeks ago my daughter, Kate, and I took a knife skills class at The Chopping Block in Lincoln Square. We learned how to hold a knife properly and how to dice different vegetables. It was a fun class and I did learn a lot. The idea behind dicing vegetables is to get uniform pieces to make the dish look attractive and to allow for uniform cooking. The eggplant was suppose to be diced into 1/2 inch squares. I got out my ruler and measured. What I had forgotten until I got about half way though the egg plant is that you have to cut 1/2 inch rectangular planks first. This requires wasting a large portion of the eggplant since eggplants tend to be round and not square. A serious chef saves all the rounded pieces to make vegetable broth. Needless to say my "cubes" were not uniform but in the end probably made little difference because of the length of cooking time. Even though having taken the class I am a faster and more efficient chopper the whole process took a considerable amount of time. The ingredients reminded me of the ratatouille that my niece, Lyndy, and I made when she was staying with me.

The second recipe was simply toasted pita bread cut into triangles for using with the Aegean Salsa and the third recipe Humus. I do eat humus and enjoy it on occasion. I found the preparation very easy and an excuse to get out the mini Cuisinart that I had to have a couple of years ago but have used maybe once. The only real challenge in this recipe was toasting the pine nuts. I had earlier in the day ruined some almonds I had tried to toast but Kim, my roommate, talked me through it and they came out fine. Fresh humus is very different from store humus, much better. My problem now is that I have a whole jar of tahini. I looked up on the Internet to see what else tahini is used for and other than a fish recipe only hummus came up. But I could do worse than making hummus once a week. I may try adding different spices.

The Aegean Salsa turned out wonderful even with the olives and capers. Kim agreed and even Charlie, Kate's boyfriend, said he liked it. The initial face he made he said was due to the fact he was expecting something hot instead of cold. Both also enjoyed the humus and toasted pita bread.

This was the first Thanksgiving since moving to Chicago that I have cooked and shared with others. After my separation and divorce in St. Louis, my friend, Phyllis and I would go out on Thanksgiving and I have a picture of the two of us on one occasion in a frame on my refrigerator. My daughters always spend Thanksgiving with their father's family. But this year, Kim and I cooked a fabulous meal of turkey, lamb, stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn, cranberry almond relish (minus the almonds),from Women of Great Taste, salad, pumpkin pie, brownies and of coarse Aegean Salsa and Hummus on Pita Crisps. Charlie joined us and we had a very nice meal and conversation.
Hi all! This is my new blog about cooking and maybe about life. How many of you guys saw the movie Julie and Julia? A very fun movie. In the movie Julie decides to cook her way through Julia Child's French cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Not a small feat.

I have decided to do something similar but with the cookbook my sister, Jane introduced me to many years ago, Women of Great Taste by the Wichita, Kansas Junior League. Thank you Jane. I am going to do this for several reasons. Even though Women of Great Taste is really the only cook book I ever use and has most of my favorite recipes, I have only cooked about a hand full of recipes from the book. I am very set in my ways about what I cook and more importantly about what I eat. I want to expand my skills and palate. I love to cook and I love to write. So I thought I would combine the two.

Unlike Julie who gave her self a year, I am going to take a little longer. I am only going to prepare two recipes a week. And I am going to start at the beginning and go through to the end. It should take a little over 3 years. Lots of writing and cooking.

A little background. Women of Great Taste was published in 1995. Twenty thousand copies were pinted that year and another 20,000 copies the following year. I do not know if there has been further printings. You are still able to get the book both through and from the junior league itself. Women of Great Taste won the Midwest regional Tobasco award the year it was published. The Tobasco company judges community cookbooks from all over the country. The books have to be part of a fundraiser for the community.

Junior Leagues all over the country publish cookbooks. Most of them are high quality hard back books like Women of Great Taste. Incidentally, Chicago's junior league published a cookbook last year call Peeling a Wild Onion, which won the Tobasco second place nation award. Chicago is the Native American word for wild onion. We were beaten out by Morehead City's A Little Taste of Heaven Since 1857: The Morehead City Heritage Cookbook.

Publishing cookbooks is still big business. Here is a link to an interesting article. Apparently the best selling cookbook of all times is Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book.

I hope you will join me through my adventures.