28 February 2010

National Margarita Day

This past week the nation celebrated National Margarita Day: 22 February 2010

“She’s from Mexico, senores, and her name is the Margarita Cocktail - and she is lovely to look at, exciting and provocative,” declared the December 1953 issue of Esquire magazine. And actually the Margarita was Esquire's Drink of the Month in December 1953.

So some people think there was a big question: frozen or on the rocks? I say, let's bring the Margarita back to its original form. Note that there's no sugar and no blender involved. The primary ingredient is Tequila, which should be front and centre. Never listen to anyone who says use any old tequila in a Margarita because you won't be able to tell the difference in the taste. That is so wrong! And btw, the U.S.A. is the number one tequila market in the world. The Margarita is best enjoyed on the rocks. And a Margarita is always served in a salted glass with a wedge of lime.

So where did this drink come from? There are several versions of the Margarita genesis.

1. One is set in 1938, in which Ensenada bartender Danny Herrera created the Margarita through trial and error at his Tijuana-based restaurant in order to impress American actress Marjorie King, who hated the taste of straight tequila.
2. Some say that the world-famous tequila drink was named after Hollywood actress Rita Hayworth, who was originally known as Margarita Cansino the dancer.
3. A third story goes that the original Margarita was invented in 1948 by socialite Margarita Sames. According to that legend it was during a party at her cliffside hacienda in Acapulco that Margarita began experimenting with “the drink”. Looking for something to cut the dust of a hot afternoon, she mixed Tequila Herradura, Cointreau and fresh lime juice. Her cocktail kept the party going for two weeks and today the Margarita is the #1 most popular cocktail in the U.S.

According to a Brown-Forman study in 2008, 185,000 margaritas are consumed every hour in the United States, which means that 3% of the American population have at least one margarita every day. The cities with the most margarita loving populations are Atlanta, Miami, St. Louis and Nashville. But the best margaritas are found in Santa Fe.

While it’s unclear who or what helped to create the most popular cocktail in the nation, it doesn’t stop anyone from celebrating with a glass in hand. Just like Hayworth herself, these concoctions never go out of style.

The Margarita

* 2 parts good tequila
* 1 part Cointreau
* 1 part lime juice (from a real lime, not a bottle)

Run a lime wedge around the outer rim of the glass and add salt, tapping off the excess. Add ice to the glass. Pour in tequila, Cointreau and lime juice. Stir and serve.

As with all things, people experiment. The first frozen margarita machine was invented in 1971 and it was based off a soft-serve ice cream machine. Margaritas are now served on the rocks, frozen, blended and in numerous flavours. Some people use Grand Marnier or Triple Sec for the orange liqueur. I have even tried some of those flavoured ones and they are not bad drinks. But they're not exactly a Margarita! Whether you prefer yours salty or fruity, blended or on the rocks, everyone can have a signature Margarita to call their own.

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25 February 2010

For The Rest of Us

This is going around.

Tired of all of those surveys made up by high school kids? Here's questions for the people who are a little more mature... (Not sayin' we're OLD or anything!!) You know what to do. Copy and paste into your own note, then answer the questions. Finally, tag your friends. But only if you want to.

1. What bill do you hate paying the most?

Anything to do with repairing the car

2. What famous person would you like to have dinner with?

Julia Child

3. Do you miss being a child?
No. I like the freedom that comes with being an adult.

4. Where was the last place you had a romantic dinner?
The Tin Angel, Nashville

5. If you could go back and change one thing what would it be?
I've thought about this a lot actually. The thing about changing something is that you don't know what repercussions it might have to affect what is happening now. If I would still be in the same place at the same time in the same situation, I would have majored in art in college.

6. Name of your first grade teacher?

Mrs. Randall

7. What do you really want to be doing right now?

8. What did you want to be when you grew up?
A nurse. This was before I figured out I don't do well with needles and the sight of blood. Then I wanted to be an artist.

9. How many colleges did you attend?
One for undergraduate school.
One for graduate school.
Dallas has a number of community colleges that offered all kinds of interesting classes. I used to take classes at those all the time we lived there. I don't remember how many different ones. Three or four, maybe.
I've also taken classes since we moved to Alabama. Maybe I am a perpetual student.

10. Chore you hate the most?
Cleaning the bathroom

11. What are your thoughts on gas prices?

I rarely drive these days, and certainly don't fill up the car, so I haven't actually paid much attention to them. Come to think of it. My new car has only been filled up twice since I got it in October.

12. First thought when the alarm went off this morning?
I love Disney.

13. Last thought before going to sleep last night?
Don't remember. I had my iPod mediation playlist going and just dropped off somewhere in there.

14. Why did you choose the shirt that you have on right now?
Because it's a bright pink nightshirt with a Laurel Burch healing design. I love her stuff and have this same design on a purple tee.

15. Have you ever crashed your vehicle?
Yes, I'm sorry to say.

16. If you didn't have to work, would you volunteer?
I have always volunteered, even more so when not working outside the home.

17. Get up early or sleep in?
Early. I am definitely a morning person.

18. Do you think marriage is an outdated ritual?

19. Favorite thing to do at night with a guy/girl?
Stay up late and do skywatching. There are all kinds of interesting things in the night sky: satellites, meteor showers, ufos, etc.

20. When did you first start feeling old?
I've only felt old once. It was when Abbey was 5 years old and we went to a meeting for the parents at her school. Mike noticed we were 10-15 years older than all the other parents. LOL. Then I got over it. I haven't felt old since.

21. Favorite lunch meat?
I don't eat lunch meat. But I do use a meat analog for corned beef. Cause that way I can still eat Rueben sandwiches.

22. What do you get every time you go into Wal-Mart?
I don't really shop at Wal-Mart.

23. What is your favorite cartoon character?

Woodstock, because he kept me from failing chemistry.

24. Favorite movie you wouldn't want anyone to find out about?
If I don't want anyone to find out about it, why would I name it here?

25. What's your favorite drink?

Non-alcoholic: green tea
Adult beverage: either prosecco or a good

26. Who[m] from high school would you like to run in to?
Jan Zimmer

27. What radio station is your car radio tuned to right now?

28. Sopranos or Desperate Housewives?
I've never seen either one.

29. Worst relationship mistake that you wish you could take back?
Can't think of one.

30. Do you like the person that sits directly across from/next to you at work school?

31. Have you ever had to use a fire extinguisher for its intended purposes?

32. Last book you finished reading?
The United States of Arugula

33. Do you have a teddy bear?
I do. His name is Zebulon Pike.

34. Strangest place you have ever brushed your teeth?

I think it always felt strange to brush my teeth when we were out camping.

35. Do you go to church?

36. How old are you?

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22 February 2010

That Ubiquitous Green Bean Casserole

You know the one. If you live in the US and were born by 1950ish, odds are that you grew up having a green bean casserole on the table at your Thanksgiving feast or Christmas dinner. While it was often served at other times, too, the holiday tables were never missed. It's three main ingredients are green beans, Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup and Durkee's French Fried Onions. Did you ever wonder how this dish wound up on your holiday table? Where did it come from? And why? Who invented it?

When I was in college I was a Home Economics Major. Home Ec majors had to take many food classes. As a freshman, one of mine was Vegetables 101. During that class we cooked vegetables, vegetables and more vegetables. One of the assignments was Fresh, Frozen or Canned Vegetables in 1. Homemade Cream Sauce, 2. Homemade Starch Thickened Milk Sauce, and 3. Canned Cream Soup. You know what recipe I chose for Option number three in that assignment.

Our classmates had to eat what we produced. With every vegetable that we cooked, we had to present the recipe. And the recipes had to be sourced. In the 1970s we did not have computers with word processing programs. We did not have Correcting Selectric II typewriters. As students we did not have electric typewriters even. Some of us were lucky enough to have a manual typewriter. I was one of those as I had gotten one as a high school graduation gift.

Let me tell you, I typed hundreds of recipes that quarter. When I typed the recipe for Green Bean Casserole, I sourced it as "ubiquitous", because a) it was in the wee hours of the morning, b) I didn't know where it came from, c) we didn't have Google, d) everybody made it, and e) recipes were due at 9:00am. My professor was not impressed with "ubiquitous" as a source and had me conference with her. It was from her I learned that this casserole which everyone served actually came from the Campbell's Soup Company. She had the soup can with the recipe in her office to show me. (BTW, I still have that binder full of vegetable recipes and refer back to it for some special dishes - but not Green Bean Casserole! Hmmm. It's been a long time since I made Pittsburgh Potatoes. But that's a recipe for another day.)

Notice the last word in the title of this post: casserole. Casseroles began to show up on American tables during the Depression. Cookbooks, women's magazines, newspapers and other sources featured numerous one dish meals as a way to save energy and use inexpensive ingredients. People had to eat what was available. These type dishes caught on and by the late 1940s major newspapers coast-to-coast, from the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times, were touting green bean casseroles (among others) in their food sections.

The Campbell Soup Company loves to print recipes on it's can labels that feature its products. Green Bean Bake is without question the most famous of those can label recipes. According to the Campbell's Kitchens, it was first tested due to a request. At that time Cecily Brownstone wanted to recreate a green bean casserole she'd eaten at a barbeque supper. Now Ms. Brownstone was Food Editor at the Associated Press from 1947 through 1986. Every week she wrote two food features and five recipe columns for the AP. In addition she also authored several cookbooks and was the most widely published food writer in the country. The Campbell's Test Kitchens were happy to help her.

The dinner where Ms. Brownstone had green bean casserole was in Florida at the home of John and May Snively. The Snivelys were wealthy, yet unpretentious, citrus ranchers and entertained royally. Seriously. At the barbeque May served a replica of the menu she had recently served to the Shah of Iran and his wife (Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi and Queen Soraya). According to Mrs Snively, Queen Soraya had loved the casserole so much she "dug in".

How could Cecily let that story pass? Thus she requested help from the Campbell's Test Kitchens. She had her article and a recipe. The recipe in the article was called Beans and Stuff. Having been questioned by the queen about ingredients in numerous dishes, the Snively's "butler" was rather plain-spoken when asked about the beans.

In 1955 Campbell's called the casserole Green Bean Bake and that remains the official name to this day. As time has passed they have altered the recipe just a bit, but it is basically unchanged for over 50 years now. And that, my friends, is the origin of the ubiquitous green bean casserole. Who knew it would have such longevity?

These days I do not care much for 'cream of...' soups. Nor am I fond of canned French fried onions. When I make green bean casserole, I sauté some chopped mushrooms, steam some haricots verts, make a béchamel sauce and fry some Creole Thin Onion Rings. Then I mix the mushrooms, béchamel and green beans. A layer of the green bean mixture goes in the casserole dish, then a layer of the onion rings, then repeat both layers and bake till heated through. I got Vidalia onions and a nice bag of baby portabellas in the veggie box, so may give green bean casserole a go one day this week.

Here is a clipping of the recipe as it appeared in newspapers in April 1955.

If you'd like to read the article, click on the image below for a larger version. And notice, there is no mention of Campbell's involvement.

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James Beard Foundation Awards

Deemed “the Oscars of the food world,” by Time magazine, The James Beard Foundation Awards are the country’s most coveted honour for chefs; food and beverage professionals; broadcast media, journalists, and authors working on food; and restaurant architects and designers.

The awards were established by the James Beard Foundation in 1990 through the merging of the two most prominent culinary awards in North America at the time: The R.T. French Tastemaker Cookbook Awards and Cook’s Magazine and Restaurant Business’s Who's Who of Food and Beverage in America. For the first iteration, the James Beard Foundation in 1991 expanded the program to include Restaurant and Chef Awards; in 1992 the James Beard Foundation established the Journalism Awards; in 1993 the Electronic Media (now Broadcast Media) Awards were introduced; and in 1995 the first Restaurant Design (now Design and Graphic) Awards were presented.

Semi-finalists for this year have been announced. Here are the two in my area:

Scott Peacock, Watershed, Decatur, GA
Frank Stitt, Highlands Bar & Grill, Birmingham, AL

I'm quite happy to see these two on this list. The nominees will be announced on 22 March in New Orleans. The winners will be announced 3 May at the Lincoln Center in New York City. Best of luck to Chefs Peacock and Stitt!

James Beard Foundation

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20 February 2010

Toasted Sesame Chicken Salad

Toasted sesame oil is a wonderful addition to your condiment or oil collection. I use it in all manner of things. And a little goes a long way. In fall of 2008, Mike and I went to the Omega Institute in upstate New York for a week long program. Their little cafe served wonderful, healthy foods. One of my favourite things to get for lunch was their chicken salad wrap. While there was nothing wrong with the wrap, I thought it needed a little something. Well, lo and behold, the cafe had toasted sesame oil out with their condiments. I opened my wrap and drizzled a little of the oil over my chicken salad. Ah! Wonderful! After I got home I put together this salad recipe that is reminiscent of what I ate at Omega. It's super easy and quite tasty. Be sure you use the tender celery stalks WITH leaves. I really think the leaves add another layer of flavour.

Here is the salad served in a sandwich with whole wheat bread on a Fiesta Watercolor series luncheon plate.

Toasted Sesame Chicken Salad

2 whole boneless cooked (poached, rotisserie, etc.) chicken breasts, chopped
2 or 3 inner ribs of celery including leaves, diced fine
1 or 2 green onions, sliced in rings
toasted sesame oil

Mix together the chicken, celery and green onion. Stir in enough toasted sesame oil to moisten. Just use the amount you like to get the texture you prefer. Refrigerate until serving time. Good for serving as a salad or in a sandwich.

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Weird Gadgets and Opera

I am a kitchen gadget person. I gadgets. Normally they are fun and make me happy. But some gadgets are just plain odd. Take this pasta timer. His name is Al Dente. Yes, it really is Al Dente.

Al plays opera. he does, You put him in boiling water along with the pasta. At 7 minutes, you hear 30 seconds of the “Triumphal March” from Aida; at 9 minutes, the “Chorus of Hebrew Slaves” from Nabucco; and at 11 minutes, the “La donna e mobile” from Rigoletto. A sealed, non-replaceable battery is the source of the power.

Now I am just trying to visualise how this works. Does he play underwater? Or does he float and play on top of the water?

Al Dente has been out for several years, but I just now ran across him. Does someone need this gadget? It's possible. Pasta is a super simple thing to cook, but it's also super easy to mess up. Gummy pasta and pasta that has cooked too long is most unappetizing. The singing pasta timer is made in Germany. 5½" x 1¼" . I've been cooking pasta long enough that I don't think I need to add Al to my gadget collection. But if you think he's just what you need, he's still available at several sources online for $29.95.

P.S. Did you ever wonder what "La donna e mobile" means? Here's a video of the incomparable Pavarotti singing "La donna e mobile" in Italian with English subtitles.

My grandfather loved opera and would listen to it every Sunday afternoon on the radio. Rigoletta is one of the first operas I remember. Hmmm. Maybe I need Al Dente after all.

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Bean and Hominy Soup

Sometimes there is just not much energy for cooking. Sometimes you need something easy. This tasty and filling soup, made from mostly pantry items, is just the ticket. The only thing in the soup that I might have to get from the market is cilantro, as we keep most of the other things on hand. And if you don't have or like cilantro, you can leave it out. The soup has plenty of flavour with the other ingredients. The cilantro just adds another layer.

You can use any kind of beans you like. I've made it with red beans (not the same as red kidney beans, but you could use those, too), black beans, pinto beans, adzuki beans (those take longer as I never have them canned and have to soak & cook the dry ones), cranberry beans and garbanzo beans. You can also mix the beans, if that's what you have on hand. If you don't have or like hominy, substitute plain corn kernels or another can of beans. Chicken broth can be substituted for the vegetable broth. This is one of those recipes that is easy to customise with various ingredients, without endangering the flavour of the soup.

My pot of choice most of the time for soup making is my Staub La Coquette. It's basil in colour and has the snail finial on the lid. As a matter of fact, I use this pot so often, in the winter it typically stays sitting out on the cooktop.

I all my Staub pots. So let's make soup.

Start by gathering ingredients. Today I am using red beans.

Adding the main ingredients after sautéing the onion and garlic.

Ready to ladle out of the pot.

Served in a chartreuse Fiesta jumbo mug on a sapphire salad plate.

Bean and Hominy Soup

2 or 3 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 (15 1/2-ounce) cans beans (whatever kind you like)
1 (15 1/2-ounce) can hominy (I like to use yellow in this soup, but any colour will do.)
1 1/2 cups canned chopped tomatoes
1 Tbsp ketchup
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 Tbsp dark chili powder
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
2 cups vegetable broth (or use chicken broth, if you prefer)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Juice of 1 lime
Sour cream, for garnish
Thinly sliced green onions, for garnish

Put olive oil into a large heavy pot and place over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until they start to turn translucent. Stir in the garlic and cook until you begin to smell it, about another minute. Add the beans, hominy, tomatoes, ketchup, Worcestershire, chili powder, smoked paprika and broth. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil.

Adjust temp so the soup is simmering gently and cook about 20-30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir cilantro into the soup and cook about 5 minutes more. Stir in the lime juice. Serve with the garnishes.


1. To make this vegetarian, be sure you have vegetarian beans and leave out the Worcestershire sauce.
2. If you want a meatier flavour, dice and fry some bacon (5-6 slices) at the beginning, then add in the onion. You won't need the olive oil if you do this.
3. I like to serve this with cornbread, freshly baked in a cast iron skillet.
4. You can serve the soup over rice, if desired. If you do that, I recommend brown rice.

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Weather Report

, 20 2010

No Snow! Warmest weekend since Thanksgiving is on tap for the next two days. Our temps are expected to be in the 60s and the sun is brightly shining. I think I will open some windows and doors. Back on the 2nd, Beauregard Lee predicted we were in for an early spring. Could he have been right? His accuracy rate is something like 94%. (Much better than the rate of that groundhog in Pennsylvania.) My daffodils have buds.
I'm going with Colour me happy!

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