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me_in_paris_198That’s me, on a trip, in a Paris restaurant.
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Just finished reading a book called Maude by Donna Mabry. It’s a true story (but written as a novel) about the author’s grandmother, Maude. It takes place from the early 1900s to her death in the 1960s. She lived a hard, hard life (mostly in Detroit), and there’s information that even takes me back to things I vaguely remember about my own grandmother’s life. I was fascinated. I won’t say that I couldn’t put it down, but I looked forward each night to read what was going to happen next. It’s hard to tell you much about the book without revealing too much of the story – I won’t call it a happy book, because there is much sadness within its pages, but you admire Maude for what she did, the role she played, her inherent grit. But I wanted to smack her 2nd husband! A good read, though.

While I was on my 3-week trip to Europe, I read 5 books. Of them all, Sgt. Reckless: America’s War Horse by Robin Hutton, was by far the best story, a true story about an American Marine. Many books have been written about Sgt Reckless, this rather nondescript, small Mongolian mare that was purchased by American forces in Korea in the height of the war. She was reared as a race horse, but she spent her career as an heroic soldier for our military, saving countless lives as she willingly delivered munitions from one place to another. Everyone who came in contact with her loved her. She became a regular soldier, mostly so they could requisition food for her. Sometimes she survived on next to nothing to eat. She aimed to please, and please she did, as in one 24-hour period she ferried ammunition up steep slopes (too steep for soldiers to climb) and she did it all by herself. When the Marines unloaded her cargo, she immediately worked her way down for more. She knew what she was supposed to do. She was highly intelligent, amazing many people over the course of her life. If you love animal stories, you’ll love this one. Have a Kleenex box nearby.

When I load a book onto my Kindle, I don’t keep a note about where or how I heard about it. Did someone suggest it to me? Did I read about it on amazon’s site? I wish I kept track. Hence I don’t know why I ordered Born Under an Assumed Name: The Memoir of a Cold War Spy’s Daughter by Sara Taber. Probably the title intrigued me. And the book was interesting, I’ll give it that. Sara Taber grew up in places all over the world as her father, actually a spy, but commonly called a diplomat for the State Department, wherever he was stationed. Much of the book is about her inability to fit in. She was always the new girl in school, or the neighborhood. She was shy. Didn’t have a lot of self-confidence. She lived in Taiwan, Washington, D.C., The Hague, Malaysia (Borneo) and Tokyo. I probably missed a couple in there. She learned to love moving. She adored her father, and some of the story is about his career, though she only learns as a teenager what he really did for a living. Part of the book is her coming-of-age story, part angst about herself and yet she eventually finds success as a writer. And she is a very good writer – a kind of lyrical style. She repeats herself a bit too often and a few words were repetitive throughout. But overall, it was a very interesting read.

For years I used to read a travel column in the Los Angeles Times by Susan Spano. She wrote wonderful stories about her travels. I envied her life. One time she visited Paris for awhile, writing a series about eating and living in France. When that series ended, she didn’t want to come home. So she stayed. And she wrote for other publications. She’s written several books (one on divorce [hers] and another on divorce from the man’s point of view). This book, French Ghosts, Russian Nights, and American Outlaws: Souvenirs of a Professional Vagabond compiles some of her newspaper stories and she weaves in some new ones as well. She’s quite an outdoors woman – loves climbing mountains. I certainly admire that about her. One of the stories was so cute I read it aloud to my group of traveling buddies as we sat around in our Lyon, France flat having a glass of wine one evening. If you enjoy travel writing in general, you’ll enjoy reading this one.

Another really riveting story, one I could hardly put down, is The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam. My friend Joan recommended this one to me. Most likely  you’ve never read anything about Chinese immigrants living in South Vietnam during the war there, right? Neither had I. And you have to keep track of who is who, and the politics of the time. The Vietnamese don’t like Chinese people, so there’s that going on. The Chinese man runs an English school somewhere near Saigon. He has a right hand man who may or may not be what he appears to be. The Chinese man has a son who gets himself into trouble. Oh, webs woven every which way. As I said, I could hardly put it down. Will make a very good book club read.

And lastly, and probably my least favorite, but it certainly tops many charts for its pulp factor, The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty. The premise, a letter written by the husband, is found by the wife, supposedly to be opened after his death, but he isn’t dead, and she opens it anyway. Out springs Pandora’s box. It’s like Peyton Place on steroids. Oh my gosh. How much calamity can happen in a few pages? I wasn’t impressed, but it made for a good airplane read, I suppose.

IN THE POWDER ROOM: The guest half-bath in my house 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).

 

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 Lamb, on May 24th, 2015.

braised_lamb_shanks_carrots

My daughter in law, Karen, is a wonderful cook. More than once my DH and I have been at their home and she served these delicious lamb shanks. Last time she made it was a few weeks ago and I just couldn’t eat it because of my food poisoning (sorry to keep bringing that up, but it really did disrupt my eating style, big time, though I’m fully recovered now), but I did eat some of the gravy and rice she’d served alongside. It tasted wonderful, and she mentioned where the recipe had come from, so I made this myself.

Whenever I go researching for a recipe, I rarely, if ever go to the Joy of Cooking. In years past, I used to, because that was kind of the cookbook bible I had in my younger years, when I owned 10 cookbooks total. But now, I’ve got umpteen hundred cookbooks and I either search online, or I go to my recipe program and look at what recipes I’ve stored in my to-try file (it’s called Internet Recipes there). So, for whatever reason, as I was beginning to eat regular food again, this lamb recipe kept coming up in my head. I figured that it meant I really should make it (the dr. said don’t eat something unless you actually crave it). And I know that a lamb and rice diet is something lots of veterinarians say is easily digestible. So, I bought the ingredients and I made it.

Karen calls this Moroccan Lamb Shanks, but that’s not what the recipe is called in the cookbook, Joy of Cooking. It’s called Braised Lamb Shanks, but it contains a variety of mild Moroccan spices (cinnamon, allspice, cumin, coriander and harissa). And the recipe calls for carrots and winter squash. I decided not to add the winter squash to it, just because, but I used rainbow carrots, and I added celery, which wasn’t in the recipe. And it made a marvelous gravy – according to the recipe, the collagen in the bones helps thicken the braising liquid (chicken stock and white wine), and it does. Not a lot, but it makes a slightly thickened sauce that’s perfect over rice or mashed potatoes, which is what sounded good to me.

In the Joy cookbook, Rombauer has you bake the lamb shanks for 1 1/2 hours at 300°. I took the lazy woman’s approach and did the whole thing in my small slow cooker (actually it’s my risotto cooker that has a slow cooker function). It was perfect for making 2 lamb shanks, which was more than enough for me for 2-3 meals. So, in the recipe below, I’ve included a paragraph at the bottom with the instructions for making it in the slow cooker.

The prep work really took very little time – I browned the lamb shanks for awhile, removed them, sautéed the thinly sliced onions, added in the garlic at the last (I used ample) and the spices. Then you add the liquids, some tomato paste, heat that up, then add back in the lamb shanks. I set it to cook on the slow setting for about 6 hours. Twice I picked up the lid and turned the lamb shanks over, because they weren’t submerged in liquid, only up about halfway. Then I added the carrots and celery, and let that cook for about 45 minutes to an hour and it was ready to serve. At the very last you add in some fresh lemon juice, some harissa and the final dish is sprinkled with freshly chopped mint. Done. And it was every bit as good as I remembered. The gravy is a lovely medium-brown color and drizzles well over whatever carbs you might want to serve with this.

As for the lamb shanks, I happened to go to Sprouts to buy my ingredients (I don’t often shop there, but I figured they’d have lamb shanks) and sure-enough, they had some grass fed lamb shanks. They were on the smaller side, but perfect for me. Lamb shanks aren’t cheap food anymore – each small one was about $4.00. If you’re feeding hungry teenagers they’d have wanted 2 of these smaller ones. But with lots of veggies and carbs to go with it, you might be able to get away with just one per hungry person.

What’s GOOD: several things: (1) the flavoring/gravy is divine; (2) I did it in a slow cooker, so it was super-easy; (3) it’s good enough to serve to guests, even. Good enough reasons to try it? I’ll be making this again.

What’s NOT: really nothing at all – if you don’t want to use a slow cooker, just bake in the oven for 1 1/2 hours; otherwise, set this for 6 hours and then add the veggies and plan for another hour and it’s ready to serve.

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Braised Lamb Shanks with Carrots

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Joy of Cooking
Serving Size: 4

1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil — to brown the lamb shanks
2 tablespoons olive oil — to brown the onions (and you may not need it)
2 large onions — halved and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 Pinch ground cinnamon
1 Pinch ground allspice
2 cups chicken stock — or lamb stock or broth or water
1 cup dry white wine
1/8 cup tomato puree
2 cups carrots — sliced
2 cups winter squash — such as butternut or Hubbard, peeled and diced [I didn’t use this]
2 cups celery — chopped [not in original recipe]
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint — or 2 tablespoons dried mint
1 teaspoon harissa — [original calls for double this amount]

1. Preheat the oven to 300°F. Trim most of the external fat from: lamb shanks. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Heat olive oil in large Dutch oven over high heat. Add shanks and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. Remove the shanks and keep warm. Pour off the fat, then add additional olive oil, onions and garlic (at the last, so it doesn’t burn).
3. Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook, stirring often, until the onions are quite soft, then sprinkle with all the spices. Stir to coat the onions, then add stock, white wine and tomato puree.
4. Increase the heat and bring to a boil. Return lamb shanks to the pan, cover and bake until the meat is almost falling off the bone, 1-1 1/2 hours.
5. Add carrots and winter squash. Cover and bake until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes more.
6. Remove the meat and vegetables to a platter and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. Skim off the fat from the surface of the sauce. Add lemon juice, mint and harissa. (The collagen in the bones should produce a velvety slightly thick sauce. If it’s not thick enough, you can reduce it further, but don’t season any further until you’ve done that.) Taste and adjust seasonings. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables. Serve with orzo, rice pilaf, braised lentils or white beans. [I served it with mashed potatoes in order to enjoy more of the flavorful sauce.] SLOW COOKER: Brown lamb shanks, remove, then add onions. Cook for 4-5 minutes until softened, then add garlic for about a minute. Add seasonings, then chicken broth and all the spices and tomato paste. Stir well. Bring mixture to a boil, add lamb shanks and place in slow cooker for about 6 hours on low. Add carrots (and celery, if using) and cook another hour or so until carrots are just fork tender. Add lemon juice, harissa and sprinkle with mint when serving.
Per Serving: 268 Calories; 14g Fat (54.2% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 23g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 1722mg Sodium.

Posted in Soups, on May 20th, 2015.

 

ginger_basil_turkey_meatball_soupHere it is, May, and in SoCal, it’s been downright cold. So soup was the order of the day.

Since returning from my trip, it’s taken me awhile to catch up on all the blogs I read. I hate to tell you how many. At least 50. And some of them post multiple times a day, like Food52 and AppAdvice. But Dorie Greenspan only posts once in awhile, and when I saw this recipe for soup, it just leaped out of the screen saying “fix me.” Dorie wrote this up in her Washington Post column. So, even though I wasn’t feeling good, or maybe it was really because I wasn’t feeling good (as I’m writing this, I’ve been down sick with a bad cold for about 5 days) anything soup + chicken (or turkey) sounded good to me.

It did require a trip to the grocery store – I needed numerous fresh veggies (I used fresh mushrooms, a bag of baby spinach, and a fresh bag/pack of broccoli, snow peas, and carrots). I also needed fresh ginger and  enough shallots to measure 1/2 cup. And, freshly ground turkey and riccotta cheese and Thai rice noodles. Plus fresh mint and fresh cilantro. Actually, that was a lot, but I made it a quick trip in and out.

First you make the meatballs – the ground turkey (the store didn’t have the dark turkey mix, only light), ricotta, ground ginger, fresh garlic (I probably used more than the recipe called for – isn’t garlic supposed to be good for a head cold?). Eggs are added to bind the mixture together, along with some bread crumbs, salt and pepper, fresh lemon zest and the shallots. Dorie recommended using a cookie scoop to make the meatballs because they’re sticky – they do require a little bit of light rolling in your palms to make them round and you drop them into the 10 cups of chicken broth. I used my Penzey’s soup base for the broth, and I also added a little dollop of the mushroom soup base I have in my refrigerator just because it’s full of flavor. I had to cook the meatballs in 2 batches, about 12-14 of them in each batch. They don’t want to touch or they might attach to each other. The broth is kept at a very low simmer, and the meatballs cook in about 10 minutes. Then they’re removed. The broth, at this point, is a bit cloudy from little tiny pieces of things from the meatballs. Dorie suggested you can strain it at this point. I didn’t. Too lazy. Meanwhile, I prepped all the veggies (the bag-packed mixed veggies needed some chopping, the box of crimini mushrooms sliced, the herbs minced). Meanwhile you soak some Thai rice noodles. This was the first time I’d used Thai rice noodles (she recommended Taste of Thai, which I found at the market). They’re soaked for 20 minutes in hot water, then cooked in a separate pot for 4 minutes before being added to the soup.

The only thing I’ll tell you about rice noodles is that they go from cooked just right to sludge in a matter of half a minute. So watch them carefully as you cook them for 4 minutes. Since the noodles are long, I chopped them some after soaking them (to make them mouth-manageable) and I didn’t use anywhere near as much as Dorie did – 8 ounces makes a lot of noodles. Fine for a family with carb-hungry children, but I didn’t want that much. I was in it for the meatballs and the vegetables! I’ve left the recipe below as-is, so you can decide if you want to use that much of the rice noodles.

The veggies are added in (carrots first if you want them to be mostly cooked through) and lastly the meatballs to just heat through. It all came together pretty easily. You serve it with ample fresh herbs (I used cilantro and mint), a drizzle of sesame oil (yum) and you can add some sriracha sauce too, and soy sauce if you’re so inclined. Do taste for seasonings – my soup needed more salt and pepper.

What’s GOOD: the word that comes to mind is FRESH. Loved all the veggies and the little drizzle of sesame oil at the end gave it a lovely hint of Asia. Choose veggies you like – carrots add nice color. The fresh herbs are a must – don’t NOT do that part as they impart lots of flavor. The meatballs are, well, turkey meatballs. Good. Not exactly exceptional, but good. Certainly this soup is super-healthy. The only fat in it is what might be in the chicken broth, the tiny bit in the ground turkey and the tiny jot of sesame oil at the end. Make sure your chicken broth is flavorful, otherwise it will be a bit ho-hum.

What’s NOT: nothing in particular. The meatballs take a little bit of time to make, but only about 15 minutes. If you buy ready-to-cook veggies, it’s pretty easy, really.

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Ginger, Cilantro and Garlic Turkey Meatball Soup

Recipe By: Dorie Greenspan’s recipe from her column in Washington Post, 2015
Serving Size: 6

2 1/2 quarts low sodium chicken broth
2 large eggs
1/2 cup ricotta cheese — (full fat) excess liquid drained
1/2 cup shallots — finely chopped, or onion, rinsed in cold water and patted dry
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro — or basil
1/4 cup bread crumbs — plain dried {I used fresh, whizzed in the food processor]
2 cloves garlic — finely chopped
1 teaspoon grated ginger root — peeled, grated
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound ground turkey — preferably organic (light or dark meat; may substitute chicken)
8 ounces rice noodles — (dried) such as Taste of Thai straight-cut thin rice noodles (you can opt to not use it all)
4 cups vegetables — sliced and/or shredded mixed vegetables, such as carrots, onions, broccoli, sugar snaps or snow peas, mushrooms, cabbage, mustard greens, kale and spinach
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup fresh herbs — chopped, such as cilantro, basil, parsley and/or mint, for serving Sriracha (optional)
Soy sauce (optional)
Toasted sesame oil to drizzle on top (optional)

1. For the meatballs: Bring the broth to a boil in a large pot over medium-high heat, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to medium-low while you put the meatball mixture together.
2. Use a fork to break up and lightly beat the eggs in a large bowl. Add the ricotta, shallots or onion, cilantro or basil, bread crumbs, garlic, ginger, lemon zest, salt and pepper, stirring to blend. Add the ground meat; use the fork and then your clean hands to turn and gently combine the mixture, which will be sticky.
3. Use a medium cookie scoop (one with a capacity of about 1 1/2 tablespoons) — my favorite tool for this — or a tablespoon measure to scoop out 24 to 30 portions. Roll them between your palms to shape into meatballs.
4. Uncover the pot of broth; drop in the meatballs, adjusting the heat as needed so the broth barely bubbles at the edges; cook for about 10 minutes, turning the meatballs over once, until cooked through. (Depending on the size of your pot, you might have to do this in batches.) Use a slotted spoon to transfer the meatballs to a large bowl. The meatballs sink to the bottom when first added; as they cook they rise to the top.
5. After the meatballs are done, the broth will be a little murky. If you’d like it to be clearer (I always do), line a strainer with dampened cheesecloth (or a triple layer of dampened paper towels) and pour the broth through. Rinse out the pot and return the broth to it.
6. For the soup: Put the rice noodles in a large bowl and cover them with very hot tap water. Soak for 20 minutes, replacing the water after 10 minutes.
7. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Just before you’re ready to serve the soup, drop in the soaked noodles; cook until tender, about 4 minutes (but NOT any longer than that). Drain. (This step will help prevent the noodles from absorbing too much of the soup broth.)
8. Meanwhile, reheat the broth over medium-high heat; once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium. Drop in the cooked meatballs; let them warm through for 5 minutes, then stir in the 4 cups of vegetables and cook for 5 minutes or until they are tender. (If you’re using carrots, they’ll remain slightly firm.) Taste, and season with salt and pepper as needed.
9. Divide the noodles among deep soup bowls. Ladle over the broth, meatballs and vegetables. Scatter the herbs on top, and, if you’d like, let everyone have a go at the Sriracha, soy sauce, toasted sesame oil or olive oil. Serve hot.
Per Serving: 422 Calories; 11g Fat (23.4% calories from fat); 37g Protein; 43g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 141mg Cholesterol; 1381mg Sodium.

Posted in Travel, on May 18th, 2015.

gruyere_valley_view

It seemed like any way one turned, there was beautiful scenery. That’s just the way it is in Switzerland. Especially in the spring when the grass has that unique hue that means brand new spring growth. Nothing like it.

When most people think of Gruyere, they think of the cheese. Which is one of my go-to cheeses when I want/need lots of flavor, but I don’t want Parmigiano-Reggiano. Gruyere cheese has a nuttiness about it, and it gives lots of depth of flavor not provided by most of the other cheeses of similar types. My friend Joanne, who lived in Geneva for a few years with her family, recommended to me (when I asked her about her favorite gruyere_hotel_viewplaces to visit in Switzerland) that we go/stay in Gruyere. I did research, and we ended up staying in a hotel that’s just off to the right in that picture above. When you enter Gruyere – the main city-town is down below in that valley, but this is the old town with its ubiquitous castle. I was standing on the castle grounds when I took the photo above. You drive up to the old town and there’s a little tiny parking lot there and if you look carefully there was a tiny little lane (another one of those do-not-enter things) telling us if we were staying at the Hotel de Gruyeres, enter here, to a small little private parking lot. The hotel was a sweet little place and just fine for our needs. Warm duvets and a nice breakfast.

we_4_gruyereWe walked up the short hill and onto the main cobblestoned street (in picture at left, closed to vehicles). It is an adorable village with lots of little shops.

I ended up buying a beautiful table runner in one of the shops on the left side. The owner designs her own fabrics, and if I could have, I’d have purchased 4-5 of them, but they were more than pricey, so one was fine! I just took photos of both of the table runners I purchased (one here in Gruyere, the other at Giverny in France) and I think I’ll write up a absinthe_swissseparate post about them since I’d like to use full-sized photos. Those of you who are interested in such things can see them better. At one of the stores they were selling absinthe (photo at right). I know we can buy it now, in some new form that isn’t a a poison, but here they offered it plain or with eggs (like egg nog?). Really? Uh, no, I didn’t buy any.

Anyway, we wandered all over the castle town, in and out of shops. Finally we got to the end of the street and walked up a rather steep grade to the castle entrance. For a nominal price we watched a video (with language translation via headphones) about the history of Gruyere, which was very interesting, then we walked through all the rooms of the castle and out the back side overlooking the valley, and the gardens. We had dinner in the town, at a cute little restaurant at the far end of the street. Cherrie and I shared an entrée of mac and cheese (yes, that’s what the menu said) with a salad. It didn’t agree with us at all and both of us got sick during the night or by morning. (This was not the food poisoning we got on our last day in Paris – this was just a 24-hour thing). In the morning Cherrie and I stayed in our rooms trying to recover while Joan and Darlene drove down into the town of Gruyere to see the cheese factory. Cherrie and I both needed rest for as long as we could. Once we got underway, I managed to drive (I don’t know how, other than I knew Joan really didn’t want to drive, and she was the only other authorized driver). swiss_mountain_roads

Some of the prettiest scenery we saw on the back roads. That was one of my main considerations as I plotted our trip plans for Switzerland, wending our way up hills, down into valleys, all with gorgeous vistas of the snow-capped mountains around us. That’s our rental car, a station wagon. It was a brand new Audi, and it was a dream to drive.

stone_floor_gruyere_castle

Photo at right is one of the floors in the castle. Goodness, the hard work that went into creating that floor of equally sized, smooth stones, laid up on their edges, and in a very intricate pattern. Made me think about my favorite book I’ve ever read, The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. It’s about the building of a cathedral in England, but it’s certainly similar to Medieval castles. We just loved Gruyere. The weather couldn’t have been more beautiful and the town itself oozes charm. If you’ve never been there, you should. Thank you, Joanne, for insisting that’s where we should go! A great destination. Not for any length of time – there isn’t much to do, but it’s a very quintessential European village high up in the Alps.

Posted in Miscellaneous, on May 16th, 2015.

tartar_sauce_with_cottage_cheese

Don’t stick up your nose at the title of this – I know what you’re thinking – how could tartar sauce made with cottage cheese taste like anything? Well, I might have been in that camp, but laziness on my part made me inventive.

You see, I didn’t want to go to the store to buy sour cream. Or, yuk, to buy ready-made tartar sauce, which I think is awful. So, since I did have cottage cheese in the refrigerator (full fat type), I decided to snoop around on the ‘net to see if anyone had devised a recipe that was palatable. I took ideas from a couple of different recipes, and  used different proportions. I didn’t want a lot – it’s just me these days – and I had just one piece of salmon to eat.

What I wanted was a tartar sauce similar to what you’re served in a restaurant, which  usually is made fresh daily. So, I fiddled with what to add, a little jot here and there, and it tasted pretty darned good. Generally, I don’t buy “diet” labeled items, and I don’t necessarily stint on using butter (in moderation) when it’s needed. And I’d have used sour cream if I had it; but I didn’t. I’d have  used yogurt, except what I have in the refrigerator is sweetened slightly, and I didn’t think that would taste good with salmon! So, you see, I made do.

The capers are essential – they add a little sour taste and a briny flavor from their juices. And the pickle relish is also essential for me. But you can jiggle the proportions to suit your taste if you’d like. The cottage cheese kind of flew around inside my little tiny food processor, and the part that stuck to the lid was still little curds, so I didn’t scrape that down or use it in the finished sauce. Just the part that got whizzed well until it was smooth (remember, I wanted it to taste like sour cream). I tasted, add more lemon juice, more pepper, then scraped it out into a bowl, with some going into that little ramekin in the photo. If I’d had fresh dill I would have added it, but I didn’t. You could add dried dill.

What’s GOOD: I was almost amazed at how good this was. Of course, it’s not like the real thing, but salmon has a lot of flavor all on its own, so the tartar sauce was just fine. And yes, I’d make it again if I needed to. Note that there is a tiny bit of mayo in it – I think that helped. I used regular Best Foods/Hellman’s because that’s all I have in my refrigerator.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. No, it’s isn’t like the real thing, but it’s pretty darned close!

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

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Tartar Sauce made with Cottage Cheese

Recipe By: My own concoction, but based on several internet ones.
Serving Size: 2

1/3 cup cottage cheese (full fat)
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons sweet pickle relish
1 tablespoon capers
1 teaspoon chives — minced

1. In a small food processor combine the cottage cheese, mayo, lemon juice, pepper and mustard. Whiz until you can no longer see any cottage cheese curds, and it’s smooth.
2. Scrape out into a bowl and stir in the pickle relish, chives and capers. Taste for seasonings. Chill for 30 minutes or more to blend the flavors. Will keep for several days.
Per Serving: 93 Calories; 7g Fat (62.1% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 6mg Cholesterol; 288mg Sodium.

Posted in Travel, on May 14th, 2015.

funicular1_jungfraujoch

This photo above is taken at some of the lower altitudes of the trip. You can board a train in Interlaken, or stay in villages part way up the mountain. Some are closed to auto traffic, but Lauterbrunnen is not.

It only took us a couple of hours to drive from Brienz to Lauterbrunnen. The town is so small you can’t miss your hotel as there aren’t very many. But it’s a twisty, windy road getting there, up through a narrow valley, then up and up until you come to the little plateau that is Lauterbrunnen. We stayed at the Hotel Staubbach. A very cute little place, with several floors of rooms. Maybe 50+ rooms. Not sure, really. Very clean, comfortable. Not luxurious, but more than adequate. The manager was English, so we had no language difficulties! We checked into the hotel, then immediately headed for the train station, close to the hotel. It took us 4 1/2 hours to make the round trip journey up to the top of the Jungfraujoch. From Lauterbrunnen you wend up steep valleys, finally up to Kleine Sheidegg, a place where every train coming in stops. You get off there, transfer to a different track, then get on the funicular that shortly takes you up the mountain.

ice_window_view

About 90% of the way up the mountain the funicular stops at the Ice Window. They explain that you have 5 minutes to run out and get back on. Everybody runs out to the window at the end of a carved wide tunnel to the edge of the mountain. It’s glassed in, and they keep it very clean so you can take good photos.

If you’re interested in the whole history of the region, and about the Eiger (one of the mountain peaks, and the subject of the movie The Eiger Sanction) click on this Wikipedia link. It tells you all about the railway (interesting) and about the building of the tunnel going up inside (amazing). At the top you exit the funicular at 11,332 feet. The minute I stepped off the train I felt dizzy. I don’t do too well at high altitudes – have had a problem with that even when I was a young child. I held onto Joan, I think, and I went into the building that’s up there at the top, jungfraujoch_topfound a place to sit and I just sat while we were up there. I felt that was best. Since this was the 3rd time I’ve been up there, it wasn’t like I needed to hike all around outside. Cherrie wasn’t feeling very good herself, so she and I both just sat down and looked at the gorgeous view. Darlene and Joan, having never been there before, went outside and hiked up and down the steep steps and trails. Darlene bought me a hot chocolate which tasted good. Then we got in line to take the return trip down to Kleine Sheidegg, and then on to Lauterbrunnen.

lauterbrunnen_viewAt left is another view from way up at the top, looking down the glacier. Every direction had spectacular views. It was a perfect day – cold, but clear and sunny. Couldn’t have asked for better weather, actually.

On our way down a middle-aged man and teenaged boy came into the small area where we were on the train, and the dad turned to the 4 of us girls and said – “excuse me, but I need to take my pants off.” I don’t know what we said or squealed, but immediately he said “not to worry, I have another layer on underneath.” He and his son had been snowboarding all day, something they do for 4-5 days every year and he needed to remove his heavy-weight pants. They were from England. The son fell sound asleep, so we had a nice conversation with the dad all the way down the hill. Picture at right was the view one direction from our hotel. So very pretty. Pastoral.

That night we went to a German restaurant a few blocks away from our hotel, had a nice enough meal, though it was very noisy. I think Darlene ordered cheese fondue. I think I had salad. Hard to talk, it was so noisy and crowded. We all slept well, and met early in the morning for our next journey. Off we went to Gruyere.

Posted in Desserts, on May 12th, 2015.

raw_apple_bundt_cake

As I am recovering from my food poisoning – wow, has it been a long haul (as I write this it’s been 17 days, but hopefully by the time you read this I’ll be fully recovered!) – if you are just sick for an overnight, or 2 days, it’s not food poisoning. True food poisoning generally lasts about 2 weeks, and then some. I’m nowhere near as ill as I was when I first got home from my trip, but I still have occasional pain in my stomach and some food just doesn’t sound good – mostly meat and vegetables. And salads. It’s hard to find things other than lots of white food (chicken seems to be okay) that I can eat that doesn’t cause the pain. (The only good news is that I’ve lost 6 pounds.) Anyway, sorry about that detour – I was so happy the day I made this – I actually wanted to bake, and I was having my bible study group over, so a perfect occasion to create something to share. And the cake tasted wonderful, even with the nuts, which I wasn’t so sure would agree with my tummy.

chopped_apple_cake_closeupWhen I designed my kitchen in my house (this was in 2006) because I had plenty of room, I created a kind of baking center on one side. My stand mixer, blender, toaster and food processor all hide in an appliance garage. The oven is a few feet away. All my baking needs are in the drawers below the countertop, and the drawer dishwasher (meaning that it’s half-high) is built into the island, so literally I just have to turn around. There’s also a small sink one step away too, so the dirty bowls and stuff get rinsed off and go right into the dishwasher. That also makes it easier, too, when the dishes are clean, they’re all put away without hardly taking a step. The dishwasher was planned mostly for wine glasses – it has a china/light cycle and it does a beautiful job of spotlessly cleaning the lovely Riedel glasses that grace the bar shelves in the family room. Whenever I entertain, all the wine glasses go into that dishwasher because it does such a good job – it’s a KitchenAid, fyi.

So, I went through my huge to-try recipes for a dessert that sounded good to me. I suppose I could have made anything, but hey, I’m the cook, I get to choose! I had some apples on hand (Granny Smith) which I’d intended to make applesauce with (you know, I was on the BRAT diet – bananas, rice, applesauce and toast during the early stage of my food poisoning) but never got around to preparing it. Bingo, this recipe just moved to the top of the list.

raw_apple_bundt_sliceHopefully you already read Elise Bauer’s website, Simply Recipes. She’s a wonderful cook, and I’ve made many of her recipes over the years. And this one she did in 2008 but I just hadn’t gotten around to trying. That’s corrected now and it will be a keeper.

She gives the credit for the recipe to someone named Mrs. Paxton from Virginia. But Elise mentions she’s made it a lot over the years. Did I say this was a keeper? Yes, indeed. It’s nothing all that unusual to make, although it uses oil as the fat in it. It has toasted walnuts and coconut in it. I didn’t have fresh coconut, so Elise says to soak regular sweetened coconut in water, then drain. All done in the stand mixer, poured into a greased and floured bundt pan and baked a long time. My only caution – make sure it’s done before removing from the oven – I have a taller, less-wide bundt pan, and the 1 hour baking wasn’t quite enough. The batter closest to the center tube of the bundt is that last place it cooks through. I used a cake tester, but I didn’t poke it enough just near the center tube, so it was just a bit under-done there. But it was fabulous. In every way. The glaze isn’t a necessity, but adds a lovely touch to it, especially if you like things sweet. Next time I make it I probably will reduce the sugar in the cake part by just a tablespoon or two – with the glaze, it makes it pretty darned sweet. But altogether good nonetheless.

What’s GOOD: For the third time, did I say this is a keeper? Yes. Delicious in every way. Do chop up the apple in little pieces, like 1/3 inch at the max, even smaller if you can make the time. The apples do stay in place in the batter – all over – and don’t sink to any one place. It’s a thick batter anyway. The glaze is delightful, especially if you have a pretty bundt pan with lots of grooves. I couldn’t get the cake to accept all the glaze, so used the last of it to sweeten the whipped cream I made. I think vanilla ice cream would be best with this, which is what Elise recommends. I had some salted caramel gelato, and those who had that thought it was a wonderful combo. I still vote for vanilla ice cream. I think the cake was even better the 2nd day.

What’s NOT: not a single thing – it does take awhile to bake and you need to test it during its last 15 minutes of baking. It also takes awhile to cool because it’s a dense cake. Make a day ahead if you can but don’t glaze until close to serving time.

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Mrs. Paxton’s Raw Apple Bundt Cake

Recipe By: A Mrs. Paxton, from Lexington, Virginia, but from Simply Recipes blog
Serving Size: 12

1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
3 eggs — slightly beaten
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups apples — peeled, chopped SMALL (Granny Smith, Gravenstein, Fuji)
1 cup coconut — (the sweetened fresh grated not the dried. If you use dried, soak first in water for 20 minutes, then drain well.)
1 cup chopped walnuts — toasted
GLAZE:
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons milk

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Beat together the sugar and oil. Add the eggs. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Add dry ingredients to wet batter in thirds, beating to incorporate after each addition. Mix in the vanilla, apples, coconut, and chopped nuts.
3. Bake in a greased and floured bundt cake pan about 1 hour or more (it depends on the size and shape of the bundt pan). If the cake mounds up above the cake pan, it may need about 75 minutes.) Test around the centers (the center, closest to the hole in the middle, is the last part to bake through) with a long thin bamboo skewer or toothpick to make sure the cake is done. Or use an instant read thermometer – it should be close to 200°F).
4. When cool enough to handle, gently remove from pan. Let sit on a rack to cool completely. If the dough has raised substantially around the middle areas of the bundt ring, you may need to use a bread knife to gently level off the cake so that it sits even. [Mine did mound up, but it was even all the way around, so it sat on the cake plate just fine.]
5. Just before glazing, combine glaze ingredients and cook until melted. Place the cake on its serving dish. Carefully prick all around the top of the cake with a fork so that when the glaze is applied it easily seeps into the cake. Use a pastry brush to apply the glaze liberally around the surface areas of the cake, or use a spoon to drizzle the glaze on the cake. [I didn’t use all the glaze – it just wouldn’t take any more – so I used some of the glaze, heated up later and slightly cooled, to sweeten the whipped cream I served on the side.] Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
Per Serving: 688 Calories; 41g Fat (52.4% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 76g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 64mg Cholesterol; 362mg Sodium.

Posted in Travel, on May 10th, 2015.

wine_on_the_terrace_grandhotel_giessbach

All those smiles are genuine. We were pinching ourselves at the beauty of this hotel and our location. In the sunshine, it felt like the temperature was in the low 50s, I think, but once the sun tipped below the mountain we were positively COLD. We’d ordered drinks and the waitress kindly took a picture of the four of us. We had a grand time at the Grandhotel Giessbach.

After doing our ferry ride around Lake Lucerne, we drove south. Not far. The GPS was still set to keep us off the autobahn, so we grandhotel_giessbach_roomkeymeandered in and through lots of little villages as we headed toward Brienz. This hotel was not a place I’d stayed before, but when I searched for places to stay in and around Brienz, all I remembered was how pretty the lake was, though in years past Dave and I had driven around the lake, not up the mountains there at all. I chose the hotel after reading reviews on Trip Advisor. Reservations were made just as the hotel was closing up last fall, but the owner was kind enough to keep looking at email once I told her we were about to book 4 rooms.

We approached the hotel from behind the mountain, on a narrow lane leading up over a pass (at about 500 feet above the valley below), then we all-of-a-sudden came into view of the lake and we gasped. Wow. Stunning. We parked the car beside the hotel and trudged our bags on little trolleys (like in airports) which they had in the parking lot. As we came around the front of the hotel, here’s what it looks like:

grandhotel_giessbach_brienz

The hotel had only been open a few days, for the beginning of the “season.” All of us had rooms up on the 3rd floor (for Americans, that’s the 4th floor). It’s a grand old hotel – combining some of the charming décor of Switzerland and some of Victorian. Our rooms were very nice. And when we got to our rooms, and I walked over to the window, opened them, this is the picture I took.

view_from_grandhotel_giessbach

To say I was in awe is hardly strong enough. I could not believe how beautiful it was. And the rooms weren’t that expensive; at least we all felt they were worth every penny. Of course, we were there somewhat off season in April, so probably it’s more expensive closer to summer.

wine_glasses_terrace

After we got situated in our rooms, and all took a little rest, we decided to meet for cocktails on the terrace. Darlene took this photo at left, as we sat on the terrace. I was having prosecco and Darlene ordered white wine. We moved inside after awhile because it was just a bit too cold.

We were all in heaven. It was just so beautiful. Special. We were living in the moment as we listened to the waterfall (off to the left in the pictures – I took a photo of it, but it wasn’t all that pretty, but it offered lovely ambient sound).

We joked around with the waiter and waitress – since the season was newly opened, the employees were very jovial and helpful. Darlene has an intensely curious mind, and asks questions of everybody. The hotel is old, and although it’s been renovated over the years, it still has that old-world feeling to it.

At right (below) is a photo of the lobby and bar. We loved the circular winding staircase. It did have an elevator too, for which we were grateful. Darlene is there at left, quizzing the bartender about something.

After enjoying our cocktails, we went into the dining room and had a wonderful dinner. Sometimes we chose the tourist menu – a first course, a second course and dessert. This time we ate light (my notes say we did) but we did enjoy a chocolate dessert our waiter just insisted we must have. Darlene tried to say the name of it in German, and had the waiter in hysterics at grandhotel_giessbach_lobbyher crazy pronunciation. It was a 3-course chocolate dessert with 3 small plates of things, all chocolate of course. Very delicious. What I wrote in my notes is: schlotz chafer flokken. I have no clue if that’s even close to what they were saying. Schlotz is cream. Chafer is probably really choc something (for chocolate). Flokken? No idea!

The next morning we went to the dining room for the included breakfast. Oh my, was it ever fabulous. I love the real-thing muesli of Switzerland. Not the dried stuff we buy here. No, this is the kind you make with dried oatmeal, soaking it overnight in yogurt, then adding dried fruits, fresh fruits and nuts. Maybe even coconut. Theirs was so delicious. The fresh bread was divine – they do such a nice presentation of bread – they lay it out on a bread board with a napkin laying over the top of the bread so as you grasp it to slice off a piece, you’re not putting your germs onto the rest of the loaf. We loved their seeded baguette loaf. Extra delicious. And the butter. Oh gosh was it ever good too. Almost everywhere we went we were served croissants, and most mornings I had one. So did we all. Then they had everything under the sun, hard boiled eggs, soft boiled eggs, ham, salami, cheeses, fruits or all kinds, yogurt, jams. Everything. After breakfast Joan went for a short walk on a lovely trail nearby. We were ALL sad to leave – we wished we could have stayed here another night. But we had to get going.grandhotel_giessbach_view_patio

Just one more spectacular view from the lower terrace. Everywhere we looked, the view was breathtaking.

We wended our trolleys back out to the parking lot and loaded our bags in and off we went.  On the way back over the backside of the mountain, this was the view of the other side. swiss_lake_viewThat photo at right is so quintessential Switzerland. Snow capped mountains. A lovely small lake, pretty little villages. Green grass. Beautiful.

Next stop, Lauterbrunnen.

Posted in Travel, on May 8th, 2015.

lake_lucerne_spring_flowers

No credit here with my camera – no, my friend Darlene took this picture, and isn’t it stunning? That’s looking across the lake, at the city of Lucerne. Obviously spring was in full bloom, grass was greening, and it was COLD. In the sun, that day, it wasn’t bad at all, but in the shade you knew it was in the 40s.

To backtrack just a bit, after leaving Matera, in southern Italy, Joan, Tom and their granddaughter Lauren and I drove back to Rome. Tom turned in the rental car and we all stayed at the Hilton Hotel at the Fiumicino Rome airport. It’s literally steps from the terminal. All my devices got charged, I had a first class shower, I rearranged my packing system to put colder-weather clothing at the top. I put on my Land’s End thermal undershirt, my vest and carried my raincoat. The next morning Joan and I (on different Swiss Air flights) flew from Rome to Zurich. Tom & Lauren flew home. I was the last one to arrive in Zurich – Darlene had flown from the U.S. the day before to get a leg up on jet lag, and Cherrie flew in that morning. We all met, by plan, at the Europcar rental counter. It was like a family reunion – we were all so happy to be there and all very excited about our next 2 weeks together.

lake_lucerneAfter we got the GPS working correctly (in English), I input our destination (Lucerne) and off we went. I didn’t put this little bit of advice in my whole post about travel recommendations, but I can’t encourage you enough, get a GPS (hopefully one that’s built-in, not a portable one) in your rental car. It makes SUCH a difference, no matter the cost. As a little side note, I’ll just tell you that all the brochures in our Audi station wagon were in German. No English or Italian, so the booklets were useless to us all!

I’m quite good with navigating and I have a good sense of direction, but in a foreign country, with German signs, not so much! Darlene was the right seat navigator, and she did a great job – she saved our bacon several times noticing some tiny little sign directing us to our hotels.

The first thing I did was program the GPS to NOT go on toll roads and the autobahn. Two reasons: (1) the most beautiful scenery in Switzerland is in the towns and villages and in the country side, not on the freeways; (2) Switzerland charges a flat fee for using the autobahn – for visitors it’s something like $30-40 for a month’s pass. Not that we couldn’t have paid it, but why? We were there to see the countryside. We aren’t sure, but we think we actually ended up on the autobahn a couple of times – but it was only for one exit’s worth. We don’t know whether there wasn’t any other way, or if we made a mistake. The GPS routed us that way, so we just took the chance.

Planning this 6-day portion of our trip was my job. We did: Zurich to Lucerne to Brienz to Lauterbrunnen, to Gruyere and to Talloires (actually in France, but it’s very close to Geneva).

4_girls_chapel_bridge

There’s the 4 of us – from the left: Joan, Cherrie, me, and Darlene standing on the river quay with the famous Chapel Bridge behind us.

I did the driving in Switzerland, with the exception of about 15-20 minutes worth one day when I wasn’t feeling very good. Joan drove for that short distance. I’m fine with driving in foreign countries. I’m fine with driving in countries that drive on the opposite side of the road. Dave and I did many trips to the British Isles, and we learned to coach each other with turns, lane changes, roundabouts, and such. Switzerland has adopted the roundabout in a big way – on some of the small highways we encountered them about every 300 feet it seemed like. But we definitely saw the countryside in all its beauty. It was a warmer spring than usual, so the spring flowers were sprouting, grass was the brilliant green I remember from previous trips, the trees were budding except at the higher elevations, yet the mountains were still draped in snow.

chapel_bridge_lucerneThe drive from the Zurich airport to Lucerne is about an hour, but since we used back roads (and made a wrong turn or two – I was far from perfect even with the GPS) it took us a couple of hours to get there. But it was beautiful, and everywhere we looked we could see high snow-capped peaks, and take in the beautiful 2-story typical Swiss homes. Nobody had any window boxes out yet – such a regular sighting all over Switzerland in the spring and summer – homeowners take great pride in having the brightest and most colorful flowers hung from their upstairs windows.

hotel_des_balances_lucerneApproaching Lucerne, my hands gripped the steering wheel – I was tense, I’ll admit. But the GPS routed us well, even displaying which lane we needed to be in (a real help in cities). She didn’t always do that, but when she did, I was very grateful! Had I not printed out the directions from the hotel’s website, I don’t think we’d have ever found out how to get to our hotel. We had to drive across the river from the hotel, down the main street, make a tiny little turn into what looked like an alley, zigzag through a couple of little streets, then approach a very narrow 2-lane bridge that went back into the old city (which is generally closed to car traffic) that has very glaring sign saying no entry. But there was a little sign (Darlene, bless her heart, saw it when nobody else did) saying if you’re staying at Hotel des Balances, you are allowed entry. She got us right to the door. We hefted our bags out, checked in and a very kind young man took our car off to some parking garage. Of course, that was extra, but it was worth every single penny!

We were all a little frazzled (hopefully not from my driving, but just general fatigue from all of us flying in, finding one another, the stress of getting situated in the car with our bags – tight – driving in the busy traffic of Zurich, trying to recognize different road signs from our own U.S. signs, hoping we weren’t doing anything wrong). Once we got to the hotel we all wanted to take a little risotto_cherrie_lucernerest. Cherrie was in serious jet lag, having just arrived that morning, and having had no sleep for about 20 hours or so. We decided to meet for an early drink in the lovely bar at the hotel. I’d wanted us to stay at the Hotel Gutsch (in picture above, up on the small mountain top – you get to it by a funicular (although you can drive to it from the back side of the hill). But alas, it was just too expensive for our economy-minded foursome. But we were very happy with where I did book us – at the Hotel des Balances, which is right ON the river, has a gorgeous view, with rooms facing the river (more expensive) or the interior (all of us) which overlooked the cute old town walking streets. We were all giddy with excitement that evening. The bartender was very funny, young, and he flirted with all of us. He made lots of points with all of us old ladies! The hotel offered a free welcome cocktail – I don’t remember now what it was, but it was good and we enjoyed it. See picture down below of us all with our cocktails in hand. We had lunch the next day at one of the quayside restaurants (they’re literally one right after another), and Cherrie ordered risotto (picture at left), one of her favorite things. I think most of us took a sample – wow, it was good with peas and fresh asparagus.

old_swiss_house_breaded_veal_bread_crumbsSince I’d been to Lucerne 3-4 times before, I decided that since this was Easter Sunday, we should have a celebration dinner. I’d made reservations months before for that night at the Old Swiss House, a venerable establishment in Lucerne (spelled Luzern there, and pronounced loo-ZEHRN). This was my third visit to the restaurant and it was only about 10-11 blocks’ walk from our hotel. It took a little bit of looking to find it, but we did. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner there, with Cherrie and me ordering the dish that the restaurant is most famous for, their breaded veal.

They dip the thinly pounded veal into an egg bath, then into bread crumbs and into a hot sizzling pan right at the tableside. Can I just tell you that to make two plates of those (right) the server/chef used almost a whole cube of butter. First some to brown the veal, then more to brown the 2nd side, then more to toast and brown the additional bread crumbs, then a bit more to lubricate the spaghetti. Oh my, was it good! I couldn’t finish it. And yes, welcome_drink_hotel_in_lucerneit was ridiculously expensive, but veal just is. It was a special evening.

After a good night’s sleep we got up and out – we took a ferry ride around part of Lake Lucerne. I’d told everyone that it’s worth doing, and since the weather was picture-perfect, we boarded one of the numerous ferries and went to 2-3 different quays, then returned. We got off at one of the places and walked around a little bit. Darlene snapped the top photo there. Cherrie and I found a wonderful bench, in the sunshine and visited, while Joan and Darlene went hiking all over the little town.

Once back in Lucerne, we collected our luggage, the sweet little man brought our car around and we started off on our next adventure. First I programmed the GPS, and off we went.

Our destination was Lake Brienz. It was breathtaking, and  you’ll see why when you read my next post.

Posted in Appetizers, Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on May 6th, 2015.

grilled_veggie_antipasto

That photo doesn’t look like much. Where’s the tiny sprinkle of chopped parsley? Or maybe a green vegetable in there? Well, none. When I made this, I’d been home from my trip only a few days. I’d purchased the veggies (Trader Joe’s was out of zucchini) and chose the red bells, yellow squash and the eggplant. And then I was just so sick, making this became an afterthought. I did make it, I just didn’t eat it for about a week.

While I was in Italy, I was quite enamored with the trays and platters of grilled or roasted vegetables that were in every trattoria. Of course, each and every time we were served the antipasto, we had a big basket of bread to go along with it, and a bottle of olive oil to drizzle on anything and everything (they provide it on the table, like we do salt and pepper). So once I got home, this was the first thing I wanted to make. To figure out how the Italians do it, if it’s anything different than just rubbing oil on veggies and grilling or roasting them. My darling DH was really good at grilling sliced veggies like that, and particularly red peppers, but also zucchini and onions. I’m still far from an expert at grilling – it’s a new skill since I always had Dave to do it for me. Now it’s a hassle to me, to uncover the BBQ, clean it, oil it, heat it, stand there and watch the grilling, getting hot and sweaty, then waiting until everything cools off to put it all away (and covered) for another day. [Message to my dear DH in heaven: thank you, honey, for all the years of grilling you did for me, even weeknight dinners, and for always being willing to do it.]

I have a bunch of Italian cookbooks, and some in my upstairs, little-used bookshelves of cookbooks. I hunted and hunted for what I thought we’d had. Finally, I concluded that maybe it’s such a simple thing – just like I mentioned – oiled and grilled – that nobody considers it a “recipe” as such. I did find one recipe, though, that has you soak the veggies in an Italian vinaigrette for a day before grilling. Although I wasn’t so sure that had been done in any of my Italian samplings, I decided to try it. It’s certainly more fancy than what we had, but I figured it would be good no matter what.

Dutifully, I followed the recipe and soaked the sliced vegetables in the vinaigrette for about 24 hours. In that time the veggies soaked up just about every bit of the liquid. Because I wasn’t feeling all that great (the food poisoning I had was really kicking me down), I decided not to grill them, but to make it easier on myself, I roasted them at 350° using another recipe I’d found.

I have the most wonderful readers . . . my reader Donna W, who frequently leaves comments (bless you, Donna!) emailed to suggest that she was sure she’d seen a very simple veggie antipasto in one of Frances Mayes books, so I went looking for what books I have of hers. I don’t have her cookbook (Under the Tuscan Sun – the cookbook) but I did have Bella Tuscany, and sure enough, there’s a short paragraph in that book about a very simple grilled veggie. But by then I’d already begun marinating them, so next time I’ll try Frances’ version, which truly is grilling oiled veggies.

Baking them took about 45 minutes, turning the veggies every 15 minutes, and the eggplant was the quickest to cook through, so I removed that after 30 minutes. And although I like eggplant, the one I purchased was a fairly big one – and it was too seedy. (Next time I should try to buy the smaller, narrower ones.) I peeled it, which also takes away from the “beauty” of an eggplant. Once roasted, the eggplant takes on that kind of ugly brown look. Not pretty. In the photos I have from my trip, the eggplant was definitely done on a grill (grill marks visible) and it was definitely very fresh, because the flesh is still white-ish, not brown or gray. So, I suppose the eggplant was cooked over a medium hot grill – the interior was soft and silky smooth, but the outside still retained its shape. Next time I’d not marinate the eggplant at all.

Also, I must have been too liberal with the acid in the vinaigrette (red wine vinegar and lemon juice) so I needed to drizzle a bit more olive oil onto the veggies once they were done.

What’s GOOD: these were good, but I won’t say they were exceptional. Maybe when I was in Italy I was enamored with the moment, the thrill of being in Italy, eating in different little places every single day, exploring the varieties of vegetables they did grill or roast – like leeks and long-cooked cippolini onions. The other thing is that the vegetables grown in Italy may very well be more tasty than what we can buy here. I think organic veggies usually have better flavor, but I don’t think that’s what I bought here. Europeans are much more veggie-pure, I’ll call it – they are looking for flavor, not fertilizing for size and greedy prices! As I mentioned, next time I’m going to just oil and grill using a different, much more simplified recipe and I’ll try organic too.  I added more herbs (I had only dried, not fresh) and totally forgot the parsley at the end. In most of the trattorias they served red bell peppers, sometimes green ones, small eggplant and zucchini. Sometimes whole tomatoes also. Never yellow squash. It probably wasn’t in season yet.

What’s NOT: I didn’t think the vinaigrette added that much to the dish. Maybe my palate was still “off,” also because of my food poisoning I was still recovering from when I finally ate this. It may not have been the fault of the veggies or the marinating. Guess I won’t know until I do this again. I have some zucchini in the refrigerator right now, so perhaps I’ll try them, just them, and see how I do, if I like it better.

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Roasted Vegetable Antipasto

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Foodgeeks blog.
Serving Size: 4

1/3 cup olive oil — or a little more as needed
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh basil
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon crumbled dried thyme
2 cloves garlic — minced
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh parsley — minced
Salt and Pepper to taste
VEGETABLES:
1 small yellow squash
1 zucchini
1 small eggplant — buy the small, thinner ones
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 yellow bell pepper
1/2 large red onion
Fresh parsley for garnish — minced
Parmesan cheese shavings, optional
More olive oil drizzled on top, if desired

1. Mix all ingredients of the marinade in a heavy-duty plastic Ziploc bag and squish so it’s well blended.
2. Trim all vegetables and slice lengthwise in ¼-inch thick slices. Add the sliced vegetables to the marinade bag, making sure all the vegetables have had contact with the marinade. Let stand, covered and chilled for at least 4 hours or overnight.
3. Turn the bag of vegetables occasionally to ensure they stay coated with the marinade. Before cooking, drain the vegetables, reserving the marinade.
4. GRILL: Heat a grill pan over moderately high heat until hot. Add vegetables and grill, in batches, for 3-4 minutes on each side, or until tender. Transfer vegetables to a serving platter, drizzle with remaining marinade and sprinkle with parsley, olives and Parmesan shavings. OR ROAST: roast the vegetables in a single layer, on parchment paper, in a 350°F oven, turning the pieces over every 15 minutes. The eggplant will take about 30 minutes or less, the others about 45 minutes. Allow to cool, decoratively place the vegetables on a serving platter, taste for seasonings (like more salt and pepper) drizzle the remaining marinade over the top and garnish with parsley, cheese and more olive oil if needed.
Per Serving: 224 Calories; 19g Fat (70.1% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 15g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 31mg Sodium.

Posted in Beef, easy, on May 4th, 2015.

johnny_marzetti_casserole

If you’d told me a couple of weeks ago that a week or so after I returned from my trip, having had pasta about 10 times in as many days while in Italy part of the trip, I’d have thought you were crazy. In a general year, I don’t eat much pasta, as you may remember if you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time. I love the stuff, but I just try to limit those kinds of carbs.

But then, since I don’t think I’ve talked about it, my friend Cherrie and I both returned home with food poisoning. She was ill on her return flight. I didn’t get sick until the moment I walked into my house, and then I was just about down flat for 4 days, and only slightly better after that. She and I have pinpointed the culprit as a savory flan we both ordered at our “farewell to France” dinner, our last night in Paris. It’s the only thing just she and I ate at the restaurant meal. It took a full 10 days for that illness to work its way through my system. And I didn’t know it was food poisoning until I went to a doctor. I ate so much oatmeal, rice, yogurt, applesauce, toast and bananas that I don’t know if I ever want any of those things again. Well, except yogurt. I haven’t lost my love of yogurt. Anyway, finally, the day I made this, my tummy began to feel better and I hadn’t had any of those stomach-wrenching pains I’d been having for 10 days, and food began to sound good again.

And I craved pasta, but not just any pasta – I had in mind this casserole I used to fix years and years ago (back in the 60s and 70s). Over the years I’ve adapted it here and there, and never put it on my blog (I guess) because it’s such a simple dish. For me, though, it represented comfort food. I didn’t want mac and cheese, but I wanted some ground beef and tomatoes and pasta. So, it took no time at all to throw this together and I now have 4 more ample single-serving casseroles of it in the freezer.

This is just a combo of ground beef, onions, garlic, seasonings, canned tomatoes, cheddar (or Velveeta in my case because I had some in the refrigerator – because I’d tried to eat a toasted cheese sandwich one of my days when I was really sick) and Mozzarella. I also added a little jot of Worcestershire sauce too, though that was never in my original recipe. If  you do a search for Johnny Marzetti, I expect you’ll get about 6 million results. It’s spelled all different ways (like Marzett, Mazetti, Mazetter), and who knows who Johnny was, way back when. But a dish is named after him.

Casseroles in general are meal stretchers – this one with pasta and tomatoes in it, it resembles spaghetti. Actually, when I made it I scooped some into a single-serving casserole dish, topped it with Mozzarella and didn’t even bake it – I stuck it under the broiler in my toaster oven until it turned golden brown. But baking for about 15 minutes will heat it full, all the way through. If you’re in a gigantic hurry, don’t bother with the baking – just stir in the cheese until it melts and scoop it onto plates.

What’s GOOD: This is a really easy and simple dish to throw together in about 30 minutes or so. While the pasta water is heating, make the sauce. Once the pasta is done, combine everything, add the cheese and you’re done. Or bake for a little bit. It’s a kid-pleaser and will feed a crowd for not a lot of $$.

What’s NOT: it isn’t a sophisticated dish in the least – just good old plain food – but tasty. No down side that I can think of.

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Johnny Marzetti

Recipe By: My own version of a very old recipe from a community cookbook, circa 1965.
Serving Size: 7 (or fewer if you have big appetites)

12 ounces pasta — your choice (penne, linguine, spaghetti, spirals)
1 pound ground beef
1 large yellow onion — diced
2 cloves garlic — minced
15 ounces diced tomatoes — including juice
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon dried oregano — crushed in your palms
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese — (I used Velvetta because I had it open)
12 ounces Mozzarella cheese — shredded

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add about a teaspoon of salt and stir well. Add pasta and simmer it until it’s not quite done, but just about.
2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet brown the ground beef until no pink remains. Add onion and continue cooking for 5-10 minutes until onion is fully translucent. Add tomatoes and juices.
3. Preheat oven to 350° F.
4. Add the garlic, seasonings, salt, pepper and Worcestershire.
5. Drain pasta well, then pour into the skillet with the meat mixture. Add the cheeses, saving some of the Mozzarella to sprinkle on top.
6. Pour into individual ramekins or into a 8×10 or other shaped baking dish. Top with cheese and bake for 10-15 minutes until cheese is melted. If you like the cheese browned, turn on the broiler just until the cheese begins to get golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes, then serve. Serve with a green salad and an Italian vinaigrette.
Per Serving: 603 Calories; 34g Fat (50.7% calories from fat); 31g Protein; 43g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 110mg Cholesterol; 637mg Sodium.

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