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.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Best Ingredients Make the Best Food

"Carpe Diem", is Latin for "seize the moment" and now is the time to do it if you want great,  ingredients in your meals or pantry. Summer's bounty of fruits and vegetables is at it's peak and I'm in a frenzy making Marinara, pickles, fig jam; freezing peaches and corn, blanching shelled peas for use during the colder months. Even though it's a good bit of labor, I take great satisfaction in pulling a jar of homemade Marinara sauce from the pantry in January. I feel dizzy when I visit the farmer's markets and can't decide what to choose it's all so exciting.

Now is the time to make fresh peach tarts, pepper jelly, creamed corn, gumbo or succotash with fresh okra, watermelon salad, basil pesto, tomato jam, butter beans swimming in buttery broth, pizza dressed with fig, prosciutto and goat cheese.  I know the pears, apples and pecans are coming but they are just beyond the summer limits and an introduction to the next season. I'll concentrate on baking in the winter. Right now, no other time of year has as much variety to offer as August.

Every cooking guru will always advise to use the best quality you can get and it does make a difference.  The best example I can think of is a simple vinaigrette.  Try the difference between cheaper quality olive oil and vinegar and "gourmet" brands such as Oli & Ve.  I've tried every sort of vinegar to make many varieties of vinaigrette but husband loves their Blenheim Apricot white balsamic best. It's like night and day to your salad.  I'm not really a food snob and I know we all can't afford too many pricey items but the variety of fresh ingredients available right now leave me no choice but to load up and use every peak moment for the best meals of the year.

We've had a good summer east of the Mississippi but not so for the West and I'm worried what that will do to the price of groceries in the coming months.  That's why a little effort now will help you out later.  So don't wait, grab a box of tomatoes now and get to work on the Marinara, you'll thank yourself in January.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Best Vidalia Onion Pie - With a Cheddar Crust

I've never forgotten the exceptional Vidalia Onion Pie I had at a party some 10 years ago.  I thought I'd never get that recipe until I found out a friend had it all along when she produced it at a dinner party last weekend.  It's surprisingly easy and holds it's shape when cut.  You could even omit the crust and bake in a baking dish sprayed with cooking spray.  Makes a great summer side dish for barbecue, grilled chops or stand alone lunch.

For the crust:

1 cup all purpose flour, chilled
6 tbls unsalted butter cut into small cubes and put in freezer for 15 minutes
1 cup coarse grated sharp cheedar cheese, chilled (white or yellow)
1 pinch salt
2 tbls ice water

In a food processor add the flour, butter and cheese and process for 15 seconds until the mixture resembles small peas.  The add the ice water through the feed tube. Process until the mixture forms a ball.  Remove and flatten the dough into a 6 inch round.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.  Roll out onto a floured surface with a floured rolling pin into a 12 inch round. Roll the dough around the rolling pin and transfer to a pie plate. Gentley press into the pie plate, trim and crimp the edges.  Refrigerate 15 minutes.

For the filling:

2 lbs Vidaliah onions sliced very thin
1 stick unsalted butter
3 eggs beaten
1 cup sour cream
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp Tabasco

saute onions until soft and cool slightly.
Beat eggs then add sour cream and seasonings and mix.  Add onions and blend all together then pour into pie shell.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees and bake pie for 20 minutes. Remove and top with 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese then continue to bake 20 more minutes at 325 degrees. Let cool 15 minutes before serving.  Done when a knife comes out clean when put in the center of the pie. Freezes well.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Simona's Bolognese

I hadn't been to Italy in 41 years but we just returned from a trip through Tuscany, Florence and Rome and I'm stoked on pasta, pecorino, and Prada.  Since my last visit, touring Tuscany has come into vogue With it 's rustic, satisfying, vibrant foods.  I enjoyed whole grilled fish, pizza Napola , osso buco and tagliatelle with bolognese sauce among the many delicious meals.

I decided to pursue the bolognese sauce for this blog because I really never understood it's difference from a tomato before.  I grew up on "spaghetti" sauce which was a combination of meat and tomato sauce.  In Italy pasta comes with a variety of tomato  or cream sauces but bolognese is where the meat comes in and meat means, beef or beef and pork.

I asked one of our guides, Simona, about her sauce and she was very clear; onion, celery, carrot, finely ground meat, tomato, red wine and a little seasoning.  She added pork in the winter. NO garlic!
A similar version was discussed with serveral restauraters - onion, celery, carrot, meat, tomato, wine and no garlic; then cook it down for a long time.  I just couldn't resist the garlic.

I've tried to recreate what I had in a charming restaurant off the Via Veneto in Rome but I've still got work to do on the texture.  Italian bolognese has a fine texture so whirling in a processor recreates the proper texture or a heart to heart with your butcher may help.  It is important all the ingredients must be fine.  The best way I found is to process the the sauce in batches for a short time (20 seconds) in a food processor. Not like baby food but a thick and hearty sauce that easily clings to pasta.

2 tbls olive oil
1 cup minced yellow onion
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1/2 cup minced celery
1 tbls minced garlic clove
1 lb ground beef
1/2 lb ground pork
4oz pancetta diced
1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup beef stock
1 cup red wine
3 tbls tomato paste
1 28 oz can San Mazano tomatos,chopped
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried basil
2 tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp pepper

In a large, heavy dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat add the pancetta and cook until fat renders but not quite brown. Add the next three ingredients and cook 4 to 5 minutes until soft. Add the garlic, thyme, basil, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.  Add meat and cook until all the pink is gone. Spoon off excess fat and liquid.  Add tomato paste and milk and cook until most of the liquid is absorbed, then add the stock and wine and bring to a simmer. Add the tomatoes and chop up the tomatoes with kitchen shears. Season with remaining salt and pepper and cook down on medium low, stirring frequently for 45 minutes.  Process in two batches for 15-20 seconds and reheat.  Serve over pappardelle or your favorite pasta and garnish with parmesan.