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Planning the Holidays

22 Dec

I have been away from the house for nearly three weeks now.  Getting back to cooking meals for ourselves is going to seem really weird. To top it off, our first full day home is going to be Christmas Eve, so I have to figure out holiday meals just when I don’t remember how my kitchen works any more.  Happily, I read a Facebook notice that Daisy Mae’s Market has blood oranges, so I’ll be stopping by there Sunday afternoon or Monday.

My wonderful mother-in-law would usually make standing rib roast for Christmas Dinner, complete with Yorkshire pudding.  I did so myself last year, which was the first year I had actually cooked Christmas Dinner at our house.  In the interest of preserving the fragile health of my bad shoulder, I have decided to go with short ribs for dinner.  Short ribs and grits.  With a blood orange salad before and a repeat of that gorgeous caramelized pear tart afterwards.

Christmas Eve, I think we’ll have fish.  My family in Florida often has seafood on Christmas Eve (the Christmas Eve Dinner antidote?) and I will keep that up, despite the fact that there have been no oceans near Ohio for a few eras.

My mother gave me a pair of dolsots for Christmas.  She actually had them shipped from Korea.  They came packed in cake boxes and surrounded by little envelopes of sushi seaweed to cushion them.  We’ll definitely be having dolsot bibimbap this week.

Looking forward to cooking, enjoying and hearing what others have decided to have for whenever and whoever are special to them.





16 Nov

I am in LOVE with Pepperplate!  Pepperplate is a website with associated app that lets me gather all of the recipes I use from the internet with my own recipes, work my meal plans, develop menus for parties and create a shopping list (including only the items that I needed to actually BUY.  I can deselect the olive oil, salt and pepper, for example).  I already added some of my favorite recipes from Bon Appetit and Gourmet ( and Cooking Light (

I don’t know if there is a cost associated with the Pepperplate app, but you can get a free download key from Crate & Barrel.

Happy planning, organizing and cooking up a storm!

– Mrs. U.

Hotel Breakfast OR Why I Need Egg Cups

1 Nov

I’m traveling this week, having escaped the US just before Sandy, the Frankenstorm, shut down every flight out of the country. I’m starting the week in Worms, Germany, southwest of Frankfurt. I speak French very well, but I only know two phrases in German. The first, “where is the key?” because the restroom in the plant is always locked, and the second “I would like capers, please” because the hotel has smoked salmon on the breakfast buffet, but the capers are locked away as a strictly afternoon sort of condiment. When informed that my German had improved to include this second all-important phrase about capers, my husband said, “Really? That’s what you decided to learn?” or something to that effect.

He clearly has no appreciation for the importance of capers with smoked salmon, but I have to think at least one person will agree with me.

I didn’t come here to talk about smoked salmon, delightful though it is. I wanted to talk about kiwis. Kiwis are one of those fruits I eat in two situations: when someone else cut it up and provided it (fruit salad, fruit tray, fruit tart) or when I’m staying in a hotel and find them on the breakfast buffet, in which case I cut it in half and scoop out the flesh with a spoon and wonder why I don’t do this at home.

Today, I had a kiwi and it was so good that I went back for a second. I noticed it was a bit less fuzzy and when I cut it open, I found the flesh was yellow. Golden kiwi fruit!  It was delicious and a bit more tropical tasting than the green.

This has suddenly turned into a new obsession to serve kiwis in egg cups.  I don’t own any egg cups.

Natural Colors for Fun Foods!

14 Oct

I have an allergy to Red Dye #40, known as Allura Red AC in Europe.  As time goes by, I meet more and more people with the same allergy plus additional food dye allergies.  It’s in more things than you would think. (Seeing Red!)

One of the big culprits for food dyes is ‘fun foods’, by which I mean candies and baked goods.  I have found a good source for natural-based colors at India Tree.  I don’t have children, so can’t say if it’s a good idea to offer kids ‘fun colors’ at home that they cannot enjoy outside of the home.  I would be a little bit cautious with this approach as I think it could be difficult to explain to a young child why colored sprinkles are ok at home but not anywhere else.  I was recently able to connect two parents I know whose children have food coloring allergies so that they can compare notes more effectively.  As an adult, it’s a pretty easy thing for me to manage.

Of course, I use my red dye allergy to my advantage and typically just refuse any baked goods that are offered to me, including a pink (inside and out!) wedding cake I made for my nephew’s wedding last year.  I imagine my allergy excuse has saved me a number of calories over the years!

Seeing Red! (FD&C Red Dye #40 / Allura Red AC)

12 Jun

When I was about 6 or 7 years old, I started to get hives.  All over my legs and arms.  Many, many times.  My mother finally became convinced that this allergic reaction was due to artificial fruit flavorings.  For me that meant, no strawberry milk, no Juicy Fruit gum, no fruit-flavored candies.  This went on for some time and then, I guess, I outgrew it.  In my teens, I ate raspberry Tootsie Pops and Twizzlers without incident.

About ten years ago, I got the flu and I took some cherry-flavored cough syrup.  Shortly after dosing myself, I began to get hives.  I called the manufacturer, demanding to get the list of ingredients.  They would not give me the full list of ingredients, but they took down my name, contact information and symptoms.  Someone from the FDA called me back and said it sounded like a Red Dye #40 allergy and that it was pretty common.  I wasn’t a believer.  I thought it was the fruit flavor that caused the problem.

A few months later, I was working late and getting hungry.  A colleague offered me a yogurt-covered granola bar.  Within minutes of eating it, I had hives behind my ears and down my neck.  Security was called in and there was an energetic discussion around me as others tried to decide if I needed an ambulance.  I read the label.  Red Dye #40. 

Since then, I have had several bad hive reactions.  It is usually worse if my immune system is already depressed because of a cold or the flu.  One episode lasted three weeks and I finally had to be on steroids to get rid of the hives.  Thankfully, nothing worse has happened, but I’ve become hyper-vigilant about Red Dye #40 in my food.  It’s in everything.  I have since learned that many children have adverse behavioral reactions to Red Dye #40.   In Europe, Red Dye #40 goes by the name Allura Red AC.

Red Dye #40 is an azo dye, so called because of the double nitrogen bond in the middle of the molecule.  Azo dyes are made from petrochemicals.  Yummy!  So let’s just think about that for a moment!  There are other azo dyes as well, notably two yellows (FD&C Yellow #5 and FD&C Yellow #6) that are approved for use in the USA.  I have not noticed that I am allergic to these yellow dyes, but I do avoid them, albeit with less dedication.

Here are some fun places where you can find FD&C Red Dye #40 / Allura Red AC:

  • Fruit-flavored candies and gum
  • Fruit-flavored drinks
  • Cough syrup and cough drops
  • Campari, which switched from carmine to Red Dye #40 a few years ago
  • Creme de Violette
  • Maraschino cherries
  • Grenadine
  • Box cake mix, including some yellow cake mixes and muffin mixes
  • Chips/crisps with flavored coatings, such as Dorito’s or cheese-flavored chips
  • Pill coatings, including Tylenol (the name is stamped on the caplet in red dye, but generic acetaminophen or paracetamol is usually okay), red caplets, pink-coated pills.  I buy dye-free ibuprofen and question my pharmacist relentlessly about anything she gives me.
  • M&Ms
  • Peppermints, including candy canes
  • ‘Strawberry’ or ‘raspberry’ sauce

A few other tips:

  • If someone serves you something you can’t eat, don’t trust them to start over.  I’ve had a waiter serve me a drink with a cherry in it and, upon being reminded that I ordered it without a cherry because I am allergic to the cherry, they simply removed the cherry from the glass.
  • Don’t trust the hospital dietary staff.  The allergy was on my chart, but they sent me red gelatin anyway.  A nurse tried to give me a reddish pill without checking the coating ingredients first.  I have to tell my medical professionals and then I have to be vigilant on top of that.  I am not shy about asking my doctor to have her nurse double-check the formulary when she writes me a prescription.
  • At the dentist:  the topical fruit-flavored anesthetic the dentist used had Red Dye #40 in it.  Why?  Who even sees that?  Also, my dentist had to order special non-colored polishing grit for me.  Double-check any toothpastes and mouthwashes, even flavored dental floss.
  • Don’t eat products from commercial bakeries without checking the packaging and ask your friends who bake at home what mix they used.  My own mother served me blueberry pie from the grocer’s freezer.  I had it in my mouth and was starting to chew when I realized what I had done.  My poor mom felt terrible!  The point is that you have to take responsibility for yourself.  If you don’t like asking about it, just don’t eat it.  It’s easier.  Just say, “No, thank you.”

As time goes by, I meet more and more people with Red Dye #40 allergies, so I know I’m not alone.

Have you found Red Dye #40 or Allura Red AC anywhere you weren’t expecting it?  Please let me know!

Frozen Overs – Moussaka

11 Jun

I know that Moussaka is supposed to be made with lamb and with Myzithra cheese, but I don’t cook with lamb much and I always have Parmesan cheese on hand, which works well enough as a substitute.  This recipe has way too many ingredients.  If I figure out how to fix that I’ll let you know.


  • 4 pounds eggplant, cut into one inch cubes
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 450F.  Spray two large baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray.  Toss eggplant with oil and salt.  Distribute evenly over baking sheets and roast about 40 minutes until browned and cooked.  Set aside.

Meat Sauce:

  • 2 lbs. ground beef
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 T. minced garlic
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 T. tomato paste
  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes in puree
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. sugar

Cook beef in a large pot over medium-high heat, stirring frequently and breaking up, until it is cooked through.  Drain well, reserving 2T of drippings.

Put drippings in the pan, add onion and cook until softened.  Add garlic and cinnamon and cook another minute or so.  Add remaining ingredients, bring to simmer and cook over low heat until filling has thickened and is no longer very wet, about 25 minutes.  Add additional salt and pepper, to taste.


  • 3 T. unsalted butter
  • 1/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 c. whole milk
  • 1 c. grated Parmesan cheese
  • pinch nutmeg

Melt butter in a saucepan.  Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute.  Add milk gradually.  Cook over low heat, simmering slightly, until sauce thickens and floury taste has disappeared.  Remove from heat, whisk in cheese and nutmeg and season with salt and pepper as needed.


I use 8×8 Glad OvenWare pans for this dish.  As you will see from the picture, I usually triple this recipe for freezer storage.  Place eggplant in the bottom of 2 pans, spread meat sauce over top and top with cream sauce.  Cover each with plastic wrap and put the lid on the top.  Freeze.

To serve, defrost overnight in refrigerator or in the microwave on 50% power for 15 minutes.  Heat in oven at 350F on a cookie sheet (if using OvenWare pans) for about 20-25 minutes until top is slightly browned and bubbly.

Bok Choy, Tequila and Escargots

31 May

I did not accidentally ingest any slugs.  That’s the disclaimer.

I got a huge bok choy from my produce vendor, fresh from a farm in the next state over.  Why?  Because I ordered a bok choy.  I expected a big one, I just didn’t realize how big it would be.  I put it in the refrigerator and left it there for several days.  What to do with the enormous bok choy?  There are only two of us.  I looked up bok choy on  All the recipes are for Shanghai bok choy (green stem bok choy or baby bok choy) and while they could be adapted for a huge bok choy, it seemed like too much trouble.  I searched blogs for bok choy recipes.  I still had an enormous bok choy in my fridge.

Finally, I had to do something, so I pulled it out.  There was a slug on it.  Okay.  I’m a grown up, I threw that leaf away.  It was on the outside anyway.  I started to peel back the layers.  Another slug.  Ugh.  Are the slugs dead or just tired from being in the cold?  I started to freak out.  They’re just escargots without shells, right?

Another slug.  Shudder.  Find husband.  Conversation goes like this:

  • Me:  You are going to have to clean and cook the bok choy because it has slugs in it.
  • Him:  Um, okay.  What are we going to do with it?
  • Me:  Dunno, but there are slugs in it.  They’re just in there.  (Making undulating motions with body.)
  • Him:  Okay, we can cook it.  We have to clean it anyway.
  • Me:  You have to cook it, but I might not be able to eat it now.  There were slugs in it.
  • Him:  Okay, I’ll take care of it.
  • Me:  They left slime tracks on it.  (Extremely rude comment deleted in case my mother reads this.)  I’m really freaking out now.
  • Him:  Are you going to be able to eat this at all?
  • Me:  Maybe if we boil it in bleach?
  • Him:  This should go in the blog.
  • Me:  Listen.  (Making Lewis Black finger gestures.)  There are slugs in it.
  • Him:  I will take care of it.
  • Me:  (Leaving room and heading to bar to mix a drink.)  Uh-huh.
  • Him:  (Calling after me.)  This should go in the blog.

South of the Border

  • 3 parts tequila
  • 1 part coffee liqueur
  • 2 parts lime juice

Pour over ice.  Stir.  Sip.  Try not to think about slugs.

Back to the bok choy and what I am now calling “Free Range Escargots”:

Calm down.  Write blog post of conversation.  Go back in kitchen to look at bok choy.  No slug.  It moved.  Apparently, it was not dead, just cold.  Grab bok choy by leaves, run squealing from house and put it on the front step.  It falls open.  Another slug.  I know this one is different, because it’s smaller than the others.  Squeal again.

I am now convinced that the slug in the trash can is going to climb out and do, what, exactly?, in my kitchen when I’m not looking.  Maybe some of the other slugs escaped and they are in my refrigerator, too.  The original bok choy is on the front porch, waiting for my husband to do something with it.

Update:  My husband has finished cleaning the bok choy.  The official count:  three large “free range escargots”, two small “free range escargots”, one pill bug, two green caterpillars.   I told him the first large slug was looking for me and I am scared.  He was unimpressed.


I’m here to talk to you about cheeses

31 May

While I’m not vegetarian, I do plan meatless meals, and these are some of our favorites. I caught this blog post by fellow blogger loveonice that mentions Parmesan cheese. I want to address this issue because it’s really important.

I have a number of vegetarians in my life, some by choice, some for religion, and their reasons don’t matter to me. What matters to me is that when they are in my home, they are comfortable and when I go to their home, I don’t take anything into their personal space that might be offensive to them. To me, their personal space includes their cubicle at work. I was shocked once to see a colleague munching down a beef burrito in the cubicle of my Hindu vegetarian colleague. Manners, people!

So here’s the deal. Some cheeses are made with rennet. Rennet is a product made from calf stomach that helps to curdle milk in cheese-making. Not every cheese is made this way. Parmigiano Reggiano is, and so are many others. What to do? Check the label if you’re making something for someone who is a vegetarian and don’t call anything you make vegetarian if you aren’t sure.

It should go without saying that you should never, ever use chicken or beef broth in a soup you are serving to a vegetarian. Here is a simple rule I use. If there is no meat going into the soup or sauce, then I use vegetable stock. It makes it very easy when I have a crowd over to say: if you can’t SEE meat in it, then there isn’t any. I will apply the same rule to recipes with cheese. If the dish is meatless, so will be the cheese I used.

Years ago, I caught an episode of the television series e.r. where one of the doctors had been sent for several weeks in the deep South of the US to work off some student loan debt or something like this. The man was a vegetarian and couldn’t find anything suitable to eat. Finally, his landlady made him a sweet potato pie. He had wolfed down about half of it when she said, “I didn’t know if you’d eat that or not because of the lard.”

I have added a “Cheese List for Vegetarians” link to the blog roll at the lower right hand side of the page. In the future, when meatless meals contain cheese, I will direct your attention to that list so you have the information available.


Introducing: Auby, my temporary kitchen friend

26 May

Auby came to stay with us on Thursday, hidden in a case of eggplants from Daisy Mae’s Market.  The other eggplants lacked his charm and personality.  I know he can’t stay long, but I couldn’t resist taking this photo of him, sporting my husband’s glasses, since his vision is obviously quite poor.  My husband suggested that we give him a rhinoplasty of sorts, but that just seems cruel.  Plus, as my husband knows, I like a man with a big nose!

Planned Over Baking – Berry Pie

23 May

So why does pie count as a Planned Over?  Like most busy people, I’m not standing around in my kitchen making pie every day.  I have learned that many baked goods tolerate being frozen unbaked, and then baked without defrosting.  Pie is one of these things.  So if you’re taking the time to make pie, make two and put one in the freezer for another time.

Here is another favorite pie trick.  A 10″ pie recipe will make about the right amount of filling for two 7″ pies.  And really, it’s close enough with a 9-9.5″ pie recipe as well.  A 7″ pie will give me 4-5 slices.  For the two of us, that’s dessert plus two servings of pie to enjoy as Loved Overs.  If I have another couple over for dinner, it’s enough pie for four.  At Thanksgiving, it’s not such a huge pie commitment that I can have a few different varieties and I can make them ahead, so why not?

When I am ready to bake, I put the whole 7″ pie, still frozen, straight into a 350F oven.  I have never had a problem with doing it this way.  I don’t think I would try it in a ceramic pie plate though.

Where to get 7″ pie plates?, where else?  The pie plates at this link are a bit more than I would like to pay.  I bought my 7″ pans at Sur la Table, and I can’t imagine that I paid more than $5 each, because I own several of them.  Of course, if you are feeding a crowd, just make a full size pie.  You can still make two (or more!) and freeze the extras unbaked.

Berry Pie

For the berries, use what you can get.  I show blackberries in the photo above.  I used frozen berries in this case, which is why the filling looks so juicy.  It would look less juicy if you used fresh berries, but they will release their juice in the oven.  One of my husband’s favorite combinations is cranberry and blackberry.  In this case, I would use the full amount of sugar.  My husband also likes the frozen mixed berries in a pie.  I often buy frozen berries on sale to have on hand for when the pie-baking mood strikes.  Berry pies benefit from a squeeze of lemon if the berries are very sweet.  Sometimes I put a pat of butter on top of the berries before I seal the crust.

  • Jeanne’s Pie Crust
  • 1 c. sugar (can use up to 1 1/4 cups, but I usually like it less sweet)
  • 1/4 c. flour
  • 4 c. berries (approximately two bags of frozen)

Roll out the pie crust to fit the pie pan, top and bottom.  Mix sugar, flour and berries in a bowl and fill pie.  Top with a layer of crust, seal edges, and cut to vent.  Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze or Bake at 375F.  Makes two 7″ pies or one 9″ pie. 

Warm pie is wonderful, but fruit pies benefit from being baked several hours in advance so the filling sets up.

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