About Me

I have been cooking my way through life for over 50 years, beginning with mud pies as a child. I've turned a corner now and feel a Renaissance in my life. Recipes and Random Thoughts is my personal spin in a blog about how to prepare good food and how it prepares you for life. I want to share with you, honest to goodness food punctuated with perspective from the special memories and moments that have marked my journey.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Gingerbread, a Christmas Classic

As the carpenter walked in my back door, he said, "Your house smells  like Christmas!  What are you cooking?"  He was there to make some repairs while I was baking pieces for a gingerbread house.  Every home should have the the sights and scents of the holidays and nothing evokes that association like a fresh decorated Christmas tree and the smell of gingerbread baking.  Nobody thinks of the 4th of July when they smell gingerbread - it's almost as essential to Christmas as the tree.  I've decorated many a gingerbread man and slaved over gingerbread houses but basic gingerbread is surprisingly delightful to dinner guests simply adored with sweetened whipped cream or orange sauce. It brings back memories. I can say this because, I'll never forget the hostess who served it to me one night and I thought, "How could I have overlooked this classic?"

Bake something gingerbread each Christmas, it will surprise you and your friends.  This recipe is from Willams Sonoma Desserts collection.

1 2/3 all purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmed
1/4 tsp salt
6 tbls unsalted butter, room temp
 1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs room temp
1/2 cup molasses
 1/2 cup warm water

Lightly grease an 8-inch square baking dish and dust with flour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt until well blended., Set aside. In another bowl, using a mixer on medium speed, beat together the butter and brown sugar until well blended and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, until just blended.  Continue beating while slowly addding the molasses. sprinkle the flour mixture over the egg mixture and stir until just incorporated. Add the water and stir until blended. Pour into the prepared pan and spread evenly.

Bake until the gingerbread is puffed and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes.  Let cool on a rack. Cut into squares and serve warm or at room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Creamy Bacon Holiday Dip

As the saying goes, "if you're going to sin, sin big".

  Every year for the past  13 or so, some of my girl friends and I retreat to the mountains just before Thanksgiving to prepare ourselves for the oncoming holiday season.  We relax, eat, drink, sleep, shop and talk alot.  One of the girls brought a yummy spread this year.  She says men love it, well women do too!

This is the kind of rich spread that temps everyone to break that vow not to gain an ounce during the holidays.  But just a bite won't hurt, will it?   Maybe just one more and then I'll walk away.  Oh, well dive in, it Christmas isn't it?
 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup grated Swiss Cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2  tbls (or more) green onions thinly sliced
8 strips bacon cooked & crumbled
1/2 cup Ritz cracker crumbled

Mix first four ingredients and spread in a small baking dish.  Top with crumbled bacon and cracker crumbs.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes and serve with your favorite crackers.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Brown & Wild Rice Salad

This is one of my favorite easy side dishes for the holidays.  It makes a beautiful presentation on a platter with Cornish Game Hens or vension.  Always popular, I've even served it at luncheons and carried it to holiday pot luck.  It can be prepared ahead as the flavor gets better overnight and can be served at room temp.  Toast and mix in the pecans just before serving and if you're over cranberries, use chopped dried apricots.  I actually found an interesting mix of brown, wild and red rices at Whole Foods for the picture below.  Enjoy!

2 cups brown and wild rice mix cooked according to directions (omit flavor packet)
1 cup pecans toasted and chopped
1 cup sliced green onions (white and green part)
1 cup dried cranberries or chopped dried apricots
1 tsp orange zest

For the dressing:

1/2 cup red wine or raspberry vinegar
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp honey
1 small shallot finely diced
1 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Sunday, December 2, 2012

My Favorite Christmas - 1973

It wasn't that Christmas as a small child wasn't magical.  The thrill of selecting our Christmas tree, bringing the decorations down from the attic, wrapping presents and waiting for Santa  are still some of the high points in my life, but 1973 stands out as my favorite.  I was a 20 year old college student spending a semester abroad in London.  Most of my family's Christmas traditions had their roots in the British Isles and there I was at the heart of it.  Charles Dickens' home was open for tour that time of year.  His classic, A Christmas Carole inspired us to try "figgy pudding", a steamed concoction of fruits that wouldn't find much popularity today.  I loved to stroll the vibrant streets in the afternoon shopping for Christmas surprises.  At Fortnum and Mason's  I found sheets of the most exotically beautiful jewel colored and flocked wrapping paper I'd ever seen (or still ever seen).  Nothing like the cheap tacky wrapping paper I ripped through on Christmas morning.  I splurged on several sheets to make presents under the tree almost too beautiful to unwrap, something memorable I could bring to the occasion. We reused those sheets for several years until they where small scraps or too worn to salvage any longer but beautiful to the end. 

I didn't exactly starve during that semester but I definitely wasn't well nourished.  I lived on eggs and porridge at breakfast, then odds and ends during the day. I was on my own.  Real meals were infrequent and I came back home months later with dull skin and hair, split nails and a few extra pounds (why didn't I buy some vitamins).  I might dine on a box of chocolates washed down by a  pint of beer  at the theater in the evening.  There was no Thanksgiving feast but we did muster up an event at "Ye Old Cheshire Cheese", a famous haunt of Samuel Johnson, and  we ate something extravagant like roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.  We bought tickets for The Nutcracker at Covent Garden and took high tea at the Savoy before the performance.  I think we stood out as blatantly American in our blue jeans but we enjoyed the moment and the assortment of little sandwiches and sweets.  I attended Julie Andrew's Christmas concert with the London Symphony at The Royal Albert Hall.  I can only remember the first song now,  Jingle Bells!  She was perfect and in her prime!

Some of us took a detour to Rome for a few days.  Rome was preparing for Christmas in a less secular way.  We arrived on the day when the Pope annually comes to the Spanish Steps and blesses the crowd.  I think we decided we needed to be blessed considering our moral decline while away from home or maybe we where just curious.  Big mistake, it was bedlam.  I was literally lifted off my feet and pushed further and further back in the crowd.  I was separated from my friends and had to hold on to my purse for dear life.  Finally, I escaped the madness and headed for the Piazza Narvona.  It was decorated with cheerful strings of lights and street vendors. I bought a bag of roasted chestnuts which often passed for a cheap meal on my meager budget.  Italy certainly had better food in quality and quantity than England but there was something about that moment of eating roast chestnuts in the Piazza Narvona that was a blessing in its own way.

Samuel Johnson's famous quote, "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life" is certainly true and I wasn't tired of London.  You could never get to the end of exploration but my time was up and I headed home just as the first snow fell on December 22nd. I ditched most of my clothes and filled my luggage with Christmas gifts. Nobody was checking your bag for bombs back then.  The idea of going home did have its appeal.  I'd written my mother I was in desperate need of some vegetables. What was so English about peas and where were they, for heaven sakes?  Squash and string beans where waiting when I walked in the door; vegetables I used to get bored with but ate with relish that night.

 As a child, it was all about me, what was Santa going to bring me, but that Christmas in 1973, I was more on the giving end than the receiving for the first time. My presents to family and friends, from far away, wrapped in elegant paper, thrilled and delighted those I loved.  It was their turn to be children again and I was Santa. London had expanded my horizons and my heart. 1973 was a good year and it ended just as I met my future husband.  Not a bad way to end the year.

The world's a smaller place now.  London's too easy to get to and cell phones keep us in touch so my son went to the other side of the planet for his abroad experience.  He stopped in Fiji on his way home and said he thought about bringing home a shrunken head for Christmas but didn't think he'd get it through customs.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Butternut Squash Soup

Tonight we're invited over to friends for turkey sandwiches following Thanksgiving and a day of frantic shopping.  I'm bringing butternut squash soup to round out the meal. Just the right blend of herbs, spice and a splash of cream make this a fall favorite.  The secret to any great soup is fresh homemade stock but another trick is to strain off the juices whenever you roast a chicken. Then chill the juices and scape off the fat.  The remaining essence resembles gelatin.  I freeze this in ice cube portions for a handy way to enhance flavor in soups and sauces.  Process the soup in batches (or use a stick blender) to give it a velvety smooth texture.  Garnish with chopped sage or chives.

2-3 lbs. peeled, seeded butternut squash cut into small cubes
1 medium onion diced
2 tbls. unsalted butter
1/2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp freshly cracked white pepper
1 quart chicken stock
1 sprig of sage
1 whole garlic clove
2 tbls heavy cream
salt to taste

Microwave the squash in a large glass bowl covered with plastic wrap for 5 minutes or until squash cubes are tender and easily pierced with a knife. Coarsely mash the squash with a potato masher.
In a heavy dutch oven, heat butter over medium heat and add onions. Cook stirring frequently until translucent. Add the thyme and cook a minute longer. Add the squash and mix with onions.  Pour in the chicken stock, add the garlic clove, sage sprig, white pepper and grated nutmeg .  Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer 20-30 minutes.  Turn the heat off and let soup sit covered for 1 hour.  Remove the whole garlic clove and sage sprigs.  Adjust seasoning.  Puree in batches. Return to clean pot and heat to simmer.  Add cream and heat just before serving.  Freezes well.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Salted Caramel Pie

If there's a choice between chocolate and caramel, I'm the odd person who picks caramel.  I love chocolate but if given a choice, I'll opt for a caramel, butterscotch or brown sugar confection.  I think it has something to do with being a redhead.  Recently, I had Grand Jury duty and spent most of my service reading magazines in the jurors' lounge where I found this recipe in Food & Wine magazine.
It's decadent and "easy as pie" and was my contribution to our family Thanksgiving.

For the pie crust;

1 14/ cups graham cracker crumbs
4 tbls unsalted butter melted
1/4 cup light brown sugar

Process the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter and brown sugar until all are moistened.  Press into a 9 inch glass or metal pie plate. Bake 10 mins. at 350 degrees. Remove from oven and cool.

Increase heat to 425 degrees.

For the caramel filling:

2 14 oz cans sweetened condensed milk
Fleur de Sel

Scrape condensed milk into a 9 x 13 inch glass baking dish.  Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp fleur de sel.  Cover tightly with foil.  Place in a roasting pan and add hot water to the roasting pan to 1/3 of the way up the baking dish.  Bake 2 hours, lifting foil and stirring 2 or 3 times until golden and thick. Don't worry if it's not smooth. Add more hot water to pan if necessary.  Scrape caramel into the pie crust.  Cover with plastic wrap sprayed with cooking spray directly onto the caramel.  Refrigerate at least 4 hours.  Take out of the refrigerator an hour before serving and top with the following.

For the topping:

2 cups whipping cream
2 tbls powdered sugar

Combine and whip with an electric mixer until soft peaks form.  Spread over caramel filling. Garnish with Fleur de Sel.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Turkey Time Meatloaf

I've learned to love turkey meatloaf!  It used to leave me wanting flavor and a texture that didn't  make me think wall paper paste was an ingredient.  I've tried numerous varieties of  meatloaf recipes over 36 years and have honed down a few that meet my standards.  The recent popularity of turkey meatloaf has puzzled me.  Thanks to Cooks Illustrated, I've adapted their ingredients to the turkey version. You just can't make a turkey meatloaf  pull even to a beef, pork, veal mix without cheating. It takes everything but the kitchen sink. Yes, this is complicated, but I think worth the time and effort.  Note the clean up is easy with the foil covered rack.

You need five elements:

1: Flavor - Use 96% lean ground turkey and add flavor with onion, green pepper, garlic, smoked paprika, soy sauce, Worcestershire  and tomato sauce; salt & pepper  The real secret is to add a little fat back with grated cheese, I like Monterey Jack.
2. Texture - I like Panko bread crumbs to ward off the pastiness.  Crushed saltines are a good second.  I've tried oatmeal, stale corn bread crumbs, rice and others.  The binder needs to absorb without leaving its' fingerprint.  You should taste the meat not the binder.
3. Body - Egg and a little unflavored gelatin.  The egg is traditional the gelatin replaces veal's gelatinous nature. Providing a way for the meatloaf to drain as it cooks takes a little extra prep work but make such a difference.  Also, letting the meatloaf cool a few minutes before slicing ensures it will hold its shape when served.
4. Proportion - Very, very important. Don't just throw the ingredients together, follow the recipe. This is not a dump all in a bowl and mix up. It's done in steps, so be patient.
5. Compliment - A great meatloaf can stand on its own, but a gravy, ketchup based glaze or, my favorite, tomato - onion jam is a great finishing touch.

1 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped green pepper
2 tbls canola oil
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp dried thyme
1 garlic clove pressed

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium/low heat.  Add onions and green pepper and cook stirring occasionally for 2 minutes.  Add the smoked paprika and continue to cook a few more minutes. Add the garlic and cook 30 more seconds,  Remove mixture from heat and allow to cool.

Cover a cooling rack top and bottom with aluminum foil. Fold the edges tightly together, then poke holes in the top layer to allow drainage. Spray top with cooking spray. Place rack on a cooking sheet.

In a medium bowl:

1 8oz can of tomato sauce
2 eggs beaten
1 tbls Worcester Sauce
1 tbls soy sauce
1tsp unflavored gelatin
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
1 tbls chopped fresh flat leaf Italian Parsley
Mix the tomato sauce, Worcester & Soy together, then sprinkle the gelatin over allow to bloom a few minutes the add the beaten egg and chopped parsley.
In a large bowl, mix:

 1 1/2 lbs 96% lean ground turkey with
 1/2 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp salt

Now, combine with the meat mixture, in order:
-the cooled vegetables and paprika and mix, then add
- the sauce mixture, and mix
* I mix with my hands in latex gloves.

Pack the mixture into a 9x5 loaf pan and smooth the top. Then turn the loaf onto the foil covered rack and smooth edges. Bake @350 degrees for 1 hour or until a meat thermomether registers 160 degrees at the center.
Allow meat loaf to cool 10 minutes before slicing.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Green Goddess Salad Dressing

Sometimes I've just got to have a change from vinagrette.  I have a variety of vinegars in my pantry, but every now and then, I give into a richer mayo based dressing.  This Green Goddess is loaded with lots of what my husband calls "green things"  and it's another incidence when I've got too many fresh herbs around and things like buttermilk that need to be used up.  And, yes, I do keep anchovies in my pantry.  They give a distinct but subtle flavor if used correctly.

1 cup mayonaise
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup buttermilk
3 tbls chopped tarragon
3 tbls chopped chives
1 tbls chopped dill
1/2 cup chopped flat leaf Italian parsley
1 tbls tarragon vinegar
2 anchovie filets
1 garlic clove chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Put all ingredients in the food processor and process about 1 min.
Keeps in refrigerator 1 week.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Food Network Competitions - "Chopped" Should be Stopped

I usually enjoy watching the Food Network programs that feature a chef personality cooking.  I learn something and get new ideas, but these competition shows are getting on my nerves.  Cupcake Wars and the like are pretty ridiculous.  Chopped is the worst.  The premise is simple, the professional chef contestants get a basket of several odd ingredients and must whip something up in 30 minutes and serve it to a panel of snooty judges.  It's similar to Iron Chef but the ingredients are more peculiar and there's little chance of making restaurant quality fare.  After several rounds, one chef wins $10,000 for producing the least offensive concoctions.

I really was horrified to see one poor female contestant open her basket containing a rattlesnake.  It was skinned and beheaded but a shocker to her and myself.  She recoiled in horror, shaking, unable, for a bit, to gather her thoughts and handle the snake, losing valuable time. You could tell she wanted to run off the set and was on the verge of tears.  The snooty judges pronounced her dish "terrible".  Well, it's exactly what they deserved if you ask me. How often do you see rattlesnake on a menu.  Those things will kill you! In my state, surprising someone with a rattlesnake is called "Redneck Justice" not a cooking ingredient. My husband claims to have eaten rattlesnake at camp when he was a kid and I'm sure certain cultures find snake acceptable but, I do not.  I thought it was a dirty trick and  rushed to my computer to protest on their web site but there's no "Contact Us" to click onto. So, I'm chopping Chopped from my TV viewing.

I keep a pretty well stocked larder and frig but, occasionally, I'm faced with what can I make out of what's available.  Coming back home from a two week trip at midnight and scrounging around in the kitchen can present a challenge.  More likely, I spot several items that are about to go bad and try to use them in something creative (see my Banana-Peach Bread), and that's kind of fun.  I made zucchini boats last night with prosciutto, bread crumbs and Parmesan because all those items had been in the frig long enough. Drizzle with a little olive oil - not bad. Who can afford to waste food these days?

Come on Food Network, show us something better!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Halloween Cookies

I really got into cookie decorating a while back with the help of one of those Martha Stewart kits.  Now I have over 350 cookie cutters but some get more use than others. I have Frankenstein, witches, bats, spider webs, owls and lots of others, but my pumpkins are a favorite.  No matter how elaborate the decoration, it's got to start with a good cookie otherwise, nobody will eat it.  Here is my classic sugar cookie that holds its' shape and bakes well.  I roll out my chilled dough onto a pastry cloth and use a rolling pin sock to avoid sticking.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In the bowl of a food processor:

1 stick unsalted butter at room temp
1 cup sugar

Process until combined and creamed, then add

1 large egg

and process until combined, then add

2 cups all purpose flour, 1 cup at a time and process,
then add

1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla

Process, then scrape dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least 4 hrs or overnight.  Flour the pastry cloth and rolling pin in its sock. Cut the chilled dough in half, returning other half to the refrigerator.  Roll to 1/4 in thickness and cut out shapes.  Bake on a cookie sheet 10-13 mins. depending on size.  Makes about 3 dozen 4 in. cookies.

Decorate with royal icing:

2 egg whites beaten until foamy
Add 2 cups powdered sugar and beat until smooth.
You may adjust the thickness of the icing to suit the need by thinning with a few drops of water or adding more powdered sugar for thicker icing.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Tailgate Tacos

When I was growing up, it was a great tradition to go to the world famous Varsity before a Georgia Tech or Georgia football game.  The Varsity is the largest hamburger joint in the world.  A "red steak", fries and a frosted orange or a Coke with crushed ice, mmmmh.  A special memory and still a great experience; just don't have your cholesterol checked for a while afterwards.
Then, tailgating came in vogue and became a hugh part of the sporting event.  You just need a legal place to park, set up your seats, food, cooler and friends.  Some folks don't even have tickets or care.  They just have a party and listen to the game on the radio.  There are all sorts of tailgate competitions.  Chili cook offs are pretty popular, but my chili just doesn't burn the gut enough to make a statement.  Now, here's a thought, with that South of the Border flair.  Pulled pork tacos with all the fixins.

For the Pork:
5+ lbs pork shoulder
Spice Rub:
2 tbls smoked paprika
2 tbls kosher salt
2 tbls pepper
2 tbls onion powder
2 tbls garlic powder
2 tbls brown sugar
1 tbls chili powder
1 tbls ground cumin

Season pork shoulder liberally with rub then sit in a large foil pan and seal tightly with foil.  Refrigerate over night.  Heat oven to 325 and cook pork shoulder, fat side up, 6 hours or until fork tender. Remove the pork from the pan to a large bowl and shred the meat using two forks to pull apart.

Serve pulled pork with warm soft tacos and your choice of salsa verde, pico de gallo, guacamole, slaw, roasted corn salsa, lime, sour cream, etc.  GO TEAM!!!

Pico de Gallo:

3 large tomatoes chopped
1 onio chopped
 1/4 cup cilanto chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 tsp salt
1 jalepeno diced
juice of 1 lime
1 avocado chopped (optional)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Oven Roasted Tomatoes

They where just some leftover tomatoes from my last blog post.  Not the luscious summer beauties but nice cooking substitutes probably grown in a hot house.  Not good enough for my salads, so I decided to use a simple technique to turn them into something extraordinary.  Oven roasting at 200 degrees  for  6 hours on parchment paper with just salt, pepper and a drizzle of Georgia olive oil produced an intense sweetness I never suspected from these rather bland tomatoes. After taking them out of the oven I sprinkled them with a little grated Parmesan for a delicious finish.  They are good enough to stand on their own on any plate or garnish a salad.  Wrapped in prosciutto they make a great little pick up bite.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Shrimp Gumbo Alfresco

The weather has moderated from the muggy buggy days of August when "sauna" is the right word to describe our climate.  A far cry from our vacation in Alaska. Suddenly, the skies are clear and the humidity is low. We have a reprieve from the mosquitoes so its time to eat outdoors again.  I'm inspired by the fresh white Georgia shrimp I spy in the store, tomatoes are prime and okra's still available.  Gumbo!!  If you don't know what file is, it comes from sassafrass.  Look for it in spices.

4 tbls flour
4 tbls butter
2 tbls butter
3 cups sweet onion diced
1+ cup green pepper diced
5 garlic cloves minced
1 smoked ham hock
1 lb andouie sausage
12 okra pods, cut in piece
2 tsp Creole Seasoning
2 bay leaves
2 tbls chopped parsley
2-3 lbs tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped
1/2 tsp pepper, 1 tbls Kosher salt (more to taste)
1 tbls file
2 lbs peeled and deveined shrimp
1 quart fish stock*
2 tbls Worcestershire sauce

In a large heavy dutch oven melt the butter over medium low heat then add the flour.  Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the roux turns dark red. Immediately remove from the heat.  If the roux burns, you must start over.  In a separate large pot, melt the other 2 tbls butter and saute the onion and green pepper until they are soft, 3-4 mins. Add the okra, thyme, bay leaves, garlic, tomatoes, ham hock and stocks.  Reduce heat and simmer 15 mins.  Add entire mixture to the roux.  Add the sausage, combine and bring to a boil.  Season with Worcestershire, salt & pepper and file.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour. Adjust seasoning and add Tabasco (it's up to you) and shrimp. Remove ham hock. Cook shrimp in gumbo 3-4 minutes until just pink.  Serve in bowls with a scoop of white rice and bottle of Tabasco on the side. Even better made a day in advance.

* 1 fish frame, such as snapper (head & tail, ask the fish monger to put one aside for you),  shrimp shells from the peeled shrimp, 1 leek, white & light green part only,
celery leaves, 1 onion sliced, 1 garlic clove, 4 pepper corns, 1 bay leaf,   3 parsley sprigs, 2 thyme sprigs., 3 quarts water. Cook until reduced to 2 quarts. Strain twice through a colander lined with cheese cloth and then a fine mesh strainer.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Strawberry Fig Jam

I love fresh figs, it doesn't matter which kind.  Mission, Kadota or Brown Turkey are what shows up this time of year in my grocery store and I'm more than happy to sample each variety, but when it comes to making jam, I like the Brown Turkey and decided to pair them this year with some nice rosey strawberries sitting in the frig.  A rich and delightful marriage of end of the summer fruits which goes will with goat cheese or your English muffin.

16 oz. fresh strawberries, trimmed, hulled and quartered
16 oz. Brown Turkey figs, trimmed and quartered
2 cups sugar
A strip of lemon peel

Rinse and prepare the fruit. Combine with the sugar in a 2 quart nonreactive sauce pan. Mix the sugar, fruit and lemon peel and let sit for an hour or longer.  Turn heat on low and cook stirring often for 1 hour or until a medium syrup forms.  Skim off any foam as it forms. Remove the lemon peel then pour into a 1 quart jar. Keeps well for about 2 weeks.  You can use a canning method for longer shelf life.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Georgia Olive Oil

I finally bought some Georgia Olive Oil after reading about the Shaw family and their brilliant idea of growing olives in the southern part of the state.  "Why not", thought one of the son's while studying abroad.  The climate is warm enough and it turns out, olives where previously grown by early Spanish settlers along the Georgia coast.  The Civil War and production scale eventually doomed the olive in Georgia until recently.  In 2008 the Shaws planted a modest 20 acres of the arbequina variety and plan to grow olives exponentially. I feel a road trip  to Lakeland, Georgia coming on.  I love driving past the groves of olive trees I've seen in California, Italy, France & Spain  and have wondered if it was possible in Georgia-well yes it is!

Personally, I'm thrilled for the Shaws and Georgia. The health benefits of olive oil have made it a staple in most pantries.  EVOO has as many flavors as wine, depending on variety, growing region and production method. Georgia olive oil is a bit pricey but it will find it's niche in the specialty foods market. I'm not an expert on its flavor but, I like this Georgia variety because it definitely has flavor.  I did note, the label indicates both Georgia and California olives in the blend but I guess that's like wine making, it's requires blending. Best yet, it's all American!

In my opinion, olive oil can never replace butter when it comes to cooking, but I've learned to love it
and use it every chance I get.  Here's an simple pasta dish to try out the fruity flavor of Georgia Olive Oil.  Check for this product on line Georgia Olive Farms.com.

1/2 lb spaghetti
3 tbls. Georgia olive oil
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, minced
 1 egg yolk
1-2 ladles of pasta water
2 oz prosciutto chopped
1/4 cup grated parmesan
Chopped basil leaves to garnish

Cook pasta according to package directions.  Heat Georgia olive oil in large skillet and add red pepper flakes, heat briefly before adding minced garlic. Stir for 30 seconds before adding chopped prosciutto.  Shake skillet and stir. Add drailed spaghetti shake and stir.  Season with salt and pepper.  In a seperate small bowl, add 1 ladel of the pasta water and the quickly wisk in 1 egg yolk. Add to pasta mixture and heat over medium low heat stirring constantly. Add grated parmesan and add 2 tlbs  Georgia olive oil to finish, add more pasta water for desired thickness.  Garnish with chopped basil.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Banana Peach Bread

 I hate to waste anything, food in particular.  That's why I enjoy taking the odds and ends in the refrigerator and turning them into something good.  A few over ripe fruits and the last dab of sour cream about to go to waste turned into a lovely twist on good old banana bread.

1 stick of butter at room temperature
1 cup of sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups of flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
2 ripe bananas mashed
2 ripe small peaches chopped
1/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup milk

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy with and electric mixer on high speed. Add the eggs one at a time and beat in after each, then add the milk and sour cream.  In a seperate bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder and soda and cinnamon and set aside.  Combine the mashed bananas and peaches to make 2 cups of fruit. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in three parts, mixing well and scraping down the sides after each addition. Add more milk it mixture is too dry. Mix until just combined, then stir in the fruit.
Pour into 2 8x4 foil pans sprayed with cooking spray.  Place on a baking sheet and bake 50 minutes at 350 or until a skewer comes our clean.  Allow to cool 15 mins in the pan and then turn out onto cooling rack to cool completely.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Aspen Salsa

We take getting away from the summer heat seriously and headed for Alaska with a stop in Aspen for a wedding. The weather was delightful in Aspen and a hearty sidewalk breakfast was a great way to start a day of hiking or biking in the Rockies.  We ate at Poppy's one morning and I discovered their delicious fresh salsa with poached eggs and avocado.   I wasn't sure how I'd like the salsa and ordered it on the side the first time, but it was made from scratch and it was love at first bite.  I went back the next day and asked how they made it. The owner was thrilled I asked and gave me the basic ingredients but was a little vague on the seasonings so I've been trying to create something similar.  He said each batch varies slightly because of what's available and personal inspiration. Poppy's had just the right balance for morning, not too much heat but definitely present.

2 lbs. fresh tomatoes, cored and seeded
1 green bell pepper, cored and seeded
1 pablano pepper, cored and seeded
1 Anaheim pepper, cored and seeded
Cut all the above into 1 inch pieces
2 green onions, sliced
2-3 tbls. red wine vinegar
2 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin

Put all ingredients in a food processor pulse until vegetables are uniform in size.  I like mine fairly smooth but not soupy.  Pour vegetables in a nonreactive sauce pan and simmer over medium-low heat for 20 mins.  It there is too much liquid, strain salsa.  Makes about 2 cups.  Store in refrigerator up to 2 weeks.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Watermelon--Raspberry Sorbet

I mentioned in my last post that my husband found the flavor of this recipe "complex".  I asked him to guess what the flavors where.  The watermelon and raspberry where obvious, but it's the hint of chocolate that fooled him a bit.  This cool sensation evolved from two seperate recipes.  I had made raspberry coulis and on a whim added chocolate extract to it.  Yum!  It was a hot July and I was making watermelon sorbet for a dinner party and decided to throw in some of the chocolate raspberry coulis. Complex and delicious.  Everyone loved it.

Chocolate Raspberry Coulis

1 pint fresh raspberries (about 12 oz.)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup Frambois (raspberry liquer)
1 tablespoon chocolate extract (available in baker's catalogues or internet)

Combine first 3 ingredients in a  large heavy sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Skim off the foam and reduce to low.  Simmer for 30 minutes then strain through a chinois or fine mesh strainer pressing through as much as possible but not seeds.  Stir the chocolate extract into the strained mixture.   Refrigerate in a glass jar with lid up to a month.  Chill coulis at least 4 hrs. before adding to sorbet mixture below. Makes about 6 oz.


Next make a medium simple syrup using 1 cup sugar to 1/2 cup water. Bring water to a boil, then add sugar and reduce heat stirring until sugar is dissolved.  Simmer for 10  minutes until reduced to 1 cup syrup. Turn off heat and add 1 tbls lime juice.  Pour into a glass jar and allow to cool.  Should make about 1 cup.  Combine the raspberry coulis and simple syrup in to a single jar and chill completely.

Seed  4 cups watermelon and cut into 1 inch cubes.  Pureen cubes in a food processor until smooth.  Combine watermelon puree and 1 cup raspberry syrup mixture mixing well.  Chill completely. Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturers directions.  Store sorbet in air tight container and freeze overnight.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Vanilla Kind of Guy

I was suspicious when he ordered vanilla in Baskin Robbins. "Vanilla?", I queried. "Don't you know where you are?"  He responded, "I'm a vanilla kind of guy." Red flag, big one; for me at least.  I'd try muddy water and fish eyeballs if they were on the menu; something different in my quest for salavary sensations.  I remember my very first visit to Baskin Robbins, where I ordered Pumpkin flavor ice cream.  It was a revelation of sheer genius to my adolecent mind.  I'd never encountered any store bought flavors beyond vanilla, chocolate and stawberry and on a few rare occasions, someone made homemade peach in the summer.  I couldn't imagine this guy didn't have the guts to, at least, try mocha almond fudge or cherries jubilee but, this was a man who held the record for "Most Bowls of Ice Cream" at his summer camp, every one of them vanilla.  How boring. Vanilla was no adventure, it's like playing in your own backyard.

Then he turned the tables on me and asked if I wanted to go camping.  Who, me? That meant I had to wear something besides a dress and cute flats. I actually showed up in a dress and flats, in mock protest, thinking he'd get the message.  Much later, that day I found myself tight rope walking across a fallen tree over a rushing creek to a remote campsite somewhere in the hills of North Carolina - in the pitch dark.  I awoke at dawn, screaming when a stray dog decided to sniff my sleeping face.  He cooked pancakes in a foil pan for breakfast over a campfire. They stuck to the pan and burned, but it was love and I saw my mission and I think he saw his.

When it comes to expanding his culinary horizons, olives are where he draws the line.  There's no discussion about, "just taste it".  I've tried to sneak a few into sauces, then pick them out of his serving, but he knows.  "You've put olives in this."  It might as well be arsnic.  He doesn't have much use for raisins either and simply tolerates the copious amount of fresh herbs I use in everything. Herbs are pretty hard to get around if you take cooking seriously. For someone who thinks peanut butter on graham crackers is sublime,  I've done my best to exercise his underdeveloped tastebuds into maturity.  I think we're getting somewhere after all these years.  He complimented my watermelon-raspberry sorbet (with a hint of chocolate extract) as "complex" and I've come to agree, simple, unadorned vanilla ice cream is the best all rounder.

Over thirty six years of getting used to each other's likes, dislikes and tastes, we've eaten quite a few meals together. The picture here was taken last summer as we finished a memorable dining experiences at Chateau Eza in the romantic, magical village of Eze perched along the Riviera.  The view is stunning and the food is too fine to discribe here.  It's my kind of place and we where truly living in the moment - a memorable one.  This summer, we're going to Alaska, his kind of place.  Salmon fishing, watching bears  and hiking volcanos will be involved and I'm wondering what kind of horizons he'll expand for me and what moments we'll be living in.  It's for sure, I won't be packing a dress.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Exotic Dessert Bananas

I've been waiting weeks for these little green dessert bananas to ripen.  I was just about ready to give up on them when, suddenly, they finally, turned yellow. Dessert bananas are an exotic mini version of the larger variety and perfect for the title "dessert".  They are about 3 cute inches long when pealed and are a sweeter flavor than what I'm familiar with.
I found most recipes reflected a Thai, Cambodian or Vietnamese origin and paired them, frequently, with coconut.  I decided to go whole hog and batter dip, roll in coconut and fry them.  How often do these cute little 'nanas come my way.  Give them the deluxe treatment and show them the town.  Frying takes some skill,so please note, coconut burns very quickly.  My test banana crashed and burned, so give yourself some lea way. The finished banana can be simply dusted with powdered sugar, served over ice cream or, I think, when serving these again,-rum sauce over ice cream would be my preference.
How often do these sweet little guys come to dinner ?!

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
1 egg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp banana flavoring
8 oz flaked coconut
Canola oil

Mix milk, egg and flavorings together separately. Slowly whisk liquid mix into flour. Coconut should be in a separated shallow dish,  Dip pealed banana in batter then roll in coconut.

Heat 1 inch canola oil to 350 degrees in a 10 inch skillet. Fry, turning quickly and drain on paper towels. Serve immediately as you prefer.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Who's Your Daddy? Watermelon Salad

I was in a check out line at the grocery store on Saturday before Mother's Day.  The man in front of me was buying flowers and a card when the clerk suddenly said, "Everybody does something for Mother's Day, but nothing for Father's Day.  In my neighborhood, don't nobody know who their daddy is."  That statement said volumes about modern culture, but I'm not going there.

I know who my Daddy is and I'm having a barbecue today in honor of all the fathers in our extended family including my son who is an expectant father.  We're enjoying a beautiful day and thankful for the fine men who have provided for us and nurtured us through the years.

Watermelon Salad, a relatively new creation, is a big hit in the hot summer month's.  It's a cool balance to the smokey, piquant flavors of barbecue  My cute little 6 year old great niece helped create this version.

4 cups watermelon cut in 2 inch cubes
1 cup peeled and sliced cucumber
1 medium red onion sliced thin
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint

Dress with 1/2 cup reserved watermelon juice
2 tbls red wine vinegar
2 tbls canola oil
1 tsp honey

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Refrigerator Pickles

 I think pickles are generally, overlooked or looked down upon. They are another item my children "eehweed" but later acquired a taste for. It takes some maturity to appreciate a good pickle. They are meant as a compliment to a main item but may be served as an hors d'oeuvre.  Think of them as the right pair of earrings or scarf to accessorise an outfit.

I'm getting geared up for the Father's Day Barbecue Sauce Event and a really good barbecue sandwich deserves a really good pickle to top it off. I like mine with some heat and a little of everything.  This is another "make it your own" recipe, but what's really important here is the brine proportions, after that, add your favorite ingredients.  Here's what I put together for this weekend's event.  The Dad's like 'um hot. Use 2 tbls pickling spices as a short cut, if you prefer.

Makes about 1 quart.

1 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1tbls kosher salt
1 tbls whole pepper corns
6 whole cloves
4 all spice berries
1 tsp whole mustard seed
2 bay leaves
1 large jalapeno sliced
4 large dill fronds
2 whole garlic cloves
1/2 cup sliced Vidalia onion
4-5 small pickling cucumbers, sliced 1/8 inch thin (use a mandolin if you have one)

Combine the vinegar, sugar, salt a quart jar..  Place the lid on and shake until the sugar has dissolved.
Add the spices and garlic to the brine. Shake, shake, shake.

Layer the cucumber, onion, jalapeno, dill fronds in the jar packing them down tightly. Press down with a wooden spoon.  Refrigerate 4-5 days, shaking each day. Keeps about a month in the refrigerator.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Father's Day Barbecue Sauce Contest

A few years back, I decided it would be fun to have a barbecue sauce contest at the family gathering for Father's Day.  My eldest son was really into the barbecue thing so having everyone bring their own concoction of sauce to go with the meat has made for a lot of fun. I'll be the Pit Mistress and each participant must bring their homemade sauce in a jar, secretly marked A,B C etc.  Then my Dad is the judge, tasting and grading each sauce on a variety of merits.  I guess I got the idea from watching all those barbecue competitions on TV.  My talented daughter-in-law is the reigning champion.

Putting a sauce together isn't as complicated as smoking the meat; sauce has endless variations.  Ketchup and vinegar seem to be the most common ingredients, but as you know, mustard and brown sugar are popular too.  The religion of barbecue has many denominations and there are quite a few published "bibles".  There's ketchup base, mustard base, vinegar base, bourbon, coffee, sweet, hot, chili, molasses, brown sugar, Asian, Hawaiian, Korean, Brazilian, Texas, Memphis, Carolina and Kansas to name just a few.  Everybody seems to get into the creative aspect and it can get pretty experimental with weird ingredients  thrown in.  So 'n so's "original" sauce has a new meaning but the main ingredient is fun.  There's something new out of Alabama called "the white sauce".  It's mayo based and my son says it's quite good.  I'm thinking I'll do some homework on that one for the contest.  Somebody send me a recipe if you've got it.

The history of barbecue is as various as the types, but it comes down to meat cooked slowly over low fire (fuel varies) and barbecues have always been social events, remember Scarlett and Rhett first met at a barbecue.  The historical image I prefer, is the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Pigs where plentiful and low maintenance animals that where slowly cooked with the only condiments available; vinegar, salt, pepper and mustard. Mustard based sauce is native to the Carolina's but the recipes vary county to county.  Barbecue shacks are tucked away on back roads and there have been quite a few magazine articles recently on the "barbecue trails" in the South.  Sounds like a fun road trip to me. 

I just wish I had one of those fancy automatic smokers.  I'll be sweating it out with the best of the Pit Masters next weekend.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Hemlock Inn Strawberry Pie

The Hemlock Inn in Bryson City, North Carolina is know for it's home cooking served family style at big round tables with Lazy Susans.  No TVs, no phones, no AC, just some seriously good food, friendly , wholesome atmosphere. I've spent many happy family occasions there over the years. They published a cookbook a while back and I've used their Strawberry Pie recipe too many times to count. My son and I had an agreement, when he played Little League, if he hit a home run, I'd make him a strawberry pie.  There were a lot of home runs and a lot of love in those pies. A quick and easy classic.

Bake a pie shell according to directions. Let cool. Slice 1 pint strawberries and put in cooled pie shell.

In a large sauce pan combine 1 cup sugar, 3 heaping tablespoons of strawberry jello, 3 heaping tablespoons of cornstarch, 1 cup very warm water. Cook over medium high heat until mixture is thick but pourable. Pour over sliced strawberries in pie shell. Chill in refrigerator until firm. Top with Coolwhip.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Memorial Day Weekend and the Beginning of Summer

I’m watching the boats zigzag across the lake leaving a wake of foam and waves and listening, from a distance, to laughter and the buzz of motors.  The lake is still way too chilly for swimming, despite the recent warm temperatures, but there’ll be a few who’ll jump in and come out quickly, shivering.  The skinny 10 year old, who has to do the first cannonball (miniball, in his case) off the dock and comes up gasping from the shocking briskness of the lake.  They are relishing the official arrival of summer.  School’s out, summer’s on. Relax, the living’s easy. Families and friends are outside in force this weekend; joining and rejoicing the initiation of summer.  Memorial Day sound’s the retreat to were ever you can get away from the boss, the desk, the computer, the phone, the office, the mop, the stethoscope, the hammer or the hoe.  It could be the shore, the mountains, the lake, the woods, a hammock in your own back yard, or just a chair on the little porch of an apartment. The work-a-day world pauses for a moment to relax, unwind and respect.

So I’m sweeping away the last of the spring pollen and firing up the grill because, it’s going to be a long hot summer- I hope. Suddenly, I get that whiff of a neighboring charcoal grill.  The fine perfume of outdoor cooking that sends my salivary glands to pumping and the thought of an ice cold beer, crisp white wine or vodka and lime motivating me to bring out the fun and friendly side of life.  Maybe be we should have that nice new couple up the street over for “something on the grill.”  Blue cheese burgers, refrigerator  pickles, sweet potatoes fries, slaw and strawberry pie.

Have fun this Memorial Day and thanks to all who have given their all for the USA.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Skrimps Wif Sauce

It's been a great weekend for a beach wedding.  Balmy weather with soft breezes gently stirring the Spanish Moss on ancient live oak trees and the waves lapping while wedding guests sipped, ate and danced.  The bride was beautiful in satin and tulle,  the groom handsome in a sear sucker suit as they exchanged their vows in a small chapel built in the 1880's.  The elegant mothers in chiffon sighed.  My, my, love is grand and the food at these events, just as grand.  I picked up this tried and true coastal marinated shrimp at the "After" Party on Friday night, noted on a tattered and stained index card.  An "After" party, is given in my neck of the woods, for those who come from out of town to a wedding and are not invited to the rehearsal dinner.  After the rehearsal dinner, the wedding party and the out-of-towners gather at someone's home to tune up for the wedding in earnest.  The bride and groom may or may not attend, but the rest of us do some serious eatin and drinkin.  Who knows how many years this shrimp has been served to guest, written in the cook's local dialect.  Look for Durkees Sauce along with mayonnaise in your grocery store if you are not familiar with it.  I always buy it for leftover turkey sandwiches during the holidays, but this gives it a new purpose.  It has a really tangy flavor.

5 lbs pealed, deveined and cooked shrimp
10 oz. Durkees Sauce
4 medium onions, sliced thin
2-3 bay leaves
1 cup Tarragon vinegar
2 cups canola oil
1 tbls sugar
1 tsp salt
sliced lemons,as many as you like

Combine in a glass or ceramic bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night.  Serve with tooth picks.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mother's Day Honey Cake with Orange Blossom Glaze

I am fortunate enough to have friends who have bee hives.  Their honey is succulent and to die for.  They gave my mother and I each a jar of prize golden honey for Mother's Day.  It tastes better than any I've ever had. Later in the year, the honey is darker due to the magnolias, something I never knew.  Honey bees have been subject to something called colony collapse disorder (CCD) since 2006 and that's a really big deal because so much of our agriculture relies on those little buzzer to pollinate our crops.  They've blamed everything from pesticides to microwaves but it does seem environmental stressors are the problem.  Anyway, I decided to use some of their fine product in a Honey Cake.  Honey Cakes are typically associated with Jewish holidays but this is Mother's Day, a universal celebration of those women who have loved us, nurtured us, forgiven us. My Mother's Day was sweetened immeasurably with the news that I will be a grandmother in November. What could be sweeter than a Mother's love.  Honey is a pretty close second.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground clove
 3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
1 cup pure honey
3/4 cup lukewarm coffee(brewed or instant in water)
1 1/2 tsp orange zest

Heat oven to 350 degrees with rack in middle.  Spray  a 10 inch tube pan with baking spay. Wisk together flour, baking powder and soda, salt and spices in a large bowl of an electic mixer.  Wisk eggs  in another large bowl and whisk in sugar, oil, honey, coffee until well conbined.  Using the paddle attachment, add 1/3 of the egg mixture until encorporated, add the next third  and mix, scraping down the sides as necessary. Add the last third and mix until smooth. Add the zest and mix until just incorporated.  Pour into tube pan and bake until springy to touch and tester comes out clean, 45-50 minutes.  Cool 20 minutes in pan on a cake rack before inverting onto cake rack to cool throughly.

Glaze; 1/2 cup confectionser sugar; 1 tsp honey; two tbls orange juice.  Mix throughly and drizzle over warm cake.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Did Somebody Just Yell, "Food Fight"?

"Eeehhew!" That was the expressed opinion  my four year old son gave of the meal on his plate.  His little brother was sitting adjacent in a high chair, dressed only in a diaper, eating finger food.   The toddler in the high chair, whose vocabulary, at that point, consisted of exactly six or so single syllables  suddenly raised himself up, sqinched up his little nose and lips and gave a loud and most expressive "eeehhew". It was his Gettysburg Address given from the high chair pulpit. Monkey see, monkey do; he grinned for approval from his older brother.  You would think, I was serving them maggots. They had just announced to me the culture of bad manners had invaded my family.  I cleverly told the 4 year old, if he "eeehhew'd" my food again, he could just prepare dinner the next night himself.  PB&J was served the next evening.  What was I thinking?   We lavished praise on his effort and demonstrated thankfulness for the meal.

I wasn't a big fan of my Mother's cooking (which may be why I started cooking pretty young), but if I'd "eeehhew'd" a meal, I'd have been a greasy spot on the sidewalk.  It simply was unacceptable behavior and I was made to understand, I would deeply offend whoever prepared, offered or hosted my meal if I criticized their offering. "Eat what is put before you and be thankful." That was all there was to it.

 At 12, I was put to the test. My school chum and I where passionate Beatle fans.  She lived within walking distance and we spent afternoons listening to those little 45's and swooning over the Fab Four.   I'd noticed things where different at her house.  It was a big family and her disabled father was unable to work. One day, they invited me to stay for dinner.  I'd heard jokes about Spam but never remotely considered the possibility that I'd ever find it on a plate in front of me.  All that training about table manners kicked in. I knew what to do as it dawned on me, this is what her family could afford and they are willing to share it with me.  I realized she was taking a risk inviting me to dinner and  might be embarrassed and I did not want her to feel badly.  That is the essence of good manners; consideration of the other fellow.  It really wasn't that bad; it's more the stigma.

Nothing illustrates my pet peeve better than the "reality" show with Hugh Hefner and his three live-in Playmates.  I found it channel surfing and am reluctant to admit it caught my attention, but not for the obvious reason.   Hugh and the trio where guests in an ultra luxurious private home in Aspen and being served a lavish, over-the-top meal.  It was all about excess, everything from lobster to lamb.  Now, I can't judge these women for how they make a living, but when one of them interrupted the meal with a  "eeehhew"  and asked for something "normal, like macaroni and cheese.  Does anybody really eat this stuff?", I was outraged.  The hostess (a former Hefner girlfriend) stayed cool and summoned the surprised chef who hastily retreated to whip up "normal" food for the centerfold.  She revealed way more about herself than any nude photo could.  I can forgive tacky and trashy, but insult and embarrass the hosts and chef, unforgivable.  I cringed at the faux pas but  that's probably what the producers had in mind.  Shock value.

I've listened to "I can't eat this because....."  of a variety of health restriction and dietary prejudices.   Well, you came to the wrong house if you're at mine.  I'm not going back in the kitchen and whip up something "normal" or change the menu because you're on Lipitor.  Eat or don't what's put before you and be thankful. Be thankful, that's the point.  The focus is wrong, if you can't eat what's put before you.

Are the days of "Good manners will take you a long way," over? 
I think, I just heard somebody just yelled, "Food Fight".

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Spring Risotto

It's another one of those easy Sunday night dinners.  Warmer weather and Sunday afternoon golf. Dinner should be uncomplicated. Let's check what's left in the refrigerator after a busy week.  I like to use fresh herbs but they must be used pretty efficiently or they are wasted.  So some chives hanging around are looking like they're on the edge along with a enough asparagus spears and the freezer always has frozen peas.  Pantry has just the right amount of aborio risotto, and I always have parmesan cheese, shallot and chicken stock.  Voila, spring risotto. So with a glass of white wine in hand; some of it goes in the risotto, dinner is in the works.  It takes a little patience but what's the rush?
Always look in the refrig and the pantry and see what's on hand. You can come up with a pretty good dish with just a few things.  If your not well stocked, hmmm.  I'll write about what to keep on hand
next time.

1 tbls butter
1 tbls olive oil
1 tbls minced shallot
1/2 cup white wine
1 quart heated chicken stock(more if necessary)
1 cup aborio rice
2 cups asparagus, sliced into 1 inch pieces and steamed
1 cup frozen peas
2 tbls chopped chives
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Melt butter and oil over medium heat  in a heavy 10 inch skillet and add rice.  Stir constantly as rice starts to turn brown, about 2 minutes. Add the shallot and stir until translucent, about a minute.  Add  white wine and continue stirring until liquid is just absorbed. Begin adding chicken stock 4 oz. at a time (1 ladle) and stir until liquid is just barely absorbed, then add the next. Before adding the last of the stock add the steamed asparagus, peas and chives.  Season with salt and pepper, then add the grated Parmesan last.  Serve immediately.
A little cream at the end doesn't hurt in your cholesterol can handle it.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Our Daily Bread

Just when you think you've got it all together, things go to hell.  I had my life running like the proverbial " well oiled machine".  Every morning I made my "to do" list divided  by 5 tidy categories:

Family: pick up husband's laundry; send birthday card to niece; check on parents; bug children
Friends: make dinner plans for the weekend; RSVP to party
Finance: pay the bills
Home: have garage door repaired
Personal: hair cut

I think if I've got leftovers in the frig, my iphone, a credit card and clean underwear, I can handle anything.  You know the attack is coming, you just don't know when.  Then your world is inside out, upside down.
Something you do not want happens.  Try as you might, it's out of your control.

Suddenly, events and characters conspire to rob you of your sanity and the most mundane habits suddenly become difficult to accomplish.  Your personal space has been invaded by thieves like anxiety, stress and conflict, robbing you of normalcy.  Who are these nuts and how dare they disturb my tranquil  and orderly existence? They happen to be my elderly parents. I'm enttangled in a web I want no part of.  A routine trip to the grocery store becomes a panic attack.  It looks like a maze of jumbled items you can't recognize and you don't remember what you're there for.  Like an artist selecting his palate, I normally, like to grocery shop because I have a project in mind that leads to something good.  Recently, I have hardly been able to open a can of soup. Today, I was wandering around the isles like I'd never seen eggs and milk before, looking for something familiar and finally it jumped out at me. Bread flour.  I hadn't baked bread in months. My former orderly life is broken and invaded by weird and hostile people.  Could I do it? I feel like Hemingway's shell shocked character, Nick Adams's, returning from war, trying to fly fish. Baking is orderly and precise.

My sister-in-law gave me my first bread machine. She found it for $9 in a garage sale and I took to it like a duck to water.  Once that one died, I invested in a Yojiroushi. You might think it's cheating a bit but you can bake your own loaf without too much fuss.  There is  something therapeutic about kneading and the aroma of baking bread that evokes all sorts of goodness for the soul.  Just put the ingredients in and press the button.  The beauty of the machine is that it creates the perfect environment for the dough to rise.  I never could get it quite right on my own.  Once the dough is ready, I prefer to bake in a conventional oven.  It just comes out better.  A  browned loaf of bread is a thing of beauty.  Today, I'm grateful for time to make it.

Most machines come with their own directions but this recipe from Cook's Illustrated turns out a consistently perfect 1 1/2 lb loaf of wheat bread.

1 cup water
1 large egg
1 tbls butter
3 tbls honey
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 1/4 cups bread flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup dry powdered milk
1 1/2 tsp table salt
2 1/4 dry active yeast

Layer the ingredients in order and do not mix.  Make a small depression  or well in the dry ingredients and put the yeast in.  It must not touch the wet ingredients.  Then follow manufactures dough instructions.  While the dough rises preheat the oven to 350 in the last ten minutes. Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface. With floured hands shape quickly into a loaf and transfer to a baking pan.  Bake 30 minutes at 350. Turn loaf out on a rack to cool.

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Mystery of Fish Tacos

Recently, on Sunday night, I've been trying to create the best fish taco formula.  I've studied and eaten several versions and considered numerous options.  Fish tacos seem like the perfect casual Sunday night "throw it together" simple, delicious meal.  I've found it surprisingly difficult to meet my own standards.  "Oh, come on!", I can hear you saying, but the truth is, the first time I made these, they where fried and the best thing.  I don't fry much but, boy, these where gooood.  It was informal, standing around in the kitchen with my son and husband, we talked and I fried and then, without thinking about it, I threw together a sauce and slaw in a soft taco shell. Really, really good but one of those unconscious cooking moments that confound you later; can't quite feel the love now.  Don't know how I did it, can't remember, but the grilled version has been my recent focus since it's a healthier option (but fried, ooh, la la). I think, I've got it now for the grilled, but you can tweek with avocado, tomato or mango,etc.  Apparently, it's a "live in the moment" recipe, so make it your own.

1 lb  white fish such as, cod,  halibut or mahi mahi

1/4 cup canola oil
juice of 1 lime
1/4 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp kosher salt
Mix the oil and seasonings and coat the fish, then refrigerate 1 hr. before grilling.

Coat the grill grate(charcoal or gas) with oil or nonstick spray (be careful with the spray over flame).Grill over medium heat on each side until the fish turns white, is firm and has nice grill marks.

For the Sauce:

1 cup mayonnaise
1 ancho chili chopped in adobo sauce
1 tbls chopped cilantro
juice of 1 lime

For the slaw

2 cups shredded cabbage
1 cup sliced green onion
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 ear  grilled roasted corn

Brush the ear of corn with canola oil, then season with salt and chili pepper.  Grill and turn every few minutes until lightly browned.  Cool, and cut kernels off with a knife into a medium bowl.  Add the shredded cabbage , sliced green onion and chopped cilantro, then toss.
Brush soft flour tortilla with oil, and grill until marks begin to brown, about 1 minute.  To assemble, layer flaked fish, slaw and sauce.  Fold and enjoy!

Monday, April 16, 2012

At Home in Provence-Well, Almost

We've just completed the renovation of our backyard, with new deck, patio, arbour, outdoor fireplace and landscaping.  It's now a lovely setting for dinner alfresco, transporting us to a villa in Provence or Tuscany, with the help of a great meal.  It's spring and the weather is delightful.  If it gets cool in the evening, we start a fire and it's magic, savoring the night with family and friends over simple fare. 

I happen to think eggs are the most useful edible there is.  Recently, I made a lovely frittata with pancetta, potatoes, chives and jack cheese.  The beauty of the frittata is, it takes so little effort and adapts to any vegetable or cheese you have around.  I topped it with a divine roasted tomato-basil sauce that makes anything better and accompanied the plate with olive oil brushed baguette slices spread with goat cheese and a simple salad. For the frittata:

3 tbls olive oil, divided
2 tbls butter
4 oz. diced pancetta
2 cups diced new potatoes
10 eggs beaten
2 egg whites, beaten with whole eggs
1/2 cup half 'n half
1 cap grated Monterey Jack cheese
1/3 cup chopped Chives
salt & pepper to taste

Heat 1 tbls olive oil in a 12 inch,  nonstick, slope sided skillet over medium low heat.  Add pancetta and cook stirring frequently until the fat begins to render.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and arrange a rack in the bottom third of the oven.
Adjust heat to keep fat from smoking. Cook for five minutes then add potatoes, stirring frequently so potatoes do not stick.  When they have begun to brown, after about 8-10 minutes, remove them and pancetta to a bowl for later. While skillet cools, combine the eggs half 'n half in a large bowl.  Whisk until combined, then add chives and cheese.  Clean the skillet thoroughly and add the remaining oil and butter and over medium low heat. Make sure the sides of the skillet are thoroughly coated with the butter and oil mixture.  Return the potatoes and pancetta to the skillet arranging  them in an even layer
in the bottom of the pan.  Pour the egg mixture over the potatoes and pancetta and let cook just until the edge starts to set. Run a spatula around the edge and let the egg run over the side.  Add any extra grated cheese you desire and put the skillet in the oven for about 8 minutes. It should just be brown and puffy on top and done in the middle. Test with a tooth pic. Serves 6.

Roasted Tomato Basil Sauce
(make ahead)

10 Roma tomatoes
1/2 cup basil leaves or a 1 oz. pkg, stems removed
1 small shallot diced
1/4 cup olive oil plus more for drizzling
1 tbls balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and arrange a rack in the bottom third of the oven.

 Halve, seed and core tomatoes.  A mellon baller and small paring knife are good utensils for this. Arrange tomato halves, cupped up, on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.  Distribute the diced shallot in the cupped tomato halves.  Sprinkle tomatoes with kosher salt and pepper, then drizzle liberally with olive oil. Roast tomatoes for 1 hour, rotate the baking sheet, then increase the oven temperature to 400. Roast 30 more minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes.  Carefully lift the parchment paper and slide the tomatoes and juices into a food processor.  Add basil.  While processing run 1/4 cup olive oil through feed tube (more if desired).  Add balsamic vinegar and adjust seasoning.  Process until just combined.  Serve warm or cold.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Last Dinner on the Titanic;The Tip of the Iceberg

There are only two First Class menus recovered from the Titanic for the night of April 14th. Ten courses and a total of twenty four items.  The menu reveals a sumptuous selection of fish, fowl, meat, vegetables and desserts not to mention a wine for each dish.  Just the tip of the iceberg; pun intended. This was the end of the Edwardian era permeated by overindulgence. Living large was in fashion and this enormous, luxurious, fantastic new ship was the stage to exercise wealth and pleasure. Indeed, all the staff and passengers of each class where well fed. Life deluxe is fascinating, isn't it, or is it morbid curiosity?
The 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic is upon us and people are marking the occasion like the millennium. Fascination with this tragedy never ceases and renewed its vigor when the wreckage was found on July 1, 1985.  I suppose the interest with what someone ate before dying began with Christ's Last Supper.  How could anyone swallow so much as a single pea if they knew their death was immanent.  Well these people on the Titanic where clueless, having a jolly time on a floating palace. Eating, drinking and making merry; well, you know how the phrase ends. I guess it's the stark contrast between all that material life could offer and suddenly, Mother Nature crashes the party. Pride before destruction.
I thought I should, at least, cook something from the menu since it's such a hot topic.  It's not hard to find recipes, as a matter of fact, there is a whole book dedicated to this gastronomic finale,The Last Dinner of the Titanic, by Rick Archibald. There are dinners and costumed soirees across the globe this weekend where chefs are researching and recreating this epic final feast.   While, there was everything from oysters to squab on Titanic's First Class Menu, I settled on a single item; the Lamb with Mint Sauce. Lamb roasted on the grill marks the spring/Easter season and mint sauce is a the right balance to the meat's  rich, distinctive flavor.

Alas, I have no appetite for it.

Lamb marinade: 6-8 cloves garlic pressed; 4 tbls rosemary chopped; 1 cup olive oil. Combine ingredients in a zip lock bag then add  5-6 lb. boneless leg of lamb and refrigerate overnight. Turn meat over a few times to ensure even marinade. Remove from refrigerator 1 hour before grilling and sprinkle meat with 1 tbls salt and fresh ground pepper. Grill over hot coals (indirect method) until meat thermometer reaches 130 for medium rare. Rest meat for 15 mins before carving. Serve with mint sauce

Mint Sauce

1 cup plus 2 tbls chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup canned beef broth
1/3 cup minced shallot
6 tbls red wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbls cornstarch

In a heavy nonaluminum sauce pan combine all ingredients except corn starch and reserve the 2 tbls mint.
Simmer over medium heat until sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes
Set aside to cool and let stand 2 hours.  Strain through a fine mesh strainer. Then wisk strained liquid slowly into the cornstarch. Simmer over low heat about 2 mins. until sauce is clear and starts to thicken.  Add the remaining mint leaves.  Makes about 1 cup.