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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

An Oklahoma Road Trip: Chicken Soup and Apple Pie

On a trip through Oklahoma, I was reminded again how deliciously satisfying homemade food can be in restaurants off the beaten path.

We had traveled north from Tulsa, stopping in Pawhuska to visit Ryan Red Corn whose t-shirt company Demockratees is an internet sensation.

Ryan's politically savvy t-shirt designs speak to his reaction to the Bush administration's policies. With Barack Obama's election, Ryan has the opportunity to use his considerable talent to create more inspirational designs.

For breakfast Ryan and his dad, Raymond, took us to a local institution, Sally's Cafe. With a long counter out front and an over-sized table behind the kitchen, Sally's is an authentic diner from the 1930's.

Sitting at a table in the back where Sally was making pies, we had a country breakfast that was as good as it gets; farm fresh eggs, potatoes browned in butter, and home cured ham that was a perfect balance of sweet and salty. For dessert we had a piece of Sally's fresh apple pie, the crust perfectly flaky, the apples soft and tart with just a hint of cinnamon.

Heading south-west, we drove to Pawnee on our way back to Tulsa, passing through countryside that varied from open pasture land to starkly beautiful, wooded hill country. After the long drive we were definitely ready for a big lunch.

Just off Highway 64 in Pawnee, we stopped at Click's Steakhouse. Soup and salad were included in the lunch specials. Everything we ordered (steak, baked potatoes, fried okra, and a hamburger steak) was good, but the homemade soup revived us after so many hours on the road. I couldn't get Click's recipe so I'm offering up my own that adheres to Click's reliance on fresh ingredients.

Chicken Soup With Mushrooms & Rice

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

6 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
1/2 cup cooked rice (wild, Japanese, or Chinese)
1/2 cup brown mushrooms (washed, thinly sliced)
1/2 cup cooked chicken breast (shredded into bite sized pieces)
1/4 cup celery (washed, finely diced)
1/4 cup yellow onion (washed, peeled, finely diced)
1 tablespoon Italian parsley (washed, leaves only, finely chopped)
1 teaspoon olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Heat the olive oil and lightly brown the mushrooms, celery, onions, and parsley. Add the chicken breast and stock. Simmer for 15 minutes, taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and pepper.

Before serving, add the rice and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve with bread, rolls, or croutons.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lo-Cal Breaded Fish Fillets

Growing up, "breaded" meant deep fried and slathered with batter. I didn't really like the thick coating but I loved the crunch. Years later I stumbled on a technique that sautes instead of deep fries and avoids batter, adding crispness without the heft (the technique works for fish and chicken breasts as well).

Breaded Fish Fillets

At the Palisades Farmers' Market we have fresh fish every Sunday. The sole works well for this technique but any white fish fillet would be delicious. By cutting the fillets into 2"-3" pieces, the fish is easier to handle.

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

1 pound fresh fillet (preferably a white fish)
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Wash, pat dry, and cut into pieces 2"-3" in length. On a large plate drizzle the olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper. On a second large plate sprinkle the bread crumbs. To coat each piece of fish on all sides, dredge the fillets first through the seasoned oil, then through the bread crumbs and set aside until you've breaded all the pieces.

Spatula the remaining seasoned olive oil into a large frying pan and heat over a medium flame. Add all the pieces and cook until each side is lightly browned, about 5 minutes on each side.

Serve with a salad or a side dish of sauteed vegetables (garlic spinach, broccoli and carrots, or tomatoes, parsley and onions) and a topping of capers in a butter sauce.

Monday, November 10, 2008

When Fun Was 90 Proof

A dear friend, Valerie Peterson, has published her second book and just in time for the holidays. Her first book extolled the virtues of cookies and gave detailed directions on the care and baking of the most imaginative cookies I've ever seen.

Now she has turned her sights on holiday drinks. She has written a funny, nostalgic handbook of holiday drinks called Peterson's Holiday Helper. Each drink has specific instructions with photographs that recall a more settled time.

I recommend her book to anyone who wants to discover a new favorite drink or as a stocking-stuffer gift for the holidays. Peterson's Holiday Helper is a keeper.