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me_in_paris_198That’s me, on a trip, in a Paris restaurant.
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On a recent road trip, I listened to 2 books on CD that I checked out of the library. With long stretches of highway with nothing to occupy my time, I love doing books on CD. The better of the 2 was definitely Frances Mayes’ new memoir, Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir. She narrates the story herself, and I just loved hearing her southern accent all the way through, her lilting, slow manner of speaking. She tells the story of her youth, from as young as she can remember to about age 25 or so, with most of it her coming-of-age in her teens. Her parents were alcoholics. Her older sisters were away at college. She wasn’t from a wealthy family exactly, but there was some money, a maid that she loved dearly who protected her from her parents sometimes. A grandmother figures large for some of the years. Her thought processes are normal, although she says from the get-go that she always felt she was different than most people, not a traditionalist for sure. Having read her other books, I never picked up on all the angst she experienced as a young woman, a girl, really. I absolutely LOVED the book. Mayes has a gift of prose – of a kind you don’t often read – she uses amazing language and phrases, adverbs and adjectives. Describes scenes so well and with such detail you just know you’re right there beside her.  Didn’t want it to end. As I reached across to the passenger seat to pull out the last CD I was sad, knowing the story was coming to an end. Because she ended it at about age 25, I suspect there may be another book in her future. For several days after I listened to this book I could hear Mayes’ southern accent in my head (like I hear memorable music when I attend a concert or sing a hymn or praise song at church). Her voice resonated in my head. If you enjoy memoirs, and reading about a kind of a crazy family, AND you like Frances Mayes, well, then, you’ll like this book for sure.

The other book, that I am sorry to say I cannot recommend is Sue Miller’s book, The Senator’s Wife (Vintage Contemporaries). Reading the back of the CD box I wasn’t sure, but I took it anyway. And at first I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue listening to it (when the young woman digs into her neighbor’s personal letters when she’s supposedly taking in the mail and watering plants), then got engrossed in the story. It’s about a young couple who move to a new house, part of a duplex in New England. Their next door neighbor is the aging and somewhat estranged wife of a Washington Senator. The young woman is far too curious about her neighbor and her neighbor’s marriage, what there is of it, although she cares about her neighbor a lot. The chapters switch back and forth between the young wife and the aging woman next door with their personal daily trivia, interspersed with some drama on both sides. The Senator is a philanderer, hence the partial estrangement. The young woman has a baby and consequently spends lots of time at home, overwhelmed with motherhood, hoping for something to change her life. When the Senator has a stroke and returns “home” for his “wife” to care for him (her choice) the plot thickens. The young wife is asked to babysit, so to speak, for an hour or so once a week for the old man, and that’s when, something happens that sickened me. I disliked this young woman and felt her behavior was just so disappointing. I couldn’t continue. If you like that sort of thing, then maybe you’d like the book. I was on the last CD when the story took this turn, and I was sorry I’d wasted so many hours on it to get there. Friendship isn’t about betrayal – it isn’t a friendship then. If any of you have read this already and want to comment, send me an email. Go to my contact page above.

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

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

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

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

 

Tasting Spoons

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

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Posted in Veggies/sides, on July 30th, 2015.

calabacitas_july_2015

If you’ve never made Calabacitas, you’re missing out. Really, truly, missing out on one sensational taste combination. If you want to know more about the dish, click on the link in the first sentence.

Really, this post is not about the calabacitas, although I’ve included the recipe below (again) and the pdf. If you’re inclined, just go to the original recipe – it’s a real winner and one I return to over and over.

Talk about favorites! This was my dinner. Just a bowl of calabacitas. Nothing more, nothing less. I tasted this at a restaurant in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2007, and immediately came home wanting to know more about it. I think it’s the poblano chiles that MAKE it – those chiles have a very unique flavor, and this time I cut a corner and didn’t char the chile before using it – I just chopped it up and added it in. I was too lazy.

These days, since I’m cooking for one person – just me – I don’t go to the trouble to fix a complete meal all the time. My DH was always wanting a complete meal – meat, veggies, salad, an occasional carb. Sometimes I made a meat and 2 veggies. And I’ve found since I’m a widow, that making a green salad is more trouble than it’s worth. So I buy ready-made salads at Trader Joe’s. Sometimes I’ll use my own salad dressing, but more and more I’m lazy and use the tasty Trader Joe’s dressings they include. They’re all different. More often than not, I’ll have a TJ’s salad for lunch and then I’ll cook a dinner. Or, if I’ve been out and had lunch with a friend, I’ll have a TJ’s salad for dinner. That way I still get plenty of greens and some veggies they include. I have a couple of them that are favorites. I have some kind of Mexican chicken salad from there in my frig. Maybe lunch today.

We have a farmstand nearby and one of their first crops is usually sweet corn. I drive by it nearly every day. And this year they left the land around this farmstand fallow with nothing growing on the 10 or so acres there. The family who run this farmstand lease the farmstand space and they grow crops at other places in the county. BUT, at this time of year they have a big honkin’ sign they lean against the side of the small stand that says “SWEET CORN.” That means their farms are now harvesting the lovely sweet, white corn that’s always the first crop of every summer season. And when I saw the sign my mind just whooshed immediately to calabacitas. That was my CRAVING. I didn’t stop at the farmstand. I was in the wrong lane to get there, so since I was going to my local grocery store anyway, I decided to buy the corn there.

Surely, I’m a real snob when it comes to food. I admit it. I am. I like good food. I’m willing to pay for good food. I’m willing (usually) to go out of my way to find and eat good food.

And I learned a huge lesson making this dish, this time.

IF YOU WANT A QUALITY PLATE OF FOOD, USE QUALITY INGREDIENTS.

I purchased zucchini, corn and poblano chiles at the grocery store. Mistake. The zucchini was fine, and so was the poblano. But the corn? Oh my goodness, it was tasteless. Absolutely without taste at all. I should have stopped cooking – this was when I had used my wonderful handy-dandy corn tool to shave off the kernels corn_with_cutter1and one errant one flew across the island. I retrieved it and into my mouth it went. Hmmm. Not much taste, I thought. I should have stopped then and there and made a trip to the farmstand or to the other local, independent market that usually has good corn. But I didn’t. I was lazy and said, well, maybe the other ear will be fine. No, it wasn’t. The corn cost me a dollar for 2 ears. At the farmstand they’re usually about $1.50 apiece; never again will I quibble about the price. I have 2 more ears in the frig. I should throw them out as I doubt I’ll eat the corn from them. I don’t know if they’re GMO corn. Probably. Albertson’s must have gotten a deal on the corn – cheap corn = cheap on flavor. Maybe most people wouldn’t care. Their loss, and certainly mine. The good zucchini carried the flavor along with the poblano chile, but the usual sweetness from the corn was missing.

So, if you make this, seek out good corn – taste it first. I don’t know exactly how you do that – grocery stores wouldn’t be very happy to see you flipping off the husks and silk to pull off a kernel. Well anyway, go to a source you know and trust and the corn will probably be good. Maybe it has to do with our drought? That’s a possibility, but our farmers are allowed to use the water they need (I think). It’s us residential consumers who are required to use 25-33% less water than we used to.

What’s GOOD: this calabacitas dish is sensational. I’ve been making it year after year after year, and until this time, when I used a poor quality corn, it’s always met my expectations. Just find good corn!

What’s NOT: nary a thing, except the finding of good tasting corn. Do seek it out.

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Calabacitas con Crema

Source: Rick Bayless, restaurateur, from his book Authentic Mexican
Servings: 8

1 lb zucchini — (about four small)
1 1/2 cups corn kernels, fresh if possible
1/2 whole onion — thinly sliced
2/3 cup heavy cream (or use fat-free half and half) – optional
1 whole poblano pepper — roasted, seeded, peeled and cut in thin strips
1 tsp salt
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1. Chop the zucchini in large chunks (about 3/4 inch to 1 inch) and set aside. Prepare onions ahead and set aside. Grill the poblano chile directly on a gas flame, cool, remove skin, then cut into small strips.
2. Using a very large skillet, heat butter and oil until very hot. Add zucchini and toss until tender. Remove the zucchini from the pan with a slotted spoon, allowing it to drain well. In the remaining oil and butter, fry the onion slices until soft and sweet, then add the corn and pepper slices. Add the zucchini and cream and cook until nice and hot. Taste for salt and pepper and serve.
Per Serving: 134 Calories; 11g Fat (67.6% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 31mg Cholesterol; 292mg Sodium.

Posted in Uncategorized, on July 28th, 2015.

7000 SeriesTo say that I’m flummoxed is an understatement. I bought 2 new Dell all-in-one computers (as in blurry photo above) about 9 weeks ago. My kitchen computer, the one that houses my entire recipe collection and my photo software, the one I use for all my blogging etc. just quit working a few days ago. Hours and hours have been spent on the phone with Dell (of course, they don’t want to replace anything yet). They’re very reluctant to do a major fix until they have to. They want me to start from scratch. Am not sure I’ll do that – yet. I have a great local guy who works with me on computer stuff, networking, wi-fi, etc. when it’s beyond my ken, and his assistant is working today trying to see if she can restore the unit.

I have everything on my system backed up (files, recipes, but not the programs, of course) on Carbonite, so I HAVE everything, but it may be days or a week or more before I’m able to get back in operation. I use google photos, so fortunately not more than a few weeks ago I finally got all my photos linked up with that. And fortunately, I was completely up to date with the posts I’d completed. 

Maybe you won’t notice anything different – maybe by the time recipe posts I’ve already done go live (there are a few in the bank), my computer will be back in operation. I could try to restore everything onto my upstairs office computer, but it’s awfully hard to run up and down the stairs all the time. I suppose I could move the upstairs one downstairs. For now. I’ll wait a day or two I think. 

Posted in Miscellaneous, on July 26th, 2015.

nigel_slaters_plum_chutney

Plums are in season now – or maybe, lucky you, you have a plum tree? If so, here’s a new way to use plums and if you’re so inclined you can can it to keep for another season.

Shopping at Trader Joe’s, I spotted some plumcots, a hybrid fruit that’s more plum than apricot, and am not really sure what’s different about them (in tasting them I really couldn’t tell the difference with it and a straight plum). But I’d read this recipe for a plum chutney and decided I’d make it. As I write this, I’m going to entertain one night soon, about 12 people, and I wanted something to serve alongside some grilled meats. I’ve made this and will also make an old favorite, Escoffier’s Peppers for Cold Meats. I don’t think I’ve made those peppers for a couple of years and I love them.

plums_cut_upIt took over an hour to make this, but most of it is just simmering time. There’s about 15-20 minutes of prep time involved. It’s not difficult – just chopping the onions and plums mostly. The plums are the most gorgeous color, aren’t they? I love the color red. If you came to my house, you’d know how much I love red. It’s not in every room, but it’s in several!

The plums get cut up (the recipe said to halve them, but I wanted smaller pieces than that) and then you put it all together in a big, heavy-duty pot (don’t use something flimsy as you cook this, or it will burn). There, below is a photo of all the gorgeous stuff in the pot – the onions, raisins, sugar, dried chile flakes, mustard seeds, apple cider vinegar, malt vinegar (that’s different, huh?) and I added a little bit of dried thyme. Oh yes, and a stick of cinnamon too.

chutney_mixture

My eye strays immediately to the deep ruby red of those plums. Anyway, the mixture is brought to a boil and simmered for about an hour (without a lid) and it cooks down and cooks down until it’s the consistency of loose jam. Just keep it on low so it doesn’t burn. Listen for the sound of sizzling, meaning it’s too hot, or needs just a little bit of water added to it.

You may wish to can this as soon as it’s done – pour into sterilized jars and seal. But I knew I’d be using it soon, so I just allowed the pot to cool (that took awhile because the mixture was really hot) and poured it into refrigerator containers and it’s now safely stored in the refrigerator until I need it next week. You could freeze it as well, if that’s your fancy.

plum_chutney_with_chickenAnd there at left was my dinner – some left over chicken with a couple of dollops of the chutney on top.

The vinegar in the mix gives a definite savory edge to this chutney but it’s sweet too – guess that’s why it’s called hot and sweet. There are some red chile flakes in the mixture – I didn’t use many because I’m always wary of using too many, and you certainly can’t un-do it. Chutney almost always has some kind of acid in it, and usually some kind of fruit as well. So this is definitely a chutney, right?

I bought some nice goat cheese, and think I’ll serve the chutney on that as an appetizer. Should be lovely. I’ll also serve it as a relish with the grilled meat. I found the recipe online in several places. One suggestion was to make this ahead because it improves with age. Okay, I’ve done that.

What’s GOOD: love the sweet and sour aspect, though there isn’t much sour. Yet the acid definitely gives it a sweet/savory piquant taste. It’s great with some cold meat. Would be fabulous in a turkey sandwich, I think. Pork would lend itself well to this. Also on cream or soft cheese as an appetizer. Or just plain on a cracker.

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Nigel Slater’s Hot and Sweet Plum Chutney

Recipe By: Nigel Slater’s Recipe from his cookbook, Ripe (I found it at The English Kitchen blog)
Serving Size: 20

1 2/3 pounds plums — (I used plumcots)
3/4 pound onions
3/4 cup raisins
1 1/4 cups muscovado sugar — (or brown sugar)
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes — crushed
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
5 1/2 ounces apple cider vinegar
5 1/2 ounces malt vinegar
1 teaspoon dried thyme — (my addition: optional)
a cinnamon stick broken in two

Notes: This gets better tasting as days go by. If you can do it, let it ripen for a couple of weeks. Perfect to serve with cold meats and cheeses.
1. Halve the plums, discarding the stones. Peel and roughly chop the onions. Put the fruit and the onions into a large heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the remaining ingredients.
2, Bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally, for about an hour. Taste for sweetness – may need more sugar, depending on the plums. (DO not forget to stir it occasionally as it may burn.)
3. Pour into hot and sterilized jam jars and seal. Or, allow to cool to room temperature, refrigerate and use within a few weeks.
Per Serving: 83 Calories; trace Fat (3.7% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 1mg Sodium.

Posted in Chicken, on July 22nd, 2015.

moroccan_spiced_grilled_chicken_breasts

Another easy recipe for grilled chicken breasts. Make up the yogurt-based marinade with oodles of Moroccan spices at least a few hours ahead, or ideally the day before and chill the chicken in it. Grill and garnish with a bit of reserved marinade and some cilantro.

The other night I decided to cook at home for Dave’s best friend Joe. He was visiting (on business) as he does every couple of weeks. Usually he goes out to dinner with customers or an employee , but this night he had dinner with me. I defrosted some boneless, skinless chicken breasts and searched my recipes for some new way to make them. Elise over at Simply Recipes made this version. I changed it around just a little bit – I added some turmeric; I made a bit more of the marinade and reserved some to put on top (forgot to show that in the photo, sorry) and I garnished with more cilantro.

About the topping: I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a rare chicken breast that doesn’t need some kind of topping – like a chutney or a relish, or mango salsa, or a mustard sauce. Something. So on this one I merely made a bit more of the marinade and used it to help the chicken be more tasty and moist. Chicken can get dry so easily – especially so on the grill if you’re not watching it carefully. I don’t know if you have any secrets to maintaining moist chicken? My only technique is to pound the chicken breasts a bit thinner in that thicker part (Costco’s chicken breasts are really big, and very thick) so they cook more evenly. And I use a meat thermometer. Generally chicken is supposed to be cooked to 165°, but breasts are done at 150°. So when I grilled these I checked the internal temp about 4 times to make sure I didn’t overcook them. They were perfectly cooked. The yogurt marinade mostly cooks away during the grilling process – and much of it ends up burned on the grill itself.

What’s GOOD: I liked the subtle flavor of the marinade – it is not overpowering at all – in fact if I did it again I’d probably add more of the spices to the marinade. It needed a bit more. But it was good. It’s low calorie, and I’ll also tell you it’s delicious cold. I made a plum chutney (to serve with another meal and I’ll post about that in a few days) and ate the left overs with that, which was very nice.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. Just don’t over cook it, okay?

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

Moroccan Spiced Grilled Chicken Breasts

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Simply Recipes blog, 2015
Serving Size: 4

2/3 cup Greek yogurt, full-fat — (do not use fat free)
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic — minced
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast halves
3 tablespoons cilantro — minced (for garnish)

1. Mix the marinade ingredients (yogurt, lemon juice, cilantro, olive oil, garlic, cumin, paprika, turmeric, cinnamon, salt, and pepper) together in a medium sized bowl. Remove about a third of the mixture and refrigerate until serving time, to be used as a topping.
2. If chicken pieces are thick, pound them slightly so they are a more even thickness. Add the chicken pieces to the bowl and thoroughly coat with the marinade. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator from 2 hours to overnight.
3. Heat grill on high heat if you are using a gas grill, or prepare coals for direct heat if you are using charcoal. Allow for one side of the grill to be the “cool” side. If you do not have a grill you can use a cast-iron grill pan on your stove.
4. Grill the chicken breasts over direct high heat a couple of minutes on one side. Then turn them over and move them to the cool side of the grill. Cover and cook for a few minutes more, until the chicken is cooked through.
5. Use a meat thermometer to test and remove the meat from the grill when the internal temperature of the chicken breast reaches 150°F. Do not overcook, as chicken breasts can easily dry out. Dollop some of the reserved marinade on the chicken and garnish with chopped cilantro.
Per Serving: 309 Calories; 12g Fat (37.0% calories from fat); 42g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 114mg Cholesterol; 403mg Sodium.

Posted in Travel, on July 20th, 2015.

Mendocino_Coast_Botanical_Gardens_590

The beautiful gardens way up the California coast near Mendocino are off the beaten path if you’re just visiting San Francisco. It’s about 100 miles north and over a set of low mountains or accessed by the very windy 2-lane highway that traverses most of the California coast. If you’re ever there, do make a pilgrimage. It’s very worth it. You’ll notice the sun wasn’t even shining, but there was plenty of light to take photos.

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

Posted in Salads, on July 18th, 2015.

italian_basil_salad_parmIf you need a refreshing salad – with greens of all kinds, and some lovely basil leaves – this may be one you’ll want to try. It’s loaded with goodness, and the star of the show are the little crumbles of baked Parmesan. Ever made them before? Easy. And it will make the salad very special.

I just posted about a trip I took in May (no, not the Europe trip, this was one to Northern California), one I will write up one of these days. There were lots of photos to share of the California coastline, wildlife, flowers at a Botanical Garden in Ft. Bragg (way up north) and my older granddaughter’s graduation from high school.

Anyway, while visiting in the Bay Area I went to see old friends I’d not seen for some years. The last time was several years ago when they were living in Pennsylvania and Dave and I stayed with them. Now Karen, Phil and their 2 sons, Cameron and Ryan are back on home (California) turf again and Phil’s got a new very high-powered job in the tech industry. Phil used to work for Intel, my DH’s employer. When Phil was almost fresh out of MBA school and came to work for Intel, he spent some weeks shadowing Dave in outside sales. Most of the new kids on the block did that when they were first sent to this local SoCal office.

the_salad_chefPhil & Karen invited me to their home in Pleasanton – a gorgeous house set amongst a winery enclave. They grilled thick halibut steaks (and we talked about what a real treat halibut is these days at upwards of $20/pound). And their son Cameron (pictured at right) made this marvelous salad. Cameron likes to cook – isn’t it wonderful when your kids take an interest and really want to help in the kitchen?

The recipe came from Chef Michael Smith’s Kitchen: 100 of My Favorite Easy Recipes.

A few hours before you want to serve the salad (or even a day or so ahead) you need to make the Parmesan crisps. Click here if you want to see Ina Garten’s video of how to make the crisps. Super easy. But do start with the good stuff, Parmigiano-Reggiano or maybe a very good Pecorino. Nothing less will do. Once baked and cooled, keep them in an airtight container.

The dressing is very easy – it’s the usual salad dressing stuff with a tetch of honey to give it some sweetness. I liked that about this recipe, and not one you often see in an Italian dressing. Usually they’re acid-heavy and consequently, very tart. This one is lovely – smooth and nice. And truly, the Parm crisps make it. Thank you, Cameron, for sharing your recipe with me!

What’s GOOD: the Parmesan crisps are the best part about the salad, no question. They add texture and wonderful deep flavor, so don’t under any circumstances skip that part of it. Have everything else all ready to go and the salad is done in a flash.

What’s NOT: really nothing, unless you can’t set aside the time to make the crisps – that would make this salad very ordinary!

printer-friendly PDF

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Italian Basil Salad with Crispy Parmesan and Oregano Vinaigrette

Recipe By: Chef Michael Smith’s Kitchen (cookbook)
Serving Size: 4

4 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — (125 g) grated
6 ounces baby greens — (175 g)
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes — (500 mL)
1 cup fresh basil leaves — whole (250 mL)
1 cup Italian parsley — leaves and tender stems (250mL)
2 whole green onions — thinly sliced
A sprinkle or two of salt and lots of freshly ground pepper
DRESSING:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil — (30 mL)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar — (15 mL)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard — (15 mL)
1 tablespoon honey — (15 mL)
1 teaspoon dried oregano — (5 mL)

1. Preheat oven to 350°F (190°C).
2. Lightly oil a baking sheet, then evenly sprinkle on a thin layer of the Parmesan cheese, forming a circle 8 inches (20 cm) or so wide.
3. Bake until golden brown and crispy, about 10 minutes. Set the baking sheet on a rack to cool. Break the cheese into large chunks. (You can crisp the cheese several days in advance and store in an airtight container at room temperature.)
4. Just before serving, in a festive salad bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, mustard, honey, and oregano until they form a smooth vinaigrette. Add the greens, tomatoes, basil leaves, parsley leaves, and green onions.
5. Season to your taste with salt and pepper. Toss everything together and top with the crispy Parmesan.
Per Serving: 116 Calories; 7g Fat (52.8% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; trace Cholesterol; 76mg Sodium.

Posted in Restaurants, Travel, on July 17th, 2015.

Image result for sonoma images

On my driving trip to Northern Cal, I stayed just one night in Sonoma. It’s a very cute little town – there’s a photo I found online at sonomavalley.com, of the main square or plaza. My B&B was about a block off to the top right – so easy to walk into town. Sonoma still retains its old world charm and almost frontier character. I wasn’t there for the wine – my darling DH was probably chiding me from heaven to have me stop at this or that winery, but I wasn’t there to do tasting or buying, especially since it was summer (hot) and any wine would have to stay in the car for the next several days (not good). There’s a special table/décor store on the plaza (top at the center) that I wanted to visit, but it was closed by the time I walked there, and I left too early the next morning to do any shopping.

table_cottage_innHere’s a photo of the table in my room at the Cottage Inn and Spa, where I stayed. The B&B is a combination of two old Spanish homes, side by side, with just charmingly decorated rooms. I stayed in the Courtyard Suite, a small but cozy room with a tiny but well outfitted kitchen and a view (if my door was left open) of the courtyard and fountain.

Breakfast was delivered (a pretty covered basket) to a hook outside my door and I made a good pot of coffee to go with it. Very nice.

The little B&B has one distinction – there is only one room with a TV. I read my book and slept like a log.

I asked for a recommendation for dinner and they sent me to the #1 Trip Advisor result, Café La Haye, which is just off the main plaza by about 60 paces. I went early and had a fabulous meal. I put together the photos in a collage – see below.

cafe_la_haye

My dinner comprised two different small dishes – the beet salad on a bed of crème fraiche (I think) and topped with a lovely mound of dressed greens. It was to die for. I sat at a bar (see 2nd picture, small bar at bottom right) that overlooked the kitchen.

My 2nd course was toasted polenta slices (that were very moist) on a bed of something (can’t recall) and topped with shaved fennel and onions and a lovely sauce. I nearly licked the plate clean.

Then I splurged and had their rum raisin gelato/ice cream which was meant to go with a special dessert, but they ran out of the dessert, so I just had the gelato. Oh my, delicious.

When I left, it was still early, so I took a long stroll around all the stores on the perimeter of the plaza. I looked in windows, and browsed inside if the stores were open (some were). The town was busy with visitors and locals.

A charming town. I enjoyed my B&B and my dinner.

Posted in Travel, on July 16th, 2015.

rock_at_morro_bay

Have you ever been to Morro Bay? It’s a lovely little, sleepy seaside town about 2 1/2 hours north of Los Angeles. And that, the great, gigantic rock, sits out from the shore about 3/4 of a mile or so. It’s certainly the focal point of this town.

It’s been several weeks ago now – actually it was at the end of May, and I’m just getting around to writing up about my 2-week driving trip to Northern California. Life got in the way, but first I needed to write up all the different posts about my Europe trip in March/April. As I write this I’m packing my suitcase to fly to Colorado to visit with friends for about 5 days, so maybe I’ll have some photos from there as well. I’ll get those up after I finish this trip . . .

anderson_inn_morro_bayOnce through the awful traffic of L.A. (it gets worse by the day, and traffic in Orange County, where I live, is getting worse too) it was easy driving on up north. I like driving – at least for awhile I don’t mind driving by myself. During one part it wasn’t much fun, but I’ll tell you about that later. After driving through Oxnard and Pismo Beach, eventually I got to Morro Bay. I’d booked myself into a really, really lovely place called The Anderson Inn (it’s not a B&B, no breakfast). I wished I’d paid for the highest priced rooms that overlook that view up at top. I didn’t – I just couldn’t quite bring myself to do it – it’s not cheap! – so I had a very partial view of the rock from a tiny deck outside my sliding door. The room was lovely – outfitted well – and the owner even asked me if I liked cream in my coffee (yes, I do) and she brought me a pitcher of real cream that was stored in the room refrigerator. Oh my, was I impressed.

I had time to walk up and down the main street of the wharf, to look in all the corny tourist shops. I didn’t buy the_galley_morro_bayanything although I visited one really nice gardening and décor store that had some lovely stuff. I had dinner early, at The Galley, a restaurant that’s attached to the inn (and you can see the 2nd floor deck for the inn’s view rooms, the ones I didn’t stay in – there are 4 of them up there, overlooking the harbor).

It seems to be my modus operandi as a widow, when I eat out, to eat early – I feel awkward going to dinner at 7 with romantic couples and families everywhere. I shouldn’t, and I’ve tried not to, but I just do. So I was finished with dinner by about 6:30 and had time to take a nice walk. It was brisk that day and I enjoyed the cool ocean breezes.

The next morning I had breakfast down the street at a very old-fashioned (but good) diner, and I got on the road early. Because of some fast, last minute texting with my friend Cherrie, when I got to Cayucos (ky-YOU-kos), brown_butter_cookie_cojust north or Morro Bay, I pulled off and drove into the 2-block long main drag and stopped at a very special destination – the Brown Butter Cookie Company. They have a store in Paso Robles and this one in Cayucos. They offer samples too. I’d tasted their cookies before – and knew choc_chip_cookie_brown_butter_cookiethey were sensational (yes, lots of butter). Most of their cookies are sort of a shortbread kind of dough, although I had chocolate chip, and that was not.

I’d just had breakfast, but for the sake of research, I bought one cookie to eat myself. I bought several others – small packages of 6 cookies in bags of 4 different types. They made for a very nice hostess gift for 2 different friends I was going to stay with in coming days.

My destination that day was Carmel, but I drove old Highway 1, a very curvy road that’s been in existence for more than a century, I’m sure. Hearst Castle is along the way, though I didn’t stop there –  have been there several times. I raven_hwy_1just headed north, plugged in a CD to listen to a book on tape (that day it was Under Magnolia, the memoir by Frances Mayes). I don’t mind the curvy roads, but I found that I didn’t enjoy it that much because I couldn’t crane my neck around to see the views – I had to keep my eye on the road. I didn’t have anyone to tell me to stop at the next turnout, etc. I think the better viewpoints are seen driving south, not north. I don’t know that I’ll ever do that drive again. On the way, though, there are some lovely places to stop. I got out to stretch my legs and encountered this relatively friendly raven. Had I moved any closer he’d have flown off – he kept his eye on me every second as I approached. He didn’t even flinch when the shutter clicked.

scene_central_coast

This scene is very typical of the California coast – we’re in a severe drought, though, so where the fields might have been green, they’re brown this year. The flowers are weeds, I think, but they’re pretty nonetheless.

One place I always stop is a sea lion overlook. It’s marked with a sign, and this time of year there are hundreds sea_lion_loungeof sea lions lounging on the shore with hundreds of people standing around and gawking and making funny faces because it smells. I joined the crowds and snapped a few pictures and observed one of the males maneuvering himself to an open spot. They are so gangly and awkward – it’s amazing they can roll themselves on land.

The picture doesn’t do justice to the noise – they are barking off and on all the time – and they move around, flap a little to ward off flies, probably, and the water laps at their tails. It was blowing like crazy – I know, you can’t tell – so I didn’t stay there long.

I made several short stops, snapped some pictures, most of which weren’t worthy of posting except those scene3_along_hwy_1you see here. I stopped at one pull-out along the coast and loved the interplay of colors in the water. It was cold, and yes, the wind was blowing. That’s the scene looking south, obviously.

I spent the night in Carmel, at the rather famous Doris Day pet-friendly hotel right in downtown, called the Cypress Inn. It’s a block off the main drag, and has a lovely old-world, almost European elegance about it. I had an exceedingly small room there – by the time I booked it a month before I went, all the rooms I’d previously looked at and liked were taken. Oh well. I had another early dinner at the restaurant in the hotel and then had time to walk the complete town – up, across, down and back, the length of the main street. Nearly all the stores were closed, but I managed to return the next morning to a store I liked that had raincoats. Not that I needed a raincoat, but I really liked a bright red one. That went into the trunk of my car and never got used – still hasn’t been used since it’s summer! The next morning I had to climb over dogs in the lobby to get to the breakfast bar. There were dogs everywhere (not in the room with the food, however).

After that I drove to Santa Clara and stayed overnight with my cousin Gary, then visited with friends Stacey & Russ and their children, then spent 2 nights in Lafayette and used a nice hotel as a central place to go visit another cousin Maxine and her husband Jim, and Karen & Phil, lunch with one of Dave’s old-old friends, a previous boss and sailing partner and his wife, Bob & Monique, then with another couple who were also close friends during Dave’s days at Intel, Ron & Kim. I was VERY busy during those 5 days – with hardly a moment to myself, really.

Then I drove through wine country and met my cousin Gary in Healdsburg. We had lunch and then I drove us up Mendocino_bayto Mendocino. I’d wanted to re-visit that town – it was one that my DH and I had visited about 5-6 years ago, and enjoyed. Gary had never been there, and it’s right in his neck of the woods. So he’d said yes, he’d like to go with me when I asked him to accompany me. It’s a kind of a sleepy seaside town and there’s not a whole lot to do there.

Gary and I stayed 2 nights and ate out of course. Nothing particularly memorable. We did visit a lovely botanic gardens in Ft. Bragg (about 4-5 miles north of Mendocino) and I’ll write up a separate post about that. Gary loves flowers and gardens and he spent hours and hours hiking the trails and taking hundreds of photos. I walked through it all and took some pictures, then spent some time at the little café reading, and enjoying an iced chai tea latte. For many of the daylight hours we were there it was shrouded in mist. Morning, noon and night, really, with some filtered sun shining through now and then. In the photo above, near our inn, is the bay just north of the town of Mendocino. You can tell it was overcast and misting.

After dropping Gary off in Healdsburg, where he left his car (and he went on home), I visited Sonoma State, the school where my IMG_0324granddaughter Taylor will be going to college (she’ll major in nursing) this fall. I’m SO excited for her. I walked around the campus just to acquaint myself with the layout, and drove around the dorms. And visited the bookstore and bought a few things for Taylor. Then I drove on over to Placerville to attend Taylor’s high school graduation. Here’s a photo of her just before the ceremony.

I’m so proud of this young lady – she’s overcome some tremendous odds and graduated with a really good GPA – and Sonoma State wants her! She was accepted at Chico State also, but opted for Sonoma – it’s a really beautiful pine-tree-filled campus.

The next day I surprised Taylor with a big gift – she so needs it – I bought her a car. Here at right you can see the photo of her after I purchased it (used, though it’s only 2 years old, a Honda Civic).IMG_0334

Can you tell how excited she was about that?

While I was at Sonoma State I bought her a decal that’s already installed in the back window of her car – I should have given her the decal first then told her I was going to take her somewhere where she could install it. No matter, she was  thrilled. The college campus is about 2 1/2 hours away from home. She had an ancient Honda Civic with 250,000+ miles on it that was on its last legs, and certainly not up the task of taking her to/from school.

That was my trip – after a couple of days there I drove home. Another trip under my belt as a widow. I don’t really like traveling alone, but if I want to travel, I have to do it that way part of the time.

Posted in Books, on July 14th, 2015.

lusitania_image

The sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 has held a traumatic place in history. It was a relatively newly built passenger liner and despite direct threats from the Germans that they could/would sink any military or merchant vessel, the Cunard line felt that cruise ships would be left alone and not bothered by the warring nations. Pipe dream, that.

Probably I’d never have read this book if it hadn’t been chosen by one of my book clubs. But that’s one of the joys of belonging to a book club with people of varied interests – you’re asked to read books that you might not ordinarily choose.

Erik Larson is the very well-respected author of several books, most notably The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America and In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin. What Larson does is collect the facts, copious amounts of them, and cull them down to write a very engaging story – the truth – about what really happened. Many information archives (both British and German) are now available for public perusal, and that in itself makes for very interesting reading, dead_wake_book_imagetelling the true minute by minute action that occurred that fateful day off the Ireland coast when 1,198 people were drowned in the very rapid sinking of this flagship of the Cunard line. And the weeks leading up to the sinking. Many people survived, and its from them that even more information is known about exactly what happened on different decks or sides of the ship. About who acted well, and who didn’t. The Captain of the ship was presumed drowned, as he stayed with the ship until the ship sunk below the surface. He never expected to live, and only came to hours later. His career was marred because no one stood up for him, to share that he had no knowledge. It wasn’t his fault. Cunard had instructed the ship to reduce speed to save fuel (when speed could have saved them, yet the Captain did as he was instructed). No one told him to go north to avoid detection. A big snafu from everyone around.

Reading such a book now, with the kind of technology we have from radar and sonar, and satellite, makes this book and the lack of knowledge for both the ship and the U-Boat amazing reading. I was riveted to the chronology, the messages (or lack thereof) between the Admiralty, the Cunard line to its Captain and the secret department in the British military who were deciphering coded messages from the U-Boats. Yet the information was never shared with the merchant ship for fear of disclosing the fact that the Brits knew of their intent. It could have changed the course of the war had they known. The woman who reviewed the book for us made a really interesting comparison about the sinking of the Titanic vs. the sinking of the Lusitania. So different in every aspect. Made for very interesting contemplation.

The book is on the best seller list, and rightly so. It’s a really good read, though the part detailing the passengers who drowned, fell overboard or had any variety of accidents in trying to save themselves was heartbreaking to read. If you buy this, be sure to scan through the last 40-50 pages of footnotes – they make fascinating reading all by themselves. It tells you, again, how thorough Larson was in researching the material.

Posted in Cookies, Desserts, on July 10th, 2015.

classic_brownies_best_ever

Do you have food in the freezer that calls out to you? That sings your name and says “come hither?” Well, there’s a little box of these in my freezer and in the mid-afternoon when I need a pick-me-up, I swear, they start beckoning.

Not really, but they certainly could sing to me. These brownies. Oh my goodness. I’d forgotten all about these, about how fantastic they are, how chocolaty they are. I cut them into small pieces so I wouldn’t get carried away and I do take just ONE of them. I baked them for an event recently and hoped most of them would be eaten, but alas, there were about 15 of them left over. Oh, sigh. They’re in my freezer.

I posted this recipe back in 2007, a couple of months after I started writing this blog, and I waxed glorious about them then, and hadn’t made them since. It’s a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated – according to my notes it was published in 2004 and I think they call them Classic Brownies. The link at left is to my original post. The only thing different about this one is that I used walnuts instead of pecans.

There is one important point – DO use really good quality chocolate. I’m not sayin’ that these won’t be good if you use grocery store, cheaper chocolate. I had a chunk of Valrhona in my pantry and that’s what I used. It calls for unsweetened chocolate. Nothing about the preparation of these is difficult. There are dry ingredients.There are eggs, and then chocolate and butter that are melted together.

You can bake these in a 9×13 pan. Mine?: I used an odd shaped one. One of my cooking teachers recommended brownies_ready_to_bakeMagic Line, a U.S. company that produces real solid aluminum pans. They’re available on amazon in oodles of shapes and sizes. This one I used is a jelly roll pan, but I wasn’t making a jelly roll, obviously. What’s unique about Magic Line is the nice little lip they put on the edges, which makes it much easier to grab the hot pan out of the oven. Anyway, Parrish Magic Line 10 x 15 x 1 Inch Jelly Roll/Cookie Sheet is the one. In the photo at left I’ve lined the pan, both directions, with foil, with edges sticking out, to make it easier to remove once the brownies are cooled.

I wanted to have thinner brownies and more of them; hence I decided to use the larger pan. I baked them slightly less time, about 29 minutes, rather than 30-40 in the 9×13 pan. I used my Thermapen to check the internal temp and took them out when they reached 200° F. And, I used walnuts. I didn’t toast them – I was running low on time that day, so I took a shortcut. But toasting walnuts, or any nuts, before baking with them is a good idea.

What’s GOOD: everything about these is good, providing you like chocolate. The brownies are dense, but not gummy, and they’re just overflowing with good chocolate flavor. Now I remember why they’re called “best ever.” That was a designation from the folks at Cook’s Illustrated. You’ll hear raves, I promise you.

What’s NOT:  nothing, unless you don’t have any good unsweetened chocolate on hand. These are worth making a trip to a specialty store to find the Valrhona. Or Scharfenberger  would be fine too. Just use good chocolate, that’s all I ask!

printer-friendly PDF

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Classic Brownies (the best classic brownie ever)

Recipe By: Erika Bruce & Adam Reid, Cook’s Illustrated, 2004
Serving Size: 24 (or about 40 if you use the different pan size)

4 ounces walnuts — or pecans, chopped and toasted
1 1/4 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
6 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate — chopped fine [I used Valrhona brand]
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 325°. Cut 18-inch length foil and fold lengthwise to 8 inch width. Fit foil into length of 13 x 9 inch baking dish (preferably glass), pushing it into corners and up sides of pan; allow excess to overhang pan edge. Cut 14-inch length foil and, if using extra-wide foil, fold lengthwise to 12-inch width; fit into width of baking pan in same manner, perpendicular to first sheet. Spray foil-lined pan with nonstick cooking spray. If using nuts, spread nuts evenly on rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven until fragrant, about 4-8 minutes. Set aside to cool. Whisk to combine flour, salt and baking powder in medium bowl. Set aside.
2. Melt chocolate and butter in large heatproof bowl set over saucepan of almost simmering water, stirring occasionally, until smooth. (Alternatively, in microwave, heat butter and chocolate in large microwave safe bowl on high for 45 seconds, then stir and heat for 30 seconds more. Stir again, and if necessary, repeat in 15-second increments; do not let chocolate burn.) When chocolate mixture is completely smooth, remove bowl from saucepan and gradually whisk in sugar. Add eggs one at a time, whisking after each addition until thoroughly combined. Whisk in vanilla. Add flour mixture in 3 additions, folding with rubber spatula until batter is completely smooth and homogenous.
3. Transfer batter to prepared pan; using spatula, spread batter into corners of pan and smooth surface. Sprinkle toasted nuts (if using them) evenly over batter and bake until toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into center of brownies comes out with few moist crumbs attached, 30-35 minutes, or until the brownies are at about 200° F on an instant-read thermometer. Cool pan on wire rack at room temperature about 2 hours, then remove brownies from pan by lifting foil overhang. Cut brownies into 2-inch squares and serve. Store leftovers in airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days (they won’t last that long!). NOTE: I used a 10x15x1 jelly roll pan to bake these, so it made about 40 brownies. When using that sized pan, they baked for about 29 minutes.
Per Serving (if making 24): 224 Calories; 13g Fat (50.2% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 26g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 51mg Cholesterol; 73mg Sodium.

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