Archives for posts with tag: family

I love to help kids get their food-loving legs under them. Whenever a niece or nephew or – well, OK … ANYONE – asks me to make something, I’m more than happy to oblige. If I can help a kid keep an open mind about food and flavor and texture, I feel like my mission is accomplished.

Often a request will come my way that simply changes the way familiar flavors are presented, or even challenges (a little bit) what is usual.

This is my story of my nephew, Nick, and Birthday Pie.

Several years ago, I came across a Martha Stewart recipe for apple pie with white cheddar cheese crust. I’d never made a pie before, but knowing that apple pie is my husband’s favorite I decided to give it a whirl. It was my first pie, and it was beautiful and perfect and totally Martha-worthy.

Me being cheesy -- cheddar cheesy -- with my apple pie.

Since then, I’ve taken this pie to many Thanksgiving dinners, and it’s been received with rave reviews*.

So … this past Thanksgiving when I walked in with a warm pie, my 8-year-old nephew, Nick, came running up to me. His big blue eyes were lit with excitement.

Nick: “Amy, you brought pie!”

Me: “Yup, sure did.”

Nick: “What kind is it?!?!”

Me: “Apple, and it’s good!”

Nick (the light fading from his eyes): “Awe, man. It’s always apple.”

Me: “Well, what kind would you like?”

Nick: “Hummm, well, um … BLUEBERRY.”

Me: “Alrighty then, it’s blueberry you’ll get. How about if I make it for your birthday?”

We were agreed, and I promised the birthday pie.

When I told Nick’s mom, Karen, about our discussion, she laughed. “That kid has never had a blueberry pie. It’s funny that he is so certain about wanting one.”

Really, that’s all the motivation I needed. I couldn’t wait to make a pie for Nick.

As Nick’s party approached, I took to the internet … oh, the internet … to find a blueberry pie recipe. We are all familiar with my love of recipes.  As luck would have it, the internet and The Food Network had just what I wanted and exactly what Nick had requested.

An all-butter crust, fresh blueberries, and a not-so-dead-sweet syrup to hold it all together. What’s more, this pie is drop dead gorgeous! I think that’s what I love most about pies … they are simply beautiful.

The big day arrived, and his special treat was ready! When I showed Nick his blueberry pie, still warm from the oven, the light was in his baby blues all over again. He was excited for singing, presents, and pie.

A lovely blueberry birthday pie fit for a 9 year old!

This is how Nick turned 9, enjoying his very own blueberry pie.

Happy Birthday, Nick!

I love, LOve, LOVE introducing curious and willing kids to new flavors and different presentations. All they have to do is hint at wanting something, and I’m in the kitchen. It’s important that kids to grow into adults who’ll want to Eat It, St. Louis!

And we did Eat It, St. Louis! And it was good!

* Except for the year that my local market mis-labeled the apples and the pie filling liquefied. Since learning that horrible, hard lesson, I use only Granny Smith apples. They simply hold up best!

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Macaroni and cheese. I was so excited, those many years ago, when my then-newish-boyfriend told me that that his 6-year-old, a somewhat persnickety eater, loved macaroni and cheese.

My chance to impress the impish redheaded Allen had arrived!

In an instant, I grabbed my fabulous recipe – hand written in blue ink on a sheet of paper from a legal pad – jumped in the car to procure groceries and headed over to Mark’s house to make a comfort food favorite in an unfamiliar kitchen.

This dinner was going to bring us together. This dinner was going to make the unfamiliar both warm and comfortable. This dinner was going to be the first of the many I fantasized about making for the two people who were going to make my life complete.

Perhaps I put too much on the mac & cheese.

I got to Mark’s early and set about chopping; and melting; and adding; and stirring, stirring, stirring; and boiling; and straining; and mixing. After an hour or so, the pan of cheesy deliciousness was ready to bake.

Mark and Allen got home right as I was pulling out the bubbly pan of mac & cheese. I felt like some sort of super combination of June-Cleaver-meets-Martha-Stewart. My vision was happening.

As they walked through the kitchen doorway, I exclaimed, “Hey, kiddo, I made your favorite: macaroni & cheese!”

And this kid, who held my world in his hands, looked around and took in every detail. He then flatly informed me, “That’s not macaroni & cheese. There’s no box.*”

Based on the missing box, he refused to eat.

I, in overly dramatic fashion, shut my self in the bathroom and cried.

Mark, trying to manage the situation, continued to try to get Allen to eat, which led to a battle of wills … which the 6-year-old won.

Clearly, it was not the night I’d imagined. It also wasn’t as heart wrenching as seemed in the oven-heat of the moment. It was our first “family” tiff**, and we survived it. Mark and I did enjoy our dinner eventually and Allen enjoyed a PB&J.

Ten years later, The Boy continues to politely decline my fab mac & cheese. So I now make it as a special treat for grown-up friends and family. Here is the recipe that delights most but fails to measure up to the Blue Box*** in a kid’s best estimation.

Fabulous Mac & Cheese****

12 Tablespoons of unsalted butter

1 Medium white onion, rough chopped (these will be strained out at the end)

3 –4 Sprigs of fresh Thyme (no need to remove the stems. This will be strained out at the end.)

10 – 12 whole peppercorns

6 Tablespoons of flour

5 Cups of whole milk (room temp)

6 Cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1 Lb of elbow macaroni, prepared al dente (don’t’ forget to salt your water)

Salt

Pepper

Nutmeg (fresh grated is best)

Step one: Melt the 12 T of butter over medium heat.

12 Tablespoons of meting butter! Everything's better with butter.

Step two: Add the onions, thyme, and peppercorns and simmer for 3 – 4 minutes. Stir constantly.

Adding layers of flavor with onion, thyme, and peppercorns.

Step three: Add the flour and cook for 2 or so minutes, stirring constantly. This is the roux and it will be very thick.

Just add flour for a perfect Roux.

Step four: Add the milk slowly, stirring while you add. When you bring the milk to room temp, you will save a bit of time. At this point, the sauce will look like this.

A little -- or a lot -- of milk gives us the start of a bechamel sauce.

Keep stirring and stirring, which will keep the milk from burning as you work to bring this to just boil.

Start your salted water boiling for the macaroni. When it boils, you’ll want to cook it for 9 – 11 minutes. Taste it at the 9 minute mark. It should be a bit firm, or al dente. Drain and set aside for add at the end.

When the bechamel reaches the boil (over a medium heat), turn the heat down to medium-low and continue to stir constantly for another 10 minutes.

When your bechamel sauce looks like this, it's time to strain out the chunky bits!

When the sauce looks like the photo above, strain it to remove the onion, thyme, and peppercorns.

At this point, add all six cups of your shredded sharp cheddar to the bechamel and mix until it’s creamy. Add salt and pepper to taste. Grate a bit of nutmeg, too, and continue to mix.

Add your cooked macaroni and pour into a baking dish.

photo (4)

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until bubbly and divine.

Remember, if your 6-year-old doesn’t like it, there’s more for you. I promise, if you’re 7 or older, you’ll love to Eat It, St. Louis!

* Ah, the box. This was an important lesson for me. Sometimes, when it comes to a kid, less is more. They are learning lots of new things every day. At the end of the day, they need something familiar and easy; gourmet mac & cheese really doesn’t fit that need.

**The best news is that our struggles as a blended family are few and far between; and if this is the worst of it then I’ve got a lot for which to be thankful.

***In all truthfulness the Blue Box rocks. I don’t know what it is about the powdered cheese and the glowing orange sauce it renders, but it’s good.

****Be sure to allot yourself plenty of time. You will be standing over the stove for about an hour. Also, if you make it early and let it sit for a bit, the flavors will really come together. This stuff is really delicious.

Lamb Chops, Roasted Asparagus, Bleu Cheese Mashed Potatoes with Balsamic, Rosmary & Garlic Reduction

Life is complicated and life is messy. For me, Sunday supper is a time, a day, and a place where I am able to carve out a simple and uncluttered port away from the storm. It has always been a time to reconnect with family and friends. Bringing everyone around the table affords us the opportunity to talk about the week past and plan for the next.

Unfortunately, even though 6:30 Sunday evening rolls around every week, Sunday supper can get lost. In the summer, random rounds of golf go a little long or what started out as a stroll around the neighborhood turns into a full-blown hike along the river. In the winter, it’s either a rush-hour show and big tub of buttered popcorn or the it’s-too-nasty-to-go-to-the-grocery argument that inevitably sink supper plans

Sometimes, however, I simply crave it. Yesterday was that day, and I needed the rigor and the work and planning and the escape that Sunday supper offers me.

As I mentioned, life is complicated. If you’re living a full life, how could it not be? I have a blended family, and I’m fortunate that I get along quite well with Mark’s (my husband’s) ex-wife. As a matter of fact, we spent a very pleasurable day together rooting on our son, Allen, while he competed in an equestrian event. It may not sound terribly complicated; but try writing it all out in a way that honors every relationship without overstepping boundaries. It’s complicated. And I’m not sure I did it justice.

But anyway …

It was a long day, and sometimes even routine life-management-activities leave me a bit drained and lacking focus. I left the event feeling like I needed a little comfort. When I say “comfort,” I really mean a good meal I prepare. Embarking on the nearly one-hour drive home, I started to flip through my mental recipe box to decide what Sunday supper should include.

Ah-ha! In honor of spring, lamb was the perfect choice. I took a short detour to Straub’s – a local gourmet-ish market – for lamb chops. I also picked up delicate asparagus. Things were shaping up nicely.

Once home, I prepared a lovely balsamic, rosemary, garlic marinade* for the chops, chilled a bottle of rosé, and checked in on my email. And then things got messy … emotionally.

Kathy, my step-mom, had emailed** to let me know that the new (experimental) chemotherapy treatment my dad*** is enduring is having the worst side effects of any treatment he’s had to-date. The bottoms of his feet feel like they are sunburned when he walks. He also cannot talk or eat without severe pain because of what chemo has done to the inside of his mouth.

My dad – a big, strapping, red-headed Irishman – has had sunburned feet before. (There was an unfortunate incident on a beach in Italy many years ago.) Ultimately, he can work with that. It’s rotten, but workable.

He’s never, however, ever had a problem talking or eating. That, my friends, is simply rotten.

Dad and Kathy are facing new challenges with regard to pain management and nutrition. And here I sit writing a food blog. (Irony, anyone?)

I was relieved to have the work of supper in front of me. The hustle and bustle of the kitchen allowed me to avoid talking. Rather, I simply asked Mark to read the note Kathy sent me. He did, and he granted me the space to continue to work quietly.

When everything was ready – lamb chops, roasted asparagus, bleu cheese mashed potatoes – we sat down to our Sunday supper and I was ready to talk: about my day; about my dad; about last week; about next week.

And I had a glass or two of wine.

Into every life a little wine must flow ... or something like that!

I’m thankful that my life isn’t any more complicated than it needs to be. While I hate the “messy,” I’m motivated to help Dad and Kathy find a fix for what I’m hoping is a temporary setback. And I’m glad I followed my instinct and created a proper Sunday supper.

Think about the meal you might make next Sunday and the benefits you and your family will enjoy. Perhaps you’ll create a great memory. Maybe you’ll give someone in your family the space he or she needs to talk. You just might find your own rhythm and focus that gets your week off on the right foot.

Regardless, just do it and Eat It, St. Louis!

*If you’re interested in this easy marinade recipe that works with pork and chicken, too, you can find it in Nick Stellino’s Glorious Italian Cooking, page 125, or click on the link. Until I understand all the copyright ins and outs, I’ll simply direct you to previously published recipes.

**Dad and Kathy live in Tampa, FL, so we rely heavily on email, Skype, Facebook, and texting. We are totally hip!

***Yes, my dad has cancer. No, I don’t talk too much about it. We, as a family, take it day-by-day and we are grateful for every single one. ‘Nuff said.

Foodbuzz

Red Velvet Baseballs … YUM!

Opening day is coming up quickly! On Thursday, March 31, thousands will flock to Kiener Plaza in downtown St. Louis to cheer in a new baseball season, to cheer on the St. Louis Cardinals, and to cheer about being part of Cardinal Nation. The party will continue at Busch Stadium when the first pitch is fired across the plate at 3:15.

Many of us, however, won’t be able to break away from our usual routines. Kids have school; adults have work. We all have things to accomplish and “middaycations”* can be tough to justify.

That’s why I’m delighted to share with you my recipe for Red Velvet Cake, which when made into cupcakes can add a dash of Cardinal spirit to any lunch box or office break room. The bright red cake and rich cream cheese icing – red and white to show Cardinal spirit – will be a home run with your kids and colleagues alike.

The cake really is a vibrant red!

The Red Velvet Cake & Icing recipe that follows was one that a neighbor shared with my mom, Gwen, when we lived in Cheyenne, Wyoming, circa 1975. It’s been my favorite since I was little, and I was always impressed that my mom made the whole thing from scratch.

This is the first cake – actually, it was the first anything – I ever made from scratch. And I messed it up. After three frustrating hours and loads of huffing and puffing, I couldn’t understand why the cake wouldn’t bake. I showed my step-mom, Kathy, the instructions. She patiently read over the recipe and gingerly suggested that I’d baked the frosting in the cake.

That was the night I learned how to read a recipe carefully. Thank goodness for the 24-hour Stop & Shop in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. I repurchased my ingredients and started all over. (I had volunteered to bring in a cake for a coworker’s baby shower, and I couldn’t show up empty handed.)

Regardless of how I flubbed my first attempt at this recipe**, it is an easy one. I’ve restructured it a bit and added in some helpful hints I’ve picked up along the way.

So, let’s get started!

Red Velvet Cake
2 cups Sugar
2 cups Vegetable Oil
2 large Eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1-ounce bottle of red food color
1 teaspoon distilled vinegar
2 ½ cups flour
2 teaspoons cocoa
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
Parchment Paper (cake) / Cupcake liners

(Hint #1: Bring your eggs and buttermilk to room temperature before you begin mixing. It will help your batter bake evenly.)

• Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
• In a large bowl, combine sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla. Mix well.
• In a small bowl, stir (carefully) the red food coloring and vinegar together. Add this to the sugar-oil mixture and mix well. The color is gorgeous!
• Sift the flour, cocoa, salt, and baking soda (dry ingredients) together. (Hint #2: Don’t skip this step. Sifting helps to make sure the cocoa doesn’t clump and it gives a nice lightness to the cake.)
• Add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk – alternately – to the sugar-oil mix. Always begin and end with the dry ingredients.

If making as cupcakes:

• Line traditional-sized cupcake tins with cupcake liners. (Hint #3: Spray even non-stick tins with a quick shot of PAM across the top. This will assure easy release if your cupcake crowns are large.)
• Fill with a ¼-cup of batter.
• Bake for 20 – 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. (In my oven, they take 25 minutes.)
• You will get approximately 2 dozen cupcakes.
• Frost when cool.

If making as a cake:

• Grease and flour (even non-stick) three 9-inch cake pans.
• Line each pan with parchment paper to assure gorgeously flat cake bottoms. (It makes release from the pan and frosting easier!)
• Divide batter evenly among the pans.
• Bake for between 20 – 30 minutes.
• Cool pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Turn cakes out onto wire racks and continue to cool.
• When completely cool, peel back the parchment paper.
• Assemble and frost.

Cream Cheese Icing
1 box powdered sugar
1 stick butter, room temperature
1 8-ounce bar of cream cheese, room temp
1 teaspoon vanilla
Blend together until creamy and soft. (For Valentine’s Day, I add 2 drops of red food color to color the frosting pink.)

For the cupcakes as shown, I first frosted the cupcakes with the white cream cheese icing. I added several drops of red food color to the icing that remained and piped the baseball seams and the St. Louis logo on the tops of the cupcakes with the narrowest frosting tip I have. (Because of the amount of food color it required to make the icing red, I discovered that I needed to refrigerate the red icing for approximately 5 minutes before I began piping.)

Red Velvet has always been a crowd pleaser, and I’m happy to share the love. Enjoy the recipe, bake for your team, and Eat It, St. Louis!

I couldn’t do this without my team:

Big thanks – and mad props – go out to Jennifer Buckman, the wife of a high-school friend. When she heard, via Facebook, that I was intimidated to pipe frosting for the first time, she generously offered to talk me through it over the phone. Her tips – apply even, steady pressure; use room-temp frosting; and keep on trying – were exactly the encouraging words I needed.

I should also mention that Jennifer and I have never met face-to-face. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve run into her husband, Jon, since we graduated from high school. But through our shared love of baking, we have connected. Food brings friends – old and new – together.

Big love to my husband, Mark, for his photography! xo

*Middaycations = vacations in the middle of the day. Yeah, I made up a word. Should I call the OED?

** I still use the recipe that Mom typed out and sent me so many years ago. There is something very special about the legacy of the slips of paper that fill my recipe box. I’ve been collecting personal recipes from my family and friends for years. No matter what, they are always with me when I’m in the kitchen.

Foodbuzz

I’ve spent my life loving food. As a military brat, it defined how I connected to every community and culture into which I was plopped. As a young adult, it played a leading role in helping me craft friendships and shape my identity. Now, as a bona fide grown up, food brings my family around the table; coaxes my friends out to play; and encourages strangers to find common ground.

No foodie could ask for a better place to live than St. Louis, a true restaurant town. St. Louis has a sparkling independent restaurant community with stars who capture the national spotlight. I’ve found good stuff, too, at some of the chain restaurants. Any gastronomic need can be met. Any ambiance can be achieved. Any budget can be accommodated. A legitimate hobby in our fair city is going out to eat, and I do so often.

Perhaps this is a conceit, but in my opinion St. Louis has an inordinate number of crazy good home cooks. I’ve enjoyed meals that introduced me to new delights and new people. There are some meals that have become tradition. And there never has been a meal that left me wishing I’d dined somewhere else.

This blog is dedicated to the pure love of food, the artistry and passion of those who create it, and the sheer experience it provides. I won’t be commenting on bad service, sub-par dishes, or kitchen malfunctions that lead to last-minute pizza delivery. I’m not a reviewer. Each post will focus on one dish that I’d like you to try.

Also, don’t be surprised to see “fair food,” cocktails, or road trip explorations take center stage from time to time.

Pick up your fork, hoist your drink, and Eat It, St. Louis!

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