Sunday, January 29, 2012

Manna from the Backbone of Hell- Smoked Trout Pâté

You really must go to Boulder, Utah for dinner.  I mean really.  I know it's quite a drive, but it will be well worth your trouble- and you'll even see some mighty pretty country along the way.

I know, I know- you're asking where in the world is Boulder, Utah.  Well, it's quite in the middle of "Nowhere, Utah".  I would be remiss if I didn't mention that there are rather quite a few "Nowhere, Utahs" so you'll have to get a bit more detailed directions before you stop for dinner.
Until 1933 it was impossible to even get to Boulder, Utah.  It was around this time that a road was built complete with the Hell's Backbone Bridge,  a 109 foot long, 14 foot wide with a 1,500 foot drop on both sides bridge that finally connected Boulder, Utah to the outside world. Because of this road- and I must admit scary bridge- Boulder is now a thriving community with a census of 180 AND THE MOST AMAZING RESTAURANT- Hell's Backbone Grill

Now you're probably wondering how we stumbled upon this jewel in the middle of "Nowhere, Utah".  Well, that's where our friends Don and Mary Jo come in...
Don and Mary Jo's daughter, Anne- and Anne's now husband Jason- decided that this would be the perfect location to celebrate their wedding- they were right!

And were we ever in for a treat! And not just all the fun we had at the wedding!

Of course if there is a restaurant and a chef and a cookbook you can put money on the likelihood it will find it's way to its friends on my cookbook bookcase!  As you might be imagining I showed no restraint!

Mary Jo and Don generously fed us three- count them- three meals from this incredible restaurant.  The first item I put into my mouth was their Smoked Trout Pâté- absolute Manna from the Backbone of Hell.  It was love at first bite!

Now that we're all back hibernating in Cincinnati for this winter we scheduled dinner and a game of bridge with Don and Mary Jo.  It seemed the absolutely perfect setting to recreate this Manna! 

Now I have a confession- don't tell anyone- this Pâté is just not that difficult to make.  Perhaps that's it's charm.  Now of course you start with Smoked Trout from Hyde Park Fish Market.

And a few other things all mixed up in a food processor...

Maybe I should be a bit more specific...
Smoked Trout Pâté: from With a Measure of Grace by Blake Spalding and Jennifer Castle
2 smoked trout fillet (NOT FROM A CAN!)
4 ounces cream cheese
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Several good shakes of Tabasco
2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard
1/3 cup toasted pecan pieces (1/4 of a cup will be used to "coat" the  Pâté when serving)

Peel the skin from the fish fillets and flake into small pieces.  Place in the bowl of a food processor.
Add the rest of the ingredients except for the pecan pieces you have set aside.
Process mixture until it is VERY SMOOTH!  (You many add a bit of half/half or milk if too thick but I didn't need to do this.)
Scoop out a "ball" of  Pâté and roll in pecans.
Serve with crostini or crackers.


The Menu for Bridge. (The selections in italics are from Hell's Backbone!)

Smoked Trout Pâté
Pickled Asparagus
Slow Roasted Pork Country Ribs with Backbone Sauce.
Warm Red Cabbage Salad with Goat Cheese
Swedish Mashed Potatoes (Revised)
Mixed Greens with Fennel and Pears, Honey-Chili Dressing
Gingered Raspberry and Pear Pandowdy

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Chocolate- or "Not" Chocolate: Pecan Pie Bars

In our family we have two distinct camps- the chocolate lovers and the "Not" chocolate lovers- rather like the Republican Primary with it's candidate slate of Romney and then an assorted "Not" Romney.  But trust me- in our family these two camps are firmly entrenched- and not likely to budge regardless of any pressure- or super "PACS" applying pressure.  So when we have a family gathering we have to have both- chocolate and "not" chocolate- This recipe lets us do that all in one pan!

But before we get into the details of the recipe let me give you just a bit of a back story.  This year at Thanksgiving I was feeling nostalgic so wanted to serve the "favorites"- both past and present.  That meant adding in Grandma Lucas' FAMOUS PECAN PIE. 

I started on the pies the day before....  First the pumpkin- success!  Then the apple-cranberry- success!  And then finally the pecan- popped that baby into the oven.  Well by now the kitchen is a MAJOR WORK CENTER!  And the chopping has begun. And I forget to set the timer- and totally forget the pecan pie in the oven.  Well two hours later- you got it- I smell something that smells a bit like burned pecans!  Burned pecan pie big time!  Well, after much flurry of activity- and some tasting by Don and Gay, (our very best friend from high school -for me junior high!) as they tried to eat around the really burned parts- the pie of course was declared only worthy of the trash.  By now it was getting late in the day and we (much pressure from Don and Gay) decided that this Thanksgiving Dinner didn't need a pecan pie.  I admit I caved under the pressure!  But on the following Thanksgiving morning I had new energy- and new resolve so I quickly made another pie crust and filled with pecan pie filling.  Now here's the secret- don't tell Don- I was now out of Karo syrup and there was no time for a quick trip to any market- so I decided that I'd just substitute Lyle's Golden Syrup.  BIG MISTAKE! COOKING LESSON from this cooking blog post:  Do not- And I really mean this- DO NOT! make substitutions unless you really, really, really know what you're doing when you're baking!  For soups, casseroles, roasts, barbecue- I could go on- be as creative as you'd like- but for baking...  I didn't know what I was doing- so not only did this pie not taste like pecan pie- it was as runny as the original Lyle's Golden Syrup! Fortunately for me, we live next to wonderful neighbors who have teenagers quite willing to eat the failures as well as the successes!  Gotta love the growing teenage boy!

So I'm over making pecan pie.  You just have to own up to the failures- and only go forward with more trials if that really, really, really is your favorite, can't live without, dessert.  Well pecan pie just can't meet that standard.  

But wait a minute- what about the "Pecan Pie Bars" I made a couple of years ago for folks to snack on while Don and I were chained to the kitchen cooking for the "BIG MEAL"!  Well since I might be adding these to our Thanksgiving menu next year I decided to try a "dry run".  And since we were heading for Florida and a visit to our beautiful granddaughter...

 (and her parents) this seemed a perfect time for the practice session.

Now to the chocolate versus "not" chocolate family camps.  You see, Will (our son-in-law) is firmly in the CHOCOLATE CAMP, Don is just as firm in the "NOT" CHOCOLATE CAMP.  Now that's what makes this dessert perfect!  Just made half of the pan chocolate- and the other half "not" chocolate.

I found this recipe  here so do check out the original source...  I made some adaptation for personal preferences (this recipe is more forgiving than a pecan pie).  Try it- you're going to love it!

Recipe for PECAN PIE BARS:


2 cups of flour
1/2 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of butter

2/3 cup of butter
1/4 cup of honey
1/4 cup of light corn syrup
1/2 cup of light brown sugar
1/4 cup of heavy cream (also called whipping cream)
3 cups of pecans, chopped
1 cup of mini semisweet chocolate chips (for the CHOCOLATE CAMP!)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

For the crust- mix the ingredients- flour, sugar, softened butter- in a food processor, being careful not to over mix! Press the dough evenly in a lightly greased 13x9 in metal baking pan.  I actually greased the bottom of the pan and then placed a piece of parchment paper over this and greased this surface to make sure nothing "stuck" to the bottom of the pan.

For the topping- combine butter, honey, corn syrup and brown sugar on top of the stove.  Cook over low heat until the butter is melted, stirring frequently while the butter melts.  Stir in the cream and bring to a boil for 2 minutes.

Add the pecans, mixing well.

Pour the pecan mixture evenly over the crust.  Top with chocolate chips, if desired. This is where you can make half chocolate and half "not" chocolate!  Next time I'm going to melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler (chocolate in a pan over a pan of boiling water) and then drizzle this over the pecan mixture because the chocolate chips just won't melt!

Bake for 25- 30 minutes- until filling is set.  Cool thoroughly before cutting into squares.  You can hurry this process along and facilitate the cutting if you refrigerate for 15 minutes after the pan has cooled enough that you can handle it without an oven mitt.  

And these bars are quite willing to be dressed up as a fancy desert when served with Graeter's vanilla ice cream and a rum egg nog sauce!


Sunday, January 8, 2012

In the Beginning.... There was Tuna Noodle Casserole

I'm not sure I would have remembered where my adventures in the kitchen began- and certainly not the specifics of their humble beginnings if it hadn't been for my 40th Reunion of the University of Oklahoma College of Nursing graduates.  We were all sitting around the bar- isn't that what one does at a 40th College reunion- sipping on a glass of wine.  

Suddenly Ada- one of my roommates asked, "Do you still make that tuna noodle casserole?  It was always my favorite."  Well now I hadn't thought about "my" tuna noodle casserole in years- a lot of years- but of course I remembered making it- I just didn't remember that it was "my" tuna noodle casserole, or that I started making that classic while still in college.  Now I feel certain that every woman- of a certain age- has at one time or another made a tuna noodle casserole.  But see, my fame is that for me the tuna noodle casserole was my "first".  There just is no denying the "first"!  Now Ada went on to explain that "My Tuna Noodle Casserole" went on living in their lives even when I didn't.  After I'd moved out, they took over and continued making my specialty- it even eventually became the "dinner of choice" when the med students from across the hall came for the weekly dinner!  

And then a couple of weeks ago I was looking through some old recipe cards I'd had since my mother's death- her recipe cards- when what did I stumble upon.  You got it!  I found the card written in my hand writing- that mother was keeping- that traced the origin of "My Tuna Noodle Casserole".  At the top of the recipe I'd written "Annie Mae"- to me she was always Aunt Annie- or as Don heard it as rather "Ananny" 

For a number of years- A LONG NUMBER OF YEARS- women in America were in love with processed food- food to save you time- All American food.  Food that most often came from a can -or package. And we loved those recipes on the back.  And of course we only baked with Crisco.  Why we didn't dare even let butter into our homes! Margarine all the way!  I still have my recipe books from Kraft Cheese and Crisco- but somehow I have lost my Campbell's Soup one.  Too bad.   But you can go here and see the Classic Campbell Tuna Noodle Casserole recipe.  

Now I haven't done much in the way of modification to the original.  I did roast some red peppers.   I needed some for the side salad and decided to throw some into the casserole for "color" and because some folks actually added pimentos to the casserole. Besides in the middle of an Ohio winter I look for any excuse to turn on the oven and warm the kitchen up a bit. 

I also added a bit more olive oil- back in the good ole days tuna was packed in oil (not olive- just some cheap stuff I'm sure)- but now it comes packed in water and I thought it would need just a bit more... 

So you mix everything together and put it in the oven and wait for the magic to happen...


1 large onion
2-4 cloves of garlic (optional)
4 Tbsp of olive oil
1 red pepper (optional)
pepper, as desired

1 can of Campbell's Mushroom Soup
1/2 can of milk

2 7-oz cans of tuna, drained
14oz of mushrooms, sauteed in butter (for the vegetarians among us!)

2 cups of cooked noodles
1 cup of frozen peas

1-2 cup of grated cheddar cheese (I substituted 1/2 gruyere cheese because I had it on hand)

1 cup of dried bread crumbs- add pepper
2 tbsp of butter
1/2 cup of grated  Parmesan cheese 

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Slice the pepper into strips and then toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Place on foil lined cookie sheet. I used my cast iron skillet.  Roast for 20 minutes turning once or twice.

Heat  olive oil in a large skillet and saute the onion and garlic until softened.  If you'd rather you can also saute the red pepper instead of roasting it ahead of time.

Cook the noodles according to the package directions- but don't over cook because they're going to cook in the casserole as well.

Drain the tuna.

In a large bowl combine the soup and the milk.  Add the cheddar cheese.  Add the onion, garlic and pepper mixture.  Add the tuna. Add the frozen peas.  Finally add the noodles.  Pepper as desired.  Don't add salt- there is plenty in the soup! Pour the mixture into a casserole dish.

Melt the butter (you can do this in the microwave, carefully- or on top of the stove) and add the butter to the bread crumbs and then add the Parmesan cheese to the bread crumbs.  Cover the top of the casserole with the bread and Parmesan mixture.

Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes.  You may need to cover the top with the casserole lid or aluminum foil if the top gets too brown.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Wishing you the best for 2012: Now better take a bite of those Black Eyed Peas

I don't ever remember starting a New Year without eating black eyed peas.  I even remember times as a child coming in from the very long drive from my Grandmother's in western Tennessee to our home in Oklahoma only to have my mother open a can of black eyed peas and give each of us a spoonful before we could collapse into bed.  Now of course those weren't the best black eyed peas I've ever eaten, but certainly the point was established.  One wouldn't dare start a New Year without at least a spoonful of black eyed peas!

Black eyed peas originated over 3000 years ago in Northern Africa.  It didn’t take them long to make their way into Greek and Roman cooking as well as much of Africa.  Black eyed peas are actually recorded in the Jewish Talmud around 500 CE in a description of the foods for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.  A Sephardic Jewish community immigrated from Spain and Portugal to Savannah, Georgia in the early 1700’s and would certainly have brought this traction with them.  This would have been the earliest association between the black eyed pea and New Year’s celebrations though was mostly likely limited to this community.

Black eyed peas ultimately made their way to the south with the West African slaves on the slave boats.  As with many other foods the black eyed peas eventually made their way from the table of the Slaves to the table of the Masters.  The tradition of eating black eyed peas in the American South dates probably dates to the Civil War and General Sherman's "March to the Sea".  In 1864 when General Sherman left Atlanta in flames to march to Savannah he destroyed all the property and crops in between- well almost all...  Sherman's troops left the black eyed peas untouched believing that the crop was only fit for animal consumption- and they'd either destroyed or taken all the livestock with them.  This was the manna from heaven for those left behind the destruction.  It was in that destruction that the tradition of eating black eyed peas on New Year's Day had it's beginning.  

Black eyed peas start with a good soaking!

Soak all beans or peas in water overnight before you cook them.  Just put them in a big bowl and cover them at least with 2 inches of water.  You can use all black eyed peas- or a combination like Don and I do.  Our mixture is half black eyed peas and half a variety of bean/peas from a "15 bean soup" package.

Though black eyed peas can be cooked on top of the stove- or even in the oven- on low heat, I always cook mine in a crock pot. A crock pot makes it easier to put everything together and leave it be without worrying that it will run out of water and burn.

And of course you add "stuff".

We added onion, garlic and celery (must have these) as well as a red pepper, jalapeno pepper, fennel and ham, (optional) and finally salt and pepper.  Cover completely with water (you can use the water you used to soak the beans) and start the crock pot.  They'll be ready at the end of the day.  

Now this basic recipe is the same regardless of whether you're cooking black eyed peas or any kind of bean pot.  The only essential ingredients are the peas/beans (pre-soaked of course) with onion, garlic, celery, salt and pepper.  You can use any kind of pork (bacon, ham or even Italian sausage)- just remember that it needs to be cooked before it's added to the pot.  We used a big slice of ham from the deli counter cut into small pieces in our black eyed peas.  Gramma Lucas called her beans "Buckaroo Beans" which included a can of tomato puree as well as oregano and chili powder.  Now if you start adding beef- rather than pork- you're getting dangerously close to chili- not a pot of beans at all.  And of course these can be made very successfully without any meat at all!

Recipe for Black Eyed Peas:

1 pound of blacked eyed peas (or combination). Presoak over night! 
3-5 cloves of garlic- minced.
1 onion- chopped
1 green or red pepper
3-4 stalks of celery- chopped
1/2 of a fennel bulb (optional)
1-2 Jalapeno (optional)
1/2 pound of ham or bacon (precooked only) (also optional)

Mix everything together in crock pot and leave to cook on high for 6 hours or low up to 10 hours.

Serve with cornbread (optional)

We enjoyed with a nice bottle of red wine from Spain in gratitude to the early Shephardic Jews who brought the tradition of black eyed peas and the New Year to the New Country...