Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Step it up a Notch

As Emeril Lagasse would say as he spices up a recipe, and then “Bam!!!”.  I have to admit that I don’t like his recipes much; just seem to have too many ingredients and steps to the final result. Very rarely do any of my personal recipes have many ingredients and/or steps, and that’s mainly due to my own lack of patience. 

Actually, I’m much better at being patient than in earlier days, and that has attributed to helping to bring my stress level down.  Take a deep breath and count to ten, or more if needed; smile and nod; imagine yourself in a happier, quieter place…yeah, these techniques all work a lot better now.  Not perfect, just better.
In cooking, I have, more and more, turned away from using premade, packaged meals; and found easier, tastier ways to make them from scratch.  Better for health to get away from all those preservatives and additives, and lots better for the ego, “Hey, look what I made!”.  Yeah, better seems to be the catch word for this posting.
Some recipes, that started out as just a side dish, found their way to becoming a meal of their own.  Just an additional ingredient here or there, or different technique; nothing long drawn, seems to make the difference.
A favorite pasta of mine is Tortellini; little pasta rings filled with cheese, spinach, chicken, just about anything nowadays.  The larger version is referred to as Tortelloni.  This pasta can be served with virtually any type of sauce, in soups, salads, as a side dish, or a main meal; you can’t go wrong with it.  If you haven’t tried it yet, give yourself a little taste adventure.

Simple Tortellini Salad
1 (13 oz) package dry tortellini (cheese, or cheese and spinach)
½ cup olive oil
2 Tbsp white balsamic vinegar
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp dried Italian herb mix
4 Tbsp Vidalia sweet onion relish
Cook tortellini according to package directions.
Place cooked tortellini into large bowl; add remaining ingredients and mix together gently so as to not break up the pasta.
Makes 4-6 servings; can be served warm or cold.

Or, for the more adventurous:

Tortellini Salad
2 Tbsp olive oil
½ lb asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
½ cup mushrooms, chopped
2 Tbsp  (packed in oil) sundried tomatoes, diced
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp fresh marjoram (if not available, use dried)
Dash each of sea salt and ground black pepper
1 lb cheese tortellini, cooked
In a large skillet, heat oil on high; sauté asparagus spears, mushrooms and tomatoes for 7 minutes.  Reduce heat to low, add in vinegar and garlic; let simmer for 5 minutes.
Add in marjoram, salt, pepper and tortellini; toss to coat and remove to serving dish.
Makes 4-6 servings; can be served warm or cold.

Mary Cokenour
January 25, 2011

Being labeled, boxed and filed away.

As a species, humans are comfortable when they can label each other.  That way, they can place an individual into a box or file folder, and know how to deal with them without stress.  It's also a form of protection; you know who is just like you, and who to be cautious of because they are different from you.

One famous question is, "What religion are you?"  I love this question, cause I can drive a person totally insane with my answer: "Why do you need to know?"  Yeppers, I put them on the spot.  Hey, they just met me, and that's the first question they can think of to ask me...why?  Because they need to label me, and figure out which box or folder to put me in.  Am I one of them, do I have the same beliefs, and are, therefore, safe?  Or am I "one of those other people"?

I see this more as two types of fear.  The first is "fear of the unknown"; a religion different from one's self, that you know nothing about; how can you have an intelligent civil conversation, and/or debate, if you know nothing about the religion?  The idea about learning about it seems to not come to mind, for some very odd reason. 

The second fear is, and I've experienced this from others, that the other person's religion is better or more right than their own.  Eh???  Now that one really puzzles me, for how is one religion more right than another?  In the United States, the First Amendment is "Freedom of Religion", so don't be singing, "I'm Proud to be an American" when this amendment bothers you to no end.

So, for those who know me, or for those who haven't met me yet....My religion is "Other", and that's all you need to know.  That's right, when filling out surveys or questionnaires, that is what I mark down, the "Other" box.  Now, those folks who are very close and precious to me, they know who and what I really am, and they are quite comfortable and content with it. 

Basically, this is a good example of "judging a book by its cover".  How in the world can you really know a person if you judge them immediately on one facet?  Seriously, get over the fears, take the bull by the horns and run with it.

So, today's recipe is a cookie that looks rather plain on the outside, unless you add to the surface.  But what's on the inside is a complete surprise, if you take the chance and bite into it.

Mint Balls
1 cup butter, softened
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
3 dozen “Junior Mints” candies

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla extract; slowly add the flour and salt to the creamed mixture.  Cover and chill till the batter becomes firm, but manageable.
Preheat oven to 350F.
Take the batter by teaspoon, place a candy mint in the center, and form a ball around it.  Place on ungreased cookie sheet (AirBake is the best for baking), and continue forming balls. 
Bake for 10-12 minutes; cookies will be lightly browned. 
Let cool; can be eaten as is, or rolled in confectioners’ sugar.
Makes 36 cookies.
Note: before baking, the balls can be rolled in crushed nuts; and if you’re seeing the pun, then have a great laugh.

Mary Cokenour
January 25, 2011