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Just finished The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

Read Grace Unshakled, by Irene Huising. From Amazon’s page, it says: “In the year 2025, 17-year-old Grace Duncan finds herself in shackles because of her faith in Christ. An obedient daughter and stellar student, doing time in jail was never on her mental radar, despite the changes in religious laws [this takes place here in the United States] over the past few years. Through twists and turns in circumstances, Grace and a small band of Christians in Newport Beach, California begin a journey to discover what it means to follow Christ with unwavering faith in the midst of increasing persecution. Facing the potential loss of all her hopes and dreams, would Christ be enough?” We read this for one of my book clubs, and it’s a scary thought about what it could mean if we take God out of our country. The author is a friend of a friend and she attended our book club meeting to share about how she came to write this book. I don’t often share my faith here on my website, but this book made me stop and think about the direction our government is going, removing more and more our ability to worship God. Or to worship in any religion. Will this book ever make waves in the book world? Probably not. My copy may be a pre-edited version, as it contained numerous typos and formatting errors. But they didn’t detract from the subject, just the cosmetics. The book doesn’t come to a resolution; in fact it leaves you hanging, as some books do. It was intentional (obviously), but left me wondering about the “end of the story.”

Also just finished reading The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Read The German Girl: A Novel by Correa. It chronicles the story of a wealthy German Jewish family in Berlin, as the Nazis arrive and make life a living hell. The family is lucky (I guess you could say this) to be allowed to purchase passage on the M.S. St. Louis, a passenger liner, to take them to “the Americas.” The destination is actually Cuba. The story is told from two voices – the teenage daughter in this story, and from a current-day distant family member who is trying to learn about her ancestry. Of the 900+ passengers on the ship, only a few were allowed to disembark since the Cuban President decided he needed more money to accept them. Most families had no money left, as the Reich had taken nearly all of their assets. The daughter and her very eccentric mother were allowed to stay in Cuba.  The remaining passengers are rejected by the U.S. too, and eventually return to Europe, where most of the Jews end up dying in concentration camps. The story goes back and forth from the 1939 journey to current day as the link between the two women is slowly revealed. I had a tough time sometimes, tracking the people in this book, but the story was very riveting. It’s based on facts about the ship (see Wikipedia link above if you’re interested). A shameful chapter in history.

Recently finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome (the Pope) – he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of Margaret of York (a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine),  who was a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or the curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

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 Desserts, on July 24th, 2017.

amaretto_ice_cream

Oh my goodness, was this ever delicious! Homemade (simple) vanilla ice cream with Amaretto added and some almond extract too.

Having been invited to friends for dinner, I asked what could I bring – Joan said an appetizer or dessert. I opted for dessert. Since peaches are in season (and oh gosh, are they delicious this year!) I thought I’d make a peach cobbler. I used the recipe I’d made a year or so ago – Peach, Blackberry & Almond Crisp but I used just peaches. The brand “I AM RIPE” from Costco was the perfect choice for the peaches – gosh are those peaches wonderful. I made a big 11×14 pan of it (without the blackberries). So then, knowing I needed to serve whipped cream or ice cream with it, I thought I’d make some Amaretto ice cream. I researched recipes, but knew I didn’t want to make the longer-prep one with eggs or egg yolks. I wanted the simple stuff (cream and 1/2 and 1/2, sugar, flavorings). Found a recipe online and just altered it a tad. I wanted a more pronounced almond flavor, so I used less vanilla then added almond extract. This recipe uses quite a bit of Amaretto (more than some ice cream recipes); hence the ice cream doesn’t ever get totally hard. Made for easy scooping, I’ll say that for sure.

There’s nothing to this, providing you have an ice cream machine. I didn’t even chill the cream/half-and-half mixture because it was already cold. All I’d added to it was sugar and flavorings. This recipe makes about a quart.  Into my ice cream container it went (that long red thing you see in the back of the photo) and I froze it for about 3 hours. The peach crisp was still slightly warm when I served it. I had enough to give extras to Joan and Tom, and to take some to my friends Gloria and Grant, AND to have 2 servings of it myself. And I’ve got exactly one scoop left of the ice cream as I write this. It’ll likely get eaten today. Right out of the container!

What’s GOOD: the Amaretto flavor is very pronounced (I liked that part) and it was super easy to make. A keeper of a recipe. I’ll be making this again for sure.

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of. It was really delicious.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Amaretto Ice Cream

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from allrecipes.com
Serving Size: 8

2 1/8 cups heavy whipping cream
1 1/16 cups half-and-half
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup amaretto
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon almond extract

1. Using a whisk, mix heavy cream, half-and-half, and sugar in a large bowl until sugar is dissolved. Add amaretto liqueur and both extracts.
2. Pour milk mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions until ice cream reaches ‘soft-serve’ consistency. Transfer ice cream to a lidded container. Freeze at least 2 hours before serving. Note: this ice cream won’t ever be super-hard because of the liquor in it, so serve it as soon as you scoop it!
Per Serving: 367 Calories; 27g Fat (68.2% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 26g Carbohydrate; 0g Dietary Fiber; 99mg Cholesterol; 37mg Sodium.

Posted in Fish, on July 20th, 2017.

chile_spice_rubbed_roasted_salmon

This recipe really needs to be titled “Citrus Marinated Roasted Salmon with Chili Powder and Other Spices.” But whew. Can’t call it that!

Originally this recipe was titled “Barbecue Roasted Salmon.” It’s an old recipe from Cooking Light (2001) but they totally misnamed this one. It’s not barbecued, nor does it contains typical “barbecue” spices. So I dubbed it Chili-Rubbed Roasted Salmon instead. You’ll see why shortly. And don’t let the Cooking Light source make you think this is  not all that good! It’s fabulous.

IMHO, the pineapple juice/lemon juice marinade is the secret to this recipe. It makes it SO very juicy and tender. It doesn’t need to be marinated all that long, either. Periodically I buy a 6-pack of pineapple juice in little baby cans. Sometimes they don’t last (the cans bulge and you know the juice has gone bad). I threw away 2 cans before I found one that was still okay. My recollection is that I can’t buy just one of those tiny cans of pineapple juice. I don’t drink it ever – it’s only used for cooking. But I certainly didn’t want to have to go grocery shopping in order to make this. Fortunately I had everything on hand.

Am sure I’ve mentioned it here before .. . . even though I’m a family of one now, I buy the big slabs of farm-raised salmon at Costco, cut them up into fillets and pack two to a bag and vacuum seal them for freezing. It takes less than an hour to defrost one of those bags and it gives me two meals.

salmon_foil_ready2bakeSo first, the salmon fillets went into a ziploc bag with the juices. Into the refrigerator they went for about an hour. It’s very possible that left in the marinade any longer the fish would have begun to disintegrate. Pineapple juice is a powerful marinade in that it contains enzymes that break down food. Which is why it’s often used in a meat marinade, to give it tenderness. This one, though, is really meant just for flavoring, I’m guessing, since salmon doesn’t need tenderizing! Pat it dry, then you put the brown sugar and spices (chili powder, lemon zest, ground cumin, salt and a pinch of ground cinnamon and salt) on the fish. I made a foil “tray” for the fish and roasted it in my toaster oven for only about 10-11 minutes (the fillets weren’t all that thick) and they were plu-perfect! Ideal cooked internal temperature of a salmon fillet is 135°F. I garnished with a lemon slice or two, more lemon zest and a sprinkling of mint, and onto my plate it went. In the background of the photo at top you can see the watermelon/feta/mint salad and some roasted vegetables I’d made a few days before. Wonderful dinner. And then I had the second fillet to re-heat a few nights later. It was still wonderful, although reheating it dried it out just a tad.

What’s GOOD: so very tender and juicy salmon – loved the spice combo on it. Very easy to make too. A winner of a recipe. I’ll be making this again. The calorie count for one serving is 235. Yea! And that assumes you’ve consumed (drunk) the pineapple and lemon juices, so it’s actually less than 235! This could easily be a company meal (it’s certainly fancy enough) but can also be an easy weeknight dinner too. Don’t marinate the fish more than an hour, though.

What’s NOT: Do use thicker salmon if you can – it will roast better with no tendency to dry out. No down side to this recipe at all.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chili-Rubbed Roasted Salmon

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Cooking Light, May 2001
Serving Size: 4

1/4 cup pineapple juice
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 pounds salmon fillets — (6-ounce each)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
4 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Lemon slices (optional)
Chopped mint for garnish
Grated lemon zest for garnish

1. Combine first 3 ingredients in a zip-top plastic bag; seal and marinate in refrigerator 1 hour, turning occasionally. (Don’t marinate longer or is will begin to break down the fish.)
2. Preheat oven to 400°.
3. Remove fish from bag; discard marinade. Pat dry the fish with paper towels. Combine sugar and next 5 ingredients (chili powder through cinnamon) in a bowl. Rub over fish; place in an 11 x 7-inch baking dish lined with foil. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork (done internal temp should be 135°F). Serve immediately with lemon slices, and a sprinkling of fresh, chopped mint and lemon zest.
Per Serving: 235 Calories; 6g Fat (24.8% calories from fat); 34g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 88mg Cholesterol; 408mg Sodium.

Posted in Soups, on July 18th, 2017.

creamofcucumbersoup_larger

It’s summer. It’s hot. Who wants to COOK in a warm afternoon kitchen?

Back in 2008 I posted this recipe, and it’s as much a winner of a recipe now as it was then. It’s a recipe from my friend Jackie P, and I’ve made it numerous times over the years. It’s easy to make – do it in the morning when it’s cooler, chill it down and serve it for lunch, or before dinner. I made a big batch of it last week, and am still enjoying it, down to the last little bit of it. I took new photos (gee, my photography had a long way to go when I was first a blogger) so have inserted a new one into that old post. If you want to make it less caloric, substitute Greek yogurt for the sour cream. It tastes just as wonderful.

The original post is HERE. Just go there and make this soup, okay? I garnished the soup with toasted sliced almonds because I didn’t have any fresh dill (I used dried dill to flavor the soup too) and I really liked the crunch of the almonds to give some texture to the soup. It makes a lovely first course, or for me, it WAS my lunch a couple of days last week. Altogether refreshing.

Posted in Salads, Vegetarian, on July 16th, 2017.

watermelon_haloumi_salad

The best halloumi I’ve ever had – grilled and served with watermelon and arugula and mint, plus pine nuts and a balsamic glaze drizzled over the top.

My only experience with Halloumi (see Wikipedia info here) has been at a local Greek restaurant, where they serve it fiery hot in a small pan with some bread. My take-away (that one and only time at least 20 years ago) was that it was so salty I couldn’t eat it. Since then I’d never tried it! What I’ve learned is that people in the “west” prefer a less salty version. I suppose the Greek restaurant serves it the way they do in Greece where it’s aged and cured some, so the salt content is more pronounced. (FYI: the 4-ounce package I bought when I finally did locate some shows an ounce of Halloumi contains 673 milligrams of sodium. A lot. Some brands contain less sodium – look for them if you can.) My guess from my reading is that if you buy a U.S. made version, it will likely be less salty. You might check the sodium level before you buy it. Halloumi is usually made from a mixture of cow and sheep milk.

sub_zero_wolf_showroomRecently my friend Joan invited me to a cooking demo at our local Wolf/Sub-Zero Demonstration Kitchen. I said SURE, I’d be happy to go along. We had much fun with seats right in front of the chef. She was a fountain of information (mostly about Wolf kitchen appliances, though they also have Sub-Zero refrigerators and freezers – the two companies are merged somewhat). My Sub-Zero freezer (separate unit) and refrigerator (also separate) are models that date back 15 years or so. Newer ones have lots of new features not available when I had to replace the ones in this house I’m in (that was in about 2004). When we remodeled the kitchen in ‘06 I kept the two, obviously, since they are very pricey! Though I’m very happy with them – I’ve been a fan of Sub-Zero since I bought them for our previous house when we remodeled it in 1990.

Anyway, Joan and I watched as the chef took out nice little rectangles (measuring about 3” x 3” by 1/4”) of halloumi and placed them on the olive oil greased Wolf flat grill. (I was very impressed with the grill – wish I had it in my kitchen – it kind of looked like a mini-restaurant flat grill). My stove top is made by Dacor and then I have 2 Dacor matching ovens under my kitchen island. I’m not in the market for any new appliances, but Joan is, as she’s about to remodel her kitchen. (If any of you are considering remodeling your kitchen, I’d recommend  you at least look at Wolf – their appliances are pretty darned amazing and you can attend a cooking class in their demonstration kitchens without having purchased any of their units.)

haloumi_grilledhaloumi_grillingThe chef grilled the cheese at a very low heat, so it just barely bubbled and sizzled and got just gorgeously golden brown (see photos). The Wolf grill top can be set to a specific temperature (nice) which was 375°. She prepped the salad first by laying the little strips of sweet watermelon on the plate, then the little mound of arugula and mint which she dressed with a bit of olive oil. Then she just placed the hot halloumi on the side. Then she sprinkled the toasted pine nuts on top and drizzled it with balsamic glaze (I buy it at Trader Joe’s, but you can make your own if you want to – you can find lots of recipes online for how to do it).

The cheese was just outstanding – I wanted more, it was so good. I’ve been looking for halloumi at my local markets since this class and so far have not found it. I’ll need to go to a more upscale market or a Whole Foods or Bristol Farms to find it, I suppose. I want some!! It keeps frozen for months and months.

This dish could easily be a light entrée and if you served it with more of the cheese, it could be dinner, for sure. In this case, at the class, it was a first course as we were served fried chicken (done in the Wolf deep fryer) and delicious mashed potatoes. Then we were served a fresh peach half with a bread crumb, nut and brown sugar topping on it (done on convection bake in one of their numerous Wolf ovens). All delicious. But this salad won the day for me. I’ll be making this if only for myself.Perhaps you live in a location where there is a substantial Greek population and Halloumi is very popular. I don’t, so it’s a bit harder to find. Seek out a store that carries a goodly selection of world cheeses.

What’s GOOD: if you find the less-salty halloumi, this is a winner of a recipe. All prep-able ahead of time, so easy to serve with just a few minutes of arranging and drizzling.

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

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Watermelon and Halloumi Salad

Recipe By: Wolf Demonstration Kitchen, 2017
Serving Size: 8

4 cups watermelon — cut in 3″ long batons
8 ounces halloumi cheese
1/2 cup fresh mint — chopped
6 ounces arugula
3 tablespoons EVOO
1/3 cup pine nuts — toasted
4 tablespoons balsamic glaze
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat griddle or flat pan to 375° F.
2. Cut thin rectangles of Halloumi cheese and gently brown the pieces on the flat grill or pan for about 3-5 minutes per side, or until the cheese is golden brown.
3. Meanwhile, in a bowl combine the arugula and mint. Toss with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.
4. On each plate, place two slices of watermelon side by side. Mound the arugula on top, but allow most of the watermelon to show. Place hot cheese leaned up against the arugula, then sprinkle with toasted pine nuts. Drizzle salad with balsamic glaze and serve immediately.
Per Serving: 219 Calories; 17g Fat (70.2% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 361mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on July 12th, 2017.

bittersweet_choc_almond_torte

Would you ever guess I like chocolate? Ha! I need a daily (small) chocolate fix, and was ever so glad when the FDA or someone announced some years ago that an ounce of chocolate a day is good for us. Hooray! My challenge is keeping the chocolate to ONE ounce.

This torte is all about chocolate and almonds. There’s Amaretto and almond extract in the cake/torte part, then there are toasted almonds sprinkled on top when you serve it. The word decadent comes to mind here. The cake/torte part is certainly easy to mix up – it’s got the usual ingredients (sugar, butter, chocolate and numerous eggs) but then it also contains the Amaretto too and some espresso powder as well. AND the almond extract which gives this an extra boost of almond flavor. You do have to bake it in a water bath – that may be the only down side to making this if you hate that part.

choc_almond_torte_coolingIn my previous home I designed the kitchen myself and had a small Gaggenau baking oven, the kind that you could bake things without a bain marie (water bath). It was really, really nice to have, but the oven was very small and barely would fit a casserole dish – so small that a regular 9×13 pan wouldn’t fit in it unless it was small for its size. I had just one 9×13 pan that would fit. Other, smaller baking dishes were no problem, though. Fortunately I had a 2nd, regular oven for the larger pans. When I designed my current kitchen in 2006, I bought Dacor brand appliances (plus the Sub-Zero refrigerator and freezer), and the two ovens I have, as good as they are, don’t have that kind of a baking oven. In the Gaggenau, it had to do with the insulation around the oven – it had deep insulation so the heat was very gentle. I don’t know that Gaggenau makes that kind of baking oven anymore. Maybe to the professional trade.

choc_almond_torte_frostedWell anyway, back to this torte. You DO need to use a water bath – just place the torte in a large and deep baking dish or pan and pour in warm water (hot tap water works) while it bakes. Then you need to make the ganache which is nothing but bittersweet chocolate and heavy cream. Once the cake cools an hour you spread it over the torte (which you’ve removed from the pan – carefully). Ideally, let it cool completely before serving, but do serve it within a few hours with a dollop of whipped cream and the toasted almonds. And a lovely mint leaf if you have one. Yum. This was from a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter.

What’s GOOD: I loved-loved the almond flavor in this – it’s VERY intense almond. And very much chocolate. You’ll swoon with each bite if you’re a chocoholic and love almonds like I do! A real treat.

What’s NOT: only the hassle of the water bath, I suppose. Maybe the calorie and fat content – cut small pieces so you won’t feel so guilty! This torte is definitely worth making.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Bittersweet Chocolate Almond Torte

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking class, 2017
Serving Size: 10

TORTE:
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
4 ounces unsalted butter — cubed
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate — cut in pieces
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup Amaretto — or cold-brewed coffee
2 teaspoons almond extract
6 large eggs
GANACHE:
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate — cut in pieces
GARNISH:
1/2 cup sliced almonds — toasted
1/2 cup heavy cream — beaten with sugar and vanilla to taste
mint sprigs

NOTE: This “cake” is almost the consistency of a firm pudding. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.
1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
2. Butter a 9×2″ round cake pan, line with parchment paper and butter the top of the parchment.
3. Bring water and sugar to a boil; remove from heat. Add butter, chopped chocolate, espresso powder and salt and let sit for a few minutes until chocolate has melted. Stir until smooth. Add Amaretto and almond extract. Set aside.
4. Whisk eggs until thick. Add chocolate mixture and fold gently. Pour batter into prepared cake pan and place cake pan inside a roasting pan. Add warm water to pan, halfway up the side of the cake pan. Bake until puffed and soft to the touch, 40-45 minutes. Remove roasting pan from oven, then remove cake pan to a cooling rack. Let cake cool one hour. Run a knife around inside of the cake pan; invert onto a platter and peel off the parchment; cool completely.
5. GANACHE: Heat cream, add chocolate and let it sit for a few minutes until the chocolate has melted. Stir until smooth. Let cool slightly. Spread mixture over the top and down the sides of the torte. If needed, very, very carefully slide the cake onto a serving plate or tall cake stand. Cake is very tender and soft.
6. Sprinkle top with toasted almonds and serve with sweetened whipped cream. Garnish with a mint sprig on each slice.
Per Serving: 549 Calories; 50g Fat (74.7% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 27g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 185mg Cholesterol; 113mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, on July 8th, 2017.

hot_biscuits_flaky

As I’m writing this, looking at the photo, my mouth is watering. Wishing I could just have one of those, right this minute.

I can’t take much of any credit for these – I was at my daughter Sara’s house, and she decided on the spur of the moment, to make some biscuits. I think it was for breakfast. Sara loves to bake, and her two teenagers love it, whatever their mom makes. Sabrina is home for the summer now, from her first year at Clemson University. She loved school, the campus, the college environment (she’s pre-vet), but OH, did she miss her mom’s cooking and baking. Sara sent her a “care” package now and then, chock full of baked goodies.

Anyway, Sara remembered that she’d made these before and had used a Southern Living recipe she’d found online. Sure enough, we found it and the biscuits got mixed, flattened, rolled, and flattened, cut and baked in no time.

frozen_grated_butterWhat’s unusual about these was that you grated the unsalted butter on a box grater – but from a FROZEN state. Here’s the photo I took of the mound of grated butter. THAT’s the secret to this recipe, I’m certain! Buttermilk also adds a lovely lightness to biscuits.

The biscuits actually get more mixing – actually rolling, followed by folding, then rolling and folding again. That’s done a few times, which helps create all those multiple layers you see in the top photo. Sara just cut them into squares and into the oven they went and were done. As that frozen butter melted, it created the lovely pockets of air that give these biscuits the lightest of textures.

These biscuits were just sublime. Especially with a pat of butter and some preserves on top.

Yum!

biscuits_and_sausage_breakfast

What’s GOOD: everything about these biscuits is good – tender, rich, of course flaky, tasty. I want one right now! They’re easy to mix up and prep for cutting. Do try this recipe – it’s a winner.

What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever. A perfect Southern biscuit, for sure.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Buttermilk Biscuits (Southern Living)

Recipe By: Southern Living Magazine
Serving Size: 12+

1/2 cup butter — (1 stick), frozen
2 1/2 cups self-rising flour — *See Note
1 cup chilled buttermilk Parchment paper
2 tablespoons butter — melted

NOTE: If you don’t have self-rising flour use this formula: For each 1 cup all purpose flour add 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 tsp. salt. I always use just a tad less salt.
1. Preheat oven to 475°. Grate frozen butter using large holes of a box grater. Toss together grated butter and flour in a medium bowl. Chill 10 minutes.
2. Make a well in center of mixture. Add buttermilk, and stir 15 times. Dough will be sticky. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Lightly sprinkle flour over top of dough. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll dough into a 3/4-inch-thick rectangle (about 9 x 5 inches). Fold dough in half so short ends meet. Repeat rolling and folding process 4 more times.
3. Roll dough to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut with a 2 1/2-inch floured round cutter (OR: cut the rectangle into squares 2″, using all the dough, so it doesn’t require reshaping the scraps), reshaping scraps and flouring as needed.
4. Place dough rounds on a parchment paper-lined jelly-roll pan. Bake at 475° for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Brush with melted butter. Serve immediately.
5. For Pillowy Dinner Rolls: Cut in 1/2 cup cold shortening instead of cold butter. You’ll get a soft biscuit that stays tender, even when cool. Plus, shortening has a neutral flavor that will complement anything on your dinner plate.
6. For Sweet Shortcakes: Add 2 Tbsp. sugar to the flour, and replace buttermilk with heavy cream. The sugar lends the biscuits a subtle sweetness, and the extra fat in heavy cream gives them a crumbly texture like shortbread. They’re the perfect base for shortcake desserts.
7. For Crunchy-Bottomed Biscuits: Warm a cast-iron skillet in the oven, and spread a bit of butter in the skillet before adding the biscuits. The bottoms will end up crunchy and golden brown and provide a sturdy base that holds up to a smothering of sausage gravy.
8. For Pickle Biscuits: Stir 4 Tbsp. drained dill pickle relish into buttermilk before adding to flour mixture. Split baked biscuits, and top with ham and mustard for the World’s Best Ham Sandwich!
Per Serving: 185 Calories; 10g Fat (48.8% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 27mg Cholesterol; 450mg Sodium.

Posted in Fish, Grilling, on July 4th, 2017.

Trust me on this one – it’s a winner.

Years ago, it must have been in the late 80s, my DH and I took a cruise on the inland passage to Alaska. That was our first one (we did it 3 times). We were with a group of friends. The ship left out of Vancouver, for a week, and we just loved it all. Since I get seasick, this trip was one of the few I could do as there was only one 12-14 hour stretch when these routes are in open ocean (and all 3 times we did this trip, I was down sick in the stateroom for the duration of open-ocean cruising feeling very quesy).

At one of the ports of call on the Alaska mainland, we took a day trip up into a deep lush valley and enjoyed a salmon lunch cooked over open coals, huddled under some plastic tarps to protect us from the rain. It wasn’t anything fancy – the salmon, some cole slaw, as I recall, and potatoes, or a potato salad. But what I remember was the salmon. OMGosh was it good. I asked the chef, who was gently tending the salmon, worrying that the rain was going to damp out the coals, what was in the glaze he was brushing on the huge slabs of salmon. He said, butter, brown sugar and white wine – and I think he said equal quantities of each. Pretty easy. I tucked that bit of info into the back of my brain and never pursued trying to find a recipe for it.

taku_grilled_salmon_bastingThen I was reading something some years back, and the memories of that salmon came flooding back into my brain. We didn’t go to Taku Lodge back then (it’s a 15-minute flight in a small plane from Juneau), but it brought back all those wonderful mouth-watering memories of our first salmon bake in the wilderness. This link has the recipe, and also this one from Sunset Magazine’s version from 2003. It’s taken me this long to make it. What a waste of years – not to have made this until now.

salmon_fresh_off_grillSunset’s recipe is the one I used. Both recipes are a little bit different – same ingredients, but different quantities. One has you marinate the salmon (I didn’t), and I didn’t grill it on the open grill – I did the salmon slab on heavy-duty foil, in a kind of a foil-sling/pan with the edges of the foil rolled inward so the glaze wouldn’t drip out. I had my son-in-law man the gas grill, putting the “pan” on the heat for about 4 minutes, then moving it off-heat until it was fully cooked – maybe 10 minutes. You know it’s done when the collagen starts leaking up through the flakes. We moved the foil slab onto a serving platter and guests just cut what they wanted with a long spatula. You can scoot the salmon off the foil pan onto a heated serving platter – looks prettier that way.

As it turned out, even with 8 people eating, we didn’t quite finish 2 slabs, and I was so happy about that because I crumbled half of it into a green salad for lunch one day and the remainder I ate as dinner a few nights later briefly reheated in the microwave. There was a little bit of the glaze in the refrigerator container I had it in, and I almost wanted to drink it (I didn’t).

What’s GOOD: the glaze gives the salmon a lovely sweet caramely kind of taste. It’s not overly sweet, but I suppose you could cut down on the sugar if you are concerned about that. The butter keeps it moist. It’s just wonderful. Do try it.

What’s not: nothing that I can think of – this is a quick, easy dinner. Do use two layers of the foil so there aren’t any chances of a leaking accident in the grill. That would not be good!

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

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Grilled Salmon a la Taku Lodge

Recipe By: adapted from Taku Glacier Lodge in Juneau
Serving Size: 12

1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons dry white wine
2 1/2 pounds salmon
1/3 cup parsley — finely minced

NOTE: I buy the whole farm-raised salmon slabs at Costco and they vary in size and thickness.
1. In a medium saucepan melt butter over medium heat. Stir in brown sugar until dissolved. Add lemon juice and wine. Stir and heat through, about 5 minutes.
2. Prepare foil “pan,” by placing 2 pieces of heavy-duty foil together, spray foil with nonstick spray, then place salmon on top, curling the thin, tapered end under so the salmon slab is about an even thickness. Carefully crinkle/roll the foil edges inward so it kind of surrounds the fish, like a boat. Baste the salmon with the glaze (don’t use it all). Set aside until the grill is ready.
3. Preheat grill to high. Leave one part of the grill off, or bank coals to one side.
4. Turn down the grill heat to medium. Place salmon “pan” on heat for about 4 minutes, then move the “pan” to the unheated side and continue cooking (lid closed). Baste the salmon several times with the glaze. It’s done when the collagen begins to leak through to the top of the salmon, about 4-8 minutes, depending on the thickness. The fish should flake when tested with a fork.
5. If desired, open the short end of the foil pan and using a spatula, gently scoot the whole salmon off onto a heated platter. Pour any remaining glaze over the top. Garnish with minced parsley.
Per Serving: 226 Calories; 11g Fat (44.1% calories from fat); 19g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 70mg Cholesterol; 147mg Sodium.

Posted in Soups, on June 30th, 2017.

zucchini_mint_soup

Really subtle, a little bit chunky, but altogether refreshing summer soup. Can also be served hot.

When Tarla Fallgatter made this soup, I wasn’t expecting to like it so much. Afterwards, I thought maybe I was just overly hungry at the class when she made this, but I liked it so much, I made it a week later to SEE if it really did tick all my boxes as much as I thought it did. Yes. I wrote a note on the recipe – “almost tastes like there’s cheese in it, but no.” It must be the leeks, we decided, that gave the soup such a lovely consistency and flavor. I do love leeks, and they provide an abundance of flavor to things. My favorite leeks come from Trader Joe’s, because they’re already trimmed and mostly clean too, 2 to a pack. When I made this, I made a double batch (so about 12 leeks) and 6 pounds of zucchini. I wanted to have leftovers to freeze.

The leeks do have to be softened in butter for awhile, and the zucchini is cooked not fully soft, then you add the broth and simmer for about 20 minutes. The soup is pureed in a blender, but don’t overdo it – don’t make it smooth – I liked the little bit of texture to it, but that’s your choice. After pureeing, add the little bit of cream and mint. Serve hot/warm or chill and garnish with a mint leaf on top.

If you’re lucky enough to be growing zucchini, do save this recipe to make when you have an abundance of them.

What’s GOOD: really liked this soup – it’s fairly healthy (just a bit of cream) and it can be served hot, warm or cold. How versatile is THAT? Loved the little bit of texture from not pureeing it completely. Lots of depth of flavor, most likely from the leeks. Freezes well. It’s not an “over the top” type, but it’s delicious and relatively filling.

What’s NOT: not a single thing.

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

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Chilled Zucchini-Mint Soup

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking class, 2017
Serving Size: 8

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 cups leeks — use both white and green part (about 6 leeks)
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth — or vegetable broth
3 pounds zucchini — chopped (about 8 cups)
1/3 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons fresh mint — (packed) minced
whole mint leaves for garnish

1. Melt butter in a large saute pan, then add leeks and saute until soft, but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add zucchini and saute until beginning to soften, about 5 more minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until zucchini is tender, about 20 minutes.
2. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender until smooth, but still a bit of texture remaining. Return puree to same pot, add cream and the chopped mint. Allow to cool, cover and chill until cold, at least 3 hours, and up to 24 hours.
3. Taste soup and add more broth if it’s too thick. Season with salt and/or pepper to taste. Garnish with mint leaves.
Per Serving: 152 Calories; 10g Fat (47.4% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 25mg Cholesterol; 51mg Sodium.

Posted in Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on June 26th, 2017.

 

Corn pudding taken to a new tasty level. My old recipe is going by the wayside, I think, because this one is so delish.

Back in the 60s, when I hosted a dinner, frequently I’d serve a baked corn casserole that was composed of canned corn (both regular and creamed), milk, eggs, a bit of sugar, and with some eggs, flour and butter too. It was a regular menu item. It was easy to make, and always guests enjoyed it. I haven’t made it in years, nor have I ever posted it here on my blog, for that matter. But, there won’t be any going back to that old recipe now that this one has come to town.

This one has all of those ingredients (using fresh corn, however) plus a bit of cornmeal, fresh basil, ricotta cheese, some half and half, chopped onions and cheese IN the casserole and Parm grated on top. Oh my goodness, is this good. It retains a lovely softness because it’s baked in a water bath (a bit of a nuisance, I know) but you’ll be glad once it’s served since the pudding won’t stick to the casserole dish and no browned bits anywhere. Just nice, tender corn pudding.

The only thing you really have to prep ahead is cooking the onion and corn (they won’t get tender during the baking time, so it needs a head start). Otherwise, all the ingredients just get mixed up and poured into a greased baking dish, then it’s baked for 40-45 minutes until the top just begins to show some golden brown. That’s it. This was from a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter.

What’s GOOD: the texture and taste – nice and soft, but the fresh corn has a little bit of toothsome-ness. The cheese (ricotta, Fontina and Parm) just puts this casserole at a new  taste level. Really delicious! It’s also gluten-free, FYI.

What’s NOT: maybe the water bath – a bit of a nuisance – but it makes the casserole extra tender.

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

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Ricotta Cheese Corn Pudding

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking class, 2017
Serving Size: 6

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups corn kernels — (3-4 ears)
1/2 cup onion — chopped
3 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup half and half
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup ricotta cheese — full fat
2 tablespoons basil leaves — thinly sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup Fontina cheese — grated (or use sharp cheddar)
2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated (for top)

1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. Grease a 4-5 cup baking dish. Melt butter in a saute pan and saute the corn and onion until soft. Cool slightly. Whisk eggs, milk and half and half together in a medium-sized bowl. Slowly pour in cornmeal and ricotta. Add basil, sugar, salt, pepper, then the cooked corn mixture and grated cheese. Pour into baking dish and sprinkle top with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
3. Place dish in a large pan and fill pan halfway up the sides of the dish with hot tap water. Bake 40-45 minutes, until top begins to brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm.
Per Serving: 288 Calories; 18g Fat (54.7% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 23g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 154mg Cholesterol; 595mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on June 22nd, 2017.

ginger_spice_cake_dried_cherries

Think gingerbread. Think spicy gingerbread.

As you’ve read here before, every few weeks I entertain a bible study group here at my home, and I always make some kind of dessert. Since I love to bake, it’s often a cake of some kind. I’d read about this cake somewhere, and found it online at Taking On Magazines, a blog. The cake just sounded so good, and the night I served this, it was still feeling like winter.

You mustn’t expect a light and fluffy cake here – it’s pretty darned hard to get that when you use molasses anyway. Just know, if you decide to make this, that it’s a fairly firm, dense cake. Delicious, but more on the heavy side. The original recipe called for a chocolate icing, but I ran out of time, so served it with whipped cream. I actually think it would be best served with vanilla ice cream. I think the icing would make this cake truly over-the-top rich. But, I didn’t try it, so I could very well be wrong about that part.

The dried cherries (the tart, Montmorency type) are soaked in hot espresso, along with the spices. AND real Dijon mustard. What an odd ingredient – I have no idea the reason for it, but I had it, so I used it! My only recommendation, when you’re preparing the fresh chopped ginger – make sure it’s very fine, and that you include no threads of it. I used 3 different graters, including what is supposed to be a ginger grater, and none worked very well, so I ended up chopping and then mincing it like crazy with a very sharp butcher’s knife. If you have any threads visible, remove them, as they aren’t very appetizing in the cake. I thought they were cat hairs (embarrassing!) but no, they were ginger threads. Whew!

This is a regular cake – nothing unusual about the preparation of it. A stand mixer helps since it’s a thick batter. Cut it in relatively narrow pieces, and I think it will serve more than 12. I have half of it in my freezer to pull out next month when I have family visiting. That with vanilla ice cream will make a very nice and easy dessert.

What’s GOOD: the flavors are really good – you can taste the minced up dried cherries, and all the warm fall spices are tummy-warming. Even the black pepper. Just know this is a dense cake.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. This kind of dense, dark cake may not be to everyone’s taste. Do serve it with something to cut the richness of it (whipped cream, ice cream, or the icing).

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

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Ginger Spice Cake with Dried Cherries

Recipe By: From Taking on Magazines blog
Serving Size: 12

1/2 cup unsalted butter — room temperature, plus more for pan
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour — plus more for the pan
1 cup light molasses
1 cup dried tart cherries — finely chopped
1/2 cup crystallized ginger — finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh ginger — peeled, finely minced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 cup espresso coffee — hot (I used decaf)
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
CHOCOLATE ICING: (optional)
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons espresso coffee — hot, or strong coffee
8 ounces semisweet chocolate — or bittersweet

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Butter Bundt pan. Dust pan with flour, tapping out excess. Combine cherries, crystallized ginger, grated ginger, and Dijon mustard in a medium bowl. Pour espresso over cherry mixture and set aside. In a medium bowl whisk 2 1/2 cups flour, ground ginger, baking soda, salt, allspice, cinnamon, and pepper.
2. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat 1/2 cup butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add brown sugar and beat for 2 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time, then beat in molasses.
3. Strain cherry mixture into a small bowl, reserving soaking liquid. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture in 3 additions, alternately with soaking liquid in 2 additions, beating to blend between additions. Fold in drained cherry mixture. Scrape batter into prepared pan.
4. Bake until top of cake springs back when lightly pressed in the middle, about 1 hour. Let cool in pan on a wire rack. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.
5. Remove cake from pan. May be served as is, or with icing. Or serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
6. Spoon chocolate Icing over cake, if using, allowing it to drip down sides. Cut cake into wedges to serve.
7. ICING: Heat cream in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of pan. Stir in hot espresso. Place chopped chocolate in a medium bowl. Add hot cream mixture; let stand for 1 minute, then stir until icing is melted and smooth. DO AHEAD: Icing can be made 3 days ahead. Let cool completely at room temperature, then cover and chill. Rewarm icing slightly before using.
Per Serving: 483 Calories; 19g Fat (33.7% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 77g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 87mg Cholesterol; 508mg Sodium.

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