Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Buttermilk Chicken and Cheesy Rice

3/26/08 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

If you love fried chicken and rice, you’re going to love today’s recipes. They are pulled straight out of my book of the month, Ruth Reichl’s “Tender at the Bone.” Her recipes are delicious, not pretentious. Both her fried chicken and con queso rice are to die for and should appeal to young and old alike.

My well-worn copy of this book attests to its compelling charm. Each chapter reads like a novel but is a true story. At times, the book is brutally truthful about her Reichl’s circumstances. But like a good meal, her life and its recipes compel you to want just another bite.

The recipe’s origins are as interesting as tales from Reichl’s youth. Due to her mother’s illness and tendency to forget taking her lithium, she spent a great deal of time living in boarding schools or with relatives and their housekeepers. Each stop along the way could have been depressing. Instead, they became opportunities to learn a new culinary art.

Her Aunt Birdie’s home was a favorite refuge. Birdie’s cooking expertise, however, was limited to a simple potato salad. Fortunately Alice, a Barbados immigrant, not only kept house for her aunt, but also reigned supreme in the kitchen.

Alice’s Fresh buttery pastry would encase apple dumplings; chicken croquets always began with poached plump chicken breasts; and fried oysters were breaded with fresh bread cups before being plunked into smoking hot Crisco.

This weekend take a little time to prepare this menu. Covering the chicken with buttermilk and onions before draining and frying makes all the difference in the world. And if you’re worried about the shortening component, cut the amount in half. After browning the meat, remove it from the skillet and finish cooking in the oven at medium-high heat. Drain well and remove the skin if you must.

Claritha’s Fried Chicken
(Ruth Reichl)

2-1/2 to 3 pound chicken, cut up
3 cups buttermilk
2 onions, sliced thin
1 cup flour
3 teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
1 cup vegetable shortening
¼ cup butter

Put chicken pieces in bowl and cover with salt. Let sit for 2 hours.

Remove chicken from salt, wash well, and put into a bowl with buttermilk and sliced onions. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Place flour, salt, cayenne and black pepper in paper bag and shake to combine. Drain chicken one piece at a time and put in bag. Shake to coat thoroughly. Place on waxed paper. Repeat until all chicken pieces are coated.

Leave for ½ hour to dry out and come to room temperature.

Melt shortening and butter in large skillet over high heat; add chicken pieces and cover pan. Lower heat and cook 10 minutes. Turn and cook, uncovered, 8 minutes for breasts, 12 minutes for dark meat.

Test for doneness by piercing thigh; juices should run clear. Serves 4

Con Queso Rice
(Ruth Reichl)

1 cup black beans (dry, uncooked)
1-1/2 cups white rice, uncooked
1 teaspoon salt
3 cloves garlic, peeled and diced
2 small onions, chopped
1 4-ounce can green chiles, chopped
1 fresh jalapeno, chopped
1 pound Jack cheese, shredded
1 pound cottage cheese

Soak beans overnight in water to cover.

In morning drain and cook beans in 4 cups fresh water for about an hour or until tender. Cool.

Meanwhile, cook rice; bring 3 cups water to boil; add rice and salt, cover and lower heat to simmer. Cook about 20 minutes or until water has evaporated. Cool slightly.

Mix rice, drained beans, garlic, onion and chilies in big bowl.

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Butter a large casserole. Cover bottom with a layer of the rice and bean mixture. Cover with a layer of Jack cheese and cottage cheese. Put in another layer of rice and beans. Keep layering until all the ingredients except for the final ½ cup of cheese is used up. End with a layer of rice.

Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Add final sprinkling of cheese and cook 5 minutes more. Serves 6

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal!
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes 
that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.

Friday, March 21, 2008

We're never really old: just older!

3/19/08 Chatterbox Betty Kaiser Hanging on my bulletin board is a button that says, “I remember when I thought people my age were old.” Isn’t that the truth? I can remember when I was 19 that I thought a 30-year old was ancient. When it comes to aging, we humans are strange creatures. We’re never satisfied with the status quo. Think about it. On our birthdays don’t most of us wish that we were either younger or older? Youngsters under the age of 10 or 11 are usually pretty content. But when hormones start kicking in around 12 years of age, look out! Kids start feeling their oats and longing for change. If you’re a girl, the conflict usually begins over lipstick. Mom says to wait until next year when you’re no longer a ‘tween-ager.’ That year drags on forever. The driving gene kicks in for boys at about fifteen. They can sit for hours behind the steering wheel of dad’s car and imagine themselves zooming down the road, free from all restraints and restrictions. But they must wait until that magical 16th birthday to turn from a frog into a prince. Twenty-one is another long awaited milestone. One truly feels grown-up at 21 years of age. By the age of 21, one can vote, serve in the military, smoke, drink, and be responsible for one’s debts. Yea! Birthdays in the thirty, forty and fifty-year age group tend to roll by rather uneventfully. Then, you’re really an adult. Responsibility has become your middle name. A spouse, children, mortgage, car payment, job worries and saving for retirement pretty much consume your time. Oh, to be 15 again! Suddenly, before you know it, you’re 60. Egad! How did that happen? And who is that old person in the mirror anyway? That wrinkled face, sagging body and gray hair surely belong to someone else. About that time we look at our kids and wonder…when did they get to be so old? Golly, they’d better start using moisturizer and working out before it’s too late and they look like me! After six decades of looking forward to birthdays, that 60th birthday is a startling reality check. We all pretend that we don’t feel our age but we really do. And yes, we really would live the fifties all over again if we could but we’re not given that option. And before long we’ll be looking back fondly at the youthful sixty-year mark. Although many of my friends and I are in the senior citizen bracket none of us think of ourselves as old. “Old” is always about 10 years older than our current age. We may look like geezers to the rest of the world, but we don’t see ourselves that way. Generally, I think that most of us think of ourselves as forever middle-aged. So how old is old, anyway? Well, in 1900 the average life expectancy of both sexes was 47.3 years. Fifty short years later, it had increased dramatically to 68.2 years. A century later, in the year 2000, the average age was 76.9, according to But remember, these are averages. Some live less and some live longer. Today, one of the fastest growing populations in the U.S. is centenarians — individuals who have reached the age of 100 years or more. Suddenly, centenarians are no longer boring, old news; they’re a hot topic and for a good reason. In 1950 there were only 2300 centenarians. In 2000 they numbered 50,454. Recent reports put that population at nearly 80,000. Until now, most of us have believed that attaining the age of 100 is a remarkable, Herculean feat. I mean, think about it. One hundred years is a lot of history and life-changing transitions: the automobile, electricity, paved roads, indoor plumbing, radio, television, iPods, computers, world wars, life saving medicines and medial procedures. Not to mention fashion and hairstyles! The list is endless. Obviously one must be mentally flexible as well as healthy to be 100. I have interviewed many new centenarians. Usually, they’re fairly reticent individuals who are a bit bewildered by all the attention. They don’t feel like they’re living history or a particularly fascinating person. Getting them to answer questions (as my dad used to say) is like “getting blood out of a turnip.” At the end of an interview, their lives are usually distilled down to this one question: “To what do you attribute your longevity?” Their response is usually a little sigh and an embarrassed shake of the head. “Well,” they’ll say, “I really don’t know.” When gently coaxed, they’ll gamely offer a few ideas to help us youngsters down the path they’ve been on. Most attribute their longevity to good genes. Others cite a spiritual outlook, a positive attitude or a healthy lifestyle. Many eat simple foods, keep active physically and stay current with the news. Laughter was a common recommendation and a few even keep up with technology and get on the Internet. Still others believe it was that shot of whiskey they consumed every night or the occasional cigar that boosted their spirits! Now, all of this talk about aging got me to thinking. There is a distinct possibility that some of us are going to live a lot longer than we ever dreamed. Perhaps we’d better start appreciating these current birthdays like we did in the good old days. Recently there has even been talk of mankind’s life span increasing to 150 years. Yikes! You know, Methuselah lived to be 969 years old. Personally, I think that’s a bit much. However, some of us might reach that century mark. But if some young whippersnapper reporter comes calling to uncover my longevity secret? I’ll probably be asleep in my recliner and dreaming of the year I was ‘only’ 99 years young! Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Read her weekly columns in the Cottage Grove Sentinel.

Berry Tart and Lemon Souffle from "Tender at the Bone"

3/12/08 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Ruth Reichl’s “Tender at the Bone” is one of the most interesting and delectable books that you will ever read. A combination autobiography and cookbook, Reich’s memoir of her growing up years is a delicious combination that is hard to put down.

As a cook and journalist, author Reichl has impressive credentials. As a young woman, this naturally gifted cook worked every restaurant job available. Eventually, armed with a BA in sociology (honors!), she established a professional catering career while living as a semi-hippie. Then, as sometimes happens in life, she morphed into a renowned restaurant critic through pure blind luck. Even more interesting was that she started at the top of the food chain. Beginning at the Los Angeles Times, she moved on to The New York Times and then became editor-in-chief at Gourmet magazine .

“Tender at the Bone,” is her first book, published in 1999. It landed at the top of the New York Times bestseller list, as did her “Comfort Me With Apples,” published in 2001. I just got around to reading “Tender” and am already salivating at the prospects of digging into “Apples.”

Her first book is almost impossible to put down for two reasons. First, her descriptions of her crazy upbringing and wild youth are page-turners. Reichl’s mother (a manic-depressive) was an interesting person but a dangerous cook, prone to using rotten food. For this reason, her daughter was forced into cooking to literally keep the family from being poisoned. Later, cooking became a source of joy and an outlet for her creative energies.

The following recipes would be wonderful as desserts for your Easter dinner. Coming out of the dead of winter, dishes featuring berries or lemons seem to shout “Lighten up!” They add that special touch that says spring is just around the corner.

The berry tart recipe is attributed to a time when Reichl worked as a camp counselor on a small island off the Atlantic coast of France. The lemon soufflé´ recipe came from the La Belle Aurure in Paris, where her family had dinner one Christmas. Its only drawback is that it must be prepared at the last minute. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Remember this: a soufflé prepared in advance will be a sunken soufflé!

Oléron Berry Tart

1-1/2 cups sifted flour
¼ cup sugar
¼ pound sweet butter
2 tablespoons cream
1 egg yolk

Put flour and sugar into a bowl. Cut the butter into small squares and add to mixture. Toss with your fingers until butter is coated with flour; rub until the mixture resembles cornmeal.

Add cream to egg yolk and pour into flour mixture. Mix lightly with a fork until pastry holds together in a small ball. If not moist enough, add a tablespoon or so of water to bring it together.

Sprinkle flour across a counter and place pastry on flour. Push the dough with the heel of your hand until it has all been worked through. Gather into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and let rest in refrigerator 3 hours.

Remove and allow to warm for about 10 minutes. Sprinkle more flour onto counter. Flatten ball into a disk and roll out into an 11-inch circle. Fit gently into 8 or 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Press into pan gently, being careful not to stretch the dough; trim off edges and put into freezer until firm.

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line tart shell with foil and fill with dried beans. Bake 20 minutes. Remove foil and beans; cook 4-5 minutes more until golden.

Remove from oven and allow to cool while making filling.


¼ cup blanched almonds
¼ cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter, softened
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups raspberries

Put almonds and 3 tablespoons of the sugar in food processor and grind to a fine powder. Cream butter with remaining sugar. Add egg yolks, stirring until smooth. Add ground almond mixture and vanilla.

Spread almond cream into bottom of baked tart shell. Carefully cover the tart with 2 cups of raspberries. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons sugar; bake at 350° F. for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and cool 2 hours.

Just before serving, cover the top of the tart with remaining 2 cups berries. If you like, melt 2 tablespoons currant jam with 1 tablespoon of water in a pan; allow to cool. Brush the glaze over the berries.

Serves 8

Lemon Soufflé

6 eggs
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
¼ cup milk
¼ cup lemon juice
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon rind
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 425° F.

Separate eggs carefully. If there is the tiniest bit of yolk in the whites they will not beat properly. Separate them thoroughly and put the whites into an extremely clean dry bowl. You will need all of the whites but only 4 yolks. Eggs are easiest to separate when cold but easier to beat at room temperature, so do this step first to allow the yolks to warm up.

Butter a 1-1/2 quart soufflé mold very well. Throw in a handful of sugar and shake the soufflé´ dish until it has a thin coating of sugar. Shake out excess. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pan. Add the flour and whisk until well blended. Slowly stir in milk. Cook, stirring, until the mixture has almost reached the boiling point and has become thick and smooth.

Add lemon juice and sugar and cook for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat, add vanilla and cool slightly.

Add 4 egg yolks, one at a time, beating to incorporate each one before adding the next. Add lemon rind, then return the pan to the stove and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute more over medium heat. Remove and let cool.

Add a pinch of salt to the 6 egg whites and beat with a clean beater until they form soft peaks. Stir a quarter of the egg whites into the sauce, then carefully fold in the rest.

Pour into the soufflé´ mold and set on the middle rack of the oven. Turn heat down to 400° and bake 25-30 minutes or until the top is nicely browned and the soufflé´ has risen about 2 inches over the top of the dish.

Serve immediately. Serves 4-6

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! 
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes 
that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.

Farewell, to Lady (the best dog in the world)

3/5/08 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Dogs are the perfect companions. They are cheerful, protective, fun- loving and good listeners who keep our secrets!

Their loyalty to us is pure, devoted and unshakeable. Our dogs joyfully run to meet us when we come home; repeatedly wag their tails when we even glance their way; look deeply into our eyes when we’re sad and generally make us think that we’re the center of their universe. It’s a relationship made in heaven.

Inevitably, that loving relationship ends too soon as the dog ages seven times faster than we do. We faced that heartbreaking truth last year with Lady, our sweet 11-year old German Shepherd mix. The memories of her life are joyful but those of her declining days are still painful.

Her final winter morning began like most other days at our house. The coffee was on and our pets were snuggled up to a crackling fire in the fireplace. Outside, it was cold and wet. To all appearances, it was just another ordinary day.

But it wasn’t. My husband and I had decided that this was the day to “put-down” my precious canine companion. My heart was heavy and by 8 a.m. my cheeks were wet with tears. It was going to be a long day.

I pulled on my heavy jacket and called Lady to come with me to get the newspaper. Somehow, she struggled to her feet and we started down the rain-swept path to get the newspaper. So many memories flooded my mind as we traveled that last painful walk to the mailbox.

Lady and I had bonded from the moment we met on the cold cement floor in Greenhill. She was a tiny, black and beige ball of fur, barely 6-weeks old. Found wandering the streets of Springfield, she sat perfectly still in the midst of barking dogs, confusion and chaos. With crossed paws, she quietly observed us as we knelt to get acquainted. She was a perfect little Lady.

Her sweet almost angelic temperament never faltered as the years rolled by. She fit seamlessly into our family of an elderly Doberman, miniature Dachshund and two cats. She tenderly welcomed several kittens to the family, shared her bed and carefully herded them off the driveway when a car was coming.

She was not your typical puppy. In fact, she was always so calm, obedient and good-natured that we sometimes wondered what planet she came from! With her, everyday was springtime. Except for a total fear of thunderstorms, she was a happy girl.

Whatever else was going on in our lives, she brought us joy. On cold snowy days, she caught snowflakes or rolled in piles of snow until we shivered. In the heat of summer, she cooled off by spinning circles in the lake and then shook until we were all wet. On a leash, she walked like a feather, tail aloft, head high, anxious to see the world.

As she aged, pain became her constant companion due to severed and repaired ligaments in her rear legs. There were other problems, tumors and cancer. Each challenge she met with grace, dignity and perseverance, just as she had when abandoned and caged at Greenhill.

Unlike her, we tended to whine and complain during our times of discomfort. We did not always meet life’s challenges with the same grace and serenity as our canine friend.

But when we were weak, Lady demonstrated strength. She would quietly lie bedside during times of illness and recuperation. During times of stress, she would slowly walk alongside, wagging her tail in encouragement. A patient, intuitive listener, she snuggled close when tears fell during hard times.

The day she turned her head and stopped eating, I knew she was dying. I frantically searched the Internet for homemade dog food recipes. “Satin Balls” made of ground meat, wheat germ, molasses and Knox gelatin became her food of choice. For awhile she ate them out of my hand. Finally, she stopped eating entirely.

Sadly, along with her loss of appetite, she lost her zest for living. She spent her days sleeping or staring at the ground, avoiding our touch or company. She would even run and hide when I brought out the camera to take her picture.

On her last morning, as we walked down the road, she somehow summoned enough strength to do a little dance, trying to catch the wind. She looked so pretty in her bright red collar but looks were deceiving. Her beautifully colored coat hid the fact that she had become skin and bones. Her once thick fur had become thin, dull and flaky. Her backbone and hips were fused with painful calcium deposits. Sadly, the light of her joy of living had dimmed and gone out of her eyes.

We prayed that God in his mercy would allow her to fall asleep and go to doggie heaven. But that was not to be. Instead, we were forced to make the decision to end her life. Then, we were shocked, as the medication was administered, she did not immediately die. It was as if she was reluctantly leaving this earth because she knew how much we still needed her.

We believed then, as we do now, that she came into our lives for a reason and a season. She needed us and we needed her. Lady was our miracle dog. Other dogs may bring us love and joy; but she will always be the queen of our hearts and the keeper of our secrets.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Contact her at 942-1317 or via e-mail —