Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Lucy Lu Hough ~**~ 1994-2008

Saying Goodbye to Lucy.

This gorgeous miniature Schnauzer is Lucy. Lucy joined our family on the January 1, 2000, and crept into our hearts immediately. I have never seen a more loving dog than Lucy, which is really quite
amazing, considering the abuse and neglect she lived with for the
first part of her life. Her former "owners" abandoned Lucy when
they moved, and she was alone and tied up in a yard, struggling to
survive when she was rescued. By the time this beautiful animal
was introduced into our lives, she'd had nearly all of her teeth out
due to infections from foxtails, and she was skin & bones.
We'd been talking about a dog for a long while when we found Lucy through a Mini Schnauzer rescue here in San Diego. We went to meet her and immediately fell in love. She was a little timid at first, but that didn't last long. A couple weeks after we brought her home with us, it was clear she thought of this as her home too.

Lucy would dance when we came home from anywhere, even a trip to the store. She'd get up on her hind legs and dance around the living room, howling her own tune. She loved her "bad kitty" toy (that was what it was called, not our name for it! :) ) and Greenies, but most of all she loved her new family and we loved her. From day one she attached herself to my husband, following him wherever he went. When he was out of town, she would spent the first day or two watching his side of the bed, sitting outside the bathroom, or sniffing around his chair at the dining room table. When she figured out he was gone, she spent most of her time by the front door, just waiting patiently. She was playful and loving and sweet and never ever anything less than a joy, and always a part of the family.
Lucy Lu Hough died today, September 23, 2008. We will miss her very, very much.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Chicken & Noodles- It doesn't get more comforting than this!

Chicken & Noodles: A Tutorial
Chicken & Noodles is a tradition in my family. My Grandma Ma made it best, my Mom a close second. It's the ultimate in comfort food. I remember as a kid back in Minnesota, coming inside after a chilly night of Trick-or-Treating to find a big pot of chicken noodle soup on the table. Nothing could do a better job of making you feel good and warm inside!

To make good Chicken & Noodles, you need to start with a good stock, and what's better than homemade? Stock is one of the simplest things to make. A roasting hen, a few aromatics, and you're well one your way! For extra rich flavor, use chicken broth instead of water. I like to add an onion, quartered, to mine, along with the celery (don't be afraid to use those leaves!!) and a roasting hen. Then I add a couple tablespoons of peppercorns. You can add carrots too, though I don't care for the sweetness they impart in this instance. Simmer the stock until the chicken is fall apart tender and the veggies have extracted all of their goodness into the pot, then strain everything out. Skim some, but not all, of the fat. What you're left with is a rich, flavorful stock.

Once you've removed everything from the stock, you can take the chicken pieces and dredge them in a little flour, and give them a quick fry. This will tide you over until the soup's ready! Looks delicious, doesn't it? In the meantime, simmer the stock to reduce it some, concentrating the flavor even more.

To begin the noodles, you're going to need some eggs. Here my Mom used a fork to combine 8 eggs, then began adding flour. You're going for a soft dough here, don't add too much flour. Add a bit of salt, and if you like, a tablespoon or so of the chicken fat you skimmed from the stock. When the dough comes together, generously dust your work surface with flour and turn out about half of the dough onto the flour. Pat into a widening circle with your hands, and then roll out with a well floured rolling pin. Dust the top with flour as needed to prevent sticking.

The easiest way to cut the noodles, believe it or not, is with a pizza cutter. It makes quick work of that dough! Once you've cut (don't worry about them being perfect and even!), bring them up with your fingers, tossing with the excess flour, and separating, leaving the flour on the work surface. If any of the noodles stick, a spatula or a bench scraper work great to get them up. Just run them through the flour, and shake off the excess. Repeat with remaining dough.

Use a pastry brush to brush any extra flour from the noodles, then begin adding them to the stock. Stir as you go to prevent the noodles from forming one giant dumpling! Simmer until the noodles are cooked through, and tender. I prefer mine firmer, my mom likes hers to be a bit more tender. It's really up to you and your personal taste.

Season to taste with salt and pepper (I love white pepper in this!), add parsley, and serve. Hot, delicious, simple down home goodness. I love it! Manga!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Comfort Food from the Midwest

Pork Cutlets & Pan Gravy
One of my favorite foods from back home in the Midwest is pork cutlets. The best ones are found in Iowa, but you can get excellent cutlets in South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin too. If you've never had pork from back east, I can tell you, you are really missing out on something wonderful! The pork back home has so much more flavor than this overly lean, bland pork in the stores here in California.
If you ask for pork cutlets here, what you'll often get is a boneless chop that's been run through a mechanical tenderizer. You'll recognize it by the square or diamond pattern on the surface. A real pork cutlet is from the tenderloin, so they are juicy and tender and delicious!

To make this dish you'll season some flour with salt & pepper. I like a lot of pepper, freshly ground. Using a meat tenderizing mallet, lighty pund the cutlets to an even thickness, working in the flour as you go. In a large skillet (this is an electric, but you can do it on the stove), heat a small amount of olive oil, smart balance, or a combination of oil and butter. Saute the cutlets quickly, flipping after about 2 minutes, until a delicious crust forms as seen in these pics.

Once all of the cutlets are browned, add a couple tablespoons of your seasoned flour to the pan with them, then add about 3 cups of water, cover, and let simmer until it forms a thickened, flavorful gravy and the meat is tender. This takes about 15 - 20 minutes. So easy!

We served mashed Yukon Gold potatoes, green & yellow beans with carrots, and a potato melange as sides with this dinner. The potato melange has peppers, onion, carrot, tomato, snow peas, and a little broccoli. It's from Trader Joe's in the frozen aisle, and cooks up quick! Personally, I prefer my mashed potatoes, but that's just me :) Enjoy!!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A favorite recipe....

I don't have any pics of this yet, because I haven't made it recently...but I plan to soon and a couple people had asked for the recipe, so here it is! Enjoy it...I know I will! :)
That recipe looks tasty! It is not quite the same as what I make, though. The way I make it is based on the way it was made the first time I had it..and fell instantly in love ;-)


6 Chicken Breast Halves -- Skinned And Boned
6 Slices Prosciutto
6 Slices Provolone Cheese
6 whole sage leaves
1/2 Cup Flour
1/4 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Pepper
2 tsp Sage (dried, rubbed)
1/4 Cup Olive oil
1/4 cup butter
1/2 tsp Thyme
1/2 Cup Shallots -- Minced
3 Large Garlic Cloves -- Minced
1/2 Cup Dry White Wine
1 1/2 Cup Chicken Broth
1/2 Cup Cream

Combine the flour with the salt, pepper, and dried sage on a plate. Set aside.
Pound each of the breast halves to a uniform thickness, around 1/4". Dredge in seasoned flour.
Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil with 2 Tbsp butter in a large skillet. Brown 3 of the chicken pieces over med-high heat. Repeat with remaining olive oil, butter & chicken, placing the chicken pieces on a baking sheet as they get done.
Top each piece of chicken witha slice of proscuitto, then a sage leaf, then a slice of cheese. Set aside while you make the sauce.
In the olive oil-butter combination remaining in the skillet, saute the shallots and garlic. Add the thyme, and 1-2 tbsp of the reamining seasoned flour, and stir. Whisk in the white wine and chicken broth. Simmer for 1 minute, then remove from heat and stir in the cream. Pour over chicken.
Bake chicken at 350* for 15 minutes, until cheese is completely melted and chicken is cooked through.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

First taste of Autumn

Black Raspberry Apple Pie
I realize I am probably jumping the gun a little bit, but I am so ready for the cool, brisk days of autumn to arrive. So, being in a Fall frame of mind, I set out today to make one of my favorite desserts of the season: Black Raspberry Apple Pie.

I started with the apples: 5 Granny Smith, 2 McIntosh, 1 Fuji, and 1 Royal Gala. A nice combination for flavor and texture. To the peeled, cored, and sliced apples I added a spritz of lemon juice, 3/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1 tbsp cinnamon, and roughly 1/2 tsp nutmeg. Next came 5 Tbsp of tapioca, and finally a 12 ounce package of frozen black raspberries I purchased at Trader Joe's.
The crust is my mom's recipe, which calls for 2 1/2 cups flour, 1 cup cold butter, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1 tsp sugar, plus a few tbsp of ice water. I made the crust this morning so it would be easier since it was forecast to be a pretty warm afternoon (86*f). It's pretty basic, cut the butter into the dry ingredients, then add the water until you have pastry dough :) I rolled it between sheets of wax paper for easy storage and transfer. I took it out about 15 minutes before I was ready for it, so it wouldn't be too cold to fit into the pie pan. I cut apples into the top crust for venting, placing them on opposite quarters for decoration, as seen in the pictures. Then, I brushed the top with a little cream and sprinkled with turbinado sugar.

Before putting in the 375* oven, I wrapped the edges in foil to prevent them from over-browning. I baked the pie for 25 minutes, removed the foil and baked for 35 minutes more. When I pulled it out, the aroma just washed over me, fruity and spicy and yummy! The little pastry apples had turned a crisp golden brown, and the juices bubbling around the edges smelled and looked wonderful. I couldn't wait to try it!

I let the pie cool for about an hour, then served it with vanilla bean ice cream. The berries had turned the apples into a gorgeous shade of garnet, and added just the right amount of tart-sweet flavor to compliment the apples nicely. The crust was crisp and flaky and buttery good, everything I could have hoped for, since I love pie crust! I would have loved cinnamon ice cream, but we couldn't find any and the vanilla did just fine in it's stead. Manga!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

It's been 7 years today...

And I remember it as if it was yesterday. I was walking in the door from taking my daughter to school when my cell rang. Another mom from her school was calling to tell me she was turning around to pick up the kids and did I want her to get Alexis while she was there? When I asked why, she said I had better turn on the television. I stood, frozen, for several seconds watching in horror, then ran out the door and went back to the school. She hadn't even made it inside yet. The kids could tell something was up, but they didn't know what. Her best friend was with her, so I took both of them and left, calling her mom as I did so. The kids went into her room with a movie, and I sat down on the sofa and cried.

I love my family.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Happy Birthday to my Dad!

Yesterday was my Dad's birthday. He is now officially 70 years old! Pretty amazing feat for a man who had Polio as a child, had his appendix burst, was run over my a monumental piece of machinery called a disc (the one with the round blades in the front that tear up ashpalt? Yeah, that), had 2 heart attacks, is diabetic, and has worked non-stop since he was a mere child. But then, he's kinda amazing himself.

My mom and I made him a delicious birthday cake...the base of the cake was the Hershey's Deep Dark Chocolate cake, one of my favorite recipes. Then Ma baked a small square and a round pan of white cake, out of which we cut a 7 and a 0...I'm sure you can guess where we were going, yeah? I frosted the chocolate layer, then we put the 70 on top, and poured a vanilla glaze over that...and because we're such rebels, we decorated the numbers with dragees. Anyone who doesn't understand that, google dragees and California. :)

Dinner was kind of a mixed grill. We had crab, grilled shrimp, fried shrimp (breaded with panko), steak and pork chops. For sides, yellow beans, asparagus, and baked potatoes, done on the grill so the skin was nice and crispy. Delicious, for certain! I would have loved to have gotten pics to show you fine people, but, alas, I did not remember to get my camera off the charger before I left in the morning :(

I will show you part of my present for him, though. It's a graphite sketch of my parents about 33 years ago that I did. I finished it, matted and framed it before wrapping it with gift wrap, but this will give you a rough idea of how it looks. And yes, he really DID look like Conway Twitty, and yes, my mom really IS a hottie :)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sometimes you just gotta have some chicken

We felt like a drive. We'd recently discovered that Starbucks in Orange & L.A. counties has something wonderful called Sorbetto (more on that later), and I was in the mood for chicken, so we decided to head north along the coast and take care of two cravings with one stone, so to speak :) This is Bandera. Bandera is located on Pacific Coast Highway in Corona Del Mar, just north of Dana Point. Chicken doesn't get better than this.
The first thing you see...and smell...when you get to Bandera is the chickens, roasting over and open flame, and the onions catching the dripping juices. The onions are there mostly to prevent flare-ups, but they do add a subtle smoky onion flavor, and imbue the already heady aroma with a certain richness. I wish I could have gotten a better pic, but this will have to do, because that fence is *hot*!
The kitchen (above & below) is always frenetic. People moving in what looks like a cross between a perfectly synchronized ballet and complete chaos. There's always a dozen or more chefs, soux-chefs, servers, etc moving in and out of the strange dance. The food is excellent, and so is the service for the most part. The only exception I've found is the hostesses at the front door, who seem to go out of their way to be snobby.
Bandera is known for the chicken of course, but they also have some other dishes that are hugely popular, including the only cornbread I've ever enjoyed. We didn't get it this time, but I will post an update with a pic when we do the next time! The House Margarita is the best margarita you will ever find in a restaurant, IMO. They don't use any mixers, no pre-made sweet & sour. Just a housemade blend of citrus and tequila, with egg white for added froth. Don't let the egg white scare you off...these margaritas are well worth the price of admission!
We also started with the Queso Dip, which is a spicy vresion of a classic, served with fresh, warm tortilla chips. The pic didn't turn out, but I'm sure you know what queso looks like! :)

And here's the entrees! My husband ordered the enchiladas, which are on the left. Filled with cheese, and smothered in two types of sauce, they are only $6 served a la carte! But the star of the show, for me, is the chicken. I ordered it with mashed potatoes (chunky, parsleyed mashed potatoes) instead of the green rice, just because I like the potatoes better :) As you can see, it is perfectly cooked, succulent, and delicious! And don't forget to save room for:

The Desserts! This is our choice, the Banana cream pie with chocolate and caramel, with a delicious crumb & nut crust. It is out of this world good, and oh so decadent.
What a perfect way to spend an evening! Manga!

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Fiesta that's wasn't.

So, we were in the mood for some Mexican food. Where shall we go, says I? How about Ponce's? says he. Ponce's is located on Adam's Avenue, just across from and slightly west of the Library, and across the street from the Ken theater, about a block from the Kensington sign.

It was a hot and humid day, and the night cooled little and did nothing for the humidity, and much to my dismay, there was no A/C happening inside Ponce's cantina...so we decided to sit outside. There was a wait, so we sat on the metal stools out front. Several tables had finished their food, but they were lingering, so we had a chance to chat about McCain's choice for VP, the scandalous behaviors around the conventions, etc while waiting. Suddenly a young woman begins cussing loudly as she discusses with her tablemates *her* view on Obama. Wow. She didn't look like a sailor...but she would put one to shame with her mouth!

In any case, we were finally seated, the hostess providing menus, and salsa and chips already on the table. So far, So good, right? Welllll....let me continue :) The salsa is *hot*. By hot, I mean, melt enamel off your teeth hot! lol The chips we ok, except they weren't warm as they should have been

Then came the House Margarita. If you put turpentine in a glass, spruced it up with some salt and lime, you'd end up with a pretty close approximation of what this tasted like. I took the picture, took a sip, and sent it back! Of course, by the time I got the chance to tell our server that (she had an odd fascination with a table behind us, and spent almost our entire dinner chatting with them), our meal was half over!

We started the food portion of the meal with nachos. These are what my daughter makes, essentially...simple. Chips with cheese melted over them, topped with guacamole and sour cream. Not bad, but nothing special. They were generous, but by the time our server managed to get them to our table, they'd clearly been sitting a while because the cheese had time to begin seperating, causing the bottom chips to get greasy.

Ok, onto the real food. We ordered a combo plate that had an enchilada, a taco, and a tamale, as well as an additional taco because you can only get the combo with ground beef and my husband wanted shredded beef. Good news first: The tamale itself was tasty. The meat was tender, and the masa was moist, at least where the sauce was touching it. It was what I liked best of the whole meal. The enchilada was dry, and bland, sadly. The ground beef taco was not too bad, way too spicy for my tastes, but the shredded beef taco was good...moist and flavorful without being too hard on the tastebuds.

The best part was when the server came with our check, stood near the table looking at us until I looked up at her, then stepped back over to the table behind us and spent another 10 minutes chatting with the occupants! Mind you, this was the second time we'd seen her since our drinks arrived. Needless to say, she did not get a generous tip! Instead we had a word with the manager about the service....or lack thereof.

So, I cannot in good conscience recommend Ponce's as a place to go at this time. I will try it again in the future, and maybe with a different server and some control in the kitchen with the heat factor, things will improve.