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.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Breakfast with Elvis

Elvis had arrived on a motorcycle at the White House Diner and ordered a breakfast of eggs over light with slightly burnt bacon and biscuits.  Our White House waitress, dressed in a pink smock covered in Elvis buttons, almost went into a trance as she recounted that morning back in the 60’s when she’d taken his breakfast order.  Noting all the Elvis buttons, I’d simply asked if she were a fan. Duh!  I’d let the genie out of the bottle.  Now in her 70’s and faithful to the booth the King had sat in, she resembled a bobble head doll.  She had survived his death and his kiss.  In lieu of a tip, she’d asked Elvis to kiss her and he had obliged.  Her head suddenly stopped its’ nervous dance; she closed her eyes and summoned that magical moment.

“He said, ‘Yes, M’am.’ Stood up, and honey, those where the sweetest, softest lips there ever where.” She exhaled slowly, her head resumed the bobble and she asked us for our order.

 Whew!!  All I could come up with was bacon – slightly burnt.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Cheese Olives

We're co-hosting an engagement dinner for a young couple who will be married in a romatic setting in Mexico.  Rather than another Mexican catered affair, we're giving the dinner a Spanish spin. The menu is:

Cheese Olives
Mixed Salad
Garlic Bread
Kaluha Chocolate Cake
Mexican Wedding Cookies

Let's start with the Cheese Olives, an easy prepare ahead appetizer. Makes about 2 dozen.

1 10oz jar stuffed Spanish Olives
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. paprika
1 cup all purpose flour
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 stick unsalted butter room temperature

Drain olives and dry on a paper towel.

Put the grated cheese, butter, salt and paprika in a food processor and process 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides, then add flour and process until all ingredients are blended. About 45 seconds. 
Wrap 1 tbls of  dough around each olive.  A mellon baller is a great tool for this. Roll the dough covered olive between your palms to form a ball, then place on a baking sheet.  Refrigerate for 4-5 hours. Cheese wrapped olives may be frozen at this point and thawed about 30 minutes before baking.  A cold dough won't slide off the olive during baking.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and bake 10-15 minutes. Allow a few minutes to cool before passing.  The olives are Hot inside that dough.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Room Full of Mashed Potatoes

I thought I was dying from starvation as I sighed and squirmed on the church pew.  I had only picked at my scrambled eggs and taken a few bites of toast at breakfast.  Mother had hidden a vitamin under the eggs that rendered them inedible.  Did she think I wouldn’t notice the bitter pinkish pill dissolving under my eggs?  We struggled over the vitamin issue many mornings and this was her latest strategy.  I would swallow it without noticing. Ha! Not likely.

My mind began to fantasize of a room filled with my favorite foods. It settled on mashed potatoes; beautiful, creamy, fluffy piles of potatoes, rich with butter and milk; seasoned perfectly with salt and pepper.  I could dig into that luscious warm comfort with a spoon and eat to my heart’s content.  I could taste that smooth texture and smell their hearty aroma.  My salivary glands were starting to pump.  I wondered if that had ever happened.  Could a king or queen  have an army of cooks peeling, dicing, mashing, and whipping up a mountain of dreamy mashed potatoes to indulge a whim of the appetite.

Considering my potato famine ancestors haled from County Limerick, Ireland, it’s no wonder mashed potatoes were my idea of haute cuisine as a youngster. Their potatoes, where boiled or in a mutton stew. Butter, hot milk and a potato ricer, where, likely beyond their means back then.

There aren’t many foods that satisfy like the humble potato. Even Julia Child announced a baked potato with butter her favorite food.  Mashed potatoes are about as good as mother’s milk.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Meyer Lemon Curd

Lemon Curd, my Mother could eat it with filet mignon she loves it so much.  Lemon Curd can be used in tarts, in between cake layers, served with sweetened whipped cream and berries; spread between cookies; mix in yogurt; on English muffin.   This is the ultimate sweet-tart flavor, identified by the distinct Meyer Lemon, then enriched with butter and egg and sugar.  It’s silky smooth and really a very simple. There are a variety of recipe proportions but the ingredients are universal.  This one works best for me.

½ cup fresh squeezed Meyer Lemon juice (or any lemon or lime juice)

Zest of 1 Meyer Lemon removed with a peeler

1 ½ cup sugar

5 eggs, room temperature

1  stick of butter, room temperature

Pinch of salt

 Process sugar and lemon peel briefly in a food processor so peel is chopped fine. Cream the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, then beat in the sugar and lemon peel mixture.  Add the eggs, one at a time with mixer running, then add the Meyer Lemon juice and salt.  Mix until combined.

Pour the mixture into a heat proof bowl over simmering hot water and cook stirring constantly.  When the mixture coats a spoon, it is ready and it should register 175 degrees on a candy thermometer.   Remove from heat and pour into sterile jars and refrigerate.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Clean Plate Club

Considering I was the only member of my first grade class who failed to join The Clean Plate Club, I’ve come along way. Think of it as one of those "eating clubs" at Princeton or Yale for a First Grader.  I didn’t have much of an appetite back then, but boy have I made up for that early embarrassment.  I simply could not get through each portion of institutional food on my divided plastic cafeteria tray.  The only thing I can remember eating every bite of was cherry cobbler.  Toward the end of the school year, I began to realize I had the only colored paper plate on the bulletin board with not a single star glued to it.  Some of my classmates’ plates where double layered in stars.  They are probably signed up with Jenny Craig now. 

The last day of school, as we cleaned out our desks, Miss Miller called each student up to claim their starry plates of cafeteria honor.  I gulped and slumped.  Finally, mine was the only one left and she quietly came to me and asked if I’d like mine anyway.  I shook my head “no”, unable to vocalize. The pink paper plate with my name on it was tossed in the trash. The school bell rang and first grade was over. 

I’m rather proud of it now.  I wanted quality not quantity, and still do.

Now, if no one is looking, I might get caught licking my plate.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Meyer Lemon and Vanilla Bean Marmalade

My sweet sister-in-law brought me a sack of Meyer lemons picked right from the trees in her parents yard in Florida.  They are as large as grapefruit.  The Meyer lemon came to us via China and is thought to be a hybrid of lemon and tangerine or orange, thus, their more orange color and sweeter flavor.  They have a thin skin and yield an enormous amount of juice.  I’ve tried a number of recipes for these juicy gems of the citrus family depending of the quality of each year’s product.   I decided to use some of them for this luscious Meyer Lemon Vanilla Bean Marmalade I found on Epicurious.com. 

1 1/4lbs Meyer Lemons

5 cups water

4 cups sugar

1vanilla bean

Pinch of salt

Rinse whole lemons and dry.  Working on a plate to catch the juices, slice lemon length wise, then slice each half into thin slices removing seeds as you go.  Measure 2 ½ cups sliced lemons packed into a measuring cup. Put lemons and water into a large nonreactive pot and heat to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 10 mins.  Leave uncovered to cool over night. There should be about 5 ½ cups of lemons and liquid.   

Add sugar; scrape in vanilla seed and add the bean; attach a candy thermometer and cook to a boil stirring occasionally.  Maintain an active boil but adjust heat so mixture doesn’t boil over.  Cook until the thermometer reaches 230 degrees. About 30 mins. Cool to room temperature and transfer to jars.  Keep refrigerated but serve at room temperature.  Can be made 2 weeks ahead.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Blood Orange Vinaigrette

The garnet colored  flesh of Blood Oranges produces a ruby colored juice that accents the golden beets with light refreshing sweetness. 

1 small shallot, finely diced
1/2 cup blood orange juice
2 tbls sherry vinegar
1 tbls honey
2/3 cup canola oil
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp fresh cracked pepper

Add the shallot to the juice along with the sherry vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper.  Slowly wisk in the oil.  Refrigerate over night before serving. Makes about 1 1/2 cups dressing.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Size 4 Salad

Roasted golden beets are a nice substitute for tomatoes this time of year. They have a milder flavor than their red cousins. Toss with arugula, finely sliced fennel, toasted walnuts and crumbled goat cheese, then dress with Blood Orange vVinaigrette.

1 lb. golden beets  (that's about 3 the size of a tennis ball; 1 is plenty for a single serving)
olive oil

Wash and trim beets. Pat dry; then coat them in olive oil.  Wrap tightly in foil and place on a cooking sheet. Roast for 45-60 minutes, depending on size, until beets are tender. You should be able to pierce them easily with a knife and retain their shape.  Allow to cool and then peel their skin off with a paring knife.  This should be easy after they are roasted.  Cut into 1/2 inch pieces. 

Blood Orange Vinaigrette to follow.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Size Four and Staying There

I was the smallest baby in the hospital nursery.

They called me “Skinny, Binny, Whinny” in grade school.

I have a small frame.

You get the picture; I’m not a big person and shouldn’t carry a lot of weight.  At times my love of food and my physical makeup have been at odds.  A while back, age, genetics and my cooking caught up with me and it was necessary to deal with it.  I enlisted the help of a personal trainer.  Her nick name is, “The Whip”.  I’ll tell you more about her another time.  Anyway, we got the job done over a period of months and I resolved to never again sway more than two pounds from my size four form regardless of my culinary inclinations.  My blue jeans have just announced some bad news by way of pinching my thighs.  I’m about a 4 1/2 now.

I told myself when staring down the trip to France and the Holidays, “Don’t blow it, you can’t afford a new wardrobe.” We’ll, I’m only human; what two more glorious temptations could one succumb to.  I indulged in France and came back inspired and then the Holidays where way too jolly. It all added up when I pulled on those jeans.

However, I refuse to live on salads so……

     January 2nd and back to the basics:

          Curb the carbs

          Portion control

          Aerobics everyday

Sausage Pasta Fagoli with Spinach

A crowd pleaser from my friend Debbie Freisem.

1 lb mild Italian sausage, casing removed
2 cups diced yellow onion
2 garlic cloves crushed
1 tbls olive oil
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 15 oz cans Cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 box frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and throughly drained(squeeze all
liquid out by putting the spinach in a clean dish cloth and ringing the cloth tight)
2 cups Ditalini(small tube) pasta cooked and drained
1 quart chicken stock
2 cups water
salt to taste
Parmesan cheese

In a large pot add over medium high heat add the olive oil. Brown the sausage in the heated oil breaking meat up with a spoon.  When browned, remove sausage with a slotted spoon and set aside.  Add the onions to the drippings at medium heat and cook until they begin to brown and are tender, about 7-8 mins. Add the garlic and cook 1 more minute.

Add the water, tomatoes in their juice and chicken stock.  Bring to a boil, reduce and simmer 15 minutes.  Then add the beans and bring to another boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes.
Add the sausage and spinach and heat through.

In the meantime, cook the pasta according to package directions and add at the last.

Serve with grated parmesan cheese.,

Serves 12

Sunday, January 1, 2012

About Me

About Me:

It began with mud pies at the swing set of my next door neighbor’s.  You know how there’s a bare spot of dirt under each swing where your feet drag.  It was the perfect slightly loose texture of dirt to scoop into colored aluminum foil pans, mix with a little water from a garden hose and decorate with grass clippings.  I pretended to bake and then serve them to my imaginary family. I always asked for a play kitchen for Christmas. 

My debut in a real kitchen was sitting on the counter and helping Daddy stir pancake batter on Saturday morning. Beyond playing with Barbie dolls or drawing with Crayons, I might suggest to my young friends, “Let’s cook something”.  We concocted some really fine messes. Cooking was natural and in my DNA.  Food and entertaining were frequent subjects in the home I was raised in.

 I’ve always cooked but it was really after my youngest left for college that I cut it loose.  I suddenly had the secret ingredient to the best food-time.  I’ve discovered, it’s really all we have and how to use time is vital. Some meals take 30 minutes, some take days.  It doesn’t matter, as long as they deliver good, satisfying nourishment. My husband has been a willing subject to the endless news, “We’re trying a new dish”.  While a good many of my friends eased away or gladly retired from the kitchen, I took my cooking more seriously. 

This project began as I collected my favorite recipes in my computer and looked for the best way to preserve and share them. Ah ha! The Blog. Considering how many blogs there are (millions and millions apparently), I consider this a bold step.  Well here is mine. If timing is everything, I’m at a point in my life where it’s now or never.  What am I waiting for?  Food, like life, should be an adventure.