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Just finished reading Pied Piper (Vintage International) by Nevil Shute. Remember him? You’ve got to be over about 50 to even know his name. He’s most famous for his book On the Beach that he wrote in 1957. This book, the Pied Piper, he wrote during WWII. It’s a poignant tale about a rather elderly Englishman who decides to take a trip to the mountains along the French/Swiss border just before Germany invades. His goal is to go fishing – but he gets caught up in a bit of intrigue (not the spy novel type at all) when acquaintances he meets beg him to take their children, to get them out of France before they might be taken by the Nazis. Reluctantly he agrees when he realizes that he probably shouldn’t have made the trip at all and that he must return to England. Many logistical difficulties ensue, and more children are added to his little family. It’s a wonderful tale, heartwarming for sure. Shute is an excellent writer who draws you into his tales. He also wrote Trustee From The Toolroom, one of my favorite books I’ve read in the last couple of years.

Also read Tracy Chevalier’s newest book, Remarkable Creatures: A Novel. I always love to read a novel that has me learn something concrete, as it tells a story. This one is about the friendship between two women in Lyme Regis (a town on the southern coast of England) back in the mid-1800s. From different social strata, they both share a love, a passion, for collecting and finding fossils on the beaches of their town. The education here is all about the fossils. Fossils from ancient times, with a great “to-do” over who owns them, crediting (or not) who found them, about the astute (not) experts who discredit these two women. The story is charming, sweet, and Chevalier did it again, for me, creating a story that was a pretty good page-turner. I’ve never been interested particularly in fossils, but they hold new interest since reading this book.

Just finished The Interestings: A Novel, by Meg Wolitzer. It’s about a group of mid-teens (both guys and gals) who become close friends at a summer camp, and with nothing else to inspire them, they decide to call themselves “The Interestings.” The story switches back and forth from the early years, with alcohol, drugs and sex playing fairly major roles, to their late 30s or early 40s when all of the “interestings” have become adults, parents, successes, failures. It’s about their internal angst, or pride, or false-pride, and their jealousies of each other. It had been recommended by more than one friend of mine. As I read it I kept hoping it was going to get better and it does, but I had to get half way through before I really wanted to keep going. It WAS a good read, though. With the exception of seeing some maturity develop amongst the characters, the book is kind of like a soap opera. The main character is a likable woman, thank goodness.

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

 

Tasting Spoons

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

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Posted in Cookies, on January 30th, 2015.

macadamia_butter_dried_cranberry_cookies

This was a Christmas cookie my friends Cherrie. Jackie and I made when we got together and baked nearly all day in mid-December. I still have cookies in the freezer from that. This cookie isn’t quite what you think – the macadamia nuts are ground up to a paste and become the fat, (in lieu of butter) in the dough, but they’re enhanced with dried cranberries AND chocolate chips. All things to like!

When Cherrie and I were planning what cookies we were going to make this year (we’ve been doing this for about 5 years, I’d guess), we have some favorites. Always we do the Chocolate Almond Saltine Toffee. It’s always #1 on our list. We make a double batch, although we do it one at a time because the caramel is hot and a bit unwieldy.  it’s our all-time favorite cookie. We usually make Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies for brandied_apricot_barsmy cousin Gary because he’s GF. We always make Cranberry Noels also – they’re #2 on our list, always. And we usually make Mexican Wedding Cookies too. This year, by special request from Cherrie, I made one of her favorite things, my Brandied Apricot Bars. You can see photo at right. I took new photos because what I had on the blog post was a really old and needed some updating.

Cherrie had mentioned to me that she had a can of macadamia nuts she wanted to use up, so shouldn’t we add a new cookie to our list. I said sure – found this recipe I’d saved from a few years ago. It was on Bake or Break’s blog. We decided to double the recipe. Hers made 30. We doubled it and didn’t get quite 60, more like 50 (obviously we made them a bit bigger than she did). We also added a few mini chocolate chips. Just because. They were sitting out on the kitchen counter, so we threw them in.

The cookies are easy to put together. But, there’s no butter in this recipe. As I mentioned above, the macadamia nuts, which are naturally high in fat, become the fat for these cookies. So they’re a bit healthier than some.

These do require a bit of chilling time. We let them chill for half an hour or so, but 10 minutes is all that’s required. I don’t know how much good 10 minutes does since it definitely wouldn’t read the middle of the chunk of cookie dough, but anyway, that’s what it says.

The little one-inch balls get dipped in granulated sugar, pressed down onto parchment-lined baking sheets with a fork and baked. That’s it. These are good. Different. Perfect with a cup of tea or coffee, or for a cookie exchange. Easy too.

What’s GOOD: they’re easy to make. Tasty with the dried cranberries and chocolate chips. You really don’t taste the macadamia nuts, just so you know. If I make these again I think I might add some chopped macadamias just because. I like their taste, and you don’t have any sense that you’re eating them in this cookie. Don’t, however, leave them in chunk form as the ground up nuts provide the glue to hold these cookies together. You’d need to substitute butter in lieu of the nuts if you wanted to change that part. These are very low in fat – only 3 grams per cookie.

What’s NOT: nothing, really.

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Macadamia Nut Butter Cookies with Dried Cranberries and Chocolate Chips

Recipe By: adapted a little from Bake or Break blog, 2011 (she adapted it from Cooking Light)
Serving Size: 50

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/3 cups macadamia nuts
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large egg
1 cup dried cranberries — chopped
1/2 cup mini-chocolate chips
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Note: there is no butter in this cookie – the macadamia nuts are processed to a very fine grind and provide the fat.
1. Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. Set aside.
2. Place macadamia nuts in a food processor. Process until smooth, about 2 minutes.
3. In a large bowl, combine processed macadamia nuts, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, and brown sugar using an electric mixer at medium speed. Add vanilla extract and egg. Beat well. Gradually add flour mixture to sugar mixture, beating at low speed just until combined. Dough will be thick. Stir in cranberries and mini-chocolate chips. Chill dough 10 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 375°. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.
5. Place 1 tablespoon granulated sugar in a small bowl. Roll dough into balls about 1-inch in diameter. Lightly press each ball into sugar. Place cookie balls, sugar side up, on prepared baking sheets. Gently press the top of each cookie with a fork twice to form a crisscross pattern. Dip fork in water as needed to keep it from sticking to cookies.
6. Bake cookies (1 baking sheet at a time) for 9-11 minutes, or until golden. Remove from pans to wire racks to cool.
Per Serving: 94 Calories; 3g Fat (31.8% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 15g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 8mg Cholesterol; 53mg Sodium.

Posted in Pork, on January 29th, 2015.

sweet_sour_cabbage_beer_brats

A simple dinner, my old favorite sweet and sour cabbage, and I threw in a couple of beer brats during the last 5 minutes and that was my meal.

For awhile I haven’t given much of an update about me, my grief journey, or my foot injury. Or anything very personal. Here goes.

My foot: did I mention that I did have an MRI? Finally. Once I found out it could be done in an open MRI machine. Should-a done that a long time ago, because what it showed that darned sharp rock I stepped on tore my plantar fascia. Not just a strain or sprain, but a small tear, that’s 80-90% through the plantar fascia. So I’m back in the gosh-darned boot. Have been in it now for 4 weeks. Have another 2+ to go before I see the doctor again. I am, however, getting cold laser treatments to the area (from my chiropractor), which increases blood flow and, supposedly, helps cell growth (scar tissue, really) to grow/heal the plantar fascia. And I’ve only had 2 treatments so far and I swear, I can tell a slight difference. I was able to walk into the regular grocery store this morning and I did 3 aisles, came home and my foot doesn’t hurt like it did just 2 weeks ago when I tried that. So, I’m hoping that means it’s on the path to recovery!

My grief journey: it’s hard to say exactly where/how I am. I still, this being said at 10-months since my darling DH’s death, have rough days. I’m sure it’s not unusual. Most of my friends aren’t aware that I have bad days. They usually occur when I’m at home, on a day when I don’t have much planned. That’s when I miss Dave the most. That’s when I think about him more. When the house feels too big for me, and it’s too quiet. Memories come pouring in, and the tears flow out. Of when I’d see his smiling face as I came and went to my day’s activities. I miss him at our bible study group, when he’d make some very thoughtful comments. I miss him when dinnertime comes around, because I eat alone. And of course I miss his hugs and kisses. That goes without saying. I still haven’t been able to set the dining room table with 2 place settings and eat my dinner meal there without him. I want to, but can’t. I know he understands why. I miss him every night as I get into bed. But I try very hard not to dwell on it at that time because I don’t like crying myself to sleep. I get all choked up and it takes awhile for my sinuses to clear out so I can sleep. When I say my nighttime prayers I usually ask God to tell Dave I love him. Probably sounds kind of silly, but it comforts me. I know God answers prayers, so I hope he does that for me. Or sometimes, in my prayers I just speak the words in my head, directly to Dave, telling him I love him and miss him so much.

Dave and I used to go out to dinner (to nicer places) at least twice a week. I don’t do that anymore, and I miss it. I haven’t screwed up my courage yet to go to a nice restaurant by myself. I’ve read about women who do it, but I haven’t yet. Most of my friends are married couples anyway. I have some widow acquaintances, but none that I’ve bonded with very much –  yet. I need to work on that.

My life is so changed, now that I’m a widow. I still have lots of activities – I don’t sit at home day after day in a stupor – far from it. I’m busy. Almost too busy sometimes. And I wonder if I’m just masking my grief by staying too busy. Don’t know the answer to that. I suppose only a grief counselor could tell me. But nearly every widow I talk with tells me she’s managed her grief by keeping busy. Some widows have told me, just recently, that their 2nd year was harder than the first year. I still feel very married. Dave’s just not here. But he’s still my husband – in my mind. In the eyes of God and of the law I’m not married. Hard for me to accept, emotionally.

There’s still a lot of paperwork, meetings, trust tax returns, attorney visits, etc. regarding Dave’s and my trust. Nothing bad, just time consuming and it keeps dragging on and on. New bank accounts, closing old ones, etc.

My life is just different. I live solo. Nobody really cares where I am, that I’ll be home at 2:00, or greets me. No one really cares what I do with my time. I don’t feel like I accomplish very much anymore – my life doesn’t have the meaning it used to.  (I do have things I do – I sing in the choir, am in two bible study groups, I’m doing ministry in several areas, I’m in several organizations, have 3 book clubs I’m in, occasional lunches out with girlfriends.) I don’t think I’m depressed – I have days when I’m down – but most days I’m okay. Writing this, though, brings tears to my eyes because my emotions are right on my sleeve. My kids think I should get a dog or cat. I don’t think I should have a dog because I can’t walk much right now. A cat might be okay, but I’m taking some trips in coming months, and it would be a disservice to a new cat to get acquainted and then leave for awhile. I’m taking a trip to Europe with friends. Not for awhile – later this spring. My San Diego granddaughter is keeping her eye out for a rescue cat for me. I have a particular breed in mind (a Snowshoe) that’s spayed and de-clawed already. It would be an indoor cat completely. I live in an area not suitable for outdoor cats (way too many coyotes). I’d probably prefer a dog, but I’d have to drive the dog somewhere to take a walk (no sidewalks or areas suitable for walking where I live, a narrow 2-lane street that doesn’t even have curbs).

Which brings me to my mobility. I can walk, and I do. I’m able to go to and from places, short distances, and I spread my activities out over the course of the day (that’s what the dr. advised). But I can’t walk around a block even – that’s too much for now. I can drive with no difficulty (injury is to my left foot) thankfully. But I’m severely limited in how much distance walking I can do. I can’t go to a mall and visit 2-3 stores. I need someone to drop me off close to door so I don’t have to walk very far for anything. In a month, I hope I’ll be walking again, more normally, without the boot. I hope. I pray. If you’re a praying person, I ask for prayers for the healing of my foot.

Cooking? Well, there’s not a whole lot I do. That I can do. Simple meals I can manage. Standing up at my kitchen counter is the most painful thing I do, along with standing up in church to sing in the choir. After about 5 minutes of standing I can begin to feel an ache in my foot. So I spread out the dinner prep a little bit if I can, with a few sit-downs in between prep and cooking. I got a craving the other day for some sweet and sour cabbage. When I found the recipe some years ago that I’ve posted already (link up in first line) I’ve stuck with it. I like it. Just the right amount of sweet and tart. All I did this time was chunk-up some bratwurst (happened to be beer brats) in it during the last 5 minutes of the cabbage cooking time, and that was dinner. It was very satisfying. I had dinner out the other night with my friend Linda in San Diego, and I ordered an appetizer portion of mac ‘n cheese. And wings. That was dinner. Both things I rarely order, but oh, did they taste good. All comfort food for sure.

As I’m writing this I’m going to a new cooking class with my friend Cherrie tonight, so hopefully I’ll have some recipes to share from that class. I have posts that go out about 3 more weeks. I’ve managed to keep posting every 4 days or so. I still don’t know how long I’ll continue – I just take it one day at a time. Writing, I know, is therapeutic for me. Especially this post.

Posted in Uncategorized, on January 28th, 2015.

Many of you probably read Bon Appetit already. If so, you’ve likely read Andrew Knowlton’s annual article about what’s hot in the food biz (in his not-so-humble opinion that is). Just in case you missed it, here it is, culled down to the basics:

1. Gyros are in.

2. Cold brew coffee pulled from a tap like beer, infused with nitrogen so it’s a smoother, creamier drink.

3. Bacalao – it’s a dried fish ubiquitous to Portugal and Spain – you have to soak it in milk to get out all the salt and not-so-pleasant flavors – people are eating it on pizza, in sandwiches and ravioli. Hmmm.

4. Even top chefs put tacos on their menus – he mentioned four specific chefs/restaurants in NYC, Charleston, Chicago and San Francisco.

5. It looks like marijuana cooked in food will eventually make it onto menus (yes, really).

6. Shake Shack (burger and fries chain with global locations).

7. A grapefruit liqueur (Crème de Pamplemousse) is hitting every mainstream bar (it has mild sweetness and immense aromatics).

8. New restaurant names – lots will use some very weird methods to come up with a name. Knowlton says they’ll use something like – fill in the blanks here:  “your spirit animal” or “Grandma’s name” or your “favorite ingredient” PLUS words like “luxury, “provisions” or “luncheonette.” What you’ll get from that are things like: “Sea Otter & Sons Luxury,” “Anise Hyssop Provisions” or “’Ma Knowlton’s Luncheonette.” (I must admit that restaurant names have been more unusual of late – even I’ve noticed that.)

9. Bing Bread – had never heard of it until now – it’s Chinese, full name is shaobing –  it’s a flaky flatbread often eaten at breakfast with things like baked potato, bacon and scallion in/on it with sour cream on top.

10. Beef Tongue. ‘Nuf said. I won’t be having any; sorry. There’s something about the texture I don’t care for.

11. Upscale beer bars – yup – for beer nerds he says, featuring specialized glassware, sleek taps and very worthy food to go along with. He calls them “grown up bars.”

12. Cocktails from the 70s like Long Island Iced Tea, White Russians, Grasshoppers.

13. Kolache (koh-laa-chee) – it’s a Czech inspiration – but American chefs have taken the filled pastry to new heights with fillings like jalapeno, cheese, sausage, black beans, corn and chorizo. Traditionally kolache are sweet pastries, and the best ones are yeasted. At the moment these savory styled ones are in Houston, Austin and Brooklyn.

————————————–

Knowlton also wrote an article in the December issue about the things he didn’t like in 2014.

A Few Things I [Andrew Knowlton] Didn’t Like:

1. Seeing the same damn menu items all over the country (deviled eggs, oysters, carrots with yogurt, steak for two).
2. The thought of paying for prime reservations.
3. Being told how to order.
4. “Everything will come out when it’s ready.”
5. Uni-exploitation. [excuse me, but what IS that? I found no explanation on the ‘net.]
6. Too-many-ingredient cocktails.
7. The Wall Street-ification of bourbon.

Posted in Salads, on January 26th, 2015.

spinach_mache_plums_pears_salad

It’s been about a month ago that my friend Cherrie and I went to a cooking class at someone’s home, and Tarla Fallgatter prepared a whole bunch of appetizers and a dessert. This was the salad, and it’s a stunner. The addition of fruit to a green salad is finally coming into its own, and this one’s a really delicious rendition. Because Tarla had some cooked quinoa on hand, she tossed that into the salad as well, although that isn’t in the recipe. She also added a little bit of poached chicken to each serving, so it can be made into a complete meal.

Although there aren’t exactly a lot of ingredients in this salad, it does take a bit of preparation. The vinaigrette comes together quite easily (rice vinegar and raspberry vinegar in combo with olive oil and honey mustard) and could be made in advance, for sure. I’d recommend you do the prep of the salad next – this does have Belgian endive, and instead of whole leaves or chopped, they’re cut into lengthwise slivers. If you can find mache, do use it – if not, use a spring greens mixture and the baby spinach (do not use regular – large – spinach leaves). Try to find ricotta salata (it’s a specialized kind of medium-hard ricotta cheese, grate-able) or substitute Feta. Trader Joe’s sells the marcona almonds that are all ready to toss in this, since they’ve been baked with salt and rosemary.

Next would be finding fresh, ripe plums. The Asian pear is usually available year ‘round. The recipe calls for dark red grapes – if you’re lucky you might find large grapes that are seedless. If not, you’ll want to cut them in half and remove the seeds – do cut the grapes in half anyway – easier to eat. This may take a little bit of time.

The last thing you’ll do is slice the fresh fruits, then dress the salad and try to artfully arrange the fruits. You can serve this on a large platter, or on individual plates. It’s a beautiful plate either way.

What’s GOOD: the vinaigrette is really good – a bit of sweet from the raspberry vinegar and sweet from the honey mustard, but certainly counterbalanced by the rice vinegar (not the sweeter seasoned rice vinegar). The fruit is what made it for me – it was a lovely combination of them, alongside the marcona almonds and the crumbly, salty, ricotta salata cheese.

What’s NOT: only the prep time – the fruit does take some effort – especially if you must halve and de-seed the grapes. But don’t eliminate the grapes as they add a really nice balance of texture and taste.

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Green Salad with Plums, Asian Pear and Grapes

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking instructor
Serving Size: 6

SALAD:
4 cups baby spinach — or arugula
2 cups mâche — or spring mix
3 whole Belgian endive — thinly sliced lengthwise
3 whole plums — seeded, thinly sliced
1 whole Asian pear — peeled, cored, thinly sliced
1/2 cup red grapes — use dark red, if available, halved, seeded
1/2 cup marcona almonds — with rosemary flavoring if possible
1/2 cup ricotta salata — or Feta
VINAIGRETTE:
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar — NOT seasoned rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
2 teaspoons honey mustard
6 tablespoons olive oil — (not necessary to use EVOO)
Freshly ground salt and pepper to taste

Notes: if you have a little bit of quinoa, or brown rice, or wild rice, it can be added to this salad to make it a bit more substantial. You might need more dressing, however. You can also add some cooked chicken and make this a meal.
1. Combine the vinaigrette ingredients in a jar and shake well. Set aside. Can be made the day ahead.
2. Prepare all the fruit and drizzle a bit of the dressing on the fruit and allow to sit for 15-20 minutes.
3. In a large salad bowl toss the spinach, mâche and Belgian endives together with the vinaigrette. Add the fruit, marcona almonds and cheese. Pour out onto a large platter or on individual plates, arranging some of the fruit on top. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 310 Calories; 25g Fat (76.4% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 5mg Cholesterol; 327mg Sodium.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on January 22nd, 2015.

brussels_sprouts_bacon_walnuts

Oh, how I love Brussels sprouts. I just don’t understand why some people don’t like them. My mother wasn’t very inventive with them (maybe back in the 50s when I was growing up nobody was very inventive with them) as she just boiled them in water and maybe added butter. But I like them even that way, though I sauté them rather than leech out all the nutrients by boiling them in water. But nowadays, there are so many more ways to make them interesting.

Often I just make halved Brussels sprouts sautéed cut-side down in a bit of oil and butter, in a pan and probably my favorite method is just to add a little drizzle of maple syrup during the last 10 seconds in the pan. I don’t even need the bacon, or prosciutto, or ham, or other goodies people often add.

My blog already has a bunch of Brussels sprouts recipes, but they’re enough of a favorite of mine I’m happy to add yet one more. This one is SO simple – bacon and walnuts (oh, and salt and pepper). That’s it. You do have to roast this in the oven, so yes, you do dirty-up two pans – one for the bacon and walnuts, and then a big baking sheet (lined with parchment – makes for easy clean-up) for the roasting part of it. This recipe is yet another from that marathon cooking class I went to with Phillis Carey and Diane Phillips. This is Phillis’s recipe. I eat my share of veggies, and I’m not a vegetarian, but I think I could eat an entire plate of this. The only fat in it is the bacon – and you do use the bacon grease (instead of oil) to lubricate the Brussels sprouts before roasting them. Altogether delicious.

What’s GOOD: this recipe isn’t going to send you over the moon – some of my other Brussels sprouts recipe on my blog may be more exciting, but this one was really good. Worth making as a variation. And all things considered, you could limit how much bacon you put in it and it would be fairly healthy. If you did that, you’d likely need a bit of oil to help with the roasting.

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

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Walnuts

Recipe By: Phillis Carey, cooking instructor and author
Serving Size: 8

1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
4 slices thick-sliced bacon — apple wood flavored, if possible
3/4 cup walnuts — leave in full halves, not chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Trim off stem end and any loose or damaged leaves from the Brussels sprouts. Cut each one in half lengthwise and place in a bowl.
2. Cut the bacon in half, lengthwise and then across into 1/2 inch pieces. Cook the bacon in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add walnuts and continue cooking until bacon is fairly crispy and nuts are toasted, another 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon and walnuts to a bowl, leaving behind all the bacon fat.
3. Pour the bacon fat over the Brussels sprouts (in lieu of using olive oil, or you can substitute if you’d prefer, but it won’t have the same flavor!). Toss well, then add salt and pepper to taste. Turn Brussels sprouts out onto a large parchment-lined baking sheet and add the bacon and walnuts (the sprouts do not want to be crowded or they won’t roast, they’ll steam instead) and roast in the oven for 15 minutes. Stir briefly and continue roasting for an additional 5-10 minutes or until browned and tender. Season with additional salt and pepper if desired. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 141 Calories; 10g Fat (58.8% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 5mg Cholesterol; 120mg Sodium.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on January 18th, 2015.

butternut squash and caramelized onion gratin

Looks rich, right? Yes, it is. There is cream in it, and those fabulous caramelized onions on top. Oh my yes, this one is downright fabulous. Serving it with a simple grilled protein (chicken, pork chop, steak) would make this not such a guilty pleasure. Make it you must, though.

It was over a month ago I went to the cooking class in San Diego where Phillis Carey made this dish. And there were mmmm’s all around the room as we devoured our rather small portions. The caramelized onions on top gave it some crunch, and the butternut squash itself was unctuous. I’m thinking about making this soon, in a much smaller quantity just because it was so delicious.

All the ingredients in this dish are relatively ordinary (squash obviously, onions, cream, fresh thyme, a bay leaf, a tiny bit of grated fresh nutmeg, butter, garlic and Parmesan cheese). So if you’ve got the squash on hand, and if you keep heavy cream and milk or half and half on hand as well, you likely have everything else in your pantry to make this without a trip to the grocery store. Make it super-simple and buy the already cut butternut squash if you can find it. You’ll end up with smaller pieces (because the cubes will need to be sliced) but in the finished dish, I doubt that would make any difference.

The squash, once prepped and sliced is gently simmered in the cream and milk (or half and half) until the squash is tender (about 30 minutes) and nearly all the dairy has been absorbed. Meanwhile you caramelize the onion – that does take awhile. Phillis said 8 minutes, but I doubt I’ve ever caramelized an onion in that short a time. Be careful and don’t burn it! The squash is put into a buttered casserole, the onions go on top then the grated Parm. It can be made the day ahead up to this point and baked a bit longer (instructions are in the recipe below). Altogether wonderful.

What’s GOOD: every morsel is delicious. The texture (the soft squash and the crispy onions and cheese) is wonderful in the mouth. And yes, it is rich, so you won’t want a huge portion.

What’s NOT: if you’re counting fat grams, don’t make this. Enough said.

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Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Gratin

Recipe By: Phillis Carey, cooking instructor and author
Serving Size: 6

2 tablespoons unsalted butter — to butter the casserole dish and add to top
SQUASH:
2 pounds butternut squash — peeled and seeded
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk — or half and half
2 whole bay leaves
1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme — chopped
1 pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
ONIONS:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion — halved, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons garlic — minced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
TOPPING:
1/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — freshly grated

1. SQUASH: Slice squash into 1/2 inch thick slices. In a very large heavy saucepan combine squash, heavy cream, half and half or milk, thyme and nutmeg. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add salt and pepper. simmer, stirring occasionally, until squash is JUST tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed. This will take about 30 minutes.
2. ONION: In a skillet cook onion slices in butter until they’re golden brown, about 8 minutes or so (don’t burn the onion). Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add remaining salt and pepper to the mixture.
3. CASSEROLE: Preheat oven to 425°F. Butter a 2-quart casserole dish with about a T. of butter. Place squash and any remaining liquid on bottom of the casserole and cover with onions. Sprinkle Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese over the top and dot with remaining butter. Bake about 15 minutes, or until heated through and bubbly, and cheese is lightly browned. MAKE AHEAD: This can be assembled the day before, but it will need to bake, covered at 350°F for about 25 minutes, then uncover and bake until lightly browned, another 10-15 minutes.
Per Serving: 372 Calories; 32g Fat (74.0% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 109mg Cholesterol; 744mg Sodium.

Posted in Pork, on January 14th, 2015.

 

pork_tenderloin_pears_brandy

Not a very good photo, but it was really delicious. Pears are a natural pairing with pork – kind of like apples are also. This is quite easy to make, even though it may look more complicated.

This recipe, made with 3 pork tenderloins, will serve 6-9 people, but if you have one big tenderloin, it will likely serve 3 people. You never know when you buy those packs of pork tenderloins what size they’ll really be once you open it up.

The pears are caramelized in butter and sugar. Easy. The pork is browned over high heat, then the brandy is added and ignited (remember to turn off the fan over your stovetop before doing this). Then it’s roasted in the oven for 20-25 minutes and allowed to rest for awhile.

Lastly, you finish the sauce by melting butter and adding shallots. Then some pear nectar is added along with some fresh thyme. THEN, you add the cream (a lot – this isn’t a healthy dinner) and simmer it a bit to reduce it down. The pears are added back in to reheat them, then you plate it all, or serve on a platter with a bit of sauce drizzled on it, but a pitcher of the sauce served around the table. The recipe came from a cooking class with Phillis Carey.

What’s GOOD: the caramelized pears make this dish, although the ignited brandy also adds a lot of flavor as well. Altogether delicious.

What’s NOT: nothing really, although there are a few steps to making this. Not low calorie, for sure!

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

 

* Exported from MasterCook *

Pork Tenderloin with Caramelized Pears and Pear Brandy Sauce

Recipe By: Phillis Carey, cooking instructor and author
Serving Size: 8

PEARS:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 whole Anjou pears — or Comice, peeled, halved, cored, cut into 6-8 wedges per pear
2 teaspoons sugar
PORK:
3 pounds pork tenderloin — about 3
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Sprigs of fresh thyme for garnish
1/3 cup brandy
SAUCE:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup shallots — minced
1/2 cup pear nectar
2 teaspoons fresh thyme — minced
1 1/2 cups heavy cream — (may use half cream/half chicken broth)

1. PEARS: Melt butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add pears in a single layer, sprinkle with sugar and saute until pears are tender and deep golden brown, about 8 minutes, turning over carefully to caramelize both sides. (Since the pork is pale, the sauce is white, it’s important to get some golden brown on the pears!)
2. PORK: Trim pork tenderloin of all fat and silverskin. Preheat oven to 400F. Melt butter in large, heavy skillet (with a long handle) over high heat. Season with salt and pepper. Brown pork on all sides, about 8 minutes total. Add brandy, turn off heat and ignite with a long match or lighter. Shake pan continuously until the flames extinguish. Do NOT have your kitchen exhaust fan on when you do this.
3. Set this skillet aside and transfer the pork to a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast for 20-25 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 150°F. Remove from oven and allow to rest for about 8 minutes before slicing on a diagonal (across the grain) into 1/2 inch thick slices. (If you happen to be baking something else at a lower oven temp, the pork can roast anywhere between 350°-425°F, just watch the time and still bake only until it reaches 150°F in the center. Use a meat thermometer.)
4. SAUCE: Melt butter in the skillet used to brown the pork. Add shallots, saute 2 minutes. Add pear nectar and thyme. Bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add cream and boil down until thickened to a sauce consistency, about 5 minutes or so. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with fresh thyme sprigs.
Per Serving: 478 Calories; 31g Fat (61.6% calories from fat); 37g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 195mg Cholesterol; 105mg Sodium.

Posted in Salads, on January 11th, 2015.

persimmon_orange_salad

See that little piece of persimmon hiding behind the orange? How fun this salad was – greens, but with a dressing made with persimmon as well. I’d have never thought to make a dressing using the persimmon pulp in it. But oh, was it ever good.

If you’re lucky enough to have a persimmon tree, perhaps this is a recipe you’ve not made before. This is persimmon season, so do pick up 3 Fuyu persimmons, The Fuyu is the Asian, firm fleshed type, the one you can even eat the skin. The other type, Hachiya has ultra-soft flesh (or at least you should ripen it until it is that way) and the skin is bitter, gag-worthy. My parents had a Hachiya tree in our backyard as I was growing up. It didn’t produce all that much fruit, but we never did cut it down because of that. My mom preferred to make persimmon pudding (not my fav) and persimmon cookies (ultra-soft and also not a fav of mine) or persimmon bread (that was okay). Or, we just ate them out of hand or on a cottage cheese salad.

Some of you, reading that, probably gag just because of the cottage cheese – I don’t know how long ago cottage cheese was mass produced, but my mom liked to make a quick salad with some canned fruit on top, a ring of pineapple, for instance, and that was a whole lot easier than cutting up greens and veggies for a green salad. Not something I ever – ever – make today. My DH disliked cottage cheese – he remembers many a salad made when he was growing up, same thing, a mound with a piece or two of canned fruit on top. He simply wouldn’t eat cottage cheese in any way, shape or form. I might have been able to hide it in a jello salad, but I rarely made those for him anyway, even with sugar-free jello!

Anyway, the dressing is made in a food processor or blender, has the usual ingredients but with added pine nuts, orange zest, some orange juice, and then it’s got one persimmon mixed in it. It’s kind of thick. It will keep for 3 days. If you’re not sure about this, make a half a recipe of the dressing.

The salad part has the yield from a whole pomegranate, arugula, Romaine, green onions and sliced oranges, as you can see from the photo. If you aren’t a fan of persimmons, you could use mango instead.

What’s GOOD: everything about this was good, but you can’t quite figure out the dressing (a good thing). It’s not cloyingly sweet. Trust me. I liked this a LOT. On my cooking class sheet (this was made by Phillis Carey) I wrote “fab.” That’s my highest rating.

What’s NOT: maybe the prep of the persimmon (peeling it – not hard, just a bit tedious) and prepping the orange. The dressing takes a bit of time, but hey, you’ll be glad you made it when you taste it.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Persimmon, Orange and Pomegranate Salad with Arugula and Romaine

Recipe By: Phillis Carey, cooking instructor and author
Serving Size: 6

SALAD:
1 whole pomegranate
2 large Fuyu persimmons — ripe
2 cups arugula
4 cups Romaine lettuce
6 tablespoons green onions — thinly sliced
4 medium blood oranges — or navel oranges, peeled and thinly sliced
PINE-NUT VINAIGRETTE:
1 large Fuyu persimmon — ripe
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons pine nuts — toasted
1 1/2 teaspoons orange zest
2 tablespoons orange juice — blood orange or regular
1 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons shallots — cut up
1/2 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
1 dash ground cinnamon — or ground allspice
1 dash freshly ground black pepper

1. Cut pomegranate in half cross-ways. Holding a pomegranate half in your hand over a small bowl, cut side next to your palm, and using a heavy mallet or pounder, rap the outside of the hard skin. Seeds will fall out into your hand and into the bowl. Continue rapping the outside until most have fallen out. Turn it over and break apart to remove the last of the seeds. Repeat for other half. Set aside.
2. Halve each persimmon; remove and discard core. Cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch-thick slices.
3. In a large bowl, combine arugula, Romaine and green onions. Drizzle 1/2 cup of the vinaigrette over salad; toss to coat. Serve with persimmons and oranges. Sprinkle the reserved pomegranate seeds. Pass remaining vinaigrette. Makes 6 side-dish servings.
4. VINAIGRETTE: Cut persimmon in half; remove and discard core. Scoop out pulp (should have about 1/3 cup), discard skin. Place pulp in a blender or food processor. Cover and blend or process until smooth.
5. Add extra-virgin olive oil, vinegar, toasted pine nuts, finely shredded blood orange or orange zest, blood orange or orange juice, honey, shallot, Dijon-style mustard, cinnamon, and black pepper.
6. Cover and blend or process until smooth. Makes about 1-1/4 cups – you’ll use a bit over 1/2 cup for a 6-serving salad.
Per Serving (not accurate as you use about 1/3 of the dressing): 276 Calories; 14g Fat (44.3% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 37g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 14mg Sodium.

Posted in Restaurants, on January 9th, 2015.

choc_almond_croissant

Looking at that you might not know what “heaven in a bun” is contained inside. I mean to tell you, this croissant is something that’s beyond ethereal and as good, if not better, than any croissant I’ve ever eaten. It’s not a regular savory croissant, obviously, but a sweet one, and worth every single calorie!

If you don’t live in Orange County, CA, you might want to pass on by this post. You’re going to miss out – sorry. But if you DO live here, then you must, you simply MUST, go to Rendez Vous, right on PCH, in Corona del Mar. It’s worthy of a side trip. Worthy of an adventure if you live within 50 miles or so.

almond_latteLearning about the place was easy after I was given a sample of this marvel of pastry. I was having dinner with some of my extended family (they live near this place) and I ate a bite. Then another. And yet another. Then I was sent home with half a one. A few weeks later I was having dinner with them again, and there were more tastes of this for dessert. I determined, right then and there, that I needed to visit the bakery/café all on my own. So I asked my friend Cherrie to meet me – she’s always game for a new adventure. We went in the early morning – about 9:30. I ordered one of the croissants for each of us – intending that I’d eat half and take the other half home. In fact, I recommended to Cherrie that she do the same. Can you guess? We both ate the whole thing. We just couldn’t seem to help ourselves. They do have regular croissants, and I think they have almond croissants too, but this one, the one with chocolate AND almonds (in a kind of almond cream) is the one to order.

croissant_definedAlong with it I wanted some coffee. I went up to the counter (picture below) and asked which coffee drink I should order. Without hesitation, the guy said “the almond latte.” Okay, fine with me. Oh my gosh! See the photo at right? It was an almond flavored latte, AND it had that mound of almond-flavored chantilly cream on top. I shudder to think of the calories. I drank it all. It was absolutely divine.

The café (it’s small) has bread (Cherrie and I also bought a baguette they kindly cut in half for us), savory and sweet crepes, sandwiches, and desserts. I haven’t tried any of those yet, but I’ll be going back to try some.

I heard that they make a Buche de Noel log, and my extended family had one from there for Christmas Day dinner (I was in San Diego that day) and they gave it 4 stars. Or 10 stars. A blue ribbon event anyway. I don’t even remember all the other things in their chilled case or on the extensive menu up top, but they have lots of variety, that’s for sure. My only advice – if you want this pastry, go early in the day because whatever they make that day, that’s it. There was only one of those croissants left after my friend Cherrie and I ordered ours.

rendez_vous_counter

The café does not have a website. It’s owned by a French couple from Provence. Don’t be confused by a restaurant called Rendezvous in Newport Beach – they’re different. Or with the Le Rendez-Vous in Oceanside. This is the bakery/café across and just down the street (and across PCH) from Five Crowns, and a door or two away from Vin Goat, the sublime cheese shop. Parking can sometimes be a problem – check the back or go onto the nearby side streets. It’s well worth the effort.

Rendez Vous Café & Bakery

3330 East Coast Highway (also known as PCH, Pacific Coast Highway)

Corona Del Mar, CA 92625 (just south of Newport Beach if you don’t know the area)

(949) 791-8730

Posted in Chicken, on January 7th, 2015.

chicken breasts with an asian lemon sauce

What makes this Pacific Rim? The little tiny jot of soy in the lemon sauce. There are 3 steps to this (the sauce, the marinade and cooking the chicken).

My cousin Gary was visiting over the last 2 weeks of December, and I tried to do a little bit more dinner-cooking than I had been. And after having many very elegant and fancy meals over the holidays, I offered to fix some chicken. I looked through Phillis Carey’s cookbook, Fast & Fabulous Chicken Breasts, and found this recipe I’d not made before. The chicken is marinated in a simple mixture of oil, lemon juice, zest, ginger and garlic. If you want to make this up a bit ahead, you can – maybe 2-3 hours. Longer than that and the lemon juice will start to “cook” the chicken through the acid chemistry.

While the chicken marinated I quickly mixed up the sauce – very easy – chicken broth, lemon juice, zest, sugar, the tiny bit of soy sauce in this dish and cornstarch. It took 3-4 minutes to make and then I just left it sitting in the pan on the back of the stove until I was ready to plate this. Meanwhile, Gary and I made mashed potatoes, and I also made some fresh veggies – sugar snap peas and mushrooms sautéed in a bit of oil and butter, salt and pepper. Gary had never had cooked sugar snaps before – he liked them a lot.

When everything was coming together, I put the chicken breasts into a nonstick pan heated to medium-high (Phillis’ original recipe called for grilling the chicken, but it was gosh-darned cold outside, so I just did them in a pan) and quickly browned them on both sides (in the marinade), then turned down the heat and simmered them until they were just done to perfection (at 155°F)  using my Thermapen to measure the temp. I heated the plates, and oh, were they hot! But that kept the chicken and mashed potatoes warmer than they’d been on a cold plate. The sauce was reheated gently (and I ended up adding just a tiny bit of extra water because it was a bit too thick for me) and poured on top, then it was garnished with cilantro. In the recipe below I’ve doubled the sauce recipe because with the size of standard chicken breasts these days (big, from Costco) there definitely wasn’t enough sauce. If you use smaller chicken breasts, you can reduce the sauce proportion.

What’s GOOD: it was a healthy entrée; it was easy – relatively – although to some people if you have to make a marinade and a sauce, that constitutes difficult. I did have some help – Gary peeled potatoes and cleaned sugar snaps while I did the rest. I think this will be a good re-heat-able dinner – with the sauce kept separate. I’ll only need to microwave the chicken breasts and reheat the sauce.

What’s NOT: only that there are a few steps to making this.

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

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Chicken Breasts with Asian Lemon Sauce

Recipe By: Phillis Carey, cooking instructor and author
Serving Size: 4

4 pieces boneless skinless chicken breast halves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cilantro — chopped
1 tablespoon fresh ginger — minced
1 clove garlic — minced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 pinch red pepper flakes
LEMON SAUCE:
1 cup low sodium chicken broth
1 cup fresh lemon juice
4 teaspoons lemon zest
12 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt — (optional)
4 tablespoons cilantro — minced (garnish)

1. Trim chicken and pound to an even 1/2-inch thickness. Place chicken in a flat baking dish (or in a ziploc plastic bag). Stir together the oil, cilantro, ginger, garlic, lemon juice, zest and red pepper flakes. pour over the chicken, turning to coat. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes, or cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours (no more or it will start to “cook” the chicken).
2. SAUCE: Whisk all ingredients together in a small saucepan, making sure there are no lumps. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thickened. Set aside until ready to serve. If it cooks very long it will get too thick, so thin with a tablespoon or so of water to reach a pourable consistency. Reheat over gentle heat until bubbling.
3. Remove chicken from marinade and grill or pan saute for 3-5 minutes per side or until cooked through. Chicken breasts should be cooked to 155°F. Place chicken on heated plates (or a platter) and spoon on the sauce. Sprinkle with cilantro to garnish.
Per Serving: 439 Calories; 12g Fat (23.8% calories from fat); 31g Protein; 54g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 68mg Cholesterol; 780mg Sodium.

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