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 29, 2013

Becky Goes to Sushi School

I found myself in a sushi restaurant a month ago with my son, his fiancee' and assorted friends.  The place was packed and ripe with energy.  The fiancee' took charge and ordered with savvy authority. I was clueless. I've always written sushi off as a fad even though it's  obviously mainstream and readily available in my grocery store. I've been in denial, ignored its intriguing flavors and art.  Am I set in my ways?  An old fogy? It was clearly time to get with it and learn something new, so I signed up for the basics of this popular cuisine.

The instructor informed us sushi chefs spend 5 to 6 years learning about rice and its preparation.  We were going to use a rice cooker and have ours ready in 25 minutes.  OK by me.  Cooked sushi rice is sticky but the real trick is its' dressing of rice wine vinegar and sugar.  I was surprised about the sugar.  Then we did our mise en place, slicing, chopping and so forth; cucumber, yellow pepper, green onion, avocado, asparagus and cream cheese followed by tuna, smoked salmon, shrimp, eel and crab meat.  She reviewed the condiments next. A whole new syllabus of ingredients which bring on the flavor for the subtle fish and rice.  Next was the rolling technique, which is a matter of practice. 

We sliced and plated then sat down to sample our sushi.  Mine looked OK but was timid on flavor and my sushi etiquette was downright offensive.  You are not suppose to put the pickled ginger on the sushi roll.  I dipped all wrong and I won't discuss my chopstick management.  There was some leftover tuna dressed with Japanese mayonnaise and other condiments which some devoured the way I would ice cream.  That's when it hit me,  they really like raw fish!  So I posed the question to my class mates, "Why do you like sushi?"  They like the spicy flavor but the answer that impressed me most was, it's "clean and fresh".  Unlike the organic movement, sushi bears its own brand of purity complimented by unique condiments.  It must be fresh, there is no option.  Sushi is art as well, the Japanese eat with their eyes first so it's presentation is organized, colorful and provoking.

I haven't decided if I want to put sushi in my home cooking repertoire but I certainly found a new appreciation for it and hopefully made points with my future daughter-in-law.  Sushi is here to stay in the same way Mexican arrived on my parents table with reluctance.  The world is getting smaller but it's table is getting larger.  Grab a seat.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Amuse-Bouche; Blue Cheese Foam Wine Reduction

My dinner guests, or Guinea Pigs as I prefer to think of them, arrived at the appointed hour of 7 p.m. and I proceeded to ply them with alcohol to get them in the mood for the experiment.  I was going to amuse their bouches with Rick Tramonto's legendary Blue Cheese Foam and Port Wine Reduction.
Amuse-bouche is a little bite of "delight" before the meal.  Just one tease of a bite of something intensely flavorful to perk up the palate before the main attraction.  Foam does require the proper equipment; a chilled whip cream canister charged with nitrous oxide (N2O), so be prepared.

3 cups dry port wine
2 cups heavy cream
5 oz blue cheese
salt & pepper

Reduce the port wine by simmering over medium low heat for 25-30 minutes. It should be slightly syrupy. Set aside.

Bring the cream to a boil and turn off the heat. Add the blue cheese and stir. Process with an immersion blender until smooth. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Cover and bring to room temperature before chilling thoroughly.  The foam canister should be chilled also.  Following the instructions for filling and charging the canister. Shake the canister and place a small amount on each serving piece.  Drizzle with port wine reduction.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Summer Peaches & Basil Sorbet

Digging deep in the freezer, I found a nice surprize from last summer.  I was just about to forget those luscious peaches I pealed, sliced and froze right before we left for vacation.  You know how you stop at the farmers market and buy way too many of those gorgeous fruits and vegetables and then the madness begins.  Peaches, tomatoes and corn are in abundance and the distant specter of a bleak winter and hydropontic tomatoes inspires me to freeze and do a little canning.  Well here was that moment of validation.  It was worth the effort.  The sweetness of summer in January.  A little google search and I found just the vehicle for my frozen peaches - peach basil sorbet would make a fine finish to that black truffle meal I wrote about in my last blog.  I'd been dying to try one of the herb scented sorbets I've read about and found.  Not Without Salt's  recipe just what I was looking for. We were all surprised at the freshness of the peach flavor and complexity the basil added.

2 cups frozen peaches, thawed

Basil simple syrup:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
3 or 4 large basil leaves

Combine the sugar, water and basil leaves in a heavy sauce pan.  Bring to a boil stirring to make sure sugar dissolves.  Turn off the heat and let cool.  Remove to a container and refrigerate until cold (4 hrs). Do not remove basil from syrup.

Combine peaches and basil syrup in food processor. Process until smooth, less than a minute.  Pour mixture into a container and freeze for at least 6 hours.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Black Truffle Experience

My thoughtful in laws brought me the most wonderful Christmas present from their recent trip to France, two black truffles! Truffles are considered "the diamond of the kitchen" in haute cuisine and are very expensive everywhere.  They are subterranean fungi that grow in certain parts of Europe and are now beginning to be cultivated in the US.  60 Minutes did an episode on the truffle industry and compared the demand to the drug trade.  That's a pretty potent image to me.  Pigs are traditionally used to locate the truffle's underground hiding place.  Maybe my two dachshunds could do some truffle work.  They have excellent noses and  dig with abandon when they smell something intriguing underground.

I wanted to taste the essence of the truffle without putting it in competition with much else.  After a bit of research, I decided the best way to apply my jewel was on simple pasta dressed with olive oil, grated Parmesan, chopped parsley, salt and pepper.  Then I used my basic mandolin to shave fine slices of the truffle on to the dish.  Toss and serve. The delicate scent and earthy flavor lingered on every bite of pappardelle. 

The next morning, I decided to try truffled scrambled eggs.  This application really isolated the flavor perfectly.The unique, subtle truffle perfume added a complexity to the eggs I didn't expect and the ordinary soared to extraordinary.  Moderate heat during cooking bloomed the essential flavor. Truffle has that sexy quality that leaves you with a memory of a beautiful experience long after the taste is gone.  Too bad the truffle is such a pricey and rare commodity but then,  if it where in every grocery store, it would lose its' mystique.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Is Your Kitchen Prepared for 2013?

Every January I clean out my refrigerator, freezer, pantry and spice cabinet.  I discard the out- of- date and make sure I'm stocked with my "basics".  I tried paring this down to 10 in each department so they meet the  bare minimum of my "be prepared" kitchen theme. I try to keep fresh items in the frig and "go to" in the pantry and freezer.  It's hard to pick 10, but this is a good start and I think you can whip up a pretty good meal with these things on hand.

Refrigerator:              Freezer:                                                 Spice:
 -eggs                         -ice cream (or other frozen dessert)      -kosher salt
-unsalted butter          -homemade stock                                  -black pepper corns
-onions                       -essence from roast chicken                  -paprika
-garlic                         -grated cheese                                       -cinnamon
-flat leaf parsley         -frozen pastry dough                             -curry powder
-lemons                       -frozen peas                                          -dry mustard
-fresh thyme               -frozen fruit                                           -dried oregano
-Dijon mustard            -fresh bread crumbs                              -chili powder
-parmesan                    chopped spinach                                  -crushed red pepper flakes
-diced pancetta            -chopped nuts                                       -vanilla
Pantry:                                        The Extras:
-whole canned tomatoes             -cream sherry
-tomato sauce                              -Grand Marnier
-olive oil                                       -Kalhua
-red wine vinegar
-commercial chicken stock
-Worstershire sauce
-soy sauce

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

You Are What You Eat?

I believe “you are what you eat” with the same faith I believe in the Almighty.  What we digest in our bodies determines as much how we feel, look and behave as our genes although, the food affect shows up pretty fast, genetics are an ongoing thing.  Eat too many raw vegetables, you get gas, eat a lot of carbs you gain too much weight, drink too much alcohol, you get drunk, or don’t eat, you get sick and die. That’s overly simplified, but just observing what’s in grocery carts in the checkout line tells me people eat for comfort.  Invariably, I see products based on the trifecta of salt, fat and sugar.  Shouldn’t there be a balance between comfort and nutrition?  What would happen if we ate simply prepared well balanced meals and drank our alcohol in moderation?  Diabetes would decline, for one thing.

Eating habits are as individual as our fingerprints and as personal as your name to me. What you eat tells me a lot about you.  Gluttons are appalling to watch.  They are obsessive, indiscriminate and concentrated on consumption. The super size can’t pass up a crumb.  I’m more fascinated by people who can’t, or only eat certain things.  They have dietary prejudices or restrictions that determine, to a large extent, how they function emotionally and socially.  Julia Child once said Americans had become afraid of their food.  I agree, indeed, the media has been full of warnings about food for years.  I can never make up my mind if we experienced a “craze” or a neurotic phobia to the basic food groups.  My mother overcooked everything to death because she was afraid of bacteria but never questioned food cooked otherwise in a restaurant.   Institutional food is strangely acceptable to her.  Elvis Presley ate the same thing every day, peanut butter and bacon sandwich.  Gluten free is the current dietary theme.  Anything that can be labeled “gluten free” is for marketing purposes and I know lots of gluten sensitive people who claim it resolves everything from digestion to migraines.  If gluten free improves the quality of their life, then ok, but I feel sorry for anyone who can’t eat birthday cake.

Then there are those who would put ketchup on escargot – hopeless.

Years ago, we fed the dog table scraps.  Poor thing died of a brain tumor too young.  Now my pets eat a specially formulated diet in exact amounts and live an eternity.  Similarly, at the gym I frequent, the trainers and athletes adhere to impossibly strict diets of scientific protein concoctions washed down with endless bottles of water to accomplish their lean, muscular, polished physiques.  They claim to drink alcohol rarely, but I’m suspicious. I only aspire to be healthy and fit in my clothes so I pass on those protein bars.

It’s reassuring to learn that starving children in foreign countries are being saved with a simple paste made up of peanut butter, powdered milk and a few nutrients.  A simple, inexpensive and brilliant formula is dramatically saving lives.  How we feed children and the habits they develop are so critical to their future health.  I still remember my husband telling me about an indigent boy he treated years ago, who had lost all his teeth at age 8 due to malnutrition. As I observe my little grandson, I know breast milk agreed with him best, but now he’s on formula and it makes a difference.  He’s growing and thriving but formula is obviously harder on his digestion. He makes funny faces while his tummy deals with digesting that stuff.  He has no idea how fortunate he is to have all the benefits of an advanced society and informed parents.

There’s just no excuse these days for not knowing what’s good for you and what isn’t. We still live in the land of plenty, thank God, so making better choices isn’t too hard.  I’m striving for a better balance this year, myself.  I’m not giving up anything, but I will cut down (not out) on carbs, take smaller portions and ramp up the exercise. If I am what I eat, I intend to be healthy, happy and wise.

Choose wisely.  Happy New Year!