Tag Archives: recipes

Guest Author Ashton Lee

Hello, People; Tonette here…
As I promised, today I have another special
guest, my FaceBook friend, author Ashton Lee.
Ashton is already an accomplished writer, but there is quite a bit of buzz about his upcoming release,”The Cherry Cola Book Club”, (Kensington Press, NY)
(But I’ll let him tell you more about it).
I am pleased and honored that Ashton has agreed to share thoughts about his
book and about food, friends and family with us.

So, Friends, I bring you… Ashton Lee!

Hello everyone! Tonette has asked me to comment on the role comfort food and its preparation plays in my forthcoming novel–‘The Cherry Cola Book Club–‘ from Kensington Books. It will be released on April 13th but may be pre-ordered now from your local book store.

First, a bit of background about myself. I’m a Deep Southerner, as I like to say, born and brought up in the historic town of Natchez, Ms. My enormous extended family gave me lots of fodder for my future fiction. You cannot grow up with nineteen first cousins who are like brothers and sisters and not observe generous helpings of human behavior.

One of the happiest memories I have of growing up is of Sunday dinners in the country with my cousins, aunts, uncles, parents, and, of course, my maternal grandfather, who hosted these feasts. The fare was almost always the same: fried chicken, succotash, sliced tomatoes, cornbread, rice and gravy and applesauce pie for dessert. For the adults this was preceded by mint juleps, while we kids drank tea or soda pop.

The feeling of great security and comfort derived from these dinners still sticks with me today. It provides emotional shelter in unstable economic and political times, and I return to those memories often both when I am writing and while simply daydreaming.

My maternal grandmother added a different layer of comfort whenever we all visited her house. She and my grandfather were separated, but never divorced, and the matter was never discussed. Instead, it almost seemed like both of them competed for our affection with lavish displays of comfort cuisine. For my grandmother, that consisted of tomato aspic and baked custard. She always had legions of both in the refrigerator, and her standard statement after hugging and kissing us was: “Now you simply have to eat something. What do you want–aspic or custard?” Even if we’d just eaten elsewhere, we had to accept one or the other with a smile. In truth, either one was a cup of her affection for her family, and it was easy to picture her spending most of the day before a visit, toiling in the kitchen to greet us properly with these staples.

“The Cherry Cola Book Club” is filled with characters who use food in just such a manner, plus more: to reach out to strangers, to set the table, if you will, for stronger existing friendship, to offer a bit of themselves through a shared experience that everyone must indulge.

If you’d like more information on the plot and characters, just go to facebook.com/ashtonlee.net and click on the big ‘Like’ icon. You’ll be kept updated on reviews, book tour dates and other buzz. There is a special recipe section in the back of the book which I know you will enjoy. Everything from frozen fruit salad to chicken spaghetti and that tomato aspic and baked custard. I hope all of you will be reading and comfort cooking when spring gets here.

[Tonette’s back:]Thank you, Aston; it would seem that the premise of ‘The Cherry Cola Book Club” is tailor-made to complement this blog. “Food, Friend and Family” is not just a title; it’s a philosophy. I don’t meant to imply that food is all, but everyone eats and there is not a culture in the world, (past or present), that has not celebrated with foods and used them to comfort and welcome others. Food is a wonderful way for people to connect, to open their hearts; to lead people to share their stories and their cultures. As families fragment and drift apart, we need to try to find the time to pass down heritage, share family stories, and to make new ones to tell later on; family meals, visits and celebrations are probably the best ways.

I am not the only one who has been waiting with fervent anticipation for “The Cherry Cola Book Club”; Ashton and Kensington Press are bracing for great success, (in fact, a sequel is already well on its way!) I hope the book tour goes as planned,( or better) , because it should bring him waaaay up north within a couple of hours of me and I have every intention of driving out to meet him in person, get a book, get an autograph and give him a hug!

I hope you feel free to bring on any questions here that you may have for Ashton.
[Sorry, he can not share any of the recipes that he mentioned because of prepublication and copyright restrictions; we’ll just have wait and get our hands on the book! ]

Who wants to start us off?

Mini Meatball Soup and Stew/Broth

In continuing with the last post’s theme, here are two recipes using tiny ground beef meatballs that are homemade, easy, comforting. The Stew was a specialty of my favorite uncle-by-marriage, a brave Welshman who joined the crazy Italian side. It has always been a hit with family and friends. And it needn’t be a fiesta day to enjoy the Fiesta Day Soup; it was a staple for luncheon in my bakery/restaurant.

To make basic meatballs, take one pound of ground beef, sprinkle with salt and roll into balls approximately one to one and a half inch in diameter. (do not make them large but don’t worry too much about how big they are as long as they are of generally consistent size.) Pan-fry in 2 Tbsp. butter, margarine, regular olive oil or peanut oil, turning often to brown on all sides…or if you wish to make a larger number or have other irons in the fire, bake them on buttered, oiled or cooking spray covered foil-lined baking pan @350F until just cooked through. Drain of oil and fat, and place in a container or freezer bag. Cover with beef broth, (homemade broth recipes below), or bouillon reconstituted from cubes or granules. Freeze flat or in a square container if using bags, so that they might store more easily when solid.

Thaw slowly in a pot when ready to use and you can have homemade one-bowl meals in short time with the recipes below, just in time for cooler weather, when you are pressed for time or for unexpected company. These are great for after winter activities to warm you from the inside–out.

Baby Meatball Stew*

 

One pound prepared small meatballs with broth (or bouillon)

One cup of sliced carrots

One cup of green beans

One cup of diced potatoes

Salt and Pepper

Dash of thyme {optional

1 Tbsp. corn starch

Place all ingredients in a heavy pot; simmer until the vegetables are cooked. Mix corn starch with two Tbsp. water and add to simmering stew; stir to thicken. Serve with buttered bread, preferably whole-grain or crusty French or Italian breads.

EASIER  Baby Meatball stew:

 

Prepared meatballs with broth

1 can sliced potatoes {drained

1 can green beans {drained

1 can sliced carrots (undrained

1 Tbsp. corn starch

Mix or match fresh vegetables with canned, (if using any fresh, cook in broth with meatballs until tender before adding canned). Simmer all until thoroughly warmed and the flavors mix. Dissolve cornstarch in two tablespoons of water and blend into stew while it is simmering to thicken. Serve with breads, as above.

Fiesta Day Soup

1 Tablespoon of butter

One medium onion, diced

2/3 cup carrots, sliced

½ cup bell pepper, diced

1 cup tomatoes, diced, (can be canned)

1 cup tomato sauce

1 lb. prepared mini meatballs

Enough water to make 2 cups of liquid with the broth

2 cloves of garlic, crushed (or 2 tsp. dried garlic chips

1 ½   tsp. dried Basil

1 Bay leaf

½ tsp. paprika

Salt and pepper

1/3 cup tiny pasta (pastina, stars, achini di pepe, etc.

or ½ cup cooked rice

Melt butter and sauté  the fresh vegetables until soft. Add the meatballs, broth and water (if needed); add herbs, spices, tomatoes and  tomato sauce. Simmer for 30-45 minutes. Add the pasta, stir and cook until the pasta is done. Remove the Bay leaf and serve.

(If using cooked rice, add after the soup has cooked for 30-45 minutes; add rice and simmer for 10-15 minutes .Remove Bay leaf and serve.

[Note: The pasta or rice will continue to absorb the liquid in any left-over soup. It will become thick, but the flavor will not suffer. If it becomes too thick, add a little water when  re-heating]

 

Broths are simple and easy and you should make them.I will focus on beef broth in this post.

I save any bones and trimmings from beef that I buy  and freeze them until I have enough for broth…or I will buy  beef ribs ; they are THE best, robust  flavor for broth.Either way, take whatever beef you’d like to use and place it n a large pot..Cover with at least 4 quarts of water.Add on chopped medium onion, 2-3 ribs of celery, 1/8 cup dried parsley, 1 Tbsp. salt and either 1 tsp. ground black pepper,(preferably course ground), or 5  whole  peppercorns. Do not chop the vegetables; they will be easier to remove when the  broth is cooked.(They will have spent their flavors and be useless afterward.)  Although many people do,I do not add carrots.I believe that it imparts too strong of a flavor into the broth.

Simmer until the liquid is reduced to one-third of it’s original volume.Taste for  salt and add more if necessary, re-taste to check for strength and cook longer if it is weak . Strain the cooked broth into a large bowl.If there are any good, lean pieces of meat you can remove them and add them to the strained broth; discard vegetables, bones, fat, cartilage. Chill.This is an important step; it will bring all the fat to the top and it will solidify, making it easy to remove and leaving you with practically fat-free, protein-filled, calcium  and vitamin-enriched broth. If there is meat, you can add vegetables, and noodles, pasta, rice or barley to a hearty  make soup.If plain,  you can freeze it in small batches and use it for gravies or as a base for other soups. Enjoy!

Meatless Protein Combinations

The key to low cholesterol, Lenten, vegetarian , (lacto/ovo- vegetarians who eat dairy products and eggs; lacto-vegetarians who indulge in milk and milk products),
vegan, (those who consume and use no animal products), or absolutely fool-proof, non-offensive hosting are meatless-protein combinations. Some of them are not complete proteins, but are close enough. There are several types of non-dairy milks that are readily available in your local grocery store: Soy, Rice and Almond, which I find wonderful, and can not only be substituted for milk as a drink, but in cereal,(cooked or cold), rice, whipped into potatoes, etc. Again, please ask any guest as some of these may cause allergic reactions. There are also Oat and Hemp milks on the market. I have not used these; and I need to experiment more with tofu, seitan and other non-meat proteins.
[Recipes for suggestions with asterisks will be in upcoming blogs]
Examples of non-meat protein combos are:
Beans or legumes with grains, corn (vegan)
Beans or legumes with dairy products.
Grains with dairy products.
Rice or potatoes with dairy products.
Confusing? Not really. You already eat many of them without realizing it:
Macaroni and cheese
Pasta Alfredo
Cheese ravioli or tortellini
Cheese pizza
Cheese sandwich; grilled or on plain bread, or grilled open-faced under the broiler
(Try Cheddars, Swiss, Muenster, my favorite, Gouda, or Mozzarella or Brick
sprinkled with Parmesan.)
Cheese pinwheel breads*.
Cheese tacos.
Peanut butter sandwich, or crackers. (vegan)
Bean, (vegan), (or bean and cheese) burritos.
Bean dip* and corn chips. ( without cheese or sour cream, vegan)
Red (or black) beans and rice. (vegan)
Navy or Great Northern beans and rice. (vegan)
Cheesy rice.
Rice pudding, or rice with milks, (served as breakfast in the South.)
Oatmeal, wheat or rice cereal, cooked in milks.
Dry cereal in milks.
Cream cheese on a bagel, rolls, toast or crackers. (try mixing with honey or fruit
puree).
Cheese and crackers.
Baked potatoes, with sour cream, shredded cheese ,or twice-baked potatoes*.
Potato casserole with cheese or milk-based sauce.
Potatoes, scalloped or au gratin.
Potato soup with open-faced, broiled cheese sandwich, or crackers.
Bean soup* with noodles ( non-egg, vegan) or crackers.
Lentil soup* with rice, (or popcorn instead of crackers).(vegan)
Any of the above soups with corn bread or rice (vegan)
Vegetable Pasta Salad* , (vegan)
“Breakfast” burritos,* without meat.
A tossed salad, with cubed cheese and and/or sesame seeds, (vegan) or
A tossed or layered salad with either cheese or with sesame seeds and cooked
lentils,(vegan)
Herbed Garbanzo or other beans, rehydrated bulgur wheat, cooked rice or croutons, without cheese, ( vegan)
(These can be presented in a tomato or baked into a vegetable* )(vegan)

(To rehydrate bulgur wheat, bring 1 cup of water to a boil, remove from heat and
steep ½ cup of wheat for approximately 20 minutes. Drain and cool. Add to
salad. Serves four. These salads can be a real pick- me- up. They wake Husband
up better than a cup of coffee.)
And Custard or Cheese pies, pastries, torts and blintzes . (These being made with wholesome ingredients.) There are many Mediterranean and Eastern European specialties made with cheeses, eggs, farina or other grains, which can make a light meal when served with fruit .
Maybe you have a family, regional or ethnic favorite that comes to mind when
reading this list. Use your family’s taste and your own imagination for other
combinations. Remember to be careful with the use of dairy products when trying
to avoid cholesterol, and for vegans, who eat no animal products. For all others,
don’t forget the egg, a most useful food for Lent, vegetarians, (who eat eggs,
again, ask), or if your guest avoids beef or pork.
Egg salad*, in a sandwich or stuffed in a tomato*.
Deviled eggs*, or hard-cooked eggs, sliced and on a cheese tray or in a tossed
salad.
Scramble eggs with American or cheddar cheese, tempered with a few drops of
milk. Try using picante sauce or a meatless spaghetti sauce for a surprisingly
filling meal.
Omelets with almost any type of cheese; try adding onions, (with sautéed peppers and
tomatoes for a Spanish omelet), or make frittatas*, which are basically open-faced
omelets, with white cheeses and green onions; add any herb that catches your
fancy. And if you can’t manage an omelet or frittata, or you just break one, turn
it into scrambles eggs and pass it off as if
you’d planned to make it that way. It will taste just as good, and no one will
be the wiser. ( I dropped a Bundt cake on a table just before guests arrived for
dinner. I sliced it at an angle and arranged it nicely on a serving dish. No one would have been the wiser, if my sister hadn’t decided
to make an embellished version of the story the night’s entertainment.)
All of the egg recipes above could be served with a carbohydrate; biscuits,
muffins, croissants or toast, which aid in the absorbing the protein.
Try serving something other than white sandwich bread: toast wheat, multi- grain, Italian, rye, pumpernickel, and your stand-by, raisin, make an interesting and flavorful addition. If you have a bread machine, pull it out. It is an easy way to make something that seems a little special and you have used very little effort in doing so. On the other hand, some bread recipes call for vegan no-nos: egg, milk, or honey, which is not often thought of as an animal product.
Honey is the only food that will not spoil, ( if it crystallizes, you can warm it back to perfection in a microwave or better yet, with its opened container sitting in boiling water, stirring at intervals until smooth), but should not be used by children under two, and perhaps by folks with compromised immune systems, as it can contain spores which can cause a rare type of botulism, and infant digestive tracts are not ready to render them harmless, as older, developed ones do . Science knows that honey consists of about 90 per cent sugar and 10 per cent water, but has never been able to be duplicated it, no matter what you have heard. Once, a very tipsy relative by marriage came in bearing gifts. Lifting them out of her bag, she listed them off ; among which were peanut butter, candy, flowers to plant and a jar of honey. Doing a double take before setting the honey on the table, she woozily and laboriously focused in on the label and added, “This is clover honey, not regular bee honey.” Trust me; it was bee honey. Most of the honey purchased bottled in the United States is clover honey, made from nectar collected from clover flowers, because Americans like a nice, light, mild honey spread, but bees will utilize any nearby flower. There would be no apples, pears, peaches or any fruit without pollination from bees, and therefore there are many different honeys out there, often used in food processing. So, even in eating fruit you are utilizing bee power, so give them some respect, their stingers not bee-ing the only reason. In most larger supermarkets you can find Orange blossom, buckwheat or honeys made from other pollens and nectar. Generally speaking, the darker the honey, the stronger the taste. I suggest fruit spreads, jellies, jams and margarine, ( some softened, mixed with cinnamon and sugar, vanilla ), peanut and nut butters as spreads for you vegan guests…..or, rather, their breadstuff