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French Lesson

10 Aug
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Image courtesy of num_skyman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As I sit here on the back porch on a beautiful morning, enjoying my tankard of strong coffee and yogurt with fruit and granola, I’m appreciating the simpler things in life. Less is more in most cases, especially when it comes to food.

Some of this I learned while living with a family in southwestern France as an au pair, back in the Pleistocene Age (1989). Here’s why my breakfast made me think of this:

Plain yogurt is better than any other yogurt. Why?

There are no extra ingredients.

It is tart, has a lovely texture, and 100% real. The flavor is even better if left to sit close to room temperature. (Most Americans find this gross, but in France it is quite normal.)

Mountain High, Fage, or Stonyfield are my personal preferences. We buy the giant containers and use them up. Because it’s an Ohio company and because the milk is extraordinary, I want to also try Snowville Creamery’s plain yogurt.

And forget the 0% fat. For a dessert yogurt or a special treat, go for full fat…it’s the good kind so nothing to feel bad about. And for everyday use, 2% is fine unless you really need to shed pounds.

I always substitute plain yogurt for anytime sour cream is required (with burritos or tacos, gazpacho, baked potatoes). The flavor is better, and you get more goodness out of the experience because of the live and active cultures, or probiotics.

Especially interesting to point out that I learned this NOT while in the notoriously liberal Paris, but while living in an area of France well-known for its political, cultural, and culinary traditionalism. The family I lived with supported Jean-Marie Le Pen, an ultra-conservative politician whose daughter is following in his footsteps. (Note that I did not share the family’s positive opinion of Le Pen!)

My family in France earned their living through veal farming (the famous black and white “Limousin” cows named for the region) and a small factory that made animal food. But unlike many American farmers, they did not support the use of small pens or antibiotics. They never used them and would not consider it because they found both practices fundamentally wrong, in keeping with their traditional views on farming practice and healthy eating. I received regular lectures from my family about the negatives of antibiotics and why eating such tainted meat was unthinkable “en France.”

So that’s my take on being simple, brought to you by my breakfast and my memories of simple living in France.

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The Search for Perfect Waffles

23 Dec

Image: Rawich / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yesterday, the kids and I ventured out into holidayland (aka Target) to purchase a gift from them to my husband.

My husband clearly defines what gifts he wants for Christmas each year, from me and from the kids. Down to the make, model, and serial number. This is because I have a history of giving him gifts that he really doesn’t like. A few examples:

  • 1987: A snake ring. I thought it was really cool, but he’s not a snake ring kind of guy. Honestly, I’m not sure what I was thinking. They must have been burning some extra-strong incense at Tradewinds (vintage Columbus-ites will remember this hippie campus tchotchke store), which is where I made the unfortunate purchase.
  • 1988: A juice-maker. Although he’d never expressed interest in receiving one, I thought that he probably really wanted one. I was wrong.
  • 2007: A really cool metal mobile made by a Columbus artist who used to be a barista at Cafe Brioso, David Morgan. This mobile is very modern-looking with lots of abstract shapes and mirrors and is hanging in our big room, but it’s become part of the “why the he!! did you think I wanted that?” collection. Several friends have complimented me on it. It truly is a work of art and I love it, but Ben has determined it was more for me than him. Well, maybe.

You will note that I had a good run of 19 years in there. Hey, we’re not all perfect. The only good explanation that I can give is that when pushed against the wall (because I normally buy gifts at the last minute) I have lapses in taste (notably, the first two items above, not the last).

Back to Target. Now, I know that the waffle-maker variety my husband has determined the kids can afford ($40, he won’t let them spend more). In a fit of unprecedented early preparation, I’d skated through the kitchen small appliance aisles at our local Target and found “it” a couple of weeks ago, but the whole point is to have the kids and their wallets with me when making the purchase. So I felt pretty proud that I’d done some reconnaissance work well in advance.

It took us 20 minutes to get in and out of the store, even in the midst of the busy holidays. Yet another pat on the back for me, eliminating wasted time wandering around the store, etc. And, added bonus, the thing was $20 less than I’d originally thought, saving the kids’ allowance money.

We get home, and my daughter has volunteered to wrap the waffle maker. As we’re getting out the wrapping paper, she says, “Hey, this one doesn’t flip.” What? WHAT? WHAATTTTTT!

Yes, it’s true, we picked the wrong one off the self. Dangflabbit. This inferior non-flippable version was right next to the flippable one that we wanted. Explaining the lower price. Ugh.

So last night, after my daughter and I went with friends to see the Nutcracker, we go back to the neighborhood Target to get THE waffle maker. It was 11 pm, and we could have done cartwheels down the aisles it was so dead in that Target. Pretty smooth process with the return, until we get to the small appliance aisle, and of course all of the flippable ones are gone.

After 20 minutes of wandering around the store to find a customer service person (after incorrectly pegging several unsuspecting innocents wearing red), we locate a true Target employee, a young woman with dyed-black hair and multiple swirly tattoos on her arms. She comes to help us out with her revved-up calculator inventory-checker thingy and scans the product code to find out if they have any “in back.”

After five minutes of scanning, pushing buttons, and saying nothing to us, she pronounces, “We don’t have any in back. Do you want me to see what other stores have them?”

Well, why the he!! not? It’s 11:15 pm, and what else do we have to do? There will be no sleep until we finish this thing. I do not want to be hunting for this blasted waffle maker on Christmas Eve Eve.

She asks, “Do you know the DCPI?”

Since I do not speak the Target dialect of Vulcan, why no, I do not. But she tells us that by knowing this top-secret product code we can properly determine whether or not the store has the exact waffle maker of our liking. Since this is still a foreign language to me, I let her do the honors by checking on her revved-up calculator inventory-checker thingy. Polaris, Sawmill, and Lennox have them. Ding-ding. We can quickly run to Lennox.

“Do you want me to have them save one for you just in case?” she asks.

Of course I do. I am taking no chances.

So she pages the friendly guy at customer service that moved me through so quickly minutes ago, but the guy says that I can come up to the customer service desk and use their phone to call Lennox because he “has Guests waiting in line.”

Forget it. I can call them on my way there, or take my chances that no one will take the last 2 flippable waffle makers at 11:30 pm. As I walk by the customer service desk on my way out, I see that there’s one person in line. Thanks, perky customer service guy. Also, I am not your Guest…I am just someone who wants to buy a waffle maker and get the heck out of here.

Daughter in tow, we shoot over to the Lennox Target. I am now competing against a mystery shopping opponent who also wants one of the two remaining superior waffle makers at the Lennox Target. The clock is ticking, and I WILL get there first. En route, I alternately hum and whistle “The Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairies,” which has the intended purpose of driving my daughter nuts and does work.

Upon arrival at the store, we see that since everything’s set up the same, this is going to be quick and easy.

Back again in the familiar small kitchen appliance aisle, there are NO waffle makers of our variety. Of course.

Right around the corner there’s a helpful Target Host ready to assist me, his Guest. He too has been equipped with a revved-up calculator inventory-checker thingy but has learned more English than his Vulcan Graceland Target Hostess friend. Plus he’s funny. While waiting for him to follow the same five-minute scanning and button-pressing process as his cohort, my daughter and I walk around to the end-cap and I knock into a Kitchen Maid can-opener, which falls to the ground and breaks. “I saw nothing!” declares my witty Target Host. And then, “You’re in luck, we have one ‘in the back!'”

And so we follow him, and he smartly agrees with me when I say, “These damned waffles had better be good.” We wait by the bra and undie section while he searches through “in the back.”

As our Target Host swings through the doors with box in hand, the “Hallelujah Chorus” is playing on the muzak. Until I see that the box he has in hand is for the same unflippable variety waffle maker that we just returned at the Graceland store. “This isn’t it, is it?” I now realize that “in the back” is a terrible place of mere illusion.

Are we going to have to leave the store with the same inferior waffle maker that we’d returned shortly ago?

I tried to convince my daughter that a fondue maker or cupcake-shaped cupcake-maker or donut-shaped donut-maker would be great, but at this point I’ve clearly reached the danger zone that brought about the snake ring oh so many years ago.

My daughter helped to find a solution that will (hopefully) make my husband happy. She has good taste and a smart head on her shoulders.

I will report back on the end of this story after the gift has been opened.

New Year’s (or not) Pork with Apples and Onions Recipe

2 Jan

My husband received an anonymously provided subscription to Martha Stewart Living a couple of months ago, and I’ll admit that I’ve been inspired by some of the recipes. Here’s one that I made yesterday for my family as we celebrated New Year’s.

I also made the traditional sauerkraut and pork, but this one was truly delicious — and I got a lot of compliments from my family, even from traditionalists like my dad. For the liquid, I used a combination of white white with apple cider vinegar. I also had 10 chops and increased the amounts accordingly — worked just fine. I had two pans going — one Teflon and one not. I’d recommend a good steel or cast iron pan for this because those do better with browning.

Ingredients

Serves 6

  • 6 bone-in pork chops (loin or shoulder), cut 3/4 inch thick
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large white onion, sliced
  • 2 to 3 apples, cored and sliced (about 3 cups)
  • 1 cup beer, white wine, cider, or chicken broth

Directions

  1. Trim the chops of excess fat. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat a 14-inch cast-iron skillet (if you have a smaller one, you’ll need to work in batches) over high heat, and then swirl in the olive oil. Lay in the pork chops and don’t move them for a few minutes, to assure a good golden sear forms. Turn and brown well on the second side for a total of about 10 minutes. Transfer the chops to a warm plate.
  2. Swirl the butter into the pan. Add the onion and apples. Saute until the onion slices are lightly caramelized and the apples have begun to soften, about 8 minutes. Stir in the beer or other liquid. Return chops to the pan.
  3. Cook until the pork is tender, about 15 more minutes (depending on the size of the chops), turning halfway through and covering the chops with the apple mixture. If the apple mixture needs a little thickening, transfer the chops to the warm plate again and simmer the mixture on high for a few minutes to reduce. Serve the chops over rice or mashed potatoes with a large spoonful of the apple-onion mixture over the top.

Read more at Marthastewart.com: Pork Chops with Apples and Onions – Martha Stewart Recipes

Thanksgiving Recipes for Your Files

26 Nov

This year, my husband made many dishes, but these were the best two:

Lalli Family Turkey Stuffing (via Sonya Yencer, including her notes)

My Reader’s Digest on why this is so good: The cornbread and the sausage. Cornmeal gives it a nice non-soggy texture, and who doesn’t like sausage?

Just so you know, this makes a ton. I usually half the recipe at least. I guess use the whole recipe if you REALLY like serious leftovers or are feeding ALOT of people. But, dang, is it good and totally worth the work. I have stuffed the bird and done it separately with good results.
Makes enough to stuff a 24-pound bird plus extra to bake in a casserole 

Adapted from the cookbook “Stuffings” by Carole Lalli. If using homemade cornbread, toast it right before using or it will be a bit mushy.

2 pounds unseasoned bulk sausage meat
12 cup unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 large shallot, minced
3 inner ribs celery, leaves included, diced
Kernels from 4 ears of corn
4 fresh sage leaves
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
12 or so cups broken-up day-old corn bread
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 cup (or less) chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste

In large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat, brown sausage meat, stirring to break up, 5-7 minutes. Remove sausage with slotted spoon and set aside on paper towels to drain. Pour off fat from skillet, but do not clean pan. Melt butter in skillet over medium heat. Add onion, shallot and celery; saute, stirring, 8-10 minutes until soft but not browned. Add corn, sage and thyme leaves and cook 1 minute. Set aside to cool about 10 minutes.

Place bread in large bowl; add ingredients from skillet along with parsley. Carefully combine into rough mixture. Add just enough chicken broth to hold together loosely. Season with salt and pepper, if necessary.

Use as turkey stuffing, or drizzle with half-cup broth and bake in lightly buttered shallow baking dish, loosely covered with foil, for 30 minutes in a pre-heated, 350-degree oven.

Epicurious Sweet and Tart Cranberry Sauce
This recipe is awesome. It’s the orange peel and parsley that make it go beyond your run-of-the-mill cranberry sauce. It’s amazing, really!