Thursday, December 30, 2010

Caviar and Champagne

It's funny how "we" (people) are so easily influenced by others' perceptions and buy into preconceived notions.  It's pretty easy to figure out; someone you know and trust tells you something, you tend to believe it.  There's probably no area of our lives that is more permeated by this phenomenon than the world of food. I'm getting ready to tell you what I think you should do but I insist that you act on what YOU think.

Kids are practically instructed not to like vegetables. You see it in the oh-so-clever and witty marketing on commercials, even sit-coms discuss how much kids should and consequently do hate vegetables.  Then, the adults often follow suit by simply not even bothering to serve the children vegetables, because they aren't going to like them anyway, so why even try, right?

This brings me to my thoughts today of champagne and caviar.  I'd be willing to bet that if Jay Leno and I went out on the street together and quizzed people (you know, those really bright ones that he finds roaming the streets of L.A.), that we'd find over 70% of them believe that champagne is super expensive and only rich people ever get to drink it or even have the palate for it.  This same group would also acknowledge that they've never tried caviar for all the same reasons as champagne, but then they'd go further to wrinkle up their faces, stick out their tongues and vehemently assert that they wouldn't even try it anyway, because it's (GASP!) fish eggs!  They'd demonstrate loathing and disgust with as much drama as a vegetable-hatin' 5 year old!


When I was 12, I was in the Columbia City Ballet.  I was a soldier.  It was a small part, but it was a part and I got to have specially ordered white pointe shoes.  And, I got to fight the Rat King, who would later be named the President of my alma mater.  One night the company had a "gala" fundraising party and I was invited, as a member of the "company."  My dad was my date.  I got to wear a silk dress, fancy hairdo and high heels.  It was very grown up, very sophisticated and very glam.  And, they had caviar...


It was the classic presentation: black caviar arranged on top of cream cheese, accompanied by chopped hard boiled egg, capers, chopped red onion.  It was absolutely beautiful.  When I realized what it was, I wanted to try it so bad, but you know, surely I wasn't worthy because caviar is so expensive and only rich people like it and I was just a kid.  But my perfect date encouraged me to give it a try.  I've been hooked ever since.  When I later learned that you can buy caviar at the grocery store, I couldn't believe that everyone hadn't tried this stuff.  Granted, it's not Beluga, but it's what we have readily available and it's affordable.  Really affordable.


Next, champagne.  Same deal, really.  Growing up, we were allowed to have an occasional sip at a special occasion, but once we were old enough, we had it whenever there was a holiday, a birthday, etc.  Once again, mom and dad enlightened us to the fact that champage is readily available and affordable.  Just like anything, there are different varieties, vintages and price points.  But, it doesn't have to be reserved for special occasions.  It just doesn't.  In fact, about 10 years ago, I got a phone call on a regular day, maybe a Tuesday.  My mom called to announce that she and my dad had decided that they had reached a point in their lives that they could and would, from now on, drink champagne whenever they wanted.  They needed no reason, no special occasion, and that's the end of that.


I love that my parents opened up this way of thinking to me and my sister.  I have spread our wacky ways to my husband and most of my friends.  Life is short.  Give your kids artichokes and asparagus.  Buy some champagne or cava (Paul Cheneau is a nice reasonable one).  Stop at the grocery store and get some cream cheese and caviar and contemplate any other crazy foods that you've been told you aren't supposed to like.  Then buy those too!

Crab Puffs Cont'd: Got the Recipe!

If you read my post about crab puffs, you will recall that I promised you the recipe once I got it from my sister.  See below.  And, may the Puff be with you!

  • 6 oz crab meat, picked, cleaned & flaked 
  • 1/2 c. shredded sharp cheddar
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 1 tsp. dry mustard
  • 1 tsp. Worchestershire sauce
  • 1 c. water
  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 eggs
Combine the first 5 ingredients, stirring well.  Set aside.

Combine water, butter and salt in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, add flour and stir vigorously until mixture leaves the side of the pan and forms a smooth ball.  Remove saucepan from heat and allow mixture to cool slightly.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating with a wooden spoon after each addition, until batter is smooth.  Add crab and stir well.  Drop by heaping teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets.  

Bake at 400 for 15 minutes, reduce heat to 350 and bake an additional 10 minutes.  Serve warm.  Makes about 4 1/2 dozen.

**To freeze before baking, cover baking sheets with foil before dropping batter.   Place batter on sheets then freeze until hard. Remove from sheets and store in an airtight container in freezer.  To serve, remove from freezer and bake unthawed at 375 for 35 minutes.

**To freeze after baking, place puffs in airtight container in freezer.  Let thaw completely and bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Carciofi fritti

Was it the late 80's or the 90's when frying food became taboo?  Whenever it was, it was pretty hard for us Southerners to swallow because some of our best known specialties take a hot oil bath.  But, then, it became a dirty little secret and we had to adapt to "oven fried" this or that, sauteing, baking and broiling.  Don't misunderstand me; we Southerners are damn smart cookies...we already knew how to do all those things.  But frankly, trying to fry chicken in an oven simply isn't fried chicken.  It's crumbed, baked chicken.  Call a spade a spade, right?

It became so forbidden that none of us did it anymore.  I have a "Fry Daddy" that I inherited from my mom's house that has been sitting on a top shelf in my laundry room for about 15 years.  Even, once in a blue moon, if I broke down and fried some shrimp or squash, or whatever, I sure as hell wouldn't admit it!  But here's the rub.  In all my years of reading cookbooks, watching Food Network, talking to chefs, what I couldn't get out of my head was what they all say:  use good oil, use the right temperature, use the right vessel and use the right technique and you can have crispy, golden, non-greasy food.  But still there was the stigma.

Well this year, I said "Enough!"  I'm from South Carolina and if I want to fry something, I'm gonna do it dammit!  So, I asked my sister to get me a fryer for Christmas.  But I was specific: it had to be a good one.  No small potatoes, low performance Fry Daddy, but one with a temp control, basket and lid.  I know it was hard on her, probably as bad as pulling a tooth, but little sister came through and granted my wish!  Thank you Katherine and Cuisinart!

So, today my beautiful God-child Sarah came by.  You should see this kid...smart, polite, pleasant and just gorgeous.  I love me some Sarah!  We started talking about food.  I was kind of quizzing her about her favorites and she brought up having artichokes at her friend Pearl's house.  The idea hit me right there.  I was going to christen my new fryer with artichokes.  I'm delighted to say that my experiment was a resounding success, in my opinion!  I'm going to post what I did, exactly as I did it.  Please feel free to adapt/modify/change as your taste and creativity dictates.

Artichokes
1 can quartered artichoke hearts,  well-drained
2 cups bread flour
3/4 cup "Egg Beaters" (Feggs, as my beloved calls them....Fake+Eggs=Feggs)
1 cup plain bread crumbs
1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
salt


Remoulade
3/4 cup mayo
1/4 cup Creole mustard
2 tsp chopped capers
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp HOT Hungarian paprika
2 tsp lemon juice


Mix all remoulade ingredients together in a bowl and refrigerate to blend flavors.

Heat peanut oil to 375.  Meanwhile, dredge artichokes in flour, then eggs, then crumbs.  Place in fryer basket.  Don't overcrowd!

Lower artichokes into the fryer and cook until golden.  Drain in basket then on paper towels as they cool.  Salt lightly.  Then, get a little dipping bowl of remoulade and hit it!

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Famous Crab Puff

As a child, I remember hearing adults talk about crab puffs.  I heard it at wedding receptions, on TV shows, etc. but I'd never actually seen a crab puff.  It seemed to be the quintessential 70's hors d'oeuvre and I loved the idea of a crab puff.  Frankly, the concept of any type of 'puff' sounds appealing to me.  So, you can understand my bewilderment at how such a seemingly popular and oft-talked-about little morsel could be so elusive.  

As an adult, I have attended many (yeah, many!) cocktail parties, grand openings, weddings, receptions.  And, I've given my share of good parties too.  But, never have I come across a crab puff nor have I ever found a recipe for them.  Well, that's not completely true...I will admit that I have actually seen recipes that called themselves 'crab puffs' but what I read wasn't remotely like the crab puff in my mind.  It's supposed to be crabby, light, puffy and extremely sophisticated.  

So, along comes Christmas 2010.  My sister Katherine and her husband arrived from Asheville and K had brought some hors d'oeuvres.  Lo and behold!  The girl made crab puffs.  I was so excited that I think I frightened her a little with my reaction.  What?  Crab Puffs?  There is a God after all!  Ya-freaking-hoo!  You know, I was enthused.  


These were the crab puffs that my memory has carried around all these years.  I had flashbacks of the wedding reception at our house for a couple of hippies; my job was 'Canape Girl.'  My mom worked with me on pronunciation for a couple weeks, I practiced my tray handling skills and 'worked the room' with my wee voice, "Canapes, canapes." It could have only been made more perfect if my tray had included Katherine's crab puffs.  I mean, Mary Tyler Moore and James Bond would have been all over these babies!  


They were puffy and light.  They had plenty of that luscious blue crab meat that wasn't overpowered by any other ingredients.  The cheddar was there but not too overbearing.  Just perfect.  I can't wait to make them and keep a stash in my freezer.


Just one problem...I forgot to get the recipe from her.  So, as soon as I get it, I'll gladly share it. Now, here's your homework...if you have a crab puff that you like or that someone in your family makes, I'd love to hear about it.  I'm now devoted to serving crab puffs every chance I get.  And martinis.  Maybe rumaki.  Oh, beautiful 1970's!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Great Mixed Nut Deception

In America, we have certain ideals that make us who we are.  We believe in freedom of speech, the golden rule, truth in advertising.  At least that's the idea.

Here's the nut industry's little white lie.  Those cans that say "Less than 50% peanuts" are a sham.  Ok, it's true that 49.9999% is less than 50%.  But it's an insult to our intelligence.  It's a crime to defraud the nut lovers of the world in such a sleezy way, using a mere technicality.  Just decreasing peanuts by a "smidge" doesn't cut it!  We want mixed nuts dammit!  And, when we pay sometimes astronomical prices for them, it's because we're craving some really good mixed nuts!  If we wanted a big can of peanuts, we would have bought the one that says "Peanuts" on it.  You see?  See how this works, nut makin' people?  If I could grow my own cashews, I'd do it in a heartbeat.  But, I can't, so I have to look to you people to supply.  Jerks.  

I'm hungry.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Eve Plans

Every year, I start imagining all the Thanksgiving/Christmas get-togethers and what kind of menu we should have, what look, what time to eat, etc.  I sometimes have a theme, sometimes it's an elegant candlelit affair, occasionally I envision a Norman Rockwell painting.  The thing is, no matter what ideas or scenarios that I come up with, it usually plays out like our holidays have played out my whole life.  And, that's ok.

We have never been the night-time, dress up in velvet, candlelit formal holiday dinner types.  I see the articles in Food & Wine and Bon Appetit with all the shimmery decorations, formal china and crystal, fancy dresses and coats and ties and it looks great.  I love an elegant event as much as, maybe even more than most people.  But, holidays in the Webber-Wilson-Akre-Ballard clan have always been pretty casual, homey, pot-lucky and what I consider to be "normal."  We make a plan: who's making a turkey, who's  bringing ham,  how about Uncle John's smoked corned beef this time?  Aunt Jennie is always asked to make her dressing & sweet potatoes.  I've probably told y'all before that without her sweet potatoes for at least one of the holiday dinners, the Earth will fall off its axis.  My sister and I are usually the ones who will throw in a new experiment or some hors d'oeuvres.  We all pitch in, plan on eating a mid to late lunch, drink wine.  You know.


So, Christmas is upon us and I'm thinking about Christmas Eve in particular.  At Thanksgiving, I said to my Dad, "What about doing a beef tenderloin on Christmas Eve after church and having the traditional stuff for lunch on Christmas Day?"  We both agreed this would be a great plan.  I think I suggest the tenderloin every year; it usually happens about every 7 years.  What usually ends up happening is what will happen this year too.  We all gravitate back to "pick up food."  Not take-out, but hors d'oeuvres, snacks, casual dishes like gumbo, antipasto.  Sounds great to me: I could live off finger food.  Remember how Rachel served her kids their meals in Mermaids? 

 I want to throw in a cheese fondue this year.  Vivian hasn't experienced fondue and at 4 1/2 years old, I think she'll really think it's cool.  And, I want to do the real thing: the emmenthaler, kirsch, garlic, good bread...the whole nine yards.  We have tons of crab in the freezer, so I think crab cakes go without saying.  I'm looking at some other recipes like roast beef & horseradish crostini for example.  That's as far as I've gotten so far.  I'm sure Mom has some great ideas floating around in her head as well.
Ok, that does it...I want fondue NOW!

So, as is pretty typical for us, we'll have a yummy, casual Christmas Eve grazing.  Katherine is bringing a ham, we'll make Aunt Jennie's sweet potatoes, maybe a broccoli casserole, so Christmas Day will be pretty traditional. OUR Traditional anyway.  And that's ok!

Monday, December 20, 2010

**Restaurant Review** Cafe Strudel, West Columbia

Today I had just enough time to meet my parents for a quick lunch, as we were on our way to the funeral of an old and good friend. :-(

Her church is in West Columbia, so we decided to pop in at Cafe Strudel.  I haven't been to Strudel in quite awhile, so I had no "top of mind" favorites.  I have friends who are long-time, hard-core Strudel fans who could've recited the menu to me, I bet.  Once I arrived, I had to make a very quick choice, since on the way I got stuck by a train and then got behind every person in Greater Columbia who was unaware that their cars come equipped with accelerators.  Anyway, here's how it all went down:

Dad ordered today's special: smoked salmon quesadilla.  Mom opted for the soup du jour (ham & bean) with 1/2 sandwich and I chose the "Lowcountry BLT wrap."  From all accounts, it seems I made the tastiest choice.

Per Jim (Dad) the quesadilla wasn't "what I expected."  It wasn't slices of smoked salmon with cream cheese and dill, but rather a spread of those ingredients, or as Dad referred to it, a "mush."  Decent flavor, but the consistency wasn't on the mark.  Per Dottie (Mom) the soup was lots of ham, very little bean and lots of broth.  Her sandwich is called the "Martino."  According to the description, it's a favorite for over 10 years.  I'm sure that's what prompted Mom to order it. The description, however, would have been exactly why I WOULD NOT have ordered it. Turkey, cheddar, olives...what?  Sounds like a gustatory assault to me. Graciously, Mom called her lunch "mediocre, at best."

Mine, was actually pretty good, but definitely something you can't eat everyday.  It was very rich and honestly, if I were teetering on the edge of hypercholesterolemia and a cardiac stent, it could have killed me.  Seriously though folks, the "Lowcountry BLT wrap" was a good choice. Spinach tortilla stuffed with pimento cheese (not too much..you know, there can be way too much!), bacon and fried green tomatoes.  I'm a sucker for fried greens which is funny because I can't deal with red tomatoes unless they are cooked.  No good ol' Southern tomato sandwiches for this girl.  And, who doesn't love bacon? I bet you even vegetarians would woop up on some bacon in a moment of weakness and when they thought no one was looking.  And, unlike most restaurants, this place does not skimp on the bacon.  A definite plus.  The FGT's were great...not greasy, good thickness so they were "al dente".  Ha!  Al dente fried green tomatoes...I slay me!

In the big picture, I think Strudel's allure is the fact that the people who run it are cool, they are inventive with their menu, even though it's not always "knock it out of the park" and the character of the place and location is appealing.  Is it the caliber of food that I seek out again and again?  No.  But, will I meet you there for lunch or brunch from time to time? Sure.

Tin Roof Columbia on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Cookies

I'm no baker extraordinaire, but I can bake.  I've had some stumbling blocks: I'm terrible at pie crust, I've never perfected pizza crust, but I think that's because my oven doesn't go up to 4 million degrees like a restaurant's and I'm pretty impatient when it comes to bread unless it involves the bread machine.  But, when the feeling strikes me, I can bake.

A few years ago, okay more than a few, my friend Eugenie said, "hey, let's make Christmas cookies together and we can give them as gifts."  We were both single and non-moms at the time you see.  So, I said enthusiastically, "Yes, let's do it!"  

What a disaster.

To this day, I can't put my finger on what went wrong.  Maybe we made a crummy cookie dough, maybe it was our rolling technique, maybe it was our apparent lack of talent when it comes to decorating cookies.  Perhaps it was all that wrapped up together.  All I remember is they were a pain in the ass to make, at least half of them broke, decorating was a joke and I came away from the experience saying "Yeah, not doing that again."

Well, now I'm a mama.  And this year, the Vivster is really getting the whole Christmas thing and she's diggin' it.  So, I faced the music and realized come hell or high water, I was going to have to tackle the old rolled out "decorated" Christmas cookies for Santa.  I've been so excited about it that the only preparation I've actually made so far is to buy food coloring and sprinkles.  Then, this morning came a revelation!

I had bent down to give Vivi a big squeezy hug and as I stood up, I glanced over at the closet door that has a Pillsbury calendar hanging on it.  Since I am an electronic kinda girl, I never look at this calendar; it's for Neil...he's semi-electronic, semi-paper.  Anyway, he had flipped it over to December and lo and behold, there's this big, beautiful photo of peppermint candy crunch cookies.  "Hello?"  Vivian loves peppermint.  I mean, really loves it.  So much that after Christmas, I have to hit all the sales to stock up on candy canes so we have a stash for the rest of the year.  And here, right on the closet door all this time was the answer to all my cookie-making prayers.


It calls for Pillsbury sugar cookie dough from the fridge case.  Yes!  Can I hear a Hallelujah?  It calls for crushed up candy canes...I've got those, in abundance!  It calls for one other thing; I can't remember.  Maybe powdered sugar to make a glaze.  Who cares? It's only one more ingredient.  No food coloring needed!  No sprinkles needed, unless we just want to use them (with reckless abandon of course) and I don't have to make dough.  I just roll it out!  

I'd say this is nothing short of a true Christmas miracle.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Week in Review

Despite the fact that I had BOOKOOS (that's a perversion of the francais beaucoups) of time off in the last week, I've been up to my ears in things to do, and thus, have neglected my beloved blog.  Thank you, my loyal supporters for hanging on and eagerly awaiting what I might have to say next.

Being in busy-mom-Christmas mode, I haven't had any major revelations this week, but a couple of interesting stories.  First, I got a steal on cashew pieces and decided, "hey, I'll make cashew brittle to give as gifts."  Found a pretty straight forward recipe but of course, I had one little wrinkle.  Well, turns out it was a pretty huge wrinkle.  I was instructed to cook the sugar and corn syrup until 350 degrees or amber color.  I searched and searched all over and couldn't find my candy thermometer anywhere.  (Neil told me later, "oh yeah, that thing broke a long time ago."  Hmmm, really?  I've never even used the damn thing.  Why wasn't I notified?  Who broke it?  So, anyway, I thought to myself, "I know a good amber beer when I see one, I can recognize amber."  Well, here's what I learned.  When sugar starts boiling, first it's really scary.  Visions of that spilling over on my arm and hardening like a rock and then totally consuming my skin and bones.  Second, when it gets all frothy and boily, you can't tell if it's amber, golden, purple, NOTHIN'.  So, when I thought I'd gotten to amber, I mixed in the rest of the stuff and poured it out on the sheet.  Well...have you even seen that weird white spitty looking stuff on a caterpillar's nest?  It looked a lot like that.  And, it never completely hardened; it was more like white, frothy looking nougat...but PACKED with cashews.  Yeah, epic fail.  Dumped it into an empty pizza box and right into the trash.  Oh well.


So, clearly we ordered pizza one night this week.  Dano's Pizza is about a stone's throw from our house, they throw their own dough and the pizza's pretty darn good.  So, it was the meat lover's with black olives added.  I recommend it.

Then, I actually cooked one night too.  When mom and I were a team at RE/MAX, we sent monthly recipe postcards to our clients.  I always saved them, but never cooked any of them.  We have several clients who do make the recipes faithfully and call to report their results.  So, I came across a 'Dottie & Elizabeth' card for Tarragon Chicken.  Sauteed chicken breasts then made a sauce from the pan drippings  and shallots, deglazed with chicken stock, then added cream, tarragon.  Very tasty and a hit.  Served with yellow rice and steamed green beans. Looked like a respectable square meal from June Cleaver.

And, lastly, we were too tired and disgusted last night to cook.  (Long story short:  house on concrete slab, leak under bathtub, leak man with jackhammer, $900).  So, it was Rockaway burgers for all.  Maybe after the holidays I can get back to cooking on a regular basis!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas Crab Quiche

I am fortunate to belong to a Sunday School class that is comprised of the coolest group of people.  We have meaningful conversations and lessons, we have fun inside and outside of church, we dog each other on Facebook and best of all, they are ready, willing and able guinea pigs.  We take turns bringing snacks to class so when it's my turn I love to try things out on them.  They are gracious, adventurous and they clearly have excellent taste since they eat what I make!

Last night was our class' Christmas party.  Our hosts had us all over to their new house, which is just lovely, and they provided a beautiful ham and an urn of the most delicious Sex on the Beach that I've had in quite some time!  We all bring food and have a White Elephant gift exchange.  That tradition has some great stories that I could go on and on about.  Maybe next time...

I really love quiche.  It's a pretty ingenious dish...protein is covered, you can jazz it up with any combination of veggies and cheese, seafood, or take the simple, subtle route and you're not going to be disappointed.  But, I have a confession.  I've never made mini-quiche.  I've driven over to Sam's Club numerous times over the years to buy those cute little frozen quiches for parties, drop-ins, you know.  But this time I said to myself, "Self, we're making little quiches in our own kitchen."  And that's what I spent yesterday doing.

A few weeks ago, my parents bought a bushel of crabs, so I knew mom had crab in her freezer.  "Borrowed" some of that (I know, it's not like I can give it back, right?) and came up with a crab quiche that I was very pleased with.  I will admit that pie crust is not my forte, so I used the Pillsbury all-ready crust.  She-Crab soup is one of my favorites and I think it's because of the combination of the crab and sherry.  So, I knew I wanted sherry in the mix.  Long story short, I took these to the party.  Got lots of compliments and a few people commented on the sherry flavor.  Only two quiches were left over, so I think I can call it a success.  

Crab Quiche 
  • 1 bunch of watercress, finely chopped
  • 8 oz. blue crab meat
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup cream
  • 2 Tbs sherry
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh parmesan cheese 
  • Dijon mustard
  • 3 pie crusts
 Bring the crusts to room temp.  Cut into 2 1/2" rounds.  Preheat oven to 375.

Mix crab meat and watercress and set aside.  In a large bowl, lightly beat the eggs and yolks with the milk and cream.  Add sherry, nutmeg, salt, pepper and parmesan.  


All the components are ready to go

South Carolina Blue Crab: Nectar of the Gods
Fit mini crusts into the cups of a mini muffin tin.  (If you have multiples, get them out.  If not, you may want to consider borrowing some.  I only had one, so was making them one dozen at a time).  Brush the bottom of the crust with a little mustard, spoon in some crab mixture and pour some of the custard over.  Bake for about 20 minutes until puffed and golden.  That's it!  I think I ended up with 3 or 4 dozen.  I forgot to do a final count (sorry!).








Thursday, December 9, 2010

Asian Meatballs

I have served on the Zoning Board of the City of Columbia for way too long.  Really, it's like 8 years or something now and I'm pretty much tired of it.  I really loathe this 3 hours of mandatory annual "training" that the legislature created a few years ago.  Each year, we get to sacrifice 3 hours of our time to sit and listen, yes, listen to a conference call from who-knows-when by a bunch of professional urban planners (which we are not) talking about Supreme Court cases involving sidewalk malfunction lawsuits in Fargo, North Dakota or how to design a good looking Wal-Mart in Boulder, Colorado.  Mind you, NONE OF THIS has anything to do with the Board of Zoning Appeals in Columbia, South Carolina and therefore, "trains" me to do, say or think nothing new and different.

So what, you ask?  Well, I had my 3 hour time-suckage appointment for 5-8pm Tuesday.  So, that afternoon, I put this dish in the crockpot.  I'd seen the recipe in All*You magazine and the photo caught my eye immediately.  I've been waiting for the chance to make it.  So, I had time on Tuesday.  The thing is, by the time I had to leave home to go to the Time-Suckage Vortex, my house smelled absolutely wonderful.  It was very, very hard to leave. So, the whole time, I was wondering how they were going to turn out?  Would Vivian like the meatballs?  Would they be as good as I had built them up in my mind?

Well, the answers are yes, no, and yes.  Disappointing that the Vivver rejected them, but she's been pretty fickle in her evening dining lately.  We'll try them on her again some other time.  I think this recipe is so good, that it will be one of the few dishes that my family does get to have twice, maybe even three times.  The flavors are my favorites: ginger, soy, hoisin.  The aroma is divine and the ease of this recipe just makes it a no-brainer.  Plus, it presents itself well enough to make for company and they'd never believe how effortless it was to prepare.  I'm calling it a winner. Hope you agree!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Pretty Perfect Pesto

Pesto is one of the most magical sauces on Earth.  Not as magical as bearnaise, but pretty close.  How can anyone not be enamored with the basil:  it's a flavor that you can smell and an aroma you can taste.  And the pine nuts are subtle, yet provide a "toothsome-ness".  Then there's the nutty, kinda smoky undertone of the heavenly Parmesan.  All of these are married together by the almighty olive oil.  It's just brilliant.

Before I became Super-Mom (I am, you know) I used to grow myself a bumper crop of basil each year and make my own pesto.  It made great circes for friends but it was also so awesome to put some away so that in the dead of winter, I could pull a little bit of Summer out of my freezer.Once, I wrote in to "Vegetarian Times" magazine to share that I froze my pesto in ice cube trays.  Then, I'd store the cubes in a ziploc and could just grab a few to thaw for sauce, or toss the cubes into a marinara, etc.  They actually published my letter.  Yes, I am a published author.

Being a coupon addict, I recently bought some Buitoni pasta and pesto, since I was on my weekly trip to 'rob' Publix.  (I bought the reduced fat one). What better quick, weeknight supper for Super-Mom and Super-family?  My expectations for the pesto weren't low, because Buitoni is a pretty good brand, but they weren't overly high either.  After all, it's not my homemade pesto.  Well, guess what?  It was really good.  I mean really.  The basil was very fresh and bright tasting and it was a little thicker than homemade, which I really like.  So, until I can start making my own again, I'm going to be buying this stuff with pesto zesto. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Kiddies and Kale

Last night just felt right for an old-fashioned 'steak dinner' at home.  Nothing real elaborate; I broiled steaks then I topped them with mini crab cakes and bearnaise sauce, smashed potatoes and kale.  If you'll indulge me, I want to take this meal piece by piece and then, maybe just then, I'll actually get to the point.

A steak with bearnaise on it is simply my idea of Heaven. If I were on Death Row, my last meal could be anything as long as it has bearnaise on it.  Hell, I'm not that picky...I could eat it with a spoon.  To me, bearnaise is the queen of sauces; it's buttery, full of tarragon, smooth and it just looks pretty.  Steak and bearnaise is a match made in Heaven alright, but wait, add crab to the party and look out!  Here in the South, we catch, clean, cook and cherish our blue crabs.  When you've spent hours and hours over the course of 42 years killin', pickin' and cookin' with crab, you're entitled to that righteous indignation that we have when we see crab cakes on a menu for $18.00.  I can make them for less and they'll taste a whole lot better too!  Ok, back on point...sorry!


What?? We're having mashed potatoes!  Sign me up!
Next, Neil is a potato lover.  Please don't misunderstand-he's NOT one of those guys who only eats potatoes or requires potatoes at every meal. But, he just appreciates a good potato from time to time. One thing I really can't stand on today's menus is the term "smashed" potatoes.  It's overdone, no longer trendy and generally just sounds silly to me.  But, that is in fact what I did to these potatoes.  Cooked some red-skins, smashed them up with some milk, sour cream and butter and viola!  They really did turn out yummy.

One thing I know about myself is that I must have something green on every plate. It's some sort of inherent rule implanted in my psyche.  All plates must have a green vegetable; likewise, there shouldn't be two greens, unless they are vastly different in shape, consistency, starchiness, etc.  You get the picture.  So, I had a bag of kale on hand.  I sauteed some bacon then garlic.  Threw in the kale and wilted it.  Then I added about a cup of water and let it simmer to get the kale nice and tender.

Now, here's the whole point of my story...breathe, breathe, here it comes.

My four-year-old wunderkind Vivian LOVED the kale!  I fibbed just a little at first.  She already likes collards (I know, right?) so I just called the kale collards and she was in.  She liked them so much that at one point, Neil pretended that he was going to eat hers right off her plate.  This caused her to push his arm away and instruct him to "get his own."  

Oh, I am a proud mama today!  I feel quite accomplished actually.  Yes, it is I.  The one who can make children eat dark, leafy greens.  I can even make them defend their greens with vigor and conviction.  No applause necessary.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Exciting News


Yesterday, I was reading "In Erika's Kitchen", which is a blog I read regularly.  I noticed a widget on her site for the Foodie Blog Roll and was intrigued.  So, I visited the site and learned that it is a HUGE directory of food blogs (food only) and an online community for food bloggers.  You have to apply for your blog to be accepted and then displayed on their site.  So, I completed the application and submitted it.  It specifically said that your blog has to be reviewed and certain criteria must be met and that this process could take as much as 4 weeks, so be patient.  Okay, I can do that.

Well, I arrived at my office this morning, opened my email, and there it was.  APPROVAL!  That's right....they approved me overnight.  I am so pumped!  The widget is on my page, just scroll down and look on the left.  It's pretty cool.  If you enjoy blogs like mine, this will direct you to food blogs from all over the place.  But, whatever you do, DON'T STOP READING MINE!  :-) 

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Whole Enchilada

Clearly, the holidays are already interfering with my blog schedule.  And I'm not likin' it.  But, I'll do my best to post meaningful (?) information for you, all my friends.  I don't want to disappoint you :-)

Most weeknights, I morph into Sandra Lee and conduct my own episode of "Semi-Homemade" especially now that I have "regular hours." (How does the rest of the world handle this regular hour thing? I'm not good at people tellling me what to do.)  Anyway, I come blasting in the door from work, head straight to the kitchen, get a glass of wine first and foremost!, then start getting food on the table. And, I'll admit, this fast and furious style of meal preparation doesn't often lead to exotic food brimming with Wow-factor.  But, the other night, I did it.  I whipped up the fastest, easiest and tastiest supper.  So, tasty that it surprised Neil.  It was almost like he was expecting to just sort of like it, but he ended up loving it, and once again, thinking that I'm a genius. 

It was Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas.  Now, let me give you a little back story.  Once upon a time, my sister Katherine lived in Colorado.  Out there people make and eat green chile on EVERYTHING. I'm not exaggerating: breakfast burritos, omelets, biscuits, sandwiches, meat, enchiladas and all other forms of Mexican food, EVERYTHING.  Katherine makes a mean pot of the stuff herself.  It's just that good.  Well, my mom really fell in love with it.  As you can imagine, flying across the country with a bunch of ziplocs full of green chile would most likely end in disaster.  (Remind me to tell you sometime about the styrofoam bait bucket full of fresh crab that was in the overhead bin.)

So, mom found Old El Paso green chile enchilada sauce in the Colorado grocery stores.  She brought a bunch back because we'd never seen it here in our stores.  She searched far and wide, but alas, here in the Deep South, no one knew what she was talking about.  Everytime my sister came home, she had to lug a stash of canned green chile for my mom.  Dottie became a chicken enchilada machine.  I kept telling mom to have the grocery store order it.  I don't think she ever did.  So, anyway, the other day I was checking out the myriad of refried beans in the store these days when I looked up and there it was.  Old El Paso green chile enchilada sauce. Now, I'll submit to you that perhaps our stores have been carrying this for quite some time now, but I just haven't looked for it.  I guess I just had it in my mind that canned green chile in South Carolina just wasn't meant to be.  Well, it's here and I bought it with exuberance and headed to the kitchen.
Pre-Bake


Post-Bake

On the Plate

I basically just followed the recipe on the can.  In the past, we've made these rolled up the traditional way but also flat, like in stacks, which works well too.  In a nut-shell, you saute some chicken until done.  I used about a pound of chicken tenders and then shredded them. Then, you mix them with cream cheese (I like the lower fat Neufchatel) and green chiles until it gets melty and mixed together well.  Spoon into flour tortillas, roll and place seam side down in your baking dish.  Pour 2 cans of the sauce over, sprinkle with some cheddar and pop in the oven for about 15 minutes at 350.  Then, present to your husband, or wife, or whomever and they will love it and think you're a genius.  

That's it for this episode of "Semi-Homemade with Elizabeth.  Thanks for joining us.  Stay Classy Columbia."



Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Crowd Pleaser

Do you ever have the occasion to take a dish for a potluck?  Covered dish? Brunch?  I have the knock-out recipe of all time.  My mom found it years ago.  We all fell in love with it, made it non-stop for awhile, then lost the recipe and forgot all about it.  Then, years later, it resurfaced thanks to the Internet.

Once we found it again, I made it one day when it was my turn for snacks at Sunday School.  The guys always love this dish because it's hearty, filling, spicy and it has pork (you know how they are about pork, right?).  The women always love it for all those reasons, but also because it's so out-of-the-norm and interesting.  After that first time of "guinea-pigging" my SS buddies, it's now become a staple.  In fact, when it's my turn to bring snacks, I sometimes get a request for this cornbread.  Most recently, we all met for wings the night before the Carolina-Clemson game and I remembered that two days later was my day.  The request was made.  I complied.  They ate, they smiled, they said nice things!

So, here's my recipe to share with you guys.  I must say...it is damn good and it's totally different, so it always gets people's attention.  It can be a brunch (or Sunday school "snack"), a lunch paired with a salad or soup, or a cool dish to take a sick friend.  I hope you'll try it and I certainly hope you'll love it as much as my family and friends do.

BLACK-EYED PEA CORNBREAD
  • 1 lb spicy bulk sausage
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 (15 oz) can black-eyed peas, drained
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar
  • 3/4 cup creamed corn
  • 1/4 cup chopped pickled jalapenos (my husband loves fresh jalapenos, but the pickled ones are hotter, most of the time because of the pickling; fresh ones can be inconsistent in heat)
  • 1 (4.5 oz) can chopped green chiles
  1. Cook sausage in large skillet over med-hi heat to break up and brown.  I like to drain it well, let it cool and then chop with a butcher knife to make it fine.  This is because I'm not crazy about hunky pieces of sausage.
  2. Combine cornmeal, flour, salt and baking soda.
  3. Stir together the eggs, milk, and oil until combined. Add to the dry ingredients, stirring until just moistened.  The batter won't be smooth.  Add sausage, peas, cheddar, corn, jalapenos & chiles, stirring well.
  4. Pour into a greased 13x9" baking dish and bake at 350 for an hour, until golden and set.
***Freeze baked cornbread up to a month, thaw overnight in fridge. Bake, covered, at 350 for 30 minutes.  Uncover and bake 10 more minutes until thoroughly heated through. To reheat directly from the freezer, bake covered at 350 for an hour. Uncover and bake 10 more minutes until heated thru.

So, that's the magic cornbread recipe.  It may look weird on paper, but trust me.  Make it, share it with friends and you're going to get rave reviews.  And, future requests!

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Flop

Looked pretty online, but real life was another story
I am the first to admit it when a dish goes South.  I told you a few days ago that I was making Balsamic Root Vegetables for Thanksgiving.  My reasons were:  I liked the picture, I've NEVER cooked or eaten a parsnip before, and since it was a crockpot dish, that would be one less project going on in the kitchen, one less body.  Well, unfortunately, it sucked.  

My mother-in-law liked it and I think maybe one other person was positive about it, but I was not.  The vegetables weren't overly mushy, but I probably could've stopped the cooking a little earlier.  The flavors were good.  But, for me, the failure was in the look of the dish and the smell.  The vegetables didn't retain their color and all kind of looked alike.  However, it was the smell that really did me in.  I can't quite put my finger on it.  Balsamic sauces usually smell very good, so I'm thinking perhaps it was the balsamic aroma mixed with the red onion?  It wasn't the kind of smell where someone would walk in and exclaim something like "What the hell is that smell?" but it was just "off-putting."  
  • I can't even believe I just used that phrase.  Donatella Arpaia uses it ad nauseum on the Next Iron Chef and it drives me up the wall.  I get her meaning, but I'm pretty sure "off-putting" isn't really a word.  But, in this case, it's the best I've got.
Chalk this one up as a "tried and failed."  No big deal; can't win 'em all!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Prep Work

I'm not sure why, but I'm super excited about this Thanksgiving.  My little sister is expecting a baby, so that's a new, exciting thing.  My aunt Jennie is getting married, so that's a new exciting thing.  And, Vivian is really into cooking now, so that's a new and exciting thing.  I'm suspecting these factors are influencing my excitement level.  I'm a cracker-jack detective, you see.

Neil and I both have today off and have had a great day together.  It's been a long time since we've had just a regular day together.  We have pretty much gotten all of our prep done and will have a low stress time tomorrow!

Neil is the turkey man of our family.  One Thanksgiving, we were in St. Augustine with Neil's mom, Mimi and his dad, Don.  I had heard of brining, but hadn't tried it yet.  Well, Mimi brined the turkey that year and for the first time I really, actually enjoyed turkey.  We lost Mimi shortly after we got engaged and Don a couple years later.  Since then though, Neil tackled brining and instantly mastered turkey roasting.  My mom is a turkey fanatic.  In fact, it has been established that if she ever ends up on Death Row, turkey & dressing will be her last meal.  So, if Dottie says Neil's turkey is good, well... AND, for Dottie to let Neil cook it instead of her, HUGE!

So, today we got the bird in the brine and it's soaking away in the fridge.  My pumpkin ice cream turned out to be nothing short of fantastic!  (btw, if you don't have your own nutmeg grinder, ask for one for Christmas).  I hope that will be a surprise for everyone.  I have toasted pita bread for the hummus, sliced celery, made curry dip, sliced all my veggies for the Balsamic Root Vegetables.  Then, I made the "white" mashed potato dish.  Potatoes with sour cream, cream cheese and evaporated milk.  They will go in the oven tomorrow; I'm pretty excited about this, believe it or not!
Pumpkin Ice Cream

After all that, I'm typing all of this fascinating information to you  as I have a glass of Chardonnay (I'm on vacation, dammit!) and try to think of what, if anything, I've forgotten.  I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving.  


I'm thankful that you read this blog!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Prep

I posted this statement on Facebook, so sorry for the redundancy.  Every year at Thanksgiving I remind myself that I desperately need a bigger fridge.  But, as soon as Thanksgiving is over, I forget about this until next year...

That's where we are today.  Currently, I have all the usual suspects: Brita pitcher, milk, wine, juice, eggs, a million mustards, jellies and salad dressings.  But, now add the new players:  13 pound turkey, bag of kale (it was a steal, I HAD to buy it), a head of romaine, bowl of ice cream custard chilling, tupperware full of jello, hummus, pie crust, parsnips and carrots.  In short, the damn thing is packed to the gills.  And, tomorrow, the turkey has to get into its brining vessel, requiring the removal of a shelf.  Guess I'll be trucking groceries over to Mom's tomorrow for temporary storage.  That or packing a cooler.  

Yeah, I wish!  Mine has about 1000X this much stuff right now!
I started prep work today.  Made 'sweet and spicy pumpkin seeds' that my girl Trudie turned me onto.  Now, I usually don't mix and mingle much with Lady M, but here's the recipe.  My sister loves pumpkin anything.  So, I'm making homemade pumpkin ice cream and will sprinkle the seeds on top.  I think it's going to work well.  And, I did REAL ice cream.  That's right...cream, egg yolks, cooked on the stove. 

Tomorrow, I'll embark on this crazy tradition from Neil's childhood..."white" mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving!  Never in my life!  But luckily Aunt Jennie is bringing her sweet potatoes so the Earth will not fall off its axis.  That reminds me; I'll have to give y'all the recipe for Jennie's S.P.'s.  If our family doesn't have these at Thanksgiving there is a mutiny. Things could get ugly.

So, here it is.  I hope you'll take the time one day to try this recipe.  They are so perfect and I think you'll be glad you tried it out.  And if you're a sweet potato and marshmallow kinda guy/girl, that's ok. Try these on a non-holiday and see what you think.  I think you'll ditch the marshmallows, but that's just me.

  • 3 cups cooked sweet potato
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 stick butter or margarine
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 Tbs frozen orange juice
Mash up your sweet potatoes until they are a nice, smooth puree.  Mix in all this other stuff.  Make the topping:


  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 cup pecans
  • 1/3 stick butter/margarine
Have the butter at room temp. Blend in the brown sugar and flour; add pecans.  


Spread sweet potatoes in casserole dish.  Spread topping on top.  Bake at 350 until the topping is melty, brown and looks right!

Lamb Chop: Not the Puppet

Can food make a mama proud?  Yes, yes it can.  Lately, my sweet Vivi has been very eager to help in the kitchen, which is something I've waited for.  Even before she arrived on Earth, I always thought about one day having my own little girl and teaching her to cook.  Well, she's here and at 4 1/2, she's very quickly crossed over into "big-girldom."  And, the cool thing is that as long as she helps, she's totally down with trying whatever it is that she just cooked.

A few days ago, some of my beloved Facebook buddies were giving me a hard time about my post:  

Elizabeth Webber Akre It just feels weird driving around with a rack of lamb just laying there in the passenger's seat.

 I got questions like, "Raw or Cooked?", "Seat belt or Booster?"  Then this:

Elizabeth Webber Akre Got the Neilio cooking lamb chops for me and the Vivver.

This prompted comments like:  That's good because the thing has been in your car like 3 days in 70 degree weather. :) I love this one!  Good one, Kat.

 

Neil wanted to experiment with some different marinades with the idea of serving lamb "lollipops" for the holidays.  He's been mixing up all kinds of spice concoctions and cooking 2-3 rib "racklettes" over the last few days.  Sunday, Viv got involved and helped with the next marinade invention, which of course means she was all about EATING the lamb chops.  Remember, she's 4. I mean, 4 1/2.  I'm so glad she wasn't here to hear that faux pas...I would have been sharply corrected.  

 

The point of this story, you ask?  That night, we said "What the hell, let's see what happens."  So, we made her a plate of roasted potatoes, collards (her request; I know, right?) and lamb chops. The child ate 3 lamb chops.  Left nothing but shiny bones behind!  Yes, I'm very proud.  I have my baby eating lamb before the age of five.  I think that's quite an accomplishment, frankly.  This is what I've been hoping for; to have an adventurous little eater who loves to cook.  I think I'm on the right road.

Showing off the carnage.  Nothing but the bone left behind!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Shrimp Cocktail: What's in a Name?

What's in name?  Sometimes a lot. South Carolina's state dance is The Shag.  Start talking to a Brit about all the people shagging on the dance floor and they'll have a friggin' heart attack.  

Back in the early 70's, my parents went on a business trip to Spain.  I would have liked to have been an adult in the 70's.  First, your company sent you on biz trips to SPAIN.  Everybody had a couple of drinks at lunch and when you got an invitation to a party, you WENT, happily.  Today, a business trip is on your dime to exotic places like Myrtle Beach.  If you order a vodka/tonic at lunch some nosy broad at the table next to you gives you the "oh, great, I'm sitting next to an alcoholic" vibe.  And heaven forbid someone actually invites you to a party.  Life is just so darn busy, in a crummy way, that I certainly can't be bothered with a PARTY.  Inserting fun into my stressful existence can't possibly be the answer!  Ok, sorry, I digress...

So, mom and dad went to Spain and they had a blast.  Dad told everyone that mom was fluent in Spanish (a couple semesters = fluency...NOT) so they slipped away from the others as often as possible to avoid her responsibilities as 'official translator.' On one of these outings, they found a little cafe in a teeny tiny town.  They stopped in for some vino tinto and a bite to eat.  They ordered a shrimp salad-type dish.  I don't know what on Earth it might have been called, so all you Spanish majors, don't ask me.  Anyway, they loved it and upon returning to the States, my mom recreated it to the best of her memory.  It's shrimp, shredded lettuce, pickles or capers, and a 1000 Islandish sauce, and boiled egg.  Whenever she made it, she would serve it in these little cocktail glasses, or I guess maybe they're called parfait glasses.  Little glass bowls elevated on stems.  So, the Webber family referred to it as shrimp cocktail.  And, the confusion begins.

On a trip to Fripp, mom and dad had some big party to go to.  Katherine and I were probably about 8 & 10 at the time, so we decided we'd go to the big dining room on our own.  (In those days, you could let your kids roam free on the island because everyone knew each other).  Mom and dad gave us "the card."  Back then, we just showed people "the card" and we could get food, drinks, stuff, seemingly for free.  Just choose what you want, flash "the card" and walk away.  Nice and easy.  So, we got all dressed up and walked over to the dining room.

Katherine is a big fan of mom's shrimp cocktail, so when she saw it on the menu, she was quite excited.  She placed her order.  But, when it came, we locked eyes.  What was this?  I mean, really, what is it?  The waiter placed a cocktail glass in front of my little sister that was filled with cocktail sauce and had boiled shrimp hanging from the rim of the glass!  I'm sorry, were we not clear?  This is obviously some kind of joke.  So, we just politely employed the procedure we'd seen grown-ups do from time to time and sent it back.  That's right; this isn't what I ordered, take it away!  So, then, we had the manager at the table apologizing profusely and asking what else they could bring.  I'm sure that woman was so baffled about what she was apologizing for. I wonder if she still thinks about that night when she sees a shrimp cocktail.

Anyway, we finished eating whatever else we ordered, flashed "the card" and went on our merry way back to our condo.  When mom and dad came in, we told them all about the crazy mix-up.  How could a restaurant not know what shrimp cocktail was?  Then, mom laid it all out for us.  HER shrimp cocktail was really her version of a Spanish shrimp salad.  We just CALL it cocktail.  

That would have been really good to  know.  

There's no telling how many employees of that dining room and kitchen thought either they had lost their minds or that we were two little uppity kids who didn't know jack about fine dining.  Either way, we still maintain that shrimp cocktail is much more than boiled shrimp hanging from a glass of cocktail sauce (probably really humiliating to the shrimp I would think).  Now, we just know that we have to make the distinction between Mom's Shrimp Cocktail and the rest of the world's Shrimp Cocktail.  Nomenclature!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Girls' Night Out

Neil was out of town for a couple of days this week, leaving us girls to our own devices Wednesday night.  So, we decided to make the most of it.  

We started with a play-date with a little girl who lives around the corner.  Vivian thoroughly inspected each of the kid's toys, banged out a few tunes on their piano, checked out the vermi-composting in the backyard, then we all headed out to the park for some good ol' fashioned playground fun.

Upon returning home, we got ready for our big night out together.  My sweet baby child is a pretty good litte eater.  While I haven't been able to get her to give sushi a try, she LOVES Japanese food.  So, we both had to get dressed up in fancy dresses, Vivian said.  She selected her entire outfit and then adorned her hair with as many bows and do-dads as possible.  She topped off this ensemble with a white faux fur cape, and we hit the road.

Fancy Schmancy

We went to one of those Japanese steakhouses, Sato in Forest Acres.  I knew going in that this particular place is my least favorite in town.  But, it's close to home and on this outing, that was most important.  First off, everyone that we encountered and passed by greatly admired Vivian's most fancy outfit.  She did look really cute, I must say.  We were seated with a family of mom, dad & their 7 year old girl and a couple down at the end.  Everyone seemed intrigued to see how a little kid would act and eat in a place like this.
This is not an actual photo from our dinner (full disclosure)

Well, this ain't Viv's first rodeo. My parents introduced her to Yamato's a couple years ago, so she knows how to handle a pair of kid chopsticks.  By the way, Yamato's blows the doors off Sato.   Vivian's meal consisted of a Shirley Temple, soup, and teriyaki chicken.  The chef showed her how to use her chopsticks to (effectively) eat rice with them.  I was so impressed; the child ate rice with sticks!  I can barely use chopsticks, so this is very exciting to this Mommy.  Anyway, she loved her meal and her big, grown-up Girls' Night Out.  We went home, got in comfy jammies and cuddled up on the couch to watch Food Network until she fell asleep.  

I just wanted you all to know.

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