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

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

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

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

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 Appetizers, Salads, Vegetarian, on May 21st, 2017.

georgia_cracker_salad

How many superlatives can I use here – oh my, fantastic, off the charts, amazing, is it possible, so good!

The other day I was looking through my to-try recipes for a salad to take to a function. I paused at this recipe I’d downloaded some time ago. I read it through. So easy. Could it really be that good? It doesn’t LOOK all that wonderful – kind of bland looking, really. And considering the ingredients (saltine crackers, tomatoes, green onions, hard boiled egg, mayo, salt and pepper) you might wonder. So I went to Paula Deen’s webpage and there is a video clip of her making this, with her son. She talked about its origins (Albany, Georgia) and that occasionally they feature this at the salad bar at their restaurant.

BUT – the reservation here is that it MUST be eaten immediately after you toss it together. Well, I could do that. All you have to do it chop up some fresh tomatoes (use good tasting ones, please) and chop up some green onions. Oh, and make 1-2 hard boiled eggs. And scoop out some mayo to add at the end. And crush a sleeve of saltine crackers (do it while it’s still in the paper sleeve). Nothing about this is hard. I had this all figured out in about 2 minutes. As I write this I haven’t taken it to the luncheon yet, but since I bought the ingredients, I just bought more and served it for a dinner I did here at home with friends.

OMGosh! This salad is just so crazy good. I made one recipe (using one sleeve of saltine crackers), one heirloom tomato, 2 hard boiled eggs, 3 green onions (using most of the tops too), pepper, maybe some salt, and the last thing you do is add the mayo. Have everything all ready ahead – I’d chopped the tomatoes and green onions, plopped the eggs in on top and just let that sit. I’d also put out about the amount of mayo I thought it needed and at the very last second it got tossed. I served it as a side salad. Paula Deen says where this recipe is from it’s served as an appetizer (or light lunch) with cold shrimp all around it. I think this would be hard to eat as an appetizer unless you served it with small plates and forks to eat it.

When I made it, I used about a cup of mayo. The recipe called for 1 1/2 cups, and I noticed in the video they added more as it was needed, and they may not have used a full portion either. I’d start with 1 cup and only add more if you think it really needs it.

When I take this salad to my function, I’m going to add a couple more chopped eggs on top (sliced, that is) instead of shrimp. What it will look like is a potato salad. But definitely it’s NOT! I can’t wait to make this again!

What’s GOOD: every single solitary smidgen of this is delicious. Worth making. Don’t eat a lot of it, then you won’t feel guilty for all the fat grams you’re eating. I’ll definitely be making this again soon.

What’s NOT: nothing other than the calories!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Georgia Cracker Salad

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Paula Deen
Serving Size: 6

2 medium tomatoes — chopped
3 green onions — chopped (including most of the green tops)
2 large eggs, hard-boiled — finely chopped
pepper to taste
32 saltine crackers — (a sleeve)
1 cup mayonnaise — add more if needed, up to 1 1/2 cups

1. In a medium sized bowl combine the chopped tomatoes, green onions (use most of the dark green tops too as they add nice color), and the hard boiled egg(s). Grate in some pepper.
2. Crush the saltines in the sleeve until they are coarse pieces. Don’t overdo it – it’s nice to have a few larger pieces. Add it to the bowl, then add only enough mayo to make it moist – toss it well, then taste as you go. It may need another tablespoon or two of mayo. Mix well and serve immediately. Do NOT let it sit as it gets soggy.
SERVING: scoop into a bowl just slightly bigger than the salad. Serve as a side salad or with cold shrimp it would make a lunch serving.
Per Serving: 369 Calories; 35g Fat (81.0% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 84mg Cholesterol; 442mg Sodium.

Posted in Salads, on February 16th, 2017.

arugula_salad_peppers_stuffed_mushrooms

This could have been a light meal – it’s just so very tasty – but then I love arugula. This salad has some strips of roasted bell peppers and toasted pine nuts, in addition to the stuffed mushrooms.

Sometimes I have difficulty using up a bag of arugula (and it doesn’t seem to have a long life in the refrigerator, once you open the bag), since I don’t make salad with JUST arugula in it – I put in lots of other stuff. But if I made this salad two days in a row (and I’d have no difficulty eating that up) I’d have used the entire bag. This salad JUST has arugula (as the greens) in it. If you don’t like arugula, use another green, even Romaine or leaf lettuce would be fine too. What makes this salad are two things: the goat-cheese stuffed mushrooms and the delicious mustardy vinaigrette. Well, and the light crunch of the toasted pine nuts. If you don’t want to pay the premium, these days, for pine nuts, use walnuts or hazelnuts. I wouldn’t use pecans, but if you’re a fan of them, go ahead!

The dressing is easy enough to make – just shake it up in a small jar. The nuts do need to be toasted, and the bell peppers (use whatever color you have, but Tarla Fallgatter used both red and  yellow, in the class when she prepared this) need to be cut open, flattened out in one long, wide strip and the seeds and ribs removed and roasted.

The mushrooms are roasted in the oven with a filling of goat cheese, a few red chili flakes, salt, pepper and some fresh basil leaves. Once the mushrooms are stuffed, you sprinkle the tops with Parmesan (it doesn’t need much). They’re baked about 15 minutes and they’re perfect – just barely cooked through and the filling just heated and nicely warm. Then you basically toss the salad together and add the hot mushrooms on the plate and serve. Altogether nice.

What’s GOOD: the flavor is certainly first and foremost – loved the blend of arugula with the mustard and sherry wine vinegar dressing. And the mushrooms – oh gosh – I could have eaten an entire plate of them. Hence, this salad could easily be a light meal if you are willing to eat a meatless salad. Maybe serve a few more mushrooms per person if you did make it a meal. SO SO good.

What’s NOT: there are several steps to making this, but none is difficult or all that time consuming. Even making the goat cheese filling takes about 3 minutes total. Or less. Nothing to complain about at all.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Arugula Salad with Goat Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms

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

SALAD:
4 cups baby arugula
2 whole red bell peppers
1 whole yellow bell pepper
1/3 cup pine nuts — toasted
VINAIGRETTE:
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons mustard — sweet, spicy type salt and pepper to taste
6 tablespoons olive oil
MUSHROOMS:
5 ounces soft goat cheese
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons fresh basil — minced
18 medium mushroom caps — (stems removed)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated

1. VINAIGRETTE: Combine ingredients in a small jar and shake vigorously. Set aside.
2. PEPPERS: Core and remove seeds from bell peppers. Toss with olive oil, place skin side up on foil lined baking sheet and broil until peppers are blistered. Remove from oven and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, remove skins and slice peppers and set aside.
3. MUSHROOMS: Mix goat cheese, red chili flakes, salt, pepper and basil together. Toss mushroom caps with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Preheat oven to 425°F. Carefully spoon filling into mushrooms and sprinkle lightly with grated Parmesan on top. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes.
4. SALAD: Toss the bell peppers with vinaigrette to coat. Add arugula and pine nuts and toss again, then divide among plates. Top with stuffed mushrooms and serve immediately.
Per Serving: 334 Calories; 30g Fat (76.5% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 11mg Cholesterol; 118mg Sodium.

Posted in Salads, on November 19th, 2016.

watermelon_nectarine_salad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Watermelon and Nectarine Salad with Mint

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

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

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

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

shrimp_orzo_salad_feta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s NOT: can’t think of a thing!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Roasted Shrimp & Orzo with Feta

Recipe By: Barefoot Contessa
Serving Size: 6

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

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

Posted in Salads, Veggies/sides, on September 5th, 2016.

orzo_pancetta_feta_greens_salad

What a lovely and tasty salad this is. It’s different – a little – because it’s served either warm or at room temp, and the Feta cheese adds such a lovely texture and the toasted walnuts too. Those are greens (baby spinach) mixed into the HOT salad, so they wilt.

My good friend Yvette made this salad at my house – so she gets all the credit for it. I provided some pots and pans, the bowl, pans for toasting the nuts, a cutting board, etc. At the very end we all tasted it to see whether it needed more feta or salt, or greens (yes, it did).

The recipe came from a cooking class Yvette took near her home, and it’s from Nancy Madok (a graduate of one of the C.I.A. culinary schools). I wasn’t able to find a website for her, but she gives cooking classes in her home in north San Diego County. Yvette has taken a number of classes from her over the last couple of years. So, the recipe credit goes to Nancy for a stellar recipe.

orzo_pancetta_feta_greens_salad1Pancetta is sautéed, then some red onions. A Dijon vinaigrette is made that contains quite a bit of fresh basil and lemon juice. Orzo pasta is cooked and drained, walnuts toasted, then you toss the orzo with all the other ingredients, while the orzo is hot, so the baby spinach greens wilt. You can serve it then – with the Feta and walnuts sprinkled on top, or mix it all in – doesn’t matter! Or, you can let it cool to room temperature (after a couple of hours I think I’d refrigerate it) and serve it that way. That’s how we had it, with a bit more dressing mixed in (pasta absorbs a lot of dressing if you leave it to sit) and some more Feta sprinkled over the top. There was just a little bit left over and I’m the happy recipient of that! Yippee.

This would make a lovely buffet salad either hot or room temp. I think you could make almost everything ahead of time – I’d toss the pasta with the spinach and some of the dressing and let it sit, refrigerated. Have everything else in a separate container and just toss it together when you’re ready to serve and add most of the dressing and leave a few pieces of walnuts and Feta to put on top. Taste for salt and pepper.

What’s GOOD: this was a GREAT salad. At the gathering where Yvette served this, there were about 15 other salads, so I’m happy it wasn’t all eaten! With the leftovers I’m going to mix in some additional baby spinach (that won’t wilt) and some more Feta too. As I’m writing this I have family coming for a week, so that will make a great accompaniment to some grilled pork chops.

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of. It’s a great summer salad. Wonderful flavors throughout. You do have to make the dressing, cook the pasta, toast nuts, etc. but it’s not overly labor intensive, all things considered.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Orzo, Pancetta, Feta & Greens with a Basil Lemon Vinaigrette

Recipe By: Nancy Madok, C.I.A. instructor, Cucina Casa, near San Diego
Serving Size: 8

BASIL LEMON VINAIGRETTE:
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh basil — cut in chiffonade
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
SALAD:
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup pancetta — diced
1 medium red onion — finely diced
2 cloves garlic — crushed
1 pound orzo
4 cups baby spinach — roughly chopped
1 cup walnuts — toasted
8 ounces Feta cheese — crumbled

1. VINAIGRETTE: In a medium bowl, whisk the mustard and and lemon zest and juice. Slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in basil; set aside.
2. SALAD: In a medium saute pan over medium heat, heat 2 T olive oil; add pancetta and cook until brown and crispy. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cooked pancetta and drain on a paper towel lined plate. Allow to drain and then place in a large bowl. Set aside.
3. Place pan back on heat and add 1-2 T more olive oil (if necessary – you need about 2 T in the pan to cook the onions) and saute the onions until soft, 4-6 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional 1-2 minutes. Add to bowl with pancetta; set aside.
4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add one teaspoon salt, add orzo and cook as per package instructions. Drain the orzo and place in the bowl with pancetta and onion mixture. Add spinach. Toss with the hot pasta. Add most of the vinaigrette (add it all if desired) and continue tossing until the spinach has wilted. Add feta cheese and walnuts; toss until combined. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature. If you make it ahead a few hours, the salad may need additional dressing and/or salt and pepper. May garnish with more Feta on top, if desired.
Per Serving (you may not use all the dressing and the Feta may contain a lot of sodium): 630 Calories; 39g Fat (54.4% calories from fat); 24g Protein; 49g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 45mg Cholesterol; 1121mg Sodium.

Posted in Salads, on August 20th, 2016.

beach_house_watermelon_salad_greens_macadamia_gorgonzola

No, those aren’t cherry tomatoes in there – they’re cute little balls of watermelon, mixed into a delicious salad garnished with macadamia nuts and Gorgonzola cheese. And the dressing . . . well, read on.

My friend Joan L has been mentioned many times on this blog – I’ve garnered a number of recipes which I’ve posted – she’s most famous amongst her friends for a fabulous pasta salad, appropriately called Joan’s Pasta Salad! It’s a winner of a recipe and very easy to make. Joan is a very good cook and I’m happy to share another of her recipes. She brought this to a potluck dinner we had in 2011 when we were bidding farewell to dear friends, Sue and Lynn, who moved to Colorado (some of Sue’s recipes are here on my blog too). Joan gave me the recipe and I filed it and hadn’t made its acquaintance since then.

Having been invited to a luncheon, I needed to bring a salad of some kind and I chose this one. Six ladies made salads, and mine was the only one containing greens! How funny! There were two orzo and shrimp salads to make an appearance, but they were both very different. What makes this one unique: (1) the dressing contains some fruit, which is a bit unusual; (2) macadamia nuts – not too many, which is good since they are quite dear; and (3) the watermelon, which doesn’t make many appearances in green salads!

Joan’s recipe comes from The Beach House Restaurant in Poipu, Kauai. I don’t know how she came by the recipe – perhaps it’s on the web already . . . I haven’t searched. But it’s a real winner. It’s unique and very special. You might not make this for a weeknight dinner since it does take a bit of time to make. The dressing contains some seedless raspberry jam (Smucker’s makes a good one) and some pureed fresh strawberries. Although it’s somewhat sweet (from the fruit and jam) it seems to blend in perfectly with the mixture of greens and nuts and cheese. The recipe, as is, makes about twice as much dressing as you’ll need. You could halve it and be fine for serving 6, I’m sure.

Once you prep all the different components (the sliced onion, sliced or shaved carrot, crumbled cheese, watermelon, chopped and toasted macadamia nuts) they could be set aside for awhile. The dressing can be made in a shaker jar, for sure and made ahead too. The salad gets tossed with the dressing. I found that the salad needed a bit more dressing than some – I think that’s because the other garnishes aren’t dressed with the salad, so it’s nice to have ample dressing on the greens. You can make the salad on a platter to pass, or make individually plated salads; either one works fine. I tried it both ways. The original recipe called for watermelon wedges to be placed around the edge of the plate (my guess is this is an entrée salad). But I didn’t want wedges, so I made melon balls and actually when I served it, I mixed the melon balls into the salad (after the dressing was tossed with the greens).

What’s GOOD: everything about this salad is lovely. It’s a bit sweet and savory, with unusual ingredients like macadamia nuts and Gorgonzola crumbles. Really delicious.

What’s NOT: if you don’t like sweet dressings, you won’t like this; otherwise it’s a stellar recipe.

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Watermelon Salad with Field Greens

Recipe By: From my friend Joan, she got it from The Beach House Restaurant in Kauai, Hawaii
Serving Size: 8

SALAD:
6 cups field greens — mixed variety
1/2 cup red onion — thinly sliced
1/2 cup carrots — cut in curls or shreds
1/4 cup macadamia nuts — toasted (or pecans)
1/2 cup Gorgonzola cheese — crumbled
RASPBERRY VINAIGRETTE:
1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam
1/4 cup strawberry puree — (fresh or frozen)
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 1/4 cups canola oil
Salt and pepper to taste

NOTES: If you don’t want to have much of any dressing left over, make about half of the recipe.
1. VINAIGRETTE: Whisk ingredients and set aside or prepare in a shaker jar.
2. SALAD: Toss greens with enough vinaigrette to coat them well – be generous with the dressing as the other ingredients aren’t “dressed.” You’ll use just a part of the dressing.
3. Either plate individual servings or pour all of the dressed greens on a platter, then garnish with the Gorgonzola, nuts, onion and carrots. The watermelon: you may cut watermelon into balls, or in the original recipe cut watermelon wedges are arranged around the greens.
Per Serving (not accurate because you use only a portion of the dressing): 422 Calories; 42g Fat (86.4% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 13mg Cholesterol; 213mg Sodium.

Posted in Fish, Salads, on August 16th, 2016.

clementines_tuna_pasta_salad

Tuna, pasta, some pickle action, radishes, celery and ample pepper. Oh yes, mayo. A nice salad for a warm summer’s day.

Lately it seems like I’ve allowed my palate, my wants, to rule what I fix in my kitchen. This day, I was craving tuna and I nearly made my favorite tuna salad, posted here on my blog ages ago, Sicilian Tuna Salad. BUT, I thought I might try something different. I used Eat Your Books to help me find something from my own cookbook collection, and sure enough, it located a tuna and pasta salad from Amanda Hesser’s cookbook, The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century. I did have to substitute a few things – I thought I had cornichons, but couldn’t locate them in my refrigerator, so I added some dill pickles instead. I also didn’t have chow chow and Tennessee chow chow to boot – that’s not something I ever stock since I really don’t eat it. It sounds like something my grandmother used to can every summer. Can you still buy chow chow? Anyway, peppadew pepperswhat I did have were peppadew peppers (sweet – see photo at left), so I added those instead (see them, some of the little red pieces in the photo). I also added radishes – just because I love them. Those weren’t in the recipe at all. Amanda used little elbow macaroni – I didn’t have any of that, either, so I used penne rigate.

You could say that this is a totally different salad – I used less mayo too. It took no time at all to mix this up – waiting for the pasta to cook, drain and cool took the longest. And since it made a bunch, I’ll have it for lunch several more times. I’ll likely be very tired of it before I eat it all. I should have cut it in half . . . the recipe indicated it served 1-2, but gosh no, it made a lot; enough for 3-4 lunch sized portions. Maybe more.

What’s GOOD: what can you say about a tuna pasta salad? It was good. Not exactly sensational – truthfully, my other tuna salad, the Sicilian one I linked above – is better, but this one was very good nevertheless. I’ll enjoy eating it, but when/if I get a craving again, I’ll go back to my favorite one (it doesn’t use mayo). This one is liberally slathered with it – if you don’t like mayo, you definitely wouldn’t like this salad.

What’s NOT: really nothing. Perhaps if I’d had chow chow (Tennessee chow chow, excuse me) and cornichons, that might have made the salad a bit different. I’m not sure.

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Clementine’s Tuna Pasta Salad

Recipe By: Adapted significantly from Amanda Hesser’s New York Times Cookbook
Serving Size: 5

Salt
1/2 pound macaroni (I used penne rigate)
1/2 cup celery — minced
1/2 cup cheddar cheese — diced
4 whole green onions — minced
4 whole cornichons — finely sliced, or dill pickle finely diced
3 tablespoons chow chow — or peppadew peppers, chopped
2/3 cup radishes — sliced
2/3 cup mayonnaise
12 ounces canned tuna — drained, flaked
Black pepper to taste

1. Simmer pasta in salted, boiling water for 10-12 minutes, according to package instructions. Do not over cook. Drain and set aside to cool.
2. In a medium-sized bowl combine the celery, cheddar, green onions, radishes, chow chow, cornichons, mayonnaise, tuna and pepper. Do add more pepper than you might think it needs.
3. Add cooled pasta and stir to combine. If using penne pasta, it takes a bit of stirring to get the salad to mix thoroughly without clumps of the tuna/mayo mixture. Chill and serve. You might garnish it with a sprinkling of minced Italian parsley.
Per Serving: 530 Calories; 30g Fat (50.4% calories from fat); 27g Protein; 40g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 43mg Cholesterol; 637mg Sodium.

Posted in Salads, Vegetarian, on July 3rd, 2016.

mitsitam_wild_rice_salad1

This post is going “up” on July 3rd. Just before you might need a nice, different salad for the celebration of America’s 4th of July, Independence Day. Since we should be remembering our forefathers, and their sometimes friendliness to the native American people, this one is appropriate.

This recipe has been posted before, about 5 years ago. My D-I-L gave me a cookbook from the Mitsitam Café (at the Smithsonian Native American Museum), and when she and the family had visited the museum, they had lunch at the café, and ordered this wonderful salad. It’s so good and worth repeating. As I write this, I’m taking the salad to their house to celebrate Karen’s birthday, and this is the salad she requested. I think Powell remembered I’d made it before so he asked for a repeat. He’s doing duck as the main course.

I’ve updated my photos on the 2011 post (with the ones I took today) which highlight the freshness of the ingredients – the just slightly chewy wild rice, the crunchy carrots, toasted pine nuts and pumpkin seeds, and with no question, the watercress is the #2 star of the dish (wild rice, obviously, must be the #1 star). You do want to make the wild rice ahead – it needs to chill, and it is so easy to put this together about an hour before serving. Adding the dressing (apple cider vinegar, honey, canola oil + S&P) gives time to be absorbed into the rice (and maybe add a jot more dressing when you DO serve it).

mitsitam_wild_rice_saladIdeally, you’ll eat it all – in which case you can toss the watercress in with the salad. If you think you might have leftovers, either add the watercress on top (and maybe add a bit more half way through as people take salad) OR optionally, keep some watercress reserved, remove the watercress that got left in the salad (it gets withered and is not appetizing after a day or so if it’s been soaking in the dressing) and just add more watercress when you serve it the next time.

I’m a fanatic about watercress – I don’t like the “baby cress” they offer at some grocery stores these days – the one that’s in a root ball. It bears little or no resemblance to full-grown watercress that has that peppery bite to it. If that’s all you can find, well, use it I guess, or buy arugula instead. It’s not the same, but it does have that peppery bite that I’d be looking for in this recipe.

It’s a very pretty salad to look at. It’s healthy (although there IS an oil/vinegar dressing on it), hearty, and could serve as a vegetarian entrée as well. Throw some quinoa in there and you’d for sure have ample protein – or maybe a can of rinsed and drained garbanzo beans. Not authentic to the recipe, but I think it would be tasty in it.

What’s GOOD: I love wild rice (it’s not really a rice, but a wild grain) and it contains good-for-you stuff. The crunchiness of the salad is part of what appeals to me – the dressing is fairly innocuous, but it is a good foil for the carb aspect of the salad. There are some chopped green onions plus a few dried cranberries (think Pilgrims) in there too, and I just love-love the watercress. If watercress wasn’t so expensive (I had to buy 5 bunches at $1.29 each) I’d reverse the order of things and make the wild rice the #2 item here. Either way, though, this salad is delicious. It’s a beautiful looking salad too. Don’t overcook the wild rice – it’s not very nice when it’s “popped” as it does when it’s overly cooked – I started watching it at 40 minutes and it was done to my liking at 45 minutes.

What’s NOT: the only thing I’d say is the washing and prepping of the watercress. It took me about 30 minutes to wash, then pinch the young leaf bunches off the watercress stems (bigger watercress stems are almost woody and certainly not very tasty). But then, I was making this to serve 18 people. If you only bought 1-2 bunches it wouldn’t be so formidable a task. Do plan ahead – make the rice the day before if at all possible. Otherwise, everything about it is pretty easy. I rinsed and picked the watercress the day before and rolled all those tender leaves in tea towels to get all the moisture out.

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

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Wild Rice Salad with Watercress

Recipe By: From Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook (Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian)
Serving Size: 8

VINAIGRETTE:
6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup canola oil Salt and pepper to taste
SALAD:
6 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups wild rice
1 whole carrot — chopped or in matchsticks
3 tablespoons dried cranberries — chopped (or use golden raisins)
1 whole plum tomatoes — chopped
5 whole green onions — diced
1/2 cup pine nuts — toasted
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds — roasted
3 bunches watercress

NOTES: The nutrition info assumes you’ll use all the dressing; you don’t – you’ll use about 3/4 of it.
1. Combine vinaigrette, cover and refrigerate for one hour (dressing will keep for 10 days).
2. Combine wild rice and vegetable stock in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer for 40-50 minutes, or until cooked through. Start checking at 40 minutes, and do NOT overcook the wild rice. Drain and spread the rice out onto a large baking sheet to dry.
3. Scrape rice into a large bowl, add carrots, cranberries, tomato, green onions and nuts. Add about half the vinaigrette, toss together and refrigerate for an hour. Taste for seasonings (it likely will need more salt) and add more dressing if it appears to be dry.
4. Place watercress on individual plates and top with wild rice mixture. If you have leftovers, remove all of the watercress as it turns icky if it’s kept past the first serving. Alternately you can place the salad in a large bowl and toss it all together and either serve it buffet style or place the tossed salad on individual plates.
Per Serving (not accurate): 535 Calories; 29g Fat (48.0% calories from fat); 13g Protein; 59g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 2mg Cholesterol; 1234mg Sodium.

Posted in Fish, Salads, on May 24th, 2016.

salad_nicoise

Is there much of anything more French cuisine than a Niçoise salad? I think not.

Recently, a good friend, Joanne (who used to be an employee of mine, way long ago), invited me to come visit her at her home in Rancho Palos Verdes. Those of you not familiar with the Los Angeles region might not have heard of it – it’s a 20+ mile long coastline south of L.A. that’s right on the Pacific Ocean – and about 90 minutes or so from my home further south. The area is big and encompasses several miles inland and is a world apart from the bustling city of L.A. It had been years since I’d been there. Wayfarer’s Chapel is there – a place that’s entertained many weddings. Once upon a time I attended a wedding there – so beautiful. See photo below.

But I was just there to visit with Joanne and her husband Larry this time. It was a beautiful Southern California spring day – warm in the sunshine, but still almost cold without a light jacket. When you drive to Palos Verdes, it’s all city for the approach to the crest of the hills, and then you arrive at the top and it’s suddenly all residential, meandering, curving streets, even some open land, which is hard to come by in our part of the state of California. They live on a bluff overlooking the ocean. It’s ever so peaceful there – no city noises, and no city to view, either. Just the ocean.

When Joanne came to work for the ad agency I owned with my business partner, she was a brand new bride. This was back in the 1980’s. They’d moved from Brooklyn to California where Larry had taken a new position. They’d moved into a small home and she was so happy to set up housekeeping, and to decorate her house. Joanne says that I was her inspiration to learn to cook (she says she didn’t know a thing about cooking when she got married), and indeed, I recall we used to talk a lot about recipes, restaurants, cooking techniques, etc. And probably where to source some ingredients now and then. I‘m sure I shared recipes with her. Her husband is Lebanese by heritage, and he grew up with his mother making lots of ethnic dishes. Joanne brought one joanne_hparticular salad to some of our potluck lunches we had – her recipe is already here on my blog, a Syrian Pita Bread Salad that I posted way back in 2008. I haven’t made that salad in awhile – it’s SO good – very lemony, and delicious with the crunch of toasted pita chips.

Joanne prepared a gorgeous lunch – this salad (recipe below), a fougasse (a yeasted savory bread) and an apple cake. You’ll have the other two recipes within the next week or so. At right is Joanne in her lovely kitchen. Joanne and her family spent many years living abroad – first in Amsterdam, then for several years in Paris, and most recently they lived for 4-5 years outside of Geneva. Their 3 children grew up attending private schools, and learned French for sure. Their twin boys have just graduated from college here in the U.S., and their daughter is attending a university here in California. Larry is retired (gosh, does that make me feel OLD since they were young newlyweds when I first met them!) and enjoying it. Since their children were born Joanne has been a stay-at-home mom.

As Joanne put together the lunch salad, the Niçoise (that’s pronounced nee-SWAZZ), we talked. She mentioned that here in the U.S. sometimes restaurants will serve a Niçoise with seared ahi. Well, that is absolutely a no-no to the French purist, from whence this comes. It’s canned tuna. Period. The components of the salad must be prepared ahead – the green beans must be cooked al dente, the salad leaves cleaned and dried, the dressing prepared and allowed to sit for just a little while, the tomatoes chopped, the potatoes (a waxy type only) cooked and cut, eggs hard boiled, peeled and cut, all artfully arranged either on a large platter for everyone to help themselves, or on individual plates as Joanne did this day. She lightly dressed the lettuce with a bit of the dressing, and passed a pitcher of the dressing at the table. Ideally you’ll have Niçoise olives – they’re a black somewhat bitter olive, but so traditional in this salad. Capers are usually added too, just sprinkled on top. The salad is so satisfying – all good-for-you things. The dressing is piquant and so-very-French (it’s a French shallot vinaigrette) that will keep for a few days.

The recipe came from one of Joanne’s favorite cookbooks, Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table: More than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. Joanne has prepared many of the recipes in that cookbook and had raves for each and every one. I own the cookbook too – I don’t remember if I’ve shared any of the recipes from it or not. It’s a beautiful cookbook – almost worthy of a coffee table book, but it’s a practical and entertaining guide to many homespun recipes, the kind the French would eat any normal day, not necessarily for entertaining. I love to read Dorie’s headnotes – the stories she writes about the origin of the recipe or about the ingredients.

What’s GOOD: all the mix of ingredients are sublime – the potatoes even, the tuna mixes with everything, and the dressing just brings it all together. It’s a keeper of a recipe for sure. (Thank you, Joanne.)

What’s NOT: the only thing is the time it takes to prepare some of the ingredients – cooking the potatoes, the eggs and the beans and giving them time to chill. The dressing is easy enough, though. Try to prep the potatoes, eggs and beans the day before.

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

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Salade Niçoise

Recipe By: Around My French Table, Dorie Greenspan
Serving Size: 4

12 small potatoes — scrubbed
2 cups haricot verts — green beans
4 hard-boiled eggs
8 ounces canned tuna — packed in oil, drained
5 cups salad greens
1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes — or regular tomatoes cut into chunks
1/2 cup Nicoise olives
1/4 cup capers — drained and patted dry
8 small anchovy fillets — rinsed and patted dry
DRESSING:
2 tablespoons wine vinegar — red, white or sherry
1 shallot — finely minced
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
a few pinches sea salt
fresh black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil

1. Boil the potatoes in a large pot of salted water. Cook until they are tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife, 10 – 20 minutes. Scoop them out of the pot and put them in a bowl to cool.
2. Blanch the green beans in the potato water until they are crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Drain the beans and put them in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain, then pat dry.
3. Make the vinaigrette: Add vinegar, shallot, mustard, salt, and pepper to a small glass measuring cup or jar and let sit 10 – 15 minutes to mellow the shallot. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking constantly.
4. Assemble the salad, on one large platter, or individual plates: salad greens, halved potatoes, green beans, halved eggs, tuna, tomatoes, olives, capers, anchovies and drizzle with the shallot vinaigrette.
Per Serving: 629 Calories; 22g Fat (31.7% calories from fat); 33g Protein; 76g Carbohydrate; 10g Dietary Fiber; 236mg Cholesterol; 813mg Sodium.

Posted in Salads, Veggies/sides, on April 22nd, 2016.

pea_radish_sugar_snap_salad2

How much more Spring-y could you get for a salad than with green peas? A very simple salad of peas, radishes sliced super thin, some sugar snaps and a light olive oil and lemon juice dressing. AND with fresh mint and parsley.

As it happened, I had a small dinner for Easter with son Powell and his family. They had just returned from skiing in Colorado that day, so we had a simple dinner at my house with leg of lamb, roasted root veggies, this pea salad, and a lemon dessert. sliced_leg_lamb_bonelessI prepared the lamb in my sous vide. After 10 hours in the 134° water bath, it was cooked well, although I’d have liked a little bit more pink. It was barely so. Good though. I’m not going to share the recipe since I doubt that many of you have a sous vide. If you do, and want the recipe, email me.

Since I’m retired and home during the day if I’m not out and about, I do occasionally watch daytime TV. The week before Easter I watched an episode of The Chew. It was their pre-Easter show and this salad just jumped out of the TV screen at me. Although, I did change it up a bit. I tried it Carla Hall’s way, but it just didn’t have any zing (to me, anyway), so I added in some lemon juice and some sliced sugar snap peas.

pea_radish_sugar_snap_salad1Carla’s recipe called for fresh peas, and although they had them at my local markets, I just don’t trust them – frozen peas are SO much easier and reliable. So I merely defrosted some. Radishes were sliced on the mandolin and dropped into ice water so they’d crisp up. Sugar snaps were de-stringed and sliced. Mint and Italian parsley chopped fine, and at the last minute I tossed it all together with good extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. It seemed to lack something, so I added in some lemon juice and more salt and it was ready. The leftover salad lost some of its color (from the lemon juice) and didn’t have much appeal.  The radishes had lost all of their crispness and the herbs were totally wilted. I sent the family home with enough lamb, veggies and salad for them to have another meal. I have at least one meal for myself too.

What’s GOOD: I loved the “fresh” part of a pea salad. It was easy to make, though there was a bit of slicing and mincing. But most of it could be done ahead and the salad combined just before serving. Adjust the lemon juice to your taste. I used Meyer lemon juice, which is sweeter, so if using regular lemons, taste before adding too much. It was a great side for lamb.

What’s NOT: not so good for leftovers – the green peas lost some of their color with the acid in the dressing. And the salad was kind of sad – wilted and not very zippy as leftovers. Eaten right after making it, it was a stellar recipe.

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

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