My funny valentine

Posted by Anita on 02.05.07 9:19 PM

heart (c)2006 AECWhen I was a little girl, my dad was my first food buddy, the adventurous eater who constantly egged me on to try new things — one of my first childhood memories involves Pops bribing me to eat blueberries. His years in the Marine Corps left him with an unquenchable Tabasco addiction, which I’m sure shaped my spice-loving soul; I became a fan of all things picante at a young age, under his watchful eye.

As I grew up, he’d let me cry on his shoulder when the boys were mean. “I know it’s not the same, but I love you…” he’d say. And then he’d take me out for ice cream.

And on that point, he never wavered: Ice cream soothes all pains, salves all indignities. So its fitting, perhaps, that the last thing he wanted, the last thing he ate, was a scoop of Nutty Coconut from 31 Flavors.

As we sat around this afternoon, holding his hand, a surprising number of “Dad stories” centered around food. We never let him live down the time he made us waffles using sesame oil, creating a crazy (dare I say inedible?) supper and filling the house with the lingering scent of stir-fry gone crazy.

We jokingly refer to my mom’s friends here in Henderson as the Asian Food Mafia — they’re forever getting together on some pretense or another to share food. They’ve been keeping us well fed, taking turns cooking for us. It’s actually been quite lovely to dip into curries and boo chim gae and gai gkaprow, instead of the usual assortment of chuch-lady casseroles. Pops had a generous heart, and it’s no surprise to me that this steady stream of friends and neighbors stopping by with covered dishes looked genuinely distraught by his grave state, and now by his passing.

He always sent me a valentine each year, and I always reciprocated. I sent my card early this year, and I’m glad that I did. Even though I’m married to a wonderful man (who my father dearly loved), I can’t imagine Valentine’s Day will ever be quite the same.

family, holidays & occasions, Vegas


Pie from the past

Posted by Anita on 12.02.06 8:10 AM

Grandma Anne with Angel PieApparently, Mom’s been keeping secrets from me.

I never knew until a few years ago, when Mom gave me a few of his carbon-steel knives, that her grandfather, my Great-grandpa Vivaldelli, had been a chef. And, although I knew that Mom’s mom, my Grandma Anne, was a dedicated cook, I never knew a thing about Angel Pie.

Mom and I were sitting around after Thanksgiving, talking about pies in general, and old-fashioned pies specifically, when she first mentioned it.

“Auntie Pat makes it all the time,” she said. “I need to get the recipe from her.”

And then, almost as an afterthought: “I have a newspaper clipping somewhere with a picture of Grandma and that pie. It was her specialty.”

Sure enough, the next morning, a yellowed clipping from the Glendale News-Press appeared at my place at the breakfast table. And there’s Grams, in a shirtwaist dress, cutting a slice of her popular — but, one must admit, rather homely — Angel Pie. The iron trivets now in my mom’s kitchen (and my own) are hanging on the wall behind her, and familiar glass canisters line the counter.

November 14, 1959
No Weighty Problems for Reiks

Imagine a family with no weight problems that can eat all the dessert it wants. This is the case of the Robert C. Reiks and their four children, Nancy, 18; Toni, 15; Bob, 13; and Patty, 12.

Mrs. Reik (Anne), whose father was a chef for leading hotels in Chicago, has taught her three daughters to cook … any one of them can prepare a meal. Mr. Reik, an amateur chef, confines his art to the backyard barbecue.

Mrs. Reik’s current hobby is making braided woolen rugs. She has always collected recipes, and says her Chocolate Nut Angel Pie hits the jack pot [sic]. She keeps copies to offer friends because once a person tastes this dessert, he wants the recipe.

I have to suspect the author took a few liberties. I can’t imagine that Grandma never taught my Uncle Bugs to cook. And — at least by the time I was around — Gramps certainly never confined himself to the barbecue… he was quite an accomplished cook!

But, at least she got the recipe right:

Chocolate Nut Angel Pie
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
2 egg whites
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans)
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 T hot water
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
Butter a 9-inch pie plate, and set aside.

Sift sugar and cream of tartar together. Beat egg whites until stiff, but not dry. Add sugar gradually, while continuing to beat until smooth and glossy.

Line the prepared pie plate with this mixture. Keep center hollowed out to 1/2-inch thickness, and do not spread meringue on rim of plate. Sprinkle with nuts.

Bake in slow oven, 275º F, about 1 hour, or until delicately browned and crisp to touch. Cool thoroughly.

Melt chocolate in a large bowl over a pan of simmering water. Add 3 T hot water to the chocolate, and stir; cook until thickened. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Add vanilla, then fold in whipped cream. Turn into meringue shell. Chill 2 to 3 hours, or until set.

baking, dessert, family, recipes


Simply souper supper

Posted by Anita on 11.28.06 8:08 AM

cauliflower & blue cheese soup (c)2006 AWCTami of Running with Tweezers posted a gorgeous roasted eggplant soup recipe in honor of her mother, and invited her blog-buddies to post about their favorite soups. With a head of cauliflower in the fridge, a brisk chill in the air, and my own parents’ anniversary dinner to cook, I knew exactly which soup to share.

I first made a variation on this soup last winter as one of the last few Soup of the Fortnight installments. But it bears repeating, because although it’s based on an Epicurious recipe, you know I can’t make anything without a little (or a lot) of tinkering. Plus, it’s such a luxurious soup, and it goes so well with a wide variety of sandwiches and salads to make a satisfying supper — you might never guess how easy it is to make simply by tasting it.

Here’s my adapted recipe, perfect for a chilly evening:

Blue Cheese Cauliflower Soup
1 (1-pound) head cauliflower, cut into small florets
1/4 cup butter
1 medium onion, chopped
3/4 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup all purpose flour
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup milk, or more as needed
3 ounces Gorgonzola (or other mild blue cheese), crumbled
Ground white pepper, to taste

In a medium pot of boiling water, blanch 1 cup of the nicest-looking cauliflower florets until just tender, about 2 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water, and set aside.

In a large, heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and remaining cauliflower. Cover the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are tender, not brown — about 8 minutes.

Add flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the chicken broth and 1 cup of milk, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cover partially. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender and soup thickens — about 20 minutes.

Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. (If using a traditional blender, puree in two batches.) Thin with additional milk, if desired. Gradually add the cheese, stirring until melted. Season with salt and white pepper, to taste.

Ladle soup into bowl, and garnish with the reserved cauliflower. Serves 4.

cooking, family, other blogs, recipes, Soup o' the Fortnight


Yes, grasshopper

Posted by Anita on 11.27.06 6:04 PM

grasshopper pie (c)2006 AECA faithful MWD reader, keeping an eye on my Flickr set last week, sent me an email: “I can’t believe anyone other than my Mom is still making grasshopper pie!”

Well, believe it, Grasshopper! Knowing that Cameron and I aren’t big fans of pumpkin pies, Mom asked what we wanted for Thanksgiving dessert, and this old favorite was the first thing that popped into my head. I know it was my “birthday cake” on more than one occasion growing up, and it’s maintained its place in the pastry pantheon over the years. And I’m sure I’m not alone in my love of this cookie-crusted, nuclear-green pile o’ fluff…

A few years ago, we rented a big house on Whidbey Island with a gaggle of friends, and I made a trio of pies for a Thanksgiving dinner: A gorgeous wild-blackberry pie with an all-butter lattice-top crust, a silky pumpkin custard in a leaf-lard shell, and a homely ol’ Grasshopper Pie.

You know where this is going, don’t you?

Sure enough, the Grasshopper was the hit of the dessert table, as a dozen thirty-somethings waxed nostalgic about the beloved dessert of their childhood.

Last year, I made the pie using Martha Stewart’s recipe. It was good — maybe even better than the original — but the added effort took some of the charm out of dessert. Part of this pie’s charm, at least for lazy ol’ me, lies firmly in its simplicity, its reliance on grocery-store ingredients, and its thoroughly un-chic appearance.

Since it’s minty and green, Grasshopper Pie makes a nice Christmas dessert. Or, you know, my birthday’s not too far off…

Grasshopper Pie
16 Oreo cookies*, crushed fine
2 T butter, melted
1/2 cup milk
24 marshmallows (full size, not minis)
1/2 pint whipping cream
4 T creme de menthe
2 T creme de cacao
Chocolate curls or chocolate jimmies, for garnish

Mix butter into cookie crumbs and press evenly onto the bottom and sides of an 8-inch pie plate; refrigerate to set.

Heat the milk to a simmer in a large saucepan, then reduce heat to low and add marshmallows. Stir until all marshmallows melt. Cool the mixture to room temperature, then refrigerate.

When fully cool, beat the melted marshmallows with a hand mixer until fluffy, adding the creme de menthe and creme de cacao. In a separate bowl, beat the whipping cream to medium peaks, then fold whipped cream into the marshmallow mixture.

Pour filling into prepared crust. Trim with chocolate shavings or jimmies, or extra cookie crumbs. Freeze overnight, or at least 8 hours, before serving.

*If you want to get all fancy, replace the crust ingredients with 1/2 package Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers, crushed fine, and 4 T melted butter.

dessert, family, holidays & occasions, recipes


Wrapup: Under the Lens

Posted by Anita on 11.27.06 7:39 AM

under the lens collage (c) 2006 AECThank God it’s Monday! I thought that I took a lot of pictures during a normal week, but participating in Sam’s challenge had me (along with my family, my friends, and my co-workers) questioning my sanity.

But I had a lot of fun. Being tasked with photographing simply everything I ate or drank meant that I really had to get creative, and think of ways to turn even the most boring foods and beverages into something worth looking at.

A number of folks have asked me if the added scrutiny has changed what or how I ate, and I can honestly say “no” — although I’d qualify that with “…other than to choose the more photogenic option among equally appealing choices.” And really, even that minor self-editing only happened on a couple of occasions: When picking out a sweet snack from the vending machine at work (the Kit Kat shot), and when opting for a cold turkey-and-avocado sandwich over a hot turkey sandwich yesterday afternoon. I’m guessing this would have been a lot harder on a non-holiday week, although I am certainly not angling to repeat the experience soon.

Shooting food at the office wasn’t nearly as difficult as I expected. We have some good natural light, supplemented by good task lighting. The flip side of that is that the desert light here at my parents’ house is either gorgeous, or brutal, and not always optimal at the times of the day you’d suppose.

under the lens (c)2006 AECI’m also surprised that I only forgot to take a photo of one thing — a glass of wine I had at a friend’s house one evening. (I promptly took a picture of a similar glass at home, as soon as I remembered, and poured the wine back into the bottle. What, me, obsessive?)

Speaking of neurotic behaviors, my inner perfectionist hated having to post pictures of *everything*, especially the night we ate at Bouchon. I really enjoy the editing process… not only the tweaking of photos, but deciding when a shot just isn’t good enough to save or share. I didn’t have that luxury here, so there are photos on Flickr that would ordinarily have been consigned to the bit bucket.

Click “View Slide Show” below for the roundup — which is supposed to display inline here, but isn’t, for some reason — or check out the whole set on Flickr, where you can comment on individual pix.

cooking, family, geekery, holidays & occasions, other blogs


A week under the lens

Posted by Anita on 11.19.06 8:25 PM

collage (c)2006 AECOver on the always-delightful Becks & Posh, Sam challenges us to join her in a rather exhibitionist exercise: Photographing everything that passes our lips for an entire week, and sharing with our readers:

I hereby commit, starting from the moment I wake up on Monday November 20th, to the minute I go to bed on Sunday 26th November 2006, to take a picture of everything I consume… I think it will be a fascinating excercise, especially to be able to compare America indulging in Thanksgiving whilst others are not.

…We’ll aim to post up our pictures on our blogs on Monday 27th November.

We’ll be home the first part of the week, before heading out of town for Thanksgiving, then at Mom & Dad’s for the rest of the challenge period. My family already thinks I am crazy, and there shouldn’t be a lot of restaurant meals to throw a wrench into the works.

I promise not to post all the pix to MWD, but I’ll blog about interesting meals (as usual), and starting tomorrow I’ll put all the photos in a Flickr set. And, of course, there’ll be the full roundup next Monday.

family, geekery, holidays & occasions, other blogs
1 Comment »


DOTW: The Manhattan

Posted by Cameron on 11.10.06 6:48 AM

manhattan (c)2006 CTCYou can pick your friends—the saying goes—and you can pick your…um… poison, but you can’t pick your family. Happily, I have been blessed many times over through both blood and marriage. And so, while this Drink of the Week post is inspired by Mixology Monday #9 (bitters), it is dedicated to my brother-in-law Matt, who introduced me to a delightfully civilized drink: The Manhattan.

I had always been suspicious of The Manhattan, put off by crappy bourbon, unpredictable proportions, and those nasty, nuclear pink, jarred maraschino cherries that people actually eat instead of sticking on top of car antennas, where they belong.

But one night during a holiday visit many years ago, Matt commandeered the cocktail shaker and went to work with sweet vermouth, Angostura bitters, and Wild Turkey. I think. I’m a little blurry on the precise brand of bourbon, probably because we knocked off most of a bottle of whatever it was over the course of a gregarious evening.

In any case, my prejudice melted, and if I never sought The Manhattan out, neither did I avoid its presence. Those awful cherries, though. Ugh. Not a chance.

The next stage in my journey came this fall, when Murray of the Zig Zag Cafe promised us that if we brought a bottle of Carpano Antica vermouth on our next trip to Seattle, we’d be rewarded. When Murray speaks on things of a spiritous nature, my friends, I listen. Bottle in hand, we wafted in out of the northern night to be greeted by a Manhattan made with Carpano Antica, Rittenhouse bonded rye, and Bitter Truth bitters. Magic.

Since then, I (heart) Manhattan. It’s a drink that rewards customization with different ingredient styles and (carefully!) proportions. You’ll find recipes that recommend anywhere from one-half to two ounces of vermouth for two ounces of bourbon or rye. These days, I feel like anything less than a 2:1 ratio tastes like a shot, not a cocktail, but as I have written before, I am pigheaded, uncultured, and have displayed questionable drink-ordering skills.

The recipe below produces a very smooth drink, and is doubly appropriate for this particular MxMo, as it contains two bitter ingredients: orange bitters and Carpano Antica. The Bulleit bourbon lends body without calling attention to itself, and the fruitiness of the orange bitters (of which the Hermes is a difficult-to-find but excellent example) balances the extra bite of the Carpano Antica, which you could replace with regular sweet vermouth for increased mellitude. If you need fruit, soak dried Bing cherries overnight in whatever suits your fancy. I used brandy and…POW! Drunken Cherries.

Cheers, Matt! (And happy 5th Anniversary to you and P…)
MxMo 9

Old Manhattan
2 oz. Bulleit bourbon
1-1/4 oz. Carpano Antica vermouth
2 dashes Hermes orange bitters

Stir with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a Drunken Cherry.

Drink of the Week, drinks, family, Mixology Monday, other blogs, recipes


Old school

Posted by Anita on 11.01.06 8:58 PM

chicken & dumplings (c)2006 AECAs careful readers may have noticed, the last couple of weeks have been filled with dishes that indulge my dad’s food cravings. Since Pops’ favorites lean heavily toward the foods of his youth, finding a suitable entry for Retro Recipe Challenge #4 hasn’t proven terribly difficult. In fact, the hardest part has been choosing among this week’s roster of golden oldies.

Given the RRC4 theme, Fall Favorites, a clear front-runner emerged. Pops requested chicken & dumplings, and the recipe Mom uses dates from at least the early 1970s. Alas, the exact source is lost to the sands of time, but one look at the clipping and you can’t miss that 70s women’s magazine vibe — complete with a Kraft Squeez-a-Snak ad on the back!

Amazingly, we resisted the urge to tinker with the recipe; we even used the bouillion cubes. But the veggies completely disintegrated, so Mom simmered up some extra carrots and celery, and added them after thickening the sauce. The dumplings were surprisingly good; I’m not sure if I’d make the chicken again, though. The sauce definitely reminded me of Campbell’s Cream of Chicken soup!

Oh, and lest I forget: It was served with a Waldorf salad… how’s that for old school?!

Chicken and Dumplings
Chickens are still a good buy. Stretch the flavor and servings per chicken with this old-fashioned dish.

3-pound broiler-fryer, cut up
2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 celery stalks
1 onion, sliced
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
1 sprig parsley
1 bay leaf
2 chicken bouillion cubes
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup flour
2 egg yolks, beaten
Parsley Dumplings (recipe follows)

Put chicken in a kettle or Dutch oven and cover with boiling water. Add salt, pepper, celery, onion, carrots, parsley, bay leaf, and bouillion. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer 1-1/4 hours, or until chicken is tender. Remove chicken from liquid, and when cool enough to handle, remove meat from bones. Measure liquid and if more than 4 cups, boil down to 4 cups. Blend milk and flour, and gradually add a little hot [cooking] liquid to milk [mixture], then stir milk [mixture] into remaining hot [cooking] liquid and cook, stirring, until thickened. With spoon, gradually beat in egg yolks. Put chicken back in broth. Drop dumpling batter by tablespoonfuls [sic] into bubbling broth. Cook, uncovered, 10 minutes. Cover and cook 10 minutes longer. Makes 4-6 servings.

Parsley Dumplings
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. each sugar, salt, and celery seed
1 T chopped parsley
1/2 cup milk

Mix together flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, celery seed and parsley. With fork, stir in milk until just moistened.

cooking, family, magazines, other blogs, recipes


Reading the classics

Posted by Anita on 11.01.06 7:30 AM

LA Times California Cookbook (c)2006 AECAmid the press flurry surrounding the 75th Anniversary Joy of Cooking‘s debut, the NY Times published a nicely written piece about other classic cookbooks that stand the test of time. I haven’t ever used any of the books they mentioned, but the story did put me in mind of the classics that I do use.

Around our house, the go-to vintage book — in addition to a 1961 edition of Joy and my grandma’s 1940s-era Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook — is The Los Angeles Times California Cookbook, published in 1981. I cooked out of my mom’s copy when I lived at home, and — many years later — she gifted me with a copy.

I use the California Cookbook at least once a month, mostly for recipes that are a little too West Coast-centric for Joy and the other oldies, but too old-fashioned or boring for Epicurious. Browsing through this collection of 650+ recipes from the paper’s archives, it doesn’t take long to stumble across dishes from one-time celebrities — Mahalia Jackson, Lawrence Welk, Polly Bergen — and popular restaurants of yore. (Remember The Velvet Turtle? The Hungry Tiger?) Each recipe has a little piece of marginalia that introduces its source, adding a bit of backstory and flair.

Of all the dog-eared pages in my copy, this recipe’s the one I like best. The green pepper in the sauce makes it very different from my usual recipe for marinara, but that’s one of the reasons I like it.

Little Joe’s Meatballs
1 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground veal
1 cup chopped onions
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
1 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
4 eggs
1/4 cup chopped parsley
pinch of oregano
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

1/4 cup oil, for frying
Spaghetti Sauce (following recipe)

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Form into 1-1/2-inch balls. Heat oil in a large skillet, and add meatballs. Cook until browned, then drain. Add meatballs to spaghetti sauce during last 30 minutes of cooking.

Spaghetti Sauce
1 medium onion, minced
2 T minced green pepper
1 stalk celery, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
3 T oil
1 can (1# 12oz) whole tomatoes, chopped
1 can (1# 12oz) tomato puree
1 T crushed dried basil
1 tsp. crushed dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 cup water
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 T grated Parmesan

Cook onion, green pepper, celery, and garlic in oil until tender. Add tomatoes and their liquid, tomato puree, and herbs, and simmer 1 hour, stirring often. Add wine, water, salt and pepper, and simmer 30 minutes. Add meatballs, and simmer 30 minutes more. If sauce is too thick, add more water. When sauce is cooked, add cheese and mix well. Serve over spaghetti.

cookbooks, family, Italian, recipes


Pei Wei’s big adventure

Posted by Anita on 10.30.06 7:17 AM

Pei Wei henderson (c)2006 AECDad had a craving for Chinese food last night, so on our way back from visiting friends, Mom and I stopped by the local outpost of Pei Wei, a quick-service spinoff of the P.F. Chang’s megachain.

We slid into one of the parking spaces Pei Wei reserves right by the side door for folks who want to run in and get their grub. Once inside, we perused the menu and settled on three hard-to-fumble options: a Thai-style green chicken curry, orange-peel beef, and Pei Wei spicy chicken — their approximation of General Tso’s — plus a side of edamame. Each entree came with a choice of white or brown rice.

As we waited for our food, I remarked that the decor seemed unexpectedly pleasant, maybe even nice enough for a casual date. Whether you eat in or take out, you order at the counter, pay for your food and drinks up front, and bring a number-tag to your table. It’s the kind of place you can imagine popping into while shopping, a little more upscale than the food court, but not a ‘for-real’ restaurant.

After a short wait, the food came out, all boxed up in plastic clamshell containers that kept the food nice and hot during the quick drive home. We popped everything open, and — since we were planning to eat family style — were a little taken aback to find all the rice in the same containers as the entrees. Easily enough solved by putting scoops of rice on plates, I suppose, but not very conducive to sharing.

The edamame were served warmish, and tasted just like they do everywhere else. The Pei Wei chicken turned out to be everyone’s favorite, although I definitely wouldn’t call it spicy (even though the menu does). Mom and I enjoyed the green curry’s flavor, although the chicken turned out more like meat-jelly, probably the result of over-marinating. The beef was the disappointment of the bunch, a sitcky-sweet mess of strangely chewy meat garnished with with huge slices of carrot… huh? The accompanying white rice was fine, but the brown rice was seriously undercooked: It rattled like gravel when stirred.

I’ve only been to P.F. Chang’s once, with a big group of co-workers, and I remember thinking that the food there was fine, in a suburban-mall sort of way… like an Asian version of Chevy’s (before Chevy’s went downhill). But even though Pei Wei nails the sexy interior design and appealing assortment of pan-Asian entrees you’d want in this sort of place, the execution — at least at the local branch we tried — leaves a lot to be desired. For my money, I think I’ll keep waiting for Big Bowl to move west.

Pei Wei Asian Diner
10575 S. Eastern Avenue
Henderson, NV 89052

family, restaurants, Vegas