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Friday, February 24, 2012

Oscar Brownies

My good friend, Gayle, who recently returned from living with her husband in the Middle East for several years, told me that while abroad she loved making brownies because they were redolent of home. When entertaining, she often ended meals with a plate of these quintessential American treats.

She began her brownie marathon with a recipe titled “Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies” that she discovered on the internet, but over time she added her own touches. In the original version there’s a cup of chopped walnuts, which my pal (a definite chocoholic) replaced with chocolate chips, and to counter the extra sweetness she cleverly added a hint of vinegar to the batter.

This week when Gayle arrived for a visit at our house, she brought a batch of the delectable creations with her. One bite and I knew that these brownies with their movie star pedigree would be perfect for Oscar night, this Sunday, February 26th! Dense, moist, and intensely chocolate, they would make perfect nibbles for savoring during the show. I couldn’t resist adding a special garnish and topped each square with a white chocolate star.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Cooking, Southern Style

Smothered Pork Chop, Mushrooms, and Onions with Sides
Southerners long ago perfected the art of braising—the technique that calls for cooking meats or vegetables until tender in simmering liquids over a long period of time. My husband grew up in Birmingham, and I in Memphis with mothers who described themselves as amateur cooks, but who were, in fact, gifted braisers. Ron’s mom made the best pot roast ever by browning her beef and vegetables thoroughly, and then simmering both in water in a covered pan. My mother’s specialties included “country fried” cube steaks and smothered pork chops. For both dishes she would dust the meat lightly with flour, sauté it with onions, add water, and leave the mixture to cook for several hours until fork tender.

My Southern table
All of this is a lead in as to why we hosted a Southern dinner last weekend. One of my spouse’s new friends is a recently arrived administrator at Amherst College where he teaches.

When we discovered that Biddy had been raised south of the Mason-Dixon line, we had an excuse to serve some of our childhood favorites in this small New England town.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A New Twist on Salad

I’ve lived in New England for almost two decades, but for years, I made my home in Columbus, Ohio, where I headed up a large cooking school. Recently, to promote Sunday Roasts I returned to this friendly Midwestern city.

My host and longtime assistant, Emily, organized a small dinner at her house and planned a fabulous menu with others who had taught at my school. From my first sip of a delectable sweet potato soup to my last bite of sticky toffee pudding, I was in heaven. Bourbon-marinated and barbecued pork tenderloins set atop roasted root vegetables were a stellar entrée, but it was the salad that won the most raves.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Potluck Hostess

Cannellini Bean, Arugula, and Prosciutto Bruschette
My friend Maddy is a Putlitzer prize-winning journalist, a gifted professor at two colleges, and a frequent hostess. I don’t think she can go more than two or three weeks without planning a party. So how does she manage to entertain so often with such a hectic schedule?  She has mastered the art of the potluck.

Typically, when she phones or emails to say she’s thinking about having a party, those in her circle of friends automatically respond with “what can I bring?,” for we all know how busy she is. She graciously accepts our offers for appetizers, desserts, or sometimes salads, and then spends her time concentrating on the main course.

Last Saturday night my husband and I arrived at her house with all the fixings for brushette topped with cannellini bean puree, arugula, and crispy sautéed prosciutto.