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Archive for May, 2015

Arlene’s Chicken Salad 0

Posted on May 19, 2015 by Sahar

My late, great, Great Aunt Arlene Becker Peoples (“Auntie”) was a force of nature. She was born in Georgetown, Texas on July 11, 1930.  She grew up in Kyle, married a man who founded his own meat packing company, raised two girls (my cousins Phyllis & Stacy), divorced, and then proceeded to live life by her own set of rules. She flirted with the men, traveled extensively (Bali was her favorite), played Bridge, gave a helping hand to anyone who asked for it, and made Backgammon a contact sport.  I really looked up to her in many ways.

She was a huge part of my life growing up.  And, when I moved to Austin, she took me under her wing and made sure I was properly fed and clothed (she was a free laundromat).  We also had epic Yahtzee battles that would go on for hours.  I still use the microwave she gave Husband Steve & I as a housewarming gift.

She passed away December 24, 1999.  Too soon.  Way too soon.  I still miss her every day. I could never thank her enough for all she did for me.

Above all, to me, she was a great home cook.  Nothing too fancy, but wonderful, honest cooking.  It wasn’t unusual for us to share a ham steak with German potato salad or buttered cabbage. And, of course, she always had Blue Bell Vanilla Bean in the freezer.

She did have three specialties that always stood out:  Angel Biscuits (basically, a cross between a biscuit and a roll), Seafood Crepes, and Chicken Salad.  She would always fix Angel Biscuits for special occasions and breakfasts when my family would visit when my sisters & I were kids.  Her crepes were amazing.  So amazing in fact that they became all anyone wanted her to bring to the bridge club luncheons.  Needless to say, she got tired of them.  My favorite was her Chicken Salad.

I’ve always called this dish Arlene’s Chicken Salad.  It’s in the great tradition of Southern chicken salads in that it contains dressing, a sweet component, and a lot of chicken.  Unlike most traditional Southern recipes, however, she never added eggs.  She felt, as my mom does, and I do, there is egg salad, tuna salad, and chicken salad; they are all meant to be separate entities standing on their own never to mix.  In other words, as great as eggs are, they don’t need to go in chicken salad.

Also, I’ve always loved her secret ingredient – Cool Whip®.  I never knew if she came up with it on her own or learned it from someone or somewhere.  But, it really doesn’t matter. It’s pretty awesome.

I have deviated from her original recipe in one major way – I use dark meat.  In a true Southern chicken salad, you never use dark meat.  Always poached chicken breast meat only.  It’s more refined, I guess.

She was also very precise in how she chopped her pecans.  She would cut it into 1/3rd’s lengthwise along the grooves, then tun it and cut it into 1/3rd’s again, making exactly 9 pieces. I asked her once why she did it that way.  I can’t remember exactly what she said, but I’m sure it was something about appearances.  It was all very German Efficient of her.  While I am half German, I don’t have the efficiency or the patience genes, I guess.

Auntie would cut these into precisely 9 pieces. I don't.

Auntie would cut these into precisely 9 pieces. I don’t.


This dish, of course, comes together pretty fast.  Just pick up a rotisserie chicken at the store, cut up a few ingredients, mix, and voila!, dinner.  And, you didn’t even need to turn on the stove.

A few notes:

1.  I’ve never had this with anything other than red grapes.  You can substitute another fruit such as apples, pears, or dried fruit if you like.  Experiment.

2.  If you don’t toast the pecans, it’s fine.  Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t.  If you do, place the pecans on a baking sheet and place in a 350F oven for 5 – 7 minutes. Then, take the baking sheet out of the oven, spread the pecans out on a cool surface and allow them to cool before you chop them and add to the salad.

3.  Speaking of #2 – pecans.  Only pecans.

4.  If you don’t have or don’t want to use Cool Whip®, you can use all mayonnaise.  It just won’t be the same. DO NOT use Miracle Whip®. Gross.


Oh, and by the way.  Auntie would never use low-fat or fat-free versions of anything.  Her mantra in the kitchen was always “I don’t cook skinny”.


The Ingredients

The Ingredients


1 whole cooked chicken, skinned, boned, and meat chopped


3-4 cooked whole boneless skinless chicken breasts, chopped

2 c. seedless red grapes, cut into 1/4’s


2 stalks celery, finely diced


1 c. toasted pecans, chopped


1 c. mayonnaise, more if needed

1 c. Cool Whip ®, more if needed

Salt & Pepper to taste


Salad greens, optional


1.  In a large bowl, toss together the chicken, grapes, celery, and pecans until well mixed.

Stuff in a bowl ready to mix.

Stuff in a bowl ready to mix.

2.  Stir in the mayonnaise and Cool Whip ®.  Mix well.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add more mayonnaise and/or Cool Whip® if needed.

3.  If you are using salad greens, place them on a serving plate and spread out slightly. Then, place a serving of the chicken on top.  Serve with bread or crackers.

In memory of Auntie.

In memory of Auntie.



Simple All-Purpose Marinara Sauce 1

Posted on May 12, 2015 by Sahar

When I was younger – much younger – I was an avid Nancy Drew Mysteries reader.  I think I had 20 or so of the books.  My goal at the time was to read through all of them (I think there were 55 at the time).  I never made that goal, but I did get one thing so much cooler – The Nancy Drew Cookbook.

One of my first and most treasured cookbooks.

One of my first and most treasured cookbooks.

It’s one of three cookbooks I received from my mom that I absolutely treasure.  The other two are The Little House Cookbook (based on recipes from the Little House books) and Mom’s first cookbook, Wendy’s Kitchen Debut. I may give away or sell my other cookbooks, but I’ll be buried with these.

There was a recipe in Nancy Drew that I really wanted to try. In Chapter 6 –  Album of International Recipes – I came across a recipe called “Italian Salsa di Pomodoro”.  Not knowing what the Italian meant, I read the recipe anyway and figured out it was spaghetti sauce. It was so different from the sauce that Mom made (hers is a wonderful amalgamation of sauce and lots of vegetables; sometimes, she would make meatballs, too). This was just a simple unadorned sauce.

The first time I made it, I think I burned the onions.  I still finished the sauce and the family gamely ate it.  I’ve since gotten better.

This book was also responsible for the infamous “A Keene Soup”, or, as my family called it, Peanut Butter Soup.  It was not a success. In fact, it was really gross. They’ve never let me live it down. I don’t blame them.

However, the “Old Attic Stuffed Tomato” and “Flag Cake Symbol” from Chapter 5 – “Nancy Tells Her Holiday Secrets” were pretty successful. I liked the stuffing so much that I was nibbling on it while I was making the recipe. That’s when Mom had to point out to me that eating raw sausage wasn’t a good idea.

Back to the sauce: as I progressed as a cook, I set aside this little book, but I always remembered the base of this recipe – onion, tomato, olive oil, salt, pepper, sugar – and decided to make my own sauce recipe that would be simple, quick, and versatile.  I think this sauce is it.  I’ve used it as a base for Red Clam Sauce, added Italian Sausage, added shrimp, made Chicken Parmesan, Lasagna, as a pizza sauce, etc. The list is extensive.


A few notes:

1.  If you can’t find or don’t want to use fresh basil, you can use any other fresh herb you prefer.  Just be judicious with the amount. For example, if you use too much oregano, your sauce will taste like soap.  Always begin with less than you think you need.  You can always add, but you can’t take out.

2.  You can also use dried herbs in this recipe.  Begin with 1 teaspoon and add it when you add the red pepper flakes to the onion & garlic.

3.  You can add any protein to this sauce.  Just add it when you add the fresh basil at the end.  If it’s something like sausage, be sure to cook it before adding to the sauce.  If it’s fish or shellfish, you can add it raw, but just make sure it’s cut into small enough pieces that the heat of the sauce will cook it through.

4.  This recipe makes a lot of sauce.  It freezes well and can be frozen for 3-4 months.



The Ingredients

The Ingredients

From top left:

From top left: red pepper flakes, kosher salt, ground black pepper, sugar, garlic cloves


2 tbsp. olive oil

1 small onion, minced

4 cl. garlic, minced


1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, or to taste

1 6-oz. can tomato paste

1 15-oz. can tomato sauce

1 28-oz. can whole or chopped tomatoes, with their juice

Salt to taste

Black pepper to taste

Sugar to taste

Water or vegetable broth, as needed

1 bunch fresh basil, torn into small pieces or cut into julienne

1 lb. pasta of your choice, cooked according to the package directions


1.  Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onion begins to soften, about 3 – 5 minutes.  Stir frequently.

Sauteeing the onion and garlic

Sautéing the onion and garlic

2.  Add the red pepper flakes (and dried herbs, if using) and saute for another 1 – 2 minutes.

Adding the pepper flakes

Adding the pepper flakes

Lower heat to medium and add the tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, until the paste begins to take on a burnt-orange color. (If the paste begins to stick to the bottom or becomes too brown, add a little water or broth.)

The tomato paste turns burnt orange as you cook it because you're cooking the sugars in to tomato.

The tomato paste turns burnt orange as you cook it because you’re cooking the sugars in the tomato.  It adds a little sweetness to the sauce and helps smooth out some of the heavy flavor of the paste.

3.  Add the tomato sauce, tomatoes (with their juice), 1/2 teaspoon each salt, pepper, and sugar.  If the sauce is very thick, add some water or broth to thin it a bit. (Be careful, there will be some spatter as the sauce begins to bubble.)

Adding everything else.

Adding everything else.

Lower the heat to medium-low, partially cover, and cook for 30 minutes.  Stir frequently.

Cooking the sauce.

Cooking the sauce. I know I said partially cover. So, do as I say, not as I do.

4.  Meanwhile, make the pasta.  Cook until al dente, drain, and set aside.

5.  After the first 30 minutes, take the sauce off the heat. If you like, mash down any whole tomatoes left with a potato masher and taste for seasoning.

After 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes.

I like to use whole tomatoes in my sauce, so I'll take the potato masher when the sauce has cooked and break them down.

I like to use whole tomatoes in my sauce, so I’ll take the potato masher when the sauce has cooked and break them down.

Stir in the basil and let it simply infuse into the sauce for at least 15 minutes.  If you are adding any protein, add it when you stir in the basil.  Taste for seasoning again.

The basil stirred in and infusing.  Now is also the time you would add any additional protein.  The residual heat from the sauce will cook most small shellfish and heat through any already cooked meat.

The basil stirred in and infusing. Now is also the time you would add any additional protein. The residual heat from the sauce will cook most small shellfish and heat through any already cooked meat.

In general, you can serve this with any cheese you prefer (unless you’re making this into a seafood sauce; in that case, cheese is verboten), but I usually just use Parmesan.

Without Parmesan. In this example, I added meatballs to the sauce at Husband Steve's request.

Without Parmesan. In this example, I added meatballs to the sauce at Husband Steve’s request.

Dressed with Parmesan.

Dressed with Parmesan.


Buon Appetito!


Addendum: A quick julienne primer

In this recipe, you can most certainly simply tear the basil leaves and add them to the sauce.  However, I like to cut them into a julienne.  Basically cutting the basil into very thin strips.

You can use this technique for many different herbs and vegetables.

First, stack some basil leaves together

First: Stack some basil leaves together


Second: Roll the basil into a tight roll.


Third: With a very sharp knife, cut the roll lengthwise into very this strips.


Forth: Separate the strips by basically working the roll apart with your fingers.

Now, it’s ready to add to your recipe.



My Eating Locally Project 2015: April 0

Posted on May 05, 2015 by Sahar
Eggs at Springdale Farm

Eggs at Springdale Farm


April was another kinda weird month for me.  Revolving door visitors (whom I thoroughly enjoyed) and the ‘flu both played major roles in last month’s shopping.  I still managed three shopping trips, had some lovely conversations, learned some things, and began to truly enjoy the start of the spring and summer produce seasons.


Wednesday, April 15: Springdale Farm & Boggy Creek Farm

As most of us do, I try to do things to distract myself from Tax Day.  I mean, my taxes were filed a month prior, but it’s still the visceral reaction to the day that gives me shudders. At least internally.

My first stop that day was Springdale Farm.  I felt like I’d hit the jackpot with the fava beans for sale.  I’m guessing I bought 3 pounds. There was lots of fennel for sale, too. But, since fennel is part of my torture meal, I skipped it.

Fennel seed? Fine. A few Fennel fronds? Excellent with shellfish.

Fennel Bulb? Licorice. Yuk.

Seemingly the most prolific of spring vegetables, fennel.

Seemingly the most prolific of spring vegetables, fennel.

My purchases at Springdale this time around were: carrots, garlic chives, green garlic, escarole, and fava beans.


Carrots, Cabbage, Spring Onions, Beets

oranges and grapefruit

oranges and grapefruit

Springdale Farm

Springdale Farm


My purchases: Carrots, Garlic Chives, Green Garlic, Escarole, Fava Beans

My purchases: Carrots, Garlic Chives, Green Garlic, Escarole, Fava Beans

I didn’t really wander around the farm as I usually do. The gate to the chicken coops and the fields were closed, so I didn’t want to be presumptuous and just walk in. But, I did have a lovely conversation with Glenn Foore about the role of fava beans in Middle Eastern cuisine.


Boggy Creek Farm was my next stop.  In fact, the two farms are less than a mile apart from each other. Very convenient.

Larkspur and Poppies. Boggy Creek.

Larkspur and Poppies. Boggy Creek.

Bee in a poppy.

Bee in a poppy.

I was talking with Carol Ann about the strawberries.  She said that if she got any more rain, her plants would die out. (I think a day or two after we talked, it happened.)  Her husband, Larry Butler, has a second farm about 80 miles outside of town, she said, where the soil is sandier.  Because strawberries like sandier soil, any future strawberries would come from his farm instead of the one in town.

Makes sense.

I just got the last of the strawberries for the day.

I just got the last of the strawberries for the day.


Yup. More fennel.


So excited about the dandelion greens.

Arugula and Curly Mustard Greens. Peppery, bitter delights.

Arugula and Curly Mustard Greens. Peppery, bitter delights.

After I made my purchases (eggs, strawberries, dandelion greens, arugula, curly mustard greens, pork chops), as is my wont, I wandered around the farm for a few minutes.

Chickens on the loose again.

Chickens on the loose again.

I have no idea what these flowers are, but I'm starting to see them everywhere.

I have no idea what these flowers are, but I’m starting to see them everywhere.

Call me weird, but I like a little sun glare in my photos from time to time.

Call me weird, but I like a little sun glare in my photos from time to time.


Pink roses


Down the primrose path

My purchases: eggs, strawberries, dandelion greens, arugula, curly mustard greens

My purchases: eggs, strawberries, dandelion greens, arugula, curly mustard greens

My purchases, part 2: pork chops. These were sliced thin, so they fried up really well in the skillet. They were unctuous.

My purchases, part 2: pork chops. These were sliced thin, so they fried up quite well in the skillet. They were unctuous.

Wednesday Night's Dinner: Salad with curly mustard greens and pine nuts; pork chops.

Wednesday Night’s Dinner: Salad with curly mustard greens, escarole, dandelion greens, and arugula with pine nuts; pork chops. Simple, but delicious.


Friday, April 24:  Boggy Creek Farm

This was the day that I learned what breeds of chickens laid what color of eggs.

I was having a lengthy conversation with Carol Ann Sayle about the farm, getting advice on the best way to start a garden (clean the area, cover with soil & compost, let sit for a couple of months, then begin planting in the fall), talking flowers, and, finally, the chickens.

With all the rain we’ve had here in Austin (few are complaining about this), she lets the chickens run loose so that they can scratch and roost in drier areas.  By doing this, the coop can dry out and be cleaned. When the chickens are out, they’re extremely entertaining to watch do their chicken thing in their chicken way.

When I showed her the eggs I bought, she explained to me that different breeds laid different colored eggs.  Well, the shells, anyway.  It makes sense. I honestly thought the color of the shell always depended on the diet.

So, here are the breeds:

Leghorn: white eggs

Leghorn: white eggs

Ameraucana: Green

Ameraucana: green eggs

Black Australorp: Brown

Black Australorp: brown eggs

A rainbow of eggs.

A rainbow of eggs.

I've called you all here...

I’ve called you all here…

soon... tomatoes. Many, many tomatoes.

soon… Tomatoes. Many, many tomatoes.

Butter lettuce in the field

Butter lettuce in the field

During my shopping, I saw that the artichokes are starting to come out in profusion, too.  It’s not a vegetable that I use much because of the time it takes to prep them, but, I figure if I go all Italian and give them a good fry-up, they just might be worth the trouble.

Quite possibly the last of one of my favorite salad mixes for the season - Maria's Brassica.

Quite possibly the last of one of my favorite salad mixes for the season – Maria’s Brassica.


Beautiful purple artichokes and dill.


Frisee and a full head of radicchio. All you usually see of radicchio in the stores is the red core.


A few winter greens still hanging in there.


Beautiful oyster mushrooms from Cedar Creek Farms.


Glorious cut flowers from the farm.

The path out

The path out


Carol Ann’s tea roses. The smell exactly like roses should smell.

My purchases: radicchio, frisee, oyster mushrooms, brassica salad, eggs

My purchases: radicchio, frisee, oyster mushrooms, brassica salad, eggs


My purchases, part 2: tenderized round steak. I see Chicken Fried Steak in the near future. Very near future.


Friday night dinner: New York Strip, Mixed Green Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette, sauteed Oyster Mushrooms.


Saturday, April 25: SFC Farmers Market Downtown

Once again, I found myself downtown. This time, I decided that because of all of the construction, I was going to make this my last time at this market for now.  Too bad, really.  I enjoy this market.

But, it will be good for me to check out other markets, too.  Silver linings and all.

However, once I finally arrived, I was quite happy with what I saw.  The spring and early summer produce is coming into its own for the year. Plus, breakfast.

Glimpse of the Downtown Farmers Market

Glimpse of the Downtown Farmers Market

I came across a stand I’ve never noticed before: Animal Farm Organic Market Garden.

They had the most lovely cut flowers and something I’ve never tried before: kohlrabi.  I bought 2 bunches along with a large bag of arugula.

Cut flowers at Animal Farm Organic Market Garden

Cut flowers at Animal Farm Organic Market Garden


More cut flowers. I wish I knew their names.


Not a huge stand, but what he had was great.


Something I’ve never used before: Kohlrabi. I bought 2 bunches. The outer rind is tough, so you have to peel them. And, the leaves are edible.

I read up on how to prepare kohlrabi and saw that most of the preparations use it raw.  So, I just grated it with some carrots, tossed them both some thinly sliced red onion and a lemon vinaigrette, let everything sit for about an hour and came up with slaw. Delicious.


My next stop was at one of my favorites: Johnson’s Backyard Garden.

I only bought 3 things this time: elephant garlic, mint, and romaine.  They still have quite a bit of winter produce, but I just couldn’t.  As much as I love my beets and kale, I’m done until the fall.


Last of the purple cauliflower.


Elephant garlic.

Generally, with elephant garlic, it’s best to roast the cloves.  It generally has a milder flavor than other types of garlic; so, while you can use it raw, you’ll have to use more to get the same flavor in the dish.  I like to take the peeled cloves and slowly poach/roast them over low heat on the stove in a combination of grapeseed and olive oils.  This way, not only are the cloves roasted, you also get garlic-flavored oil.


Mint, cilantro, two types of parsley, and red leaf lettuce.


Artichokes. I opted out this week.


Spring onions.


The beets are still hanging in there.


Garlic. Maybe next time.

The next stand to catch my eye was B5 Farms.

For me, here were the first heirloom tomatoes of the summer. They had three varieties available: Valencia, Cherokee Purple, and German Johnson. I love heirlooms because they all have their own very distinct flavor, are in general drier (fewer seeds), and while they are a bit pricier, they have more yield than the usual grocery store tomato. They’re not perfectly round, blemish-free specimens, but, heirloom tomatoes have their own knobbly beauty.


Valencia Tomatoes.


German Johnson Tomatoes.


Purple Cherokee Tomatoes.

B5 had a few peppers, too. I didn’t buy any because I didn’t have a need for them, but they looked bright and fresh. It looked like they had a variety of bell, jalapeno, and poblano peppers.


Peppers at B5 Farms.

After buying the produce, I headed to Tamale Addiction to buy breakfast for Husband Steve & I. Their tamales are very good and hefty.  Two will set you up for quite a while.

Breakfast: Chicken Mole and Pork al Pastor tamales

Breakfast: Chicken Mole and Pork al Pastor tamales

From JBG: elephant garlic, mint, romaine

From JBG: elephant garlic, mint, romaine


From B5 Farms: Heirloom Tomatoes


From Animal Farm Organic: kohlrabi and arugula


So… On to May. I hope to be visiting some new places and seeing some new vendors.


Now, for a quick recipe:

“Tossed” Caprese Salad

As we all know, traditional Caprese Salad is a layered salad of sliced of tomato, fresh mozzarella, and basil leaves drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.  Occasionally, a little salt may be sprinkled over the top.

I like to use heirlooms for this salad because they are at their best here. It’s a simple salad that’s perfect for summer.

Now, my version is more of a tossed salad. So, purists beware.


1 1/2  – 2 lbs. tomatoes (heirloom, if you can), cut into roughly 1″ pieces

1 – 1 1/2 lbs. fresh mozzarella (I used perla size in this example), cut into roughly 1″ pieces depending on the size you buy

1 small bunch basil, torn or cut into julienne (thin strips)

Extra Virgin Olive Oil, as needed

Flaked Sea Salt (i.e. Maldon), to taste


Basically, toss the tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil together.  Add as much olive oil as you like (I just eyeball it).  Add a little of the salt, mix the salad, and taste.  A lot of mozzarellas available have salt already, so you want to be judicious when adding it.

I like to serve this with some crusty bread.

"Tossed" Caprese Salad.

“Tossed” Caprese Salad.


See you in May!






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