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.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Trends and Revivals

I recently read an article featuring a leader of the “Modernist Cuisine” movement, Nathan Myhrvold. Myhrvold is a raving genius, holding numerous degrees in math and science, including a PhD in quantum physics. He has worked with the likes of Stephen Hawking. His credentials and career eventually led him to Microsoft, which he left in 1999. He holds about 250 patents and is worth around $650 million. So what does he do now? Cook, of course! He is dedicated to creating innovative cooking techniques that blend science and art. He has a fantastic cooking lab in NYC where he and his staff explore new ways of cooking food like, centrifuge (think of the bumper sticker “Visualize Whirled Peas”, literally), ultrasonic French fries and opening oysters with liquid nitrogen. Hmmm, I’m just working on sous-vide.
Dr. Myhrvold has written a “cookbook” of 2400 pages which cost $625. At age 9, he asked his mother if he could cook the entire Thanksgiving Dinner for his family and she wisely agreed. He studied James Beard’s Theory and Practice of Good Cooking and found the theory part of the book completely lacking, but in spite of that flaw, he did produce the meal. It’s apparent now, he’s working on the theory part of cooking. He admits to as many failures as successes which is part of the scientific process.
His lab rats are the very elite of the culinary world. Once a month, he holds an, invitation only, 30 course dinner for the world’s finest chefs, food writers and special guest. I guess my invitation got lost in the mail.
On the other hand, is the Brit, Fergus Henderson, representing the “Nose to Tail” movement. Eating the whole animal was a matter of survival for our ancestors. Henderson has recreated “eat the beast” as sensational haute’ cuisine. He has no culinary training whatsoever, but his St John restaurant in London is a pilgrimage for the serious devotee’s of the latest and greatest. All serious chefs, on the way up, are observing carefully everything he does. Sadly, he suffers from Parkinson’s disease, but is still a force in the kitchen.
I watched his signature dish on a short video, bone marrow with salt and parsley. Four bones roasted in the oven until the marrow “shimmers” and then a “Stone Hinge” presentation with a little salt and chopped parsley then spread on toast.
Why haven’t I thought of that before.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

My Version of Pasta Carbonara

This rich, flavorful classic is comfort food, in my opinion and it's really quite simple to prepare.  I wouldn't call it a "quick" supper, but it doesn't take much time.  I've become a fan of Boar's Head pre-diced pancetta for convenience and authenic Italian flavor.  I keep a package in the frig as a staple and use it in salads, egg dishes and mains like this.

1 lb linguine
8 oz. pancetta diced into small pieces*
2 eggs
¼ cup white wine
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 cup pasta water
½ cup cream
1 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
Chopped fresh flat leaf Italian parsley
Freshly ground pepper

Cooked diced pancetta in large skillet over medium heat until brown and crisp, about 6-8 mins.  Remove with a slotted spoon to paper toweling to drain. Pour off all but 1 tbls fat.   Lower heat and return bacon to skillet and add crushed red pepper flakes and and garlic. Cook 1 minute then add white wine, and deglaze the pan. Simmer on low until the wine is reduced.

Cook pasta according to package directions.  Using a pasta server, transfer pasta to skillet and toss with pancetta and wine. Measure 1 cup pasta liquid into a bowl and let cool a few minutes then add 2 egg yolks to pasta water and mix quickly with a fork. Add egg mixture to pasta and cream to pasta and toss over medium to low heat.  When the sauce starts to thicken season with pepper and add Parmesan cheese.  Add more pasta water if necessary.  Serve immediately with chopped flat leaf Italian parsley.
*Boar's Head has a packaged diced Pancetta available.  Makes it a little easier.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Celebrate Mardi Gras With Grillades and Grits

I had to dig deep into my collection of magazines to locate this recipe from The Artist's Palate  and published in the Winter 1988 issue of Veranda.  I hadn't made it in years, but it's fabulous complex flavor is worth the effort for a special event such as Mardi Gras.  Grillades (pronounced GREE-yahds) are a tradition of NOLA during Mardi Gras.  My son is at Mardi Gras right now, sampling the festivities and the food.  Can't wait for a report.

3 lbs. beef chuck cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 1/4 cups floour
2 tbls. sugar
4 tbls black pepper
1/2 cup bacon fat
1 cup chopped onion
2 cups finely choppedgreen onions
2 cups chopped green peppers
2 cloves, garlic, minced
4 cups peeled, chopped fresh or canned tomatoes
1 tsp Tabasco
1 tbls. tarragon
1 tbls. ground thyme
1 cup minced parsley
3 tsp salt
 1 cup dry red wine
1 cup beef stock
 3 cups tay shrimp, peeled and deveined

Flatten meat slices by pounding until the meat almost falls apart. If you don't have a "tenderizer" a heavy skillet will work.  Mix one cup of flour in a bowl with sugar and black pepper.  Use this mix to dredge meat slices.  Heat 2 tbls. of bacon fat in a dutch oven.  Add meat slices and cook over medium heat until brown.  Do not crowd the slices or they will not brown properly.  Remove meat and set aside.  Add the onions, green peppers and garlic. Saute' over medium heat until tender but not brown.  Add tomatoes, Tabasco, tarragon, thyme, parsley and salt.   Set aside.  Make a  roux by mixing the remaining bacon fat and flour in a heavy skillet, cooking over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture is a dark caramel color.  Combine roux with the vegetable mixture.  Add wine and beef stock while stirring constantly.  Add meat, cover and simmer over low heat until tender, about 2 1/2 hrs. Add shrimp and simmer 20 mins. longer.  Serve hot with grits.  If you've never made grits; use lots of butter and cream.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Hearty Tuscan White Bean Winter Soup

It has finally turned cold, and there's nothing I like better on a cold winter night than a hearty soup;  something with substance. This soup is a favorite and easy to put together if you've had a long day.  Kale gives it extra bonus points for nutrition.  I top it with shaved Parmesan cheese just before serving and a make up a side of baguette slices brushed with olive oil, then toasted and rubbed with half a garlic clove.   Think Tuscany, and take the chill off with this tasty soup.

1 lb ground turkey
1 lb. mild Italian sausage cut into 1 in. pieces
1 large sweet onion diced (2 cups)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbls olive oil
1 Bay leaf
1 15 oz can Cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 bunch fresh Kale, trimmed on stems and ribs
1 qrt. chicken stock (mine is homemade)
shaved Parmesan cheese for  garnish

In a large Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add onions and cook until they are soft and translucent.  Add the ground turkey breaking meat up as it cooks.  Add the sliced sausage and cook until both turkey and sausage show no trace of pink.  Add the garlic and bay leaf and cook a minute longer.
Slice the kale leaves into 1 inch ribbons.  Add the Cannellini beans, then the kale.  Lower the heat and combine the ingredients, stirring occasionally and cook 5 minutes.  When the kale is wilted, add the chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer.  Cover and let simmer 45 minutes.  Remove the bay leaf.  Serve and top with shaved Parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

"Everyone Needs a Hamburger and French Fries in time of Crisis"

Words of wisdom on my wedding day from my about-to-be husband’s aunt as I waited out the final minutes in the bride’s room.  In the absence of his deceased parent’s, Aunt Jeanne delivered my intended to the church, on time with a Big Mac and fries in his tummy.  She actually said, “If the kiss smells like McDonald’s, that because he needed something in his stomach.  Everyone needs a hamburger and French fries in time of crisis.”  It was an 8 o’clock wedding (this was 1976, and a formal affair) and it wasn’t unusual for folks to get hungry before you got to the reception, much less a 26 year old man in white tie and tails at the altar of a packed church in the smothering heat of June.  It’s funny, I’ve remembered that comment, considering the moment, but it’s certainly come back to me as the truth in the last month.

I’ve had nothing but crisis lately; two parents, of very advanced age in constant, seriously poor health. It’s been a blur of ambulances, emergency rooms, spending the night in a chair by a hospital bed, rehab, nursing homes, and excruciating decisions.  I don’t know how many food critics there are out there but, I now consider myself an expert on hospital and nursing home “cuisine”.  It’s bad, period.  My mother knows how to get what she wants, and has made a point of making acquaintances with whoever is in charge of food in these places and either asks very nicely or pitches a fit to get palatable  food.  Frequently, I sneak in what she and Daddy prefer from outside, even if it isn’t what the doctor ordered.  They’re 90, for crying out loud.

 If there has ever been a time for a hamburger and French fries in my life, this was it. After a grueling few days of hospital duty, my husband suggested we go to Ted’s Montana Grill, a block from the hospital.  The “America’s Cup Hamburger” with cheese and exceptional smoky bacon was balm to the wound.  It was the biggest, juiciest burger I’ve ever eaten.  Like a pilgrim and the grail, it restored my soul and enabled me to go back and face another round of IVs and BPs.

No one will ever convince me a hamburger and French fries aren’t right up there with chicken soup and penicillin.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine Dinner

It's a cozy meal and I'm thinking pink. Filets, lightly crusted with crushed pepper corns, then seared to a pretty pink center and topped off with a fine brandy cream sauce. Those smashed potatoes where really, really yummy. Red skinned potatoes prepared with roasted garlic, chicken stock and smoked Gouda to give it richness and great flavor without butter or milk. A simple salad of spring mix, diced beets. red onion and goat cheese, tossed with my Blood Orange vinaigrette. Crepes with raspberry rhubarb conserve and white chocolate sauce to seal the deal.  Check my previous posts for the crepes and vinaigrette. 


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Crepes with Raspberry Rhubard Conserve and White Chocolate Sauce

Valentines is at hand and I'm preparing  a special dinner my loved ones.  I happened to see the raspberries and rhubarb together at the market and began to think pink.  If you've never tried rhubarb, it looks like pink celery and marries well with other fruits like raspberries and strawberries for a sweet but tangy taste.  I usually do a serious chocolate for Valentines dessert and don't want to leave that tradition out so I've opted for white chocolate sauce to finish these luscious crepes.  So for my Valentine preparation, I'm starting with dessert first.

Raspberry Rhubarb Conserve

4 cups rhubarb sliced into 1 inch pieces
1 pint fresh raspberries
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tbls spoons raspberry liqueur
1 tsp cinnamon
1 orange zest
pinch salt

Combine the raspberries and rhubarb in a  medium sauce pan with sugar and allow to macerate overnight. Add the other ingredients  bring to a boil then reduce to simmer over low heat until fruit is cooked and juices are syrupy, about 45 mins.  Allow to cool.

Crepes:  It takes a little practice. Plan on a few trial crepes.

Heat 1/2 tsp vegetable oil in a 12 inch nonstick skillet on low heat while mixing batter.

1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup whole milk
3 large eggs
2 tbls. butter, melted and cooled

Mix flour, sugar and salt together in bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk the egg and milk together.  Add half the milk mixture to the flour mixture and whisk until Incorporated.  Add butter and mix in, then add the remaining milk mixture and blend until smooth.

Increase the heat to medium. Wipe the oil around the skillet with a paper towel.  Pour 1/4 cup batter into the skillet and swirl until the batter coats the bottom of the skillet. Cook about 25 seconds and then using a rubber spatula, loosen the edges and flip the crepe.  Cook 20 more seconds and slide onto a cooling rack.  Crepes may be reheated in a microwave by transferring to a microwave plate and covering with another inverted microwave proof plate.

White Chocolate Sauce

6 oz of white chocolate chopped
1 1/2 cups heavy cream scalled

Place chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water then pour hot cream over white chocolate. Stir until smooth. Cool slightly.

Fold warm crepes in fourths, top with conserve then drizzle with white chocolate sauce.  Garnish with toasted sliver almonds if desired.

Monday, February 6, 2012


This is a fabulous paella recipe by my friend Chuck Morn. He first produced it in spectacular fashion in a huge, authentic paella pan at a dinner event Chuck and his lovely wife, Sally, hosted.  He introduced me to, THE FLAVOR BIBLE, (not a cook book, but a what-goes-with-what book, invaluable to the serious cook) so note the fennel seed in this recipe - it makes the difference.  Want to impress? This ought to do it.

serves 10-12
2 cups long grain rice
1 large tomato
1 large yellow onion
1 jar clam juice
7-8 cups chicken stock (I make my own)
1 lb sweet Italian sausage, cut to bite size
1 lb chicken breast in approx. 1.5” cubes
2 lb mussels
1 lb small clams
1 lb large shrimp
1 tbsp fennel seeds
Approx .007 oz saffron
8 oz frozen peas
Sauté the onion in a large (paella) pan. When almost done, add the rice and stir and sauté on medium for 5 minutes. Add the tomato, clam juice, saffron and fennel seeds.

In a separate pan brown the chicken and the sausage (don’t cook through), and add these to the paella pan. I do this in the morning, and cover the pan and put it in the refrigerator so that when the guests arrive, there is less cooking to do.

Reheat the pan, or continue. Add the chicken stock (in several batches) and simmer on low heat, uncovered. When most of the liquid is absorbed (should be about 20 minutes), add the clams, mussels and peas. Stir, but set aside some half shells for the top. Add the shells and the shrimp on the top and arrange in a pretty pattern. Put the paella pan in a 400 degree oven uncovered for 6-10 minutes until the shrimp and shellfish appear to be done. Carefully present the paella pan to your guests before serving (this is traditional).

Note: I actually smoke and shell the mussels (leaving 6-8 on the half shell for the top) and add after the clams, which can take longer to cook depending on the size.

Friday, February 3, 2012

From the Mouths of Babes

Jay was Porter’s first sleepover guest.  They were seven and I’d planned the evening to keep them busy.  Hard physical play, pizza, movie and sleeping bags. I’d made a pizza from scratch not long before and Porter had declared, “Gosh Mom, we didn’t know you really knew how to cook.” My stock rose dramatically with my sons since pizza and pancakes where their favs.  I thought letting them help make the dough and dress it with sauce, etc. was fine entertainment, forgetting Jay’s mother did not cook.  I had no grasp of how bizarre this project was to him.

Porter and his younger brother drove their small hands into the mass of sticky dough with relish.  Jay stuck one tentative hand in and withdrew it. He examined the mess all over that hand and then turned his gaze on me.  It was simultaneously, quizzical and pained. He continued staring until I realized he was searching for words. Finally, he blurted out, “My parents know where you can buy these and they’ll even bring them to your door.”

I reached for the phone to call Dominos.