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, December 9, 2017

Romancing the Stew

Falling in love can surprise you at an unexpected moment.  There you are, going about your daily life, and suddenly, "WHO, WAS THAT?" walks by.  Boeinggg, Cupid hits the mark.  Your eyes could sweep a crowded room and come to an abrupt halt as they focus on someone attractive and they are looking back at you.  Your heart beats faster and you can't take your eyes off each other despite the crowd.  Maybe, you've met in polite circumstances but the magnetism is so strong it's positively indecent.  "WHERE,  have YOU been all my life?"  It's all like falling off a cliff, over powering dizziness  and all that romantic stuff.  You're obsessed and walk around in a stupor.  Well, I'm embarrassed to say, I found a dish that I'm head over heals in love with.  This wasn't some cheap, tawdry affair, like potato chips and French onion dip or your first crush on a birthday cake or your infatuation with sushi. It's the best, real thing, I've cooked up in a while and I'm not quite sure how I did it, to be honest. This was like my only blind date - and I married that one, by the way.

I think, I finally cooked up perfection - love at first bite.  I'm blushing like a bride just thinking about it. This dish has all the elements, aroma, taste and appearance, simple but elegant.  I wasn't looking for it but it just happened and I thought it was just like falling in love. You can't help yourself.  It transported me from my suburban kitchen to a romantic Mediterranean setting just inhaling the complex perfume of the sea and aromatics involved.  I'm not sure I'll ever get it right again because the elements and circumstances might vary.  Is this a one night stand who disappears and will be just a fond memory or can I reproduce it again?  I know the secret is in my fish stock and the remarkably fresh seafood medley I randomly purchased and topping with pisstou that all combined to create memorable flavors.  Love is blind, so here goes.

Fish Stock:

3 lbs fish frame (head, bone, tail), ask your grocery or market for this
1 lb shrimp shells
1 leek, trimmed, white and light green parts only
1 small onion
1 celery rib with leafs
1 garlic clove
5 black pepper corns
Parsley, thyme, bay leaf
3 quarts water

Bring to a boil, the reduce to a simmer and reduced to 2 quarts.  Remove the fish frame and strain the stock twice.  Once through a fine mesh strainer, then again with the strainer lined with cheese cloth.

In a large Dutch oven heat 2 tbls olive oil, then add and sauce 4-5 mins:

1 cup diced onion
1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced
2 carrots diced
3 cloves garlic, pressed
28 oz. can diced tomatoes with juice

Add 2 cups fish stock and simmer for 15 minutes. Add a 2 lbs combination of the following and simmer 8-10 minutes:

or a firm white fish

Add a pinch of saffron

Finish with 2 tbls Period (Anisette liquor; worth the price and effort or 1/2 cup white wine as an alternative).

Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with a dollop of pisstou and crusty bread.

In a food processor add:

1 cup coarsely chopped flat leaf Italian parsley
2 garlic cloves
1tsp lemon zest
pinch of salt

Add enough olive oil through the feed tube to form a loose paste.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Easy Apricot Jam

I'm enjoying my morning coffee by the lake with a little toasted brioche and a generous dollop of apricot jam.  I love cooking with seasonal fruits and apricots aren't available often in my part of the country.  It doesn't take much to turn them into jam.  Besides a breakfast treat, this versatile jam work with a thumbprint cookie and mixed with a bit of dijon mustard, makes a tasty glaze on chicken or pork.  It has just the right amount of tangy sweetness. Yum!

3 pounds apricots (about 21)
3 cups sugar
1 tbls lemon juice

Wash and pit apricots.  Put half in food processor and pulse until evenly chopped. About 15 pulses.  Remove to large dutch oven.  Do the same with the rest of the apricots.  Add sugar to dutch oven and mix with fruit.  Add lemon juice.  Cook over medium heat stirring often until sugar is dissolved and jam thickens.  Pour into clean jars.  Makes about 1 quart.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A Workout in the Kitchen

Kitchen running at full tilt 
I hate to see homes with high end appliances in a gourmet kitchen that owners never really use.  Mine gets a workout every day and that's a healthy thing just like a gym workout.  Exercising the kitchen reflects health and productivity in my home since I think of it as the heart of my house.  The day may start with a perfectly clean, tidy kitchen in the morning. No dishes in the sink, no pots on the stove, everything put away in the pantry or refrigerator; just one favorite knife I always leave out on a cutting board but by 6 o'clock that evening it looks like I opened every cabinet and dumped it all out.  Like a child whose toys are out of site in the toy chest only to be rediscovered one by one with relish and fascination.  I remember pulling a doll or little car out of my toy box as a child and a, "let's pretend..." moment would begin as my imagination took over.  That's the way I approach grocery shopping.  I might look at a package of chicken breasts and think, "Oh, you again," but then pass the olive bar and my mind will start to spin.  The other day, I had a plan for dinner and then I found a flat of apricots that begged me to consider the possibilities.  Things got intense in the kitchen that evening.

Bread Machine & Computer running
Tomato-Caper Sauce
Ok, I had a halibut dinner menu ready that would be accompanied by the fabulous fresh tomato/caper sauce I'd made a few days before and a quick saute' of Swiss chard on the side seemed easy enough.  The halibut would be cooked sous vide which is quite easy except it involves my vacuum sealer and a stock pot of water.  Oh, it's time to make our everyday bread too, we're down to the last slice, so I need to get out my bread machine.  It only take a few minutes to put all the ingredients in and let the machine do most of the work.  I'm really excited about those apricots and jam is so easy to make, all I have to do is take the pit out and chop them, add sugar and lemon juice. I got the food processor out to pulse the apricots to just the right size for jam, then into my big Le Creuset dutch oven.  I'll need a funnel and a few jars to put up the jam when it's ready.  Now, should I get the pressure cooker out to make quick work of the Swiss chard? I'm about to run out of counter space and electrical outlets.  All the while, my computer is running an America's Test Kitchen episode of Bridgette and Julia instructing us how to make some dish better.  Enough!

The food is good even if things are a bit messy. The kitchen smells like fresh bread and the apricot jam is divine.  Like a good, sweaty, productive workout, I feel satisfied with my efforts even if I'm a bit disheveled.
Apricot Jam
There will always be dishes to wash and things to put away even if it's just a salt and pepper shaker but my kitchen has muscle and I flexed it today.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Deboning a Whole Chicken a' la Pepin

Deboned whole chicken
Some people choose to go to the moon or climb Mount Everest; I choose to debone a whole chicken!
It was like that scene in the movie Julie and Julia, when Julie attempts to debone a whole duck while watching a Julia Child video.  It's her grand finale' while working her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  I get it, it's a big technical challenge and I want to own it.

I recently rediscovered Jacques Pepin and became fascinated with a few videos of him deboning a whole chicken which he says can be done in about 45 seconds.  After watching the video dozens of times I took my very sharp boning knife in hand and gave it a try.  My first attempt took about 20 minutes, not to mention, I wasn't sure what he meant by the "hip".  Do chickens have hips?  I sliced and realized I'd gotten it wrong but not too much damage was done.

Stuffed, rolled & tied
After a few preliminary slices Monsieur Pepin uses his hands and strips the flesh off most of the carcass except for the legs which take scraping and some detail.  Now this is a man with strong, large hands and the manual dexterity of a pianist.  He's an absolute genius whose knife skills and technique are unmatched.  I, on the other hand, have small hands, average knife skills and the manual dexterity of a finger painter, but I managed and with practice I think I can get it down but not in 45 seconds.  We are in for a lot of deboned whole chicken in the future as I master this.

I followed his example and stuffed it with spinach, garlic and cheese; even got the basic idea of tying it with slip knots, then browning and roasting in the oven.  I've always thought chicken is better skin on, bone in.  While this did keep the skin in tact, the point was to remove all the bones so it could be rolled and stuffed.  I expected a drier rolled bird but it was a remarkably moist, flavorful and tender chicken.  My husband gave it a thumbs up.

This isn't a must but if you'd like to learn a new culinary skill, this is a good one and it makes one fine chicken dish that has that wow factor.  I'm not about to give any instruction here but recommend watching a good video and then sacrifice a few whole chickens as practice.  At worst, you've got plenty of stock material.

If you choose to give deboning a try, remember these tips:

         - use a very sharp, boning knife. A real boning knife is not a chef or pairing knife.  It's use is specific to butchering.  See mine in the top picture.
         - practice safe handling of raw chicken and any surface or equipment it touches (cutting board,    knife, etc.). I washed my hands every time I had to stop, grab something or rewind that video and I used lots of paper toweling.  Wash cutting board and knife in warm soapy water, spray with a bleach based cleaner and rinse well.

         - save the carcass and other bones in a zip lock bag to freeze for stock.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Tables Have Turned

A big baking project

Thirty-two years ago my youngest child was born.  We lived in a nice little neighborhood full of young families that had organized a baby sitting co-op.  One of the benefits of membership was   dinner for a newborn's family.  So late one afternoon I opened the door to greet a pretty young woman with a toddler on one hip and holding a small covered sauce pan with her other free hand.  She spoke only broken English but I got the idea she had volunteered to fix dinner for us and it was in the small sauce pan which she indicated didn't have to be returned.  The sauce pan was small, old and dinged up with a loose handle.  I thanked her and retreated to the kitchen to unveil what meal for a family could be in such a small sauce pan.  Spaghetti-O's and that was all!  The pot and it's contents went straight in the trash.  I'm not sure what country she hailed from, but clearly, something had been lost in the translation.  Even if she wasn't a cook, her heart was in the right place.

My method for a charitable event has been a quart of soup, a baguette and cookies. Simple elements to have on hand when somebody's life takes a turn for the worse and you want to help out.  Recently,  I've been on the receiving end.  In the last few months, I've lost a parent, a precious pet and been diagnosed with cancer bringing my charmed life into question.  It's taken quite a few years for death and disease to catch up with me and shake up my world.  I've carefully arranged my life to proceed according to schedule without too much interference and pronounced others misfortune as, "just life." Well, the tables have turned.  

My husband, who is unaccustomed to carry-out and so forth, quietly asked me what we would do for food during my protracted period of illness.  It was as if a famine or nuclear attack was imminent.  I responded with a well stocked freezer and I added, "There might be something from others."

I've called it a mild case of cancer but it's made me feel like the most popular girl in town.  My recuperation from surgery has been enhanced with fresh flowers and delicious meals brought to the door daily.  You get spoiled pretty quick.  There's some powerful healing in homegrown,
garden picked lettuce and serious homemade chicken soup.  What is it about mashed potatoes that makes everything better.  I'm suppose to take my pills with something in my stomach.  Right before bed a little slice of caramel cake disguises the nasty tasting pill very nicely.

 If there's a bright side to loss and illness, it's been the warmth and caring of family, friends and even strangers.  What is it that brings out the best in us when times are bad that we should be using in our everyday living?  As unpleasant as it's been,  I would not trade the expressions of kindness and love for anything.

Tonight, I'm cooking dinner for the first time in a month.  I had wondered when or if I'd ever get back to "normal", whatever that is.  Meatloaf is a good start.