Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Pan Whisperer

The Pan Whisperer
Shhhhhh!  Quiet!  I'm talking with pans!  Or, more accurately letting them talk to me.  I'm a Pan Whisperer, but mainly I listen...and look....and only then do I know what they are trying to say.

I wasn't always like this. For years I completely ignored the warping, the stuck-on particles and peeling non-stick coating.  I accepted bad-fitting lids and broken handles, stuffed them in cupboards and refused to allow them to cool properly before submerging them in water.

I did it all.  And worse.  Until one day my life was changed by a narrowly averted accident with hot grease.
See, in my state of denial about the cookware I completely overlooked a loose handle until it fell off while trying to transfer the pan to a back burner when the handle came off.  Something or Somebody was watching out for me that day because I was able to set the pan down without dropping a single, blisteringly hot bit of the stuff.  Needless to say, once the oil cooled down I transferred it to a coffee can and threw the pan away.

Since then, I've learned to pay attention to what my cookware is trying to tell me.  If that pot, pan or kettle is too warped to sit flat on a burner, it's time to get rid of it.  If there's Teflon dandruff all over your scrambled eggs, get rid of it!  Your pans are trying to tell you something. Don't wait 'til it's too late.

Your kitchen will than you for it.

Friday, April 29, 2011


Somewhere in the midst of most fine cook books sits a place where the cooking stops and the crunching begins.
While this blog isn't a "cook book" per se, it does function in a similar way...sharing more than recipes and offering helpful hints.

When I ventured into this world on my own, I learned adaptability.  It's how I survived.  Actually it's how we all survive; whether on the streets, in a boxcar or a in penthouse up in the clouds. 

The knack of making due is as fine an art as painting.  Depending on circumstances, that painting could be a mess....but it could also be a masterpiece.  When it comes to cooking, making adjustments tends to be more the rule than the exception. There are many things to consider when planning to cook -  you forgot to get eggs and the store is closed, or the store ran out of the ingredient(s) to name just two of many well-known conundrums..

Here are some well tested substitutions that should help.

1 Tbsp. corn starch - for thickening                               
   Substitution: 2 Tbsp. all purpose flour - for thickening

1 cup sifted cake flour                             
   Substitution: 7/8 cup sifted all-purpose flour (7/8 cups = 1 cup less 2 Tbsp.)

1 tsp. baking powder                             
    Substitution: 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar + 1/4 tsp baking soda  (this will constitute "single acting" baking powder, so your batter should be used very soon after adding this substitute! The powder's single action is that it reacts to the addition of liquid only so you need to get it cooking a.s.a.p.  "Double acting" baking powder has two activation points:  first when liquid is added and second when heat is applied)

1 whole egg                                            
    Substitution: 2 egg yolks plus 1 Tbsp. water

2 whole eggs
    Substitution: 1/4 cup mayonnaise (there will be some minor flavor adjustment needed - taste often!)

1 cup egg whites
    Substitution: 6 or 7 large eggs

1 cup egg yolks
    Substitution: 11 or 12 large eggs
 1 cup whole homogenized milk
     Substitution: 1 cup skim milk plus 2 Tbsp butter/margarine   OR 1/2 cup evaporated milk plus 1/2 cup water

1 cup dairy sour cream
     Substitution: 1 Tbsp lemon juice plus evaporated milk to make 1 cup  (measure evaporated milk first then add lemon juice...whisk)

1 cup soured milk or buttermilk
     Substitution: 1 Tbsp white vinegar plus sweet milk equal to 1 cup  (measure milk into cup first, then add vinegar...whisk)

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
      Substitution: 7 Tbsp vegetable shortening - will not have same flavor as butter  (unless you have butter flavored shortening....then read packaging for directions of use)

1 clove fresh garlic
      Substitution: 1/8 tsp. garlic powder OR 1 tsp garlic salt

2 tsp minced onion
      Substitution: 1 tsp. onion powder

1 tsp. dried leaf herbs
      Substitution: 1 Tbsp chopped fresh herbs

2 Tbsp lemon juice
     Substitution: 1 medium lemon  

For the following substitutions remember that adding extra liquid to a recipe will alter the outcome.  So be judicious...adjust the other liquids if need be to allow for this difference.  Trial and error is the only way to get it right.

1 tsp grated lemon rind
     Substitution: 1 medium lemon

4 tsp. grated orange rind
     Substitution: 1 medium orange

I'm sure there are many other alternatives out there!  Feel free to submit your findings!






Thursday, April 28, 2011

Confessions of a Cereal Killer

WARNING: The story you are about to read is true.  No names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Yours Truly...Confessed Cereal Killer

It all began when I was a mere child.

Back then, we were taught to not waste things. My folks were Depression Era kids, so passed on their frugality to their young-uns.

So to this day, no matter how hard I've tried, it's always the same. Nope....can't do it!  Just can't bring myself to waste things that still have usefulness.

That includes bread ends, leavings from previous cooking ventures (like extra egg whites) and left overs.  Why not?  It's all food, it's all still good and it all cost money.

I actually make a little fuss over the whole thing, pulling what I call a Left Over Luau once or twice a week.
It's where I get to clean out the fridge and we all get to re-visit some of our favorite dishes before they fade into memory, or invent new things out of the combination of ingredients.

But there is one area of the kitchen that usually gets only scant attention.  You know the place; its where the boxes stand in rows like buildings on Wall Street, awaiting the morning's feeding frenzy.   Where Puffed Wheat, Rice Krispies, Oatmeal, Cheerios and Corn Flakes hold court.

It's the pantry....
It's where I hunt down innocent remnants of morning favorites and bring them to their end.
It's where I do my thing. 

I'm a Cereal use hiding anymore.
I use up left over bits of flakes, ohs, krisps, puffs and so it quiche or quick breads, entrees or entertaining snacks, I find a way to bring those mostly empty boxes to their demise.

I've used Oatmeal for breadcrumbs in meatballs, Raisin Bran in cakes and mixed in with brown sugar, butter and a little flour for topping peach cobbler, and even Rice Krispies (or their low-budget alternative) as coating for chicken, chops, veggies and-with added sweetening-confections.

I confess to it all...the endless rolling pin poundings, food processor crunching and even mortar-and-pestle torture of those innocent grains. It's me ! It's me! It's me!
And you know what? Given the chance I'd do it again!
Especially these days, when cereal prices are going through the roof! (providing you still have a roof left for them to go through!)
Chicken awaiting its fate

My most recent victim was a box of Crispy Rice that had seen fresher days.  (See...I don't often go after the newbies).
Oh, it still had a few snaps, crackles and pops left....albeit the bargain I knew there'd be some crunchiness.

And then there were those chicken thighs...just laying there, freshly washed and dried, skinned and boned....waiting for something to happen.

I confess to the killing of that box of Crispy Rice....and this is what I did.
You can check the forensics, they'll confirm my story. 


Jack had been asking for fried chicken lately, but I didn't want the usual breaded variety. So I went to my usual haunt....the one place I knew where I could troll for something just right. 
There it was! My hunt was over!
Crispy Rice!  The cereal would be perfect for the job!  
So with rolling pin and ZipLock bag at the ready, I began my dastardly deed by pounding that semi-stale stuff into submission (for lack of better terms) so I could have my way with it....and produced what is now called Crispy Rice Fried Chicken. 

12 - 14 chicken thighs-skinned, boned, rinsed and towel dried
dash of salt/low-salt, pepper, garlic for chicken
2 cups milk (butter milk is better but regular is okay too)* for soaking
2 tsp (or more if you like) Worcestershire sauce
3 - 4 cups powdered Crispy Rice (Rice Krispies or which ever brand)
    (At this stage, I call it Crispy Rice powder for lack of better term)
1/2 to 3/4 cups sifted flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 large or 2 small eggs beaten
oil for deep frying

Get a heavy, deep skillet or wok and put enough oil into it for deep frying.

Have all your tools handy-slotted spoon for working with chicken in the oil, something for draining the raw, milk soaked chicken, something separate for draining the cooked chicken, paper towels, bowls, the whole bit.
Set up your "stations."   (prep over over there....cooling yonder)  Having everything ready ahead of time really helps!  Take it from an experienced Cereal Killer.

Then turn your attention to the chicken.
Sprinkle both sides with the dashes of salt/low-salt, pepper, garlic and even what ever other seasonings you want under the coating.
Add the Worcestershire sauce to the milk. Put Chicken into the milk mix to soak for about 15 minutes.

Crispy Rice powder
Next, take the Crispy Rice powder and put it in a bowl.  Add the dried seasonings, flour and baking powder and stir around with a spoon until fully blended. If you like more spice, add more! If you like less, don't use so much.  Spices are like religion....a very personal thing.
Seasonings for Crispy Rice powder -
to taste, but assume about 1 to 2 TBS
dried thyme, dried sage, dried sweet basil, dried marjoram, garlic powder, dried celery leaves.
  The following seasonings also for Crispy Rice powder are to taste and dietary considerations.
         No measured assumptions given here!  Salt or low-salt, pepper,dash of cayenne and/or lemon pepper

When the chicken has soaked for 15 minutes or so (longer is okay too), remove it and let it drain.

Turn on the flame under the oil to medium so that the oil's temperature "comes up" rather than heats up too fast. Best oil temp for this task is between 350 and 375 degrees.
We don't want it to start smoking!

Take the milk mixture and add the beaten eggs. Whisk until everything is mixed up thoroughly.
 Dip the chicken into this milk mixture, then coat it with the Crispy Rice powder.  Shake or tap off any excess. You can coat several pieces at a time, but only put one or two pieces in the oil together for frying!
Crowding will cause the coating to crumble off the meat and burn, uselessly, in the oil.

Make sure the oil is hot enough by testing it with a bread cube.  If the cube starts cooking instantly and browns quickly, it's ready.  Remove the bread cube and have at it!

Put the coated chicken piece(s) into the oil -remember NO CROWDING! 
Wok as deep fryer
Fry for 5 to 7 minutes for side one,  5 minutes for side two.  Times may vary, of course, depending on a number of things...size of food, strength of flame-that sort of thing.  My best advice would be to start with one piece and see how it goes.  That should give you a timing benchmark.

Remember to allow the oil to come back up to temperature between frying. A kitchen thermometer is great for this! But if not, a couple of minutes should do the trick.
Draining the chicken

Put the cooked pieces of chicken aside to drain.

When done, allow the oil to cool COMPLETELY before doing anything to it. 
Some people strain the oil and use it a second time-for deep frying only-others put it in a coffee can and dispose it in the usual manner.

You may want to sprinkle some final seasonings over the finished's up to you.
I'd suggest putting them in a warming oven for about 5 minutes while you get the rest of your meal together. Salad is a good thing.  I like baked, buttered yams too.  But it's a personal thing.
Fried Crispy Rice Chicken, Yams & Slaw

So there you have full confession, given freely and of my own accord.  I am a Cereal Killer.
And I will strike again!

Monday, April 25, 2011

KITCHEN THOUGHTS - Any where I hang my apron is home

View from our kitchen
In fifty-six years of living, one could say I've had a few kitchens.  Some, like my present one, have been spacious, well lit, with plenty of room to work.  Others have been little more than closets, with one of those combination fridge, sink, two burner stove and cabinet thingies.

There have also been a number of campfires, wood stoves, electric skillets and hot plates in my day, each with its own limits and merits. One learns quickly to adapt or one goes hungry.

Other than our present kitchen,  my favorite was actually built in converted school bus. This vehicle was our home for about three years, a 1958 GMC 38 feet long wonder. The roof had been raised by a previous owner. It was spacious, had tables that folded out from the wall and, combined with the great floor plan, was comfortable enough to feed 11 people in one sitting without crowding.

Rumor was that it had been the Coffee Bus on one of the Grateful Dead tours.  If those walls could talk!

As they say, that was then.....

My present day kitchen
We now live in one of those San Francisco Victorian (actually Edwardian) flats; been living here for about a million years so the rent is still reasonable.  Considering it was built in 1926 and  has only had so much updating through the years, the place still has all the original built-in cabinets, shelves and so on.

The kitchen is my favorite place, next to the studio of course. Considering the studio is our former dining room it actually is next to the kitchen....right next to it.  But I digress.

The photo doesn't do it justice.  Jack did his usual magic and transformed a kitchen with no counter space into something that's not just functional,  it has plenty of room to work, spread out cookies to dry, set up photos for cooking blogs and feed kitties.

Kitchen altar
This is the place where I feel matter what's going on in the world, I have a sanctuary. A Kitchen should make people feel like that.  Like what goes on in it is blessed.  But it needs to be a fun place, too.  Where friends can gather, talk, cook, laugh, cry....where secrets can be shared and memories made.

Will we stay here forever?  Will my last meal on earth be prepared in this kitchen? Who knows?  I'm happy here....the neighborhood is great and so's the landlord.  But life has a way of stirring things up when folks get too comfortable. What ever the case may be, as long as there's some sort of a kitchen, be it hearth or jet aged stove,  where ever I hang my apron is home.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Mmmmmmm! Coffee Cake!

Sit back and imagine for a moment if you pulled an all nighter trying to get the last minutes of something important done, now you're tired. And hungry. And also in charge of having food ready for everybody when they wake up. 
Coffee Cake on my mind

Cold cereal would be okay....I mean, why not?  But after looking through the selection you come up with a different idea.  Something to warm the body and soul.

That exact situation is what got me thinking of coffee cake. I was too awake for sleeping, too sleepy for anything complicated but wanted something....something that tasted like morning that was good with coffee.

So here' my version of a Quick Coffee Cake.  This one doesn't have coffee as one of the ingredients, but a few of my other recipes watch for them in upcoming blog entries!

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees

1 1/2 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt (low salt is okay, too)
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 tsp cardamon
1/4 to 1/2 cup of sugar - some folk like it sweeter. Start with smaller amount first.
1-2 tsp lemon or orange rind
2/3 cup milk
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla

1/3 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup margarine

A quick bit of heaven
Grease a cake pan.  (Release spray is fine, so is a thin film of butter and flour)
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt (if used). Add cardamon, mix and set aside. Cream butter, add sugar and cream some more. Beat egg, milk and salt (if used) together. Add to sifted ingredients. Add rind. Mix until well blended. 
Put batter into cake pan, spread it evenly around. Hit bread pan against counter to let air out and get dough even on bottom. 
Mix topping ingredients together and sprinkle over cake batter.  Do not push topping into cake batter- let it rest on the surface. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.  Place in pan on rack to cool for about 10 minutes before cutting into it.
Then grab a cup of java and enjoy!

If you have any suggestions, comments, questions, recipes or what ever that you want to share, please feel free!

Friday, April 22, 2011

KITCHEN THOUGHTS - Sam's On The Life Path

Sam's...great for burgers
I'm sitting here in the kitchen with a cup of tea. 
Didn't do any cooking last a couple of burgers at Sam's - one of our favorite places.
It's just a good, honest burger done over a flaming grill just the way we like it.  Sam's has been around since forever and though it's just a hole in the wall everybody seems to go there.  The famous, infamous, non-famous and wannabes.

Everybody has a life path.  Sometimes we recognize it, sometimes we don't....but it's still there none the less.
Painting in tower at Grand Canyon
I know some people who've known what they wanted to do since birth and others who never seem to "do" anything. What does it mean?

Is one following their path and the other not?  Hmmmmm.  Gee....isn't this a cooking blog? Well, yes...but it's also a life blog - hence the title.  Regardless, there's always a little room for esoteric with the escargot.  Or at least there should be.  Otherwise, what is all this food business, anyway?

Think about it. 
Painting in tower at Grand Canyon
We started out just needing to eat....shoving anything in our mouths that didn't poison us or eat us first. Look at where we are today.   From cave fires to convection ovens in a blip of time.  Just by following our life path. And a lot of that following was stumbling....come to think of it, we're still stumbling about. 

Today is a non-recipe recipe...a four letter word that won't get your mouth washed out with soap.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

First Page and Green Chili Cheesy Casserole

The first page is the hardest, at least according to one of my Creative Writing teachers years ago.  That being said, the first sentence of the first page is particularly dicey.

But pretty or mean, it all boils down to first steps.....and for this blog, this entry is it.

I've blogged for over a year on the subject of "Fifty Five Is The New....," and some readers are wondering why I don't continue on the same vein. No longer being fifty-five has a lot to do with it. And I felt it was time to change things up a bit.

Randi's Recipe Box
Anybody who has read "Fifty Five.." knows that I love, love, love to cook, especially when it comes to creating recipes....learning new methods.....trying new recipes from others.....even watching the cookies rise in the oven.

With this blog I will be sharing recipes and thoughts; hoping to bring a little zest to the resultant reading experience.  Please feel free to try the recipes, comment on them and the rest of the site, and share some of your own recipes and thoughts, too!  Anything from the truly simple to the wildly complex....why not?  And if I try it, I'll chronicle the effort on this blog, along with pictures.

In some calendars, today is Easter Sunday.  Now there's a food holiday that's settling down into a tradition.
Ham is the usual fare, although many families are branching out into other cultures.

Jack's family is making Paella this year and they've asked everyone to bring a side-dish.  Paella is considered  a one-dish meal, but that doesn't mean there shouldn't be supportive members at the table. So I kept with the theme and came up with a sort-of souffle using cheeses, eggs, diced chillies and other ingredients that should accompany the main dish without overpowering it. I call this dish Green Chili Casserole, and hope you enjoy it.

Preheat oven 350               Serves 6
6 eggs    1 cup milk      1 tsp  salt        1 lb  Monterrey Jack Cheese, grated      1cup (8 oz) Cottage Cheese
3 oz Cream Cheese in small cubes      4 TBS butter, melted       11/2  tsp baking powder    1.2 cup cornmeal
1 TBS chopped pepperoni (optional)   8 oz roasted, diced green chilies or one 8oz can of diced green chilies, drained
Grease 9" square baking dish. Set aside.  In large bowl mix egg, milk, salt, Jack Cheese, Cottage Cheese, Cream Cheese, pepperoni, butter, baking powder, cornmeal and green chili together until well blended. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 40 minutes until the center is set. Serve hot or warm.
If you want to double the recipe, use two cooking vessels rather than one large pan, this will insure even cooking.   Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Launching the New Blog

Greetings and Welcome to Cooking and Life, my second blog.

Last project, Fifty Five Is The New...completed upon my fifty-sixth birthday on April 14, 2011 after a bit over a year of entries.  It included memories, thoughts, prayers, hopes, dreams, artwork, music and videos and became for me more than blogging; it was an adventure in self-discovery.

With this blog I'm incorporating two of my passions on one plate, so to speak.  I've been an absolute Cooking Enthusiast since knee high to a butcher block, and for years harbored a not-too-secret desire for a certified culinary education.

This "education" included not only Public Television, the Food Network and the many culinary themed t.v. shows, but remembering the many things taught me by my Mother, Aunt, Sister and Mrs. Schlosser, my home economics teacher.
Cordon Blu was my dream, but a severe lack of math skills and other things set my path on a different course...however food seemed to be part of that path....So I always took the opportunity to explore new flavors, try new recipes, cook with others.

Places like Original Joe's of San Francisco were the bees' knees to me because they had seats at the counter where I could watch the action in the kitchen.  I learned to recognize a few things...the Expediter, the Head Chef, Sou Chef and what each did....fascinating, maddening.....magical. I watched, hypnotized, as the just flamed garlic and wine sauce was drizzled over the fresh pasta, then finished with a sprinkle of cheese, cracked pepper and basil sprig.

To think of it now still makes my heart skip a beat.

With that sensation in mind, I christen this blog Cooking and Life.  Feel free to enjoy, share your recipes and stories.  Dig In!