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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tasting Spoons

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

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

cajun_rubbed_steak_maque_choux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cajun-Rubbed Steak with Maque-Choux and Bacon

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

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

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

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

mexican_style_street_corn_cotija

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mexican-Style Street Corn with Cotija Cheese

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

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

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

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

smithsonian_art_museum_atrium

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

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

smithsonian_art_pool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

apple_mini_muffins_raisins_walnuts

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

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

mini_muffins_ready_to_bake

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

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

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

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

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

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Super Tender Apple Nut Mini-Muffins

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

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

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

Posted in Restaurants, Travel, on August 20th, 2014.

new_york_skyline_from_hotel

The view from our 30th floor room and aerie at the Intercontinental near Times Square. To have this clear view, this clear shot, all the way to the Hudson, well, wow is all I can say. One evening while Powell & Sabrina went out walking,  I turned off all the lights in the room and just sat and watched the activity. Couldn’t hear any of the street noise as the windows didn’t open, but I enjoyed just looking at that vista. (And I must admit that I shed a tear that my darling DH wasn’t there beside me.) Powell upgraded the room for us, which was very nice of him to do! I paid for Sabrina’s and my trip, food, hotels, etc., and her mom and dad chipped in some money as well.

Before I do anything else, I need to explain why we took this trip. It wasn’t just a tourist thing with my granddaughter. Powell, my son, Sabrina’s uncle, works in finance, mostly with bonds and audits, and he travels to NYC and DC for a week of meetings every couple of weeks. One family get-together a few months ago, Sabrina asked him “so, uncle, what IS it you do on these trips?” He explained in some detail and then said “want to go with me sometime?” She said YES and I piped up with “I’ll go along as chaperone.” A trip was born.

At first Powell thought he’d just have Sabrina shadow him as he did his work, where he went, sitting in on meetings here and there, but I think he realized that wasn’t going to work. She’d be bored to tears part of the time, and for many of his meetings it wouldn’t be appropriate for her to be there. So, Powell decided to set up short meetings with people he knows in all walks of business. The purpose was twofold: (1) just the process of an “interview” or a “meeting” would be good experience for Sabrina; and (2) she would be exposed to a lot of different professions out there in the big world of business. She says she wants to be a large animal veterinarian, but I think Powell hoped he’d sway her to consider some other professions. She met with two people who work in Powell’s office in New York, one a young woman doing an internship, I think. The other a counterpart of Powell’s. She met with one of Powell’s customers, a woman attorney who has a 12-year old daughter and was just tickled pink to spend half an hour with Powell’s niece, talking careers. One other person is a DC lobbyist (in the water conservation area), one works for a senator, another is a higher-up with the Consumer Electronics Institute; his wife works for Homeland Security (I wished I could have been a little gnat sitting on Sabrina’s shoulder when she had that short tour and meeting).

At each and every interview (Sabrina did 8 altogether) she had to do a little presentation. The homework, most of which she did at home before the trip, was to research each person, find out where they grew up, where they went to school, what their degree(s) were in, what kind of jobs they’ve held, then she had to come up with 3 questions (unique to all 8 people) about them. So, for instance (and I’m totally making up this one), she would ask “so you did your undergrad at Columbia and got a degree in Math, but then you did your MBA at Yale in Economics. How or why did you transition into politics after you graduated?” She impressed all of them with what she’d done (almost all the background info was online – I think Facebook had a major presence in her homework – but the questions were really interesting) and all of the people were happy to talk about themselves and their career paths. She had to wear appropriate business clothes, which was a challenge. She didn’t have a suit, but did wear a black blazer over her very cute business-like knit dresses she and her mom picked out.

decadent_doughnutSo, on her 2nd day of interviews she met a woman at Dean & DeLuca, the food store and restaurant (bakery?) near Times Square. Her uncle gave her instructions – after your meeting with this person, order two of these doughnuts and take them back to the hotel and give one to Grandma. She did exactly that. The photo at left shows two of them stuck together. You might not think these are anything special. You’d be dead wrong. Below you can see the munched-on version: coconut cream filled double glazed raised doughnut. OMGosh.donut_DnD If you are ever in NYC and want a decadent treat, have one of these. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Now, I do like raised doughnuts over cake type, and I didn’t know that I liked coconut cream so much, but I DO! Whether these are available at all of their stores, I don’t know. This thing was incredible.

Sabrina had several things she really, really really wanted to do in NYC. First on the list was a stop at Tiffany’s. She’s not a jewelry person tiffany_NYCparticularly, but she wanted to get something that said she’d “been there,” so on our last afternoon we took the subway (middle of the day, so she was willing to go!) and walked a few blocks of 5th Avenue. She bought a lovely necklace and ring by Paloma Picasso. She got advanced birthday and Christmas money gifts from several family members so she could do that, and Grandma chipped in just a little bit extra. And she wanted her picture taken in front of Tiffany’s. Ticked that one off the list. She also wanted to see Times Square at night (Powell ticked that one) and to walk in Central Park. Well, we had a difficult time with that one, although she and I walked on the outside of the park for a few blocks going to Tiffany’s. I told her she could go walk a bit inpizza_nyc the park and I’d park myself on a bench, but she didn’t want to go alone, I guess, and my foot was giving me lots of difficulty that day. But her uncle did walk her a bit into the park one evening, as I mentioned, but only about 100 feet. She wanted some New York pizza, so on one of the days we stopped into a proto-typical NY pizzeria – you wound through a line to get to the 4-5 pizzas they had on offer and you ordered one or two slices. They had a few other Italian specialties (spaghetti and meatballs) but we just got pizza and a soft drink. It wasn’t spectacular, but at least she had some there and could tick that one off her list too. We ticked them all, thank goodness.

gramercy_foyerOur last night in NYC we went out to dinner. Powell had asked me many months ago if there was any special place I’ve really wanted to go. Immediately, I said Gramercy Tavern. The picture at left is the little foyer area. In years past I’d tried to make reservations there, to no avail. They’re always booked. The travel agency Powell uses was finally able to get us a table, and yes, it was a very special dinner. They only do prix fixe meals, ranging from the vegetarian options at $70+ pp to $109 for the full enchilada. We did the full enchilada. It was glorious. We had several different kinds of meat and lots of vegetables, sides, an amuse bouche as well, a palate cleanser, and then a table laden with desserts, most of which we couldn’t finish so took them back to the hotel. Sabrina and I munched on those for some of the next day.us_at_gramercy The dinner was Powell’s treat to us/me. Thank you, Powell!

There we are at the table. I think this was before we’d really hardly started eating dinner – we were about to dig into the amuse bouche, I believe. I lost track of all the courses we ate. I know we had lobster and duck as separate items. All of it was outstanding. Did I tell you that we had a celebrity sighting while we were there? My son recognized Tory Burch. I know her lines of clothing, handbags, etc. but I’d not have known her face at all. I never did ask Powell how he knew what she looked like. She was seated at a table about 10-12 feet away with a group of very well-dressed women. That was kind of fun!gramercy_flowers

This cute little thing was sitting on the podium at the front of the restaurant. It’s a little 6-pot “thing” that would hold little flowers in clay pots. In this case there were little glasses in each slot and they were filled with herbs and flowers. It was just so cute and fragrant!

Posted in Uncategorized, on August 18th, 2014.

hundred_foot_journeyOh my goodness, you must, you absolutely must go see this movie. This is the one with Helen Mirren and some relative unknowns and it’s about this funny comedic Indian family who cook, and have emigrated from India, moved to London, but didn’t like the cold, rainy weather. So the whole family (papa, and his 3 adult children) go off in a ramshackle mini-van to France. Papa has decided they need to go south, and he has moments when he’s (supposedly) trying to communicate with his deceased wife – is this place right, here? or here? Go further? Anyway, they end up deciding on the cutest little town in Provence and they open up an Indian restaurant right across the street from a Michelin 1-star restaurant. Mayhem ensues. My hat is off to the writers of this screenplay. Go prepared to laugh!

I don’t want to tell you any more about it. Except that there are no swear words. There is no sex, although there is a little bit of romance and it’s ever-so cute. I may even go see it again. It’s adorable. GO SEE IT! And I’m craving Indian food!

Posted in Salads, on August 16th, 2014.

tomato_bread_salad_corn_mozz

I should have re-arranged the salad (aka bread) so you could see the lovely mound of heirloom tomatoes in the bottom of the bowl. You can see the bread (toasted croutons, actually), the basil, red onions, corn and fresh mozzarella cheese. Oh, and the little tiny drizzle of extra-good EVOO.

This recipe came from a contributor (Georgia Pellegrini) on The Pioneer Woman’s website. It’s not on Ree’s own blog, but the recipe section of her website where people all over contribute their own recipes. There’s a huge treasure-trove of recipes there if you haven’t ever looked. Anyway, this has been in my to-try file for awhile. I adore panzanella salad (the Italian bread salad with tomatoes, garlic and basil) and with good tomatoes starting to be available, they’re so perfect for this kind of salad. And although this bears a great resemblance to a panzanella, this isn’t the same thing. I also took some liberties with the salad – I was serving it to 4 girlfriends for lunch – as an entrée – and I wanted it to have a bit more substance, so I added in the fresh corn and fresh mozzie.

What makes this salad different is the making of “tomato water.” I know, sounds weird. Into a blender you put 3-4 tomatoes (heirlooms or extra ripe and tasty red ones, juicy ones), a bunch of basil, a bunch of cilantro, half of a red onion, sliced thin, garlic and some white wine vinegar. This gets blended up tomato_mushinto a sludge. It seems like a waste – I know, I know – but trust me on this. The end result is worth it. It may seem like you’re throwing away a good bunch of tomatoes. The picture at left is what the sludge looks like. It’s draining in a strainer lined with cheesecloth. In the photo it looks just awful, I know, but I used some green zebra tomatoes and yellow ones, and only one red tomato, so of course it’s going to look green and muddy. If you want it to be clear and bright, maybe with a slight pink tinge, use all red tomatoes. I saved the sludge – don’t know for what yet – maybe soup? Gazpacho?

tomato_waterNow, after half an hour of draining, you end up with about a cup of tomato water. Here’s a photo of what that looked like. Not very pretty either.

BUT, it’s really tasty stuff. Trust me on this one. I took a tiny teaspoon of it – so I’d know what it tasted like – and was very pleasantly surprised at how flavorful it was. It’s not like tomato juice at all. Each person got about 1/4 cup in the bowl. Then you start adding all the other ingredients, with the croutons added last, along with a few pretty basil leaves. I think I probably used too many croutons, so you can vary how many based on your family’s likes/dislikes.

When you bake the bread croutons – do try to leave them so they’re slightly soft in the center – I followed the recipe and the croutons were rock hard, so each of us had to mush the bread around into the tomato water at the bottom of the bowl to soften it some. But then, that’s the whole idea anyway. I could have tossed it all together, but it wouldn’t have looked quite so pretty.

What’s GOOD: well, I love panzanella, so I knew it was a sure-fire thing I’d like this. My friend Joan said she liked the freshness of it and that it was extra healthy. The tiny drizzle of EVOO on top was the only fat – although you do use some to brush on the croutons too. Still not much. I think my recipe program says there are 9 grams of fat in the salad. I think the extra work of making the tomato water was well worth it.

What’s NOT: maybe just the time spent making the tomato water. A bit of a nuisance, but it adds a lot on the flavor scale. Otherwise, it’s something you could make any evening for a quick meal. I had my granddaughter and her cousin work on pushing the sludge through the cheesecloth – it takes awhile to drain otherwise.

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Tomato Bread Salad with Corn and Mozzarella

Recipe By: Adapted from a recipe at The Pioneer Woman blog, from a reader, Georgia Pellegrini
Serving Size: 4

2 large tomatoes
1/2 whole red onion
2 cloves garlic
1 cup basil — picked
1/2 cup cilantro
1/2 cup parsley
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 medium baguette
2 tablespoons olive oil — for brushing on the bread
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 whole heirloom tomatoes — (the more colorful the better!)
1 cup cherry tomatoes — heirloom type if available, multi-color
1 cup arugula
1/2 cup basil leaves — small size, for topping
8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese — sliced in bite-sized pieces
2 ears fresh corn — cut off the cob
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil — to drizzle on top as it’s served

Notes: If you want the tomato water to be mostly clear or slightly pink, use red tomatoes. Using green ripe tomatoes will make the water a darker, muddy color.
1. TOMATO WATER: Cut the large tomatoes into quarters and add to a blender. Slice the red onion thinly and set half of the slices aside and add the other half to the blender. Add the 1 cup basil, cilantro, and parsley to the blender along with the vinegar and ½ teaspoon of salt and puree the mixture for several minutes until it’s a smooth sludge.
2. Place a piece of cheesecloth over a fine mesh strainer and set it over a bowl. Pour the mixture into a mesh strainer and press it through until all of the liquid is extracted. Set the bowl of tomato water aside (or refrigerate for a few hours).
3. CROUTONS: Preheat the oven to 325°F. Cut the baguette lengthwise and drizzle or brush all sides with olive oil. Then rub the baguette on all sides with garlic (or sprinkle garlic salt on the bread if you want to save some time). Cut the baguette into cubes and place them into a baking dish. Add salt (unless you used garlic salt earlier) and pepper and toss. Bake for 15 minutes then remove from the oven to let cool. Ideally the cubes will still have some softness to them – you don’t want them to be rock-hard.
4. SALAD: Slice the heirloom and cherry tomatoes into bite sized pieces. Pour ½ cup of tomato water in the bottom of each wide-style bowl. Add the tomatoes, arugula and some of the basil leaves. Sprinkle on the corn and place the sliced mozzarella decoratively around the edges. Drizzle with olive oil and add a bunch of croutons just before serving. Sprinkle with good sea or fancy salt and garnish with a few small basil leaves on top. The croutons are dry and crunchy, but they should be pushed around, down into the tomato water – where the flavor is. Serve them on top, then encourage your guests to stir it up a bit.
Per Serving (this assumes you eat all the pulp/flesh of the blended tomatoes, which you don’t do): 553 Calories; 15g Fat (24.0% calories from fat); 17g Protein; 93g Carbohydrate; 15g Dietary Fiber; trace Cholesterol; 1213mg Sodium (sodium seems very high).

Posted in Restaurants, on August 14th, 2014.

red_rooster_1

This is the front of the Red Rooster in Harlem. When we had dinner there, it was nearly dark. I didn’t even think of trying to take a photo, but it looked just like the above photo which comes from Marcus Samuelsson’s website.

My granddaughter is 16. Very poised. Athletic. Pretty. Thoughtful. A terrific student. A good conversationalist. An ideal roommate in my book! We had so much fun on this trip. After spending 3 nights in D.C. we took the train up to New York City. We checked into our hotel (more on that in my next post) in the Theater District. Sabrina could hardly wait to get out on the streets. She wanted to actually see Times Square. It was just a few blocks away. She might have been a teeny bit disappointed in it by daylight. The crowds were horrendous everywhere. The next evening Powell took her on about a 5-mile walk and she got to see just a tiny bit of Central Park (Powell would only walk about 100 feet into a well-lit area), blocks and blocks of the shops on 5th Avenue, and then ended up in Times Square. At that point I think she felt she’d “been to NYC.”

red_rooster_coasterAnyway, we did some window shopping our first afternoon, then returned to the hotel to change clothes and off we went to dinner. If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time you may remember awhile back I did a review of Marcus Samuelsson’s book Yes, Chef: A Memoir. If you’re at all interested in reading more about it, go to my blog post I wrote in 2012.

Chef Marcus Samuelsson has made a huge name for himself. Born in Ethiopia, he was orphaned at a young age and adopted by a Swedish family, so really, his first language is Swedish. He went to culinary school in Europe, did his stages a couple of places, then aimed for New York. He worked for some years at Aquavit, the very highly acclaimed Swedish restaurant in NYC. I think he produced a cookbook for them as well. Then he began to be noticed, and somehow got himself onto the Food Network and the rest is history, as the saying goes. He’s written 3-4 cookbooks in the last few years (obviously he has help with that) and opened several restaurants around the U.S.  The Red Rooster was first. And what order the rest of them came, I don’t know, but he has one at Lincoln Center in NYC, another at JFK airport, 3 restaurants in Sweden, AND I was blown away – how did this happen – he’s opened a restaurant here in my neck of the woods in California – a place called Marc Burger (both here in Costa Mesa, CA and Chicago). If you want to take a look at all of his restaurants, there’s a list and links on his website. This local one is located inside the Home Store at Macy’s Department Store. Who knew? I sure didn’t. I’m going to have to check it out really soon! Obviously they only serve burgers.

sabrina_union_stationSo, a couple of weeks before the trip I went online and made a reservation for the Red Rooster. Since it’s located in Harlem, I decided we should go early, so I had no difficulty booking a table at 5:30. Sabrina and I took the subway – her first adventure on the underground transportation system. Let me just say for the record – she didn’t like it. Not any of it. On one of our subway trips we had to change to another line at Union Station, so we actually exited out of the subway (meaning we had to pay again to go back to the subways) just so she could see the big, monstrous main hall at Union Station. She thought that was ever so cool.

Anyway, we navigated ourselves north to Harlem. Once we exited at our stop, and emerged into the streets, there was the Red Rooster about 100 feet away. So very easy. During dinner Sabrina said, “uhm, Grandma, could we, pretty please, take a taxi back to the hotel after dinner?” I said sure – $50 later. But oh well, if it made her happy! It did.

redroosterNow, down to dinner. Red Rooster has an all-Southern (American) menu, and Sabrina and I had such fun choosing. We both had a drink – mine with alcohol (that I didn’t like – it had some kind of bitters in it and it was very bitter, too bitter) but Sabrina had some kind of fancy non-alcoholic one they concocted for her. She loved hers. Here are the photos from our evening at Red Rooster. Sabrina ordered mac ‘n cheese with bacon and greens (absolutely fabulous – I had 2 bites – rich, but smooth and a great combo of cheeses). I ordered shrimp and grits, one of my favorites and this one was every bit as good as my own recipe, which you can read here on my blog.

For dessert we ordered a cobbler – I think it was peaches, served with vanilla ice cream, a side of whipped cream and a berry coulis to pour over the top. Oh my goodness, was that ever delicious. We ate every bite, I think, with me scraping the side of the gratin dish.

In doing the research for this post, I went to amazon and discovered that Marcus is just about to publish his latest cookbook, Marcus Off Duty: The Recipes I Cook at Home. It’s out in October. I ordered 2 – one for me and one for Sabrina. She likes to cook, so maybe it’ll be her first cookbook that’s truly her own. Marcus has written several cookbooks – just search his name on amazon and you’ll find them all. Now, my next thing is to go to the MarcBurger that’s right here in my area. I can’t quite visualize a restaurant in the middle of a department store kitchenware area. I’ll let you know . . .

Posted in Travel, on August 12th, 2014.

julia_childs_copper_pan_pegboard

This may be one of the most well known parts of Julia’s kitchen – just part of the pegboards that Julia’s husband Paul made for her. Soon after moving into the house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Paul put up the pegboard on a couple of blank walls so she could see and easily access all of her precious Dehillerin copper pots. Each pot had a circle drawn around (see left side, middle where there is a pot missing). Paul designed her Cambridge kitchen.

Julia donated her intact Cambridge kitchen to the Smithsonian when she moved to California. I can hardly picture Julia being without her copper pots, but I believe she moved into an assisted living house so most likely she didn’t cook anymore. What a treasure the Smithsonian now owns! The exhibit is in the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian, and it was one of the busiest exhibits I saw there.

Julia had family money, as I recall reading from one of her biographies. If you’d like to read my review of Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, go to my blog post about it that I did in 2013.  So to have moved to Paris back in the 50s, to buy all those copper pots would have been a huge expense (and I mean HUGE). She didn’t buy them all at once, but over the years they lived there and only when she realized she actually needed that particular pot or pan. My recollection is that she used her family money to buy most of her copper pots.

julias kitchen

Surely there are plenty of bloggers out there who have featured photos of Julia’s kitchen, but I found it so fun to look all around and wanted to share my take on it. Culinary history was made there. Some of her TV series (the later ones) were filmed there in her Cambridge kitchen. I wished I could have actually walked inside the kitchen – but you can view it from all 4 walls through windows. It tickled me to see the oilcloth tablecloth on the kitchen table. I couldn’t quite make out the brand of coffee pot – but it was an ordinary coffee pot. Of course, Julia didn’t live in Cambridge past the early 90’s, I think, so it would be a 80s style coffee pot. I loved the dish drainer. Hardly anyone uses those anymore. And notice the KitchenAid cobalt blue mixer.

And I thought the braided bread basket in the center of the table was so 80s. Any of you make one of those? I did – you made bread dough, (see photo at right from www.artisanbreadinfive.com)  – made braids or just strips, and wove them around an upside down ovenproof bowl. You let it rise, then you baked it – a long time – until it was very “set,” then you let it dry and sprayed it with acrylic spray and it became the bowl you served bread in, with a pretty cloth napkin in the middle of it. And you were very careful using it because it would break easily.

julia_childs_coobook_shelf

julia_childs_legion_of_honor_medalAt left is Julia’s cookbook collection. I don’t know whether it contains all of her cookbooks she ever owned. I sort of doubt it. There were 2 Joy of Cooking books there. But also on the top shelf were most of Julia’s own published cookbooks. And then, the Cambridge phone book. And I think the bottom shelves were her boxes of her tv shows on tape or DVD.

Above also is the Legion of Honor medal Julia received in 2000. The placque said : “Julia Child was awarded the Legion d’honneur, France’s highest honor, for introducing Americans to French cuisine and cookery through her books and television shows.” It’s on loan to the Smithsonian from Julia’s family.

julia_child_bon_appetit

At the end of every program Julia filmed (I think) she said to the camera, “Bon Appetit,” with a bit of a French accent. That photo at right is SO Julia. She had such a joy of life.

Posted in Travel, on August 11th, 2014.

DC11

When my granddaughter Sabrina and I visited two of the Smithsonians, I didn’t take all that many photos (except in Julia Child’s kitchen, while I’ll post about next). There are several other photos I took, but they didn’t come out very well. I made the mistake of not taking along my battery charger for my good point-and-shoot camera. Of course, even though it said it was high on battery life, it really wasn’t, so nearly all the photos are from my cell phone. And although it takes great pictures, it’s easy to move your hands with such a small thing like a cell phone.

Anyway, the above were two interesting things in the Museum of American History (Smithsonian). The bottom photo is Abraham Lincoln’s mask. As I recall reading, this is not his death mask, but he actually allowed a sculptor to make a mask of his face with whatever kind of materials they used back in those days. Lincoln wasn’t very enamored with the feel of it or the constriction on his face, but he withstood it for whatever period of time it took.

The top photo you might never guess, and I thought it was so hysterical. Have you figured it out yet? Frisbees? No. White circles? Well, yes, but they’re not just decoration. They’re a display of all the different kind of beverage container lids, to-go types, available. And yes, this display was in the Smithsonian. I wonder what some of our descendants will think of that one a couple hundred years from now – they’ll think we were a bit crazy I think. Or that the folks at the Smithsonian were.

dorothys_ruby_slippers_wizard_of_oz

These were fun. They’re Judy Garland’s shoes she wore, the Ruby Slippers, from the Wizard of Oz. Filmed in 1938, it said. Actually the signage below doesn’t contain much other information except a bit of info about the movie itself.

first_ladies_sign

And here on the right was a sign I found interesting. It says: “Changing Times, Changing First Ladies: Dolley Madison, Mary Lincoln, Edith Roosevelt, and Lady Bird Johnson are four of the first ladies who fashioned their own ways of handling the White House, families, parties and politics. Over different times and circumstances they crafted significant roles for themselves that they believed would allow them to best serve the president and the country.” I took some other pictures in the First Ladies exhibit, but all of them had glass reflections, or after looking at them I thought they weren’t really worthy of putting on the blog. I enjoyed looking at many of the china patterns designed and used by many of the first families. Most of them were relatively plain, but with ample gold decoration.

Stay tuned, as I said, in a couple of days I’ll write up Julia Child’s kitchen, also contained in the Museum of American History (Smithsonian). It’ll be mostly photos – I took a bunch.

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