Subscribe

Get updates sent to you for free by RSS, or by email:

Archives

Currently Reading


- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tasting Spoons

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

Scroll down to the bottom to view my Blogroll

Posted in Veggies/sides, on July 26th, 2014.

risotto_mushrooms_cognac

Risotto goes really well with grilled meat, and even in the heat of summer. When you make it in the Breville risotto cooker, it’s pretty seamless and easy, and if you barbecue outside, the kitchen stays cool. If you have an outdoor plug somewhere and a way to cook it there, you could even make the risotto on your patio! Then you’d have zero heat in the kitchen!

Recently my friend Cherrie and I combined our efforts and did dinner in their backyard. Our friend Joe was here too, so the 4 of us had a lovely meal on their cool Eucalyptus-shaded back deck. Part of the plan was that I was going to teach Bud how to do boneless, skinless chicken breasts on the barbecue without cooking them to dry leather. Bud has been a master barbecuer for decades, and he was very, very skeptical, but he was willing to try. Cherrie basically doesn’t buy chicken breasts to grill because she was convinced you can’t grill them and have them moist. I showed them how!

I do have to laugh – you’ve read it here before in recent weeks – I really don’t know how to do the actual act of barbecuing. Dave always barbecued. I did tell him HOW to do it, but I’d never done it myself. I did grill a steak a few weeks ago with success, but for the last month my barbecue has been out of commission  until my outdoor kitchen countertop is completed. So I still have some lessons to learn about the heating-up and temperature controlling of the barbecue. The cooking technique, though, I know, because I  used to tell Dave how to do it. So with Bud to control the barbecue temp, I felt pretty sure we could do it.

I defrosted 2 packages of Costco’s plump boneless, skinless chicken breasts and made the same recipe I posted a week or so ago – the Cha Cha Cha Jerk Chicken. I had the spice mix already prepared (I’d made double when I did it before), so I just marinated them in the pineapple juice and orange juice mixture with the spices added. They marinated for 24 hours. I drained the breasts, patted  them dry with paper towels and Bud grilled them for a couple of minutes on each side (to get pretty grill marks) then I had him bring them back into the kitchen. He was a bit perplexed about this part. I said “trust me.” I sliced each breast into wide strips, put them back into the marinade briefly, then put them back on the platter and out to the barbecue they went. I told Bud to just grill them for about 1-2 minutes on the cut sides (where you you certainly see that on the inside the chicken wasn’t done). He wasn’t so sure, but he did as I asked, and sure enough, they were perfect. The only different thing we did was to pour the marinade into a small saucepan and simmer it until it reduced down and we served that on the side. It was pretty hot (spicy heat) so it didn’t take much on each portion. And yes, the chicken was almost dripping in juices. Cherrie couldn’t believe it. A week later they had a big 5th of July party and used boneless, skinless thighs, and Bud was so proud of himself – he used the same technique and the chicken was SO moist. A different recipe/marinade, but grilling for grill marks, back in the marinade, then cut into a couple of long strips and back on the grill for 2-3 minutes, maybe a few more for thighs and they were done. Delicious.

So, now, back to risotto. Cherrie had yet to try to adapt her Breville BRC600XL The Risotto Plus Sauteing Slow Rice Cooker and Steamer to one of her own, existing risotto recipes. There are numerous recipes in the cook-booklet that comes with the cooker, but she wanted to branch out. So I showed her how to do it. The recipe below is made (and written up) in the traditional way, but it was quite simple to adapt it. Everything was cooked in the risotto cooker. I sautéed the shallot in oil and butter, then added the rice to harden it a bit before we moved to the next steps. I added in the mushrooms and let them cook for maybe 2-3 minutes. We used a LOT more mushrooms than the original recipe called for. Then I just poured in 3-4 cups of the broth. I left a little bit out, and did end up adding more at the end, and even a bit of water to get it loose enough to suit both Cherrie and me. Cognac and cream gets added in, plus some Parm and Italian parsley.

The recipe comes from the 1987 risotto bible – Risotto: More than 100 Recipes for the Classic Rice Dish of Northern Italy. I guess it’s still in print – probably because it’s just so classic and filled with great recipes. My poor old, spine-cracked copy has seen a lot of use over the years, and this recipe is one I’ve made many times over the years. Just not recently.

What’s GOOD: I don’t think I’ve ever met a risotto I haven’t liked, unless it’s been overcooked (like they often are in mediocre restaurants who don’t understand how it’s supposed to be). This one is a winner. The cognac adds a lovely undertone, a rich flavor. The mushrooms (ample) provided some veggie with our dinner (although the photo doesn’t show many of them). Altogether wonderful recipe. This makes a beautiful company side dish.
What’s NOT: nothing except the making of it if you use the traditional stir-stir-stir method. That part’s a bit tedious. Enlist help from your family or guests. Children might not like this with the cognac – the alcohol surely cooks out – but it does add a flavor that kids might not like. If so, leave it out, but substitute more broth or water.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Risotto with Fresh Mushrooms, Cognac, and Cream

Recipe By: Adapted from Risotto, by Barrett and Wasserman, 1987
Serving Size: 7 (side dish – and maybe would serve more than that)

MUSHROOMS:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 cups shiitake mushrooms — stems removed and sliced or coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup Cognac — or brandy
1/2 cup half and half — or heavy cream
SOFFRITO:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup shallots — finely minced
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon Italian parsley — chopped fresh
BROTH:
5 cups broth — half chicken and half beef
RICE:
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice

1. MUSHROOMS: Heat the butter and oil in a skillet over moderate heat. When it starts to foam, add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 to 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are soft. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn the heat to high, add the Cognac, and cook until it is reduced by half. Lower the heat, add the cream, and continue cooking until the cream has reduced slightly and thickened (about 5 minutes). Turn off the heat and set aside.
2. BROTH: Bring the broth to a steady simmer in a saucepan on the top of the stove.
3. SOFFRITO: Heat the butter and oil in a heavy 4-quart casserole over moderate heat. Add the shallot and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes, until it begins to soften, being careful not to brown it.
4. RICE: Add the rice to the soffritto; using a wooden spoon, stir for 1 minute, making sure all the grains are well coated. Begin to add the simmering broth, 1/2 cup at a time. Wait until each addition is almost completely absorbed before adding the next 1/2 cup. Stir frequently to prevent sticking.
5. After approximately 18-20 minutes, when the rice is tender but still firm, add the mushrooms, Cognac, cream mixture, Parmesan, and parsley – and stir vigorously to combine with the rice. Cook until the rice still has a hint of chew to the grain. Add water if the mixture gets too firm. Serve immediately. You may add more parsley and Parm on top if you’d like.
Per Serving: 590 Calories; 11g Fat (16.2% calories from fat); 15g Protein; 111g Carbohydrate; 12g Dietary Fiber; 23mg Cholesterol; 101mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on July 22nd, 2014.

anise_cake_coyote_cafe

Knowing some of you as I do, I’m venturing a guess that many most of you will look at that picture, read the word anise, and just decide nope, it’s not for you. You’d be making a big mistake. You’re going to miss out on a really wonderful taste treat. Curiously, I don’t like licorice. Period. I don’t eat the candy, nor the liqueurs made from it. Yuck. But this cake, oh yes, I love it.

Back in 2007 (a couple of months after I started writing this blog, and my photos were awful, I must tell you!) I posted this recipe. Most of you weren’t reading my blog back then. It was a baby blog, you could say, and I didn’t have all that many readers. Still today I have no idea whether people download recipes or not (I know how many people look at my blog, but downloading the pdf, or the MasterCook files, I don’t know).  This is a recipe I’ve been making for well over 20 years. And not all that often, but when I do make it, it’s always a hit. I had a group of women friends over for a potluck lunch and at the last minute (well, 9:30 for an noon lunch) I decided to whip up this cake. It took about 45 minutes of preparation, then the rest was easy (baking and cooling time).

The original recipe came from Mark Miller’s cookbook Coyote Cafe: Foods from the Great Southwest, Recipes from Coyote Café. Back in the early 80s I was quite enamored with southwestern food (still am, but Mexican food has to stand in since southwestern restaurants have basically been and gone) and on a trip to Santa Fe on a food tour, I ate at Miller’s restaurant. I was smitten. With his cookbook in hand, I have prepared some of the recipes from it, but the standout by far is this cake.

Anise Seed Tip:

When you toast anise, it absolutely mellows out the flavor. There is nothing pungent or strong about the flavor once it’s toasted/roasted. You’ll be amazed. Considering that there’s 4 tablespoons of anise in this cake!

Over the years I’ve changed it some – it’s still resembles his recipe – with eggs, butter, anise seed, sugar, vanilla, flour, etc. But I lightened it up (the texture mostly) a little bit many years ago. I reduced the amount of butter, and I separated the eggs to whip the whites to texturally lighten the cake from a heavy pound cake to just a “cake.” It’s still made in a tube pan, and baked for a little longer.

Let’s talk about anise seed a little bit. You know already that it is part of the licorice family – in some countries anise and fennel go by the same name. They certainly are similar. They’re both very aromatic. stovetop_spice_toaster_pan_mesh_lid_closed

In this recipe, the anise seeds have to be toasted. I have a cute little stovetop spice toaster thing. I bought it years ago and have no recollection where. Might have been in an Indian market, since Indian cuisine uses a lot of toasted spices. It’s about 8 inches long, and the metal pan is little more than paper thin, but that means the spices toast in a jiffy. The mesh lid clips down so when hot spices begin to dance and/or pop, they stovetop_spice_toaster_lid_opendon’t go flying.  Once the pan heats up you absolutely have to be right there at the stove gently shaking the pan – otherwise the spices would burn. It’s a miraculous little thing and when I use it I’m ever so glad I have it. But you can use any old pan – just watch it carefully so the spices don’t burn. Generally it takes 2-4 minutes to toast spices over a medium to medium high heat. As soon as they’re done, however, tip the contents out onto a plate so they don’t continue to toast. With my little toaster, I just set it onto the cold granite countertop, and move it about 3 times, shaking it as I move it and the spices stop toasting.

anise_cake_batterThe cake batter is fairly standard. But it sure looks different because of the finely ground toasted anise seed in it – it makes a lovely taupe color as you can see in the photo at right. I’d just folded in the whipped egg whites when I took that picture. The batter is relatively thick, and you do need to fold those whipped egg whites until you can’t see any streaks. Then it’s scooped into the tube pan, leveled slightly and baked. The original recipe said it baked in 50-60 minutes. Mine takes longer, from 60-80 minutes, depending on your oven. I used my instant read thermometer and baked it until I got a reading of about 200° in several places.

anise_cake_wholeIt cools in the pan for awhile (an hour), then you can remove the outer part of the tube pan. Even though the pan is greased and flour-dusted, I always run a knife around the edge (mine is old – it’s not a nonstick – I think tube pans – mostly designed for making angel food cake aren’t ever supposed to be nonstick). Once the outer rim is removed, then I run a knife underneath the cake and around the center tube and usually the cake will come out of the tube onto your outstretched hand and forearm. Then gently place it onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

I think this is best with nothing but vanilla ice cream or whipped cream – you want the anise flavor to shine through. If you add fruit or syrups or anything, it will just dampen the anise flavor.

What’s GOOD: to me, the anise flavor is just off the charts. When I served this to my group of lady friends they – to a person – raved. And I mean RAVED. The cake isn’t hard to make at all. Do use anise that’s not too old, or it won’t have good flavor. Am sure my jar is at least a year old, but it hadn’t been opened, so I knew it was good. Freeze the left overs, if you have any. It’s best eaten the day it’s made if at all possible.

What’s NOT: well, if you don’t like anise, I’m sorry! But remember, I don’t like licorice and I just adore this cake. You might be a convert to this type of anise flavor.

printer-friendly CutePDF

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Anise Pound Cake a la Coyote Cafe

Recipe By: Adapted some from Mark Miller’s cookbook, Coyote Cafe
Serving Size: 16

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
14 ounces unsalted butter — softened
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 tablespoons anise seed — roasted, ground
5 large eggs — separated
2/3 cup sour cream — (I used a mix of sour cream and Greek yogurt)

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan. Sift together flour and salt, then set aside. To toast the anise seeds, use an iron skillet, or pan with a heavy bottom, if possible. Heat the pan (dry) to medium-high. Add the seeds, and either shake or stir with a spatula until the seeds begin to brown. If they begin to smoke, the heat may be too high – be careful and don’t burn them. You want them to be just past golden brown – but not burned. This will take 2-3 minutes, maybe 4, depending on the heat level. Immediately tip the seeds out onto a big plate (to stop the toasting altogether).
2. Cream the butter with sugar, vanilla and toasted, finely ground anise seed until light, 5-7 minutes. In another bowl, whip the egg whites until they reach stiff peaks and set aside. To the caek batter add the egg yolks, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Then add dry ingredients alternately with the sour cream. Scrape the bowl well and mix until blended. Then, using a spatula fold in the egg whites until mixed in and no streaks of white are visible. (This is a bit difficult because the batter is thick.)
3. Pour or scoop into prepared pan and bake for approximately 60-75 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch. If using an instant read thermometer, bake until cake reaches 200°, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool on a rack for about 45 minutes, then run a knife around the outside of the pan and around the center, then remove the outer part of the tube pan. Holding onto the top of the tube, slide a knife all along bottom (between the cake and the bottom of the cake, turning the cake as you go. Unmold the cake onto your outstretched hand, then quickly, but gently, turn it back over onto the cooling rack. Can serve warm.
4. Serve in small slices with vanilla ice cream, or with fresh, sliced summer fruit (peaches, strawberries, other berries) and whipped cream. You’ll have the more predominant anise flavor if you serve it plain with ice cream or whipped cream.
Per Serving: 411 Calories; 24g Fat (52.2% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 45g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 125mg Cholesterol; 155mg Sodium.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on July 18th, 2014.

french_style_poppy_seed_noodles

We don’t seem to make egg noodles all that much anymore. Yet they are still a regular in almost every grocery store. Am I the only one who doesn’t think to use them regularly?  For whatever reason this old-old recipe of mine popped into my head when I was making the Japanese Burgers the other night. I wouldn’t have made them just for myself, but I had a dinner guest and I knew he liked pasta.

This recipe has been in my 5×8 ring binder for years – and since it was typed onto the 3-hole punched page, I knew that meant it was one of the earliest recipes I put into that book that I started creating in about 1965. I looked online and found nothing similar. My typed recipe doesn’t say where the recipe came from. And truth to tell, this dish isn’t going to make waves. You’re not going to be raving about it to all your friends. It’s just a simple, homey kind of comfort noodle dish. This type of noodle preparation appears to be German or Austrian (sometimes made with a type of potato noodle). But my typed recipe clearly indicated it’s French. Maybe from the sour cream added in.  Who knows.

noodles_ready_to_bakeOne of the nice things about this is it can be made a few hours ahead and reheated. The pasta is cooked – undercooked actually – and combined with sour cream, a bit of milk, seasonings, poppy seeds and I add green onions. It’s all mixed up, placed in a casserole dish, dotted with butter and more poppy seeds and green onions. And with a bit of lemon juice squeezed over the top if desired. It gets covered. Then it’s baked for 20-30 minutes. There’s no cheese  – but you could add it if you want. If so, I’d use Gruyere or Fontina. Not cheddar or mozzie, or even Jack cheese. No. It would need to be a little more flavorful European cheese, but not Parm. But I liked it just fine without cheese.

This dish is meant to be a subtle carb side that’s just an addition to a flavorful protein. Let your protein be the star of the show, in other words. Your kids will like the noodles – they’re relatively plain as long as they like sour cream.

What’s GOOD: its simplicity. It’s comfort food, but not ooey, gooey kind. It rounds out a dinner, or a plate alongside a flavorful protein like a burger, a steak, a pork chop, a chicken breast.

What’s NOT: this isn’t a “wow” recipe. Just simple, plain food. Tasty, easy.

printer-friendly CutePDF

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

French-Style Poppy Seed Egg Noodle Dish

Recipe By: A recipe from my ancient hand-typed cookbook. Have no idea of its origin.
Serving Size: 8 small servings

8 ounces egg noodles
6 tablespoons sour cream
3 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon dried herbs — your choice (I used thyme, oregano, dried basil, sage)
2 tablespoons green onions — minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds — (save some for garnishing the top)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
2. Cook the egg noodles in boiling, salted water but cook them fewer minutes than recommended so there is still a bite to them. Drain.
2. Meanwhile, In a large bowl combine the sour cream, milk, herbs, poppy seeds (most of them) and green onions. Pour the hot noodles over this mixture and stir well. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Pour into a greased casserole dish. Sprinkle additional poppy seeds on top, dot with butter, and drizzle with the lemon juice. Cover with lid or foil.
4. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Time your dinner so you can take this out of the oven and serve it immediately. Because of the airiness of the noodles (it’s not a solid mass like lasagna) they cool very quickly.
5. Make Ahead: You can prepare this up through step 3 and chill the casserole. Remove from refrigerator at least 30 minutes before baking, and check time in the oven – it may take a few more minutes to heat through and cook the noodles. I wouldn’t advise freezing this casserole as too many ice crystals would form on all the looped noodles.
Per Serving: 195 Calories; 10g Fat (46.3% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 48mg Cholesterol; 16mg Sodium.

Posted in Travel, on July 17th, 2014.

We were in Kings Canyon National Park (south of Sequoia, in central California) on the west side of the Sierra Mountains, just east of Fresno. We were at a place called Cedar Grove, about 40 miles into the park, and at the end of a very long, winding road. Campground photos are down below.

river_1

One of the days we spent 3-4 hours here (above). The water was shallow, so the 2 young boys were relatively safe. The water was cold-cold. Temps that day were about 85. Most of the time I spent sitting in a chair, in the water right at the bottom of this photo in that shady area. Because the water is so very low (drought) the flat areas have eroded away and the picnic table, bottom right, was actually IN the water – somebody moved it there because there is no flat ground for the picnic table to be. People in our group sat there at the table, off and on, between fly fishing upstream and downstream, wading out to that big rock on the right edge. I read my book mostly.

river_3

There’s another view of a different part of the river near the campground. I never did find out whether the bark beetle has arrived in this area – they can devastate an entire forest, but I didn’t understand why there were so many dead pine trees as you can see above. Bark beetles are very diligent and relentless. They don’t, hardly ever, leave any trees untouched. So perhaps the few dead trees died of something else. The above is the Kings River.

river 2

Just another view of the river. I loved the shade. It was mighty hot in the sunshine.

campsite_1

This was the campsite. Breakfast had been served. My son Powell is on the right in the navy blue shirt. His wife Karen is in the chair on the left. Her sister and her husband are in front of her. In the foreground is my son’s mother-in-law and her hubby is in the white t-shirt. The other folks at the table were friends of Karen’s sister. I do believe they were all looking left because the firepit was over there, and the 2 boys (6 and 5) were forever wanting to be too close to the fire, throwing in twigs, dead leaves and anything they could possibly find within 50 yards to add to the fire. They couldn’t wait for the fire to be lit every day (early morning and evening). What IS it about boys and fire? Must go back to caveman days.

As for me, I was staying down the road at the lodge (that’s the glamping part). All of the folks above were tent camping with either air mattresses or cots. I used to do that when I was young, but not anymore. Besides, the lodge had A/C in the room. I spent a part of each day there, taking a nap or reading and so grateful for the cool air. It was in the 90s the last day I was there. Dreadful.

stream_1

A little creek near the campground. In another few weeks it’ll be dry, I’m sure, as the drought has really affected the California mountains. Less snow than usual means less runoff.

I’m back home now – got home on Monday (I was gone for 5 days). One of my granddaughters (Taylor) arrived the same day I drove home. I paid for her to attend a 3-day seminar about how to write your college essays. She’ll be a senior this year and will be applying to nursing schools in the next couple of months. My friend Kathy’s daughter Meredith teaches this essay-writing class several times each summer. Taylor went home this morning. Taylor’s cousin Shalinn came down also, so they both attended this workshop and each wrote 3 essays over the course of the 3 days.

My outdoor kitchen and new patio furniture is nearly finished. The tables and 4 chairs to the bar-height table all went off to be newly powder coated, so won’t be able to eat outside for a long while (4 weeks, they said). The barbecue hasn’t been put back into the countertop yet and am waiting for that. Pictures eventually.

Posted in Beef, on July 14th, 2014.

japanese_burger_onion_curry_sauce

I was in the mood for some kind of fancy burger. I perused my to-try recipe collection, and up popped this recipe, from Food52 for a Japanese style burger (they called it a chopped steak) with an unusual sauce of caramelized onions, tamari, sake, Madras curry powder and ketchup. What a combination, I thought!

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ll notice an absence of much of any Japanese influence. I eat sushi once in a blue moon, and only if it’s tuna or a California roll. I spent a couple of months in Japan years ago (1965 to be exact) and I wasn’t particularly enamored with the food. Tempura was good, but even then I knew it was rich and it didn’t appeal to me every day. If there were sushi restaurants in Japan when I was there, I sure never saw them. Probably the thought of eating raw fish made me cringe. Gyoza, however, I love. Fried, of course. I buy the ones at Trader Joe’s now and then and like them. I like my own better – they have more shrimp and pork in them, but oh, gosh, are they a lot of work. The TJ’s ones will do me just fine! I did make sukiyaki at home for some years after my 1965 trip, but even that recipe has disappeared and I haven’t craved it. Today sushi is king.

And, since we know from all the health experts that we shouldn’t OD on salt, I am careful about cooking with or using too much plain salt, or soy sauce, for instance. And with the scare about arsenic in rice, I also limit how much rice I eat.

All that leads up to the fact that this recipe appealed to me recently, tarmari included! As I write this, my best friend Cherrie is in Hawaii in a timeshare they’ve owned for years. She’s with her friend Jackie who also loves Hawaii as much as Cherrie does. Cherrie’s hubby, Bud, is fending for himself at home, so I invited him to come have dinner with me. Right now I have no working outdoor barbecue (an outdoor kitchen is under construction, and I’ll share the photos when it’s done) so it needed to be something cooked on the stovetop or oven. Bud is going to give me some barbecue lessons (you may remember I’ve mentioned here, that I really don’t know how to barbecue – Dave always – always did the barbecuing). I do understand the technique, but I need guidance about the brand of barbecue I have. Bud and Cherrie own the same brand (gas). I don’t know whether I mentioned it a week or so ago, but recently my cousin Gary flew down to visit me (stories on that soon) and his 2nd night here I defrosted a prime steak and I DID barbecue it. It took longer than I’d thought it would, but I think the fire wasn’t quite as hot as Dave would have used. But it worked perfectly, and the steak was done just the way I liked it – seared and charred on the outside – and at a perfect 125-128° temp on the inside, solidly pink with no gray anywhere. I was quite proud of myself. Back-patting here, okay????

A trip to the market ensued because I didn’t have the right combo of ground meats (half ground chuck, half ground sirloin), tamari, sake, and enough onions to make the caramelized ones needed for the burgers and the sauce. One thing I wondered about was what’s the difference between soy sauce and tamari. Well, not much, but tamari is generally less salty (good) and it’s also a thicker sauce than soy sauce (good in this instance since it was in a sauce). I also didn’t have sake on hand.

caramelized_onionsOne thing you need to know about this dinner, if you haven’t made caramelized onions lately, is that it takes a long, LONG time to caramelize onions. And you’d be amazed at how much you start out with (2 1/2 cups) and what you end up with (about 2/3 cup). I forget how long it takes (at least 45 minutes) – good thing I started working on dinner at about 4:00. I took the photo before the onions were fully caramelized. I figured you’d not be able to even see them against that black nonstick pan if I took the photo later, when they were nearly the color of mahogany.

I made Marinated Tomatoes to go with it, and some nice steamed broccoli. (The recipe indicated sliced tomatoes, broccoli and rice are standard sides with this burger.)  Our markets are just now starting to get good tasting tomatoes, so I used Kumato again, because I really like their flavor. And I made an ancient recipe of mine for a French-style poppy seed egg noodle dish which I’ll post in a few days. I didn’t serve rice, as any self-respecting Japanese person would eat with this.

The gist of the recipe is as follows: you cook up a ton of onions (chopped) until they’re caramelized a dark brown but not burned. You mix up the ground meat, eggs, seasonings, some bread crumbs soaked in milk (which gave these burgers perfect texture, IMHO). Most of the caramelized onions are added to the burgers (reserving the remaining for the sauce) and you gently shape them into 6 thick burgers. I pressed an indent in the middle which worked like a charm for a more evenly flat shaped finished burger. I refrigerated the burgers on waxed paper at that point. Meanwhile I set up all the things to go into the sauce – easy. I made the noodle dish and that went into the toaster oven for 25 minutes. I’d already made the tomatoes and they were chilling in the refrigerator. I prepped the broccoli in my cute little Lekue steam case, drizzled lightly with oil. The burgers are sautéed in butter (not much) – seared to get a nice dark crust on one side, turned over to do the same on the other side. I used my instant-read thermometer to test the meat – I wanted it to be 130°, or even a bit under. The burgers were removed to a hot plate in a low oven while I mixed up the sauce. To the pan I’d fixed the burgers in I added the flour and curry powder and let that sizzle just a bit, then added the reserved onions, tamari, ketchup, sake (with sugar dissolved) and finally water. That just cooked slowly for a few minutes. I added a tetch of water (about 2 T) because it got thick quickly. That’s it. Burgers were plated and the sauce spooned over the top. Garnish with parsley if desired.

What’s GOOD: the flavor of the burger was stupendous. It was just tender, just cooked through, just perfect. The sauce was a bit salty tasted on its own (so be careful not to add too much salt to the burgers themselves, but they do need a little bit), but with a bite of the burger it was great. Altogether fabulous dish. It would be worthy of a company meal for sure. Not difficult for a weeknight meal except for the caramelizing of the onions.

What’s NOT: regarding flavor, nothing. Just know you have to stir and cook those darned onions for a long, long time.

printer-friendly CutePDF

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Japanese Burgers with Caramelized Onion Curry Gravy

Recipe By: Food 52, 2013
Serving Size: 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter — divided into 4 tablespoons
2 1/2 cups yellow onions — small dice
1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup bread crumbs — gluten-free or otherwise
1 pound ground chuck
1 pound ground sirloin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 eggs
2 tablespoons flour — or 3 tablespoons brown rice flour
1 tablespoon Madras curry powder
1 1/2 cup water — (1 1/2 to 2)
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons sake
1 teaspoon sugar — dissolved in the sake
2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce — (2 to 3)
Parsley for garnish

1. In a large sauté pan, heat the oil with 1 tablespoon of butter. When the butter has melted, add the onions and caramelize them slowly over medium heat. This takes a LONG time. Be patient and stir often.
2. While the onions are gently sizzling away combine the milk and bread crumbs in a large mixing bowl. All your ground meat will go into this bowl, so make sure it is large. Let the bread crumbs absorb the milk.
3. Add the ground meats to the bowl along with a teaspoon of salt, black pepper to taste, and the eggs. Mix it well, making sure to really work everything together so you get a nice blend.You don’t want any streaks of the bread crumb/milk mixture, or egg white.
4. Once the onions are French onion soup brown, remove them from the pan to a plate. You can re-use the pan – remove any burned bits. Let the onions cool a minute, then add 3/4 of the onions to the steak mix and knead them in. Form six 6-ounce patties. If time permits, place the burgers on a waxed paper lined sheet and refrigerate for 1 hour (makes them easier to handle).
4. Place the pan back onto the heat and turn it to medium high. Add the remaining butter and let it melt and bubble, but not burn. If it begins to burn, turn the heat down. Once the bubbles begin to subside, add the burgers (if your sauté pan isn’t big enough, do this in batches.) Brown them on both sides, cook them to about 130°F (use an instant read thermometer with the probe into the center of each burger) or to your desired temperature and then gently remove them to a warmed plate and keep them in a low oven while you make the pan gravy.
5. If your butter is burned, clean pan and start over. There should be a bit of butter left in the pan (if not, add just a little bit). Add the remaining onions and the flour and let them cook for a minute or two while you are stirring it around. Add the curry powder, stir once or twice to break out the spice flavors, and then add the water, ketchup, sake, and tamari, stirring the entire time until the sauce comes to a boil and thickens. Make sure to use your wooden spoon to scrape up all the goodies from the bottom of the pan. Taste and adjust the seasoning (don’t add salt). If it is too thick, add water a 1/4 cup at a time, stirring between additions. Taste and adjust the seasonings if needed.
6. Place the burgers on individual plates and pour the sauce over the top. If desired, serve with steamed white rice and vegetables (traditionally broccoli, potatoes, and sliced tomatoes).
Per Serving: 581 Calories; 41g Fat (64.6% calories from fat); 33g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 202mg Cholesterol; 921mg Sodium.

Posted in Cookies, on July 10th, 2014.

earl_grey_tea_cookies

I don’t recall when it was that I first read about Earl Grey (tea) cookies (oops, I see I misspelled Grey in the photo). But I remember thinking hmmm, that might be very interesting. So, when I ran across a recipe for them at Food52 not so long ago, I decided to try them.

As it turned out, I came down with a cold 2 days before I was supposed to hostess a group of friends at my home for a book review. In this group the hostess obviously IS the hostess; she also selects the book, and she reviews the book too. So if the hostess gets sick, well, there’s trouble in River City! And I was sick. I’m sick as I write this – on day 3 of this cold. One of my friends agreed to have the group at her home. I took these to her – these cookies and the new cream cheese brownie batch I made also (all prepared a week ago before I had any symptoms, even, of a cold). I also took her all my notes so she could try to lead the discussion. It all worked out fine, she said, and everyone really enjoyed both cookies.

These guys were truly easy to make. But, you do need a coffee (spice) grinder, or in my case I have a coffee grinder that’s used only for grinding up herbs and spices – it’s never used for coffee. So, first off, I selected which Earl Grey tea I was going to use (Republic of Tea) and I put the amount needed into earl_grey_ground_finethe grinder, and let it whirl. Make sure you grind the tea into a complete powder – not just ground up like coffee. You want it to almost disappear in the dough – although with a dark color, of course you can’t do that. In the cookies in the photo, you can see the tea in it, obviously.

There at left you can see the tea ground to a fine powder. It probably could have been chopped even finer. Remember, Earl Grey has bergamot in it – and I don’t know whether they use bergamot flowers or also some of the twigs. If there is any question in your mind about whether it’s ground up fine enough, grind it some more. In a cookie I ate, I did find a little tiny bit of grit – so perhaps I didn’t grind it enough myself.

In the original recipe you were offered the choice of using coconut oil as the fat in it, or butter, so since I couldn’t find my coconut oil, obviously I had to use butter. There’s also 2 ounces of cream cheese in this. Otherwise, it’s a relatively standard shortbread kind of cookie. It was chilled for awhile (I ended up chilling it for a couple of days). But it does need to be warmed slightly in order to roll it out. I didn’t get it rolled out uniformly (see picture) but it didn’t seem to matter to the flavor. The dough was quite sticky, so I had to use flour with every smaller amount I rolled up.

The cookies are baked at 375°F for 10-12 minutes. Mine were done at 11 minutes, but your oven might be different. They are baked on parchment paper and you do have to allow them to rest for 10 minutes or so before removing them from the pan. I was able to fit this batch onto two half sheet pans. They freeze just fine too.

In the original recipe the originator of the recipe likes to make sandwich cookies with chocolate ganache in the middle. That sounded richer than I wanted for a morning event, so I just left them as is, and I was certain the chocolate would overpower the tea. They were delicious as is.

What’s GOOD: the subtlety of the tea – you have to concentrate to even taste it. I think it would be really nice with some Earl Grey tea – I haven’t tried it that way as yet, but I have some in the freezer, so I will on some cool morning. They were easy to make and certainly different!

What’s NOT: nothing at all.

printer-friendly CutePDF

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Earl Grey Tea Cookies

Recipe By: Food52
Serving Size: 45

2 1/2 tablespoons Earl Grey tea — loose leaf
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cream cheese
6 ounces coconut oil — or 2 cubes unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons apple juice
Chocolate Ganache for dipped cookies (optional)

1. Grind the tea in a coffee grinder until it’s VERY fine – like powder almost. Place the ground tea, sugar and salt into a food processor and mix together. Then, after each addition of the following, process for a few seconds to combine: flour, butter, cream cheese, vanilla extract and apple juice (last). Once the dough starts forming together, take the dough out of the processor and form into 2 balls. Refrigerate for 1 hour or more.
2. Preheat oven to 375°. Keep one ball chilled while you’re working with the other one. On a slightly floured surface, roll out one ball to a 1/8 inch thickness.
3. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Once you’ve rolled out the dough, cut out shapes (circles, squares or other type). Very carefully lift each cookie onto the parchment paper. The cookies will not spread, so you can place them on the cookie sheet quite close together. Chill cookie sheet with the cookies on it for less than a minute. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the sheet before you slide them off and let them finish cooling on a wire rack. Keep re-rolling and cutting the shapes until all your dough is gone, or roll dough into a log and freeze for later.
4. If desired you can use chocolate ganache and make sandwich cookies. Or, dip 1/3 of the cookie into chocolate ganache after the cookies have completely cooled off. In this case, make the cookie 1/4-1/2 inch thick and keep the ganache on the thin side so the cookies don’t break.
Per Serving: 69 Calories; 4g Fat (52.3% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 1mg Cholesterol; 14mg Sodium.

Posted in Cookies, Desserts, on July 6th, 2014.

cream_cheese_brownies_cooks_illus

Since I’ve made cream cheese brownies by an age-old recipe for a lot of years – and liked them – I thought why should I try something different? But as I read about the development of the recipe, I concluded that there probably was sufficient reason to try them.

With an upcoming group of ladies coming to my house for a book review, I decided to make these a week or so ahead. As I read the article in Cook’s Illustrated, the recipe developer talked about never collagebeing completely satisfied with the old recipe – it produced either a dry-ish brownie with a soggy kind of cream cheese middle, or the cream cheese part was chalky and tasteless, or the brownie part was wet and too dense. Or even worse, she found the brownies overpowered the subtle flavors of the cream cheese layer. So, off she went to figure out how to make these a better way. And indeed she did.

The pictures at left: (1) the foil slings; (2) the brownie bottom layer with the cream cheese batter poured over the top; (3) the cream cheese layer has been spread out, then a reserved amount of the chocolate batter is poured on top and then – (4) it’s swirled just 10-12 times, and (5) baked.

Here’s the more detailed directions. First off, you prepare a foil sling for the 8-inch pan (no, don’t use a 9-inch, please!). Get those foil liners folded just right and they fit perfectly. Pressed into the sides and corners, you spray it with baking spray or grease it with butter if you’d prefer.

Then you make the cream cheese filling – it’s easy – the cream cheese is briefly warmed in the microwave, then mixed with sugar, sour cream and a tablespoon of flour. That gets set aside.

Next is the chocolate – it’s melted in a small bowl in the microwave with butter. Then you mix up the main part of the brownies and add in the chocolate. This 8-inch pan uses just 4 ounces of chocolate. That’s all! A small amount of the batter is set aside, then you spread the cream cheese filling on top and dollop the remaining chocolate batter in 6-8 blobs and using a kitchen knife, you swirl it all, leaving a 1/2 inch edge unswirled. Into the oven it goes for 35-40 minutes and they’re done. The brownies need to cool for an hour in the pan, then once removed from the pan still in the foil slings for another hour. So, NO, you can’t eat these immediately! I let them cool a couple of hours, then cut them into smaller than the directed size. I thought my book group friends might like a smaller sized brownie, so I cut the pan into about 1 1/4-inch squares.

What’s GOOD: indeed, these cream cheese brownies had just the right distinction of brownie (chocolate) and cream cheese (filling). You could definitely taste the cream cheese part, but you could also taste the chocolate, but it wasn’t overpowering at all. I used Valrhona chocolate (just about the best out there). These were just delicious. Definitely worth making again.
What’s NOT: nothing in particular – it does take a few extra dishes to make the 2 different layers, though.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Cream Cheese Brownies – a Better Way

Recipe By: Cook’s Illustrated 2014
Serving Size: 16

CREAM CHEESE FILLING:
4 ounces cream cheese — cut into 8 pieces
1/2 cup sour cream — full fat
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

BROWNIE BATTER:
2/3 cup all-purpose flour — 3 1/3 ounces
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate — chopped fine
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Notes: As a dessert, a 2×2 inch serving would be fine – but you can cut these into smaller pieces to serve more people – more like a cookie serving. I did that, and got about 40 pieces or so.
1. FILLING: Microwave the cream cheese until soft, about 20-30 seconds. Add sour cream, sugar and flour and whisk to combine. Set aside.
2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325°F. Make foil slings for an 8-inch sized square pan by folding 2 long sheets of foil so each is 8 inches wide. Lay sheets of foil in pan, perpendicular to each other, with extra foil hanging over edges of pan. Push foil into corners and up sides of pan, smoothing foil flush to pan. Grease foil, or spray with baking spray.
3. BROWNIE BATTER: Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together in bowl and set aside. Microwave chocolate and butter in bowl at 50% power (so it doesn’t burn), stirring at least twice, until melted, about 1-2 minutes. Watch it carefully.
4. Whisk sugar, eggs and vanilla together in medium bowl. Add melted chocolate mixture (do not clean the small chocolate bowl) and whisk until incorporated. Add flour mixture and fold to combine.
5. Transfer 1/2 cup of batter to the bowl used to melt chocolate. Spread the remaining batter in prepared pan (this is the big bowl of batter). Spread cream cheese filling evenly over batter.
6. Microwave small bowl of reserved batter until warm and pourable (about 10-20 seconds). Using spoon, dollop softened batter over cream cheese filling, about 6-8 dollops. Using knife, swirl batter through cream cheese filling, making marbled pattern – maximum of 10-12 strokes – leaving a 1/2-inch border around edges.
7. Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out with few moist crumbs attached, 35-40 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Let cool in pan on wire rack for an hour.
8. Using foil overhang, lift brownies out of pan. Return brownies to wire rack and let cool completely, about an hour. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve.
Per Serving: 225 Calories; 14g Fat (54.3% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 24g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 53mg Cholesterol; 117mg Sodium.

Posted in Uncategorized, on July 4th, 2014.

Today is a holiday. Not usually a day I’d choose to write sad stuff. But it’s what’s on my mind. If you don’t want to know the details about my grieving process, skip this post!

Later today I’ll be with friends, thankfully. I’ve had a few emails, and a few comments this week from some of you, my readers, asking about how I’m doing. With the grief thing. Three days ago I would have said I’m doing really, really well. Today, not so much. There’s simply no predicting. Last week at my grief class I said I was a 5 on the scale of 1-10. I was really proud of myself.  Too proud, probably. Then a bunch of little things happened.

(1) First, I’m still buried in paperwork. We had/have a living trust. And although trusts are designed to protect some of the assets couples own (they do and it will for me), they also carry with them a “burden” of paperwork after the death of the first spouse. My Quicken program just wasn’t cooperating in trying to do the online handshake with my bank. It took me 2 weeks to sort that out with my bank. Way too long. Now I’m starting with the monthly reporting the estate attorney needs, and I must backtrack them, date wise, to when my husband passed away. None of it is difficult. It’s just that every check I write, or arrange to pay online through a new account I was required to open, must be categorized and accounted for. Like many of us, I pay a lot of my bills online and many are automatic. All those have to be changed to this new account. Tedious work. Never the same from one firm or utility to the next. Time consuming. Frustrating. I’m continuing to work on it, but it’s just a whole lot of work and none of it is any fun. I am/was the financial person in our marriage – I paid 99% of the bills, did the tax preparation, etc. My darling husband would have been dumbfounded by all this work. He wouldn’t have known where to begin. He’d have just sent all the bank statements to the attorney and let them charge their $165/hour paralegal and $650/hour attorney fees that would have accompanied that work.

(2) Next, a couple of days ago I had a little phone snit with an insurance company about a very old bill. From 2012. The bill I just received was from our pharmacy – claiming that our insurance hadn’t paid what was owed on this small monitoring equipment Dave used for measuring his blood sugar. All the way back that long ago. Right after Dave died, I paid it just to get it out of my hair ($142), but then got billed again for it. So I started digging. The pharmacy said our secondary insurance company didn’t pay. So I called the insurance company, only to find out that their files don’t go back to 2012. Really? They claim they never received the initial bill from the pharmacy or notice from Medicare. However, to go back that long ago (even though this is a new bill) I’d have to go through some kind of written claim to get the ball rolling to re-bill them. The pharmacy won’t give me my money back. I explained to the kind lady (she really was kind, but couldn’t really help me much) that my husband had recently died and that I’d paid it in error. Well, sorry. No, we can’t give the money back. I hung up and burst into tears. It just was overwhelming. That one thing should not have overwhelmed me, but it did. It became my tipping point, the edge of the precipice. Or the straw that broke the camel’s back. I’m detail oriented. I keep notes and records. But Dave’s not here to ask. He probably knew all about it. And would have had a ready answer. And probably would have told me NOT to pay the bill. But I had, just because right after he died I wasn’t coping very well with anything. After I had a good cry, I just said “oh well,” it’s over and done with, and I’m simply not going to fight the insurance company over $142. I’m going to let it go. But it put my emotions into turmoil. After working frantically the night before on balancing the new checking account and laying awake half the night, I was tired and cranky. I don’t cope well when I haven’t slept well.

(3) In the process of calling this insurance company I had to go find Dave’s secondary health insurance card. I went to the “Dave box” I have and found his wallet that I had put there right after he passed away. And memories came flooding into my consciousness. I’d handled his wallet before – it had been on his bureau for the week he was in the hospital, but after he died I put it in a safe place. I hadn’t touched it during that time. The wallet itself wasn’t myundoing – it was looking at his driver’s license (and the picture on it) and handling the few plastic cards (I’d already cut up the credit cards in there), but also a couple of little notes in his handwriting. A couple of receipts from when he’d been to the grocery store for me a couple of days before his stroke. My mind and senses were filled with memories, and tears came afresh to my eyes. In the back was $32 in cash. I’ve left the bills there. I simple can’t take them out yet. Maybe next year. These are silly things – and some spouses would find my actions peculiar, perhaps. Some widows or widowers will identify mightily with my emotions and actions or lack of. For every grieving spouse, the actions and reactions will be different. And that’s okay. But my tears were very real and quick to spring from my eyes.

(4) Then, lastly, the other night my griefshare class had it’s final gathering – week 13. Each person talked, as we always do, and when it was my turn to share about how I am this week, I said “last week I was a 5, but this week I’m a 3.” Not very good. I explained in brief about the accounting stuff I’m doing and the frustration of it all. And about fighting with an insurance company. But also, I said, I need to  say that I’m blessed to have a lovely home to live in, that’s paid for, and hopefully, enough money to live on for my remaining days, however many there are. I didn’t go into any further detail. I do thank God for those blessings. We watched a 30-minute video about heaven. About what scripture tells us heaven will be like. Among many other things we were told that we won’t be married in heaven. Our loved ones will be there, but it won’t be anything like our earthly life.

Then we adjourned to another room for a potluck dinner, which was very, very nice. Lots of good food brought by all the class attendees and the two leaders. During that, we were asked to share a funny story about our loved one. I talked about Dave’s proclivity to never let a few facts get in the way of a good story. He was famous for that. Next we were asked to share something we gained from our relationship with our loved one (two women in the class had lost a father, the remaining are widows or widowers), but not something material. Like many others around the table, I said that Dave gave me the joy of laughter. I’m a more serious person – he was full of jokes and smiles! The leader read 4-5 poems about losing a loved one. Then, the part that these two paragraphs are leading up to, she lit a taper candle and lit a votive in front of her and said “I light this candle in the memory of my husband, Doug.” Then she passed the candle. When it got to me and I struggled to get the words out, “I light this candle in the memory of my darling husband, Dave,” I burst into tears. Lighting the candle was so very symbolic. It was wrenching. After everyone had lit their votive, the leader prayed, then she asked each of us to – in silence – blow out the candle. That was my undoing. I sobbed. And they handed me the Kleenex box that makes its way around the table sometimes. This was my week to need the tissues.

I’m better today, but far from okay. As I keep telling myself, this is a process, and I can’t expect every day to be better than the last. It’s up and down, cyclical, but generally in an improving direction. Three months isn’t all that long and I need to give myself plenty of opportunity to grieve and cry. As my close friends know, I cry easily and I do. They’ve been kind to let me and not tell me things like “buckle up” or “it’s time to get over this.” Grief lasts as long as it needs to and can’t be rushed or predicted. So today is a better day and I’ll hope to have more of them. Thank you, dear readers, for listening to me. I hope that what I’m experiencing will help some other widow or widower who goes through the same feelings.

Posted in Soups, on July 2nd, 2014.

mexican_fideo_soup

In Mexico, this is a kind of comfort food – maybe like mac and cheese to us, or chicken noodle soup perhaps. It could be made without meat, but usually it’s made with chicken. It’s a great way to use up some leftover chicken that’s already cooked, like a rotisserie chicken. Fideo? Know what that is? It’s a little, tiny pasta noodle – like angel hair. What’s also on top is a Mexican white crumbly cheese, a Mexican kitchen staple – sometimes you’ll see it sprinkled on top of enchiladas.

You may recall that I had a Mexican fideo soup at a Nordstrom Café recently, and vowed I’d research it and find a recipe. There are lots of recipes out there, but I finally settled on this one  from a blog called www.azucarandspice.com that I thought would have more flavor and texture than most of the others. Maribel’s recipe, from her much beloved grandmother Elvira, has lots of little tips and tricks to making it, all of which I included. I did, however, take a few liberties with the recipe – I liked the carrots that were in little cubes in the soup I’d tasted, and although most of the soup was a puree, there were a few pieces of things in the soup I had at Nordstrom’s, so I only blended about  2/3 of the total amount so there was still some texture from onion, celery, leeks and carrots.  I also added a can of enchilada sauce – not traditional – but I thought it added a bit of extra flavor. And lastly, I sprinkled some salty Mexican cheese on top. I used Queso Fresco, but Cotija would be really nice too. Cotija is saltier and a bit drier cheese. They’re both good, however.

What’s fideo? That’s pronounced fih-DAY-oh – and it’s just a tiny little pasta noodle, much like angel hair. Let’s briefly talk about fideo . . . if you have a market with some Mexican staples on the shelves, you might find a cellophane package of pre-cut, short fideo (I did, see photo below). But it’s not necessary to find a Mexican market – just use angel hair pasta and break it up into small 2-inch pieces.

Fideo soup is a fairly easy soup to make – the only different thing you must do, to make it right, toasted_fideoMaribel’s way, is to toast the raw pasta in a little bit of oil. See photo at left. This is the same technique used for making pilaf, when you toast the rice and pasta in oil. That process hardens the pasta a bit, also gives it a nice golden brown color (just be cautious you don’t burn it) and therefore it takes longer to cook. This soup is simmered for nearly an hour after you add the pasta – normally pasta would cook in about 7-8 minutes, but toasted this way, the pasta doesn’t get mushy.

I made a nice, big batch of this, and since it definitely is NOT soup season right now, I packaged it up, except for the single serving I ate that night, and it’s all in plastic ziploc bags in the freezer. It will stay there until the fall when the weather turns cooler. My guess is that every good Mexican cook (maybe even bad cooks) know how to make fideo soup. Not everyone, though, uses all the different steps in this one that make it so good. Thanks to Maribel, you now know how to make it her abuelita’s (grandmother’s) way.

What’s GOOD: it’s just a good, tasty soup – enriched with chicken and the little pieces of pasta. Easy to make – easy to freeze too. Very comfort food. You don’t have to serve anything with it.

What’s NOT: there are a few more steps to this than just pouring in a bunch of raw veggies and adding broth, but it’s worth it.

printer-friendly CutePDF

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Mexican Chicken Fideo Soup

Recipe By: Adapted from azucarandspice.com
Serving Size: 8

1 tablespoon canola oil
2 whole garlic cloves — minced
1 cup yellow onion — chopped
1 cup celery — chopped
1 whole leek — cleaned, finely chopped
56 ounces canned tomatoes — chopped or squished in your hands
1 whole chipotle chile canned in adobo — minced finely
1 teaspoon salt — or more if needed
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces fideo pasta — or angel hair, broken into small 2-inch lengths
3 cups chicken broth
3 cups water
1 1/2 cups carrots — chopped in small 1/2″ cubes
10 ounces enchilada sauce — canned (Las Palmas if you can find it)
2 cups cooked chicken — shredded or chopped in small pieces
1/2 cup cotija cheese — or queso fresca (garnish)
1/2 cup cilantro — chopped (garnish)

Notes: If you’d like this soup to have more flavor depth, rehydrate some guajillo or ancho chiles – the dried ones – in water for an hour, then open them, remove stems, seeds and membranes and chop them up – add them all to the blender batch that gets pureed in step #3 below. I didn’t do this when I made it, but next time I will.
1. In a Dutch oven heat the canola oil. Add the garlic and saute for less than a minute (do not let garlic brown or burn). Add the chopped onions, celery and leeks. Continue cooking until the onions turn translucent, about 5 minutes.
2. Pour in the tomatoes, with the juices and chipotle chiles and cook for a few more minutes.
3. Remove from heat and scoop about 2/3 of this mixture into a blender or food processor. Add about 1/2 cup of water. Don’t overload it as it may blow the lid off (from the heat). Puree that mixture and pour it back into the pan.
4. Return pan to the heat, add salt and add some of the chicken broth if needed (if it’s too thick to simmer without burning). Bring to a simmer and allow it to cook while you prepare the noodles.
5. Into a large nonstick skillet pour about 2 T of olive oil. Warm to a medium heat. Add the fideo pasta to the pot and fry until the pasta turns light brown. This will take about 5 minutes depending on the heat level. Keep stirring throughout or the noodles will burn. You want them to be golden brown, no darker.
6. Add the golden brown fideo to the soup and raise the heat to medium.
7. Add the remaining chicken broth and stir well. Let the soup come to a boil and let it bubble for about 5 minutes then turn the heat down to a simmer. Cover the pot.
8. After 15 minutes add 2 cups of water, stir well and cover and continue to simmer.
10. After another 15 minutes add the remaining cup of chicken broth, stir well and cover the pot again up so the soup continues simmering.
11. In 20 more minutes add one more cup of water, cover and let simmer for another 10 minutes. At this point add chicken. Taste the soup and add more salt if needed.
12. Serve hot and garnish with the crumbled cheese and cilantro.
Per Serving: 265 Calories; 12g Fat (39.9% calories from fat); 17g Protein; 24g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 48mg Cholesterol; 960mg Sodium.

Posted in Uncategorized, on July 1st, 2014.

dole_bananas

My friend Maggie sent me a link to a video the other day. Do I eat bananas regularly? Well, every week or two for sure, but by golly, I never knew how complex they are to grow, harvest, sort, pack and ship the product from Costa Rica here to the U.S. I found the video fascinating. And no, Dole didn’t pay me to post this! The image above I found online.

YouTube video from Dole

Click on the “Skip the Ad” at the beginning to get right to the video. It’s about 5 minutes long.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...