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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Shrimp Pasta

Tonight I had a mad craving for a pasta dish my friend Anne cooked a couple of months ago. (I happened to be over for a visit that extended into supper time, and boy was I glad she was making extra and invited me to stay!)

Couldn't reach her in time to get the recipe, which I knew existed only on paper. But I remembered she'd told me it was a lot like a lemon spaghetti recipe I have in my River Cafe cookbook. So, I used that and sort of made up the rest.

Boil a large pot of salted water for a pound of whole wheat thin spaghetti. While the water is heating, juice 3 or 4 lemons. Mix with about 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil. Grate about a cup of fresh Parmesan. Wisk into the lemon juice and oil. Add a little grated lemon rind if you'd like.

Saute some garlic in olive oil and add two cans diced tomatoes. (Yes, it sort of killed me to use canned tomatoes when fresh ones are in season, but it was so much faster!) Add about 1/2 pound cooked, peeled shrimp (or you could simmer them in the tomatoes until done) and warm the shrimp in the hot tomatoes. Dust with crushed red pepper so it has a little kick. Keep on low until the pasta is ready.

Cook the pasta, and when it is done and drained, add the lemon/oil/cheese mixture and toss with the tomatoes and shrimp. Add as much chopped fresh basil as you can afford (the lemon spaghetti recipe says "two handfuls," whatever that is...I got one $2 package and wish I'd had two). Serve with salt and pepper and extra grated Parmesan.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Peach Pie

One of my favorite cookbooks is not a cookbook at all. It's a novel called Heartburn by Nora Ephron. The book was made into a movie starring Meryl Street and Jack Nicholson -- with a theme song by Carly Simon.

The main character is a woman named Rachel Samstat, a cookbook writer. She tells the story of the demise of her marriage and mixes in recipes along the way. Blending cooking and a narrative now seems quite popular, but this was one of the first places I ever saw it.  In the book, Rachel makes several kinds of potatoes to cheer herself up, spends a weeklong vacation perfecting the peach pie, and agrees to share her trademark vinaigrette with her husband before they finally part ways.

I'm going to make the peach pie for a dinner party tonight:

Put 1 1/4 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup butter and 2 tablespoons sour cream into a Cuisinart and blend until they form a ball. Pat out into a buttered pie tin, and bake 10 minutes at 425. Beat 3 egg yolks slightly and combine with 1 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons flour and 1/3 cup sour cream. Pour over 3 peeled, sliced peaches arranged in the crust. Cover with foil. Reduce the oven to 350 and bake 35 minutes. Remove the foil and bake 10 minutes more, or until the filling is set.

Ephron also wrote When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and the screenplay Julie and Julia. A fun fact about the novel Heartburn is that it was based on Ephron's marriage to Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein.

Out, Out, Damn Ants!

Oh, dear. I fear my poor housekeeping has caught up with me.

A few weeks ago, I forgot to give my counters a good cleaning before I left for Brazil. I must confess, my counter-wiping has gotten a little sloppy ever since I installed Venetian Gold granite countertops. I'm giving you the name in case other sloppy chefs want to ask for it -- unlike darker granites that show nearly every smudge, this one practically never needs to be cleaned! It is the kitchen equivalent of a silver car (also least likely to show dirt, according to my unscientific surveys).

Anyway, I guess I left some tasty remnants behind while I was out of town, and I returned to an ant invasion. Yuck. This was particularly unsavory because my friends Neil and Nate were due for a visit, and I was excited to make them some homemade treats. No matter how good your cooking is, no one wants to eat anything prepared in an ant farm.

I picked up some Raid traps but didn't think they did much. So, I did some googling and learned ants have an aversion to a few natural products, including bay leaves, cinnamon, baby powder and vinegar. Cinnamon was what I had on hand, so I sprinkled it liberally on the counters before bed. Eureka! The next morning I awoke, and it seemed to be doing the trick! At work, I mentioned my success to my cubicle neighbor Katie, and she noted yeast was another deterrent. I had that too, so I added it to the mix.

This was where things started to go south. The ants seemed to have moved from the counters to the walls, so I started dousing them with apple cider vinegar. Uh oh. I think that has some sugar in it (you're supposed to use PLAIN vinegar), so I think it actually drew them to the walls. And I wasn't so sure about the yeast -- they seemed to be returning to the counters since I'd added it.

So, I wiped it all up -- blech, what a mess -- and have now resorted to a spray bottle of Windex with vinegar. Just got out the duct tape to try and seal the hole where I think they are entering. Not sure what they could possibly be eating at this point, as I have literally cleaned up my act. Heavens! At least I don't have any more company coming.

Walnut Oil

I feel I must share with you the deliciousness in a bottle known as walnut oil. Somehow this wonderful oil never popped on my radar screen until a few years ago when I read a book called Cooking for Mr. Latte by Amanda Hessler of the New York Times. (A fun read, incidentally -- what's not to like about a book that combines dating and cooking, two of my favorite things?)

In the book, Hessler used walnut oil for a few recipes, most memorably drizzling them on simple steamed green beans. I think she may have also added crushed walnuts for flavor. It's just a variation on the green beans almondine my mom and lots of others made in the 80s, but perhaps a heart-healthier version with all of the positive press walnuts get these days.

Anyway, my favorite way to use walnut oil is in a simple vinaigrette. I got the recipe from the back of a bottle -- not the one pictured above, but a slightly fancier brand I can only get when I go to the Taj MaTeeter (the ritzier outpost of Charlotte's ubiquitous Harris Teeter grocery chain).

Mix 4 tablespoons walnut oil with 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard and one tablespoon balsamic vinaigrette. If you are feeling it, you could also add in a little garlic, as I did in the salad above (green beans, fresh basil, edamame and fresh tomatoes from my neighbor Dick Kane). Try it on a salad with fresh red bell pepper, goat cheese and toasted will die of deliciousness!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Creamed Corn

One of the things I love making every summer is creamed corn. Yes, it's fattening, and yes, fresh summer corn can stand on its own without any additions. But it's so comforting and delicious, and it pairs so wonderfully with pork, I try to make it at least once a year.

It's a guaranteed man pleaser, so I like to make it when I have some boys to feed. My friends Neil and Nate came through town this weekend, so they gave me just the chance I needed! I served it with Bullock's BBQ (Durham's finest), cole slaw, green beans, biscuits and tomato pie courtesy of my friend Peggy.

For Quincy readers, my mom has informed me that no one's creamed corn could ever be better than BoBo's, but I haven't managed to get his recipe. This version is from the Cotton Country cookbook, published by the Junior League of Morgan County, Alabama. The book was a gift from Dan Price when I worked in television in the Shoals area of that great state.

12 ears corn
1/2 cup butter (the book also says you could use margarine...can't imagine why anyone would)
2 teaspoons sugar
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup water
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons flour dissolved in 1/4 cup water

Cut corn from the cob and place in pan. Add margarine, sugar, salt and pepper, and water. Simmer gently for 15 minutes. Add milk and flour dissolved in water. Cook on medium low heat for 30 minutes, stirring to prevent sticking. If mixture becomes too thick, add additional milk or water.

Thank you, Mrs. William A. Sims, wheverever you are!

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Yesterday we got a mid-day surprise. The chairman of the board of directors arrived to have lunch with us and invited us to the area in front of the bakery for a photo. Turned out it wasn't a photo op at all; it was a surprise presentation of a plaque naming a building after our church.

Since the first team came in 2006, our work here has primarily been to renovate space for new programs including vocational classes and remedial tutoring. The church has given generously over the years to pay for each year's work, and each mission team has moved it a step further -- though I'm not sure anyone has yet topped the sweat equity of the original 35-person youth team. Because of the space we've helped to renovate, ICP now offers remedial tutoring and vocational programs. Over the years, we've made various improvements including adding bathrooms to preschool classes and a new entrance for the computer lab.

Marion unveiled a plaque (well, a mock-up at least; the real one is on its way) to designate the building as the the "Predio Myers Park." They had gathered a few classes of kids around the area outside of the vocational bakery (another addition since we first came), and the kids applauded and cheered for us. I told them in Portuguese to remember that there were people far away in the U.S. who love them and want them to succeed, and that the people they should really thank are not us but their teachers and helpers who are here every day. We will get a copy of  the plaque to mount at our church. I can't wait to see where we put it!