Sunday, November 28, 2010


Normally, I’m not a big fan of leftovers. Once I’ve planned it, shopped for it, ‘meezed’ it and cooked it, eating it once is enough. I don’t want to see it again for a while. And since I tend to cook for hordes, we end up with lots of them. Luckily, Mr. Kim LOVES leftovers (or just hates waste, I haven’t figured out which in almost 30 years), so he takes everything to work for lunches.

There are a few things that I enjoy as leftovers; the remains of Ronald Johnson’s Italian Pot Roast make such good soup that I routinely double the portions of all the ingredients (except the meat) when I make it. The next night, I shred the meat, add silky egg noodles and we have a feast. Cold fried chicken is, of course, THE leftover of choice. And I actually prefer baked spaghetti over its parent dish.

But last night’s dinner made perhaps my favorite leftover ever. Dinner was the simple comfort of country fried steak, cream gravy, mashed potatoes and butterbeans:

An excellent meal for a chilly November night. Easy, cheap and fast (except for the butterbeans which simmer for a couple of hours to get the requisite creaminess). We even had some of Mr. Kim’s mom’s award-winning yeast rolls from Thanksgiving dinner.

This was breakfast this morning:

Country fried steak SLIDERS and potato cakes. I just whomped open some biscuits, slapped potato cakes into patties, fried them in butter and heated up the steak and gravy. Sunday morning perfection.

Now I’m off to do some decorating. Mr. Kim is in an all-day meeting, The Child is cat-sitting and I’m free to make a giant mess of my already muddled home. In a couple of hours there will be a jumble of Christmas decorations, half-empty boxes and packing paper festooning my entire house. I may take a picture or two to post to prove that I am not exaggerating!

Saturday, November 27, 2010


At the ripe old age of 51, I finally just got my first pair of prescription glasses. I’ve been depending on dimestore glasses for a few years, complete with a granny chain, but it’s gotten hard lately to see the computer screen at work. Dear Dr. Jacey recommended BIFOCALS (!!!), which makes me feel even older and more decrepit, somehow.

Because of a combination of having a narrow nose bridge and long eyelashes, I couldn’t get any cool frames.

And my love of ‘Vintage’ does not extend to eyewear:

I needed those little nubby things that rest on the bridge of your nose. So I ended up with wire rims. And because they are BIFOCALS (blessedly without lines), they had to be fairly large. Fine. Now I look like Aunt Glady in “Home For the Holidays”. Or Harry Potter.

Well, maybe not that bad.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Just wanted to take a moment in this busy day to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. I hope that everyone’s gravy is rich, that your turkey is moist and that your potatoes are lump-free.

Seriously, I wish for all of my loved ones to find a sense of gratitude today in their lives. If we can’t be together, we CAN talk on the phone. We are all warm and safe and well fed and we have each other. That is a PLENTY!

We are having a late breakfast, watching the parade and I might make a few batches of cookies today and do a little Christmas decorating. Four days off is such a wonderful luxury. This afternoon we are heading to my MIL, Jo’s for a family dinner. One thing we are thankful for is that Mr. Kim’s brother, Brian surprised us with a visit – so we are having a real family reunion.

Please go to yesterday’s Lawn Tea post to read a wonderfully evocative message about Thanksgiving and family and the specialness of tradition. Not to mention the coining of the perfect word, preposterone!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

It’s Beginning to Smell A Lot Like Christmas!

My whole house smells like Christmas Eve!! It’s only 12:30PM here in Virginia and I’ve been cooking since 7:30. I still have my pajamas on and I doubt that I’ll get dressed today. Or out of the kitchen. Mr. Kim has been to Costco twice and Kroger once and is on his way to his mom’s to take her some tables and chairs for Thursday’s overflow guests. But that’s all ok. Because it means the holidays have started for the Shooks.

I’m filling my freezer for our big Christmas Eve bash. We have a huge crowd – approaching 50 some years and they get the whole shebang: turkey, ham, oyster stuffing, gravy, two kinds of potatoes, etc., etc., etc. I grew up going to my Aunt San’s and Pop Denson’s for Christmas Eve and I’ve continued the tradition. Family, friends, assorted Christmas orphans. All welcome.

Last week I made the orange cranberry sauce and my grandmother Bebo’s sweet potatoes. Those potatoes are as sweet as dessert with maple syrup, brown sugar, cinnamon and marshmallows – with a bourbon sugar syrup to pour over, for those who like that. I do NOT – I grew up thinking that I hated sweet potatoes. Turned out I don’t like bourbon. Yeah, I know – I gotta turn in my G.R.I.T.S. card.

This morning, I’ve made Sour Cream-Cheese potatoes for 50, Brunswick stew for Mr. Kim to take to work for a soup sale to benefit the Food Pantry and started my gravy. My turkey gravy is the only thing that I do that I truly brag about. It is fantastic. I adore gravy and started out my marriage unable to make decent gravy to save my life. Luckily, my MIL, Jo, is a wonderful cook and she gave me some really good pointers and I’ve gotten pretty good at gravy. But my turkey gravy is in another realm. Rich and dark and the essence of turkey.

First I roast turkey wings, carrots and celery – tossing them with Bell’s Seasoning, pepper and a tomato paste/olive oil slurry. All roasted and gorgeous:

Then they get covered with broth in deep stock pot and simmer for a few hours to make stock:

That’s where things stand now. I’ll use the fat to make a good, dark roux, the stock to make the gravy and then – ADD IN the shredded wing meat to heft it up. Momma says it’s more like hash than gravy and she’s right. A big slumpy spoonful over a roll and I don’t need anything else to eat!

In my plans today are still croutons, cornbread and a gingerbread layer cake with orange-cream cheese icing and orange-cranberry filling. The cake is for a cake sale for Mr. Kim’s office. It will generate more Food Panty money – we really can’t do enough for the hungry, especially at this time of year. When I have a day of plenty like this, I can’t help thinking of those who have so little.

And I THINK Mr. Kim and The Child are getting grilled chicken for dinner – I have two breasts and legs thawing, a half a bottle of BBQ sauce in the fridge and I’ve been cooking snaps and a piece of side meat on the back of the stove since early!!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Cakes, Damned Cakes!!!

I have been cooking for almost as long as I can remember. Fat kids learn early that when they are alone in the kitchen, the world is their oyster (or their Baby Ruth bar). You can go to the store and buy all kinds of things and somehow, no one ever asks why the bag of Cheetos never makes it to the table. Anyway - I've been seriously cooking for probably 30+ years. And for at least that long, I've been searching for the perfect yellow cake. I have a number of great chocolate cake recipes, a good gingerbread cake and one really killer coconut cake. But yellow cake has been my nemesis (not to mention the even more elusive perfect white cake). I eschew mixes. That is to say that I don't WANT to use them. But, back against the wall - I've gotta have a yellow cake, I have been known to resort to what I call "cake mix fix ups". The Anne Byrn school of pastry making. She's that "Cake Doctor" lady. And I'm not making fun of her, either. She's saved my buns a number of times. But I want to make cakes from scratch. I just think that they taste better. And let's face it; it's an ego thing with me - making things from scratch.

What I've been searching for all these years is a cake that tastes like homemade, but has the texture of a mix. I just love the tight crumb that is the mark of a mix cake. So over the years I've tried cake after cake. One time, I even made THREE different cake recipes over a weekend and three batches of the same icing (for testing purposes, of course) and took all three cakes into work for a taste-off. Not one of the three of those was up to snuff:

Some of the recipes that I tried over the years were OK, some horrible - so bad that you wondered how someone could have recommended them. I’m sure that all the folks at Cookskorner and eGullet are sick of me whining about this and tired of sending me recipes that just aren’t right somehow. Just recently, I got very excited about a recipe that was recommended for making your own cake mix. You mixed up a large batch of dry ingredients and cut in butter. Then you could refrigerate it (or freeze for longer storage), take it out when you were ready for cake, add the wet ingredients before baking and bake it off. You could add various things and make a chocolate cake or spice or whatever. I was enchanted with the idea of a freezer full of MY OWN CAKE MIX. I was so excited as I prepared my first batch. I was concerned that the bits of butter didn't seem to really mix into the batter. I think that they never got a chance to cream into the sugar and flour. The cake was terrible. Sodden with the texture of an EXTREMELY healthy muffin. Giant airholes surrounded by gooey (NOT in a good way) 'cake'. Blah.

I was so enamored with the idea of that freezerful of mixes that I decided to give it one more try, only this time I decided to use oil instead of butter, thinking that it would blend better. I got a better texture, but no flavor whatsoEVER. I shoulda known - if something tastes of ass with butter what's it going to taste like withOUT it? It looked fine:

But the crumb was really coarse. And the texture was very bready and sodden.

Just a couple of weeks ago I found what I thought might be ‘The One’. It was recommended at eG and the person who came up with the recipe described it as a combination of a pound cake and regular yellow layer cake. I put it together and baked it. I checked it when the timer went off and decided that it needed a few more minutes. Somehow, I got distracted and forgot to reset the timer. I definitely overbaked it. BUT I really liked the flavor and texture – it was just a little dry:

I knew this one had real possibilities. I even put it on my recipe webpage as “Go-To Basic Yellow Cake, Maybe” (real confidence, that). Then I made it again. I didn’t overbake it. And it was somehow not as good as the original one. Sigh.

Currently I am disgusted with yellow cakes and vow never to try to make one from scratch again. I say I’ll just continue to do the Anne Byrn specials. But I know myself. I’ll try that last one again, to see if I can improve it. I’ll be seduced by another ‘can’t fail’ recipe. I’ll be taken in by the siren song of the promise of my foodie friends.

On the other hand, I finally make a killer peanut butter cookie. After 25 years of tweaking.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Filler & Musings

OK, so I was sick for three days week before last and posted two blog posts. God knows I can’t get sick anymore this year, so I have no idea when I’ll be able to put together the time to write an actual post. I figured that someone might be interested in what I’ve been cooking. Since I keep a computer kitchen journal and post meals at and anyway, it’s easy to cannibalize those things to provide a post here.

The Child went to Charlottesville to go apple picking a few weeks ago and got us some gorgeous ones. Mr. Kim inquired about the possibility of apple fritters. I’ve never made them before, but thought that they would make a wonderful fall breakfast. Fritters:


This was a recipe from Ree at and they turned out exactly right. I love her site – she takes lots of pictures and that makes it easy to follow a new recipe.

I had some extra chopped apples, so I simmered them with a little apple cider and maple syrup to pour over the fritters:

I’ve never seen a lily that I couldn’t gild.

Mr. Kim will tell you that he doesn’t cook. However, he can shine on occasion. For instance, he makes a mean Split Pea soup. It is an Emeril recipe that he’s adapted. A couple of weeks ago his office had a soup sale to raise money for our local food bank and he made his split pea soup. Luckily there was enough left over for us for dinner:

We had Mr. Kim’s mom, Jo over for dinner the other night. We had our first whisper of autumn and so I decided to plan a seasonal menu – soup, sandwiches and apple dessert. My chicken noodle soup:

This is a recipe that I’ve been developing for years. The most recent variation involves roasting the bits and bobs with olive oil, poultry seasoning, parsley, tomato paste, and mirepoix until browned. I use this to make a really rich chicken stock. Then, when every bit of flavor is wrung out of the solids I strain, defat and use the stock to simmer the breasts, legs and thighs. I adjust the seasonings, add cooked kluski (egg noodles) and carrots and serve. I’d also like to try it with long grain and wild rice, thickened up a little. We sent some home with Jo and put some away in the freezer, so this good soup will figure into more fall meals.

The sandwiches were Panini:

Made with ham, turkey and Swiss cheese, spread with Dijon and fig preserves on raisin bread. These are favorites of ours. Some odd ingredient magic goes on in the press – an amazing combination. In order to ‘glue’ everything together, you end up using 3 pieces of cheese on each sandwich, so you have to find a really good deli person who will slice your cheese SUPER thin. And you have to watch out for the napalm-like fig preserves when you are taking them off the press. I had a blister for a week.

Salad was an apple, fennel and endive slaw:

This was a new recipe for me and we really loved it.

It was a very good, and very seasonal menu. But dessert was what I was waiting for. A few years ago, Lisa2K at eGullet posted about this wonderful sounding Granny Smith sorbet and a Fig/Apple/Mascarpone tart. I got the recipe and have made it every fall since then. Easy, make ahead and delicious – all things that I love in my kitchen.


This could not be more simple – apples, sugar, Calvados and water. One of those ‘greater than the sum’ things. Pure apple essence.

The tart:


Drizzled with a little Dulce de Leche (more lily gilding).

Mr. Kim and I were reminiscing this morning about childhood toys. Viewmasters came up.

I have way too many collections as it is, but I could go crazy on ebay if I let myself. They have vintage reels that would be so cool to have. I found one batch that had Cinderella, the Wizard of Oz and Jesus Christ (???). Some juxtapositions are just too jarring:

The one toy that we both remembered most fondly was this:

The Show and Tell Record Player/Slide Show. Oddly enough, neither of us ever had one and deeply envied friends who did. It was an amazingly cool piece of early technology. It looked like a television with a record player on top. The records came with a slide with pictures on it. As you played the record and listened to the story, the slide would advance and pictures would appear on the screen. There were all kinds of stories – fairy tales, Disney stories, nature features. The one that I remember best is a decidedly peculiar one – Jane Eyre. It was a truncated version, to be sure, with many of the horrifying parts expunged, but it was complete enough to give us a complete case of the willies. I remember the locked up madwoman particularly vividly!

This really was a wonderful device – even The Child was charmed by it when I described it to her. What was magic and coveted in your childhood?

Monday, November 1, 2010

All Saints Day

Today is All Saints Day in the liturgical calendar and I found a wonderful litany of saints that is chanted at St. Stephen and the Incarnation church in Washington, DC. It is a wonderful, activist church that is always in the forefront of any right minded movements. They were the first integrated church in Washington and have always been very involved in civil rights, women’s rights, community service, etc. The first woman priest to ever celebrate the Eucharist in an Episcopal church in the US did it at St. Stephen’s. They even offer the church floors for traveling protesters to sleep on! Just exactly the kind of church I’d like to belong to!

The litany of saints that is chanted every year on this day truly has scope. Among MANY others, they include:
John the baptizer, map-maker of the Lord's coming
Teresa of Avila
Louis, king of France
Margaret, queen of Scotland
Gandhi the mahatma, reproach to the churches
Dag Hammarskjold the bureaucrat
Luke the physician
Francis who kissed the leper
Florence Nightingale
Albert Schweitzer
Johann Sebastian Bach
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Benjamin Britten
Duke Ellington
Johnny Appleseed, mad planter of Eden
Sojourner Truth, pilgrim of justice
Medgar Evers, Viola Liuzzo, shot in the South
Martin Luther King, shot in Memphis

Now THAT is a veritable army of saints to call to stand beside you in a struggle with the world and the devil!

I hope that everyone had a wonderful and shiver-filled Halloween. Ours was a race to the finish. We got the last pumpkin carved and set out about 15 minutes before the first little ghouly dropped by and shouted “Trickertreat!”. Our day did NOT go as scheduled! No surprise there – expecting this family’s days to go without mishap is like expecting a politician to tell the truth. The Child has been living at home since April, while still paying rent on a house that she was supposed to have been sharing. Cannot go into all the issues here in public (tho’ in private, I could burn up the computer), but her obligation is finally over soon, we hope, and so we went to help her repaint her room yesterday morning. It took two coats instead of one and longer than we thought, so we were there most of the day. I left early to come home and clean out three pumpkins and set out the Halloween luminaria (just little plastic pumpkins with kitty litter and a votive in the bottom). The Child and Mr. Kim finally turned up, spattered and damp, and carved theirs, too.

We are so nuts that we actually exchange cards and gifts for Halloween (though we can’t be the only ones for the cards at least – Hallmark was full of them). Mr. Kim gave me the little orange tealight holders with fuzzy black bats:

The Child gave me a portrait of this respectable, staid matron:

With a spooky surprise when you walk past:

Mr. Kim’s pumpkin:


And The Child’s – the crowning achievement of the evening:

A freehanded Oogie Boogie!

Our yard makes for the perfect Haunted House – with the scritchy leaves, the exposed tree roots, the cobwebs in every window and the uneven walkway slates that teeter and threaten to upend you:

We even had a handsome greeter:

drawn to the window by the shrieks of the children and the hooting of our resident owl!

We had a nice bunch of visitors – witches and ghosts and princesses and even one wee UPS man! A tiny Dorothy stopped by and was delighted when I showed her my new cake plate. She marveled at the red shoes and blue gingham skirt and basket – “Just like MINE”.

We will leave the decorations up for another week and then put out the few things that we have for Thanksgiving. We do our big holiday gathering on Christmas Eve and I cook and decorate for weeks. So Thanksgiving is low key – just gratitude and a simple meal. Usually someone invites us to share their meal. This year we’ve been invited to Mr. Kim’s mother’s. I’m hoping that Momma and Ted will be able to join us. That will be gratitude, indeed, them being well enough to come up!

Happy November!