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.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Right Stuff: Kitchen Gear, Gadget & Gizmos

I swore not to purchase anymore kitchen equipment unless something essential was broken or it was absolutely necessary.  So how did I come home with one of those expensive super blenders that doesn't fit anywhere in my already cluttered kitchen.  I usually show up at Costco around lunch time for the free samples and got a sales pitch on the health benefits of the Vita Mix. Sucker! I'm sort of the Carrie Bradshaw of kitchen appliances and gadgets.  There's always a new style that I've got to have to make my culinary life more complete and send my cuisine to new heights. I shop the kitchen stores like a woman with a blank check in Tiffany's, then parade the latest jewel in something exquisite and delicious.  Oooh, isn't that slicer/dicer the most adorable thing I ever saw and all I came for was some cheese cloth which lead to a $50 fine meshed Chinois strainer and the pistle is only $15 more which lead to the most divine raspberry coulis.  They know my name and weak spots in kitchen stores the way a private club knows it's elite members and their favorite cocktail.  "Have you seen our new Tunisian hand painted Tangine, Madame?"

I've got two food processors as well as a food mill and an immersion blender.  Each has a unique purpose.  I have  Kemex,  Krupp's,  Keurig and Toddy coffee makers.  I have a bread maker and a digital scale to ensure accurate measurements.  Can I really trust the 4 sets of measuring cups I have (and that doesn't include the liquid measuring cups). I was dumbfounded when I found a friend had only a single one cup liquid measure and mixing bowl in her household.  Another friend had kitchen knives that wouldn't slice warm butter so I offered to take them home and sharpen them on my Pro Chef Knife Sharpener.  I used to arrive for house parties with my own knives and sharpener but it made people nervous.  I have to ask my husband to pull out the heavy marble slab I bought last year for pastry.  If the dough doesn't stay cold, you won't get the proper results and cold marble solves that.  My pasta machine doesn't get enough use lately and I still have not used each of the 350 cookie cutters I own. I'm afraid of my Japanese mandolin after I sliced my finger in a bloody mess. My best gadget investment is a simple tubular silicone garlic peeler for $6.95 at Crate & Barrel.  Does the job and your hands don't smell like garlic but my real favorite is my popover tin.

How long will the sexy Vita Mix be in favor?  Will it be a short, torrid affair or a love that burns long like my Le Creuset #14.  So far it's passionate but could flame out after a few weeks if  I don't find the right balance of healthy and haute. I've liquefied a lot of produce in the last 48 hours and my skin is glowing like a woman in love but please don't tell the bread machine I'm cheating on it.
I think, if I had to, I could manage with one 6 inch sharp knife, a big spoon, a 1 cup measure, a 4 quart bowl, a 1 quart pot and a cast iron fry pan, a baking sheet, a whisk and a spatula. Most people do but please, don't put me to the test. Good equipment does make a difference at some point in the quality of what you can accomplish but it's only useful if you are inspired by the possibilities of beautiful ingredients. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Coconut Water Super Smoothie

I thought coconut water was another faddish product of the health movement.  It was light and refreshing but I didn't think much about it as an ingredient until I tasted a smoothie made with it.  Wow! Instead of packing more calories in with fruit juice or powders, coconut water is just the right element to blend a choice of ingredients and enjoy it's many powerful benefits.  Coconut water from young green coconuts is low in sugar, sodium and fat, high in potassium, antioxidants and many other benefits.  It's only draw back might be consuming too much if your watching calories and that's easy to do. 8 oz has about 50 calories.

I just ordered a case on Amazon; I'm hooked.  Here's a simple smoothie that is my new breakfast treat or after workout recovery drink. It's also a great idea to get the veggies down the kids.

In a blender:

1 cup ripe fresh pineapple
1 small ripe banana
1 handful fresh spinach
8 oz. of coconut water

Blend on high until smooth. Pick your own fruits and veggies but the slightly sweet, nutty flavor of coconut water makes the difference.  Try blends of berries, cucumber, melons, mint, lemon, lime, kale, beet, pomegranate, apple, pear, peach, carrot, orange, grapefruit, ginger, mango, papaya, chia seed, almonds milk, yogurt, honey, grapes.........and the list goes on.  I'm thinking of other ways to work it into my diet and so should you!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Greatest of Feasts - The French Baguette, Simplified

James Beard declared bread the most satisfying and with butter the greatest of feasts. Agreed.

 There are countless forms of bread throughout history and the story of bread begins with the dawn of agriculture.  Bread is eaten at any meal and in between.  It has both social and emotional significance beyond nutrition and is prized for its taste and aroma which renders it an art.  My personal favorite is the baguette.  The translation is "wand" because of its elongated shape.  What we now think of as a French baguette really only dates from 1920 when a law was passed in France forbidding commercial baking between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.  They had to think of a different shape to bake quicker for breakfast.  Originally baked in steam injected brick ovens, a substantial classic took shape.

A good French baguette is my favorite and imagine the goose bumps when I discovered my sister-in -law knew how to make a perfect one.  Let me roll back 20+ years to my one and only attempt to make a baguette before now.  It was a "belly flop" on New Years Eve.  Good intentions but you could have broken a tooth on it.  I put the idea aside until now. 

Beth, my sister-in-law, is a fabulous baker with flour in her veins, a real miller's daughter.  Her 92 year old dad is still sharp as a tack and I interviewed him recently about the art of flour milling.  Growing up in Depression Era Kansas, his father owned a mill and feed store giving him first hand knowledge of milling from youth.  He went on to Kansas State's processing school with a back ground in mechanical engineering.  He has traveled the world as an expert in manufacturing flour efficiently, technically and economically as possible.  The Pacific Rim, Australia, India, Japan, Taiwan, Egypt, Albania, Canada, Mexico, Chile and Venezuela are some of the foreign countries that have benefited from his expertise.  If your think about it; he's helped feed the world. He retired in 1988.

He answered my questions about different kinds of wheat but, I had to ask him about gluten free popularity.  He summed it up neatly without judgement.  "It is a condition developed like allergies to peanuts."  OK, I can live with it now but thankfully don't have the condition. 

Now, about the French Baguette.  If I can, you can.  This is a simple, no-knead method that produces two 16 inch "wands" with a crusty exterior and just enough chewy interior.  I think the results are impressive.

In a large bowl combine;

2 scant cups luke warm water
1 1/2 tsp table salt
1 tbls sugar
1 tsp dry active yeast

Add 3 cups unbleached bread flour (exchange 1/2 cup whole wheat flour if desired)
1/3 - 1/2 cup gluten vital wheat flour (Whole Foods, special markets or mail order)

Mix with a wooden spoon or spatula until all the dry is incorporated. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise 18-24 hours.  The longer it rises the lighter it will be.

Dough after 24 hrs.

Turn dough out onto a well floured surface.  It will be fairly sticky.  Add enough additional flour to make a smooth elastic ball (about 1/2 cup).  Spread 1/4 cup of corn meal in a line across the top of the surface.  Cut dough into two even pieces and shape each into an 8x16 inch rectangle stretching the dough with a rolling pin rolling in one direction, not back and forth.  Roll the dough up tightly beginning at the bottom edge and pinch to seal. Tuck the ends under and roll slightly with hands to elongate to 16 inch length. Smooth the underside seam with a finger dipped in water and lightly press into corn meal. Spray a baguette pan with nonstick cooking spray and arrange baguettes in the wells of the pan so they do not touch

Rinse a tea towel under luke warm water and wring out thoroughly.  Place over baguettes and let rise for 45 minutes to an hour until double in size.  Place a pan of water on the bottom rack of an oven and position a second rack in the middle over the pan of water.  Heat the oven to 450 degrees.

Just before placing in the oven, slash each loaf with a sharp knife 3 times.  Bake over the pan of water for 25 minutes on the middle rack.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Stupids Entertain - Roasted Potatoes in Duck Fat and How to Clean up Candle Wax and Other Tips

Has my blog title confused you?  Well, I think I've gotten most of it cleaned up instead of calling Pro Serve.  Let me get to the point.  It was a lovely spring evening and perfect for dining outside with, probably, the last opportunity to use our outdoor fireplace until next Fall. We invited close friends for a casual grill meal.  I realized I was out of votives and opted for candelabra on the patio to complement the fire and other outdoor lighting.  Perfect! The meal, weather, lighting and so forth.  We turned on the overhead fan to send smoke from the grill elsewhere and I noticed the candles where starting to drip furiously over the pierced wrought iron table.  Well the ambiance was lovely. I'd clean it up in the morning. Funny, I noticed the dog hovering under the table for a dropped morsel was splattered with wax but didn't associate it with anything much. Ah! Wine can help you skip a detail like that - it was all so pleasant.

The Stupids where a childrens' series of slightly dark humored books my children read occasionally, only because their mother found them amusing.  Last night, I certainly was a worthy character. By morning the dinner site looked like a wax museum after a fire. What a mess!

Here's a tip for candle wax on everything. Google, "candle wax on ...."  I've spent most of the day ironing old terry cloth towels over my patio and other assorted methods and chemical applications to remove candle wax from dogs, stone, candelabra, cast iron and shoes. The dog got by with just a combing.

Aside from that, roasted potatoes in duck fat is a worthy blog.  I'd read about duck fat quite a bit and contemplated ordering it on line until I found it on the shelf in a specialty store.  Roasted potatoes as a side to grilled lamb chops seemed to be the right opportunity test drive duck fat. Duck fat, is popular in France omitting the heaviness of other fats making it ideal for frying or roasting at high temperatures.  Potatoes roasted or fried in duck fat give a  light crisp exterior crust to a soft smooth interior. Try it, you'll like it.

Just a note on grilling bone end chops before I get to the potatoes.  Cook a T-boned chop straight up on it's flat bone end.  The bone transfers and conducts the heat to the meat efficiently without searing first.  Finish the with a one minute sear on each side.

For Potatoes:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

2 lbs Fingerling or Pee Wee Potatoes or Yukon's peeled on cup into bite size
1/4 cup Duck Fat
salt and pepper to taste

Rise and cut potatoes in halves or in bite size
Put in a pot and cover with cool water to an inch above
Bring to a boil and cook 3 minutes.
Drain in a colander and pat dry or reserve lightly covered until ready to cook.

On a rimmed baking sheet warm 1/4 cup duck fat in oven for2 minutes.  Remove from oven and add cut potatoes tossing in duck fat with a spatula until coated.  Sprinkle with Kosher salt and pepper.  Return to oven and cook 20 minutes.  Toss with spatula and cook 10 to 15 more minutes until the potatoes are golden brown.