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, September 22, 2014

Autumnal Equinox Dinner - Duck Marsala

Autum official begins at 10:29 p.m. and right on cue, the weather changed today.  It's cooled down to the 70's, the humidity is lower and the sky is clear and bright blue. I always hate to see summer end but there's something thrilling about that first hint that fall is on the way.  So I have to mark the occasion with a special meal and I feel like duck is the appropriate focus and ramps up traditional chicken marsala. It reminds me of my father and grandfather hunting and bringing home duck for dinner when I was a child.  They'd laugh and say, "Let's have duck dinner, we brought the duck."  Individually packaged duck breast is available in many grocery stores or on line as is duck fat.  You don't have to go hunting.

4 duck breast, rinsed under cool water and patted dry
1 tbls spoon duck fat or 1 tbls olive oil
1 large shallot, chopped fine
4 oz. sliced baby bella mushrooms
8-10 fresh figs, stem removed and halved lengthwise
1/2 dry marsala wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 tsp chopped fresh thyme or 1/4 tsp dried
salt & pepper
1 tbls unsalted butter
fresh chopped parsley for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Season the duck breast liberally with salt and pepper
Add the duck fat and olive oil to a large skillet and heat over medium high heat.
Add the duck breasts skin side down and allow to brown 5-7 minutes. Adjust heat if necessary.
Turn over and brown 5 more minutes.
Place in preheat oven for 7 minutes. Duck skin should be brown and crisp.
Remove from oven and move duck to a plate and tent with foil.
Pour off all but 2 tbls fat. Remember the handle is hot.
Add the shallot, mushrooms and thyme and saute' for 3 minutes until shallot softens
Add the wine and chicken stock.  Deglaze the pan and heat just to a boil then reduce heat and cook down until reduced by half.
Add the figs and cook for another minute.
Swirl in the butter.
Pour the reduced sauce over sliced duck, garnish and serve immediately.

Backyard Tailgate, Brats & Beer

My son got bitten by the craft beer brewing bug some years ago. I guess there's something in his genes that urges him to cook. It all began when he was in Australia for a college semester and came home with a brew kit.  Now, he's gotten more sophisticated and his garage is an elaborate home brew stage.  His wife makes up cute lables on her computer and it's all great fun.  When he gets together with buddies to watch football, he brings a cooler of his latest and they critique the beer and teams.
New Country Cozy Blond

 So what goes with cold beer and football?  How about some brats steamed in beer and finished off on the grill, then topped with grilled onions and peppers on a buttered and toasted bun. Good times for all!

Put 5 or 6 bratwurst in a single layer in a dutch oven or a deep fry pan with a lid. Add one bottle of beer and two tbls whole grain mustard.  Heat covered until the beer just starts to boil then cut the heat and let the brats steam for about 15 minutes until no pink is visible.

Prepare a charcoal fire or a gas grill.  Slice 2 large onions and 2 green peppers, cored and seeded and sliced into thin strips, and toss in a neutral oil to coat.  Add peppers and onions to a grill basket over indirect heat. Grill until lightly browned.  Finish the steamed brats on the grill until nicely browned. About 5 minutes.  Split hoagey rolls and butter the inside and place on the grill for just a minute to toast.  Assemble and serve with German mustard if desired and with a nice cold beer.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Kale Pesto Change-o

I admit I've haven't had enough enthusiasm for the latest super food, kale.  It's nutritional qualities are outstanding but I've been a slacker putting it on my grocery list. I'd rather have it in a restaurant or salad bar. It stinks when you cook it and I hate for my kitchen to smell bad. It has that sulphury quality when cooked that I associate with certain bitter greens that need prolonged cooking.  It's leaves are tough and fibrous versus the more tender turnip or chard variety that I prefer.  Kale salads are tasty enough but they need a lot of makeup ingredients to balance kale's slight bitterness and dense texture.  So I solved those issues by making kale pesto. It's my answer to work this nutritious green into my diet more often. The kale is blanched, then chopped finely in a food processor with traditional pesto ingredients.  It's quite tasty on pasta and slathered inside a sandwich.  I even used it to garnish tonight's dinner of roasted salmon over Provencal ratatouille.  I don't won't to miss out on nutrition so, "pesto" change-o.  Kale transforms from a tough bitter green to a bright green more sophisticated form with  multiple uses.

  • 1 bunch of kale, stem removed; leaf part only by running the tip of your knife up either side of the stim until it ends.  Then chop across into 2 inch ribbons.  You should have 3 ozs of kale leaves.
  • 3 peeled garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan
  • 1/2 cup toasted pin nuts (optional)
  • 3/4 cup good olive oil such as Oli & Ve Picual
In a large pot, bring 2 quarts of water and 2 tbls Kosher salt to a boil.  Prepare a bowl of ice water and set aside. Add the chopped kale leaves to the boiling water and return to a boil.  Cook for one  minute. Drain the kale into a strainer or remove from the hot water with a strainer and plunge the wilted kale into the ice water bath immediately to stop the cooking.  Drain thoroughly after a few minutes in the ice water bath and wrap the kale in a clean linen or cotton dish cloth.  Dry the kale as much as possible until the kale is moist but no excess water exists.
Put the kale and garlic in a food processor and pulse 6-8 times.  Add the Parmesan and pine nuts, if using.  With the processor on, add 3/4 cup olive oil through the feed tube. Add process just until the oil runs through, about 1 minute.

Makes about 1 1/2 cup.  Store refrigerated with a little extra olive oil on top to inhibit oxidation.

Monday, September 15, 2014

"3 G" Spread: Green Olive, Goat Cheese and Green Onion

I found some wonderful green olives in a gourmet foods store this weekend and added them to cocktail nibbles before dinner that night.  I forgot to ask the name of the variety, but they were bright green in color, lovely in flavor and less briny than say, Kalamata.  I could have gobbled them all up.  My research came up with Castelvetrano olive but they are easy to pick out because of their color. The left overs where too good to waste so I put them together in a food processor with goat cheese and green onions.  This turned into a new favorite! I think I'm going to try it stuffed in a chicken breast.

1 cup Castelvetrano Olives
4 oz. goat cheese, at room temp
2-3 green onions, white and green parts, sliced thin
Fresh cracked pepper

Put the olives in the processor and pulse until they are a roughly chopped. Add the goat cheese and green onions and process just until combined and leaving texture to the spread.  Finish with a little cracked pepper when served.  Enjoy on crackers or as a stuffing to a chicken breast.

Friday, September 12, 2014

For Better For Worse, But Not For Lunch

I have been married 38 years.  That's 13,595 days and most of them have involved responsibility for my husband's lunch.  He eats a very light lunch and it's not a big deal; salad or some leftovers but most wives in urban settings in the 21st century are not confronted with their spouse midday.  I don't have to actually be present, just have the fixings available.  A very particular kind of lettuce and fruit, my homemade salad dressing, a homemade soup, a slice of my homemade whole wheat bread.  For a while he made the rounds at the sandwich and salad bar establishments and a diner or two but always found his way back to my kitchen.  Light, easy, quick and cheap and no tipping.

His job doesn't involve travel. No living or eating on the road, no power lunches.  At the most, he gets a sandwich on the golf course on weekends.  Even in graduate school, when we first married, he asked me to make him a sandwich for lunch because it took too long to walk over to the university cafeteria and it would save us money.  I really hated making tuna fish at 6:30 in the morning.  Then we had our first child and a microwave not long after.  His office was close to home and I didn't mind having a little relief during the day. I could nuke a hot dog or flip a grilled cheese while he bounced the baby.

Lunch is nothing more to my husband than a quiet moment to breath in a dizzy, breathless sprint each day.  He can't be weighted down or drowsy after a Big Mac or corporate lunch. It is just a blink in his working hyper focus.  Conversation is minimal as he chills without losing too much steam for the rest of the day. Then he flips the switch at five for some exercise and a civilized evening meal. It really is a pretty nice schedule.  He's a work hard, play hard type. 

 I can summarize life of lunches beginning with a  lunch of graham crackers and peanut butter as an old favorite.  As a youth, his mother banished he and his brothers to the backyard swimming pool on any summer day with drinks, a pack of graham cracker and a jar of peanut butter for the day. They didn't come inside until evening. When we took our teenagers to New York, hubby was so determined to spend every minute pounding the streets to museums and so forth, he was shocked we wanted to stop for lunch. Even petite de'jeuner in France took some persuasion. Hikes in the Rockies have been referred to as a "forced march". 

 I had no choice but to pack my children's school lunches during elementary school.  I'll never forgive the one who traded his homemade vegetable soup for a packaged Oscar Mayer Lunchable.  I happened to be at the school that day and wandered through the lunch room and found his thermos right on top of the garbage still filled with the soup I'd labored over.   When he confessed to trading the  nutritious vegetable soup for processed bologna, cheese and crackers, I was crushed.  Of course, this is the same adult child who occasionally shows up at lunch and rummages through the refrigerator. "Can I eat this?"

I'm not sure what is so attractive about eating lunch at home.  It's not much of a meal but it's what they want, not the super sized spread of the metropolis.  So I'll keep my lunch counter open.  For better for worse, lunch is part of the deal.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Fig & Almond Tart

Practice makes perfect and I'm not perfect yet with my Pate Sucr`ee.  Today, I took advantage of fig season for another round of pastry homework and made a beautiful tart.  Pastry dough takes practice and I'm excited to try all sorts of wonderful fruits of the summer with this marvelous crust. I've already made a peach raspberry pie and today the fig tart.  I'm in love with the fig and almond combination.  This tart has the "Wow" factor as a dessert. So roll up your sleeves and roll out some more pastry.  The rest is easy. It doesn't hurt for the figs to be firm.

For the Pastry:

1- 5 inch disc of chilled pate sucr`ee (see blog post 9/5/2014)

Roll out to 1/8 inch, roll up on a rolling pin and apply to a 10 inch  remove able bottom tart pan and prick the bottom with a fork(docking). Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Line the tart shell with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans, par bake the shell for 20-25 minutes at 400 degrees.  Remove  discard the weights and cool while preparing the filling.

Note: I chilled my marble slab (if you have one) by sitting a rimmed baking sheet loaded with ice on it for an hour before rolling out the pastry.

For the filling:

8 oz Marscapone cheese
3 oz almond paste, crumbled into bits
1/4 cup honey
1 tbls sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Combine in a food processor or a bowl and mix on high speed until combined and smooth. Spread in the bottom of the tart shell evenly with an offset spatula.

1 pint Brown Turkey Figs stemmed and sliced
Arrange slices as shown or in a pattern that pleases you.

Brush the figs with a mixture of 1/4 cup apricot jam and 1tbls Moscato or brandy warmed in the microwave.

Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes or until edges or brown.  Cool completely before removing from tart tin.  Serve with ice cream or sweetened whipped cream.

Yum Yum!!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Pork Tenderloin with Blueberry Balsamic Sauce

Neglected items in the refrigerator can be the beginnings of some great meals. There were some lingering blueberries that just weren't sweet enough for me so they where on the verge of being tossed
(something I hate to do) when I decided to turn them into blueberry jelly.  Just the blueberries and sugar cooked down and the pressed through a chinois and into a jar and back into the refrigerator. Next day,  I was in my favorite condiment store, Oli & Ve, and decided to mix some of their balsamic in. Here's what happened.

For the blueberry jelly:  In a medium heavy sauce pan combine;

2 cups blueberries and 1 cup sugar

Stir to combine and cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and combines with the juices. Bring to a boil and reduce to low for 20 minutes.  Strain and press through a fine mesh seive. Refrigerate until ready to use. Makes about 1 cup or more.

For the pork tenderloin: 1 lb or larger tenderloin season on all sides with a mixture of;

2 tsp finely chopped rosemary
1 tsp finely chopped thyme
1 tsp lemon zest
1 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

In the meantime, put the blueberry jelly in a small sauce pan with 1/2 cup best balsamic vinegar and bring just to a boil then reduce to simmer and continue to cook while preparing the tenderloin.

Preheat the over to 350 degrees. Heat 2 tbls olive oil in a large oven proof saute pan until oil shimmers but not quite smoking.  Brown the tenderloin on each side two minutes. Spread 2 tbls Dijon mustard over the top and put in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Check after 15 minutes. Internal temperature should be 140 for medium. Remove to a carving board and tent with foil.  In the same pan (remember the handle will be hot) add 1 tbls butter and 2 tbls finely diced shallot. Cook until the shallot softens then deglaze the pan with 2 oz. chicken stock. Cook down for a minute. Slice the meat into 1/2 inch slices.

To serve, pour half of the blueberry/balsamic sauce on the bottom of the serving piece then arrange the sliced meat on top.  Add the shallot mixture to the remaining blueberry/balsamic sauce and any accumulated juices from the sliced tenderloin. Reheat the sauce and pour over the tenderloin slices just before serving.


Friday, September 5, 2014

Flaky Sweet Pastry - So Simple Even a Child...

I can't claim to have mastered pastry although I take stabs at it now and then, only to prove I need more practice.  Recently, I encountered a young pastry chef from South Africa in a tiny resort town in the mountains of North Carolina.  Carla has top training and had worked in some fine resorts and clubs.  Now, she's set up shop on Hwy 107 in Cashiers, N.C. in a tiny kitchen outfitted with an Aga stove and producing some exquisite confections. I'd sampled enough of her flaky bottomed tarts to know this was the guru to show me the way.  She shared her simple recipe and pared it down for 4 pie size discs. I found it was still a bit much for my food processor to handle but it got it done.  It's really about keeping everything cold and being efficient when you roll out the cold dough.  I still need practice but it does produce a lovely tender pate sucre.  Omit the sugar and you have pate bris`ee.

True to training, Carla gave me the measurements in pounds and ounces. Professionals weigh everything, but I converted the measurements to conventional measure for the home cook.

Now here are the tips.
  • Everything should be cold. I mix the dry ingredients in a plastic bag and put them in the freezer for 20 minutes.
  •  Cube the butter then put it in a bowl and back in the refrigerator until ready to use.
  • If you have a stone or marble surface, chill it with a rimmed baking sheet covered with ice for 20 minutes. It doesn't hurt to do same to any surface you plan to work dough on. Lucky you if you have a well seasoned pastry cloth and if you do, you don't need me.
  • Chill the rolling pin, then flour it.
  • Chill the cooking tin or pie plate and after the dough is applied, chill 10 minutes before baking
  • Roll dough out from the center to make it circular. It won't be perfect. 

For 2 crusts:

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 cups cake flour
2 sticks + 1 tbls  cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp sugar
3 oz ice water

Mix the flour, salt and sugar with a few pulses in a food processor.  Add the butter and pulse until until the mixture is small pea size ( about 15 pulses).  Add the ice water through the feed tube with the processor on and process just until the dough forms a ball.  Remove the dough and wrap in plastic. Chill for 1 hour or more before rolling out on a floured surface.  If baking blind, prick the bottom with a fork and weigh with dried beans or pie weights on parchment paper.  Bake according to your recipe.