Saturday, February 27, 2010

Chocolate Ice Milk

My ice cream maker has been getting quite a workout lately. In the past few weeks, I've turned out cinnamon ice cream, coconut-banana ice cream and chocolate ice milk. I have a Krups LaGlaciere, circa mid-90s. It's a handy ice cream maker, definitely easier than the electric or hand-churn types of my youth that required rock salt and patience. The hard part of the Krups is remembering to put the canister in the freezer a few hours before churning time. It's easiest if I just store the canister full-time in the freezer, that way, I can make ice cream whenever the mood strikes.

The chocolate ice milk was a hit with my family, surprising since it's made with bittersweet chocolate. It began life as a failed experiment - I just thought I'd see what happens when you use milk instead of cream when making ganache. Left with grainy, rich dark chocolate syrup, I decided to try freezing, adding vanilla and sugar before churning. The resulting icy treat was rich and chocolaty, more dense than the usual ice cream, but a decidedly yummy dessert.

Chocolate Ice Milk

8 ounces whole milk

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, such as Hershey's Special Dark, broken into pieces

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1. In a saucepan over medium heat, bring whole milk to a simmer. Pour over broken chocolate in a bowl and stir, stir, stir until smooth. Add vanilla and granulated sugar. Let cool. Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Salon Kitchen Challenge: Editor's Pick!

My story on Baked Alaska (see below) is an Editor's Pick on Open Salon!

It also garnered an honorable mention in a very funny category on - see here!

After putting together this recipe and story, I've decided that I need a test kitchen and studio. It's fun, but challenging to take so many pictures in a home kitchen!

Baked Alaska (because who would eat Baked Canada?)

We are an Olympics family, in enthusiasm, if not in the sense of actually competing in any sport in a world class level, or for that matter, on a neighborhood block level. Each night since February 12th, we gather the girls, and instead of telling stories by a cozy fire, we watch sports history unfold to the flickering light of broadcast television. The Winter Olympics games in Vancouver are thrilling, I grant you, but my heart longs for the innocent Olympics of my youth, when the Games unfolded without a script. These are cynical times and as exciting as it is to watch Apolo Ohno and Shaun White, it’s just not the same as the other Canadian Olympics, 1988’s party in Calgary. When athletes like nearsighted part-time plasterer Eddie (“the Eagle”) Edwards could fly from a 90-meter ski jump and Jamaicans could cheer on their very own bobsled team.

What better symbol of the Olympic dream has there ever been than the Jamaican bobsled team? They may not have ever seen snow or temperatures cooler than 70 degrees Fahrenheit, but they knew how to run. In honor of the Jamaican team (which did not qualify for Vancouver) I’ve created a dessert of contrasts: a Baked Alaska (closest I could get to Canada) with Roasted Banana Coconut Ice Cream and Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee Ganache. It is the essence of the Caribbean encased in a marshmallowy meringue igloo.

This dessert has many components and is an ideal way to fill your time while you watch ESPN’s coverage of Olympic curling. The length of the recipe may be daunting, but if Apolo Ohno can return to the short track after winning “Dancing with the Stars,” then you can certainly pick yourself up and put this together. There are four main components: pound cake, which can be storebought or homemade; roasted banana coconut ice cream (the roasted refers to the banana, not the ice cream); Blue Mountain coffee ganache; and Italian meringue.

Baked Alaska with
Roasted Banana Coconut Ice Cream

This recipe yields four igloos and one loaf. You can make a half recipe, using just one pound cake, which is plenty for eight servings (your guests will need to share igloos, though). And, yeah, I know, there are no igloos in Vancouver.

First, you will need to make:

Coconut Ice Cream with Roasted Banana Chunks

adapted from The Family Baker by Susan Purdy

3 medium bananas, peeled and sliced into 3-inch pieces

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 (13.5 oz.) can unsweetened coconut milk

1 cup heavy cream

4 tablespoons light corn syrup

½ cup granulated sugar

Pinch of salt

1/8 teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon coconut extract

1. Preheat the oven to 450. Place the banana pieces in a baking dish and toss with the canola oil. Bake for about 15 minutes, until soft and brown. Let the banana cool, then mash with a fork.

2. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine coconut milk, heavy cream, corn syrup, sugar, pinches of salt and allspice. Stir for about five minutes, until bubbles appear around the perimeter of the pan. Remove from heat and add vanilla and coconut extracts.

3. Freeze coconut mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. After about five minutes of freezing, add the mashed banana to the ice cream and continue to freeze. It’s best to fill the cake while the ice cream is still soft, but if you want to make this ahead, freeze the ice cream first, then soften a few minutes at room temperature. A 15 to 30 second zap in the microwave accomplishes the same softening.

You may stop here and enjoy this tropical treat, or you can surrender your kitchen and a few hours' work to a sublime dessert. For the Baked Alaska, you will need three additional items: a couple loaves of pound cake (my recipe is top-notch), a batch of Italian meringue (more on that later) and a recipe of ganache.

Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee Ganache

4 oz. heavy cream

4 oz. dark chocolate, such as Godiva Chocolatier Extra Dark Santo Domingo Chocolate (85% cacao)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons brewed Blue Mountain coffee

1. In a saucepan over a low flame, heat cream to just under a boil. In a bowl, break up chocolate pieces. Pour warm cream over chocolate and ask a pint-size helper to stir until smooth. Add vanilla and slowly stir in coffee. Chill in refrigerator until ready to use.

kitchen helper

Begin Assembly:

1. Carve out a boat in one pound cake loaf. Cut off sides and scoop out middle. Save cake bits for another purpose, like feeding any stray helpers who wander into the kitchen. For the igloos, out of the remaining loaf, use a 3-inch and a 2-inch ring to cut out four large circles and four small circles and place on foil-lined baking sheet.

2. When ice cream is ready, scoop four large and four small scoops into shallow containers and place in freezer (these are for the igloos). Fill cavity of pound cake loaf with remaining ice cream. Spread a thin layer of chocolate ganache on top of ice cream. Smooth top and wrap in foil. Place filled loaf in freezer.

3. Make Italian meringue according to your favorite recipe, or use Shirley Corriher’s recipe from "Bakewise." Which is a bit of a pain, but beautiful and your children will be absolutely thrilled when they taste this giant marshmallow.

4. Minutes before serving, have all components at hand and crank up the oven to 475. Have a foil-lined baking sheet ready. For the igloos: Put down a big circle and a little circle of cake, then place a spoonful of ganache on each cake round. Place frozen scoops of ice cream on each circle, then cover with meringue piling high. Bake in 475 degree oven for 3 to 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Serve immediately.

5. For the loaf: cover with meringue, mounding over the top and swirling in a pretty pattern. Bake at 475 for three to five minutes. Slice and serve immediately. Any leftovers should be frozen. They will not be as lovely the next day, but certainly tasty.

unfinished igloo

bake alaska

Serve the Baked Alaska to friends while watching the closing ceremonies. Think of all that snow and then turn off the tv and dream of the islands, palm trees blowing in the tropical breeze, a steel drum in the background..Pass the Dutchie, indeed.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Meal to End the Week

Friday night used to be our going out night. The end of the work week meant a restaurant meal, either Cajun or Chinese or the Japanese Steak House, or our favorite, Italian. The economy and the fact that we always have our children with us, means that we eat at home more than ever, including Friday night. I think I hit a home run tonight:

Braised Chicken Legs with Carrots and Bacon

Brown Rice Pilaf

Sauteed Asparagus with Baby Vidalia Onions

Chocolate Ice Milk

Recipes and pictures will follow this week.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Are You Atlanta's Best Baker?

Share Our Strength invites Atlantans to tie on their aprons and bring their best desserts to the Great American Baking Contest on Thursday, March 11 at Cook's Warehouse - Midtown. This kickoff event for the seventh annual Great American Bake Sale will feature professional pastry chefs, amateurs and children vying to win the title “Atlanta’s Best Dessert.” All proceeds will benefit Share Our Strength, a national organization working to end childhood hunger by 2015.

Guests will have the opportunity to sample confectionery creations from Atlanta’s best pastry chefs and participate in a silent auction. At the end of the evening, contestants in each group level will be judged on originality, taste and appearance. Atlanta Journal-Constitution food writer John Kessler and Cook's Warehouse owner Mary Moore will judge the professionals’ desserts, while pastry chefs Jonathan St. Hilaire, Alon Balshan and Kathryn King will judge the amateur and children's confections.

The festivities will continue from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Great American Baking Contest general admission is $25 per person. VIP admission is $35 and includes a champagne reception at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are available at

Contestant entry fees are $25 for children and amateur bakers and $95 for professionals. First, second and third place bakers will be recognized with prizes including $500 for the first place professional winner and $250 for the first place amateur and child baker, courtesy of Domino’s Sugar. Deadline for all entries is Thursday, February 25, 2010, and all entries must include contact information, detailed recipe summary or recipe and the non-refundable, tax-exempt entry fee. To see the full contest rules or to enter, visit

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Celebrate Your Inner Carmen

Some days, I feel just like a 40-something white Presbyterian. Which in fact, I am. But underneath this minivan mom exterior beats the heart of Bizet's Carmen, a Gypsy vixen in Spain who sings in French and drives the men crazy. In my fantasies, I wear a red dress, sing like Jessye Norman and vamp like Jessica Rabbit.

I may be in my car, in an endless carpool line, but my mind is in sunny Seville, and after I dance and sing, I’m left to wonder: “What will I serve my lover Don Jose for Valentine’s Day?” To the strains of “Habanera,” I compose a dessert of fire and ice, cinnamon ice cream and chile-laced ganache sandwiched between chocolate cookies. Rich chocolate, spicy cinnamon and sweet cream tease your taste buds then the chile hits the back of your mouth and lingers near your throat. This cool dessert sizzles, and it’s meant to be eaten with your hands. Now, that’s sexy.

Fire and Ice Dessert Sandwiches

There are three components to the sandwiches: ice cream, cookies and chile ganache. All three elements can be made in advance. Assembly should take place a few hours before serving so they can set up. Yield: 8 sandwiches.

Cinnamon Ice Cream

1 ½ cups whole milk
1 ½ cups heavy cream
¾ cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
7 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, cream, sugar, pinch of salt and cinnamon stick and heat until scalding, which means that little bubbles will appear inside the perimeter of the pan. Remove pan from heat and let the cinnamon steep for 15 minutes.

2. Whisk the egg yolks and the sugar together. Slowly add some of the cooled cream mixture to the eggs, tempering them. Now, reverse and add the egg mixture slowly to the cream, whisking constantly to completely incorporate the eggs.

3. Cook the mixture over low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. The doneness test is when the custard is thick enough to coat a spoon. Remove from heat and strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Discard the cinnamon stick and any flotsam.

4. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. I use a Krups with the canister that you keep in the freezer. Once ice cream is complete, store in an airtight container in the freezer.

Chocolate Cookies

½ cup unsalted butter, at room temp
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
¼ teaspoon salt

1. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy and nearly white-colored. Beat in the egg, cooled and melted chocolate, and vanilla extract.

2. In another bowl, combine flour, cream of tartar, and salt. Pour into the butter mixture and mix on low speed until combined.

3. Shape dough into a ball and wrap in plastic. Chill for one hour in the fridge.

4. Preheat oven to 400. On a floured surface, roll out dough to ¼ inch thick and use a 3-inch round cutter to cut out cookies. Roll scraps with scraps and cut until all the dough is used. Carefully transfer (an offset spatula is handy for this task) the cookies to a Silpat-lined cookie sheet.

5. Bake the cookies for about 8 minutes or until the edges are just crisp. Set on wire rack to cool. After five minutes, use a spatula to remove cookies and place them on the wire rack to cool completely. If not using right away, place in an airtight container and store at room temperature.

Chile Ganache

Kid friendly note: the cinnamon ice cream and the cookie are kid pleasers, the chile ganache for serious chile heads only. Make some ganache without the chile for the kids, or make the sandwiches plain without the ganache. Leftover chile ganache can be chilled and rolled into truffles; dust with cocoa powder and additional chile powder.

8 oz. cream
8 oz. dark chocolate such as Lindt Excellence 70% cocoa or Green & Black’s Organic Dark 70%
1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder (this is gringo heat, two teaspoons is fiery Gypsy heat)

1. Bring cream to scald, just below boiling, with bubbles in the perimeter. Break chocolate into pieces in a bowl. Pour warm cream over chocolate and stir until the chocolate is melted. Cool to room temperature. Store in refrigerator.


You’ll need a roll of plastic wrap in addition to the cookies, ganache and ice cream. If the ice cream is too hard to scoop, zap in microwave for 15 seconds at a time.

1. On a sheet of plastic wrap, place one cookie. Scoop the ice cream onto the cookie. Spoon a generous portion of ganache on a second cookie, place the two together and gently squeeze until the filling just meets the edge. Wrap in plastic and place in freezer. Continue with remaining cookies.

L'amour! L'amour! L'amour! L'amour!
L'amour est enfant de Bohème,
il n'a jamais, jamais connu de loi;
si tu ne m'aimes pas, je t'aime:
si je t'aime, prends garde à toi!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Treats for the Sweet

A heart full of love: Blondies by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

This recipe is provided by Laura, who is 11 and a fantastic baker. She learned this recipe from her Mimi, who is her grandmother and my mom. I grew up calling them "brown sugar brownies," but they are really blondies and just about the best thing in the world to come home to (other than my sweet girls and husband).

Mimi’s Blondies

Serves 16

1 ½ sticks of margarine (don't even think of using butter, the blondies won't have the right texture)
1 pound light brown sugar
3 eggs
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder

1. Melt margarine and brown sugar together in a pan on the stove. Pour into a mixing bowl.
2. Add eggs, flour, and baking powder in that order. Mix together and pour into a pan.
3. Bake in oven at 350°F for 45 minutes.
This recipe was given to me by my grandma, who taught me and my mother before me to cook. These blondies are a family favorite and are begged and traded for at school! Enjoy! - Laura

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Best Cookies in the World, Scout's Honor

The Girl Scout cookie boxes arrived, I opened them, inhaled that sharp mint and chocolate aroma and dove right in. It’s the same story each year, but I’ve come to realize that nothing will ever taste as good as that first Thin Mint from 1970-something. I remember thinking it was the best cookie ever made - chocolatey, minty, crispy. I continue to buy the boxes each year, hoping that the cheap waxy chocolate against my teeth will take me back to those days of peasant tops, bell bottoms and tri-color Keds, but it hasn’t happened yet.

The cookie that does pull me back to my red clay childhood is the soft ginger cookie, a chewy disc, crackly with sugar, fragrant with cloves, cinnamon and the eponymous ginger, anointed with a puddle of raspberry jam in the epicenter. Is it overstating things too much if I say this is Proustian? Perhaps no literary reference is appropriated as much as Marcel Proust's contemplation of the madeleine in "Remembrance of Things Past." Considering that "Remembrance" is seven volumes long, I have doubts that so many cookbook writers have truly read the book. I won't pretend that I've read it, either (I keep a copy of the first volume, "Swann's Way," beside my bed, currently it’s underneath a John Dunning mystery.). If Girl Scouts sold these ginger cookies, not only could they send millions of girls to camp, they could build a retirement village on the proceeds from this cookie alone.

I first tasted ginger cookies at Becker's Bakery in Nashville, Tennessee, the Bakery of My Childhood. I still remember the wood floors, glass display cases and fake wedding cake. While my brothers and I plastered our sticky hands on the glass cases and shouted out the names of the treats, Mom would purchase pastel butter cookies, spritzes in green, yellow and pink. We could each pick out a waving gingerbread man, one arm up and one arm down, sprinkled with red sugar. And no fewer than two dozen ginger cookies would come home with us. Or at least make it to the car, because I doubt they lasted more than 15 minutes with my sugar-crazed brothers (and me).

Becker's is still in Nashville, although the store I remember near Brentwood is now closed. When I travel home, I stop by the store for a dozen or two. I've tried a few ginger cookie recipes searching for one to equal Becker's, and this is the closest. It’s based on a recipe in California Culinary Academy Cookies, copyright 1987. The recipe calls for ground pecans, which I don't think are in Becker's, but make for a tasty cookie. The texture is not quite as soft as the original, either, and I find that they are better after sitting for a day. These cookies are lovely on a winter day, when you can sit with a cup of chamomile tea and curl up with a book, Proust perhaps, in a chair by a roaring fire. Enjoy that moment until the Girl Scout knocks at your door.

Ginger Cookies with Raspberry Jam

2 1/4 cups flour

1/2 cup ground pecans

1 3/4 teaspoons baking soda

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 egg

1/4 cup unsulphured molasses (like Grandma’s brand)

1/2 cup granulated sugar for coating the unbaked cookies

About 1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam (I use Polaner’s)

1. In a bowl, stir together flour, pecans, soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon and cloves; set aside. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In mixer bowl, combine butter and brown sugar; beat until well blended. Beat in egg, then molasses. Gradually add flour mixture, beating until blended.

3. Spread granulated sugar in a shallow pan. Drop cookie dough by heaping tablespoons into sugar. Roll cookies to coat well, shaping them into balls as you roll.

4. Place about two inches apart on parchment lined cookie sheets. With your thumb, make a small depression in the center of each cookie. Fill each thumbprint with about a 1/4 teaspoon jelly. I find that a baby feeding spoon, the narrow kind with the long handle, is just perfect for scooping the jelly and placing it on the cookie.

5. Bake the cookies until they are brown and feel firm when touched lightly, about 15 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool. Yield: 30 cookies.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Poached Chicken a la Francis

My idea of the perfect chicken salad is firmly rooted in my Southern upbringing. It's the centerpiece at a bridal luncheon, plated on Lenox Eternal, eaten with Francis I sterling and wiped from delicate Southern Belle mouths with starched linens. A few weeks ago, Francis Lam posted on about the proper method of poaching chicken in order to achieve the perfect chicken salad and 'fessed up that he thinks chicken salad is sexy.

I love chicken salad, but I can't say that it's particularly sexy food. For a Southern belle, there's a contextual burden: chicken salad is bound up in too many memories of lunches with Mom at Rich's Magnolia Room in downtown Atlanta. (Did I hear a sob out there? We'll talk later.). There are, of course, Great Chicken Salad moments in Literature. If you've ever read "A Southern Belle Primer: or Why Princess Margaret Will Never Be a Kappa Kappa Gamma" by Maryln Schwartz, then you know that you can never put dark meat in your chicken salad and still hold voting privileges with the Junior League. The perfect chicken salad is a plot point in chick-lit mystery author Mary Kay Andrews' rollicking novel "Little Bitty Lies." Beyond the Grave Chicken Salad is, pardon the pun, to die for.

I rarely attempt it at home, especially since my family is happy with the Almond Tarragon Chicken Salad from Publix, one of the few packaged foods I will purchase, although I personally find the salad to be overwhelmingly salty. On a recent supermarket trip, with the thought of chicken salad in the back of my mind, I purchased a pair of three-pound birds for about $3 apiece. The first became the centerpiece of my standard roasted chicken dinner: a brined, butter-basted, heat-blasted bird; accompanied by homemade mashed potatoes with individual lakes of from-scratch gravy. Although the remaining bird was due for poaching, I decided to brine it just the same as my roasted bird.

I picked this technique up from Cook's Illustrated, which seems to brine everything that clucks. (The test cooks are also obsessed with thyme, but that's another matter). I take a large plastic container, put 1/4 cup Kosher salt and 1/4 cup brown sugar in the bottom and pour in about three or four cups of water, being careful that the chicken will not displace liquid clear out of the container. I remove the giblets and clean up the fat around the cavity a bit, then submerge the bird. If more water is needed to cover the bird, pour it in now. This goes in the fridge for at least two hours and no more than 10. (I recall a saline-intense experience with a bird that was left in brine for 24 hours. I won't make that mistake again.)

I then followed Francis' technique for the perfect poach and the resulting chicken was the most succulent, tender bird, ever. I'm not saying the brine made a difference, but I will definitely do the brine and poach together again.

I pulled the meat from the chicken, using the white meat in my chicken salad - enough mayonnaise to bind, the juice of half a lemon, and for crunch, thinly sliced celery and sliced almonds, finishing with a pinch of salt and a few cranks of the pepper mill. The chicken salad was, as my grandmother, Kitty Warren, a Birmingham society lady whose sterling pattern was Calvert by Kirk, would say "out of this world." Hear "world" as "wuld" drawn out into at least four syllables.

I saved the dark meat for soup - just adding chopped celery and onions, along with the chicken, seasoned with salt and pepper. For an investment of three dollars, along with a handful of vegetables and pantry ingredients, I had tasty lunches for a week. Looking at this delicious food on my everyday Fiestaware kind of makes me want to iron the linen napkins and pull out Kitty's silver and my Lenox china...

Friday, February 5, 2010

Brownies or Fudge? You Decide

Rich, fudgy brownies by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

This is my favorite brownie recipe. Forgedabout boxed mixes, (some of which are actually very good). This recipe is just as convenient as a boxed mix because it uses cocoa instead of chocolate. Cocoa is always in my pantry, but chocolate is one of those ingredients that I forget to pick up at the store. Just mix a few ingredients together while you're preparing supper and dessert will be ready right after the dishes are cleared. Homemade vanilla ice cream puts it over the top.

2 sticks unsalted butter, melted

2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

2 cups granulated sugar

4 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

3/4 cup natural cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch-square metal baking pan.

2. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Off the heat, stir in sugar, followed by the eggs and vanilla. Slowly stir in the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt, until the batter is smooth and free of lumps.

3. Spread the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick or a skewer inserted 3/4 inch into the center of the brownies comes out with just a few moist clumps clinging to it, about 40 minutes. Let the brownies cool completely in the pan on a rack.

4. Cut into squares. Keep the brownies at room temperature, place in a covered container.

Text and images copyright 2010, Lucy Mercer.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Easy, Peasy Side Dish

There are a few dishes that I make, usually pastas, that require a bit of green on the side, not because my family begs me, mind you, but because I'm the mommy and I believe that most dinner plates require a triangle-shaped serving of green vegetable. One of the easiest is frozen green peas, this dish requires all of five minutes to pull together, and it has a better than average chance of your young child eating it. I make no promises, I just put it out there.

Here's the idea: skillet, stovetop medium heat, tablespoon or two butter melting, half a small onion finely chopped, sautee, frozen green peas in whatever quantity you feel your family will eat poured out and stirred into the butter and onions, salt and pepper seasoning, and optional, zest of lemon just before serving.

It's taken me longer to type this recipe than it will for you to make it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Kiss My Cheek and Call Me Betty Crocker!

When I forget to defrost the chicken in the freezer, I go to the pantry for a can of salmon and make salmon patties. With a side of baked macaroni and cheese, this is an inexpensive, filling meal that my family loves. Here's the salmon patty recipe. Keep in mind that the patties are very loose because you don't drain the salmon. Handle gently as you bread them and place them in the pan, they will be fine and won't break, and even if they do, it's not a big deal. The pictured patties are ginormous; if you're serving lots of kids, make smaller patties.

Now for the mac and cheese, a subject that I've written about many times. It seems to be the universal kid-pleaser. Creamy mac and cheese has been my standard for years, but to be honest, my kids seem to like the stuff in the box better. My friend Julie makes a baked macaroni and cheese with eggs that my kids love, so I tried yet another mac variation. You can be honest about the picture: the dish didn't look great to begin with, and my photography skills didn't enhance it much. But, you know, like with some kids and old men, this dish is so ugly it's cute. And it was delicious.

Yet Another Macaroni and Cheese... Buy the "mouse cheese" block at the supermarket and shred it yourself, with a food processor or box grater. My girls, ages 11 and 4, can each use a box grater. They watch their fingers, and no tragedies have been recorded to date. By the way, don't use pre-shredded cheese for this; it contains a non-caking agent to keep it from clumping and it will affect the taste and outcome of this dish.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

1 small box elbow macaroni, cooked according to package directions

8 ounces medium Cheddar cheese, shredded

2 cups whole milk

2 eggs

Butter for the casserole

salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter a casserole dish. (It's always best to overestimate the size you'll need for a casserole. And buy some insurance by placing the oven-ready dish on a foil-covered sheet pan, just in case. )Pour in cooked and drained macaroni.

2. In a bowl, stir together milk, shredded cheese, eggs, salt and pepper. Pour over macaroni in casserole.

3. Place in oven and bake until golden and cheesy, about 30 minutes. You can cover it with foil if it needs to stay in the oven longer (while you fry the salmon patties, for instance.)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Salon Kitchen Challenge Winner

A little piece I wrote about my newspaper days is this week's winner of the Salon Kitchen Challenge! The story appears below. The tuna dip is wonderful - my kids loved it.

My Brilliant, Brief Career as a Sports Savant

Here we are staring down the barrel of another Super Bowl Sunday, and I couldn’t tell you who’s playing or where. I lead a blissfully sports-free life, relying on my husband to keep up with who’s winning, who’s losing; who’s abusing dogs and who’s bringing weapons into locker rooms; in other words, the flotsam and jetsam of the briny sea of sports. I could say that sports savvy is not in my DNA, but that wouldn’t explain my mom and two of my brothers who eat, breathe and live sports, although the remaining brother, Tom, couldn't care less. Among my sibs, we find the most to talk about.

Imagine the irony that my first job after graduation was reporting for my hometown daily newspaper. Just like county rec departments are populated with college baseball players with bum knees, newsrooms are filled with sports geeks who desire steady access to players and statistics and sports talk. The dinky newsroom was a huddle of desks, all sections from news to features and sports chock-a-block. Gregg, an Alabama grad who covered local government, sat opposite me, reading the AP wire sports stories while swinging his fist, roll tide fashion. Bill, the sports editor, sat next to him, rolling tide in syncopation. While writing the daily crime round-up, I tried to keep up with the sports talk. About the best I could do was sports trivia; I developed a sub-category where I will someday shine in some demented version of Trivial Pursuit: team names. UGA and Mississippi State are Bulldogs, Stanford is the Cardinal, and the Green Wave is from Tulane, easy-peasy. But what about the Hustlin’ Quakers of Earlham College, hmmm?

I had another gift, picking games. All these years later, it's time to come clean. In truth, I had a boyfriend who had the gift of picking games. It was acceptable at the time to gamble in the newsroom, hence the football season’s weekly pick of 20 games. With a salary only slightly more than minimum wage, winning $20 was significant - it meant lunches for a week or a tank of gas for my Ford Escort. My boyfriend, who had his own office pool, helped me with the ballot, and we won two weeks in a row. I'm not sure who was more stunned -- Bill and Gregg, or me. Not long after, I took another job, government flunky, twice the money, with a desk in an office with a door that I could close. It was always too quiet at that job. No guys to talk with, and definitely no gambling on state time.

This is all my way of explaining that when the Super Bowl comes, I’ll probably be working or cooking, maybe writing or cleaning, filling my time with something other than the national obsession. But that’s not to say that I can’t come up with a recipe for the Super Bowl party that I won’t give. When I’m choosing snacks, I go for the crunchy, cheesy and salty. This is my offering, a creamy tuna spread with smoked paprika and lemon. Salty and smoky, creamy and peppery, it’s a substantial snack or appetizer.

Tuna Spread with Smoked Paprika & Lemon

1 shallot, peeled and rough chopped into 4 chunks

1 (6.4 oz.) foil pouch albacore tuna packed in water

1/3 cup mayonnaise (full fat or go home)

4 ounces cream cheese (Neufchatel, ok)

Juice of ½ fresh lemon

½ teaspoon smoked paprika (for a mild version, more for adult tastes)

Pinch of salt

Black pepper

With the blade of the food processor running, drop in the shallot. Add remaining ingredients and buzz until incorporated. Taste for seasoning. (I quoted a kid-friendly amount of smoked paprika; grown-ups may want significantly larger quantities.) Serve with crackers or tortilla chips. Store in fridge for up to three days. Leftovers are brilliant spread on whole wheat bagels for breakfast.