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On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of aging high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, wealthy women) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Travel, on September 18th, 2017.

cherrie_and_me_sooke

That’s me (on the right) with my friend Cherrie, in British Columbia, having breakfast.

A few days ago I got back from a road trip. A 2+ week, 3500 mile road trip. I had posts all set up while I was gone (so you wouldn’t miss me). I have a new car, and I wanted to take her on a nice, long “spin.” Originally I was going to go by myself, because I had lots of places I wanted to stop, to do my own thing, but the end destination was to stay at Sooke Harbour House, in Sooke, British Columbia. This inn, an elegant, old, cozy place holds a warm place in my heart because Dave and I stayed there at least twice, maybe three times over the years. It has a nautical theme, situated right on the Straits of Juan de Fuca, facing south, toward the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. It’s on Vancouver Island, about 20+ miles west of Victoria. The inn has a lovely old knotty-pine trimmed dining room overlooking the views. There are lots of places to sit around the property (providing it’s warm enough and not raining), and most rooms have a small deck or patio to enjoy the view, to listen to the bird calls, with distant fishing boats plying the waters. All the rooms have fireplaces, and many have hot tubs on the decks, outside, or somewhere close by. It’s a very romantic place to stay.

To tell you the truth, though, I wasn’t sure how “happy” I would be staying there. By myself, without my DH. In this very romantic place. But, I really did WANT to go. Dave and I had been planning a trip up the West Coast for a few months off, when he had his stroke and died so suddenly. That’s been 3 1/2 years ago now. I thought I was (maybe) ready to do that kind of trip.

But when my BF Cherrie heard about it, she said she’d like to go with me. Oh, happy day! She and I travel well together – we’ve done numerous trips over the  years (twice to England without our husbands). I knew I’d have a grand time if she shared it with me. And indeed, we did have a great trip.

We drove from where we live in Orange County, California, up the west coast to San Luis Obispo, then Paso Robles, then we kind of whizzed through the Bay Area (except to have lunch with my cousin Gary) and went to Santa Rosa (to eat at a specific restaurant), then we drove to the coast, Old Highway 1, and stayed on it all the way to Port Angeles, Washington. In that interim of northern California, Oregon and Washington coastline we encountered terrible air from the forest fires still burning in many places. Sometimes we couldn’t even see the ocean (part of the reason for the Hwy 1 slow road). Eventually we took a ferry across the Straits to Victoria.

After our stay at Sooke, we took a different ferry through the San Juan islands to Anacortes, and onto Whidbey Island. It’s a place I used to live (in a former life) and I wanted to revisit what I could of where I’d lived there. We stayed at another old, charming inn, before taking another ferry off the south end of Whidbey to Mukilteo. We bypassed Seattle except via freeways and headed for Portland. Stayed in an AirBNB there (more on that later) and just went all over there, enjoying the good food and Powell’s Books. Cherrie flew home from Portland since she’d been gone for about 12 days by that time (and her husband missed her!), and I did the rest of the trip by myself. I drove down through Oregon and stayed with a friend of Cherrie’s JaneAnn, in Rogue River, then hightailed it to Placerville, where my daughter Dana lives with her family. Two days there and then I did another straight shot home.

I’ll be sharing more of the trip in the next week or so, but just thought I’d give you an overview of what we did. I’m very happy to be back home, in my own bed, enjoying my own shower, and petting my kitty, Angel.

When Cherrie and I were up north, it was cool, even a little drizzly in a few places, and we both talked about how we couldn’t wait to get home and make some tummy-warming soups. That’s my goal today (I’m writing this on Thursday), to make some vegetable soup. I have it in my head that I want to make a green minestrone – a soup that I had once in Italy, and I have a recipe for one, but just haven’t ever gotten around to making it. That’s going to happen today, so if it’s as good as I remember, I’ll share it here!

Posted in Pork, on September 14th, 2017.

bbq_pizza

Ever done pizza on a grill? I did once years ago. It’s easy, really. This one has leeks on it, and that makes a difference – leeks just add a depth of flavor to things.

As much as I love pizza, I know it’s not exactly a healthy meal. I really do eat few bread-type carbs. I seem to make up for the calories in other ways – I don’t do this to diet. I know a lot about diabetes since my DH was a Type 1. And it was only in his last 25 years, I’d guess, that doctors figured out that blood sugar was directly related to carb consumption (whether they be bread, potatoes, rice, fruit or sugar or any kind). I began preparing a low-carb diet for us starting way back then, but even more so once we both retired. Dave loved pizza too, but he couldn’t stop eating it if is was put in front of him, so we kind of banned it from our menu. Ready-made pizza (like frozen from the grocery store) has never been all that great tasting – once in awhile I succumb getting a thin crust one. So that leaves making it from scratch.

Here on my blog I have one favorite pizza – I’ve mentioned it before – it’s one our daughter Sara introduced us to when she was visiting one weekend (when she was in college). There are other pizza recipes on my blog (just type in “pizza” in the search box top left), but this one, Pizza with Chicken, Red Onion, Pesto & Olives, is one I’ve returned to many times over the years. My mouth is watering as I type.

But I digress . . . pizza isn’t something I make much as a widow – I have my DH’s problem of not being able to stop eating it. But this pizza I’m writing about today, was really good. Really easy and worth the trouble to make your own dough. It’s from a cooking class with Susan V a few weeks ago. She made the dough earlier in the morning, so it had had a chance to do one rising before all the students arrived for the class.

She punched it down and let it rest another hour or so, then began working with it. She used cornmeal underneath the dough so it wouldn’t stick and used a pizza peel very successfully. Susan doesn’t like Trader Joe’s pizza dough – she says it sticks and she simply can’t roll it out. So she chooses to make her own, always.

Meanwhile, she sliced the tomatoes (I’d slice them thinner than you see in the photo above) and set them in a colander to drain. You don’t want lots of juices – save them, though, and put them in something else as the juice of tomatoes contain a lot of flavor. Add it to soup or a stew, or even a salad dressing. The leeks are sautéed in a little oil and cooked for 15-20 minutes until they’re very soft. You remove them, then sauté the pancetta until the pieces get lightly brown on the edges. Drain them on a paper towel and set aside.

bbq_pizza_doughThis recipe makes 2 pizzas – enough for 4-5 people, unless they’re really hungry. Susan divided the pizza dough in half and rolled them out to about 12” rounds, I’d say. Onto the peel it went and she placed both on the heated grill (medium-high). She cooked them until the TOP of the dough began to puff up – it gets these lovely little peaks and valleys. That took about 2 minutes! She brought them inside, turned them over (see photo) and patted them down, to break the puffy peaks underneath. She only cooked them on one side up to this point. Then she put all the toppings on to cooked side (leeks, pancetta, mozzarella, olive oil and lots of sliced basil, and lastly the sliced tomatoes). Back to the barbecue for only a few minutes (max 3-4). It doesn’t cook anything on top (the toppings) but merely cooks the dough on the other side and heats up everything and melts the cheese. Remove, slice immediately, and serve.

What’s GOOD: everything about this pizza was good. I wanted more (my downfall when it comes to pizza) than the one slice I got. It looks like fun making it – get your family involved – they can use their own selection of toppings. It’s easy (except for the 2 risings of the dough which takes awhile).

What’s NOT: just that making your own dough takes awhile. Nothing about this was difficult, though.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Barbecued Pizza with Tomatoes, Basil, Leeks, Pancetta & Mozzarella

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Susan V, 2017
Serving Size: 6

PIZZA DOUGH:
2 envelopes active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
TOPPING:
1/2 pound Roma tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 leeks — rinsed well, thinly sliced, drained well
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 pound pancetta — diced (could substitute bacon)
1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese — shredded
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh basil — sliced

1. Slice tomatoes and place in a colander to drain for 30 minutes.
2. Heat oil in a medium skillet and saute the leeks, stirring occasionally, for about 15-20 minutes, until wilted. Season with salt and pepper. Remove and set aside.
3. In same skillet cook the pancetta until it’s crisp and slightly brown. Drain on paper towels.
4. DOUGH: In a small bowl sprinkle yeast over the warm water. Let stand for about 10 minutes until it looks creamy and foamy on top. Stir to dissolve all the yeast.
5. In a food processor, combine the flour and salt and pulse briefly. With motor running add olive oil and gradually pour in the yeast mixture. Process for about one minute to knead the dough. Transfer dough to an oiled bowl, cover with a damp towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about an hour.
6. Punch down the dough and knead briefly on a floured surface. Return dough to the bowl, cover again and allow to rise until doubled in volume, about 30-45 minutes.
7. Divide dough in half. (If possible, allow dough to sit on your board for about 10 minutes to rest – it will make it easier to roll out. Pat or roll each piece into a 9″ round shape on a floured board. Brush the tops of both pizzas with olive oil. Place rounds on a pizza peel and transfer to a medium-high heated barbecue grill. Place pizza over direct heat (BUT, watch it like a hawk!) and cook until the dough begins to puff in places and the bottom is showing brown on the edges. Don’t overdo it!! Remove pizza from the grill and close lid on the grill to retain heat. Back in the kitchen, gently press down on the puffed-up parts of the dough, then turn grilled dough over (so the uncooked side is on top). Brush top with more olive oil. Divide the leeks between the two crusts, sprinkle each with about 3/4 cup of shredded Mozzarella. Divide and arrange the pancetta on both, then overlap tomato slices. Sprinkle top with basil.
8. Place pizzas back on the grill and cook for just a few minutes – only until the cheese is melted. Watch very carefully so they don’t burn. Remove from the grill, cut into wedges and serve immediately.
Per Serving: 629 Calories; 34g Fat (47.9% calories from fat); 24g Protein; 58g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 56mg Cholesterol; 1695mg Sodium.

Posted in Beef, Grilling, on September 10th, 2017.

top_sirloin_cheesy_herb_sauce

Plenty of flavor here, and you just won’t believe how easy the cheese sauce is.

At a recent cooking class, the instructor, Susan, said she prefers top sirloin steak to any other kind. So I had to stop and think . . . when I first met my DH, he wouldn’t even try anything else except top sirloin. I thought it was too chewy and sometimes tough. Eventually, I lured him to ribeye (my favorite) and he never went back. When we’d have Sunday night family dinners (mandatory for the teenage kids to be home) we often had a big one that Dave did on the grill. His favorite way was with Bearnaise sauce on the side, but for me, that sauce was a lot of work to make, and sometimes it failed, so I gave up on that. But oh, THIS sauce. You won’t believe it!! It’s nothing but a container (or two) of Boursin or Rondele cheese, very gently heated until its melted. That’s IT!

But, there’s one other unusual item in this steak preparation – it’s marinated with oil, balsamic vinegar and a little bit of FIG PRESERVES. Interesting, huh? The marinade doesn’t penetrate the meat very much, but it does leave a little residual of the fig on the outside, and that gets nicely caramelized when it’s grilled. Altogether delicious. This steak is so cinchy easy, you won’t believe it. The key to the meat is cutting it into thin slices – I’d probably slice it even thinner than shown above – that way if there are any tougher bits, they’re manageable. Or, you could certainly make this with a ribeye, New York, filet mignon, or even flank steak. I’d put a tenderizer on the flank, but the others don’t need it.

Once the steak is off the grill and resting for a few minutes, heat the cheese and pour onto the individual servings. Or, you could serve it on the side. The sauce is not overwhelming at all – you might think it would be, but no. Altogether delicious.

What’s GOOD: how easy this meal is to make – marinating for a couple of hours, draining, grilling, then melting the cheese. How much easier could it be?

What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Grilled Top Sirloin Balsamico with Garlic-Herb-Cheese Sauce

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Susan Vollmer, 2017
Serving Size: 4

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup fig preserves
1 1/2 pounds top sirloin steak — or ribeye
6 1/2 ounces Boursin cheese — garlic-herb type or Rondele

1. Process vinegar, oil, salt, pepper and fig preserves in a blender until smooth. Place in a ziploc plastic bag. Add steak and squish it well so all the steak is covered. Refrigerate for 2 hours (more isn’t needed).
2. Remove steaks from marinade, drain on paper towels, and discard marinade.
3. Preheat grill to medium-high and grill steak for 5-7 minutes per side, until it reaches about 125°F, for medium rare. Remove steak and allow to rest about 5-7 minutes, loosely covered in foil.
4. Place cheese in a small saucepan and VERY gently heat it until it’s hot.
5. With a sharp knife, cut steak across the grain in about 1/4″ thick slices. Nap the slices on serving plates and drizzle each with some of the cheese sauce.
Per Serving: 670 Calories; 54g Fat (71.1% calories from fat); 37g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 0g Dietary Fiber; 152mg Cholesterol; 414mg Sodium.

Posted in Soups, Uncategorized, on September 6th, 2017.

chilled_yellow_squash_soup

Uh, huh! More chilled soups in my repertoire. This one using yellow squash and chicken broth. With so few ingredients I was amazed at how flavorful it was.

My new favorite thing – chilled soups from easily accessible summer produce. As I write this I’m still finishing up eating a batch of chilled zucchini soup (my second batch in recent weeks). In the interim I attended a kind of a cooking class (sans recipes, what’s up with that?) where they made a raw cucumber soup. I’m not quite so fond of that kind (raw) – I prefer the cooked one.

This soup, though, came from a class taught by Susan Vollmer, who used to own a cookware store here in my county, but she closed it down (mostly, she says, because Amazon cut into her business too much) and is retired. But occasionally she gives a class in her home. It was a very warm day, and Susan was in and out of her kitchen door many times tending the barbecue, but first she showed us how she made this soup and then gave all of us a bowl. I have all the ingredients in my refrigerator as I write this, to make a batch.

It’s a very simple recipe, and yet it has plenty of flavor. Perhaps it depends on what kind of chicken broth you use – the more flavorful – the better the soup. Yellow squash doesn’t have a ton a flavor (does zucchini have a little more flavor? I don’t know . . . just wondering) so you need the other ingredients (chives, chicken broth, sour cream) to have enough. I don’t mean to sound “down” on this soup – I actually liked it a lot, and I love yellow squash. Someone mentioned in the class – have you noticed that you no longer see the crookneck – apparently the growers have bred that aspect out of it – now you see both zucchini and yellow squash lined up like soldiers. Usually next to each other.

So, this soup – yellow squash and white onion cooked together in some olive oil, then the chicken broth is added and the mixture is cooked for a brief time – it doesn’t take squash long to cook anyway. Susan had made the soup ahead of time and had used her immersion blender to puree it. She prefers it just slightly chunky, so the immersion blender did a fine job of it. Then she added lemon juice (plus more later on when she tasted it), sour cream, salt and pepper. It was chilled down for several hours (OR, you can eat it hot) and served with a little dollop of sour cream and more bright green chives on top. I slicked the bowl clean.

What’s GOOD: the overall taste is lovely – good for summer, or good even in the winter, served hot. The toppings kind of make the dish, and the lemon juice is an important aspect of the flavor profile. Be sure to use enough. Keeps for about a week, too, and it should freeze just fine. For me, a 2-cup portion makes a really nice lunch (it’s very low in calorie, too).

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chilled Yellow Summer Squash Soup

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Susan Vollmer, 2017
Serving Size: 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 pounds yellow squash — grated
2 tablespoons chives — chopped
2 tablespoons white onion — minced
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup sour cream — or full fat yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice — (may need more)
salt and pepper to taste
GARNISH:
1/4 cup sour cream — or full-fat yogurt
1 tablespoon chives — minced

NOTE: This soup may be served either chilled, or hot. If heating it, do not allow it to boil after you’ve added the sour cream, but keep it just below a simmer.
1. Heat oil in a large saucepan. Saute the squash and white onion for 3-5 minutes. Add broth, chives, then bring to a boil and simmer for about 5-10 minutes.
2. In two batches, puree the soup in a blender or preferably use an immersion blender in the pan itself.
3. Refrigerate soup until well chilled, at least 3 hours. If serving this hot, the soup will benefit from sitting a few hours in the refrigerator to blend the flavors, before reheating.
4. Whisk in the sour cream, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Taste for seasonings – add more lemon juice if needed. Ladle into small bowls and garnish with a dollop of sour cream and chives on top.
Per Serving: 118 Calories; 10g Fat (61.0% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 13mg Cholesterol; 34mg Sodium.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on September 2nd, 2017.

bacon_hasselback_potatoes

I’ve been slow to get on the Hasselback Potato bandwagon. Now I’m definitely on the train! Gosh were these fun and tasty!

My granddaughter Sabrina was visiting with me (before she flew back to So Carolina to return for her sophomore year at Clemson University). She loves to cook (we also do art together – I worked on a Zentangle design, and she used acrylics to paint a sunset/landscape), so we worked in the kitchen together and she helped me slip the bacon in between the slices, and she made some squash for us for our dinner. We also had some of that Chili-Rubbed Salmon I made a few weeks ago, that was so good. These potatoes were a great side dish for the salmon.

These little beauties, these potatoes, are on the small side, but I THINK they’re better if they’re smaller. I suppose you could do a big potato using this method, but the smaller ones are just so CUTE! These were a Yukon Gold type and about 3” long. I had figured she and I would each eat two of them, but no, we just had one. They’re rich. And decadent. But the bacon – oh gosh, the bacon – they “make” this dish, IMHO.

hasselback_cutsFirst, you cut the potatoes – use two wooden style spoon handles, one on either side of the potato, so when you make the cut, you don’t cut all the way through. That, of course, is the whole thing about Hasselbacks – the little thin cuts. So the photo at left you can see the cutting. About 1/16” or 1/8 inch. At right you can see the two spoons on either side so you don’t slice all the way through.

hasselback_with_spoonsIt’s actually pretty easy to do. I used the back of my left hand to hold the spoons in place and used my fingers to anchor the potato. Requires a bit of dexterity, I suppose. If you have a kitchen helper, have them hold the spoons. Then, the next step is to partially cook the potatoes. Bring a pot of water to a boil and slip these already cut potatoes in it for FOUR MINUTES only. Remove boiling_hasselback_potatoesand set aside to let them cool.

Meanwhile, you will have used a few slices of thick-sliced bacon and frozen them on a flat surface (a pan), then slipped them into the freezer so they stay super cold/frozen. You know, fat doesn’t actually freeze clear through, but it’s good enough. Then you put the little slips of frozen freeezing_bacon_chipsbacon into the slices, pushing them down gently. You don’t want to “break” the potato’s back so it’s important that you slide the bacon in carefully.

Then you melt some butter and slather some on the potatoes with a brush and into an oven they go. Now I veered off a little bit from the original recipe I found (at Food Network) because it said cook the potatoes at 350° for 2 HOURS. I didn’t have 2 hours of time to devote to that, so I cranked the oven up to 400° and baked them for 6_hasselback_bacon_potatoesabout 35 minutes. They certainly weren’t as dark-brown-crispy looking as the originals were, but they were cooked through. The bacon was brown. They came out of the oven, I then brushed more melted butter (with green onions and garlic) on top and stuck them back in the oven for about 10 minutes. Perfectly done. I”ll be making these again for sure!

What’s GOOD: these were so fun, different. Very tasty – of course, the butter helps a lot. A lot of the butter oozed out onto the baking sheet, unfortunately. See all the fat on the Silpat lined pan above. But the bacon slowly oozed into the potatoes too, so they had plenty of fat to make it delicious. For me, the bacon was the star of the dish, but also loved the soft consistency of the potatoes too.

What’s NOT: only that they take a bit of work to get them ready to go. But not difficult, and if you have anyone to help, it’ll get done in no time.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Bacon Hasselback Potatoes

Recipe By: Food Network Kitchens
Serving Size: 6

2 slices thick-sliced bacon — each cut crosswise into 9 pieces
Kosher salt
6 medium Yukon gold potatoes — peeled
1/2 stick unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 whole green onion — finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 clove garlic — finely chopped

NOTE: Use more bacon in each potato if you don’t mind the calories & fat.
1. Lay the bacon pieces on a baking sheet and freeze until hard, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
2. Using a sharp knife, make crosswise cuts in each potato, about 1/8 inch apart, stopping about 1/4 inch from the bottom.
3. Add the potatoes to the boiling water and cook 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and carefully transfer to a baking sheet; let cool slightly. Pat the potatoes dry, then insert 3 pieces of the frozen bacon into the cuts of each potato, spacing the bacon evenly and letting it poke out of the top. Melt a few tablespoons of butter and brush generously over the potatoes and in the cuts. Reserve any excess butter for basting. Season the potatoes with salt and pepper.
4. Transfer the potatoes to the oven and bake until the outsides are browned and crisp, about 2 hours, basting halfway through with the reserved melted butter. (Note: I increased the temp to 400° and baked them about 35 minutes – they won’t be as brown and crispy as doing them for 2 hours, but they’re cooked through.)
5. When the potatoes are almost done, melt the remaining butter and mix with the scallions, parsley and garlic. Spoon over the potatoes and roast 5-10 more minutes. Transfer to a platter and season with salt and pepper.
Per Serving: 163 Calories; 10g Fat (53.9% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 15g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 24mg Cholesterol; 74mg Sodium.

Posted in Chicken, Essays, on August 29th, 2017.

Cooked Chicken Temperature ThermoWorks Thermapen Pink Bloody

I just read a really GOOD article about the whys and wherefores of cooking chicken – pink or not – red bones or not. It’s a definitive article about what IS the right temperature. We’re supposed to disregard color altogether. I could have copied and pasted it here, but it’s lengthy. In a nutshell, use temperature only as your guide – 165°F for white meat, 170°F for dark meat. But, go to the website and read it:

The article at ThermoWorks. These are the folks that manufacture my ThermaPen that I love so much. (They happen to be having a sale on slightly damaged, [cosmetic], or returned and refurbished units if you’re interested – for $63, a huge bargain.)

Posted in easy, Vegetarian, on August 25th, 2017.

grilled_halloumi_tomato_jam

My new cheese love. Halloumi. A meal in itself.

More and more, lately, I’m eating vegetarian meals. I’m an omnivore, but I do love vegetables, and I’m quite happy to make a meal of a variety of different veggies. I eat plenty of cheese too. We all need protein in one form or another. When I’m out, I eat chicken and fish, and occasionally I’ll buy a rotisserie chicken which keeps me in meals for several days. If I eat steak, I usually do it at home because I’ve got it down pat. Once in awhile I crave a hunk of beef or a ground beef casserole. Or a pork or lamb chop. I eat a lot of salads, sometimes with some tuna added, hard boiled eggs, or chicken. Oh, and yes, I do crave a hamburger once in awhile too.

If you read my post about the halloumi salad I had (and subsequently made), perhaps you were intrigued. Or maybe you already know halloumi. I knew of it, but had never cooked it. Once I found a package of it (hard to find) it had enough for 2 meals (the little square of cheese was ample for 4 slices). I made the halloumi salad (with watermelon) and enjoyed it very much. But then I still had 2 pieces left. As I stood at my open refrigerator door I spotted the Tomato Jam I’d made a week or so ago. I’ve frozen a dozen packets of it and have about half a cup in the refrigerator. I’ve had it with a little schmear of cream cheese on a cracker. One evening that was my dinner. I suppose you could say that’s a benefit of living alone (or being a widow) that if I don’t want to make a meal, I can always find something easy in the refrigerator like cheese and crackers.

So this particular night, with the 2 slices of halloumi needing to be eaten, I set my frying pan on low, added a bit of grapeseed oil to it and once it reached heat, I added the 2 slices to the pan. While it sizzled gently, I retrieved the tomato jam, sliced up some basil, grabbed a lovely orange heirloom tomato, EVOO, and the bottle of balsamic reduction, salt and pepper.

The cheese took about 4-5 minutes to cook on both sides (see the nice browning on them). This meal was ready in no time flat. I spread a bit of the tomato jam on each slice, topped it all with basil, then drizzled some of the balsamic reduction (syrup) and EVOO on top. Done. Dinner ready in less than 10 minutes. If you want some carbs, add a lovely slice of toasted artisan bread underneath the cheese. Like an open faced sandwich. My next project is to find another source for halloumi!

What’s GOOD: how easy this was to make – if you have the cheese on hand – and it was really delish. ‘Tis the season for heirloom tomatoes too. (And you can make an open-faced sandwich with adding a slice of toasted artisan bread.)

What’s NOT: the difficulty of finding halloumi. Otherwise, nothing at all! OH, one other thing – have you ever had cheese that squeaks? This cheese does – not when it’s raw, but once cooked, when you chew it, it squeaks. One of my readers, Toni, mentioned that she’d had halloumi once, one bite, but that was it because the squeak was off-putting for her. It doesn’t bother me.

I’m not writing up a regular “recipe” for this. Here’s an ingredient list to serve 2:

Grilled Halloumi with Tomato Jam

4 slices halloumi cheese (about 1/3” thick)

4 teaspoons grapeseed oil, or EVOO

6 tablespoons tomato jam (or other savory/sweet jam or chutney)

1/2 cup basil leaves, sliced (or very finely minced fresh rosemary or thyme)

8 slices heirloom tomato

balsamic reduction/syrup

EVOO to drizzle on top

salt and pepper to taste

————————-

Now, go find some halloumi cheese!

Posted in Soups, on August 21st, 2017.

corn_chile_lime_soup

Refreshing. Filling. Elusive flavors. Piquant. Worth making.

This soup has a story. (Of course, nearly all my recipes have some kind of back story.) Some years ago my DH and I took a trip to the northeast during fall leaf season. Sadly, we didn’t see many leaves as one of the hurricanes  slowed itself down through the entire northeastern states. In fact, the area was still having some rain and winds when we were there. We darted here and there in Western Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, in search of scenic roads where we hoped the winds hadn’t denuded the trees. Alas, we found very few leaves remaining on any of the trees. Don’t you just hate it when you make a special trip for something (fall leaves) and there aren’t any? I’d plotted the trip before we left, and we overnighted in Shelburne, Vermont. The B&B owner suggested a restaurant within walking distance of the hotel, The Bearded Frog. It was still cold and windy that night, so we trotted across to the restaurant and were glad for a warm, cozy table inside.

Our waitress greeted us with menus and mentioned the specials, which included a cold soup that the chef had just made (with the last of summer corn). The waitress raved about it, so I had to order some. I swooned over it, and eventually cornered the waitress again to ask if she knew what was IN the soup. She got a quizzical look on her face and said “I’ll find out.” Some time later she appeared with a piece of paper with the ingredients. Just the ingredients, but not any quantities. When I got home, I made it and knew I hadn’t quite gotten it right. Then I forgot about it.

So, here I am, many years later, during a very hot summer in Southern California, and I’ve been overdosing on cold soups. I can’t seem to get enough of them. As I write this, my friend Kit gave me a gigantic zucchini that’s sitting on my kitchen counter waiting to be made into another batch of Chilled Zucchini-Mint Soup. I’ll probably freeze some of this batch, as it’s a HUGE zucchini.

Anyway, I began searching through my soup recipes for more cold soups and ran across this one, that I’d never really tweaked correctly since I wasn’t sure of quantities. I had some notes I’d made, and had changed some of the quantities last time too. This time I didn’t have any canned creamed corn, so I just substituted more frozen corn for that part. Canned creamed corn doesn’t have any cream or dairy in it, it’s just cooked and processed to look like it does. I’ve included it in the below recipe because I think it’s a nice addition – but if you don’t have it, just use more frozen or fresh corn. I am good about figuring out (sometimes) what’s in a sauce or a dish when I eat at a restaurant, but I just couldn’t pinpoint ingredients in this soup, so I was so happy when the waitress was able to give me the ingredient list.

corn_chile_lime_closeupThe chef never said she had cooked the onion, but raw onion in a cold soup has a bit of a bite, so I decided to cook the onion first. Everything else in the soup is raw. It takes a day for the flavors to meld, so do make it ahead – at least 8 hours or so, or preferably the day before you wish to serve it. It will keep for about a week. I haven’t tried to freeze it, but likely it would be fine. Do read my notes in the recipe about the pureeing of it – whether to strain or not. I didn’t because I was fine with including all that corn fiber in my servings. I used white corn, so the color of the soup is more off white than yellow. At the restaurant, way back, it was definitely yellow, so the chef had obviously used yellow corn. Your choice.

What’s GOOD: good, wholesome corn flavor, and if you don’t strain it, it has nice toothsome chewing, sort of. I loved the elusive flavors in this – there IS some heat from the jalapeno and ginger. It’s refreshing for sure. Easy. Altogether delicious, I think. It looks pretty too, if you use the garnishes. The chef had added lima beans. I didn’t have any of those, so didn’t use them.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. A lot of ingredients to gather up, but once in the blender, it’s pretty darned easy to make.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chilled Corn, Green Chile and Lime Soup

Recipe By: Ingredient list from Bearded Frog restaurant, Shelburne, VT
Serving Size: 8

1/2 cup red onion — chopped coarsely
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 whole jalapeno chile pepper — seeded, chopped
1/4 cup fresh ginger — chopped coarsely
4 cloves garlic — peeled
1 1/3 cups creamed corn — canned
1 pound frozen corn — defrosted
1 quart milk — or half and half or soy milk
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons ground cardamom
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup EVOO
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
GARNISH:
3/8 cup fresh corn
3/8 cup lima beans — frozen, defrosted (optional)
Fresh cilantro sprigs
May also drizzle a bit of EVOO on top and squeeze a tiny bit of fresh lime juice

NOTE: If you want a thin soup, strain the finished soup. If you prefer the corn solids and a thicker consistency, just puree the heck out of the soup until it’s nearly a liquid. It never quite liquefies, but it’s very edible that way. If you have an old blender, it may not puree as well as the newer, high speed ones capable of liquefying just about anything.
1. In a skillet, heat a small jot of olive oil and add the chopped onion. Saute over low heat until the onion is thoroughly soft. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
2. Combine all the soup ingredients (including the cooked onion) in a blender and puree until smooth. Refrigerate the mixture overnight.
3. Strain the soup of any solids and taste for seasoning. (Straining the soup is optional.)
4. Serve with a few corn kernels sprinkled over the top plus lima beans and cilantro. May also drizzle the top with EVOO and a tiny bit of lime juice.
Per Serving: 356 Calories; 20g Fat (48.8% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 39g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 17mg Cholesterol; 190mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, Brunch, Desserts, on August 21st, 2017.

almond_puff_slice

Almond Puff Loaf. Oh gosh. Love this.

It had been decades since I’d last made this. I used to make it back in the 1960s – I’d found a recipe in one of my homespun cookbooks. Then one time I made it and it failed completely, and I had no idea why. The 2nd layer kind of spread out all over everywhere (now I know what happened) but after that failure, I thought oh well, I won’t try that again. Then it was featured recently on King Arthur Flour’s blog, and I was reminded about my previous love of it, then distress of it. As I read, I discovered that you must use large eggs, not extra large. I used to buy extra large all the time, but then about 10-15 years ago I read that bakers use ONLY large eggs because they’re more consistent with the normal size used in almost all baked things. And it was mentioned that if you use extra large eggs, this baked goodie might fail. Ah-ha! That must have been it. If you go the blog write-up then go to the recipe itself at King Arthur Flour, you’ll read all the details, if you’re interested. They actually mention how much one large egg weighs. One website says an average large egg weighs (just the egg part) 50 grams.

I served it at one of my book club meetings recently, held here at my house. The recipe is Danish in origin, and I wanted to make Danish goodies because the group was reviewing The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living. We had such an interesting discussion of the book because I invited my friend Janet to come and talk about her experiences in Denmark. Her son lives there with his wife and children, and Janet and Dick visit them regularly. She shared some stories about celebrating Christmas in Denmark (many different traditions), and she also brought a beautiful candle (candles are really, really important in Denmark, and NOT scented) with an unusual glass surround with pine boughs. My meeting was held in my family room – I lit about a dozen candles, had lights on (low) wherever I could (and had it not been mid-summer and hot, I would have lit the fireplace [fireplaces are big deal for hygge]).

almond_puff_fullAnyway, this Danish – well, it’s NOT like a “real” Danish (as we in American might call it), the kind you’d buy at a bakery. This is a pretty easy one to make at home. It has a bottom layer (look at the photo up at the top to see the layers), a top layer that’s like cream puff batter which rises quite a bit in the baking because of the eggs in it, then once baked (it takes an hour) you spread warm jam (I’m quite enamored with Trader Joe’s Peach Bellini jam) on top, then sprinkle on some toasted almonds, then drizzle with a simple powdered sugar icing.  There are a bunch of steps, but none is difficult in the least. A bit of stirring, mixing, melting, spreading, etc. After doing all the layering, I cut it into slices about 1 1/2” wide, 3” long (across). The photo above is of one of the finished loaves – it’s about 10” long and 3-4” wide. The puff was still warm when I put it onto a serving plate and invited my friends to grab a piece, along with coffee (another integral part of Danish life) and makes for a lot of hygge (HOO-GAH). We laughed a lot about how much difficulty we have pronouncing it.

What’s GOOD: this is altogether delicious – it has crunch, almost like croissant flakiness in the middle (but it isn’t, it’s cream-puff flakiness), the jam and almonds adding a nice mouth-feel. There were some pieces left over and I invited my friends to take them home – there was none left after that. Now that I’ve figured out about only using LARGE eggs, I’ll be making this again someday. And then, I love almond anything, so that was an added bonus for me.

What’s NOT: If you don’t like managing all the different layers, maybe this isn’t for you, but it’s not difficult in the least. You do need to start about 1 1/2 hours ahead since it must bake nearly an hour. And it really should cool for 10-15 minutes before serving (I didn’t because I’d run out of time!).

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Almond Puff Loaf

Recipe By: King Arthur Flour (but this is an old-old recipe I’ve had for decades)
Serving Size: 16

FIRST LAYER:
1/2 cup butter — cut into pats or 1/2-inch cubes, (8 tablespoons)*
1 cup All-Purpose Flour
1/4 cup water
*If you’re using unsalted butter add 1/4 tsp salt
SECOND LAYER:
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter — (8 tablespoons)*
1 cup All-Purpose Flour
3 large eggs — at room temperature; warm them, in the shell, in hot tap water for 10 minutes if they’re cold from the fridge
1 teaspoon almond extract
*If you’re using unsalted butter add 1/4 tsp salt
TOPPING:
2/3 cup jam — or preserves (preferably apricot or peach)
2/3 cup sliced almonds — toasted in a 350F oven for about 7 to 10 minutes, or until they’re a light, golden brown
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar — or glazing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 teaspoons milk — or water (approximately)

NOTE: Be sure to use only LARGE eggs.
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) a large cookie sheet.
2. First layer: In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the butter, flour, and salt (if you’re using it), working the butter into the flour with a pastry blender or fork, your fingers, or a mixer. Mix until everything is crumbly, then stir in the water. The dough will become cohesive, though not smooth.
3. Divide the dough in half; if you’re using a scale, each half will weigh about 4 5/8 – 5 ounces. Wet your hands, and shape each piece of this wet dough into a rough log. Pat the logs into 10″ x 3″ rectangles on the sheet, leaving at least 4″ (but preferably 6″) between them, and 2″ on each side. These puff up in the oven (hence the name), and you need to leave them room for expansion.
4. Second layer: In a medium-sized saucepan, bring the water and butter to a boil. Stir until the butter melts, then add the flour (and salt, if you’re using it) all at once. Stir the mixture with a spoon till it thickens, begins to steam, and leaves the sides of the pan; this will happen very quickly. Transfer the stiff batter to a mixing bowl, or the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat it at medium speed for 30 seconds to 1 minute, just to cool it down a bit.
5. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition; beat until the batter loses its slippery look, and each egg is totally absorbed. Mix in the almond extract.
6. Divide the batter in half. Spread half the batter over one of the dough strips on the pan, covering it completely to the outer edges. Repeat with the remaining batter on the 2nd and dough. With a spatula (or your wet fingers) spread the batter until it completely covers the entire bottom layer of dough. Smooth it out as best you can.
7. Bake the pastry for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until it’s a deep golden brown. Remove it from the oven, and transfer each pastry to a wire rack.
8. Topping: Spread each warm pastry with about 1/3 cup of jam or preserves.
9. Sprinkle the toasted almonds atop the jam. By this time, your beautifully puffed pastries are probably starting to sink; don’t worry, this is all part of the plan.
10. Icing: Stir together the sugar, vanilla, and enough milk or water to form a thick but “drizzlable” icing.
Drizzle the icing atop the pastries. Cut into squares or strips to serve.
Per Serving: 257 Calories; 16g Fat (54.4% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 26g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 71mg Cholesterol; 138mg Sodium.
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Posted in Soups, on August 17th, 2017.

eat_your_greens_soup

Oh my goodness. This. Soup. Is. So. Good. And healthy.

Yes, I know, it’s not hot soup weather. But as a food blogger, sometimes we have to take inspiration when it comes, and this one required me to act on it immediately. My decorator, Darci, has been working with me for well over 20 years. Maybe 25, actually. We’ve become friends, although she’s young enough to be my daughter. The other day I offered to go to her house to see some fabric for drapes, since she’s got a pesky, painful ankle. I took along a little portion of the Cantaloupe Gazpacho for her to taste. After that, she brought out her latest obsession. This soup. I was in heaven it was so gosh darned good.

The recipe is her own concoction – she must have had spinach, broccoli and cilantro in the refrigerator that day, and she’s become a convert to the wisdom of using bone broth instead of regular broth. She buys it at Sprouts (this soup uses beef bone broth) and likes it because each cup contains 9 grams of protein. She rattled off how she made it. The next morning I shopped for the ingredients, came home and made it immediately, even in our summer heat. It also has curry powder AND Thai green curry paste in it. That’s what gives it some zing. Coconut milk gives it a more subtle flavor.

eat_your_greens_closeup

On top of the soup you add 3 things: (1) a drizzle of good EVOO; (2) a drizzle of fresh lemon juice; and (3) a little sprinkle of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. I added the cilantro leaf when I made it, but that’s just for fun. If you don’t like cilantro, you won’t like this soup – but I suppose you could make it without the cilantro.

Image result for thai kitchen green curry pasteIt takes little time to make the soup – and once the vegetables are cooked, you puree it in the blender then cook down the soup a little bit to make it thicker. I made a double batch and will be freezing at least 2 big bags of it for another day. And I have enough for a couple of dinners AND a bag to give to a good friend.

Earmark this recipe, or at least print it out so you can make it once it’s cool enough to do so. I know I’ll be making this over and over. It’s addictive. Honest. And thanks, Darci, for sharing the recipe and saying “yes” to putting it on my blog!

What’s GOOD: it’s silky smooth and full of bright, citrusy flavors (from the cilantro and the lemon juice). It’s healthy. Really healthy. But you’d never know it. If you want to cut corners, don’t put hardly any cheese on top, and do a little bitty drizzle of EVOO. It’s very low calorie. Last night I served myself one bowl (about a cup), but just had to go back for more. Just know, I told you it’s addictive. Maybe that’s a negative (ha)!

What’s NOT: nothing really, except maybe finding bone broth. Everything else in it is easy enough.
printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Eat-Your-Greens Soup

Recipe By: From my friend, Darci G
Serving Size: 8

2 tablespoons EVOO
1 whole yellow onion — chopped
2 whole garlic cloves — diced
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 tablespoon Thai green curry paste
4 cups fresh spinach
2 quarts beef bone broth
14 ounces coconut milk — (full fat)
3 cups broccoli florets — stems are fine too
3 cups cilantro — including stems
Salt and pepper to taste
GARNISH:
A drizzle of EVOO in each bowl
A drizzle of fresh lemon juice in each bowl
8 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese — sprinkled on each bowl

1. Saute the onion in EVOO, and when it’s softened, add the garlic to cook gently for just a minute or less.
2. Add the curry powder and green curry paste, stir in well, then add the spinach. Saute gently for a few minutes, then add all the bone broth and coconut milk. Bring to a simmer, then add in the broccoli. Simmer the soup for about 20 minutes, then set aside to cool slightly.
3. In batches, puree the soup in a blender, adding in a large handful of cilantro and the stems and blend until the soup is silky smooth. Repeat with remaining soup. Return to heat and cook gently for about 45 minutes, until the mixture has thickened some.
4. To serve: pour hot soup into a serving bowl and drizzle with EVOO, lemon juice, then sprinkle shredded Parm on top.
Per Serving: 215 Calories; 17g Fat (66.9% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 4mg Cholesterol; 135mg Sodium.

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