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On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of aging high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, wealthy women) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

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 Beef, Grilling, Miscellaneous, on March 23rd, 2015.

bobby_flays_steak_rub

Just plain steaks are fine, but don’t you sometimes want to put something on them, to give them an added lift, or some different flavors?

Recently I invited my/our son Powell and his family over for dinner. (And the good news is that I was able to do enough walking and standing in the kitchen to pull it off.) I have meat in my freezer. Oh my, do I have meat in the garage freezer, and I can’t believe that it’s been nearly a year since my darling DH died, and I’ve hardly made a dent in the meat stash. I’ve purchased plenty of chicken breasts and thighs, and salmon steaks which crowd in there, and go in and out, but I have numerous cuts of beef, pork, whole chickens and fish fillets that are now more than a year old. I’ve GOT to do something with them.

The good news was that I WANTED to cook. Those of you reading this, who don’t know me very well yet, won’t understand. In the last year I’ve hardly wanted to cook at all. But I also had my darned foot injury that for 7 months has kept me from standing at my kitchen counter much at all. That’s completely healed now and I’m trying to push my limits a bit. Am walking some every day to flex those tight ligaments, tendons, the plantar fascia and the Achilles tendons too.

In coming days  you’ll see a couple of other new recipes I tried out for this dinner (a crostini appetizer using green peas, and a fennel vegetable side). I also made my favorite Crisp Apple Pudding, one of my signature, very homey desserts. My grandson Vaughan was salivating from the moment he heard Grandma had made the apple pudding, which he just loves. He could hardly eat hissteaks_with_steak_rub dinner because he wanted that dessert so much. Then he wanted seconds, but mom and dad said no.

Anyway, back to the steaks. They were ribeyes (USDA prime, from Costco). Powell grilled them for me, and I handed Powell this little bowl (above) to season them. He used the trusty Thermapen to make sure the steaks were cooked to perfection. The 4 of us shared these 2 big steaks. I have some leftover which I’ll use to make a nice steak salad, I think. Karen brought a lovely green salad (with the first of our spring strawberries) and left some greens with me which will make a nice start. Maybe I’ll have that for dinner tonight.

What’s GOOD: just something different. I liked the spice combination. It was easy enough to make. Just remember, spice blends should not be kept for more than a month, so use it up, or make a smaller batch to begin with.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. Same as above, a spice blend doesn’t keep more than a month, so use it up.

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Bobby Flay’s Steak Rub

Recipe By: Bobby Flay, online
Serving Size: 10

2 tablespoons ancho chile powder
1 tablespoon Spanish paprika — (sweet paprika)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons chile de arbol — (optional – I didn’t have any)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Combine ingredients and store in well-sealing jar. Sprinkle liberally on steaks before grilling.
Per Serving: 12 Calories; 1g Fat (37.3% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 2g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 16mg Sodium.

Posted in Brunch, Miscellaneous, on November 30th, 2014.

five_spice_fall_fruit_salad

five-spice fruit salad

It’s always nice, at a brunch, to have some kind of a fruit dish. You could certainly do plain, fresh fruit, but you can also make it special with this recipe that has some spice additions that are certainly a little off the usual list – five-spice and vanilla bean.

We had this lovely, fun brunch. We sat outside (a few weeks ago, here in California, we were still having full-on summer) so gathering on a Sunday, at nearly mid-day, we enjoyed the waning days of summer with a delicious mixture of brunch dishes. This being one of them. Peggy brought this one, a delicious marinated fruit mixture that contains some five-spice powder and a half of a vanilla bean. It’s marinated in a honey-based mixture, which also gave it a lovely sweetness. The recipe came from epicurious a couple of months ago. Peggy couldn’t find any figs, since they’re out of season, so she used peaches, the plums, and she added a few prunes to give it some alternate color. I think this dish could be very adaptable – use whatever fruit is in season, though not apples unless you cooked them a bit. Pears would probably work also.

The spiced honey syrup is made ahead, cooled, then poured over the fruit. It’s refrigerated for a few hours. It probably would be fine made the day before as well. I would think this could be made with less honey syrup – starting with 3/4 cup of honey is a lot. I might try making half the amount of honey and water (but use all the spices), marinate in a plastic bag, and turn the bag over several times in the refrigerator.

What’s GOOD: well, you know me, I like foods and recipes that have something different about them, and this definitely fits the bill here, with the five-spice (not overwhelming at all) and the vanilla bean. Of all the dishes we had at the brunch, this was the only one I went back to for seconds. Use fruit that have different colors to them if at all possible. The syrup could be used again – strain it, freeze it and use it weeks or months later.

What’s NOT: nothing at all – it was a really lovely fruit salad.

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

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Five-Spice Fall Fruit Salad

Source: adapted slightly from epicurious
Serving Size: 8

3/4 cup honey
1/2 vanilla bean — split and scraped
1 piece ginger — (1 inch) thinly sliced
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
5 plums — black-skinned, if possible, pitted and sliced
5 red plums — pitted and sliced
4 whole peaches — or fresh figs, if available

Notes: the original recipes called for 2 types of plums plus figs. If those fruits aren’t in season, substitute other – even cherries or prunes. If using apples, you may need to partially cook them; same perhaps with pears. Plums, figs and peaches are all soft fruits, so they lend themselves well to just marinating in the syrup. Try to vary the color in the fruit just because it looks nicer.
1. Place 3/4 cup water in a medium saucepan. Add the honey, vanilla bean pod with seeds, ginger, and five-spice powder. Bring to a boil and stir until honey dissolves. Set aside to cool completely, and stir in lemon juice. Discard ginger and vanilla bean pod.
2. In a large bowl, pour cooled syrup over the sliced plums. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours, or overnight in the refrigerator.
3. An hour before serving, slice peaches (or figs) and gently fold into plum mixture. To serve, use a slotted spoon to ladle fruit into a serving bowl.
4. DO AHEAD: Syrup can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 days. [My suggestion: save the syrup, strain it, and freeze to be used again.]
Per Serving: 166 Calories; 1g Fat (2.9% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 43g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 2mg Sodium.

Posted in Fish, Miscellaneous, on November 7th, 2014.

tarragon_sauce_salmon

My friend Cherrie called me recently and said, “I fixed your salmon with tarragon sauce last night.” My mind went blank. Salmon with tarragon sauce?  “Are you sure it was my recipe,” I said? Yes, indeed, she even had my MasterCook print-out that said it was from Gourmet Magazine back in the 1990s. Hmmm. It took me awhile, but I found it in my recipe collection – a search revealed it was under “tarragon” not “salmon.” Obviously I haven’t fixed it in a loooooong time!

Cherrie was nice enough to give me some of it, as it makes a bunch – enough for 8 servings, and there are only two of them. I had it the other night on a nice piece of steamed salmon, along with Brussels sprouts I cooked in garlic, onion and a dash of maple syrup stirred in at the last minute, and some really ripe Plumato tomato slices. A lovely dinner, and a really tasty sauce. I think the sauce could go on chicken also, but it’s ideal for fish. (See, I am cooking a little bit, and my foot managed with me standing at the counter for about 15 minutes. That’s progress.)

In my notes, it says salmon is the best fish for it, and the recipe suggested placing a pool of the sauce on a plate and then adding the salmon on top. I chose not to do it that way – thought being on top would make it more photogenic. The original recipe called for mayo, but at the time I made this, back in the 90s, I was into using lower fat stuff – so you can use your own judgment – full fat or low fat, but don’t use nonfat mayo, okay? What is does require is a bunch of tarragon – 2 bunches. That’s a LOT. It also contains chives, shallot, parsley, rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar and a bit of Dijon. That’s it. Easy to make. And since Cherrie gave this to me a week ago, it obviously keeps awhile. But eventually fresh herbs will begin to disintegrate and get oozy, so do use it within a few days if you can. I think Cherrie told me she didn’t quite have enough mayo, so she substituted a little bit of yogurt, which should be just fine.

What’s GOOD: it’s really easy to make – providing you’ve got tarragon. I don’t seem to have much luck raising tarragon in my kitchen garden. Don’t know why, so I usually have to buy it. You will need 3/4 of a cup of loosely measured tarragon leaves if you make this batch for 8 servings.

What’s NOT: nothing other than it tastes much better if allowed to sit for a few hours (chilled).

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Tarragon Sauce for Salmon

Recipe By: Adapted from a Gourmet Magazine recipe, July 1998
Serving Size: 8

2 bunches fresh tarragon — (to measure 3/4 cup of loose leaves)
1 bunch chives — loosely chopped
2 large shallot — chopped and blanched
1/4 cup Italian parsley — loosely chopped
1 cup mayonnaise — may use some low fat if preferred, or substitute some yogurt
2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Pick off the tarragon leaves to measure about 3/4 cup without packing them down. Wash and drain briefly. Add to the bowl of a food processor along with the chives, parsley and shallot. Pulse until those ingredients are finely minced. Scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary.
2. Add all the remaining ingredients (except salt and pepper) and pulse until smooth. Taste it and season with salt and pepper. Chill the mixture for a few hours, if possible.
3. Allow sauce to warm up (at room temp) for about 20 minutes before serving. You may spoon it onto a plate and place the fish on top, or the other way around. Garnish the fish with a sprig of Italian parsley.
Per Serving: 202 Calories; 23g Fat (97.0% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 10mg Cholesterol; 173mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Miscellaneous, on July 30th, 2014.

orange_fennel_mostarda

Think condiment. Think Italian chutney maybe? Here it’s a fruity spread for crackers (or, a condiment for grilled pork). By definition, a mostarda is an Italian condiment made of fruit and a mustard-flavored syrup. That’s not exactly what this is (it does contain mustard seeds, but that’s the only relationship is has with “mustard”), but I didn’t name it. Whatever you choose to call it, this stuff is off the charts delicious.

If you’ve been reading my blog in the last couple of weeks, you know that I went camping with some of my family. Maybe I kinda went glamping, because I stayed in the lodge/motel just down the road. And I use the word lodge loosely. The room contained 2 beds and a bathroom. There was no TV, no internet, no cell service, period. There was no lobby, no place for guests to sit around except on an outdoor deck – if you could tolerate the heat. The clock radio was plugged in but didn’t work. The room was dark with minimal lighting available. But, that A/C unit was used every single afternoon and night and I was ever so grateful. And the mattress was actually pretty good. What they did have was a small sort of fast-food counter with minimal eating options and a gift shop. The ice was the big seller there, along with the ice cream bars.

One of the down sides to me being down the road from the campground where the family was, was that my ice chest full of goodies had to be in the hotel room with me up on the 2nd floor (and no, no elevator). The campground had bear boxes (i.e., sturdy thick-gauge stainless steel boxes that mostly elude bears from ripping into them), but all their campsite bear boxes were chock full.  It could not stay in the car for 2 reasons: (1) it was too darned hot – the ice wouldn’t have lasted more than a few hours at the temps we had up there; and (2) they have bears, and everyone is strongly told in no uncertain terms to leave absolutely nothing in the car in the way of food. Bears can break windows and will claw trunk lids if they think they might be able to get into food. As I awkwardly carried this full and very  heavy ice chest toward the lodge, a kind gentleman took pity on me (it wasn’t the kind that rolls on wheels – big mistake on my part) and at least carried it up the one flight of stairs for me. I was extremely grateful. The lodge did provide about a gallon of ice a couple of times a day (they kept track).

The family stayed in tents and slept on cots or air mattresses – in the heat. I had A/C. I was in charge of bringing appetizers for the 3 evenings I’d be with everyone. As I planned what I’d take along on this trip (a 6-hour drive from home) I knew I wanted to make some things ahead of time. And to make it as easy on myself as I could. No, I really couldn’t toast the bread. No, there was no ideal way to heat up anything. Yes, they had camp stoves, but it was highly recommended that I choose cold appetizers to not waste precious propane. SO. I looked for new recipes to try. You’ll read about the Brussels sprout appetizer in a few days.

In order to maximize my time with the family at the campground, I drove 3/4 of the way there and stayed overnight in Tulare (too-LARE-ee) at a very nice, comfortable Hampton Inn. That was the first time in a whole lot of years I’ve stayed by myself in a hotel. It felt strange without my hubby beside me. Be proud of me – I didn’t cry. I felt like it a couple of times but I didn’t. And going into a restaurant that night to eat alone was hard. Very hard. It wasn’t an upscale restaurant – more like a diner – so I didn’t feel uncomfortable exactly. I just missed my DH, big time.

That hotel did have an elevator, so it made carrying the full ice chest to the room a bit easier. For sure, if I ever do this again, I’ll take the much larger on-wheels ice chest. The next morning I got on the road early and made it to the campground by about 11 am. My daughter-in-law, Karen, and her extended family (all there camping too) are foodies. Powell (my son, my step-son actually but I never use the phrase) is too. All the dinner items were brought in vacuum sealed packages, prepared at home. We had coq au vin one night, and Bolognese another night. Carnitas tacos with all the trimmings was on the menu the other night I was there. No desserts, other than s’mores for the 2 children, although Karen had purchased monstrous square marshmallows, which were big enough you could divide them into about 4 portions of s’mores. I didn’t have any – my only indulgence was a dark chocolate kiss (or 2 or 3) I kept chilled in my ice chest and shared with everybody mid-day. And I left them with another package of milk chocolate ones.

mostarda_and_gin_tonicHappy hour started each night about 5, so I would bring from the hotel my chilled stash of food for the evening. This mostarda was on the menu my first night because I’d stopped at a market along the way there that day and bought a still-warm baguette. Of the 4 appetizers I took, this was, by far, the standout. Here at right is my gin and tonic (I’ve taken a recent liking to them – good Bombay gin, Schweppes tonic, and a squeeze from a generous slice of lime – very refreshing in extreme heat!). Do note the uber-colorful plastic tablecloth, the super lightweight trivet I added in for color and a prop for the bread, and the picnic table laden with “stuff.” Wine is generally the beverage of choice with this family, and there was no shortage of it. I should have taken some, but brought the gin instead. A few others shared one with me, and my son Powell, and his brother-in-law Julian made it for me each night I was there.

One of my appetizers won’t grace these pages – nobody liked it much, including me. It was a spiced carrot thing (pureed) with Moroccan flavorings including preserved lemon. I thought it looked good (and had no fat in it at all) but it wasn’t.  Most of it got dumped into the toilet in my lodge room.

Now, after all that lengthy monologue, we’ll get to the mostarda, finally. Pretty much, this is like making jam. You do need to bloom the spices first in the water, vinegar and sugar, then the minced fennel is added, and lastly carefully chopped flesh of the orange. You cook it and cook it. And cook it some more if you prefer orange_fennel_mostarda_simmeringthe texture to be more like marmalade. I did, so it probably simmered on the stovetop for about 35-45 minutes or so (photo at left). I tasted it here and there. My only difficulty was that fennel bulbs and oranges are all different sizes, so the ratio of fruit/fennel to vinegar/sugar was just a touch off (too much vinegar) so I have altered the recipe just slightly. It’s far easier to add more vinegar later if it’s needed (and continue to cook it a bit more too, if you do so) than to have to add more sugar as I did. The orange zest is added at the very last. If you’d prefer, go to the original at Food52  and use Elizabeth Rex’s recipe, although her recipe just says use a small fennel bulb and an orange, so those sizes are certainly open to interpretation. Elizabeth is a line cook in Chicago. She’s a genius with this recipe. Truly. I loved it.

Most of the double batch went camping with me, but I kept back about 1/2 cup and I’m definitely going to use it – Karen and I talked about it at the camp that the mostarda would be delish with a grilled pork chop, or a pork roast. Since this mixture keeps well, and until I have a dinner guest, I’m going to keep it in the frig for doing just that.

What’s GOOD: the flavor of the orange is the most prominent, but then you get the savory part (the fennel and the mustard, fennel and coriander seeds) but overall the jam is sweet. Truly, you could eat it on toast for breakfast, but it’s far too lofty for that, I assure you. It would likely be delish piled on top of a block of cream cheese too. I wouldn’t use any kind of a flavored cracker – you want the mostarda flavors to come through, not onion, caraway or Ranch flavorings in a cracker, if you understand my meaning. Use a plain cracker or slice of a baguette. Toasted would be lovely. Altogether delicious. It keeps for awhile too.
What’s NOT: other than the time it takes to mince the fennel, chop up the oranges correctly and simmer it, nothing at all. This is a keeper-recipe for sure.

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Orange Fennel Mostarda

Recipe By: Adapted just slightly from a Food 52 recipe by Elizabeth Rex
Serving Size: 16

1 small fennel bulb — cut into a small dice (I used more)
2 whole Navel oranges
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup white wine vinegar — or more if needed
1/4 cup water

1. Place fennel, spices, sugar, vinegar, and water into a small saucepot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
2. Meanwhile, as your saucepot is heating, zest the navel orange. It should yield about 1 teaspoon, but if you get less, that is fine. Set zest aside.
3. Peel the orange as if you were supreming or segmenting it, but instead of segmenting, cut the orange into 4 pieces and remove the middle pithy part, seeds, and hard rind (if any). The membrane between the orange segments is fine. Dice what you have, which should yield about 1 cup. Add to the saucepot, which should have come up to a rapid simmer/boil about now. If the pot started boiling while you were cutting up the orange, that is fine.
4. Once the oranges are in, bring to a boil for about 5 minutes, skimming any foam that appears, then turn down to medium. Simmer until liquid is reduced to the consistency of maple syrup (nearly all of the liquid will be gone by then) and the mustard seeds have plumped up and softened, about 20-25 minutes. Set aside and cool, then stir in reserved orange zest.
5. Note: At this point, there will still be pieces of fresh orange in the mostarda. If you want a more cooked-down, marmalade-ish consistency, bring the orange to a boil with the fennel, and simmer on medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Taste to see if it needs more sugar or vinegar.
6. Serve with toasted baguette slices or a plain cracker. Don’t use a flavored cracker – you want all the mostarda flavor to shine through to your taste buds. Will keep for up to a month, refrigerated.
Per Serving: 41 Calories; trace Fat (5.3% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 8mg Sodium.

Posted in Miscellaneous, on February 18th, 2014.

tomato_caper_relish

A sauce – a relish – a kind of a salsa – to serve over fish, chicken or even beef. Made with fresh tomatoes, canned roasted red bell  peppers and a bunch of aromatic stuff, plus some capers.

The other night my DH and our friend Joe wanted a steak for dinner. I defrosted some filet mignon steaks for them (I had a salad instead), but thought since Joe was providing a really nice bottle of Cabernet, I should do something a little extra, so I made this relish.

Ideally, I think this relish would go best with fish or chicken, but there’s no reason it’s not good with beef or pork either. The recipe came from a cyber friend of mine, Nance, who sent me a 200-page pdf the other day of recipes she had compiled from attending cooking classes back in the 1990’s. I slowly went through the full 200 pages and printed out about 30 or so that included recipes I wanted to try. This being one of them.

The recipe made a big batch, with some rather vague measurements, so I kind of guessed at reducing this down to an amount to serve 4 people. Actually, I think this relish is a bit forgiving in some respects. It came from a brewery in Barrington, Illinois called Millrose Brewery. So the notes said, their favorite is to serve this with swordfish. The notes said the most important aspects of this relish are CAYENNE, LEMON JUICE and GARLIC. So once you make it, taste it, and add more of those 3 things if you think it’s lacking anything. The relish comes together in a flash – if you have some jarred roasted red bell peppers. I buy those small on-the-vine tomatoes this time of year for sure, and they were quite tasty in this. It took about 7-8 minutes to make, if that.

What’s GOOD: how quick it was to make. How tasty it was on the beef. But it all depends on the quality of the tomatoes (important). Do use fresh lemon juice. And the capers, of course, add tons of flavor to anything. It will keep for 7-10 days, but ideally it’s best a few hours after making it.

What’s NOT: nothing at all.

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Tomato Caper Relish

Recipe By: From my cyber friend Nance, and she got it at a cooking class, from Millrose Brewing Company
Serving Size: 4

1/2 cup fresh tomatoes — chopped small
2 teaspoons shallot — finely minced
1 tablespoon fresh parsley — minced
1 small garlic clove — smashed & minced
1/2 tablespoon capers — if large, chop them a little
1 whole red bell pepper — roasted (bottled) finely chopped
1/2 tablespoon white wine — vermouth is okay too
1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoon sugar — (optional)
1 dash cayenne — or more
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1. Combine all ingredients, adding olive oil last. Taste for seasoning – the most important ingredients are: cayenne, garlic and lemon juice – so add more if needed.
2. Will keep, refrigerated, for 7-10 days. Serve on fish, chicken or even beef. It’s particularly good on swordfish.
Per Serving: 78 Calories; 7g Fat (77.6% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 13mg Sodium.

Posted in Miscellaneous, on December 21st, 2013.

maida_heatters_choc_chip_cookies_thumbMy usual method of keeping cookies is nothing more than piling them into freezer type Ziploc bags, pushing out as much air as possible without damaging the cookies, and stuffing the bag into the freezer. I’m fairly content with pulling a cookie out, now and then, and eating it from a frozen state.

But, not only have I run out of room in my freezer, but when you’re holding cookies for a few days, or you want to ship them, how do you keep them fresh?

Leave it to the experts at America’s Test Kitchen – actually they mentioned it on their blog, about how to keep cookies fresh. They prepared a video about it. And there’s a secret ingredient . . . I’m not going to spoil the show – watch it. It’s very quick – won’t take but a minute

Cook’s Illustrated’s video on packing cookies for max freshness

In the event the video doesn’t show up above, here’s the link to the blog post they did:

Now, the trick will be whether I can REMEMBER this little tip. But then, I don’t ship many cookies, but I’m sure many of you do. Hope this helps. I’m done with cookie baking this year. I have just a few more gifts to wrap and I’m done!

Posted in Miscellaneous, on November 26th, 2013.

cranberry_orange_chutney

Are you an anti-cranberry sauce kind of person? Yet you do LIKE cranberries, but you just don’t like the traditional sauce or jellied style. Perhaps this is something you’d prefer. Yes, it’s a chutney, and yes, it’s sweet, and yes it contains cranberries. But it also has onions, ginger, serrano chiles, canned tomatoes and orange zest in it. So it’s truly a distant cousin to cranberry sauce.

The recipe came from Bon Appetit, a couple of years ago. I’d run across it in my to-try file, so printed it and propped the recipe up by my kitchen computer, intending to make it as soon as cranberries made it to the grocery stores. I bought all the ingredients, then read the recipe. Hmmm. Says it only keeps for 3 days. Well, that meant I needed to make it close to Thanksgiving! The left overs of this (and yes, there probably will be some – it makes about a quart – will go into the freezer).

cranberry_orange_chutney_smallJust make sure you have all the ingredients before you start – I bought new mustard seeds (mine were 9  years old – ha!). I don’t always have serrano chiles either. Bought that. Bought fresh ginger and a big, honkin’ red onion. The chutney is really about half tomatoes and half cranberries – a nice mix. The recipe online had a couple of comments – one from an Indian cook who said she used it as a garnish for curry. Her only comment was it was sweeter than she wanted, had reduced the amount, and felt it would be better to cut it more. Your choice. I will say it’s quite sweet, but I’m not going to make it again just to see how much to reduce the sugar – but I’ve included a note in the recipe about it.

The chutney is easy enough to make. You mix up the sugar and vinegar first, bring to a boil so the sugar melts. That is set aside. Then in a large skillet you heat olive oil, then the seeds (fennel, cumin and mustard). It takes a minute or so before they’ll start to pop and literally dance in the pan. Then you add the chopped/sliced onion and cook that for awhile until the onion is mostly cooked through. Then you add everything else, and lastly the sugar syrup and cook that for about 20 minutes – just long enough for the cranberries to cook through. Easy. Cool and refrigerate.

What’s GOOD: the savory seasonings in this – it’s not the same kind of sweet-sweet cranberry sauce you’re used to. It’s tempered with the tomatoes and the onions, and seasoned with the spices. It would go well with a pork roast, or chicken or turkey, for sure. Also would be good on roast beef sandwiches – or left over turkey sandwiches! Don’t use a lot. Can be made ahead by a few days. Would make a lovely gift – since it makes a quart, you could put it in 2-3 small spring-lidded jars, wrap a ribbon around it and give it as a hostess gift.

What’s NOT: Nothing much except that it doesn’t keep (the recipe says) more than 3 days. I don’t understand why – chutneys generally keep for weeks. Perhaps it’s just that the flavors are at their peak within 3 days and after that the flavors tend to lessen. That’s all I can think of.

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Cranberry-Orange Chutney with Cumin, Fennel, and Mustard Seeds

Serving Size: 12
Yield: 4 cups

1 1/3 cups sugar — [my suggestion: reduce sugar by at least 1/3 cup)
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 cup red onion — thinly sliced
1 piece fresh ginger — (1 1/2 inch) peeled, cut into matchstick-size strips
1 tablespoon serrano chile — minced seeded
3/4 cup water
1 pound fresh cranberries — or frozen
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup matchstick-size strips orange peel (orange part only)
1 pinch salt

Notes: This chutney is very sweet – you can play with reducing the sugar by even more, then add some in at the end if you think it needs more.
1. Bring sugar and vinegar to a boil in heavy small saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and set aside.
2. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add cumin, fennel, and mustard seeds; stir until mustard seeds pop, about 1 minute. Add onion; cook over medium heat until it begins to brown, stirring constantly, about 6 minutes. Add ginger and chile; stir until chile softens, about 2 minutes. Add vinegar mixture, 3/4 cup water, all cranberries, orange peel, and salt. Simmer until juices thicken, stirring often, about 20 minutes. Cool, cover, and chill. DO AHEAD Can be made 3 days ahead. Keep chilled. Freeze any left overs in small containers and use for garnishing grilled chicken or curry.
Per Serving: 144 Calories; 4g Fat (21.3% calories from fat); trace Protein; 29g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 13mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, Miscellaneous, on September 10th, 2013.

chocolate_syrup

Oh, chocolate syrup, where have you been all my life? I cannot believe that since I started cooking when I was 20, to now when I’m in my 70s, that I’ve never thought to MAKE chocolate syrup. But of course, home made syrup would be better than the Hershey’s plastic squeeze bottle. Ha. By a long shot!

And it’s so EASY! It’s nothing more than water, sugar, powdered cocoa (unsweetened, Dutch process), salt and vanilla. You do have to cook it – but hey, it takes less than 10 minutes to make, start to finish, including going to get the ingredients. So you’ll have no excuse for not trying it.

I will tell you, however, that I buy a specialty cocoa, Penzey’s, their half pound bag. Their cocoa is really chocolaty, dark and doesn’t lump. I only use it in special things I make – where I’m sure the taste will come through in the finished baked good. I also use Hershey’s Special Dark when I can find it, but I’m all out of it at the moment.

The recipe came from Gourmet, back in 2003, according to epicurious. I looked at several recipes before I tried this one. Why this one? Because one commenter said she’s tried lots and lots of syrup recipes and once she tried this one, she’s never looked back. That was all the convincing I needed. Another commenter said this syrup is addictive – when you realize that it’s nearly fat-free – it’s not like eating chocolate candy, but you get the taste of full chocolate – she’d even sneak in the refrigerator now and then for a spoonful.

In a couple of days I’ll post a recipe for a bundt cake that I made with this chocolate syrup, then you’ll know why I went to the trouble of making the syrup myself. Once you dissolve (boil) the sugar and water, you add the cocoa and use a whisk to mix it in. The cocoa wants to clump, so using a whisk is necessary. I actually used one of those bounce-up-and-down whisks for this, to make sure there weren’t any little pockets of cocoa. It simmers for 3 minutes, while you whisk, and it’s done. It thickens up more when it cools. With my spatula in hand, once I poured all the syrup in the jar you see at top, I carefully scraped every last smidgen into my mouth. <grin>

So far I haven’t tried it ON anything, but if I do so before this post goes up, I’ll come back in and edit this part. What I tasted on the spoon was sensational. That ultra-dark chocolate taste I was looking for.

What’s GOOD: how EASY it is to make. I’ll never go back to Hershey’s squeeze bottle. Taste is fantastic; of course, the quality of the cocoa powder will determine how great the chocolate flavor is. Worth seeking out some good stuff.

What’s NOT: gosh, nothing.

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Chocolate Syrup

Recipe By: Gourmet Mag, Feb. 2003
Serving Size: 16

1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder — preferably Dutch-process
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Serving Ideas: This syrup is delicious over ice cream or as a base for an intense hot chocolate (heat 1 cup milk with 1/3 cup syrup).
1. Bring water and sugar to a boil, whisking until sugar is dissolved.
2. Whisk in cocoa and salt and simmer, whisking, until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add vanilla, then cool (syrup will continue to thicken as it cools). Makes about 1 cup.
Per Serving: 33 Calories; trace Fat (11.0% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 35mg Sodium.

Posted in Grilling, Miscellaneous, Pork, on September 6th, 2013.

pork_chop_spicy_pesto_finger_lime_caviar

As a food blogger, it’s so fun when a company contacts me – gee, little old me – asking if they can send me some food product to try. No charge. No strings attached. Actually, Freida’s contacted me about Hatch green chiles, but almost as an afterthought, they threw in a box of finger limes.

Prior to this, I’d only read about finger limes. Before our trip to Australia 2 years ago, I thought I’d scour the food markets there (if I could) to find some. I wanted to taste them. (Alas, it was the wrong time of year for finger limes, so no, I didn’t see a one.)  The whole idea of the finger limes is so bizarre, in a way. Let’s backtrack . . . finger limes were developed in Australia. The limes are small, some pink, yellow, green and off white. When you cut them in half and squeeze them, the little balls of encapsulated lime juice roll out, almost like a roll of fluff. But they’re not fluff, they’re these little sacs of lime juice. Here you can see what they’re like. finger_limes2

The average finger lime, uncut, is about an inch long. I cut several in half and gently squeezed. As I was working , I cut several of the limes more lengthwise and tried to extract the little juicy gems. Hard to do, actually, but once I cut them in half crosswise, and did the squeeze technique, they came right out. I have yet to try these on a piece of fish – that will be the ultimate test, I think, with a bunch of these adorable things scattered on top of a sizzling hot swordfish steak. Some marketing type came up with the “caviar” name, but it’s actually very apt as the sacs kind of pop in your mouth.

The origin of the relish came from Southern Living. It is called a Peanut-Basil Relish. The basil is chopped up finely, then you add green onion tops (only), some fish sauce, garlic, sesame oil (a tiny amount) and olive oil. Serrano pepper was in the mixture, but I didn’t have one, so I substituted some chipotle chile. And then I got the idea about using the finger limes. Peanuts have a role in this – I kept them separate until I was ready to serve (because they absorb liquid easily). It took about 5 minutes to make the relish.

Meanwhile, I sprinkled about a teaspoon of light soy sauce on the pork chops, then a bit of olive oil and some Montreal pepper seasoning. Those went on the grill until the meat reached 150° and they were perfectly done. I spread the relish on top and we chowed down. It was delicious. I happen to have a bumper crop of basil at the moment and this made good use of it. The relish recipe suggested if you have left overs, to mix into pasta.

What’s GOOD: the relish is ever-so easy to make, and the chops were simple to season and grill. Loved the Asian flavors – they’re not overwhelming at all (either the soy sauce on the meat or the fish sauce in the relish) but gave it a piquant taste altogether. The relish would be delish on other things – it does need to be used right away, I think. The little bit that was left in the bowl when I got done was turning black, which is what basil does when it’s bruised and wet. I could have whizzed it up in the food processor and made a paste (with more oil, probably) but I liked it as a kind of rough relish.
What’s NOT: really nothing at all. Liked everything about it.

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Grilled Pork Chops with Spicy Basil Relish and Lime Caviar

Recipe By: Partly my own ideas, part adapted from Southern Living.
Serving Size: 4

PORK CHOPS:
2 1/2 pounds bone-in pork sirloin chops — or any cut of pork chops
4 teaspoons light soy sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
Montreal seasoning pepper to taste
BASIL-PEANUT RELISH:
4 tablespoons green onion tops — (green part only)
1 1/2 cups basil leaves
2 cloves garlic — crushed
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
4 teaspoons finger lime caviar — or fresh lime juice
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted peanuts — chopped

1. Dry pork chops with paper towels. Spread soy sauce on pork, then olive oil, followed by a moderate amount of Montreal pepper seasoning.
2. Grill pork, searing both sides, until the interior temperature reaches 150°. Remove to a heated platter, tent with foil and set aside for just a few minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a bowl combine the green onion tops, chopped basil (use a ceramic knife if you have one, so it doesn’t bruise the basil), crushed garlic, fish sauce, sesame oil, olive oil, lime caviar (or lime juice) and add the peanuts last (or sprinkle them on top when serving). If you have left over relish, add a bit more oil and use it to season rice or pasta. Use it within a day, as the basil will turn black and look very unpalatable. Spread the relish on top of the grilled pork chops.
Per Serving: 476 Calories; 34g Fat (64.0% calories from fat); 39g Protein; 3g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 1mg Cholesterol; 293mg Sodium.

Posted in Miscellaneous, Vegetarian, on September 4th, 2013.

dianes_dads_summer_sandwich

This came about because I was listening to NPR’s “All Things Considered,” the “Found Recipes” segment. You may THINK this sandwich doesn’t sound or look all that worthy of a blog post, but I’m telling you it absolutely IS good, if not fantastic.

So, the NPR program was all about mid-summer favorite dishes. Listeners were invited to send (or call) in their suggestions and the story that went along with the recipe, and the list was narrowed down to 3. Those 3 contenders’ stories (in their voices) were featured on the program, then listeners were asked to vote for their favorite. This recipe was the winner, and when I listened to the 3 stories, this is the one that stood out in my mind too. It was so unusual, I just had to try it myself.  (The other two stories were about a strawberry trifle and a spicy cole slaw).

We don’t keep sharp cheddar on hand, so we needed that, and a hothouse cucumber. And by the way, the author says it’s really important to have sharp cheddar, not medium or mild. The slice does not need to be all that thick to do its job. We have good grainy bread, but at the last minute I decided to make it with the super-soft white bread I had in the freezer. Usually the bread I use is a thin sandwich bread, but my DH bought the wrong kind. Oh well, no matter.

According to the story from Marti Oleson (an elementary school librarian), she used to work with Diane Dickey of the recipe’s name, but the recipe, if you can call it that – yes, it IS a recipe – was from Diane’s Dad. Hence the full title. According to the story – this sandwich, composed of bread, peanut butter, onion, tomato, cucumber and cheddar cheese – must be made in a specific stacking order. Here’s the exact order, from the bottom up . . .

P – peanut butter, CRUNCHY

O – onion

Cu – cucumber

T – tomato

Ch – cheddar, SHARP

My brain is getting old and remembering that order was going to be a problem, so I needed an acronym – POCU-TouCH. Not quite remember-able. but maybe it will stick in my brain. I’ve added the ou in the middle just because it helps to make a word –  and added the u for cucumber and the h for cheddar. Got it? Okay, good.

The full sandwich (2 regular slices, preferably grainy bread) uses 2 T. of crunchy peanut butter. I made a half a sandwich, so of course, used just 1 T. crunchy peanut butter. I also soaked the regular  onions in some acidulated water (1/2 c water, 1 T white vinegar) because I’m not so crazy about raw onions. Nor did I want to buy a sweet onion (they’re expensive) for just one slice of it. Soaking doesn’t take out the crunch from a regular onion, but it removes the rawness from the onion. I had a beautiful yellow heirloom tomato with just a few tinges of red on it. I sprinkled the tomato with salt and pepper, then added the thinly sliced hothouse cucumber, and finally the 2 thin-thin slices of sharp cheddar.

I took my first bite. Oh my goodness! Was it ever good. I mean it. I really, really mean it. How to describe it – you taste and feel the crunchy cucumbers and onions, but the tomato slightly squishes (in my sandwich, the tomato is thicker than any of the other interior components), and gives some nice moisture to the bite. The cheddar gives it loads of flavor. And the peanut butter – funny thing – I couldn’t even taste it until the last when all the cucumbers and onions were gone, when all that remained were tomato and cheddar.

When I entered the recipe into my MasterCook recipe program, it had a big hissy fit over the “1 slice cheddar cheese” – either the program’s got a bug, or defining calories of a “slice” of cheddar cheese is just not specific enough. It wanted to add about 800 calories for 2 slices of cheese. At any rate, the calories are a little off on the recipe below, but not by much. I ate HALF a sandwich and it satisfied me all afternoon. I’m not including the nutrition because I had to remove a few ingredients and make them text (meaning no calorie count added). Without doing that the calorie count was over 1800 calories. Adding in each ingredient, I finally narrowed it down the problem to the slice of cheese (obviously a variable) that was throwing off the numbers. Anyway, this sandwich is about 550 calories for a whole one. Maybe 600. Next time I’ll make it with the very thin sandwich bread. Or maybe I’ll use the good grainy bread I have. But eat it again, I will!

What’s GOOD: everything about it. The crunch from the cucumbers and onions, first and foremost. The fresh veggies. The squishy tomato. The soft, but tasty bread. Oh, the cheddar too. It’s just fantastic. Will I make it again? You betcha! Sooner rather than later, I’ll tell you for sure!
What’s NOT: nothing at all. It’s fabulous. Note that I made it with a soft white bread – you can decide. I also specify Laura Scudder’s peanut butter, but you can use whatever brand you want.

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Summer Sandwich

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from NPR’s All Things Considered, Found Recipes, July, 2013
Serving Size: 1 (or 2 if you’re sharing one sandwich)

2 slices whole grain bread
2 tablespoons Laura Scudder’s Crunchy Peanut Butter
1/2 slice sweet onion — (thinly sliced) or sweet red onion
12 thin slices hothouse cucumber
2-4 slices ripe tomato
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
sharp cheddar cheese slices

1. On the bottom slice of bread spread the crunchy peanut butter.
2. Separate the onion and place on top of peanut butter (you can use regular onion, but soak in acidulated water for 15 minutes to reduce the rawness of it – 1/2 cup water, 1 T white vinegar).
3. Overlap the cucumber slices on top of the onion, adding more layers if the slices are really thin.
4. Place sliced tomatoes on top of cucumber.
5. Add cheddar cheese and place top bread on. Pick up sandwich with both hands, with peanut butter on the BOTTOM and dig in!

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