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My reading of late has been short and fitful, somewhat like my sleeping pattern, ever since my dear husband passed away. I’m still in 2 book clubs, though, and have wanted to keep up with the reading for those.

When I started reading The Divorce Papers: A Novel by Susan Rieger, I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue. Initially, it brought back too many unpleasant memories of my divorce in 1979-80. But I kept reading and soon was engrossed in the unusual approach. It’s about Sophie Diehl, a young criminal attorney who gets roped into working on this very messy divorce taken on by her law firm. The entire book is written via letters, documents and email messages between the pertinent parties in this divorce (the couple divorcing, their daughter, both attorneys, her boss, and one of Sophie’s best friends). It’s a clever book. As I write this, I’m about 80% through, so I don’t even know how it ends, but I’ve enjoyed the read so far.

Recently finished Orphan Train: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline. It’s about a little known period of time (1854-1929) when orphaned children were loaded onto trains on the East Coast and sent to the Midwest to be adopted by families who needed or wanted children. Some were adopted by people who were unfit; some of the children were lucky and found good, loving homes. This is the story of one of the girls, Vivian Daly and her journey. Woven into the story is a much later period of Vivian’s life when many facts of  her earlier experiences are revealed. A very, very interesting book; there’s a love story in it too.

Since I’m a fan of Ann Patchett, it’s no surprise that I wanted to buy her most recent book, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. It’s a book of short stories, but not fictional ones – it’s a compilation of essays and articles she’s written over the course of her writing life. My favorite is the one in which she describes in intimate detail how she goes about writing a book. About the process, her thinking, and the the hard, hard work it entails. I loved every one of the stories. She is quite self-deprecating about the book – it likely wasn’t her idea to put it together as she never thought any of her essays were worth much. She wrote them to make a living. Each of the chapters (essays) has been updated and/or addended to, so she did have to put some spit and polish on all of them before sending this group to the publisher. She’s written essays for a very esoteric group of publications; some I’d never heard of. But I enjoyed the book from beginning to end.

Also just finished reading The Invention of Wings: A Novel by Sue Monk Kidd. What a story. Sometimes it’s a good thing to read the author’s notes before you read a book. I guess I’m glad I didn’t (in this case the notes were at the end of the book) because it was then, afterwards, that I read that one of the characters in this novel is fictional; the other two (sisters) were real. There’s a bit about the Quaker religion in this book too, which was different. This is a slavery story and about the beginnings of the abolitionist movement. Interwoven between the 2 sisters who make waves about anti-slavery is the poignant story of one particular slave and her hard, hard life. It’s heartbreaking in many respects, not just because of the violence and abuse heaped upon her. The book is almost a page-turner. Very glad I read it.

Also read The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice by Laurel Corona. It was recommended to me by a friend, and I enjoyed it a lot. It has a rather unusual story line, all envisioned by the author from reading a tiny line of elaborate script from a journal at what remains of a foundling hospital (run mostly like a convent by Catholic nuns) in Venice. It said something like Antonio Vivaldi purchased “a bow for Maddalena Rossa.” That started the author’s novel journey. Two sisters are raised at the Ospedale della Pieta. One becomes famous for her violin skills; the other for her voice. One is married “out” and the other stays cloistered her entire life. Then you throw Vivaldi himself into the mix, as he really was paid by the Ospedale for his compositions and for teaching some of the residents to play instruments. It’s an enlightening story about Vivaldi himself (a priest, with a lot of questions about his piety). It takes place in the early 1700s. Fascinating story and I want to listen again in total to Vivaldi’s very famous work, The Four Seasons, as a result of reading this. I’ve heard it many times before, but it will have new meaning now.

IN THE POWDER ROOM: Our guest half-bath has a little tiny table with a pile of books that I change every now and then. They’re books that might pique someone’s interest even if for a very short read. The Art of Travel, a collection of essays about traveling (it’s not a how-to), gathering a variety of stories of some historic authors and where and why they traveled; The Greatest Stories Never Told; and Sara Midda’s South of France; also Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages (just the cutest book – with a miscellany of things – letters, grocery lists, notes, reminders, confessions the author discovered hidden inside the books he purchased for his used bookstore); and The Trouble with Poetry (Billy Collins).

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small engraved sterling silver tea spoons that I use to taste as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Salads, on September 17th, 2014.

minted_watermelon_feta_salad

A couple of days ago I decided I needed to do some administrative housekeeping for the blog. There were a lots of photos from the last couple of months. Some I’d meant to update on the blog – photos from a long time ago (pictures that were barely worthy of posting). I keep all the photos (the ones you see and the ones that I start with, the mega-pixel ones that I crop and adjust to fit within this blog width, etc.) but every few months I transfer them off to CDs.

Anyway, I’d taken a photo of this salad and was going to update it here on the blog and realized that technically speaking I’d never actually posted the RECIPE. I’d included a link to a Martha Stewart page, which I discovered isn’t even THERE anymore. So, obviously I needed to give you this post because this salad is one of my Favs. It’s so incredibly easy. It’s seriously delish and off the charts when watermelon is in season. My DH adored this salad – it has the sweet (watermelon) and the savory (feta cheese) and the hint of mint. Do use fresh mint. I mentioned it last week when I told you about what I’ve eaten lately. I don’t even use a recipe – you can adjust it to  your tastes – it’s just watermelon, feta crumbled up and some mint. That’s IT.

So, how am I? The last week has been pretty good. I’ve been very, very busy, and as a widow, that’s a good thing. It doesn’t leave me much time to mope around. I’m definitely still grieving, and by saying that it doesn’t mean that I don’t still have plenty of time to consider my new single-ness, my widowhood. I think about that every day. I’m writing this on Monday. Yesterday (Sunday) I was invited to my/our son’s home (actually his sister-in-law’s) for dinner. I had a lovely evening with them and a delicious dinner of Pasta Bolognese. And when I got in the car to drive home, well, it was dark, of course, and I just remembered all the times Dave and I had driven home from their home. It made me cry. Sometimes the car is where I cry. There was no one to hear me. I wasn’t crying so hard I couldn’t drive, but I just re-lived good memories, but they still, at this point in my healing, make me sad. I wanted Dave to be beside me in the car.

I’d taken a bottle of Chianti for the dinner. Before I went, I’d gone down into the wine cellar and looked over the choices in the Italian section. There weren’t a lot, actually, but one was a gift and I knew Darci, who had given it to us in 2006, wouldn’t have chosen a blah or cheap wine. It was wonderful. Dave had written notes on the back label – the fact that it was a gift from Darci in 2006. I enjoyed it and had some with dinner. I wished Dave had been there at the table. He’d have been all-over that wine, talking about it. It had no harsh edges at all. It was 11 years old, which is probably OLD for a Chianti. In the car, he and I would have been talking about the dinner, about the antics of our grandson, Vaughan, and his cousin Sebastian, about Julian’s Bolognese and Janice’s fabulous beet salad that often graces their dinner table. The two boys have just started school, so there was some discussion about that. Vaughan has just lost two teeth (his first) and was visited by the international tooth fairy. He’s received Bermuda dollars and Israeli shekels. He feels quite special that he’s being visited by an international tooth fairy. Dave and I would have chuckled over that part. I’ve promised Karen I’ll dig around in my travel drawer and find the big envelope of international money I have so she can be prepared when he loses his next tooth. I know I have some Egyptian money, some Turkish too.

So, I cried. And felt sorry for myself. Which is altogether normal. But I just tried to change the subject in my head. Thinking about this week. About the things I need to do today. I’m having cataract surgery this week, and again a month from now on the other eye. My friend Cherrie has broken a bone in her foot. She was going to take care of me, maybe with me even staying at their house overnight, but she can barely get around, so my friend Joan is taking me. These days cataract surgery is so easy – a few hours after the surgery (back at home) I will remove the patch (to use special drops) and at that point I can leave the patch off, except at night (so I don’t accidentally nudge my eye somehow). I’m participating in a clinical trial for eye drops that are supposed to enhance healing. I’m using these drops every day, twice a day. Then I have 3 other drops that must be used 4x a day. I may be receiving the placebo – I’ll never know. But for the participation, I get $800. I have to make 4 extra visits to the eye clinic to do this. But hey, that’s many really nice dinners out. And once I’m done with both surgeries, I may be able to not wear glasses the rest of my life! Since I’ve worn them since I was about 18, that’s pretty darned special. I may have to wear readers.

My weekend was spent at our church nearly the entire time at a choir retreat. It was grueling. I don’t know exactly how many hours we rehearsed music – probably about 11 hours, I think. My voice is still raspy today. It started Friday night at 5:30 and ended on Sunday at 1:30. Food was provided for Friday dinner, 2 lunches, plus snacks. I’m just glad it’s over with!

So, back to this salad. Do make it. Do use really tasty, ripe watermelon. If you open the watermelon and it’s somewhat blah, don’t bother – this salad won’t be all that good. The recipe is already listed on my Favs list, but I’ll now update the link so it actually comes to THIS post. And I’m giving you the MasterCook files and a pdf.

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Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Minted Watermelon and Feta Salad

Recipe By: Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Living, 7/08
Serving Size: 4

2 1/2 pounds red watermelon — seedless
2 ounces Feta cheese — crumbled
1/2 teaspoon Maldon salt
3 tablespoons fresh mint — sliced

1. Using a sharp knife, cut off rinds from watermelons. (You should have a total of 2 pounds peeled fruit.) Quarter each melon, and then cut into 3-inch-long, 1/4-inch-thick slices. (Or cut into any shapes you’d prefer.) Arrange slices on a serving platter.
2. Crumble the feta over watermelon. Sprinkle with salt and mint, and serve immediately.
Per Serving: 39 Calories; 3g Fat (69.0% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 13mg Cholesterol; 426mg Sodium.

Posted in Beef, Lamb, on September 12th, 2014.

mini_greek_style_meat_loaves

Dinner needed in a hurry? This is a great make-ahead meal that requires very little time in the oven. The salad with cucumber provides some vegetables and the Greek tzasiki-type sauce on the meat just makes it perfect.

A couple of weeks ago I spent the weekend with daughter Sara and her family. And Sara wanted to spend part of Sunday doing some make-ahead meals for her family. Both of the kids are in sports, so weeknight mealtimes have to be jammed into what little time Sara can carve out of the late afternoon or evening. Sabrina drives herself mostly, but John the younger sibling is just 13, so he must be delivered and picked up and often John Sr. stays and watches his practices. Anyway, this is one of the meals we put together and Sara was kind enough to give me a portion so I could make it meat_loaves_ramekinsonce I got home. I baked mine in 2 ramekins (just easier for my single portion).

The recipe came from Cooking Light. Since making this Sara and I both agreed on a couple of things: (1) we would switch the amount of lamb and beef – we both wanted a more lamb flavor; (2) the baking time was not enough. So the recipe below has been changed. We also used full fat yogurt, but you don’t have to. We also thought that if the meat loaf was just slightly bigger, we could have eaten just one, so if I did this again, I’d do just that – I’d mound the meat loaves in the muffin tin or ramekin. You’d need to up the baking time if you did that. Lamb is rich, so halving the 2-meat loaf portion would cut down the calories significantly. The original recipe called for 10 ounces of beef and 5 ounces of lamb. That’s been switched, just so you know.

The other problem I had was that the meat loaf wasn’t really done well enough at 7 minutes baking and 3 minutes broiling. I did another 3 minutes of broil, and still the meat was really rare when I ate it (note blood-rare juice coming out of the left meat loaf in the photo). So I’ve upped the baking time to 9 minutes and 3+ minutes broiling. Do check the internal temp if you can – it should be about 160-165°F. The other things could be that pressing the meat into the muffin tin allows contact on the sides with the meat – maybe done that way it cooks in the shorter time. Just use a meat thermometer and gauge accordingly. In ramekins they didn’t quite touch the sides, so that may be why they weren’t quite so “done.”

The sauce was easy enough to make – it’s the standard kinds of ingredients for tzasiki sauce and was made ahead. On the recipe below I’ve also included instructions for freezing the meat – make them into mounds that will fit in a muffin tin or ramekin, place on a parchment or plastic wrap lined baking sheet and freeze, then package them for longer freezer storage.

If you added vegetables to the salad (it already has cucumber in it, but you could add bell pepper, for instance) you’d have a complete meal with the meat loaves, sauce and the salad.

What’s GOOD: these were tasty. Not necessarily off the charts, but not every meal can be that way, anyway. I would like them better next time with more lamb, hence the change in the recipe below. They were certainly easy to make and very quick for a weeknight dinner – providing the meat loaves were defrosted. The sauce is really good – don’t skimp on that part as I think it makes the dish.
What’s NOT: nothing, really. Altogether a good dish and easy.

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Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Mini Greek-Style Meat Loaves with Arugula Salad

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Cooking Light, May 2013
Serving Size: 4

5 ounces ground sirloin
10 ounces ground lamb
1/3 cup dry breadcrumbs
1/3 cup red onion — grated or VERY finely minced
4 teaspoons chopped fresh mint
4 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
3/8 teaspoon salt — divided
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
3 garlic cloves — minced
1 large egg — lightly beaten Cooking spray
YOGURT-FETA SAUCE:
1/2 cup Greek yogurt, full-fat — or use nonfat if preferred
2 ounces feta cheese — crumbled
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice — divided
SALAD & DRESSING:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 cups arugula leaves — [or combo with spinach]
3/4 cup cucumber — (1/4-inch-thick) diagonally sliced, seeded, peeled

NOTES: If you want to make these ahead to freeze, form into shapes that will fit into a muffin tin or ramekins, place on a plastic-wrap lined baking sheet & freeze solid. Then package and seal for longer-term storage. Sauce cannot be frozen. Each serving is 2 of these patties.
1. Preheat oven to 450°.
2. MEAT: Combine first 4 ingredients in a large bowl. Stir in 1 tablespoon mint, 1 tablespoon thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt, allspice, and next 3 ingredients (through egg). Press meat mixture into 8 muffin cups coated with cooking spray. (if you have more empty muffin cups, fill that half full with water during the baking.) Bake at 450° for 8-9 minutes. Turn broiler to high; broil 3 minutes. If top isn’t starting to brown, continue on broil for another minute. If using an instant-read thermometer, bake until the center of the meat loaf is about 160°-165°F which will still be just past pink in the middle. Cook longer if you prefer it more well done.
3. SAUCE: Combine yogurt, feta, 1 tablespoon juice, 1 teaspoon mint, and 1 teaspoon thyme in a mini food processor; pulse 10 times to combine.
4. SALAD: Combine 1 tablespoon juice, olive oil, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and pepper in a bowl; stir. Add arugula and cucumber; toss.
Per Serving: 463 Calories; 34g Fat (66.4% calories from fat); 26g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 147mg Cholesterol; 534mg Sodium.

Posted in Uncategorized, on September 9th, 2014.

When I mentioned last week that I’ve been fixing some of my old, tried and true recipes, I thought I’d just tell you what those have been. I haven’t made all these in the last week, but over the last 2-3 months, really. There’s one new recipe near the bottom. I’m not writing up a post about it – it was really good, King Arthur’s Classic Peach Cobbler. I liked it.

Thank you, to all of you who have left comments or sent me email notes. Your very kind compliments warm my heart and lift my grieving spirits. Today, as I write this, I’m feeling pretty well. On that grief-scale of 1-10, I’m at about 5 1/2, I guess. Maybe a 6. I had a bad patch a week or so ago and sunk down into the abyss, but after several days I crawled back up into normal-ness again. I functioned – I went to things, kept appointments, but in between I was wretched. Crying for no particular reason. And it lasted for days. I cooked because I had to, and made things to take to gatherings because I’d promised I would. This grief thing is so very unpredictable. Someone told me the other night that grief experts say the 2nd year is the worst. Oh my, I can’t imagine it being worse. Heaven help me if that’s true!

I’m busy, which is a very good thing. I need to be busy. I actually sat outside on the patio last night and ate dinner. I turned up my Sonos speakers in the house, tuned into the Pandora channel I created with classical music, mostly by John Rutter. Lots of choral music comes up on the channel that keeps evolving when I tell Pandora I like a particular piece of music.

Here in Southern California we’ve had very hot weather this summer – so hot that 13 out of every 14 nights when I’m ready to eat dinner it’s still in the 80s outside with very high humidity, and that’s too hot for me. I had left overs from the dinner I did the other night when I invited 9 women friends over, most of them widows. We had a very nice time that night. I started the dinner right at sunset and God granted a lovely one that night. My new outdoor patio and kitchen looked lovely bathed in the soft light and candles, along with some regular lights too. I’ll post photos of the kitchen one of these days. I promised I’d do that and I need to honor my promises, right?

Minted Watermelon and Feta Salad – so refreshing, while watermelon is still in season.

Watermelon Gazpacho – I just posted this last week, but I’ve made another batch of it. Love this stuff.

White Sangria with Tuacaso refreshing! It’s great for a warm summer evening. I served this at the dinner.

Creamy Garlic Blue Cheese Dressing – my old standby salad dressing that I go back to over and over and over again.

Garlic VIP Dressing – my other go-to salad dressing. I made this for the dinner the other night and served it over mixed greens (sturdy type) with cauliflower bits, Feta and toasted almonds.

Marinated Tomatoes – when tomatoes are in season, this is a favorite. Looks pretty too.

Meyer Lemon Grains Salad with Asparagus, Almonds and Goat Cheese – such a great salad to take to a potluck lunch or dinner.

Pasta a la Puttanesca – this was my main dish for my guests for the dinner the other night. I served the pasta hot with the Puttanesca sauce, room temp, on top.

French Hamburgers – Julia Child’s recipe. Such good comfort food.

Syrian Pita Bread Salad – I took this to a potluck on Labor Day. It’s a favorite of mine (thank you, Joanne, again, for that wonderful recipe!).

Garlic Green Beans – these are a regular now. I can’t tell you how many of my family and good friends now claim it as their own too. SO easy.

Purple Plum Torte – this was the one from the New York Times.

Dario’s Olive Oil Cake – a real favorite with 1 1/2 whole oranges in it and made solely with good EVOO, pine nuts and rosemary.

King Arthur’s Classic Peach Cobbler – I made little tiny cobbler biscuits for the topping because I knew the women would take small portions, so everyone got a little bitty sugar-topped biscuit.

Chocolate Syrup – I make it in a double batch so it’s always on my refrigerator shelf. Ice cream is so comfort food for me when I crave a little bit of sweet, I top it with this syrup and a few chopped nuts.

See, I told you my old recipes are what I’m cooking lately. I’m still augmenting my diet with ready-made food, something I generally (in the past) just didn’t do. I had Trader Joe’s frozen Chicken Tikka Masala the other night and it was delicious. The link is to my recipe, which is wonderful, but since I didn’t feel like cooking, heating up TJ’s tray was great. I’ll be back in a few days with pictures of my kitchen and patio. Tonight I’m having my DH’s and my bible study group here at my house – that’s why I baked 2 desserts the other night – knowing I’d have left overs. So I don’t have to make or bake anything today. I have peach cobbler and the orange olive oil cake to serve.

Posted in Fish, Grilling, on September 8th, 2014.

grilled_shrimp_polenta_cakes_corn_salsa

Don’t be confused that this is shrimp and grits. It has similarities, but it isn’t. The polenta is made ahead and cut into squares (the big shrimp at the top center is sitting on a square polenta cake), but this is a very soft cake with corn in it. Then you make this great corn and green chile salsa to go with it, and with the grilled shrimp. Delish.

Another winner of a recipe from my recent Phillis Carey class that was all about corn. There is a bit of prep to this recipe – you do have to make the polenta ahead of time – an hour or so. It’s a soft, creamy polenta that’s poured into a flat pan and allowed to set. Sort of. It’s still soft, so when it comes time to grill the polenta squares,  you must be very gentle – use a nice thin spatula to pick up the squares then gently place them in a big skillet, or on a flat grill. Then there’s the corn and green chile salsa. Not hard to make, but you do want to grill the pasilla (poblano) pepper and chop it up. You do want to grill the corn, just barely, and mince up the red onion. The shrimp does get marinated briefly in a lime-juice mixture and grilled. So you do have to do some work with each of the three elements. But much of it can be done ahead. If you have someone to do the grilling (the corn first, early, then the shrimp at the last minute) that helps, while you gently brown the polenta cakes just before plating everything.

poblano_peppersPoblano chiles have a unique flavor. It’s a deep, earthy flavor that I love. As I’m writing this I just had lunch at California Pizza Kitchen and I ordered their stuffed poblano chile. Delicious. If you’re not used to buying them, it’s so worth it for this dish. Photo at right came from www.specialtyproduce.com

What’s GOOD: the combo of the corn salsa (and particularly the roasted poblano chile in it), polenta cake and the shrimp – a little bit of each in every bite. Well, just delicious. I think the lime juice contributes a lot to the flavor. It would make a beautiful company dinner – might be a bit much for a weeknight dinner unless you feel like doing a bit more work than usual. It’s all worth it, though. A great dish.

What’s NOT: only thing I can think of is the time it takes to make it all, but that’s it. Flavors are wonderful.

printer-friendly CutePDF

Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Grilled Shrimp and Polenta Cakes with Grilled Corn and Green Chile Salsa

Recipe By: From a Phillis Carey cooking class, 8/2014
Serving Size: 4

SHRIMP:
12 extra large shrimp — cleaned, tails on
1/4 cup grapeseed oil — or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon cilantro — chopped
1 clove garlic — minced
POLENTA CAKES WITH CORN:
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil — or vegetable oil, plus a bit more for cooking the cakes
1 cup onion — finely diced
2 cloves garlic — minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup yellow cornmeal — or polenta Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 ears of corn — perfectly grilled (with grill marks) kernels removed
RELISH:
6 ears of corn — perfectly grilled (with grill marks) kernels removed
2 whole poblano peppers — roasted, peeled, seeded, diced
1 small red onion — finely diced
2 whole limes — juiced
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup grapeseed oil — or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cilantro — finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. SHRIMP: Place shrimp in a bowl and add remaining ingredients. Cover and refrigerate for 30-60 minutes (MAXIMUM). Remove from marinade and thread shrimp on banboo skewers which have been soaked in water for 30 minutes. Grill shrimp 3-4 minutes per side. Remove shrimp from skewers and keep warm.
2. POLENTA CAKES: (Do this several hours ahead if possible.) Oil the bottom and sides of a 9×11 inch baking pan (if you have a nonstick pan, use it)
and set aside. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the wine and cook until completely reduced.
3. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal, stirring so it doesn’t clump and cook until it begins to thicken. Season with salt and pepper, reduce heat to medium, switch to a spatula or wooden spoon and continue cooking, stirring often, until the mixture is smooth and soft, about 8 minutes. If the mixture becomes too thick, stir in some water, but it should be a pourable consistency.
4. Stir in the grilled corn kernels and pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread evenly (it will be thin). Cool to room temp, then cover and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours. May be made a day ahead. Cut the polenta cakes into 4-inch squares.
5. RELISH: Combine the grilled corn, diced chiles, onion, lime juice, honey, oil and cilantro in a medium bowl and season with salt and pepper. Let the relish sit at room temp for at least 30 minutes before serving. It can be made up to 8 hours ahead and refrigerated. Bring to room temp before serving.
6. FINAL PREP: To cook the polenta cakes, heat a stove-top grill or griddle over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Brush the cakes on both sides with oil and season with salt and pepper. Cook the cakes until golden brown (still on medium heat) until they just barely get golden brown and very slightly charred on each side, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Remove to hot serving plates and top each cake with shrimp and some of the relish.
OPTIONS: Add some grated cheddar cheese to the polenta cakes, or Cotija cheese. You may also make the polenta soft, keeping it pourable as you make it and pour some onto each plate then add the shrimp and relish.
Per Serving: 747 Calories; 40g Fat (44.2% calories from fat); 26g Protein; 87g Carbohydrate; 10g Dietary Fiber; 32mg Cholesterol; 109mg Sodium.

Posted in Soups, on September 4th, 2014.

watermelon_gazpacho_feta_crema

All the superlatives I could possibly use – they all apply here. Fantastic, delicious, yummy, amazing, off the charts. The kinds of words that people who advise bloggers to NOT use because they’re over-used . . . well, I’m using them anyway. The other thing I say is: MAKE THIS NOW!

The recipe came from this month’s issue of Bon Appetit. It intrigued me immediately because: (1) I love gazpacho; (2) it uses mostly watermelon (which is a whole lot cheaper than buying several pounds of ripe/heirloom tomatoes); (3) it’s definitely different. Here on my blog there’s another fruit-based cold soup – strawberry gazpacho. But gosh, buying a bunch of strawberries just to make cold soup is also an expensive proposition. But watermelon – hey – it’s relatively inexpensive.

I bought a small seedless watermelon and surprisingly, you don’t use all that much – I didn’t even use half of it to make the full recipe. There are a few tomatoes in this brew, but they don’t predominate – it calls for one large beefsteak. I didn’t have that – I had 2-3 smaller ones and a handful of yellow grape tomatoes. All were ripe and had good flavor – that’s all that matters. The soup mixture goes into a blender – the watermelon, tomatoes, cucumber, jalapeno (use a small one or half if you’re at all sensitive to heat), sherry vinegar and salt (I didn’t add any). That gets whizzed up until it’s a smooth puree. Easy. Chill.

Then you make the garnishes – some chopped up watermelon and cucumbers. The first time I had this I did as the recipe indicated – chunks of both. The 2nd time I cut the garnish into very tiny little chunks (see photo). I think they were easier to eat that way. I also added those things on TOP, so you could see them. The crema stuff is nothing but crumbled Feta (I use Trader Joe’s sheep’s milk one in the blue & white box), some yogurt (or sour cream) and some milk to thin it out so it’s just about pourable. That’s IT. You can make everything ahead – a day ahead even.

I’m going to have to make this again before the summer is gone – it’s just that good. It’s NOT all that sweet – you’d think it would be, but it’s not. Trust me on that part.

What’s GOOD: everything about it is good, plus you can make it the day ahead. The watermelon has a subtle flavor – you don’t really realize it’s watermelon – you might think it’s all tomatoes. The Feta Crema was particularly good – you stir it around in the soup eventually. Altogether wonderful. Do note that it’s 161 calories per serving!

What’s NOT: nothing at all.

printer-friendly CutePDF

Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Watermelon Gazpacho with Feta Crema

Recipe By: Bon Appetit, 8/2014
Serving Size: 6

1 pound watermelon — seedless, rind removed, coarsely chopped (about 3 cups)
1 large beefsteak tomato — coarsely chopped
1 whole hothouse cucumber — peeled, coarsely chopped
1 whole jalapeño — seeds removed, sliced (small)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar — or red wine vinegar
Kosher salt & pepper to taste
1/4 cup almonds — sliced
2 ounces feta cheese — preferably French sheep’s milk, crumbled (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup Greek yogurt, full-fat — or sour cream
3 tablespoons whole milk
2 cups watermelon — seedless, finely minced
1 cup hothouse cucumber — peeled and finely minced
Olive oil (for serving)
Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Purée watermelon, tomato, cucumber, jalapeño, oil, and vinegar in a blender until smooth. [If you're sensitive to chiles, use a very small or half of a jalapeno.]
2. Transfer gazpacho to a large bowl; season with kosher salt and pepper. Cover and chill at least 1 hour before serving.
3. DO AHEAD: Gazpacho can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.
4. Preheat oven to 350°. Toast almonds on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing occasionally, until golden brown, about 7–9 minutes. (Alternatively, you can do this step in a dry small skillet over medium heat.) Let almonds cool, then coarsely chop.
5. Mash feta into yogurt or sour cream in a small bowl until mostly smooth, then whisk in milk.
6. Divide watermelon and cucumber among bowls and pour gazpacho over. Top with crema and almonds, drizzle with oil, and season with sea salt and pepper. DO AHEAD: Crema can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. When I served this, it made about 9 small servings. I forgot to add the olive oil (it wasn’t missed).
Per Serving: 161 Calories; 11g Fat (59.9% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 11mg Cholesterol; 118mg Sodium.

Posted in Uncategorized, on September 2nd, 2014.

It won’t come as any surprise to most of you – my regular readers – that the last 5+ months have been very hard for me. Losing my husband has been and still is just devastating. We had a wonderful, loving partnership and marriage for over 31 years. The first 3 months after his death are kind of a blur. There was SO much to do. So much paperwork I needed to prepare for the trust attorney (and still is ongoing each month until the estate files a final tax return early next year). For a long time I had trouble concentrating on anything, and until my doctor gave me a prescription, I was hardly sleeping, which left me struggling each day, when I’d had but 4-5 hours of sleep the night before. That’s improved with meds, but I can’t take those forever. I’ve tried to not take them and I just wake up 6-8 times a night and in the morning I’m not rested and not altogether here. I miss my husband so very much. He was my partner, my best friend, my helpmate in everything. We shared so much together. The silence in my (our) house was deafening at first. That part is better now, thankfully.

Cooking was the last thing on my mind in those first few months, and to tell you the honest truth, it still isn’t very important in my daily grand scheme. When Dave was alive, I cooked for him. He was – as I tell people – my greatest fan. He was my fan club at the dinner table. He loved whatever I prepared. He selected wine to go with the dinner and occasionally I’d have some. About 10 years or so ago I kind of suddenly lost my appetite for wine. I still drink it very occasionally – and usually only if it’s a good bottle and it’s red. I’ve never had more than a glass of wine, hardly. Maybe a glass of champagne and then a very small glass of red with dinner. That was/is a lot for me. I have a huge wine cellar full of wine – probably 400-500 bottles. I can’t sell it because it’s health has been compromised twice in recent months when the A/C quit and the temperature in the cellar hovered at about 76-80° for days and days waiting to be repaired. That can be a death knell for wine. Several bottles I’ve opened, or guests have opened, have been bad and we’ve had to pour them out.

I’ve still done some cooking here and there. Not every day. I meet friends for lunch frequently, and often I have left overs to take home. Some nights I simply have no will to cook. I’ll make myself a scrambled egg, or I’ve even eaten cold cereal, though that was only once. I’ve cooked when I’ve had houseguests, but my heart isn’t in it. What I crave is comfort food or my old favorites, recipes I’ve posted here before. Or I go to a local Mexican place to have a taco. Or I pick up something at Trader Joe’s or Costco and eat on it all week. I still enjoy eating. I just don’t enjoy making it.

The house has required a lot of care – numerous projects have needed doing. I now have a regular electrician who identified a couple of very dangerous issues with the wiring for the big pool and the jacuzzi. About $2,000 each to replace and get them working safely. I now have a handyman who is working on a long laundry list of things for me, and I’ll be having him come now and then to help with other things. The junk in the garage is daunting. It’s not stuffed full by any means – there is room for 3 cars – but the built-in cupboards are full of things I know little about – tools, equipment from or for the boat, and boxes and bags of bolts, screws, pieces of plastic pipe, wires, etc. All things that need going through and disposing of, or giving away. My cousin Gary is going to help me with that, I think.

I haven’t even been able to face doing anything with Dave’s clothes. Sometimes I still go in there, to his walk-in closet, hunting for his scent, but I can’t find it. I have no will to sort and go through it. Not yet anyway. Our/his sailboat has not sold, and it sits at our yacht club, costing me about $500/month just to float at the dock. So far it hasn’t needed repairs, but then it’s not being used.

My outdoor kitchen is done, and I do hope I’ll have ongoing interest in entertaining. Right now it’s almost overwhelming thinking about it – to invite people over and to prepare a big meal without Dave’s help with planning, doing the grocery shopping (remember? he loved to buy all the food), getting the patio all slicked up and with him at the kitchen sink washing all the piles of dirty dishes I make when I cook, drying them and putting them all away. I owe dinners, or thank-you’s, to many couples who have invited me to dinner at their home, or done something special for me. I’ve written over 200 thank you notes – oh my – was that ever a big job. I just finished that a few days ago. Somebody told me there is a 6-month window to do the thank-you notes. I got it done under the wire.

All this to say that in a few weeks I think I’m going to stop blogging. It’s been 7 years. It’s just too big of a burden for me now. The blog will still be here for awhile – how long, I don’t know. And maybe once in awhile if I cook and make something really wonderful, I will put up a post about it. Maybe I’ll tell you about a movie or a book. I just need a rest. And maybe a permanent rest from blogging. The writing of my posts is fun – that’s what I enjoy the most. It’s therapeutic for me, I think. But for now, cooking isn’t, and that’s what this blog is all about.

The other thing is that my readership has gone down. WAY down. I don’t know why. Maybe because I’ve written more posts about my grieving, although I’ve really done very few. Google’s search engine doesn’t work the way it used to, either. So when someone searches for something – a recipe – my blog doesn’t come up hardly at all. I have about 400-500 readers. And that’s nothing to sneeze at, but it’s not very good in blogging circles. I’ve appreciated all of you – especially those of you who write me notes or post comments. You’re my blog fans. Thank you for being there. Thank you for giving me words of encouragement which I’ve desperately needed, especially in these last difficult 5 months.

My life is really about the same as far as my activities – I do meet friends for lunch frequently. I’m still in 3 book clubs. I’m in a women’s bible study group that meets weekly and takes several hours of homework each week. I’m continuing the bible study group Dave and I started in 2013 as we read through the entire bible in a year. Our small group is going to begin meeting again in about a week. I’m also going to return to singing in our church choir. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a big choir (about 120 voices at the moment) and our choral director has a PhD in choral directing. She’s extremely good at what she does, but being in the choir at our church is a big responsibility – a promise to her of our attendance and attention – and rarely does she select easy music to sing. Each week we have several hours of rehearsal and singing in two services on Sundays. Then there are weekend retreats (one coming up very soon) to get a jump start on singing in the fall months. A couple times a year we have an all-day workday, it’s called. And twice a year there’s a big choir performance of one or several pieces of classical music. C-o-m-m-i-t-m-e-n-t.

Being busy is good for me. I need to keep busy or I fall into a deep emotional valley. It’s a sad place and not easy to climb out of, I’ve found. I trust in God, though, and my continuing prayer, when I’m having a tough day is “lift me up, Lord.” Usually he answers. I’m so grateful for my Christian friends, local and far away. They’ve buoyed my spirits when they flag.

Who knows, maybe in another 6 months I will decide I want to blog again. I don’t know. I just feel that I don’t want to blog right now. I need a rest from it. I hope you’ve enjoyed my writing, and mostly my recipes. If you have recipes you want to download, start thinking about doing it. I’m sure I’ll leave the blog up and available for another year. It does cost money to keep a blog running like mine – under $200 a year, approximately.

If you want to email me privately, it’s ctndt (at) cox.net

Carolyn

Posted in Beef, Grilling, on August 31st, 2014.

cajun_rubbed_steak_maque_choux

You know what “maque choux” is?  Kinda sounds like a sneeze, but no, that’s a French phrase that’s actually Cajun and Native American. Pronounced it’s “mackeh-choo,” sort of. Corn isn’t part of either word. Wikipedia doesn’t exactly define the French words, so I had to go look it up just cuz I’m curious. More literally translated it means “messy pairing,” but in common parlance it’s that corn mixture above. In the American South “everybody” knows what macque-choux means. Phillis Carey made hers with bacon and some heavy cream. I don’t know that those things are traditional. But hey, it absolutely works here and it’s SO good.

In the cooking class, Phillis prepared this with top sirloin steak. Not my most favorite cut. She mentioned that you could use ribeye or even flank steak (I’d marinate the flank a bit in something to tenderize it first – not anything very highly seasoned – then still use the Cajun rub on it too). But with a tender ribeye – oh yes, that’s what I’d use. If you decide to use top sirloin, do cut the slices thinly.

You can barely see that there’s a tiny bit of cream in the corn relish. Mostly I think the cream got boiled down, or maybe my serving just didn’t get all that much. But in any case, the maque-choux is just the best part of this dish. It’s made with fresh corn (if at all possible), bacon, onion, garlic, red bells, green onions and cream. Quite simple. And you can make it the day before if that helps you with timing.

The steaks must be at least 1 1/4 inches thick. That’s imperative for making this dish work. The rub on the steak was also really easy. Below is a recipe for making it, but you can also just buy it. I think Paul Prudhomme makes one, but Phillis recommended the one by Spice Hunter if you can find it at your local store. If you make up a small batch from the recipe, make double, but just use it within a month or two as it doesn’t keep all that long. Be sure to blot the steak well with paper towels before you start. Phillis talked to us about seasoning the steak – usually I would oil the meat then sprinkle on the seasonings. She said no, that’s the wrong way to do it – pat the spices on first, THEN gently spread on the oil. She says the seasonings stick better that way. Who knew?

The steaks are grilled – use whatever method you prefer – allowed to rest for 5 minutes then served with the macque-choux spooned over the center or at one end (i.e., don’t cover the steak with the corn). Phillis also said this dish is just fabulous served ON a bed of mashed potatoes. Hmmm. That sounds really good and I may do it that way next time.

What’s GOOD: the relish is the best part. Get fresh corn if possible, but frozen will work. The corn relish elevates this dish to something very special. The Cajun rub was also very good – I’d use that again on chicken perhaps.
What’s NOT: nothing at all – it’s a fabulous dish.

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Cajun-Rubbed Steak with Maque-Choux and Bacon

Recipe By: From a Phillis Carey cooking class, 8/2014
Serving Size: 5

MAQUE-CHOUX (Corn):
4 ounces applewood smoked bacon — finely diced
1 1/2 cups white corn — or yellow, freshly cut from about 2 ears
1/4 cup onions — chopped
1 tablespoon shallots — minced
1 tablespoon garlic — minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup red bell peppers — diced
1/4 cup green onions — chopped
STEAKS:
2 pounds steak — preferably ribeye, may also use top sirloin (cut 1 1/4″ thick at minimum), or flank steak
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil — or canola
2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning — see recipe below, or buy Spice Hunter’s
Flaky salt to taste
2 tablespoons green onions — chopped (garnish)
2 tablespoons red bell peppers — chopped (garnish)
CAJUN/CREOLE SPICE MIX:
2 1/2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons garlic powder (not granulated)
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoons black pepper

Notes: Phillis made this with top sirloin and served thin slices (1/4 inch) but I’d recommend using a ribeye instead. Do not make this with filet mignon.
1. MACQUE CHOUX: Cook bacon in medium skillet over medium heat, stirring often, until crisp. Remove bacon to paper towels to drain. Add corn to the skillet and saute for one minute. Add onions and continue cooking for one more minute. Add garlic and season with salt and pepper; cook one minute. Stir in the cream, red peppers and green onions and simmer until the mixture is heated through. (Sauce can be made ahead, even a full day – just reheat before serving.)
2. STEAKS: Preheat grill. Sprinkle each steak with the Cajun spice, season with salt and brush or dab on the oil. (Yes, season first, then dab on the oil.) Grill steak 4-7 minutes per side for medium-rare to medium. Let steaks rest 5 minutes, tented with foil. Cut steaks across the grain into 1/2-inch slices and set on a HEATED serving plate. Spoon the corn mixture over the steak slices (down the center or at one end); do not cover the steaks with the corn. Garnish with onions and red bell peppers. Can be served plain or on a bed or mashed potatoes.
Per Serving: 805 Calories; 67g Fat (74.3% calories from fat); 36g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 186mg Cholesterol; 719mg Sodium.

Posted in Grilling, Veggies/sides, on August 28th, 2014.

mexican_style_street_corn_cotija

Previously, I’ve posted a recipe for Mexican Street Corn, but oh gosh, this version is so much better. I really didn’t know how to make it prior to my other attempt at it – just got suggestions from the waitress at a restaurant and glanced at a few recipes online. But this, oh, I’ll be making it several times this summer. Just be sure to have Cotija cheese on hand, cilantro and limes.

Making this dish is actually very simple. You can make up the spice/herb mixture ahead of time (except for adding the cilantro). You can crumble up the Cotija ahead of time and have it chilling in the refrigerator in the pan you’ll use to roll the corn on it. Husk the corn and have that all ready to go too. Fire up the grill and slow-grill the corn. You DO want grill marks (see the photo) but you don’t want to burn it. Don’t put anything on the corn – just grill it, rotating it several times over the course of 15-20 minutes or so. Do watch it carefully.

If you search recipes on the internet for Mexican Street Corn, you’ll find several, but none that do all of the things Phillis Carey did with it in the corn-themed cooking class I went to recently. And Phillis absolutely NAILED it with flavor. Not only the spice mixture (cumin, oregano, garlic) but doing it in the order she did – grill first, lightly film the corn with mayo (so everything after that will stick to it), sprinkle on the spices and cilantro, then roll the corn in Cotija cheese. Serve and pause as you listen for all the “mmmm’s.” Fabulous. Of all the recipes in this particular cooking class, I think this one was the best, by far.

What’s GOOD: all the flavors in combo with the corn. The cheese, the spices, and of course, the delicious sweet corn. This recipe is a winner. Make it, okay?

What’s NOT: not a single thing except that if you’re making this with a dinner and having to do it all, you’ll want to have everything else about your dinner all ready, because you do need to stand over the corn and watch it and turn it, but then, you’ll need to assemble it while it’s still pretty hot.

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Mexican-Style Street Corn with Cotija Cheese

Recipe By: From a Phillis Carey cooking class, 8/2014
Serving Size: 4

4 large ears of corn — husked
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon garlic powder — don’t use “granulated” powdered garlic (too strong)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 cup Cotija cheese — crumbled
2 tablespoons cilantro — minced
1 whole lime — cut in wedges

1. You may grill the corn on an outdoor barbecue or on a stovetop grill pan. Heat grill to medium-high. Grill corn until it’s lightly charred all over and heated through, about 20 minutes, turning the corn often so it doesn’t burn.
2. While the corn is grilling, in a small bowl combine the chili powder, cumin, oregano, garlic powder.
3. When the corn is ready (and still hot), brush each one with the mayonnaise, with a light covering over all sides. Sprinkle the spices all over the corn, then roll each in the crumbled cheese then sprinkle with chopped cilantro. Serve with lime wedges to drizzle over each one.
Per Serving: 192 Calories; 13g Fat (54.8% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 5mg Cholesterol; 106mg Sodium.

Posted in Restaurants, Travel, on August 27th, 2014.

smithsonian_art_museum_atrium

Have you ever been to this Smithsonian? The picture shows the atrium of the American Art Museum (also the Portrait Gallery). On the left is a fascinating pool of water, yet you can step right on/in it and you’re just standing on more of the floor. Little tiny jets push water up and over 3 such pools in the atrium. I may have been more intrigued with that than I was with everything in the museum itself.

This museum happened to be across the street from the hotel where we stayed on our second part of our D.C. trip. We were there for 3 nights and 2 days. Sabrina had almost back-to-back interviews with people, so I found some things to do that didn’t tax my foot too much. After walking around in this museum from top to bottom (3 floors, I think it was) I just happened to spot the water out in the atrium, through a window and went to investigate. I sat out in this atrium for about an hour reading my Kindle, basking in the cool air and listening to the tiny trickle of water. Children could play in

smithsonian_art_pool

the water, they could run up and down the pools, shoes on or off. Each pool of water had but about 1/4 inch of water in it. Interesting feat of engineering.

We weren’t able to get into the Willard Hotel on our 2nd trip to D.C. as there was a huge international conference in town, so we stayed a few blocks away at a Kimpton. I was unimpressed. It must have once been an office building (old) as the hallways were about 10-feet wide. And the bathrooms were  kind of add-ins to the rooms.

shake_shack_burgerOne of the days Sabrina asked if we could eat at a “Shake Shack.” I’d never heard of them. Although, as we walked by it the first day, there were probably 40 people in line outside the place. Really, I thought? The next day we were having a late lunch and the line was way down to do-able. I ordered a burger with bacon. Sabrina wanted to order a shake, and thought she had, but they gave her chocolate ice cream. She wasn’t about to wait in line again, so we shared that. The burger was good, I must admit. Exceptional? Well, I’m not a connoisseur, so I’m not sure. It was tasty, though.

Our last night we went to a fantastic restaurant – Zaytinya. It’s Greek, Turkish and Lebanese, and they serve everything tapas style. We went with Powell’s best friend Doug (the one who works for the Consumer Electronics Institute), his wife (the one who zaytinya_interiorworks for Homeland Security – I made sure to sit next to her so I could ask her lots of questions about her job – most of which she couldn’t answer), and their son. They frequent this restaurant, so we just let her order for all of us. It was amazing food. If I ever go back to D.C. this will be the first stop for dinner. It’s just a block from the museum above, which was across the street from our hotel, so it was really close and easy.

I can’t begin to tell you what we had – the only thing I really remember was a teeny, tiny little lamb-filled pasta – each little orb was about the size of a pencil eraser. Tender? Oh my yes. Full of flavor too. It’s not on the menu, but regulars know to ask. Everything we ate was terrific.

The next morning was our journey home: we got up at 4:15 am in order to leave the hotel at 4:45 to get to the Baltimore Airport in time for a 6:45 takeoff. We flew to San Francisco (remember, Powell upgraded all of us to first class, yippee!), then to Orange County. Arrived about 1pm west coast time. That evening we all went out to dinner with the extended family (Sabrina’s mom drove up to pick her up) and we talked and talked about the trip. It was great. All of it. Thanks to Powell who arranged it all. I was so glad to be home. My own bed felt wonderful. A few days after we got home I saw a podiatrist who gave me a shot of cortisone in my heel. It’s better. Not exactly fine – far from it – but at least I can go grocery shopping or take some similar kinds of walks each day and not end up in pain by afternoon. I’m taking Aleve every day and that helps too. My physical therapist tells me it could be as long as 10 months for it to heal. The dr. took x-rays and said it’s likely a torn plantar fascia or a very badly stretched one. No broken bones. I didn’t think so.

And since I haven’t talked about my grief process lately, I’ll just add that since I came home from this last trip, I’ve felt better. I’m more comfortable in my single-self. In my empty bed. In my quiet house. I don’t have to have music or the TV on anymore to feel okay. I’m still very, VERY busy, which is a good thing. The 5-month anniversary of Dave’s death was last week, and I just kept busy that day and tried not to think about it. I did talk to Dave’s ashes, in the box in the bedroom – I held the box and shed a few tears, but afterwards I was okay. I’m finally getting a better handle on all the records the attorney needs and am able to get them done (monthly) without too much difficulty now. Now that Quicken and I have come to an understanding.

My outdoor kitchen is still waiting for a couple of things to get finished, but it’s been too darned hot to entertain out there anyway. I am going to have a small get-together with a group of my girlfriends – most of them know one another. That’s in a couple of weeks. I’m going to make things that are already on my blog, but I’ll tell you about it when it happens. My sweet friend Nina, who has done my pedicures for years, is going to come and help me. She likes to cook and offered to come. That way I won’t over-tax my foot and she’ll do some serving and clean-up for me. I’ve never had anyone do that except at a couple of really important events years and years ago. Without Dave to help me do some of the set-up and dishes, cleaning the patio, setting tables, etc., entertaining a big group is overwhelming to me right now. So I’ll see how this works out!

Posted in Breads, Brunch, on August 24th, 2014.

apple_mini_muffins_raisins_walnuts

Mostly I’m wishing fall was in the air. But it’s not, and won’t be for a long time in this land of sunshine. So the only thing I can do is start to bake a very typical fall bread. I made this traditional muffin recipe into mini-muffins (max two bites per) and this recipe makes 24 of the cute little things. And yes, they’re delicious.

My Scrabble group was due at my house last week and the hostess usually bakes something. Sometimes we’re overly busy and we might buy something, but usually there’s some kind of bread or muffin served when we Scrabble. I bought a Granny Smith apple, cut the recipe (that made 12 regular sized muffins) in half (I gave away all but one or two of of the 24 the recipe made), added some chopped raisins and walnuts and they came together in a jiffy.

mini_muffins_ready_to_bake

Starting with a recipe from King Arthur Flour, I decided to not use whole wheat flour (I wanted a tender muffin), so I adapted their recipe a bit. The raisins and walnuts were my addition to the recipe, but the basic baking chemistry was all kudos to the King Arthur baking folks at Baking Banter. I didn’t have buttermilk on hand, but I did have Greek yogurt (which was an acceptable substitution in the original recipe). I think their recipe was hand mixed. I used my Kitchen Aid instead. Just don’t over-mix, that’s all. The pan you see in the picture is one of King Arthur’s – they’re bright aluminum looking, but they have some kind of Teflon surface because these muffins slipped out like greased lightning with no pre-greasing. Note that only about a rounded tablespoon of batter went into each muffin cup.mini_muffins_ready_to_bake_2

There’s a close-up of the batter. You can see the corrugated style of the pan. Makes for very easy cleanup, I’ll tell you for sure. If you don’t own any of these, I’d highly recommend you add a few to your Christmas wish list.

A little bit of brown sugar is sprinkled on top just before baking. I don’t know that I’d bother with that the next time – some of the brown sugar spilled out onto the muffin pan surface once the muffins began to rise in the baking process. But no big deal – none of it stuck to the pan.

What’s GOOD: the best part is the tenderness (from the yogurt/acidic dairy). This recipes requires just one apple – a good thing. I liked the raisins in it and the walnuts (neither were in the original recipe – I just added them for texture). This was quick to mix up and bake. Delicious when they were still warm and still really good at room temp. When I served them I heated them up just briefly in a low oven.

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of. These are really tasty. And easy.

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Super Tender Apple Nut Mini-Muffins

Recipe By: Adapted from King Arthur Flour, 2013
Serving Size: 24 mini-muffins

1/4 cup unsalted butter — 4 tablespoons, at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/8 cup brown sugar — divided use
1/2 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk — or 1/2 cup plain (not Greek-style) yogurt; or 3/8 cup Greek-style yogurt + 2 T milk (to equal 1/2 cup)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 cup Granny Smith apple — cored, and chopped; about 1 large apple

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease and flour a mini muffin pan, or line with papers and grease the insides of the papers.
2. Mix together the butter, granulated sugar, and a little more than half of the brown sugar, beating until fluffy.
3. Add the egg and mix well, stopping once to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl.
4. Gently mix in the buttermilk or yogurt.
5. Stir in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
6. Fold in the chopped apples, walnuts and raisins.
7. Using about a rounded tablespoon of batter each, divide among the prepared mini-muffin cups, sprinkling the remaining brown sugar on top.
8. Bake the muffins for 12-15 minutes (mine took 14), or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.
9. Remove the muffins from the oven, cool them for 5 minutes in the pan, then turn them out onto a rack to finish cooling completely.
Per Serving: 59 Calories; 2g Fat (32.2% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 10mg Cholesterol; 56mg Sodium.

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