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On my recent trip, I managed to get in a lot of reading on my Kindle. On airplanes, waiting for airplanes, waiting for the bus to load, waiting in lobbies for everybody to show up to leave, and at night when I couldn’t sleep. A fun book was Mr. Mac and Me, by Esther Freud. It takes place in England in 1914. In a time and place where a 13-year old boy has a lot of freedom. Although the war is looming, this little village is relatively quiet and safe, as life used to be. Boys will be boys, and he enjoys sort-of spying on people, especially people he doesn’t know well. He imagines that a man who arrives in town to rent a house with his paints and easels, might be a spy. Thus begins a story that starts from that premise, but eventually takes you into a very special friendship that develops between the man, Mr. Mac, his wife, and this boy. The story is absolutely charming. War brings some brutal truths for everyone in the village, yet this friendship flourishes. Great book.

Occasionally I’ll latch onto a book about food or restaurants. This one, The Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O’Neal, is a romance (not a sticky sweet one) about a youngish woman (and her dog) who take a big leap to Colorado when she’s offered a job as a chef. The restaurant is fraught with some issues, but the author weaves in a romance, her skills as a leader in the kitchen, throws in some recipes (that I have yet to extract from my Kindle pages, that I want to try) along with it, and you have a book that held my interest all the way through. Formulaic, I suppose, but it’s a cute story. Books about restaurants always divulge some new tangle of how a kitchen runs. I enjoyed the read.

If you haven’t already read it, you are missing a really good and insightful book, Killing the Rising Sun: How America Vanquished World War II Japan by Bill O’Reilly. I was riveted from page one, all the way through to the end. O’Reilly has a very engaging way of re-telling history and making it ever-so readable and interesting. He weaves people’s stories, ones  you likely haven’t read or heard, into his narrative, to give you such a sense of place. You can just feel how these soldiers, pilots, prisoners and seamen made their mark, but likely all unsung heroes. It’s a must-read, it really is.

Having read some of Kent Haruf’s other books, I read Our Souls at Night. A lonely widow decides to invite a neighbor man, also a lonely widower, if he’d like to come to her home, at night, to spend the night. I simply can’t tell you anything else because it would give away the story. This isn’t a story about s-x, but about two lonely people who come together for friendship and companionship. It’s very sweet, not twee, but sweet. You really feel for both of these older people. Read it.

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Soups, Vegetarian, on December 1st, 2016.

tomato_soup_w_lentils_garbanzos

Have you learned to trust me when I tell you that you need to make this? It’s a tomato soup first and foremost, but it’s quite complex with other flavors. And vegetarian too. Even vegan if you didn’t serve the yogurt on top.

Surely, in my recipe software, in my to-try file, I must have 10 lentil soups waiting for me to try. You’d think there couldn’t be another way to invent a lentil soup, for goodness’ sake. This soup, however, is more a tomato one with lentils as the sideline, the accent, the texture perhaps. There’s only 1/3 cup of lentils in the soup, and if you were to puree this completely, you’d not even know they were there.

And I might have passed this one by had I read it. But that would have been a mistake. As it was, I attended a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter, and she made this soup for us. First she made the roasted/toasted chickpeas (garbanzo beans). And as she explained, they’re a bit tedious to make. Enough tedious – I’ve made them before – that when I heard that you

Update:

I bought already toasted garbanzo beans at a local Middle Eastern Market. Taste was awful, so I’ll go back to making my own when they’re needed.

can buy toasted chickpeas at Middle Eastern markets. So I did – you’ll find them in the nuts and seeds department. I won’t have to go through the nuisance of taking the skins off the canned beans, drying them, then seasoning and oiling them, then baking them for awhile.

Actually, the soup could be served without the chickpea garnish altogether. The soup itself is plenty good all by itself. AND, you wouldn’t have to serve the yogurt on it, either, if that didn’t appeal. Maybe some croutons? Or sour cream if that’s more your choice than yogurt. But whatever garnish, you really should make the soup. The poblano (pasilla) chile adds a lovely fragrance and flavor to the soup. I love poblano chiles. I even drove to a Mexican grocery store a week or so ago hoping that they would have canned poblano chiles. No. In this soup, though, you don’t have to roast the chile to remove the skins – it’s the chile flavor you’re looking for and the skins will disappear. The soup is also flavored with fresh ginger, garlic, ground coriander and ground cumin. Middle Eastern flavors, or maybe Egyptian, or Indian. Any and all of the above.

What’s GOOD: the flavor of the soup is what hooked me. The cumin and ground coriander are subtle, but there. The ginger too. The poblano chile is an undercurrent in the flavor profile too. Altogether delicious. It should freeze well, too. Try to find red lentils if you can so the soup doesn’t have a brown color. The toasted garbanzo beans – well, try to find them at a Middle Eastern market. They are so delicious (but a lot of work to make them yourself). The soup comes together in short order, too – about 45 minutes, I’d guess, not including the time to make the toasted chickpeas. Double it and freeze some.

What’s NOT: well, as I mentioned, toasting chickpeas isn’t a favorite pastime of mine – if you can find them in a Middle Eastern grocery store, go for it. You can serve the soup without them anyway.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Tomato and Lentil Soup with Roasted Chickpeas

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking class, Sept 2016
Serving Size: 4

2 tablespoons coconut oil — or canola oil, or olive oil
1 medium yellow onion — chopped
2 tablespoons fresh ginger — finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 small poblano chile — coarsely chopped (or a serrano)
28 ounces canned tomatoes — chopped, with juices
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth — or vegetable broth
1/3 cup red lentils — rinsed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup Greek yogurt, full-fat — or fat-free, for garnish
ROASTED CHICKPEAS:
15 ounces chickpeas, canned — drained, rinsed and PEELED, (optional)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon spices — ground cumin, sumac, ground coriander
2 tablespoons olive oil — (might need more)

1. Heat the oil in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, coriander, cumin, and chile, and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 45 seconds.
2. Add the tomatoes and their juice, the broth, and lentils. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, 30 to 35 minutes.
3. Purée about half of the soup mixture in a blender smooth. Pour back into soup pot. You may also puree all the soup (that’s what was in the original recipe.) Thin with a little water if you like. Serve with a dollop of yogurt, and garnish with the roasted chickpeas, if using.
4. ROASTED CHICKPEAS: Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425°F. Place chickpeas on a flat pan and gently rub them and pick off the skins, being careful not to bruise and damage the bean itself as you’re doing it. Repeat for all the beans. If you don’t remove the skins, the beans won’t get crispy.
5. Place chickpeas on a paper-towel lined baking sheet and let them air dry for at least 30 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and toss with oil and seasonings. Spread on the same baking sheet (without paper towel) and roast, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until slightly darkened and crisp on the outside, about 20-30 minutes. If the look dry, remove and drizzle more olive oil over them and return to oven. If necessary, reduce heat by 25° and continue roasting until they are crisp. Season with additional kosher salt, if desired.
Per Serving: 409 Calories; 19g Fat (38.8% calories from fat); 19g Protein; 49g Carbohydrate; 12g Dietary Fiber; 12mg Cholesterol; 886mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on November 25th, 2016.

moms_cocoa_spice_cake

Not, perhaps, the spice cake you’re used to – one that’s light and speckled with spices. This one is much more a chocolate cake. And not a lot of frosting, certainly not enough to spread on the sides. But good, nonetheless. My cake pans are not angled, yet the cake looks like they are flared. Oh well.

My mom did enjoy baking. But, I don’t think she enjoyed it as much as I do. My mom was a relatively plain cook. Products of Midwest parents, my mom and dad both grew up on simple fare, with their mothers rarely using spices or herbs to enhance meats or vegetables. Hence, my mother didn’t either. Only in baking did spices pop up. As I was going through old recipes (and throwing out the 3×5 card this was on – it took me awhile to physically DO that – the throwing of it into the trash – I mean, what if I lost my entire MasterCook files? – what if, what if – I also hated throwing away the ones written in my mother’s handwriting – it seemed like a bad thing to toss out that little piece of her. Can you relate?). Yet, I have my recipes backed up in 2 places (one on my computer and also on Carbonite) so I should feel assured my precious recipes won’t get lost.

What I remember of a spice cake my mom made wasn’t this one (now that I’ve made it) because the one I remember was moist and paler without any chocolate in it. Maybe it was a banana spice cake. I’ll have to go hunting further into my mother’s recipe box – I still have all those recipes – they’re ones I didn’t think I’d ever make – I took out the ones I thought I would, of which this was one. But this cake was good. Maybe not sensational. But if you like spice cakes (this one with cinnamon and nutmeg) this will satisfy for sure. For me, the chocolate was all I tasted, so my mother’s notes about increasing the amount of cocoa perhaps should be a cautionary tale.

cocoa_spice_cake_sliceI don’t buy Crisco anymore, but the newer trans-fat free type. It’s available at most markets these days. You can use Crisco if you want – I just prefer to not eat trans-fats anymore if I can help it. I also didn’t have lemon extract, so that ingredient was left out entirely. I suppose I could have used some lemon zest – didn’t think of it. I also didn’t use the egg yolk (raw) in the frosting. Why? I didn’t think an egg yolk would really enhance the frosting all that much, much less the possible dangers of eating raw egg. I never seem to mind nibbling on raw cookie dough, though, so why should I care. When I can avoid it, though, I do.

The recipe calls for all-purpose flour, or cake flour. I didn’t quite have enough cake flour, but I used what I had and added in more AP to equal the 2 cups (slight). I think the cake flour is the right way to go.

The frosting contains both cocoa and coffee. On the recipe it’s called a “coffee” frosting. I made espresso so I’d be sure to taste the coffee (yes, you could). It makes only enough to frost the center and the top – if you like a bit drizzled down the sides, or you really want it frosted all over, you’ll need to make more (double it for drizzles, triple to frost all over). The only cocoa_spice_cake_sidecomplaint I have is that the sides of the cake that were exposed got dried out during the 3-4 hours it sat on my kitchen counter. That’s not good. If you have a cake cover, use it! Otherwise, eat it right away. I have the left overs covered in plastic so hopefully it will be okay.

I served the cake with a drizzle of heavy cream (above photo) but I wanted you to see the better side view (see sliced almonds in the cake – which didn’t sink to the bottom).

What’s GOOD: the cake was FULL of flavor, mostly chocolate. I liked the almonds – next time I’ll use walnuts if I do make it again. My favorite part was the frosting – it wasn’t so profuse that I didn’t enjoy a bit with many of the bites. This isn’t a super-soft cake like a cake mix cake, but it was moist. However, the cake did soak up the cream on the plate. It was very tasty. My friend Bud slicked it up in no time, and I sent him home with enough for 2 meals, I think. Cherrie isn’t a fan of chocolate, particularly, but she might eat this. We’ll see.

What’s NOT: For me there wasn’t quite enough frosting, so it was barely sufficient. I liked the coffee accent (which was only in the frosting) so it was a very nice flavor. I don’t think this cake would keep long without getting stale. I’m giving all but one tiny sliver to my neighbors. It’s not because I don’t like it, just so I won’t eat it all myself!

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

My Mother’s Cocoa Spice Cake

Recipe By: My mother, Fay Orr’s, recipe – don’t know origin
Serving Size: 12

CAKE:
3/4 cup shortening — buy trans-fat free type, not Crisco
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 cups cake flour — or 1 3/4 cups AP flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa — original recipe was 1 T, my mother’s notes suggested 1/2 cup (what I used – too much)
3/4 cup buttermilk — or sour milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon extract — optional (or some lemon zest)
1/2 cup nuts — chopped (walnuts, pecans or almonds)
COFFEE FROSTING:
6 tablespoons butter
1 large egg yolk — optional
2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 tablespoons hot coffee — [I used espresso] and may need more for the right consistency

NOTE: My mother’s recipe showed adding 1 T. cocoa to the cake batter, but her hand-written notes said to increase to 1/2 CUP. Having made this, I think less would be better, so I’ve suggested 1/4 cup. Use your own judgment. I’d also add about a T. more buttermilk if you use 1/4 cup cocoa as the cocoa is just like adding more flour to the batter.
1. CAKE: Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch layer cake pans. Set aside.
2. Cream together the shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Blend in eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions. Sift flour once before measuring, then sift the flour with baking powder, salt, soda, cocoa and spices. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk. Beat the batter well so there are no streaks of dry ingredients. Add vanilla, lemon extract and nuts. Pour into the two prepared pans.
3. Bake cake about 35-40 minutes, testing it by inserting a toothpick in the center which should come out clean. Cool cake in pans and cool completely before frosting.
4. FROSTING: Cream butter and blend with egg yolk (if using). Add cocoa and mix well. Sift sugar and cinnamon together, then add to creamed mixture, alternately with the hot coffee. Beat until smooth, adding more coffee or powdered sugar to make it spreadable. Use a bit less than half to frost between the layers and use the larger portion on top. If you want to have nice frosting drips down the sides, increase quantities of powdered sugar and coffee. There is just enough to frost the middle and top (barely). The cake sides will begin to stale if not covered (use toothpicks in cake and cover with plastic wrap).
5. SERVING: Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for sure! Or a drizzle of heavy cream as I did. Just know the cake will soak most of it up before you can eat the cake!
Per Serving: 483 Calories; 24g Fat (44.3% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 63g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 87mg Cholesterol; 257mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on November 22nd, 2016.

maple_sriracha_oyster_crackers_appetizer

Addictive? Well, yes. Tasty? Oh my, yes. Salty and sweet and everything you want in a little tasty nibble to serve with drinks or other appetizers.

I think I saw this recipe on Pinterest awhile back and visited the website, The Cookie Rookie. I made a decision, right there and then, that I’d make these. I bought the oyster crackers and made these little beauties. It’s really VERY easy to do.

You heat up a mixture in a large, wide frying pan – canola oil, unsalted butter, sriracha sauce (use your discretion as to how much – I used 1 T. for the recipe size below and it was lightly hot/spicy from the sriracha), maple syrup, honey and seasoning salt. Becky, the blogger who devised this recipe, uses Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, but I think you could use any kind of seasoned salt of your choice. Once the mixture is melted and simmering, turn off the heat and pour in all the oyster crackers.

You’ll stir it and stir it so the crackers absorb the liquid. DO mix it continuously and until ALL the liquid is gone. You need to do this, otherwise you’ll have a puddle of sauce later on. Eventually all that liquid will be absorbed as you stir. Then you pour them out onto a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for an hour at 200°F, stirring the crackers every 20 minutes. If you decide to do a double batch, use two baking sheets – you want the crackers to have some room around them so they dry and get crispy.

What’s GOOD: Oh gosh, these are so very good. I gave some to 3 close friends of mine at a breakfast one morning and they could hardly keep their hands out of the baggies. I served them with appetizers to some guests one night. Loved them. A lot. They’re crispy. They’re crunchy, kind of. They’re sweet. They’re hot. All at the same time. Altogether delicious! A keeper.

What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever. An easy recipe to make and do a day ahead if you want to. I think they’d keep for a week or so. Becky thought 2 weeks.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Sriracha & Maple Syrup Oyster Crackers

Recipe By: The Cookie Rookie blog
Serving Size: 8

1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce — or more if you like it hot
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 tablespoon honey
1/2 tablespoon Lawry’s Seasoning Salt — or other seasoning salt
8 ounces oyster crackers — (I used Trader Joe’s)

1. Melt the oil and butter in a wide, large skillet. Add Sriracha, syrup, honey & salt. Bring to a low boil then turn off the heat.
2. Add the crackers and mix until the crackers are evenly coated. Continue to stir until all the liquid has been absorbed by the crackers (otherwise there will be a little puddle on the baking sheet).
3. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake at 200 degrees for 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes. Cool and place in plastic ziploc bag to keep them crispy and fresh. Eat within a few days.
Per Serving: 251 Calories; 16g Fat (56.7% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 25g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 228mg Sodium.

Posted in Salads, on November 19th, 2016.

watermelon_nectarine_salad

What a different combination. Watermelon and nectarines. Then with a kind of Asian dressing poured over it and tossed with a lot of mint. Really unusual but very tasty.

New recipes are made when you’re missing something and you decide to substitute, or you’re lucky enough to be a genius about conjuring up an original recipe. Me, not so much the latter, but the former. When I decided to make this salad I was sure I’d just read a recipe for combining watermelon and nectarines, but when I went hunting for it I couldn’t find it (still can’t). So I just had to use the recipe that was in my MasterCook file that I’d just downloaded from the Food & Wine website, but instead of pea shoots (which I didn’t have) I used nectarines.

This is a very unusual salad, and if you’re at all put off by combining fruit with a kind of Asian twist on a dressing, you may want to pass this one by. But it was really delicious. I mean, really delicious. It would go best with a simple protein of some kind, maybe a teriyaki glazed chicken breast, or even a really plain piece of fish. In which case this salad would almost serve as a salsa. What I served it with didn’t go, particularly, with it, so I ate it separately. I finished my entrée, then I ate this salad, and that way it was fine.

It came together in a flash – chopped up watermelon, sliced nectarines, fresh mint, then a whisked together dressing of unseasoned rice wine vinegar (meaning it doesn’t have sugar in it), shallot, oil, sesame seeds, and a little splash of Asian fish sauce. Very different for a fruit salad, but it works.

What’s GOOD: the combo was really different. Next time I’d probably cut the nectarines into bite-sized pieces (halving the slices) as they were too big to eat in one bite. The dressing is oh so very different for a fruit salad, but I’d do it again. Because I knew there was fish sauce in it, I could taste it, but am not sure others would/could detect it. It comes together very quickly – if you have the ingredients this will make itself in about 5-6 minutes. Try it before watermelon season is gone.

What’s NOT: If you’re not a fan of fish sauce, you might not like it so much – it’s different, I’ll give you that. I enjoyed it a lot. I may make it again since I still have more watermelon and another nectarine.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Watermelon and Nectarine Salad with Mint

Recipe By: Adapted from Food & Wine, Aug 2016
Serving Size: 6

3 tablespoons unseasoned rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons minced shallot
2 tablespoons canola oil — or olive oil
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
1 1/2 pounds watermelon — seedless, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
2 medium nectarines — seeded and sliced
2/3 cup mint leaves — coarsely chopped
1 cup pea shoots — torn (1 ounce) optional
Kosher salt (maybe not needed)

1. In a small bowl, whisk the rice vinegar and shallot; let stand for 5 minutes. Whisk in the oil, sesame seeds and fish sauce.
2. In a large serving bowl, toss the watermelon with the nectarines, mint and pea shoots, if using. Add the dressing and toss well. Taste for seasonings (it shouldn’t need salt as the rice wine vinegar and the fish sauce both contain a significant amount of sodium). Serve right away as it gets soggy once it sits for awhile.
Per Serving: 123 Calories; 6g Fat (44.9% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 3mg Cholesterol; 211mg Sodium.

Posted in movies, on November 18th, 2016.

4Tsbook_group_movie

I’m not in the picture . . . sorry – I had to take the picture! . . . here are 5 of our 7 4T’s (we meet on the 4th Tuesday) members. Front row, left to right, Cherrie and Kit; back row Jackie, Peggy and Ann. Sitting in my family room with my kitchen behind.

As you may have read before, I’m in three book groups. Sometimes the selected books overlap from one group to the other, so I’m not usually reading three new books every month. I’m not sure I could keep up at that rate. But yet, it all depends on the book.

A daughter of one of our members works at the Georgia O’Keeffe museum in Santa Fe, NM, and Kit (the mom) picked up a novel Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O’Keeffe and we decided to read it. It was really good. There are numerous books about her – mostly non-fiction biographies, of course. This book, however, was a novel written about her life, with made-up dialogue chronicling Georgia’s very unusual relationship with Alfred Stieglitz, the famous photographer (and owner of an art gallery) who lived in NYC. A man many years her senior. She fell, madly, very passionately, in love with Alfred, who was married at the time. They had an affair that turned into love, that turned into marriage, that turned into separation, but never divorce.

Our group read the book and talked and talked about everything in their lives. Before our meeting to discuss the book, I stopped at the library and picked up 4-5 books about Georgia’s works, since many of her paintings were specifically discussed in the novel and we spread them out on the table as we discussed the book. One person had seen the movie about Georgia, and we decided then and there, that we’d like to see it. We discussed the book in October, and met this week to watch the movie. Kit was able to get the DVD via Netflix mail, as it’s not available to stream. We met here at my house. Kit brought a delicious coffeecake, I made coffee, and we sat down to watch.

georgia_okeeffe_movie

I don’t know that you can see it very well- this is the opening segment of the movie (on my TV in my family room) – looking out the windows at Georgia’s  Abiquiú, New Mexico home and the screen writes out Georgia’s signature (see it there in the middle?). The gorgeous New Mexico mountains are in the far background.

Years ago I visited the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe (with my friend Darlene) and was just amazed at her artistic talent. Over the years, the museum has acquired 981 works by O’Keeffe, including 163 finished paintings, drawings, and sculptures; 669 sketches; and 149 photographs by O’Keeffe; as well as 1,770 photographs by other photographers documenting O’Keeffe, her houses, the subjects of her work, important events in her life, and her animals and friends.

By reading this novel, we learned so much more about her life (relative obscurity until she met Stieglitz), then with Stieglitz as her champion, benefactor, and business manager, he made her famous. He, himself, became famous as well because of the many nude photographs (some on the erotic side) he took of her. At the time those were revealed in a New York gallery, it was scandalous. Georgia became a fiercely independent woman (and moved permanently to New Mexico), but was haunted by Stieglitz’ affairs, which he claimed meant “nothing.”

We, in our group, to a person (I believe) felt that Georgia stuck with Alfred far longer than she should have. But she loved him and had a hard time letting go. Her New Mexico spare, sparkling canvases from the desert, to skulls on the sand, to the Sandia mountains, all were fodder for her paintbrush. The book, however, tells the story of her whole life, including many annual sojourns to Lake George where Stieglitz’ family owned a large home, and many of Georgia’s paintings are from that location. Reading about it made me want to see Lake George. If you don’t know much about her, the novel is a good place to start. I highly recommend you borrow a book of O’Keeffe’s works from the library as you read the book, though. It helps. My only criticism of the book has to do with the numerous pages of detailed descriptions of Georgia and Stieglitz making love. Wayyyy too much information. As I mentioned when we discussed the book, because Georgia was a real person, I almost felt like I was a fly on the wall, but it was creepy, like I was spying on her/them. A bit of spicy description in a novel isn’t a bad thing, but these went on and on, and over many occasions, in many places. TMI.

Posted in Fish, Salads, on November 14th, 2016.

shrimp_orzo_salad_feta

A stunning combination. Shrimp, orzo pasta, a light lemon juice dressing, sugar snap peas, green onions, some red onion and nice big chunks of Feta cheese. Absolutely yummy.

I made this some weeks ago, when it was still very much summer. My friend Cherrie was in NoCal visiting family and Bud, her husband, was alone.

Often when Cherrie is away I’ll invite Bud over for dinner. This time he came to help me figure out a mechanical problem with my pool. Mechanical engineering isn’t my strength, and I have to rely on others to help me me unravel house problems of that nature. Suffice to say, the problem was that I have too much water pressure to my house (and outside landscaping, etc.). I had no idea there was such a thing as a pressure regulator that should be installed on a home’s incoming water supply. Hence, the automatic pool fillers I have were over filling. These things hang on the edge of both the pool and spa and when the water goes below a certain level, it signals to open the valve to add water and then shut off (supposedly) when it reaches an acceptable level. Well, they weren’t shutting off when they should and my pools were over filling. Badly. To the point of overflowing both pool and spa. Who knew it could be such a simple thing as too much pressure. Hence the tiny mechanical thing that says it’s time to shut off the water couldn’t react fast enough.

So, it took Bud awhile to diagnose the problem (with help from my friend Lynn in Colorado who suggested testing the water pressure – Lynn did some diagnosing of my problem when they were visiting a couple of months ago). Anyway, I am hoping it’s fixed now. I must wait until evaporation takes the water level low enough to fill again. Meanwhile, my plumber has come to install the regulator, to the tune of several hundred dollars.

Okay, now, back to food. I’m sure you were all so interested in hearing my house problems. My DH always took care of these kinds of things, so I’ve had to learn about them.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts about my project of clearing out my old recipes so I can dispose of a basket file cabinet thing. In the process I re-found a lot of recipes I’m anxious to try. One I will post soon. This one wasn’t from that mass of recipes, but from a luncheon I attended a few months ago and all of us were asked to bring a salad. Two people brought shrimp and orzo salads. What a kick! And yet, both of them were different. My friend Joan made this one, a recipe from Ina Garten. The recipe is on her website, but I have to say, some of the ingredients are hidden in the directions and not listed in the ingredients, so I’d suggest you use the recipe below which has it complete.

Big, huge shrimp are a favorite of mine. Love them! But I don’t eat them all that often as I have to be careful not to consume too many purines (of which shrimp and shellfish contain them in spades). If I have them, I like the big ones – I ate 3 of them in this salad. Vegetables were chopped (cucumber, sugar snaps, green onions, red onion, Italian parsley, dill) and Feta cheese is cubed to add in later. Orzo pasta is cooked just al dente (10 minutes), then it’s tossed with an olive oil and lemon juice dressing, then all the other stuff is tossed in, including the shrimp. Ina has you roast the shrimp – I didn’t want to heat the oven, so I just cooked them on the cooktop – took about 5-6 minutes total. The shrimp are added in and then the Feta, stirred and served. Ina suggests letting the salad sit for an hour (or overnight, even) to help meld the flavors – I didn’t do that and it was still sensational. If time permits, do that.

What’s GOOD: everything about this salad is good. The combo of shrimp and Feta is a good one. The addition of dill is inspired. Ina is a master of bringing good flavors together and this recipe is a real winner. I’m so happy I have some leftovers!

What’s NOT: can’t think of a thing!

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Roasted Shrimp & Orzo with Feta

Recipe By: Barefoot Contessa
Serving Size: 6

3/4 pound orzo
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup EVOO
2 teaspoons salt freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds shrimp — (16 to 18 count) peeled and deveined
1 cup minced scallions — white and green parts
1 cup fresh dill — chopped
1 cup Italian parsley — chopped
1 hothouse cucumber — unpeeled, seeded, and diced
1/2 cup red onion — minced
3/4 pound Feta cheese — large-diced

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. Fill a large pot with water, add 1 tablespoon of salt and a splash of oil, and bring the water to a boil. Add the orzo and simmer for 9 to 11 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it’s cooked al dente. Drain and pour into a large bowl. Whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour over the hot pasta and stir well.
3. Meanwhile, place the shrimp on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to combine and spread out in a single layer. Roast for 5 to 6 minutes, until the shrimp are cooked through. Don’t overcook! [I pan sauteed the shrimp with olive oil and they were cooked through in 5-6 minutes.)
4. Add the shrimp to the orzo and then add the scallions, dill, parsley, cucumber, onion, more salt and pepper. Toss well. Add the feta and stir carefully. Set aside at room temperature for 1 hour to allow the flavors to blend, or refrigerate overnight. If refrigerated, taste again for seasonings and bring back to room temperature before serving.
Per Serving: 706 Calories; 34g Fat (43.2% calories from fat); 47g Protein; 52g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 281mg Cholesterol; 1582mg Sodium.

Posted in Cookies, on November 13th, 2016.

choc_almond_cherry_cookies

Oh, goodness gracious! Trust me, you’ve GOT to try these cookies. If you love chocolate, this is a winner. If you like dried cherries, this is a winner. The combination makes it a double winner!

You know already if you read my blog, that I follow Food52’s blog regularly. When I saw this recipe a year ago I added it to my to-try recipes, but it’s taken me a year to get around to it. What a mistake to wait! These cookies are sensational. Merrill Stubbs is the co-owner, co-cook, co- everything at Food 52, along with Amanda Hesser. Merrill chimes in often, but not too often do you see a recipe that’s all to her credit. Here is one. She created it last year when Food52 did some kind of holiday food truck in NYC. It was her contribution to the food truck ‘show.’

choc_almond_cherry_dough_ballsThere is nothing all that unusual – other than some almond flour (I used the type carried at Trader Joe’s – it’s shelf stable and doesn’t get stale). It’s mixed with some AP flour, and baking soda, plus some powdered cocoa – my go-to type usually is Hershey’s Special Dark. I do have other cocoa on my shelves, but for a cookie, that type was just fine.

Butter, brown sugar and white sugar are mixed up thoroughly (with salt and vanilla), then you add in the flour/cocoa mixture, and lastly, some chopped up dark chocolate and chopped dried cherries are mixed in briefly. The dough is refrigerated for a bit (I only had time to chill it for about 35-40 minutes), then you scoop (cookie scoop) a small ball of it, roll choc_almond_cherry_balls_ready2bakeit in your palms, then roll it in granulated sugar. Onto parchment (or Silpat) lined baking sheets they go and baked for 12-14 minutes (mine took 13) at 325°F. They are VERY tender – they must cool on the cookie sheet, and then onto racks (on the parchment still) until fully cooled. I cheated and removed half of them from the parchment (so I wouldn’t have to use yet another sheet of parchment for that 3rd and final sheet tray) onto racks. A few cookies didn’t make it to the rack because they’re just so fragile until they’re fully cool. Just so you know. Lesson learned!

I’ve left the metric measurements in the recipe below because I think, in this recipe, the weight of the almond flour is important, not just the volume.

What’s GOOD: everything luscious little thing – the soft texture, the good dark chocolate, the little bits of chopped dried cherries and the unctuous mouth-flavor. Altogether wonderful in my book.

What’s NOT: nothing at all. Easy to mix up, chill a bit, relatively easy to roll and cover in granulated sugar. Bake. 1-2-3, done. I’m sure you’ll hear some mmmmms and ahssss.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Chocolate Almond Cherry Cookies

Recipe By: Merrill Stubbs, Food 52
Serving Size: 36

125 grams almond flour (7/8 cup)
50 grams all-purpose flour (3/8 cup)
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder — [I used Hershey’s Special Dark]
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
11 tablespoons unsalted butter — softened
2/3 cup light brown sugar — packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar — plus more for dusting
1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt — flaky
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate — roughly chopped (pieces should be 1/3 inch or smaller)
2/3 cup dried cherries — chopped

1. Whisk together the almond flour, all-purpose flour, cocoa powder and baking soda.
2. Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula once.
3. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the dry ingredients, drape a kitchen towel over the mixer and pulse at low speed for 1 to 2 seconds, about 5 times. Remove the towel and keep beating at low speed for about 10 seconds more, until everything is just combined. Scrape down the bowl again.
4. Add the chopped chocolate and dried cherries and mix on low speed for another 5 seconds or so, just to incorporate. Transfer the dough to an airtight container and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes.
5. Center a rack in the oven and heat it to 325 °F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats. Pour about 1/2 cup sugar onto a large plate. Using your hands, form the dough into balls about an inch and a half in diameter. Roll the balls in the sugar and arrange them on the baking sheets, at least 2 inches apart.
6. Bake the cookies for 12 to 14 minutes; they should dome slightly in the middle, and they should look dry on the surface but still be soft to the touch. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets on racks for 5 minutes, then transfer the parchment to the racks to finish cooling.
Per Serving: 97 Calories; 6g Fat (54.8% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 9mg Cholesterol; 86mg Sodium.

Posted in Soups, on November 9th, 2016.

watercress_soup1

Are you tired of my stories? Seems like there always IS one to go along with most of my recipes. This soup is no exception.

The date was probably the early 1990s. My DH (Dear Husband), Dave, and I had been to England (we loved to travel the narrow roads of the countryside – we went there about 8 times and did just that). Once home I was making an effort to prepare more soups – because when we’d stayed with our good friends, Pamela and Jimmy, Pam had served a cold soup course for one of our prodigious meals we had there.

Not that I was planning to serve a soup course with our meals – usually that was just too much food – but on that trip we’d enjoyed soups in many places. And I had vowed to make more. Pamela had served us a cold soup (a cold green pea soup that’s already here on my blog) and my aim was to find some more cold soups to try. I made several over the period of a few weeks, but wasn’t enamored with any of them, particularly. I’d sent a thank you letter to her/them, and in it I asked for more recipes. This was back in the days when all we could do was snail mail, over the pond.

If you haven’t been reading my blog for very long, or you could have forgotten, but these friends, Pamela and Jimmy – we met them in a pub in Ilminster, Somerset, on our very first trip to England together (1981). I’ve told the story before, relating how Pamela introduced me to the art and precision of making a British pot of tea. Each time we visited, Pamela outdid herself preparing a sumptuous meal or two. Often we took them out for a very nice dinner somewhere too. Pamela was a professional cook. She didn’t go to culinary school, but after some early years in the RAF women’s corp, she stayed home to raise hers and Jimmy’s children, and then eventually took a job working for a young, but wealthy couple who owned a very large and lovely manor house some miles away. Pamela cooked for them 2-4 days a week, preparing meals they could reheat on other nights when she wasn’t there. She did all the cooking when they entertained, and especially when they had hunting parties. She regaled us with interesting stories about all of that. One year Dave and I got a tour of the manor house when the owners were away (on the Continent, you see). It was pretty gorgeous, including the Laura Ashley-decorated bedrooms. At the time, Laura Ashley was just the “in” thing, and this house had it in spades. The home was filled with incredible artwork spanning many generations of the family. And it had a dining room table that would seat easily about 24 with no problem whatsoever.

Anyway, back to my story, I’d sent the note to Pamela about more recipes for cold soups. Some months went by, and then I got a lovely envelope chock full longhand recipes, not written in a recipe format. I think she sent me about five, and 3 of them were for a cold watercress soup. Whatever was going on in my life right then, I set the pages aside and they were eventually filed in my pocket folder for SOUPS. And I promptly forgot about them. How rude of me!!

It’s now 20+ years later, and as I mentioned lately, I’ve been working on weeding through all of my old recipe clippings, etc. I’m done with the project now – thank goodness – it was a huge job. I threw out about 95% of them. Out went all the cheesecake recipes (it’s not at the top of my list; it was Dave’s favorite – he probably shed a tear as I tossed them in the trash – but hey, he’s in heaven and enjoying cheesecake every day). Out went nearly all the beet recipes – too much trouble. Out went most of the labor intensive recipes I used to think would be fun. And when I got to the SOUPS folder, there were Pam’s recipes. Oh my goodness. Pam and Jimmy are both gone now, so I can’t call to tell her that I really did appreciate her sending me the recipe, oh so long ago.

watercress_bunchSo here I am, making the soup that Pamela designated as her “favorite” watercress soup. She didn’t say why it was her favorite one – maybe because of the texture – silky – or because it was good either hot or cold. I bought good, fat bunches of watercress – I will only buy the real, full-grown stuff – not the ones that are very young leaves with a root ball. The flavors haven’t developed at all in that variety. One of my local markets almost always has watercress.

First I sweated some leeks and onion, then added one potato, chicken broth (or you could use vegetable broth), the watercress tops (not the thick stems) and cooked with a lid on, until the potatoes were tender. I added milk and half and half although the recipe indicated  using milk alone. Salt and pepper were added and I whizzed this up in my Vitamix blender, which gave it the smoothest, silky texture. I couldn’t wait to dig my spoon into it so I had a small bowl of it for lunch. Thank you, Pamela, for this old recipe.

What’s GOOD: the watercress flavor is subtle. By that I don’t mean that it was unidentifiable. It was watercress soup for sure, and it had the most wonderful texture, which is why I’ve renamed this soup as Silky Watercress Soup. It is similar in consistency to vichyssoise, but not as thick, by a long shot. It’s probably the one potato in it; and probably the power of my Vitamix blender. The soup can be diluted a bit more with milk if desired. It could be a main dish soup (probably to serve 3) or a smaller bowl to serve 6, along with a half sandwich or a salad. Just don’t overpower the delicacy of the soup with a strong flavored side dish. A winner of a recipe, and I’m so grateful I ran across this old recipe. More to come.

What’s NOT: gee, not a thing.

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Silky Watercress Soup

Recipe By: From my English friend, Pamela James
Serving Size: 5

1 1/2 ounces butter
2 large leeks — cleaned, thinly sliced
1 large onion — chopped
8 ounces potato — peeled, diced
2 bunches watercress — about 4-5 cups, chopped
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 cups milk — or use some half and half
salt and pepper to taste
croutons for garnish

1. Melt butter in large saute pan; add leeks and onions; cook for 5 minutes without browning. Add potato and cook for 3 minutes.
2. Remove larger stalks from the watercress and roughly chop leaves. Add to pan with stock and salt and pepper.
3. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
4. Sieve mixture or puree in a blender until smooth.
5. Stir in milk; heat until it’s just below a simmer. Pour into bowls and garnish with a little swirl of cream and croutons.
6. May be served hot or chilled (chill for several hours).
Per Serving: 208 Calories; 10g Fat (43.5% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 32mg Cholesterol; 341mg Sodium.

Posted in Uncategorized, on November 7th, 2016.

cooks_vote

Posted in Travel, on November 7th, 2016.

mt_durmitor_lakes

I don’t remember what these lakes were called – I believe they’re part of a dam (in Montenegro). We drove along the edge of several of these lakes, then began a very steep ascent – in serpentines they called it – before we actually arrived in Mt. Durmitor National Park.

We stayed one night in Sarajevo. It was one of the reasons I wanted to go on this trip. After reading the heart-wrenching book, The Cellist of Sarajevo some years ago, I longed to make a kind of pilgrimage to the small square in the city where the cellist played during the seige. I thought I’d written up a post on my blog here about that book, but I guess I just put it on my sidebar, which I update ever few weeks. The book is a novel, but based on the history of the siege in Sarajevo in the 1990s. The filament that holds the various stories together is the life of a professional cellist (supposedly based on Vedran Smailovic) who is an observer, from his apartment window, of a massacre that happened in his square – the sniper on the hills gunned down 22 people standing in line at a bakery. The book is about how the people of Sarajevo were totally at God’s mercy during the many, many months of the siege. They had little food, had to walk great distances to get water, and took their lives in their hands when they did, as the snipers were vigilant in the nearby hills. Awhile after that particular massacre, the cellist (this part is fiction, according to some accounts) decides he’s going to play a specific piece of music (the composer Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor – which has a very interesting history all on its own – look it up if you’re interested) every day for 22 days; he went down into that square, right where the people were massacred, and in line where a sniper could have killed him too. He plays the piece of hauntingly beautiful music, a classical piece for cello, and hundreds of people come to the square to hear him play. And for whatever reason, the snipers don’t shoot.

So, I’d hoped to see that square, but our guide misunderstood me I guess – Smailovic did do a concert in the ruins of the National Library (it’s been rebuilt), and well after the seige he did play a concert on the square. On our walking tour – and she pointed out the rebuilt Library to me. Sarajevo is a city, big enough that I suppose she couldn’t very well take me to that place. Sarajevo still has many disfiguring marks from mortar fire and other damage to municipal buildings and apartment buildings. They’re still working on fixing it up. We did visit the tunnel that was built from one end of Sarajevo under the airport and out the other side, 266which was used (all secretly) to ferry medicines and much needed supplies, ammunition too. We walked through about 15 feet of the tunnel – cramped, low, and has a steel track on the ground for pushing or pulling a cart. There at left is a display, showing the tunnel (the white line near the top, that traverses underneath the runway).

We stayed in a Muslim-owned hotel in Sarajevo. I think it was called the Bristol. Very nice. Some in our group grumbled because the hotel didn’t serve alcohol. Really? Fortunately the complainers only talked to our tour leader about it, not the hotel. I’d have been embarrassed if they had. Bosnia is a mostly Muslim country, so when you are in such a place, we should respect their customs.

Once we left Sarajevo we headed further south and to the border of Montenegro. The photo at top was the northern edge of Mt. Durmitor National Park. After crossing the Bosnian and Montenegro borders (which sometimes took 20-30 minutes to wait in line, then for all of our passports to be examined, cross-checked and stamped, then we’d go another 200 yards and do the process all over again to enter the new country), we were off into the mountains. At one point we had to pull off the road for awhile because a film crew was shooting a motion picture somewhere on up in the mountains, and all traffic on this very arterial 2-lane highway came to a complete stop for 4-5 hours. We were lucky to be stalled for only about 30 minutes.

4_wheel_drive_mt_durmitorEventually we got up into the highlands and our group got into 4-wheel drive SUVs and off we went on a mountain adventure. We went on, up and up and up (to about 6,000 feet that day) and above the timberline.  Part of the roads were paved, but mostly they were dirt and gravel and usually only one lane.

It was a gorgeous day and it was very fun to be in something other than a bus.

The photo below was one I snapped as we went through a particularly beautiful valley.mt_durmitor_4

We had lunch at a kind of a summer camp up there – a delicious meal – and as always, way too much food. We had lamb, potatoes, home made cheese, tomatoes, wine and beer if we wanted it, and some delicious strudel like savory pastries. We had those (kind of in a burrito-shape but smaller) with a flaky pastry and a meat and cabbage filling. Really tasty. Then we were off again in the SUVs to get down Mt Durmitor on the other side and into a town called Kolacin. It was up at a fairly high altitude. We stayed in a rustic kind of chalet hotel that was full of high school kids on a field trip of some kind, plus some kids competing in some sports games there.

The next day we were picked up by similar SUVs and off we went to another 8,000 foot high mountain aerie in a different direction. That day we encountered a small pack of horses. We thought they were wild, but found out later they spend every summer up there fending for themselves and the owners retrieve them in the Fall and take them down to his ranch at a lower altitude for the winter. They came8000feet_montenegro_horses roaring down the nearby hills and approached us. We wished we’d had some apples or something to feed them. There were some young colts in the bunch (see the one colt’s head in the middle?). That day we stopped at a different high mountain camp and sat out in the relative open camp (covered, but open and windy, and it rained too) for another big lunch. Similar food – maybe it was beef or veal that time, more home made cheese (that was SO good – it was a free-form kind of stretchy cheese – you’d tear off a portion and eat it with the delicious home made bread), salads, wash_up_station_montenegrocabbage salads, wedges of tomatoes, beer, wine and some sweet for dessert. There was a toilet in an out building there, and a primitive sink for washing your hands.

We were out in the elements for several hours and enjoyed the scenery so much. It was just breathtakingly beautiful up on those mountains. There were a few villages here and there, dotting the distant hills. Probably really cold in the winter.

at8000_feet_montenegro

The scenery was just so pretty. Kind of like Colorado, I suppose. We all remarked on the gorgeous clouds that day. 8000feet_montenegro

Once again, we were up above the timberline and nearly into the clouds. So beautiful.

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