Monthly Archives: April 2009

Tribute to My Mom

My mom's "chunky monkey" birthday cake

My mom's "chunky monkey" birthday cake

My husband and I are leaving for our honeymoon on Monday. Alas, we will be out of the country for Mother’s Day. Since my mom will not get her obligatory card I decided to instead write a post dedicated to the woman who inspired my love of cooking.

My mom will tell you her love of cooking was inspired by her mother’s awful cooking. She grew up eating some pretty unsavory things such as  Welsh Rarebit for dinner. For all of you unaware of this culinary treat it is essentially a cheese sauce melted over bread with a fancy name. At least that is how my grandmother made it. So my mom Janis Orloff Ahearn decided to learn how to cook. And learn she did.

For the first five or six years of my life my mother quit working to stay home with us. We were a family of five living on my dad’s wage as a social worker. You can imagine how thrifty my parents had to be. But we never felt as if we were lacking in terms of our palettes. When my mom made spaghetti sauce it was always home made with fresh tomatoes. For breakfast my mom would whip up large batches of bran muffins – inexplicably called Bonny’s Bran Muffins. I can still taste them lathered in butter and dripping honey. I even recall one night when my parents decided the whole family would cook a gourmet meal together. I think I was seven, my brother John was maybe five and the baby, Kara was two. We spent the day pounding chickens for Chicken Kiev, toasting bread crumbs and green beans together and heating chocolate for what we later called a “chocolate bomb.” I believe we were intending to make something else, but it did not pan out so we just called it that for lack of a better title. I still remember this meal more than 25 years later.

My mom's yummy spread for dad's 60th birthday

My mom's yummy spread for dad's 60th birthday

Mom's antipasto

Mom's antipasto

When we got older and mom went back to work the meals got a little less home made and more thrown together. But she always made sure we had yummy birthday and holiday meals. Recently for my father’s 60th birthday my mom threw a party for him. About 50 of my dad’s friends and relatives showed up. Instead of catering it like a normal person my mom cooked the whole spread – paella, antipasto platter, a vegetable terrine, two quiches and much more. By the end of the night every bite was gone. And my dad was beaming. I think that’s what inspires my mom to cook. She loves to see us happy and if her cooking can do it, then by god she will keep on.

Below are two recipes my mom has made throughout my life – enjoy!

Bonny’s Bran Muffins

1-15oz. Box Raisin Bran (generic brand works fine for this)

5 Cups All Purpose Flour

3 Cups Sugar

5 Tsp. Baking Soda

2 Tsp. Salt

4 Eggs, well beaten

1 Cup Melted Solid Shortening (Crisco)

1 Qt. Buttermilk

Mix dry ingredients in very large bowl. Blend eggs, shortening and buttermilk and add to dry mixture. Mix well. Store in covered container in refrigerator. Keeps for up to six weeks. Makes a lot – you may want to cut recipe by ½.

To Bake: Fill either greased muffin tins or muffin tins with cupcake papers 2/3 full. Bake at 400 degrees for 14-20 minutes.

Chicken with Oranges and Olives

4-5 skinless chicken breasts with bone in (or thighs/mixture of each)

1 large onion chopped

2 garlic cloves minced

1 large or 2 small oranges with skin, washed and cut in small sections

1 can chicken broth

15 or so small Spanish Olives (if you use large olives, cut in half)

Curry Powder/Garlic Powder

Two TBS. Olive Oil

Water, as needed (may want to substitute orange juice for part of the water)

Salt/Pepper, to taste

Cut chicken breasts in half – thighs can remain whole. Sprinkle each with salt, pepper, curry powder and garlic powder. Brown chicken in olive oil until nicely caramel-colored. Add onions and garlic, sauté until transparent. Add olives and orange chunks (leave skin on orange). Add chicken broth and use enough water/orange juice to ensure chicken is just covered with liquid. Add additional salt, pepper, garlic powder and curry, to taste. Cook on simmer until chicken is tender and the juices taste and look good (about 45minutres). Serve over rice, barley or orzo.


Cuban, Italian and Seafood – oh my!

A few weeks ago my husband Chris and I packed up to visit my 87-year-old grandma in Port St. Lucie, Fla. My Grandma Rita had been unable to come to our recent destination wedding in  Jamaica or our reception in Austin.  We decided to pay her a visit. My parents drove down from my hometown of Tallahassee. So it was a nice little reunion. My grandma is not your typical 87-year-old. According to my husband she is quite a “pistol” (no, I am not married to an aging Englishman). I also believe I inherited most of my smart ass, irreverent personality from her. And one thing she likes to make fun of me, her son (my father) and my mother about is our LOVE of food.

And boy, this trip she sure had a lot of ammunition. We ate our way through Port St. Lucie. My husband and I arrived Friday, April 3rd and drove from the Fort Lauderdale airport to my grandma’s, about an hour and a half away.  When we got there everyone was hungry so we headed to the neighborhood Italian restaurant at the Publix strip mall – Ruffino’s. Now, I usually hate restaurants in strip malls, but I have noticed some of the best Italian restaurants I have ever been to are in strip malls. Ruffino’s is one of these gems. I ordered the chicken portofino with asparagus, mushrooms and artichokes in a garlic, white wine sauce – excellent! My grandma ordered eggplant parmesan (it was a Friday during lent! No meat for her), and it looked divine. It was thick with a bubbling coat of cheese on top. My dad ordered the mussels with a side of pasta and my husband ordered the chicken and eggplant parmesan. My mom ordered the antipasto for one and their tortellini en brodo soup. And of course we ordered a carafe of wine and a piece of homemade tiramisu. It was a bit heavy to start off the trip, but it was wonderful and we did not have to pay for it – poor dad.

The next day (after I went for a long jog to get rid of the previous night’s excess) Chris and I went to Jensen Beach for some swimming, laying around and boogie boarding. The rip tide was pretty strong so I opted for the laying around. After a couple of hours we decide to head to a local beach bar – Conchy Joe’s. A good seafood meal is always on my agenda when I head home to Florida. I love Austin, but it’s only good for Mexican and Barbeque food. It is sorely lacking in fresh, good seafood.  We sat down right away and ordered two 16 oz. Yuenglings, the conch fritters and the raw bar sampler. The sampler included oysters, coconut shrimp, fish dip, crab fingers and clams. It hit the spot.  It’s a great family restaurant right on the water in Jensen Beach – not a super classy joint. But it has solid, cheap food.

When we got home it was nap time (another perk at grandma’s). When we all awoke it was dinner time. Another cuisine I make sure to taste when I am in Florida (more specifically south Florida) is Cuban. Authentic Cuban food is one of my favorite things in the world. I love that the food is basic, yet intense. And one of the best Cuban restaurants in Port St. Lucie is El Cubanito. Once again, it is in a strip mall. But do not let this stop you from coming in and dining. El Cubanito is a fairly small restaurant, well-lit with a friendly staff.  Our waitress was charming and she did a great job. We started off with a carafe of sangria, yummy Cuban bread and a stuffed yucca. I will be honest the yucca was not great. It was the only downside to the meal. It was stuffed with what appeared to be ground ham. So it was very heavy and not very tasty. But my entree was a different story. I ordered the flank steak with chimichurri sauce and shrimp – WOW! It was incredible. So much flavor and it never felt too fattening. Chris and my dad ordered the half chicken – a very wise choice as well. The meat was a combination of white and dark and was incredibly moist. My mother ordered the bistec with grilled onions – very tasty. And my grandma ordered the grilled grouper, another flavorful option. None of us were disappointed in our meal. But the real masterpiece was the flan my grandma ordered for dessert. It was hands down the best flan I have ever had – very creamy and dense.

On Sunday, my parents packed up and left to head home. But my aunt Lou-Lou, her husband Ed and their daughter Emily rolled in to town. My grandma does not get much down time. Instead of going out to eat Chris and I decided to cook our last night in town. Chris and I are compatible at many things and cooking is no different. We love to cook together. For dinner we wanted to cook healthy and on the grill. So we made meat kebabs with shrimp, pork and chicken as well as veggie kebabs with bell pepper, mushrooms, onions and tomatoes. We also served up yellow rice and a light shrimp and avocado salad. For dessert I made my favorite – biscuit strawberry shortcake. The world is usually divided into two different camps on a variety of topics – cat or dog person? morning or night shower? cake or glazed donuts? Well strawberry shortcake is the same. Some prefer the (horrible) angel food cake and then others (smart people) prefer the biscuit version. I happen to like the latter option. And considering there was nothing left afterwards, my family appears to feel the same. I think my cousin Emily actually ate the entire bowl of whipped cream (ah, to be a thin teenager with a fast metabolism again!).  Below is a picture of the shortcake and the recipe.

2 1/3 c. Bisquick or other all-purpose baking mix
3 tbsp. sugar
3 tbsp. melted butter
1/2 c. milk

1 quart strawberries
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups whipping cream for topping

Rinse the berries under cold water. Slice the berries; place in a bowl. Sprinkle with the sugar, cover and let stand at room temperature for about 1 hour. Whip the cream (sweeten with 2 or 3 tablespoons of sugar and a dash of vanilla, if desired) until it holds a soft peak. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve

Heat oven to 425°F. Stir baking mix, melted butter, milk, and 3 Tbsp of sugar in a mixing bowl until soft dough forms. Put dough in a baking dish. Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.

Strawberry Shortcake at Grandma's House

Strawberry Shortcake at Grandma's House

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