Stone Crabs: One Last Splurge

Happy 2009! Can you believe it?

Well, here goes: this year I will try to- be more frugal; stick to a diet; be more patient; listen; pour more love and encouragement on those precious to me; be a better friend. These are not resolutions but merely a little list for myself. I think I can manage to accomplish most of it. The hardest part for me is always dieting. Not so easy.

My daughter will be returning to New York City Monday.... I will miss her very much. She has a contemporary art gallery there (see "My Favorite Websites" below) and the art market has not been all that great lately. I am crossing my fingers that all the naysayers will be wrong in their predictions for 2009. This gallery is Tracy's dream and she works like mad to make it a success, which it has been for several years. I know, everyone is having problems with the economy and everyone is working hard to keep their dreams alive. But we mothers worry about all our kids, we can't help it and no matter how grown up they are, this will never change. I worry about my sons just as much. Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems. Can't remember where I first heard that, but it sure is true.

So, in keeping with our diet promises (But our frugal promises? Not so much.) I decided to surprise Tracy on New Year's Day with her all-time favorite: stone crabs. Delicious and aren't the colors to die for? And best thing yet, no work. They are cooked and cracked and ready to go.

To accompany, we always use a recipe I found years ago in the Miami Herald for Joe's Mustard Sauce. The Joe I speak of is -need I say it- Joe's Stone Crab, the famous Miami restaurant where stone crabs are king. And the rest of their food is pretty regal too. Now I have no idea if this recipe is really Joe's or not. The paper claimed it was and we think it's pretty close to the real thing, so that's what we call it, with mea culpas to Joe's if it's not.

Joe's Mustard Sauce

3 and 1/2 teaspoons dry English mustard (like Coleman's)
1 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon A-1 sauce
1/8 cup light cream
1/8 teaspoon salt

In a small bowl beat the dry mustard and mayonnaise until blended. Add remaining ingredients and chill until ready to serve. Makes 1 cup.

We needed a salad as well, so I made some Broccoli Slaw. It's pretty, you can make it ahead, although it is a simple recipe to begin with, tasty and the perfect foil for the stone crabs. My friend Polly originally gave me the recipe so I named it after her. You don't need another thing- perhaps some white wine and for those who wanted dessert I pulled out what was left of my Apricot and Nut Cookies. Yum! What a great start for 2009.

Polly's Broccoli Slaw

1 pound broccoli slaw (you can find it in your market)
1 package cole slaw
6 green onions, sliced
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
2 packages ramen chicken soup mix
1 1/2 cups salad oil
2 1/2 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
6 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Mix the first five ingredients and refrigerate. Make a dressing with oil, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper and 1 1/2 packages of the seasoning mix in the soup packet. Mix well. Just before serving, crunch up the noodles of both packages and add to the slaw. (I put them in a plastic bag and pound them with my rolling pin) Pour dressing over and serve.


Diets Etc.

We're on a diet around here, even before we make healthy eating a New Year's resolution. Enough is enough. The only things I have kept the faith with are my daily workouts and a healthy breakfast. The rest of the day goes downhill food wise. I don't deny I'm having a fine time sampling all the holiday goodies and imbibing in my favorite gin and tonics before dinner; we are eating out more than usual too. Moderation. There is fine word defining exactly what I should be doing regarding meals. It's easy enough when nobody is here and I'm not tempted by a new restaurant with an intriguing menu.

Haven't we all tried diets promising quick results? When I think of all the fad diets I have been on over the years I cringe. Do you remember the 3 day Model Diet? The Chocolate Diet? The Slimfast Jump Start Diet? Well, I must admit the three day diet worked when I wanted an emergency 4-5 pound weight loss to get into a special dress that was ever so slightly snug- but the pounds came right back on after the weekend. The food on that diet was pretty ghastly too. After many years, my nutritionist says the only answer is moderation and a well balanced diet. All the time. B O R I N G. Sorry, I just can't be good all the time! In fact, I can't be good most of the time!
So for a few nights this week in advance of the New Year's bash (one of my aerobics teachers calls this being pro-active- but is actually referring to fact we are working out this time of year when lots of people are ignoring their normal routines and being couch potatoes) we decided to eat healthy dinners when we ate at home and try to eat healthy salads every day for lunch no matter where we were. At least it's a head start on the dire morning of January 5th when I will wake up and stand staring at my scale in anguish.

Last night we had a lovely broiled yellowtail and some roasted brussel sprouts. While shopping at Whole Foods for fresh yellowtail we found some stalks of brussel sprouts in the produce section. It l00ked too good to pass by.
We doused them with olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and stuck them in a 400° oven for 40 minutes, shaking the pan every now and then. They caramelized beautifully and went perfectly with our broiled yellowtail. So far, so good.

Next we started thinking about salads. Unusual salads, not just the lettuce/tomato kind. My friend Nancy came up with a nifty luncheon salad that fits the diet mode perfectly and is delicious to eat. We call it Nancy's Salad of course, and not only is it pretty and good for you, but it tastes marvelous.

Nancy's Salad

1 small head cauliflower, in florets
3 carrots, sliced
3 celery stalks, sliced
1/2 cup pimento stuffed green olives, sliced
1/4 cup salad oil (or olive oil)
1/4 cup vinegar (any kind you like)
1 teaspoon Lawry's seasoning salt

Prepare the vegetables and olives. Make a dressing with the last three ingredients.
Mix and chill.
Serves 2
Another salad we love is one I adapted from Lee Bailey's Country Weekends; I call it Cottage Cheese Salad. Lee Bailey served it with a small piece of broiled chicken and some melba toast. I like it with a hard boiled egg, quartered, and a quartered tomato. Then I sprinkle a little Lawry's seasoning salt on top along with some freshly ground black pepper. It's divine.

Cottage Cheese Salad
Ingredients:1 1/2 cups fat free cottage cheese
1 tablespoon chives, chopped
3 radishes, diced
2 tomatoes, quartered
2 hard boiled eggs, quartered
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup roasted pecans
Lawry's seasoning salt
freshly ground black pepper

Method:Mix the red pepper, radishes and chives with the cottage cheese. Sprinkle with the roasted pecans, salt and pepper.
Serve with the eggs and tomatoes.
Serves 2


Apricot and Nut Cookies

We were among the lucky ones this Christmas: no nightmare travel stories to relate. It's all I have been hearing about from friends and family. My daughter arrived from New York City in between storms and was only a couple hours late.

My sister was not so fortunate. She had to worry about five children traveling to her Leland Michigan cabin and they were coming from both the east and west coast. The closest airport giving access to Leland is Traverse City but everyone traveling there has to make a stop-usually Grand Rapids, Detroit or Chicago. And the weather in those cities is always iffy in December and this year it was a lot more than iffy. Her daughter from San Francisco was stuck in Chicago for Christmas day. And if the photos of O'Hare are accurate, she had lots of company.

I don't like to brag (I'm going to anyway) but our Florida weather has been lovely so far this holiday. Not perfect, but really nice. Still, you can't get here if your plane is coming from an airport closed down by weather. So we sympathize because if affects us as well.

Lots of people can't imagine Christmas in Florida- but we really get into the spirit of the season; lots of lights, wreaths and outdoor decorations. I am in awe at some of the displays; the lighting has gotten so intricate. Of course in Florida we light up our palm trees rather than pine trees which is amusing the first time you see it. Deer, Santas, snowmen and snow globes decorate the lawns. Someone has a full size Santa descending from the roof on a rope; another has Santa on a huge swing.

And boat parades! I love the smaller parades like the one we have in Boca Raton; we missed it last year because the city just did not have enough money. But it was privately supported this year and back for us to enjoy. I find the larger cities like Ft. Lauderdale have boats that are somewhat more commercial- still fun to watch, but I like the down home look. Bridges are held open for the boats which of course causes problems if you have someplace to go other than the parade. Boat owners call on their friends to help decorate their boats- all sizes, large and small, and their enthusiasm is obvious as music is blaring and they are waving, cheering and hollering out Merry Christmas! as they pass by. Such fun to sit on the grass by the intercoastal waterway and wave back. This year someone set off a fireworks display that put the July 4th show to shame.
The boat parades put everyone in a holiday mood and to me that means planning holiday surprises in the kitchen. Now that I don't have small children at home and my grandchildren did not come this year, I did not make as many Christmas cookies as usual. But I do love using them as last minute gifts for friends so I tried some new recipes this year. I found an interesting recipe with apricots, almonds and pine nuts as ingredients and a frosting made with amaretto. Hmmmm. Sounded good to me so I made them. Delicious! They are rather nutty and chewy and have a very slight cinnamon flavor. But the frosting makes the cookie. My son was gobbling them down as fast as I could turn them out and my daughter was happy when I gave the last of them away as she said she would have eaten the entire plateful. Well, it's never off season for cookies so give these a try; make it a New Year's resolution: bake something new!

Apricot and Nut Cookies
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis, Everyday Italian

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 and 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

1 and 3/4 cups confectioners sugar
5 to 7 tablespoons Amaretto liqueur

Beat the butter, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and salt with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg. Add the flour and stir until just blended. Mix in the apricots, almonds and pine nuts. The dough will be sticky at this point.

Transfer the dough to a sheet of wax paper and shape it into a log about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches in diameter, rolling the dough in the wax paper until the shape is right. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for two hours.(After I rolled the dough in the wax paper and started to chill it, I opened the refrigerator door a few times to form it better.)Preheat your oven to 350° and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut the dough crosswise into 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices and place them on the parchment paper. Space them evenly apart. Bake about 15 minutes or until the edges of the cookies are golden brown. Transfer them to a wire rack to cool.

To make the icing: mix the confectioners sugar and Amaretto and beat until smooth. I poured the frosting into a small baggie and made a tiny slit in a corner and then drizzled the frosting over the cookies. Allow to set, about 30 minutes.

This recipe makes about 2 to 2 1/2 dozen cookies.


Milk Punch

We had some wonderful friends many years ago who had a New Year's Day party every single year. Talk about good buddies! We loved having someplace to go for football, food and the requisite rehashing of New Year's Eve, but let's face it: is there anyone you know willing to entertain after they have been up nearly all night? And in those days we drank; not wine either. Aside from champagne, I'm quite certain I don't remember wine being an available libation on New Year's Eve. How odd. Well anyway, New Year's Day Lynn and Tony would set up two large white crocks with overly-long ladles and served Bloody Marys in one and Milk Punch in the other. Didn't that go down smoothly! (And way too quickly.) The Bloody Marys were ice cold and spicy with celery sticks in a dish next to the crock; the first time we were invited, Milk Punch was new to me so it was quite a surprise. When I glanced in the crock I thought at first it was egg nog and was about to pass it by, expecting it to be super sweet and on the heavy side as I think all egg nogs are, when someone told me to try it, I would love it. They were right; the Milk Punch was much lighter and not all that sweet. I was a convert. And as I recall, the group was about half and half- both crocks needed refills about the same time. After we served ourselves, everyone knew what to expect: football was on a couple of screens in different areas of their home, snacks scattered about and we settled in for a relaxing afternoon. How we looked forward to New Year's Day with Tony and Lynn!

Lynn was a lovely cook and always served a buffet late afternoon- invariably beef stroganoff- her specialty (she made the sour cream kind rather than the tomatoey kind which I abhor) along with any number of delectable side dishes. I remember it like it was yesterday; the men watched, cheered and talked football (sort of) and the women got laughing hysterically while discussing what went on the night before- or as a young friend of mine put it recently- we "deconstructed" New Year's Eve (don't you adore that expression?). I love memories like our New Year's Day party- they make me smile. It's not that we're not creating memories anymore, or enjoying annual parties, or laughing and having fun with our friends; it's just that these were friends from my young married life- all of us raising children together, most of us were stay-at-home moms and we did everything together. You never forget those days. What makes this particular memory melancholy is that Lynn is no longer with us and we all loved her; as well, most of us have moved from the area and we only stay in contact with a few of our dearest friends from those days.

After I moved to Florida, I invited everyone to join us at my house for dinner Christmas day. I always had champagne for my dad and an open bar for everyone else. But for me (and for a few discriminating members of my family) I always made a punch bowl of Milk Punch. Because I didn't have a wonderful old crock, I served my punch in a pretty glass bowl with a whole nutmeg and a grater next to it. Frankly, there were some years I don't know how I managed to get dinner served- I do so like this punch. Nowadays, my parents are gone, my relations have gone in different directions or have their own celebrations so it is just my immediate family and Milk Punch is really for a crowd, so I don't make it anymore. But in case YOU are having a crowd over the holidays, pass on your old standby egg nog recipe and try this one. It's easier to make anyway! This is not Lynn and Tony's secret recipe, but one I found many years ago in a newspaper. It's every bit as good, if not better.

Milk Punch
8 cups milk, very cold
1 pint coffee ice cream, somewhat softened
2 cups good quality bourbon
1 cup good quality rum
freshly ground nutmeg

Blend milk, bourbon and rum in a punch bowl. You can float the ice cream on top or, if you like a sweeter drink from the first, blend the ice cream into the milk mixture and serve. I like to float the ice cream on top; it melts quickly and sweetens the punch. Sprinkle with freshly ground nutmeg and serve.


Cranberry Scones

The Christmas tree is up, decorated and magically alive with lights. Now I can sit back and enjoy my efforts. Honestly, it becomes more difficult every year; this year I couldn't find the lights and completely lost a box of my favorite ornaments. I am ashamed to admit I gave up and bought new lights but thankfully my daughter discovered the precious (some of which she hand carried from a trip to Germany) box of ornaments buried in a back corner of my storage unit. I knew I had put them someplace safe and out of the way, but in the back corner under a pile of old clothes? Then, for the first time, I had to ask someone to help me put the tree in the stand. Growing older: it sucks.

My mother, as I have mentioned, was a superb cook and handled any number of people for dinner until one Christmas Eve when she turned to me with a slightly frantic look in her eyes and said: "My cake has not turned out right and the salad didn't gel. I didn't put the meat in at the right time and everything is a mess. I have to admit I am getting too old to manage dinner for our family." It upset her greatly and from that day until she passed away, my brother and his wife took over our Christmas Eve celebration and I had everyone at my house for Christmas Day dinner.

The reason I mention this is because my sister called last night and complained she thinks she has forgotten how to cook. Just making some cookies was a problem: she burned them twice and when she got a good batch, they didn't taste right. I reminded her of Mother's comment years ago and she laughed and agreed it comes to us all. Of course, she has six children and they come for the holidays with their spouses and children; however, I don't ever remember her saying she had these cooking problems before. Frankly I think there is just too much on her plate: decorating the tree and the house, wrapping gifts, attempting to get some of the cooking done in advance and into the freezer, planning breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the holiday week and trying to keep herself and everyone else full of the spirit of Christmas. Once everyone gets there, her daughters help but there are always weather worries in Michigan- will flights be delayed? Will we be making airport runs in the middle of the night?
My Christmas will not be so hectic; I will only have my daughter and son here this year as my oldest son and his family from Michigan were here for Thanksgiving. My daughter will be staying here, but likes to make her own breakfast and lunch. My son lives nearby, works nights in the ER of a local hospital and will only be joining us for our traditional Christmas morning brunch, then he will go home and go to bed. His night is our day. A difficult way to live, but he seems to thrive on it.

I like to try something new each year for our brunch. One thing I cannot change is the egg/cheese soufflé dish my children insist upon- now a tradition. It's a simple recipe I found in the 60's in the old Make It Now Bake It Later series. (I don't have a photo of it but will take one this year and post it and the recipe after Christmas.) We start off with a White Peach Bellini. Yum, shades of Venice! I found a source in California for white peach puree; it arrives frozen in a 30 ounce container. There is a minimum order so I suggest you get some friends together to share the cost with you. You can order online at http://perfectpuree.com/ or call them at 707-261-5100.
A couple days before you are going to use it, just remove it from the freezer and put it in the refrigerator. Get a lovely bottle of prosecco and you are set to go. We like a couple tablespoons of the purée in the glass, then fill carefully with chilled prosecco. Stir gently. Sip with pleasure.

For brunch this year I decided on a fresh fruit platter and some cranberry scones to accompany our cheese soufflé. I've had the scone recipe for some time and served them for the first time at Thanksgiving breakfast; everyone loved them. I adore scones anyway and find these to be light, not too sweet, a little tart and altogether very festive. They really don't need butter either, but it's hard to resist.

Cranberry Scones

Ingredients:3 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, cold
1 cup fresh cranberries
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 teaspoons grated orange rind
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon sugar

Method:Place the cranberries in a food processor and pulse until they are crushed. Set aside.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in food processor. Pulse once and then cut up the butter and add. Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Pour the mixture into a bowl and mix in cranberries, nuts and orange rind by hand. Stir in buttermilk with a fork until dry ingredients are moistened. Turn out on a floured board and roll out to a 3/4 inch thick circle. Cut out with a cookie cutter and place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Brush with the milk and sprinkle with the sugar.

Bake in a 400° oven on a lower rack for about 15 minutes or until browned. Serve hot with butter and be ready for seconds.


Fruit Salad

Fruit Salad with Limoncello
Adapted from Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa


7 ounces Greek yogurt (recommended: Fage Total)
1/3 cup good quality bottled lemon curd
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups sliced strawberries ( 1 pint)
1 cup blueberries ( 1/2 pint)
1 cup raspberries (1/2 pint)
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoon Limencello liqueur
1 banana, sliced
Fresh mint sprigs


For the lemon yogurt topping: stir together the yogurt, lemon curd, honey and vanilla until smooth. Set aside. You can leave it at room temperature, or make it ahead and refrigerate; but bring it to room temperature before serving.

Carefully toss the strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, sugar and Limencello. Allow to stand at room temperature for at least 5 minutes. Fold in the banana just before serving.

I serve it in pretty glass bowls with some lemon yogurt on top; put the sauce on the table as well as everyone always wants more. Garnish with fresh mint sprig.


Bread Pudding

My mother was a fantastic cook- not the C.I.A. trained chef kind, but an old fashioned, traditional home cook. Her mother once owned a bakery with her sister when they were young marrieds and years later, during my childhood, my grandmother lived with us for half the year. We never knew what delight would greet us when we walked into the kitchen-something different every day. Often homemade noodles (hanging over kitchen cabinet doors to dry) which she would boil briefly and then fry in butter with some shallots and Swiss cheese; another day we would find her scrumptious potato pancakes waiting for our lunch; the kitchen was always warm with the heavenly fragrance of whatever treat she had cooking: long johns, breads of all kinds, jams, cakes and pies to die for- the list goes on and on.
So my mother came by her cooking abilities naturally and she was inventive to boot, so when I got around to writing a family cookbook, I used many of her recipes. Those that were not hers were either her mother's or recipes from the many talented cooks she had as good friends, or gleaned from magazines and cookbooks (of which she had an enormous collection) as well as a result of the cooking classes she constantly took. But even then, she would alter the recipes in some way to make them even better.

Mother had been making bread pudding for years- the kind everyone made back then; it was delicious and it was comfort food. So simple to throw together: torn bread, a mixture of eggs, milk and vanilla poured over it and baked. We loved it. Poured cream all over it.

In the 80's, Mother read a book by Nora Ephron called Heartburn; somewhere in the book there was a recipe for bread pudding that intrigued her. Nora Ephron referred to it as caramelized mush. My sister and I were with her at the time and after hearing her read aloud the ingredients, we talked her
into making it that very day. Ambrosia! How can I describe it best? It is a heavenly, fattening, gooey/crunchy bread pudding. We have never made any other kind of bread pudding since. Haven't even been tempted. It's so rich it really needs nothing on top (but we pour cream on it anyway) and it is impossible to stop opening the oven and breaking off the crunchy pieces on top while it is still baking. And it's actually good cold! Now that I'm drooling just thinking about it, here's the photo and recipe. Don't ever say I didn't do you a favor!

Bread Pudding

Ingredients:2 cups sugar
2 sticks butter, softened
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1 can sweetened condensed milk (Eagle Brand)
1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 loaf good bread, torn in chunks (I use challah)
1 cup raisins
6 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons vanilla

With an electric mixer in a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until well mixed and add the eggs one at a time. Add the milk with the mixer on low then add all the remaining ingredients except the bread. Remove from the mixer and and then dump in the torn bread. Mix briefly and carefully.
Pour into a large buttered casserole. Bake in a 350° oven for 2 hours.
Stir thoroughly from bottom to top, including the sides, after the first hour.
Serve with cream, although it is rich enough to eat all by itself- the cream actually breaks up the sweetness.
This is really rich so serves perhaps 8-10.


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