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Just finished reading Pied Piper (Vintage International) by Nevil Shute. Remember him? You’ve got to be over about 50 to even know his name. He’s most famous for his book On the Beach that he wrote in 1957. This book, the Pied Piper, he wrote during WWII. It’s a poignant tale about a rather elderly Englishman who decides to take a trip to the mountains along the French/Swiss border just before Germany invades. His goal is to go fishing – but he gets caught up in a bit of intrigue (not the spy novel type at all) when acquaintances he meets beg him to take their children, to get them out of France before they might be taken by the Nazis. Reluctantly he agrees when he realizes that he probably shouldn’t have made the trip at all and that he must return to England. Many logistical difficulties ensue, and more children are added to his little family. It’s a wonderful tale, heartwarming for sure. Shute is an excellent writer who draws you into his tales. He also wrote Trustee From The Toolroom, one of my favorite books I’ve read in the last couple of years.

Also read Tracy Chevalier’s newest book, Remarkable Creatures: A Novel. I always love to read a novel that has me learn something concrete, as it tells a story. This one is about the friendship between two women in Lyme Regis (a town on the southern coast of England) back in the mid-1800s. From different social strata, they both share a love, a passion, for collecting and finding fossils on the beaches of their town. The education here is all about the fossils. Fossils from ancient times, with a great “to-do” over who owns them, crediting (or not) who found them, about the astute (not) experts who discredit these two women. The story is charming, sweet, and Chevalier did it again, for me, creating a story that was a pretty good page-turner. I’ve never been interested particularly in fossils, but they hold new interest since reading this book.

Just finished The Interestings: A Novel, by Meg Wolitzer. It’s about a group of mid-teens (both guys and gals) who become close friends at a summer camp, and with nothing else to inspire them, they decide to call themselves “The Interestings.” The story switches back and forth from the early years, with alcohol, drugs and sex playing fairly major roles, to their late 30s or early 40s when all of the “interestings” have become adults, parents, successes, failures. It’s about their internal angst, or pride, or false-pride, and their jealousies of each other. It had been recommended by more than one friend of mine. As I read it I kept hoping it was going to get better and it does, but I had to get half way through before I really wanted to keep going. It WAS a good read, though. With the exception of seeing some maturity develop amongst the characters, the book is kind of like a soap opera. The main character is a likable woman, thank goodness.

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 Travel, on April 18th, 2015.

Truli_house_Alberobello1


In coming days I’ll be telling you all about Trulli houses in my first post from the Italy part of my trip to Europe. I stayed in a Trulli house and it was really special.

I’ve just returned (yesterday) from a 3+ week trip to Europe (Italy, Switzerland and France). As I write this it’s 5:30 in the morning, and I’ve been up for 3 hours. I could not keep my eyes open after 7:30 last night. I fell into bed and slept like the dead for 7 hours. BUT, that meant I woke up early. Laundry is going, music is playing, I’ve had 2 cappuccinos already this morning. I’ve downloaded all of the images from my camera (I didn’t take my fancy Canon, it’s just too big to lug around) but the photos I have from my little Canon need organizing and naming. And I took lots of pictures on my iPhone too, so they need to be off-loaded and categorized too.

Just a synopsis, I flew alone to Rome. Stayed 4 nights there by myself, and although those 4 days were just one little section, except for meeting friends for lunch one day, I was really alone there. Now I know – note to self – do not go to a big city by yourself – and expect to be happy. I wasn’t. Maybe it’s because Rome is such a romantic place? Or because the last time I was there I was with my DH? Or what? I don’t know. I stayed in a wonderful hotel about 1/2 block from the Piazza Navona, and I tromped all over everywhere (including getting lost my first night there). I didn’t like eating dinner alone – I did, of course, and everyone was very kind to me – but I felt odd. What can I tell you? I just felt odd being alone. I didn’t like walking around in the evening alone (not because of safety – I felt fine in that regard). I missed my darling Dave. As hard as I tried to talk myself out of it (and I did have several conversations with myself about my grief journey and that it’s been a year, gotta get out of it – nope, my emotional, vulnerable part of my head was having none of it!).

After the 4 days I joined up with dear friends Tom & Joan and their granddaughter Lauren (14) and we traveled together for a week by car and had a fantastic time. We went to Puglia and Basilicata (way south, in the boot/heel). As soon as I was with friends, my attitude changed from dark to light, from not coping well (sadness) to delight in everything. Although I treasure some alone time every day, I’m a clan person, I suppose. I want to be around people I know – family, friends.

After a week in Italy, Tom and their granddaughter flew home to California, and Joan and I flew to Zurich. We booked our flights separately, so we flew at different times. I was the last one to arrive. But at our designated place – near the Europcar rental car desk in the Zurich airport, Joan and I met up with 2 other friends, my best friend Cherrie and another long-time friend Darlene, and we began a 2 week trip together.

I planned the 6-day Switzerland part (and I did all the driving except for about 30 minutes when I wasn’t feeling very well) – we went to Lucerne, Brienz, Lauterbrunnen (where I took my 3rd trip up the Jungfraujoch), Gruyere and Talloires (actually that’s in France, near Geneva). Then we spent 3 days and nights in Lyon, France, in a rented apartment with 4 bedrooms and a washer and dryer (oh yippee, were we ever happy to see that piece of equipment in the kitchen!). Then we took the TGV (pronounced tay-jay-vay in French) the high-speed train to Paris and spent 3 more nights (had a tour of the Opera House and a trip to Giverny). Flying home, we flew 3 different airlines, but we left at about the same time. Darlene’s husband picked us up (she and I) and I got home about 3:30 pm. In time to drive to the post office to get all the accumulated mail (oh my, haven’t even started going through the 2 big bins yet) and make a stop at Trader Joe’s. Joan flew Turkish Air, and in order to get the best prices it meant she had to fly to Istanbul both going and returning. So she’s not returning until today. She spent the night at an Istanbul airport hotel. She and Tom have been to Istanbul before and she was fine with it.

SO, all that said, I have some great stories to tell you. I have some great photos to share. I have some wonderful food stories to talk about, and you’ll hear it all in time. You may get very tired of hearing about my trip. I’ll be cooking too – my first thing I’m going to make is grilled/roasted vegetables – but in the Italian style, thinly sliced and soaking in a light bit of good olive oil. I couldn’t get enough of those when we were in Puglia.

It’ll take me a few days to get the photos organized, then I’ll start posting a travelogue. Meanwhile, I relished in taking a shower in my own bathroom with good water pressure, and most of all sleeping in my own bed with my own pillow! I’m very glad to be home, but we had a great trip!

Posted in Desserts, on April 15th, 2015.

choc_olive_oil_cake1

My photo isn’t all that great in this one – shaky hands, I guess. But you sure can tell that’s a chocolate cake, right? But this one’s made with olive oil instead of butter, and served with a nice scoop of vanilla ice cream. This one’s delicious, and maybe you can convince yourself it’s “healthy” because of the olive oil, right? We try every trick!

It was just about 18 months or so ago that I discovered olive oil cake. And I made Nancy Silverton’s version/variation of Dario’s cake, called Dario’s Olive Oil Cake with a topping of rosemary, sugar and pine nuts. That one’s a real favorite of mine. I’ve made it several times now. Then, not too long ago another olive oil cake hit my radar, that one Diane Phillips’ version of Dario’s cake which she called more of a coffeecake (I didn’t blog about that one). Then this one appeared. Oh gosh – olive oil and chocolate. Who’d have thunk it – that chocolate and olive oil could make a cake? It does. And well. This cake isn’t from Dario’s, it’s Diane’s version of an Italian chocolate cake made with olive oil.

It has all the normal ingredients for a cake – this one being a type that uses boiling water, but not in the traditional manner as cakes are called a hot water cake – no, it’s used to dissolve the cocoa and espresso powder only. Then you add all the other usual things to make a cake – eggs, flour, soda, sugar. It’s poured into a 9-inch high sided cake pan, baked, cooled 10 minutes, turned out to cool completely, then dusted with powdered sugar. Cut and serve. To raves.

What’s GOOD: This has a lovely light texture. If you’ve never made an olive oil cake, then you might think it would be heavy. Nope. Altogether lovely, and the chocolate flavor is just so good. Loved this one.

What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever.

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Chocolate Olive Oil Cake

Recipe By: Diane Phillips, author and cooking instructor, 2015
Serving Size: 10

1/2 cup Dutch processed cocoa powder
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1/2 cup boiling water
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2/3 cup olive oil — (not extra virgin)
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Powdered sugar for sprinkling on top
Vanilla or coffee ice cream, or whipped cream for serving
FLAVORING: If desired, you may add 2 T. Kahlua, almond liqueur, or creme de cocoa to batter.

Notes: Do not use extra virgin olive oil, but try to use an olive oil that has a fruity flavor if possible.
1. Coat the inside of a 9-inch cake pan (with high sides) with nonstick cooking spray (don’t use Pam) or with olive oil. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In a mixing bowl place the cocoa, espresso, then pour boiling water over and whisk to blend. Add eggs, yolk, olive oil and sugar. Whisk until blended.
3. Add the flour and soda, stirring to blend, making sure there are no lumps.
4. Pour batter into cake pan and bake 40 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
5. Allow cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert onto a rack to cool completely. Dust top with powdered sugar and serve with vanilla or coffee ice cream or with whipped cream.
Per Serving: 338 Calories; 17g Fat (44.3% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 44g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 85mg Cholesterol; 55mg Sodium.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on April 9th, 2015.

Sometimes (maybe always, but I don’t think so) when cauliflower is baked awhile, it can begin to take on a kind of brownish tinge. When cauliflower is cooked through and through, it does have a translucence. You can see it in the photo above. IF you can overlook that part, and IF you like cauliflower,  you’ll find this dish very satisfying. I think I could just eat a bowl of this and forget the rest of the dinner. I do love vegetables.

And . . . well . . . this cauliflower is decadent. Not only does it have Gruyere and cheddar cheese in it, AND 2 cups of heavy cream, but it also has half a cup of blended whiskey in it. The recipe comes from Mary Ann Vitale, a San Diego chef and restaurateur (do note how that word is spelled – for the longest time, some years ago – I thought people were misspelling the word, I thought it was supposed to be restaurant-eur. But no, the n is missing in the word). Anyway, Mary Ann visited Scotland awhile back – maybe more than once, I’m not sure – and just savored the food. Everything about it. She sought out famous restaurants, probably befriended a few of the chefs/owners, and came home each time knowing she wanted to create her own version of several dishes, but keeping true to the traditional recipe. She recently did a class demonstrating  5 recipes from Scotland that all used Scotch whiskey. When in —-fill in the word — Scotland – – –  you use whiskey!

We talked about the whiskey in general, in the class – she loves single malt (once in awhile I’ll have some also, and I learned to appreciate its finely balanced flavors in Scotland many years ago – I still have a bottle of Dalwhinnie single malt – it’s a sweeter single malt with honey notes – I bought on the return trip – that’s got to be 20 years ago). In these recipes I’ll give you in coming days, Mary Ann used Dewar’s. A perfectly acceptable blended Scotch whiskey. This is not the time to pull out your very fine, and very expensive single malt. No, just use the regular stuff.

This is one of those recipes from the class. What’s unique about it is that the thickener used is oatmeal. Yes, oatmeal. Back in the early days, flour wasn’t always available, so they used what their grew, and oatmeal is a very good thickener, and you’ll never know it’s there. It’s not like you’ll suddenly get a taste of your morning cereal here – you only use 2 tablespoons of oatmeal anyway. The cauliflower, cut into florets, is cooked for about 5 minutes in boiling water (undercook them), drained and then placed in a buttered casserole.

Meanwhile you make a cheesy cream sauce with heavy cream, the Gruyere (a French cheese, but so flavorful) and Cheddar (make it Scottish cheddar if you want to be authentic, but any sharp WHITE cheddar will do, even a New York one), then the oatmeal and the whiskey. You add salt, pepper and a bit of nutmeg (freshly grated). The sauce is poured over the top and THEN you sprinkle the top with some toasted walnuts. Different, huh? And it’s baked for 30-45 minutes. When you pour the sauce in, it will be a bit on the loose side – that’s the way it should be – it thickens up as it bakes. And if you want to be able to eat all that luscious sauce, serve the cauliflower in a small bowl or ramekin. With a spoon!

What’s GOOD: Oh my. I thought every single, solitary morsel of this dish was magnificent. But then, I like cauliflower! The cheese, the sauce, and particularly the toasted chopped walnuts on top. Don’t overlook that part – it added a really nice texture to the dish. Unexpected, for sure.

What’s NOT: well, the cream and all that cheese. You can try cutting down on the quantity of cream and cheese – won’t be quite so good – but you’ll get the gist of it.

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Cauliflower with Cheese & Whiskey

Recipe By: Mary Ann Vitale, Great New Cooking Class, 3/2015
Serving Size: 6-8

2 medium cauliflower
2 cups heavy cream
4 ounces Gruyere cheese — grated
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese — extra-sharp if possible
4 ounces Scotch — (use a blended whiskey)
1 pinch fresh nutmeg — grated (about 3-4 swipes across a mini-grater)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons rolled oats — [I might add another 1/2 T)
4 tablespoons walnuts — lightly toasted, chopped

1. Cut cauliflower into florets and cook in boiling, salted water for about 5 minutes (under-done). Drain and place in a buttered casserole dish.
2. Preheat oven to 350°.
3. Heat cream in a big skillet, add the cheeses and stir to combine. When cheeses are melted, remove from the heat, stir in whiskey and oatmeal. Season with salt and pepper and add the freshly grated nutmeg. This mixture will be thinner than you might think – it will thicken some as it bakes.
4. Pour the cheese mixture over the cauliflower and sprinkle top with chopped walnuts. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly. (Cauliflower will have a beige color to it – it doesn’t affect the taste.) The sauce may be too thin for your taste – if so, add a little bit more oatmeal. (In the class we thought there was probably too much sauce altogether – maybe it could be reduced by half?)
Per Serving: 518 Calories; 45g Fat (83.3% calories from fat); 14g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 149mg Cholesterol; 221mg Sodium.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on April 3rd, 2015.

braised_fennel_orange_zest

Fennel isn’t everybody’s favorite vegetable. Some folks don’t even know what it is. It didn’t used to be a “regular” at the market, but it certainly is in my neck of the woods. Every market carries it, even Trader Joe’s (theirs are the least expensive I’ve found). I love the stuff – eating strips of it out of hand, or softly simmered in something until it’s silky tender.

Here on my blog there’s another recipe for fennel that’s probably my favorite – Baked Fennel – with Parmigiano shaved on it. It’s divine. I haven’t made that in awhile, but this time I wanted to make something different. I read about this recipe online (at Fine Cooking). I made half of the below recipe and I had ample left over. I sent most of it home with my D-I-L Karen, enough for them for a meal. Vaughan, my grandson, did take one itty-bitty-teensy-weensy bite and proclaimed a resounding “no.” Even though I told him it had orange juicefennel_before_braising in it. Nope, he was having none of it. He used to be much more adventuresome about food, but as he’s getting older (he’s 7), and probably with peer pressure at school at lunchtime, he’s much more picky. He doesn’t like whipped cream. What kid doesn’t like whipped cream? Well, he doesn’t. He loves green beans, though. I can always get a home run with him if I bring green beans. He wants food to have texture – whipped cream doesn’t have any, and this cooked fennel had very little (too soft for him, I suppose). But he loves marshmallows. Go figure!

Fennel does have a hint of anise to it  (it’s in the same family) – which probably turns off some people – but to me it’s very mild, and when it’s cooked, I don’t get any of that anise flavor at all. So if you’ve never liked raw fennel, you might like it cooked.

First, with this dish, you brown the wedges of fennel in some olive oil until they’ve taken on some golden brown tinges. Then those are removed to a baking dish. Then you add garlic to the pan, then wine and broth. The orange juice is added along with some toasted fennel and coriander seeds, salt and pepper. The orange peel strips (that you shave off the orange with a peeler) go in to flavor the whole dish. Foil covers the dish and it bakes for 1 1/4 hours. Hopefully you have a few fresh fennel fronds to sprinkle on top. At right is a photo I took of the dish before it was baked.

What’s GOOD: I happen to love the texture of baked fennel – soft and smooth. Easy to slice. It becomes quite bland when it’s cooked, so you do want to have some other flavoring (hence here the orange, fennel seed and coriander seeds). I liked it just fine. It’s not exactly a colorful dish, so the orange strips certainly enhance its appearance.

What’s NOT: nothing really – it was delicious.

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Braised Fennel with Orange, Coriander & Fennel Seeds

Recipe By: From Fine Cooking magazine
Serving Size: 8

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 pounds fennel bulbs — stalks trimmed and bulbs cut into quarters (cores left intact), fronds reserved for garnish
2 medium cloves garlic — thinly sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine — or dry white vermouth
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 medium naval orange
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds — toasted and lightly crushed
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds — toasted and lightly crushed
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 325°F.
2. Heat 2 Tbs. of the oil in a heavy-duty 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the fennel, cut side down. Cook undisturbed until browned in spots, about 2 minutes. Flip and repeat on the other cut sides.
3. Arrange the fennel browned sides up in a large (10×14-inch) gratin or shallow baking dish. Add the remaining 1 Tbs. oil to the skillet and repeat with the remaining fennel. Lower the heat to medium if any smoking occurs. It’s OK if the wedges are snug in the baking dish; they’ll shrink as they braise.
4. Add the garlic to the skillet and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the wine and scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to dissolve any browned bits, about 1 minute. Add the broth and simmer to meld the flavors, about 2 minutes. Pour over the fennel.
5. With a vegetable peeler, remove three 3-inch strips of zest from the orange and then juice the orange. Nestle the pieces of zest in the fennel and pour the juice over. Sprinkle with the fennel seeds, coriander seeds, 1 tsp. salt, and a few grinds of pepper.
6. Cover the dish tightly with foil and braise in the oven until the fennel has collapsed and a paring knife penetrates the cores with no resistance, about 1-1/4 hours.
7. Spoon some braising liquid over the fennel, garnish with the reserved fronds, and serve hot, warm, or at room temperature. The fennel may be made 2 days ahead of serving. Uncover and cool to room temperature before refrigerating it (covered). Let the fennel come to room temperature before serving. Or reheat it, covered, in a 325°F oven.
Per Serving: 117 Calories; 6g Fat (41.8% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 15g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 89mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on March 28th, 2015.

red_bell_pepper_balsamic_crostini

When you serve an appetizer, I’m always looking for a new way to serve a vegetable rather than cheese (although I must say, serving cheese is a fall-back for any dinner party if I run out of time). Here you’ll get some peppers in a balsamic vinaigrette kind of thing and they’re really delish on top of a little piece of toast. I used ciabatta bread.

Eat our vegetables! Isn’t that the mantra? As a single person now, I buy fresh veggies, and at least half the time I forget about them, or I just end up not cooking for several nights in a row and suddenly they’re over the hill. So I’ve kind of decided not to buy fresh veggies unless I truly know I’m going to prepare them that night or the next one. A week or so ago I had a package of yellow crookneck squash, a bunch of asparagus and mushrooms. I ended up cooking them all together (adding the thin asparagus in the last 4-5 minutes of cooking) with shallots, half of an onion, a bunch of dried thyme and oregano, and adding in a little pat of butter at the end. Well, I ate that for about 4 meals. Once it was cooked, it kept in the frig for over a week, and I had the last of it last night with a tiny bit of left over pork chop from over a week ago also. That was dinner, and it was wonderful. My food buying and my eating habits have changed, that’s for sure!

Anyway, since we all know we should eat more veggies, make an appetizer that contains some, if at all possible. And here, that’s exactly what works. If you don’t count the bread/toast! The peppers are broiled and Diane Phillips used a little different method here – she roasted them under the broiler, turning them to blacken the skins on all sides, then she turned the oven OFF, and let the pan just sit there for about an hour. That accomplishes the same thing as putting them in a plastic bag to soften the charred skins. The blackened skins came right off. Then you slice them thinly and marinate them in a balsamic vinaigrette and garlic. One thing to remember: don’t smash or mince the garlic. It doesn’t get cooked, so you want to slice the garlic so it can be easily removed before serving. The peppers are left out at room temp for 2-8 hours, then drain off the dressing (and keep it – it will work fine for a salad) and serve with toasted baguette slices or in my case I used ciabatta. Do use good balsamic for this – not the ancient aged stuff, but at least buy and use one that aged for 15 years. You’ll notice the difference.

What’s GOOD: the peppers have a wonderful umami taste – at least I think they do. I’m not so sure that red bells are on the “master list” of umami flavors, but with the addition of balsamic (which is an umami) you get a double-whammy of sharp, pungent flavors (good type, though). I could have made that my dinner, except for eating all of the carbs! It will keep for a few days if you don’t eat it all.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. Make only as much as you think you’ll consume. It should keep for a few days, but probably not more than that. They’ll begin to turn to mush in the vinaigrette, I think.

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Roasted Red Bell Peppers in Balsamic Vinegar

Recipe By: Diane Phillips, cooking instructor and cookbook author, 2015
Serving Size: 10

4 large red bell peppers
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar — (use good quality, aged) or more if needed
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 medium garlic cloves — very thinly sliced (will be removed later)
Crostini, for serving

1. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and preheat the broiler.
2. Wash the peppers and remove any stickers. Place them on one flatter side on the baking sheet and broil, turning them once or twice to char them evenly on all sides. Watch carefully.
3. When they’re blackened, turn off the broiler, close oven door and allow them to rest in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour. The steam formed in the oven will help you to remove the skins more easily.
4. Remove the peppers from the oven and when they are cool enough to handle, remove skins (use disposable gloves if desired).
5. Remove core, seeds, then slice into strips and place in a medium-sized bowl. Stir in oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and sliced garlic. Mix. MAKE AHEAD: can be made up to 8 hours ahead, but they need to sit for at least 2 hours to meld the flavors, covered, at room temperature.
6. Taste for seasonings. Remove garlic slivers and pour into a small serving bowl. Serve with crostini and a fork to put the slices on the bread more easily.
Per Serving: 158 Calories; 16g Fat (89.7% calories from fat); trace Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 214mg Sodium.

Posted in Beef, Grilling, Miscellaneous, on March 23rd, 2015.

bobby_flays_steak_rub

Just plain steaks are fine, but don’t you sometimes want to put something on them, to give them an added lift, or some different flavors?

Recently I invited my/our son Powell and his family over for dinner. (And the good news is that I was able to do enough walking and standing in the kitchen to pull it off.) I have meat in my freezer. Oh my, do I have meat in the garage freezer, and I can’t believe that it’s been nearly a year since my darling DH died, and I’ve hardly made a dent in the meat stash. I’ve purchased plenty of chicken breasts and thighs, and salmon steaks which crowd in there, and go in and out, but I have numerous cuts of beef, pork, whole chickens and fish fillets that are now more than a year old. I’ve GOT to do something with them.

The good news was that I WANTED to cook. Those of you reading this, who don’t know me very well yet, won’t understand. In the last year I’ve hardly wanted to cook at all. But I also had my darned foot injury that for 7 months has kept me from standing at my kitchen counter much at all. That’s completely healed now and I’m trying to push my limits a bit. Am walking some every day to flex those tight ligaments, tendons, the plantar fascia and the Achilles tendons too.

In coming days  you’ll see a couple of other new recipes I tried out for this dinner (a crostini appetizer using green peas, and a fennel vegetable side). I also made my favorite Crisp Apple Pudding, one of my signature, very homey desserts. My grandson Vaughan was salivating from the moment he heard Grandma had made the apple pudding, which he just loves. He could hardly eat hissteaks_with_steak_rub dinner because he wanted that dessert so much. Then he wanted seconds, but mom and dad said no.

Anyway, back to the steaks. They were ribeyes (USDA prime, from Costco). Powell grilled them for me, and I handed Powell this little bowl (above) to season them. He used the trusty Thermapen to make sure the steaks were cooked to perfection. The 4 of us shared these 2 big steaks. I have some leftover which I’ll use to make a nice steak salad, I think. Karen brought a lovely green salad (with the first of our spring strawberries) and left some greens with me which will make a nice start. Maybe I’ll have that for dinner tonight.

What’s GOOD: just something different. I liked the spice combination. It was easy enough to make. Just remember, spice blends should not be kept for more than a month, so use it up, or make a smaller batch to begin with.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. Same as above, a spice blend doesn’t keep more than a month, so use it up.

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

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Bobby Flay’s Steak Rub

Recipe By: Bobby Flay, online
Serving Size: 10

2 tablespoons ancho chile powder
1 tablespoon Spanish paprika — (sweet paprika)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons chile de arbol — (optional – I didn’t have any)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Combine ingredients and store in well-sealing jar. Sprinkle liberally on steaks before grilling.
Per Serving: 12 Calories; 1g Fat (37.3% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 2g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 16mg Sodium.

Posted in Uncategorized, on March 21st, 2015.

3_21_2015_daves_watch

Early this morning, a year ago, my darling Dave (my DH) passed away. I knew today would be a rough one and it is.  I have plans to be with friends later today and with daughter Sara tomorrow. But this morning I’m home, letting out my grief. And I decided to write. Here. To share it. I hope you don’t mind.

Last year, a week or so after Dave’s death, my friend Cherrie gave me a really pretty decorated box (with sand, shells, ocean, birds on the cover) and into it I put Dave’s most personal things. And all the dear, dear cards sent to me after he was gone, with the heartfelt notes of sympathy. And of memories shared. Words of encouragement, appropriate bible scriptures, hope, love, caring.

The one year anniversary of a spouse’s death (or the death of any dear one) is a milestone. A hurdle, a huge emotional hurdle. And maybe more so with a spouse. But it’s a journey we must take in our grief path. A walk of tears for sure. As I write this, I’ve been going through that box. I haven’t been in that box at all, except to add an item or two that had been misplaced in my house. Someone told me – or maybe this was from the griefshare class I took – I can’t recall – to not delve into the box until the one-year anniversary. And then it’s an appropriate time, that one year milestone, to go through the things. To cry over them, to savor memories and to be warmed mightily by the loving and caring cards from my friends. And then you can put away the box for another time. Maybe the 2nd anniversary. Or maybe not for a long time.

So, this morning, I read about half of the 200+ cards I received. They make me cry. And as I kept digging down in the box there were his glasses. I hugged them to me. I came across the x-rays of Dave’s brain, showing the bleeding from his stroke. I didn’t dwell on those. But then I found the little baggie the nurse at the hospital gave me with clippings of Dave’s hair. I think that made me cry the most. I opened the bag and hoped to find his scent. No, unfortunately. His wallet is in the box. Still with the little bit of money he had there from the day before his stroke. I just can’t seem to take that $36 out of his wallet. At least not yet. I tucked his passport in the box too. That also made me cry – a lot. For all the trips we’ll not be able to share in the future.

And then I came to his watch. I pulled it out and hugged it to my heart. You just never know, when you’re grieving, what is going to be an emotional trigger. He loved this inexpensive Seiko watch. It was his everyday watch. And I couldn’t believe it when I looked at it and realized it’s still running. It’s a sign. I just feel it in my heart – it’s still ticking – and Dave wanted me to know he’s okay. He’s in heaven and he’s whole, happy and his heart is ticking in lockstep with Jesus. That’s what I choose to believe. (Disregard the fact that it’s a good battery in that watch and that it’s sat still and unattended for a year . . . no, I choose to believe it’s a heavenly sign.)

A dear friend of mine sent me an email message this morning – her husband died 3 years ago, so we often share grief feelings. I thought this paragraph she wrote to me was very meaningful: This is a special day for recognizing the loss.  It is a day of celebrating the life of Dave. Grieving stems not from the death itself but from the loss—the change in your life. The loss of laughter, love and the connection past, present and future that we mourn.

Back to the box: I started taking a few notes as I went through the cards – one, a reminder to send an email to some because of what they wrote or something about the card itself, and another I wrote down because of how the words or the message struck me. I thought I’d share a few.

Love never dies

Eventually the sun will shine again . . . (maybe I’m seeing a glimmer)

Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted . . . Matthew 5:4 (this is one I chant to myself often)

Every ripple a memory, every memory a blessing . . . (this was in a card with a picture of a lighthouse and the ocean beyond)

The heart that has truly loved never forgets . . . Thomas Moore

Friends comfort the hurt, share the sadness, soften the grief and inspire the healing . . . (and I’m so very blessed with many friends)

To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it,—but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor. (This last one, my favorite, a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes [from his book The Autocrat at the Breakfast Table], which is so appropriate because Dave was a sailor. Dave’s college girlfriend Meredith wrote that on the card she sent me.)

Posted in Chicken, Soups, on March 18th, 2015.

lemony_chix_orzo_soup

 

There’s still a minimal amount of cooking going on at my house these days. I’m going to cooking classes occasionally, and I’m reviewing books, and I am cooking, but I’m not doing much cooking that’s all that noteworthy. Worthy of a blog post, anyway. But this soup, oh gosh, is it ever good. Such comfort food, good for cold weather and something to come in from the rain to enjoy.

Actually my daughter Sara and I made this several months ago. I realized that I’ve had the recipe up in my browser for a good long time and hadn’t ever transferred the recipe to my software (MasterCook). Then I went looking for the picture I’d taken of it. Couldn’t find it. So, the credit goes to Bon Appetit, whence the photo came, from the article they did on this soup years ago.

An equally long time ago – a couple of years ago, I’d think – I wrote up another recipe with a similar title (Lemon Chicken Soup with Orzo) , from my friend Linda. It’s a thick soup with oodles of orzo in it. This one is completely different – it’s a more brothy soup, with very little orzo, but enough that you know it’s there. It’s a very flavorful broth (from canned stock), and it has big shreds of chicken meat. And celery and leek, and a lovely sprinkling of fresh dill when it’s served. The day Sara and I made this at her home in San Diego, we were trying to make 2-3 dinners on a Saturday so she’d have some things already made for busy school nights with her family. We had this for dinner that night, and we just couldn’t get enough of it. It’s the lemon juice that makes it – and there’s almost nothing made with lemon juice that I don’t like – so it was a given I’d be head of heels in favor of this soup.

It’s not hard to make – just buy a leek, some fresh chicken thighs (or breasts), have celery on hand, chicken broth, and then some dill. Don’t forget the dill – it’s essential. Oh, and the lemons, obviously.

What’s GOOD: everything about this soup is delicious. As I mentioned, the lemon flavor was what struck me first, and I loved the fresh dill too. Hearty, but not thick. Remember, it’s a brothy soup. No cream or dairy in it. Healthy soup too, but you’d never think it because it’s so flavorful.

What’s NOT: nary a thing. I loved this soup. I have a small Ziploc bag in my freezer right now – Sara sent me home with one portion. I need to find it. I’m not making a whole lot of headway at cleaning out my freezer.

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Lemony Chicken and Orzo Soup

Recipe By: Bon Appetit, April, 2013
Serving Size: 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium leek — white and pale-green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced crosswise 1/2-inch thick
1 celery stalk — sliced crosswise 1/2-inch thick
12 ounces chicken thighs without skin — boneless (or use chicken breasts)
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Kosher salt — freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup orzo
1/4 cup fresh dill — chopped
Lemon halves (for serving)

1. Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add leek and celery and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are soft, 5-8 minutes. Add chicken and broth; season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer until chicken is cooked through, 15-20 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate. Let cool, then shred chicken into bite-size pieces.
2. Meanwhile, return broth to a boil. Add orzo and cook until al dente, 8-10 minutes.
3. Remove pot from heat. Stir in chicken and dill. Serve with lemon halves for squeezing over.
Per Serving: 226 Calories; 9g Fat (29.3% calories from fat); 29g Protein; 22g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 40mg Cholesterol; 117mg Sodium.

Posted in Books, on March 12th, 2015.

Product Details

About a  year ago I wrote up something about a book – one I’d read that I just loved. One that a friend had recommended to me and since I’ve trusted her suggestions in the past, I bought a used copy and and fell in love with it in the first chapter. That book was written by Nevil Shute – Trustee from the Toolroom. Of all the books I’ve read in the last several years, it was/is a standout. The book is hard to get – the books are almost collector’s items – Shute’s books are no longer in print, so hardbacks are a bit on the precious side. Libraries have them, though, and most, if not all, are available on Kindle. Nevil Shute died in 1960, unfortunately. I never wrote up a post about that book; it just appeared on my left sidebar after I read it, and I raved about it.

Recently, though, I was reviewing my notes on to-read-books (my list is incredibly long, and I keep a running litany on Evernote, on my iPhone) I was reminded of this book on my master list. This one is also by Nevil Shute. Several people told me it was very good. A Town Like Alice (Vintage International) is a walk down a history road, partly in Malaya, and partly in Australia. Shute was an Aussie, and the country or its people populated many of his books. I haven’t researched this, but my understanding is that really the events happened in Sumatra, but Shute decided for some reason to re-write it for Malaya. It doesn’t really make any difference, because it’s about the Japanese invasion anyway.

What I’ve learned is that I really like Nevil Shute’s writing. It’s easy reading. It’s very descriptive, and you get a real sense of place as  you read his books. He also does magnificent character studies. And he keeps you wondering where the story is going next. That was particularly the case with the Toolroom book, which was almost a mystery in a way, but not like today’s mysteries. This book isn’t a mystery, either. It’s really a love story, but you don’t discover it’s a love story until you’re nearly half way through the book. It’s not sappy, or pulp fiction. It’s literature.

The heroine is a feisty young English woman who has a very interesting youth, partly living in Malaya. The story is told from the voice of her attorney. A bit of a fusty older, single Londoner, you sense his wistfulness of what might have been had he been younger. But the story is really about the woman . . you learn about her parents and her brother. Suffice to say that she’s in Malaya (now Malaysia, I assume, although I’ve not consulted a map) when the Japanese invade and she’s taken prisoner. I’ll say no more about that, except that she meets a young Aussie man during this time period and never forgets him. His story is deep, poignant and excruciating.

Without giving away the plot, I’ll not give you any additional info, except that this book is such a good one. The “Alice” refers to Alice Springs in central outback Australia (I’ve been there). When I suggest you’ll feel a sense of place,  you truly will understand the Aussie outback a whole lot better when you’ve read this book. It’s a real winner. You’ll feel the same way about the Malaya jungle too. And you’ll be led along a very interesting story line that will stay with you long after you’ve finished it.

Posted in Fish, on March 8th, 2015.

halibut_provencal_potatoes

 White things are so difficult to photograph . . . the halibut is on the left, and potatoes on the right, with a little bonnet of sun-dried tomatoes providing a bit of color! No matter the bland look of it, the taste is what matters. That’s always what matters!

At the price of halibut these days, this dish will/should be a special treat. Unless you live in Alaska, perhaps, and have friends or family who give you some of their catch. Interestingly enough, when my DH and I visited Alaska some years ago ( that one a driving trip) halibut was on the menus of course, but I won’t say it was inexpensive. Surprising. So, if you’re halibut-averse, make this with salmon or sea bass, or even cod. It’ll still taste wonderful. It’s the sauce that makes this anyway.

Although this recipe was designed to be done in a slow cooker, I’m not even giving you that part because it was way too over-cooked, according to my friend Cherrie, who prepared it recently. At the class with Diane Phillips, she prepared this on the stove top since there wasn’t time to do it in a slow cooker. The flavors were wonderful – the fish with it’s wonderful texture, but it’s the sauce. The sauce, indeed!

What’s in it? – a bunch of different flavors – lemon zest and juice, garlic, paprika, herbes de Provence, sun dried tomatoes and capers. And some olive oil. Not all that difficult. I had to hunt for my herbes de Provence and it’s ancient, so I think I need to buy some new. Remember, herbs in a combo mix don’t hold their flavor for more than a few months.

The unusual thing about this preparation is the bed of Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into big bite-sized cubes on the bottom. You carefully lay the halibut on top of the potatoes and gently simmer it – or bake it in the oven until the fish has cooked through. The potatoes are partially cooked first, then you add the fish. And the fish doesn’t take long (about 10 minutes on the stove top and about 10-15 minutes in a 400° oven, depending on the thickness of the fish.

There’s no question this dish would make a lovely company dinner – just make a green veg (do make something colorful since the fish and potatoes aren’t full of color). You could make a salad, but it wouldn’t be strictly necessary.

What’s GOOD: the flavors/sauce are foremost. It’s also very easy to make, albeit expensive if you do use halibut. Well worth it, though.

What’s NOT: can’t think of anything I didn’t like about it.

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Halibut Provencal on a bed of Yukon Gold Potatoes

Recipe By: Diane Phillips, cookbook author and instructor
Serving Size: 8

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
zest of two lemons
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
4 garlic cloves — minced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, oil-packed — drained
1/2 cup capers — drained
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes — peeled and diced
36 ounces halibut fillets — in 6 equal pieces
1/2 cup Italian parsley — finely chopped

1. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon zest and juice, garlic, salt, pepper, paprika, herbes de Provence, sun-dried tomatoes and capers and set aside.
2. In a deep skillet (big enough to hold all the fish in one layer) and arrange the potatoes in the bottom.
3. Preheat oven to 400°.
4. Drizzle some of the lemon sauce mixture over the potatoes and toss to coat the potatoes.
5. Bake the potatoes for 20 minutes, covered, then remove. Arrange the halibut over the potatoes and pour the remaining sauce over the halibut.
6. Cover and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes. The fish will be opaque in the center and the potatoes will be tender.
7. Taste the sauce – if it has too much acidity, add just a little bit of salt.
8. Arrange the fish on a serving dish, surround with the potatoes and spoon some of the sauce over the fish. Garnish with the chopped parsley before serving. STOVE TOP: Prepare through step 4, using a bit more of the sauce. Simmer potatoes over low heat for about 15 minutes. They should be nearly tender. Add fish and the remaining sauce, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes until fish flakes apart easily with a fork. Plate and garnish the fish.
Per Serving: 328 Calories; 17g Fat (48.5% calories from fat); 28g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 41mg Cholesterol; 570mg Sodium.

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