Homemade Hot Fudge Sauce, Social Lubricant Par Excellance

The ice cream is really just for show.

It’s somewhat ironic that I love to cook and entertain the way I do, because my mother has a string of embarrassing-yet-humorous stories centered around food and dining. There was the time that she was chatting with Lee Iacocca at a cocktail party and helped herself to a coconut shrimp on a toothpick from a passing waiter; en route to her mouth, the shrimp fell off the toothpick onto the floor (the upshot of this story is that Iacocca, without missing a beat or calling attention to it, kicked the slipped shrimp under a nearby table). Another time, she and my father hosted a fondue party in which the cheese fondue separated into a layer of stringy swiss covered by four inches of white wine, making for a less than stellar presentation–“although it tasted fine,” Mom is quick to add whenever she tells the story. And once, while they were having dinner with my father’s boss and his wife at a rather exclusive restaurant, my dad mortified my mom by pulling a Bounce dryer sheet out of the sleeve of his dress shirt.

My mom did have one foolproof culinary trick up her–uh, well, in her repertoire, however. Hot fudge sundaes. Whether they were hosting friends for dinner, or had been invited to another couple’s home, or were attending a potluck, my mom could always count on wowing the crowd when she brought a gallon of French vanilla ice cream, a container of Spanish peanuts, and this all-American hot fudge sauce. It’s easy, impressive, unbelievably delicious and guaranteed to absolve you of any food-related faux pas.

<insert PMS joke here>

Homemade Hot Fudge Sauce

Combine 1 cup sugar and 4 tablespoons cocoa powder in a medium saucepan over low heat. Stir until mixture is warm, but not melted.

Add 3 tablespoons butter and stir until combined. Add 7/8 cup* evaporated milk (not sweetened condensed, unless you want the diabeetus) and stir until blended. Stirring constantly and scraping bottom of pan with a heatproof spatula, bring sauce to a boil; boil hard for one minute.

Remove from heat. Serve immediately or chill–sauce will be thin at first (“although it tastes fine”) and will thicken as it stands, and especially if it is chilled.

*Yes, I know 7/8 cup is a bizarre measurement, and chances are good that if you use an entire cup, the sauce will turn out just fine. But this is the way my mother handed down the recipe to me, and how her mother handed it down to her, so I’m sticking with 7/8 for the sake of matrilineal tradition.

Vaguely Vietnamese. Or Something Like That

Sleep, little shrimpies, on your soft bed of scrumptiousness.

When I cook, I don’t generally scruple about authenticity–I have neither time nor expendable income enough to search out (or worse yet, “source”) exotic ingredients, build my own brick oven that’s hot enough to properly char pizza crust, or embark on an epic quest for the perfect baked Buffalo chicken wing. If the ingredients are available at Wegmans, if it tastes good, if it reheats nicely for lunch the next day, then it’s usually good enough for me. Naturally, a dish gets bonus points if there is a reasonable expectation that my children might not sneer derisively at it.

Now, this is not to say that I use swiss cheese on my nachos or anything crazy like that. It just means that taste trumps tradition, for me. And it’s also to say that if this is not authentic, don’t come crying to me. Or yelling at me. Or suing me. Or being snooty with me and telling me how long you lived in Vietnam and that you know everything about Vietnamese cuisine. Or calling me an Ice Princess for no good reason except that you think I might be sleeping with our theatre professor–but I digress.

 

Kinda Sorta Bun Tom Heo Nuong. Ish.

  • 2 scallions, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 small Thai chile pepper, minced
  • 2 T fish sauce
  • juice of one lime
  • 2 t. brown sugar or agave nectar
  • 1 dozen raw shrimp, shelled and deveined (if you scruple about veins in shrimp, I don’t)
  • 8 oz rice sticks or rice vermicelli
  • 1 medium carrot, julienned or grated
  • 1 small cucumber, julienned
  • 1 cup fresh bean sprouts
  • Romaine or green leaf lettuce, shredded
  • 1/4 cup roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
  • fresh mint, cilantro, and basil, roughly chopped

Nuoc Cham

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 3 T lime juice
  • 2 T unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 T sugar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 small chile pepper, minced
  • 1 T shredded carrot

Combine first six ingredients in a bowl and add shrimp. Stir to coat shrimp and let marinate for half an hour. This would be an ideal time to do your chopping and mincing and julienning, and to mix up the nuoc cham.

Place rice sticks in another large bowl and cover with boiling water. Let stand until they are tender, then divide among plates. Top with the vegetables herbs and nuts, artfully arranged if you so desire.

Saute the shrimp in a hot wok or pan, using a little canola oil, until no longer pink. Add shrimp to each plate, then drizzle with nuoc cham, passing more at the table.

 

An Irishman, An Italian and A Portuguese Walk Into A Kitchen…

Look at this soup, just bursting with healthfulness. Well, that and butter.

Last week, like millions of other mutts all across America, I celebrated my fractional Irish heritage (in my case, the fraction is a respectable 1/4) by cooking a corned beef and a great, warm, buttery pot of colcannon–and then foisting them on my pizza-and-hot-dog-loving family. The children loved the meat, as well as the carrots I’d cooked along with it, and Daughter Dearest even scarfed down most of her colcannon. Who says that “you can’t even TASTE the green stuff!” isn’t a ringing endorsement?

In the following days, the corned beef was put to delicious use as sandwich innards; I had a couple of butter-soaked and Bacon Salt-ed bowls of colcannon late at night, when no one was looking. Nevertheless, I was left with an awful lot of leftovers–including half a large bag of kale. There also happened to be a few cans of white beans and some lovely Yukon Golds in my pantry, so it occurred to me that I might make a batch of caldo verde, or possibly some simple beans and greens. Or–and here inspiration started to gain momentum, like a runaway go-cart headed downhill–both. Together. Beans, greens, potatoes, chicken broth, garlic. With the leftover colcannon! Perfect!

And so was born my bizarre love child stew, the offspring of an Irish side dish, an Italian side dish and a Portuguese soup. Except it’s not bizarre at all, really; it’s rather serendipitous. Greens, garlic and potatoes are all elemental foods in many cuisines, and come together deliciously. The beans add a punch of protein, and the pureed part of the soup imparts creaminess, while leaving some chunks of potato and slivers of kale whole elevates this from the realm of pabulum or sickbed food.

Now, I’m assuming that you don’t have a giant container of leftover colcannon in your fridge, so I’m going to both scale this back and adapt it for scratch cooking.

Caldo Colcannon

6 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
smidgen olive or canola oil, or butter, or bacon fat
1 quart chicken broth
1 cup milk
1 can small white beans
1 lb. Kale, washed, chopped and blanched
parsley, if you have it on hand
1 T. lemon juice

Heat the olive oil together with the minced garlic in a large pan or stockpot. When it becomes fragrant, add the onion and potatoes; cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly to ensure that the garlic doesn’t burn. Add the broth and the kale. Lower heat to medium and simmer, for 20-30 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.

Remove several ladlesful of the soup and puree in a blender until smooth. Return to pot. Add milk, beans and remainder of the kale. Simmer for another 5-10 minutes. Add the parsley, if using, salt and pepper to taste, and the lemon juice. If the stew seems too thick, add more milk. Remove from heat and serve. If you like, garnish with cheese (parmesan or cheddar would be nice), bacon crumbles, scallions, or all of the above. Enjoy!

The first M is for Magic. The second M is for More.

Don't let the Jeannie bottle fool you. No, wait, actually, do let it fool you!

Well, that’s not true. The first M is for Maple, and the second is for Mustard, but when you taste it, I think you’ll agree that either M might as well stand for “magic,” “more,” or just plain old “mmmmm.”

I have to admit, I feel a little guilty. This recipe comes courtesy of my friend Toni’s mom, who was afraid to share it lest someone take it, bottle it, market it, and make a mint off of it. Yet, in the generous spirit of open source software, I think we should spread it around and let everyone enjoy it. And if anyone takes it, bottles it, markets it, and makes a mint off of it, let’s hunt them down and stab them with our salad tongs until they beg for mercy.

After all, this is the dressing that got my children to eat salad. Let me repeat that, italicized for those of you who aren’t parents: this is the dressing that got my children to eat salad. Yeah. It’s that good. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that it’s overly sweet, or unsophisticated, however; I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t like this dressing. Yeah. It’s that good.

Do yourself, and your offspring, a favor: mix up some mesclun, or even just a simple butter lettuce, and pour this stuff over. I wouldn’t be surprised if it made a great marinade for proteins, either — but you didn’t hear it from me.

Judy’s M&M Dressing

1/4 C apple cider vinegar

1/4 tsp white pepper

1/8 tsp salt

1 clove garlic minced

1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard

1/2 C olive oil

1/4 C sunflower or canola oil

1/4 C real maple syrup
Shake like hell (and yes, that is the original instruction from 70-something Judy) for 1-2 minutes. Use within 4-5 days.

…and a good time was had by all

Deck the antique sideboards with strings of cheap multicolored lights, fa la la la la...

I love to throw parties. No, wait, scratch that–I love to plan parties, and I love to go to parties. What I don’t love so much is all the cleaning and rearranging of furniture; the endless lists and invariable forgetting of at least one item from every list; the last-minute rush to make everything fall perfectly and seemingly effortlessly into place. Mind you, none of these things usually stop me from having parties, but being a hostess tends to bring out the worstest in me, and every time I tell Long-Suffering Husband that I’d like to entertain, I can practically see the effort it’s taking for him to not groan out loud.

This time, however, a lot of the hullaballoo and hecticness was taken care of, by none other than my very favorite grocery store, Wegmans*. In October, I was honored to be chosen as the winner of their “Family Time” contest, the prize for which was an Italian-style Sunday dinner for eight. Rather than try to decide whom among our friends we would ask to join us, LSH and I decided to throw open our doors and celebrate: my having won the contest, our upcoming anniversary, and the holiday season. To make a dinner intended to serve eight actually feed 30-40 people, we asked everyone to bring an Italian appetizer to share. The result? A convivial gathering of friends old and new, much riotous laughter, even more expressions of gustatory pleasure, and a broken wine glass or two (because it’s not a party until something gets broken).

Sorry, partygoers, but before y'all arrived, I squirreled away the summer sausage for private consumption. I love ya, but... it's summer sausage. I'm sure you understand.

But I get ahead of myself. Earlier that afternoon, a friendly fellow from Wegmans showed up with what appeared to be a normal-sized sedan, out of which he kept producing boxes and bags–a veritable parade of offerings. I took fewer trips when I moved into my college dorm. We hauled it all inside, started unpacking and taking pictures, and spent a good fifteen minutes oohing and aahing over it all.

Just like Perkins offers a bottomless cup of coffee, this seemed like the bottomless box of foccacia.

There was a fruit basket, with some cheeses, and the most darling miniature cheese board and cheese cleaver (when I’m done with it, I’m going to give it to the farmer’s wife, since it’s perfectly sized for blind mouse tails). There was a giant focaccia, and underneath that focaccia was another giant focaccia.

There were pans of sauce, pans of pasta, a beautiful long tray of nibbly things (and you know how I adore nibbly things), a box of cannoli that I had to hide from the children, a platter of salad with the same circumference as a hula hoop. Oh, it was an impressive spread, my friends.

It's a sweet little buffet of scrumptiousness. Don't eat the shiny berries in the back, though; they're poisonous

Either Wegmans had a typo, and this was supposed to be "Dinner for 18," or the lovely woman in Catering took extra special care of us.

And then I had to tart it all up with my tricolor glitter pom-pom sticks. What can I say? I am powerless when there’s glitter afoot; I have to succumb to its sparkly siren song. These little antipasto-on-a-stick numbers were my contribution to the cocktail party, above and beyond the Wegmans bounty. Clearly, I suffer from some kind of neurosis related to not having enough food. Maybe it’s in my genes, since both my grandparents lived through the Depression and, in their later years, liked to collect used light bulbs, twist ties, and toilet-paper tubes. Just in case.

It's Christmas! in Italy! and Glitterland!

My inner bag lady really wanted to fish the used sticks out of the garbage, so they could be reused. But I drowned her with wine.

Just as I finished impaling bocconcini and artyhearts on the sparkle sticks, the guests began to arrive…bearing food. Copious amounts of food. In the event that a freak, flash blizzard made the entire guest list snowbound inside our house, we would even then be eating leftovers for days. There was that much food. Our wonderful friends brought dips, chips, beer bread, more dips, baguettes, pizza bread with a dip, a red cabbage-and-sausage casserole, pate and artisanal ham from The Piggery in Ithaca, more cheeses, beer, wine, vodka and mixers.

Luckily, Dr. Atkins had a prior committment and couldn't make it.

Needless to say, it was all scrumptious. Scrump-diddly-umptious, even. After an initial lap around the living room to socialize, it seemed as though most guests stationed themselves at strategic points around the buffet, in proximity to their favorite foods. The children, who were upstairs watching movies while simultaneously tearing all the bedclothes and mattresses off the beds and playing Legos, would make occasional sallies downstairs for bread and dip, and of course for the cannolis when I eventually, reluctantly put those out.

And although we were very nearly literally pressing food upon people (“Hold still; I’m just going to tuck this meatball into your neckline, OK? It’ll make a great little snack later”), and despite the fact that more than once I was heard to exclaim, in my best Italian nonna voice, “Mangia! Mangia! Eat, you’re too skinny…” we were still left with a staggering amount of food. It was like Thanksgiving all over again; we ate leftovers for lunch and dinner for the next three days, then finally cried Uncle and packed up the rest for the freezer. It’s going to be a long, long time before I have to buy sauce. Or focaccia. But you know what? I’m just fine with that.

*N.B.: I am not professionally affiliated with Wegmans, although it is my devout wish to be so, especially since they recently were named #3 on Fortune‘s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list. Nay, I just adore (and spend way too much money at) Wegmans.

File Under E for Eww, but Also Under D for Delish

So I have decided that there is no possible way–at least for an ordinary gal like me, who has a run-of-the-mill digital camera, limited time for staging food photo shoots, and children running amok while she’s taking pictures–to take an attractive picture of a plate of beef Stroganoff. But you know what? I have never in my life let a lack of beauty stop me from doing what I wanted to do, and I’m not about to start now.

Beef Stroganoff is the kind of halfway-elegant comfort food that you don’t feel horribly ashamed to admit that you enjoy (unlike, say, Beef-A-Roni or a grilled-cheese sandwich with grape jelly spread on top), but which still fills that need for noodles, gravy and beef that comes over us all once in a while, veg*ns excepted (although I’d be willing to bet that a fair number of them feel that need and go to great lengths to oppress it. What else could explain the existence of seitan?).

Beef Stroganoff

1 lb. beef sirloin or tenderloin, trimmed and sliced

1 Tbs. flour

8 oz. cremini or button mushrooms, sliced

2 shallots, sliced

1 Tbs. olive oil

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 cup bouillon

1/2 cup sour cream

2 Tbs parsley, chopped

Toss the beef slices in the flour. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large, shallow pan; add the shallots and mushrooms. Saute briefly. Add the floured meat. Cook until the meat is seared; add the white wine and beef broth. Deglaze the pan. Cover. Cook for 10-20 minutes, until the beef is tender. Uncover. Let cook until the sauce is reduced, if necessary. Add sour cream and parsley, reducing heat. Stir until combined. Serve over egg noodles or rice.

Tell me in the comments what your acceptable comfort foods are.

Brussels Sprouts, Unironically Delicious

Let’s just skip all the jokes about the brussels sprouts, shall we? I mean, after all, aren’t we above that? Don’t we have better, more sophisticated things to laugh at, like Alec Baldwin poking gentle fun at NPR? Caramelized brussels sprouts are delicious, especially if you get the teeny-tiny ones, and if you are sure to anoint them liberally with lemon juice and parmesan cheese when you take them out of the oven.

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts

1 lb. brussels sprouts, ends trimmed, halved
1-2 T olive oil
kosher salt, pepper
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Toss the brussels sprouts with the olive oil, kosher salt and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees, stirring occasionally, making sure that all sides get browned and crispy as evenly as possible. Trust me, these are the best bits. This may take anywhere from 20-30 minutes, depending on how small the sprouts are. Remove from oven, place in a large bowl, eat all the browned and crispy bits before anyone else can get to them, then toss the remaining sprouts with lemon juice, parmesan, and extra salt.

Believe it or not, these are better cold.

This Is Not (Exclusively) What I’ve Been Doing

 

It's not as strong as it looks. I (hic!) promise.

 

I know it doesn’t look too good–I take an extended absence from blogging and my first post upon returning is a cocktail. But I haven’t been on a week-long bender, honest (at least not lately). I have two valid and related reasons to explain my recent disappearance: I was going out for the local roller derby league, and then I broke my wrist. Yeah, I know–you don’t have to say it.

So between the obsessive practicing of my T-stops and, now, the pain, both cooking and blogging about cooking have gotten pushed down my priority list. Luckily for y’all, I had this little number tucked away in reserve. I only hope that I’m not too late for you to make such delicious and alcoholic use of the last-of-season tomatoes.

I love bloody Marys, but sometimes they can be a little–well, thick. Gloppy, even. This lovely version solves that problem, while saving all of the flavor and essence of a good tomato-based cocktail. Tomato water is not only sophisticated and impressive, but astonishingly easy to make; in fact, “make” implies rather more active work than tomato water requires.

Tomato-Water Bloody Mary

Take a good quantity of good-quality tomatoes. Stem them and chop them roughly. Place in a colander set over a large mixing bowl, and let stand for several hours. Remove tomato pulp from colander and set aside for another use (I like to freeze this, and add it to stews, soups, chilis and tomato sauces later).  If desired, strain tomato water with a fine-mesh strainer.

In a tall glass, mix 1 oz. vodka, a few shakes Worcestershire, the juice of half a lime, a tsp. of horseradish and hot sauce or Sriracha to taste. Add tomato water and ice cubes. Stir. Garnish with green olives, pickle spears, Slim Jims, cherry tomatoes, cocktail shrimp, lime slice or all of the above. Enjoy!

How to Make A Dull Fish Less So

It's so golden! It makes me think of that Brady Bunch song, "Sunshiny Day." You're welcome.

Admit it–tilapia is kind of a boring fish, taste-wise. Maybe in reality, too–maybe it just swims around paging through USA Today and talking about the humidity. Nevertheless, I like tilapia. It’s affordable, it’s sustainable, it’s mild and easy to cook. It’s just that it needs jazzing up.

I have a great recipe for coating the dull little suckers in mayonnaise and cheese (which can make horrid food tolerable and good food delectable, in my book) but when you’re in the mood for something lighter, why not try pan-searing them and topping them with a fresh, delicious, bright orange-parsley salsa?

Pan-Fried Tilapia with Orange-Parsley Salsa

For Tilapia:

You will need one tilapia filet per person, unless you are my four-year-old, in which case you’ll need two per person. We usually buy the kind that are individually wrapped, which is convenient–albeit hell on the planet. Dry the fish filets with paper towels, then dredge them in flour that you’ve seasoned with salt, pepper, maybe a little garlic powder, maybe a smidgen of cayenne if you like that sort of thing. Pan-fry in a few tablespoons of olive or vegetable oil, until the fish is golden brown and flakes when you nudge it with a fork—just a few minutes per side.

For Salsa:

1 orange, supremed (ain’t we classy?)
1 very small red onion, chopped roughly
1 handful parsley, chopped roughly
1 tsp. Olive oil
generous salt and freshly-ground pepper

Mix! Yes, it’s that easy. Oh, and spoon over tilapia when it’s done.

Nick’s No Compromise Pancakes

Look at that perfect freakin' pat of butter

Funny thing about pancakes: I never liked them until I was pregnant with my son, and then suddenly I was having inexplicable cravings for them. My baby daddy (you might know him better as Long Suffering Husband, since I finally roped him into marrying me after two pregnancies) would take me out to Perkins, Denny’s, et. al., and I would order an omelet and hash browns and side of bacon and pancakes. And eat it all.

Ahem.

Anyway, ever since then I have loved pancakes, and my kids love them too. Fortunately, I can stick any old healthy vegetable or fruit into a pancake, and as long as there’s maple syrup, my kids will gobble it down. I’ve experimented a lot with pancakes, and I’m here to tell you that really, as long as you get them roughly the right consistency, you have a lot of pancake leeway. Take today, for example: we are out of whole-wheat flour, so I decided to grind up some oats. We had some leftover sweet potato (sheesh, I initially spelled that the Quayle way: potatoe) so I threw that in. Etc., etc. I’ve even made pancakes with beets, and believe it or not, passed them off as “Pink Princess Pancakes” or some such nonsense.

Motherhood–it’s 90 percent marketing.

Miss Four pronounced these “super good” and two thumbs up. She ate three, Mr. Seven ate two, LSH ate four or five or nine and even said “Mea culpa” because he had pooh-poohed my healthified flapjacks. Oh, and I ate a few too.

Nick’s No Compromise Healthy Delicious Pancakes

1 cup oat flour (pulse rolled oats in food processor or blender till it’s flour)
1 cup whole-wheat or all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
¼ cup wheat germ
¼ cup flaxmeal
½ tsp. cinnamon (optional)

2 cups almond, soy or cow milk
1 cup mashed sweet potato or winter squash
3 eggs
2 tbsp. butter or mild oil
1 tsp vanilla

Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a large bowl or, ideally, one of those nifty batter bowl thingamobs.

Mix together all of the wet ingredients, including squash, in a blender. Pour into the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.

Here’s the tricky part: adjust the batter to make it pancakey. Too thick? Add some milk. Too thin? Add some flax meal, wheat germ or flour.

Fry them on a griddle. You know, like pancakes. If you don’t know how to make pancakes, go either to someone else’s blog, or back to 7th grade Home Economics.

Enjoy!

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