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, 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.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Pimento Cheese at the Masters; A Tradition

Yesterday, was my first visit to the famous Masters Golf Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club.  It is a magnificent golf course whose challenges can only truly be appreciated by viewing it in the flesh.  The undulating, lightning fast greens make a duffer like me weak in the knees.  A masterpiece, melding nature and architecture, I couldn’t imagine negotiating neither the yardage nor the bunkers.  Like a femme fatale, golfing greats are lured back every year; trapped by her beauty before falling victims to her whims; tortured into humble mortals trying to make love to her – just once.
Yes, it was a fine spectacle, but after a 5 a.m. alarm and a drive to the gates of golf heaven by 8:30 a.m., I was hungry and on a mission to hunt down ASAP the famous $1.50 Masters pimento cheese sandwich.  Pimento cheese sandwich for breakfast, why not? At the concession stand, freshly made each day and wrapped in a logo plastic bag (everything but the toilet paper at the Masters has their logo on it); I found, the legendary sandwich that is available annually at this tournament. It’s not bad; creamy with just a bare hint of cayenne, but what surprised me was the bread.  White.  Plain, old grocery store, cheap, white bread, but it's tradition. 
I’m sure, the simple recipe belongs to some sainted soul of Augusta. It has that distinct homemade quality of Southern hospitality. The Masters stands for such virtues. I mean no disrespect, but the pimento cheese of the Masters does seem to be made for the masses. I, frankly, think mine is better but will never have tradition and legend attached to it.  Mine has a good bit more flavor, which might not be what the patrons prefer at The Masters. The Augusta National version made for a fine breakfast and I appreciated that it was a fresh, and not a processed product.  Standing amongst the tall pines, on a surprisingly chilly morning,  halfway through my sandwich and hot coffee, my senses and memory where fully engaged in a moment I should never forget. 

Later in the day, I had the privilege of enjoying lunch at the storied club house with our son and other charming company.  Basking in the sparkling, spring sunshine,  we enjoyed wonderful crab cakes, but my favorite memory from my first Masters was a legendary, homemade pimento cheese sandwich for breakfast for a buck 50.