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, December 17, 2015

Over Achieving ChristmasI

My kitchen is total carnage in the wake of the first gingerbread house I've made in 8 years.  This is not a grocery store kit but a gingerbread house, a' la Martha Stewart , 90's vintage.  I bought  4 templates and instructions in fascination with her catalog; the rest was up to me, I soon learned.  My mother had given me Martha's first Christmas book back in the 80's and I thought at the time, "This woman is insane" but was sucked right in with the decorations and in particular, the decorated cookies and gingerbread house.  I deserve every bit of the punishment it's taken me to admit, I'm a Christmas over achiever.

I swore off gingerbread houses until I had a grandchild who was at least old enough to say "Santa" and it's now time.  I used to knock these craft/culinary feats out every year, buy and wrap the presents, decorate the house and serve 24 for sit down dinner; but one Christmas I woke up at 3 o'clock in the morning very hungry because I hadn't had a bite, I was so busy entertaining.  The worst of it was, I was mad.  I went out to the garage refrigerator and all that was left was the cranberry gelatin mold nobody touched.  Things changed after that year.  Up to that point, I was merely riding in my Mother and Martha's wake.  They set the bar too high for the average person.

Family life ebbs and flows with time and dynamic and now it's time to pull out the gingerbread templates and go back to work at one of the more challenging crafts I've tinkered with.  It's not the best gingerbread house I ever made but it's not the worst.  The roof's a little crooked but that's part of the charm.  It has the poured hot syrup windows that glow when I turn on the battery operated lights, Santa is in the chimney with his the eight tiny reindeer poised on the roof, a snow man in the grove of trees of the yard and a sled propped by the house.  I'm pleased but, Lord it's a lot of work! That said, it should be, it's Christmas after all, so go all out.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Gently Does It, Perfectly Poached Chicken Breasts

Poaching is cooking food gently in a liquid just below the boiling point.  The liquid and the food vary widely.  Meat and poultry may be simmered in stock, fish in court-bouillon and eggs in lightly salted water,  fruit in wine or a sweetened syrup.  No matter what the mix, poaching produces a delicate flavor in foods, while imparting some of the liquid's flavor to the poached ingredient.  I've used poaching for eggs, fish and fruit.  I've even seen filet minion poached in beef consommé but never actually poached a chicken breast.  What for?  It just seemed a bit too timid for me.

To get to my point about poaching; my favorite thing to eat, I suppose, is chicken salad.  I've been served countless versions that I've enjoyed but my own efforts have always come up short.  I've never posted a chicken salad recipe because, I just didn't have one that was worth a doodle, in my opinion.  It wasn't about the ingredients because those vary enormously.  Everything from fruits to nuts can be used in a chicken salad - it's a salad, so use what you like.  However, the chicken itself has always been the difficulty for me.  I've used beautifully roasted chicken breasts or tenderloins in a very nice effort but missed the mark somehow.  The size and shape of the breasts vary so the cooking was uneven.  Some of it a bit dryer than others. Then the light bulb went off when I saw whole boneless, skinless, chicken breast on sale and purchased one.  The fact that it was a whole breast still connected was novel.  What was I going to do with it; and suddenly I was inspired to poach.  Poaching insures even cooking with proper technique and timing.  The chicken is tender, moist and flavorful. There is a fine line in poaching, so pay attention to time and check for just done at 160 degrees.

I've used water as the liquid here but you may use fresh chicken stock, if you prefer. I like the ingredients that flavor the poaching liquid to reflect the ingredients of the salad.

Layer in the bottom of a pan with deep sides:

1 onion (or leek, white part only) sliced thin
1 lemon sliced thin
1 bay leaf
1 tsp coarse salt
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
6 whole pepper corns
1 cup packed fresh celery leaves
1 quart of water

Bring the above to a boil, then reduce to simmer.  Making sure the chicken is completely submerged with water, add:

1- 1 1/2 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Simmer (water should bubble around the edges and the surface quiver slightly) for 7 minutes, then cover and remove from the heat for 10 minutes.  Check the temperature of the chicken for 160 degrees with an instant read thermometer .  Remove breasts to a plate and cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator.

Just for the record, I like my chicken salad made with finely chopped celery, chives, salt and pepper and a modest amount of mayonnaise and a squeeze of lemon juice.  Perfecto!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Colcannon, an Irish Dish for Thanksgiving

 My Irish heritage startled me quite suddenly when I made a personal pilgrimage to the ancient cemetery in Ardpatrick, Ireland last summer. My ancestors are buried there and our trip to Ireland purposely included a visit to this remote crossroad in the Irish countryside, population 400.  I felt quite foolish and disappointed at arrival.  I'd paid a driver to get us there but we found only a fairly modern church (early 20th century) left wide open and, thankfully, a public restroom but no one on the premises or any cemetery in view.  There was no sign of commerce, just a long since closed tea room, an abandoned "hotel" and a driveway or two with no houses within site from the road.  Our fortune changed when I spyed an older man walking his dog and asked if he knew where the old cemetery was.  He pointed up a road and said "half an hour, up that road".  I assumed he meant a 30 minute drive but a short drive lead us to a dead end and old iron gates with a historic marker detailing the history of what lay ahead. It pointed us up a dirt foot path and a 30 minute, difficult, steep climb past grazing cows and sheep to the top of a very high hill.  Saint Patrick is said to have established the church there. The cemetery and bell tower ruins date back to the 8th century.  The climb left me winded but the dramatic, sweeping view of the horizon was quite moving and I'm grateful to my aunt who'd done all that research to pinpoint the obscure location of my roots.  Whoa, I thought, here are MY peeps and, as far as I know, I'm the only kin to have made the journey to the spot.  Just two stone walls of the church still stand and even though the Celtic crosses and head stones are too worn to read, I felt a sobering connection realizing the poor things starved to death during the potato famine except for the one who made it to a boat bound for Charleston, South Carolina where my father's family hails from.  Ireland is dotted with deserted stone "famine cottages" reminding us of those who died during the 9 years of potato blight.  Without going into history, it wasn't England's best moment.  I have a little this and that in my blood but every look in the mirror tells me the Roman soldiers never visited Ardpatrick. I don't need one of those genealogical saliva DNA tests to tell me this is where the red hair, pale skin and green eyes comes from.  I seem to be one of those who manifests some very concentrated and distinctly Irish features versus the Anglo/European genes.  You really have to pause and take a deep breath at a moment like that.
Cooked potatoes, cabbage & onion
Combine potatoes and cabbage

 I'm reminded of Scarlett O'Hara's anguished scene in Gone With the Wind as she experiences the Civil War's devastation on her family and life swearing neither she nor any of her family will every be hungry again.  Her fictitious father was an Irish immigrant who might have fled his homeland due to hunger.  I don't want anyone, much less my family, to be hungry but it's a brutal fact hunger does exist even at our door step.  I was frequently reminded by my elders, when I was growing up, there where hungry people in other countries and that was not a good thing.  Hunger makes people sick, mean and crazy.

In one of my early blogs titled "A Room Full of Mashed Potatoes",  I recalled my affection for mashed potatoes as a child.  Nothing has changed my opinion for this version of potatoes, except what they do to my waist line.  I'm remembering our vacation last summer in Ireland and the delicious colcannon served at a superb restaurant called Packey's in Kenmare. Its pares Ireland's two traditional crops -  potatoes and cabbage as a hearty and satisfying dish. This is a terrific side at Thanksgiving and is easy to prepare for an Irish spin on mashed potatoes.

Thanksgiving is the time to celebrate family and the bounty of food and blessings we enjoy.  My visit to Ardpatrick punctuated the contrast between feast and famine and the twist of fate that allows me to celebrate this annual event with my loved ones.

3 lbs Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled
2 cups cabbage sliced thin
1 cup diced onion
1 cup milk (more if needed)
4 tbls butter
salt & pepper

Peel and dice potatoes.  Cover with cold water by 1 inch, bring water to the boil, reduce to simmer and cook until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes.  In the mean time, melt 2 tbls butter and sauté the cabbage and onion until wilted and tender but not brown.  Season with salt & pepper.  Heat the milk and remaining butter until butter is just melted.  Drain the potatoes, mash or rice, then add the heated milk and butter.  Salt & pepper to taste.  Combine mashed potatoes and cabbage and serve immediately.  Can be reheated over steam.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Preserved Meyer Lemons

Prep for Moroccan Chicken
I posted a blog on Moroccan Chicken a while back but really didn't have a key ingredient - preserved lemons; so when Meyer Lemons showed up in the grocery I grabbed a basket and preserved them myself.  It's so simple.  Split the lemons in quarters just to the stem end with out separating the four quarters completely, like and open flower. Stuff them tightly in a quart size glass jar and then cover them completely with Kosher salt, seal tightly and refrigerate for 6 weeks.  Turn the jar every day for the first week then once a week after that.  To use in any recipe, remove from the brine, scoop out the flesh, rinse the peel in cool water and slice into strips.  You'll be amazed at the subtle but salty flavor they add to any dish you want to infuse with lemon.  So here's another go at Moroccan Chicken.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

King's Arms Tavern Cream of Peanut Soup

We made a trip to Williamsburg, Virginia last June.  I hadn't been there since we toured with our children years ago but I certainly remembered the food.  The best crab cakes I've ever had and other delicacies as well. This visit, the surprise was cream of peanut soup served as a starter at the King's Arms Tavern.  It is different and well worth trying. When I made up a batch for this blog post, my husband said, "I'd forgotten how good this was."

Now, we are into Fall with Halloween and Thanksgiving approaching and I think this is an ideal soup when the air is crisp and the mood is cosy.  Be sure to use a good quality natural, smooth peanut butter, not the kind with added sweetener.  I think I'll be serving this as a starter for our Thanksgiving meal.

1 medium onion, chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 quarts chicken stock
2 cups smooth peanut butter
1 3/4 cup light cream

Saute' onion and celery in butter until soft, but not brown.  Stir in flour until well blended.  Add chicken stock slowly, stirring constantly, and bring to a boil.  Remove from heat and transfer to a food processor or blender and process until smooth.  Back of the stove, add peanut butter and cream, stirring to blend thoroughly.  Return to low heat, but do not boil and serve garnished with peanuts.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Lady Cream Peas

Lady Cream Peas with Turnips and a Butterflied Roast Chicken
I've been cooking peas all summer and blanching a good many to freeze as well.  I want to thank whoever invented the machine that shells these little gems making them so much easier to find in the farmers markets. I love any kind of fresh summer pea -crowder, blackeye, butter bean or field.  They are all a variety of the larger species know as cowpeas.  They are not a pea at all but really a bean that was brought to the New World from Africa in the 1600's. They grow well in the South as they are heat resistant and drought resistant.  I like their simplicity and nutritional value.  There aren't too many variations in preparation because you just don't want to mess them up.  Cooking them with a seasoned meat like bacon is fairly traditional but I like them just as well cooked in salted water, pepper, onion, butter and an herb.

First rinse and sort 1 lb peas.  Put them in enough water to cover them and bring to a boil.  As a white foam rises, skim the foam and impurities off with a spoon or strainer and discard.  Drain the peas and rinse with cold water.  They many be frozen at this point.  Return to the pot with fresh water and 1 tsp Kosher salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper.  Bring to a boil then reduce and simmer for 1 hour. Add 1/2 cup chopped onion and a small turnip (optional), peeled and diced.  Cover the last 15 minutes. Add a tablespoon of butter before serving hot. So fine!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Brown Irish Soda Bread

We took a lovely vacation in Southwestern Ireland this summer and I was pleasantly surprised at how great the food was.  I was really prepared for something else, heavy on cabbage and potatoes.  This was not the case at all.  We enjoyed some of the best meals I've had in some time.  The freshest fish, tender lamb and organic vegetables were served to us as we toured and golfed our way along the Ring of Kerry and County Clare.  Every meal (breakfast, lunch and dinner) was accompanied by hearty brown soda bread, which was nothing like the currant studded white variety I'm familiar with around St. Patrick's day.  This was a tender loaf style bread.  I thought I'd have no trouble finding it's equivalent on the internet when I got home but, I was wrong. Irish wheat is ground less fine and slightly heated to give it a toasty flavor.  With some perseverance,  I finally found and devised this recipe that most resembles the true Irish soda bread.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Spray a 9x5 loaf pan with cooking spray, then line with parchment and spray parchment.

21/2 cups stone ground whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup steel cut oats
1 tbls baking powder
1 tbls baking soda
1 tbls wheat germ
1 tsp salt

Mix the above, then add mixed together:

2 cups buttermilk
1 large egg
1/3 cup molasses

Combine all ingredients and pour into the loaf pan and bake 1 hour and 5 mins.  Turn out of pan and cool completely.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

You Can't Eat A Damn Thing!

Since I started writing this blog over three years ago, I've gained 20 pounds and enjoyed every ounce.  Eventually, I couldn't get in any of my clothes and I can't afford a new wardrobe so I had to put on the brakes and throw it in reverse.  I simply have no aptitude for moderation, I tried but couldn't get the hang of "just one" or small portions.  How can anyone eat just a half cup of pasta or potato salad.  It's more humane just to skip it all together.  I reviewed all the various dieting regimes and came to a single conclusion - you can't eat a damn thing!  I've lost most of the extra pounds after cutting back to just fruits, vegetables and lots of fish simply prepared.  It's not that I didn't eat those things before, it was just the extras that did me in; breads, cheese and desserts.  All gone now; how sad AND boring plus I haven't blogged either and I miss that.  Writing recipes does require you to taste them.

I had to examine everything that was causing the extra pounds and eliminate it.  I stopped watching cooking programs and reading cookbooks and culinary periodicals.  I don't go to cooking classes. I haven't invited anyone to dinner in ages.  I spend minimal time preparing meals with minimal ingredients.  I've almost banished bread and butter.  I haven't purchased sugar in months.  I always order a salad when eating out and grit my teeth through the late afternoon when it's wine and cheese time.  Sheer torture!!  I ramped up the aerobics and added yoga and the results of all the blogging slowly is being undone.

Now for the hard part - keeping it off.  It's so easy to gain; so hard to take it off and even harder to find the middle ground for me.   I'm easing back in and will post a again but it will be with a wary eye  on the scales.  I would have abandoned my blog except for a very nice comment from a reader in India.  Somebody missed me!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Foodways, the Crossroads of Culture

I recently watched a documentary produced by the University of Mississippi for the Southern Foodways Alliance.  They are a nonprofit academic organization devoted to the study and preservation of a diverse and changing Southern culture.  The term foodway refers to the intersection of food with culture, traditions and history and the most common thread of Southern culture is food.  The documentary entitled, Pride and Joy, created by Joe York was six years in the making and is a series of short intimate interviews with Southern individuals who have a particular niche in the traditions of Southern food.  I'm impressed with the film.  It is one of the more insightful and amusing things I've watched recently and I want to join the SFA's ranks.

I have a pretty broad palate but, like most, I return to my roots for my favorites partly because it's in my blood.  The French have soufflé's and sauces, the Italians have pasta and pizza, the Greeks have olives and Baklava, the Asians have rice, the Indians have curry.  Every culture has its cuisine and I try to appreciate them because it's an obvious way to get to know a people besides a handshake.  The South has fried chicken, biscuits, grits, greens, sweet potatoes, hushpuppies, black eyed peas, Cajun, Creole, AND all things pig - BBQ, bacon and even pig's ear sandwiches.  All washed down with sweet tea or perhaps a sip of bourbon.  Who couldn't find something to love here.

The history of Southern cuisine owes much of its distinction to the slaves and Native Americans synonymous with its history.  Pilgrims and early settlers couldn't have survived without some pointers on corn from the Indians and the slaves brought from west Africa many plants, seed and ancient cooking techniques that formed the southern table.  A moderate climate and a coastline teaming with fruits of the sea offer unique elements bound for glory.  I'm not sure why Southern food was ever beneath others on the culinary ladder for so long except a hangover from the stigma of Civil War and Civil Rights. This is all enough for the SFA and its scholars to examine throughly and bring us up to date.

Mr. York spotlights the standard bearers of tradition in some of the most out-of-the-way places imaginable.  The legendary Alzina Toups' restaurant is a welder's shed converted to kitchen on a hard to find dirt road in the Louisiana bayou. She rides and adult size tricycle to work.  There's no sign and it takes years to get a reservation.  Tell that to The French Laundry.  Her motto is "Simple Life, You Happy".  National Geographic called the Skylight Inn of Ayden, North Carolina the barbecue capital of the world in 1984.  It's also in the middle of nowhere but has a ridiculous rotunda atop its simple brick building attesting it's fame.  These people love their food and do it proud.  It's not about money for them, it's pure love.

Some of the characters highlighted a particular food or drink like the energetic, sixtyish man grinning ear to ear who lauds the merits of buttermilk.  Why is he so giddy about buttermilk? He declares with total sincerity, buttermilk to be the elixir of youth.  "It keeps you young!  Why buttermilk could put Viagra out of business.  It'll make you embarrass yourself you feel so young."  Wink, wink.  I'm surprised dairies aren't using his testimonial for marketing.  Can you imagine? "Drink our buttermilk to rev up your sex life" or "A glass of our cold buttermilk makes you hot." I doubt the demand for buttermilk could be met if Madison Avenue got wind of this.

The man who spoke to me like a sole mate raises grass fed cattle in Georgia and the scene is set in his pasture.  He says he starts every day at dawn and surveys his pastures with a big cup of coffee and ends everyday at sunset in the same spot with "a 720ml glass of wine" (that's a full bottle). It shows him taking a big swig straight from the bottle.  "I don't much care what I have to do between those two events, but if I miss either one - it just ticks me off!"  He means it, too. I get it.  I can't handle a full bottle but a glass is nice.  A night of rest and cup of coffee in the morning assures I can face the day.  My mind is scattered in the morning like clothes carelessly dropped on the floor.  Coffee helps me sort and organize my thoughts and tasks for the day.  The clothes get mentally picked up and hung up.  At the other end of the day, wine takes the edge off the bumps and bruises.  Rituals for the beginning and end of the day are essential and quite human.  It may start at Starbucks and end at a pub or it could be in a pasture.  It's a hallmark of civilized society in my opinion.

I like the idea of being part of a tradition.  My parents set that example as family meals were part of our daily ritual.  It didn't matter if I got up at noon, I had to eat breakfast before lunch.  You didn't get meals out of order in our house and you didn't have so much as a peanut butter cracker without china and silverware.  Christmas Eve was an epic event I've found challenging to reproduce but the gathering of family is still essential.  Our Father's Day barbecue sauce competition is more my speed.    Food brings people together to survive and thrive.

  I'm always looking for the next big thing in food but looking at my own turf is pretty complex and compelling, in this case.  Food is central to this region's character.  It seems to me contemporary cooking has gotten confused and trendy with an "anything goes" attitude so I appreciate SFA for examining the traditions of a regions foodways that have endured and documenting the ever changing South through the foods we eat.  The world is getting small but the table is getting bigger.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Summer Strawberry Cake

Memorial Day weekend signals the beginning of summer.  Everyone has shed their coat and tie for shorts and T-shirts, stilettos for flip flops and headed for the beach or lake in droves. We're ready for relaxed, easy entertaining and menus. Things that don't take much time and effort but make that "summer is here" statement.  This delightful and simple strawberry cake fits the bill.  It's modestly adapted from Martha Stewart and Jenn Segal's version.

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
11/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp table salt
6 oz softened butter, plus more for buttering pie plate
1 cup sugar, plus 2 tbls divided
1 egg
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 pound strawberries, washed, stemmed and halved

Preheat oven to 350 and butter a 9 inch deep dish pie plate or cake pan (round or square).

Mix the first three ingredients in a medium bowl.  In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and beat to incorporate. Add the flour mixture and liquids alternately in three portions and beat until smooth.  The batter will be fairly thick.

Pour into greased pie plate and top with halved strawberries. Don't press the berries down in the batter.  Sprinkle 2 tbls sugar over the berries and batter to form a crisp topping while baking.

Bake at 350 for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 325 and continue baking for 50 minutes or when the top is browned and a tooth pick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool in the pie plate and serve with whipped cream or ice cream. Serves 6-8.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Moroccan Chicken

Never try something new on dinner guests.  Well, I did anyway.  I knew this group could handle a little risk. There's no set formula for this dish but there are essentials.  I was thinking Moroccan chicken should have a complex, exotic flavor and pungent aroma.  There are a good many spices to incorporate along with garlic, onion, lemon and olives.  I'd tried the spice blend on a roast whole chicken earlier and thought I'd give the tagine dish a go. The final analysis was it needed more heat and, despite the olives, more salt to bring out all the flavors I wanted.

 I was not able to locate the more traditional preserved lemons (lemons preserved in salt) often used in this dish. I grilled slices of Meyer lemons instead.  Most recipes I consulted had a modest amount of added salt so I assumed the olives or preserved lemons would take up the slack. I marinated the chicken pieces in the spices mixed with olive oil and garlic in a zip lock bag.  I do not add salt to the marinade because it makes the chicken tough. I sprinkle on just before browning the chicken.  I also removed the ribs from the chicken breast and left the skin on, then cut the breast across the middle.  It browns beautifully and the skin doesn't get flabby when braised.  This makes for uniform serving pieces and even cooking.  If you do not have a boning knife, ask you butcher to remove the ribs.  It only takes a few minutes.  I went back to the lab, made some adjustments and this is the final results.  I used my Le Creuset braiser in absence of an actual tagine cooker.  It works fine and creates flavorful, tender chicken. A lovely meal for a spring evening.  Serves 6-8.

3 chicken breasts, skin on, ribs removed and cut across the widest part to make 6 pieces
4 chicken thighs, skin on

Mix in a 1 gallon zip lock bag:

1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp tumeric
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
5 cloves of garlic crushed
1/2 tsp cayenne
1 tbls honey
1/2 cup olive oil

Add chicken pieces and mix to coat. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or over night turning at least once. Remove from marinade, drain on a rack and sprinkle on both sides with Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper. Save the marinade.

While the chicken marinates, slice two Meyer Lemons and brush each slice with olive oil on both sides.  Grill on a grill pan for 3-4 minutes per side until just browned. Remove and set aside.

 Heat 2 tbls olive oil in heavy braising dish and brown chicken pieces in batches, skin side down, first.  Brown each side about 5 minutes.  Remove to a platter and tent with foil. Drain off all but 2 tbls fat.
Add 1 large onion sliced and 1 green pepper sliced into strips.  Cook over medium heat until the edges just begin to brown.  Add reserved garlic and cook another minute. Add chicken pieces back to pan with 2/3 cup chicken stock mixed with reserved marinade.  The liquid should come up about 1/2 way - not cover the chicken. Tuck the grilled lemon slices and 1 cup cracked, halved, pitted Greek olives around the chicken pieces and cover with lid. Place in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.  Remove from oven, uncover and arrange chicken, vegetables, lemons and olives over couscous (prepared with chicken stock and 1/3 cup currents).  Heat the juices on high heat and reduce until reduced by half and thickened (4-5 mins).  Adjust the seasoning, then pour over chicken and couscous.  Garnish with toasted slivered almonds and chopped flat leaf parsley or cilantro.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Cocktail Pickled Quail Eggs

A large jar of pickled eggs used to sit on the bar of the popular dive where we drank $2 beer in our younger days.  It was smoky, only served beer and blue jeans where the dress code.  The nasty pickled eggs where the only food offered in the establishment, except for some bagged pretzels.  I never saw anyone eat an egg or the jar move from its' position on the bar - ever.  It just sat there like a figurine in grandma's house, the glass cloudy from years in a smoky environment.  It was the icon of just how low the ambiance of the establishment was and I could never conjure a coherent thought that these eggs where consumable.

I've been prejudiced about them all these years until I was offered a quail egg as a nibble with cocktails.  The bite size eggs, simply served with celery salt and their rich, buttery taste, due to their larger yolk to white ratio, seemed quite delectable and chic. You think about slim women sipping dry Martinis and wearing Manolo Blaniks when you eat these petit bites.  I've been thinking about them for some time and decided to revive the pickled idea for these little gems.  I like a hot and sweet flavor and they make an elegant canapé when matched with shrimp or smoked salmon.

This is a simple pickling brine and some might choose to add beet juice to color the eggs of devil them but I like them whole and the simplicity of this recipe.

Put 18 quail eggs in heavy nonreactive sauce pan and cover up to 1 inch with cold water.  Bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes. Drain and cover with ice and water and let cool for 5 minutes.  Crack and carefully peel.

1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbls Kosher salt
12 whole pepper corns
1 tbls pickling spices
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 whole garlic clove
1 whole red chili pepper (or Jalapeño)

Combine the first 3 ingredients until sugar is dissolved in a sterile jar.  Add the remaining items and then the peeled quail eggs.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.
Keep refrigerated up to 5 days.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Robert's Garlic Peeler

Some time ago, my husband handed me a small wrapped package when he came home from work.  "Robert came by the office and said to give you this."  No further explanation; I had no idea what it was but when I opened the wrapping to see a 5 inch piece of flexible plastic tubing, it occurred to me this was the garlic peeler Robert had described after I'd whined about how much trouble I thought garlic prep was.  I must have sounded like a woman with chipped nail polish or mascara that smudges to him but he saw my need for enlightenment and responded immediately.  Compassion without judgement.

Peeling garlic is one of those tedious but necessary skills in food preparation.  It's part of the "mise en place" I go through in organizing ingredients for numerous dishes.  Garlic is extraordinarily flavorful and even has health benefits so it's important to find an efficient way to peel off the paper like skin of those pesky little cloves without expending too much time and effort.  Like chopping onions that make you cry or peeling shrimp, you are always looking for a better way to do it.

I've employed the "nip and pick" method. Using a small knife, nip off the root end and carefully peel away the skin.  This works ok if the garlic isn't very fresh and the skin has separated slightly from the clove flesh as it dehydrates.  You might opt to do this for a single clove but it gets pretty frustrating if you have more.

There's the more aggressive method by smashing a clove under the flat side of a knife blade and then popping it with your fist quickly.  Be sure the sharp side of the blade is turned away from you. The skin is immediately separated from the flesh but the clove is smushed depending on the violence of your blow. You can still mince but it's somewhat mangled.  I use this when I want garlic to infuse oil or vinegar because it's juice is somewhat expressed from the pressure.

If you need a good number of cloves peeled, there's the ridiculous, primitive shaking method I first saw on Rachel Ray's program.  Separate the entire pod and put all the individual cloves into a small metal bowl and cover with another inverted bowl, holding the two together, shake vigorously.  All the cloves banging around is suppose to beat the skins off. This might peel a few and loosen up the rest but it really doesn't work very well.

Quickly blanching in boiling water is another option to loosen skins but you still have to manually remove those papery skins.  You may lose some flavor and texture here too.

Finally, you can buy whole jars and containers of processed peeled garlic.  I don't even want to think how they did that, do you?

The simple gadget Robert gave me makes the task nearly effortless. It's inexpensive, never wears out or needs repair and is available in many stores.  I think I ignored it before because it was too simple.  Just insert the clove in the tube, roll it back and forth on the counter under mild pressure with your palm and you have an unblemished garlic clove free of its skin.  Who else but an architect and graduate from engineering school would have the best device.  A serious foodie who was worthy of membership in France's Conferie des Diamants Noir (The Fraternity of Black Truffles), I took anything he said to heart and was touched he'd taken the time to procure this for me.

Last week, we went to his bedside to say goodbye just days before he passed away.  He was too weak to say much but smiled when I thanked him again for the life changing garlic peeler.  Aside from making the task easier, it was his encouragement I appreciated more.  He was superior in knowledge and skill but generously shared his enthusiasm for food with me.  I've pictured above my two favorite kitchen tools; the peeler and my knife. They're like family jewels to me - but Robert was the real gem.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Chocolate Chip Cookies with Espresso & Cinnamon

I now have the trifecta of cookie recipes.  The sugar cookie, the ginger bread cookie and now the ultimate chocolate chip cookie.  The trick is a little instant coffee granules and a shot of cinnamon.  I also like the mix of semi-sweet and milk chocolate chips.  A sweet neighbor brought these on Valentines and I was so impressed I called for the recipe.  Every batch has gotten raves and pleas for the recipe, so here it is:

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 Tbls ground cinnnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 cups (packed) light brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg
1 tbls instant espresso powder
2 tsp vanilla
1 6-oz pkg semi-sweet chocolate chips (about 1 cup)
1 6 oz pkg milk chocolate chips (about 1 cup)
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350.  Whisk,flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in medium bowl to blend.  Using electric mixer, beat sugar, butter, egg, coffee and vanilla in large bowl until well blended.  Beat in dry ingredients.  Stir in chocolate chips and walnuts.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoons ( I used a small, melon ball size spring loaded scoop) on cookie sheet covered with parchment paper, spacing 2 inches apart.  Do not flatten dough.  Bake 12-14
minutes until just beginning to brown but still somewhat soft.  Cool on sheets.  can be frozen or stored airtight at room temperature 2 days ahead.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

New Year's Kitchen Resolutions

I gave up New Year's Resolutions some time ago but in case you need a few to follow, here are 10 for your kitchen:

1. Sharpen knives

2. Season cast iron skillet

3. Make fresh chicken stock

4. Discard items in the freezer that  are past their "use by" date

5. Restock pantry items

6. Polish copper if you are lucky enough to have it

7. Seal stone and tile surfaces

8. Run the oven cleaner

9. Flush the sink drain with a mixture of white vinegar, baking soda and boiling water

10. Clean your coffee maker according to the manufacturer's directions.

Now, look through the index of this blog and try a new recipe before the week is out!  You're ready!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

January is the Cruelest Month

The last crumbs and pine needles of Christmas have been swept away and I'm examining a gift I received that measures daily steps and calories.  It's suppose to assist me in living a better lifestyle. The magazine headlines are filled with words like, "healthy", "detox", and "recharge".  Women used to receive mink coats and jewelry at Christmas, now it's workout attire and Fitbits. Here we go again; the aftermath of the holidays as we switch gears from riches to caloric poverty.  I've completed the grim task of ridding the refrigerator of remnants of bread pudding, ice cream and pate'. I've grudgingly donated the chocolate covered pretzels, cake and nuts to my housekeeper's grandchildren.  I've just purchased skim milk rather than whole and talked myself slowly into the salmon I haven't missed for the last few weeks.

I ask myself, do I really want to cook or look like Ina?  She has a pretty face but sacrificed her body to a career in the kitchen.  I'd love to test recipes all day too but hasn't she heard of heart disease?  Didn't Paula Deen develop diabetes?  Giada looks great though. I bet the only time she eats is when she's filming her show.  Just a few bites and she's done for the day.  Maybe they yell "Cut" and she spits it out.

What a strange curse food is.  Being a good cook has become a danger to your health. Sugar is bad for you but kale is good for you.  Now come on, which tastes better?  Wine takes the edge out of the day and they say "life is short, eat dessert first" but we are suppose to run until we need hip and knee replacements and exercise in misery with "no pain, no gain" in our heads.  Near starvation diets have been proven to extend the life of lab rats.  Are people signing up for that?  I did actually sign myself up for both yoga and pie classes; does one cancel out the other? I hear people say they've given up red meat, alcohol and gone gluten free. I'm more likely to give in than give up anything.

To be honest, I've lived on both sides of the aisle more than once.  Exercise and diet; fine wine and food - been there, done that.  I've whittled myself down with single minded self discipline, tortuous exercise and diet only to let it slide away like someone buttered my bottom.  I just can't find the same reward in sweating as I do in baking bread.  I've reached that age where men aren't looking anymore and the benefit for all that sweat and self denial is health and longevity. Not a bad aim but lacking meaning until you've had your first heart attack or your blood sugar is too high.  I know all the numbers, it's very simple - calories in calories out.  So I'm strapping on the Fitbit I asked Santa for while the sugarplums are still dancing in my head and heading for the gym to fight the battle again.  I expect to lose by mid-January or lose some weight.  We'll see who wins this time.