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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

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 middle-aged 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, and wealthy) 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.

 

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 Salads, Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on November 3rd, 2017.

nutted_wild_rice_salad

That photo just doesn’t do justice to this rice salad. Even though I use Photoshop to crop and work with my photos, sometimes you just can’t make brown food look wonderful. 

Behind the scenes of any blog, or maybe I should say a food blog with recipes, is a whole lot of file administration. You might not think so, but there are many, many steps to getting a story written, photos worked on, sized correctly, inserted in the right places, recipe itself prepared, stripped of formatting, uploaded and then put into a finished format on the blog. It’s not seamless. And all that is to say that this recipe that I made months ago somehow got lost in the mix. At least it didn’t get deleted. I can’t even remember when I made this (photo properties says I took the photo on August 5th), or for what family occasion (it was probably our group family birthday we do about that time of year). I wouldn’t have made it just for myself; that I know. But as soon as I glanced at the photo, I remembered eating it, and my mouth was watering.

The recipe came from cooks.com and has no attribution. But I used some white rice in it too, so am not sure where I found the recipe, or if I adapted it myself. In years past, I’ve made the Silver Palate’s wild rice salad numerous times (but never written up here), and I have another one here on my blog from a museum restaurant in D.C. The Mitsitam. And yet another one that’s a copycat one from a local restaurant here in my neck of the woods that contained fresh corn. But this one is just a simple-enough wild rice and white rice salad enhanced with pecans, golden raisins, green onions, orange juice and zest. And it’s downright delicious.

I won’t tell you that this salad is cinchy quick – it has several steps, and you have to watch the rice carefully that it doesn’t overcook. That would be a crime, since you want the wild rice to still have some tooth. But once the rice is made, the other ingredients are straight forward and easy. A lovely honey vinaigrette is added and it can sit for awhile. You can eat it warm or cold, and leftovers are still good, although the pecans sometimes get a bit soft. But worth making? Yes.

What’s GOOD: a great salad for a crowd. Can be made ahead. Delicious warm or cold, or room temp. Leftovers still taste good, too. Of all my wild rice salads I’ve made, this probably wasn’t my favorite, but I liked the orange zest and juice in it. And the green onions.

What’s NOT: a few steps to make, but not hard at all.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Nutted Wild Rice Salad

Recipe By: adapted from cooks.com
Serving Size: 8

1 cup long grain white rice
1/2 cup wild rice — raw
5 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 cup pecans — toasted
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 whole orange — ZESTED & juiced
1/4 cup honey
4 whole green onions — thinly sliced
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter — melted
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar — or more to taste
salt and pepper to taste

1. Strain wild rice in strainer and run cold water over it. Rinse the rice thoroughly.
2. Place wild rice in heavy saucepan. Add stock (or water) and bring to to a rapid boil. Adjust heat to simmer and cook uncovered for 30+ minutes until rice is just barely cooked through. Do not overcook.
3. In another pot, cook white rice in water until it’s barely done – do not overcook. Drain, transfer both rices to a bowl and stir in butter and oil.
4. Combine the orange juice and honey; stir to combine. Add all remaining ingredients, adjusting for seasonings, or more vinegar, or orange juice. Let mixture stand for about 2 hours to allow flavors to develop. Taste rice for seasonings. Serve at room temp.
Per Serving: 404 Calories; 19g Fat (41.0% calories from fat); 12g Protein; 49g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 8mg Cholesterol; 361mg Sodium.

Posted in Pork, Veggies/sides, on October 26th, 2017.

pan_roasted_pork_chops_apples_feta

Comfort food at its finest. Brown food is never very revealing in a photo . . . just trust me this is worth trying.

Aren’t pork chops just a simple way to get dinner on the table in fairly short order? Back in the days when I was working full time, pork chops were a regular on my evening dinner rotation because they could be prepared quickly. I won’t say that this method is quite that streamlined, but it won’t take you too much longer than a quick sauté in a pan and a short bake time to have this on your dinner table. I’m also including a new recipe for cauliflower that’s prepared to look like mashed potatoes. I liked this version better than the version I’ve made in the past. The pork chops are served alongside some nicely pan-sautéed apples that make a great accompaniment to the pork. Do make them – hopefully you have some apples, right?

The pork chops need to be brined for awhile – the recipe (from a cooking class I took) says 1-4 hours, but if you’re a working person, I truly don’t think brining for 8 hours would make any difference. The brine solution isn’t too salty (that would be the risk, that they’d absorb too much salt). But if you only have a short time, an hour will do it too. This brine is made with maple syrup, salt, of course, and water, heated to dissolve the salt. The purpose of simmering is ONLY to dissolve the salt, so I recommend you dissolve the salt in a cup or so of water, and the syrup, then add cold water to make up the water portion. That way you’ll get the pork chops in the brine a lot sooner. Or make it the night before and have it chilling. The brine also contains cider vinegar, peppercorns, apple cider and some fresh sage leaves.

Then you toss out the brine, blot the pork chops dry with paper towels and rub with olive oil and salt and pepper. This dish is made in a cast iron skillet (or another type of heavy skillet, like Le Creuset). That way you’ll get a nice sear on the meat and it holds the heat well while it roasts in the oven. The pork is browned on both sides briefly, then popped into a 400°F oven for 6-10 minutes (depends on how thick your pork chops are). Pork is done at 145°F internal temp. Use an instant read thermometer to make sure.

Meanwhile, just before the pork comes out of the oven (while it’s baking) peel, core and wedge some Gala or crispy apples, sauté them in a little butter and olive oil (with some red onion) and lastly you add some maple syrup and just before serving, spoon in some crumbled Feta. In another pan you sauté a few sage leaves until crispy (watch carefully). I usually don’t have sage leaves, so if you don’t either, just eliminate that part.

cauliflower_mash_sour_creamThe cauliflower mash is very easy and quick – buy a whole one, or the newer packages of riced cauliflower if you’d prefer. Cook the cauliflower in salted water until barely done, drain, then pulse in a food processor along with some whole milk, sour cream, butter, salt and pepper. Easy. Of course, it doesn’t taste exactly like mashed potatoes, but I’m telling you for sure, you’d be hard pressed to know if you’re eating it alongside pork and apples.

What’s GOOD: Delicious tasting pork with the sweet maple flavored apples alongside. Altogether scrumptious in my book. The cauliflower is also easy and a good way to eat your veggies without eating carbs. The sour cream is a nice addition to them.

What’s NOT: A little more prep than some, but not overly so. Would make a great company meal. If you have a helper in the kitchen, making this for a family weeknight dinner would be easy too.

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

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Pan-Roasted Brined Pork Chops with Maple Apples and Feta

Recipe By: A cooking class with Susan V, 2017
Serving Size: 6

BRINE:
6 cups water
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons whole peppercorns
2 whole sage leaves — (fresh)
PORK:
6 pork chops — about 1″ thick
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
APPLES:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
10 whole sage leaves
1/2 cup red onion — sliced
1 pound apples — Gala or Honey Crisp, peeled, cored, cut in wedges
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 cup feta cheese — crumbled

1. Brine the pork: combine salt, maple syrup and water in a saucepan. Simmer, stirring, until the salt has dissolved. Let cool to room temp. Add cider, vinegar, peppercorns and sage. Submerge the pork chops in the brine and refrigerate for 1-4 hours.
2. Preheat oven to 400°F.
3. Remove pork from brine (discard brine) and pat dry with paper towels. Set the pork on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and allow pork to come to room temp, about 30 minutes.
4. Rub the pork with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork and sear on one side for 3 minutes. Turn over, then transfer skillet to the preheated oven. Roast for 6-10 minutes, or until pork has reached an internal temp of 145°F. Transfer to a heated plate and pour any pan juices on the meat. Let rest for about 5 minutes.
5. APPLES: Melt butter with olive oil in a large skillet. Add sage leaves and fry for less than a minute (do not burn). Remove sage to a paper towel and set aside. Add onion to skillet and cook about 5 minutes, then add apples, and cook for 6-8 minutes, until apples are softened. Add maple syrup and cook for just a minute. Remove apples from the heat, fold in the crispy sage leaves and crumbled Feta cheese.
6. Serve pork with apples along side.
Per Serving: 512 Calories; 26g Fat (44.5% calories from fat); 25g Protein; 47g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 84mg Cholesterol; 3903mg Sodium.


* Exported from MasterCook *

Cauliflower Mash with Sour Cream

Recipe By: Cooking class with Susan V, Oct. 2017
Serving Size: 6

1 whole cauliflower head — cut in florets
3 tablespoons whole milk
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook cauliflower in simmering salted water until tender, about 5-7 minutes. Drain.
2. Place cauliflower in food processor with remaining ingredients and pulse until smooth. Taste for seasoning.
Per Serving: 61 Calories; 4g Fat (52.0% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 9mg Cholesterol; 56mg Sodium.

Posted in Salads, Veggies/sides, on October 22nd, 2017.

green_bean_salad_pears_parm

What a heavenly combination. You just don’t know they’re one of those matches made in heaven unless you’ve had green beans and pears together. The shaved Parm puts it over the top.

Since green beans are available all year ‘round, there’s no reason you can’t make this salad any time of year. It calls for Bosc pears, which are also available year ‘round, so see, you need to try this. I think it would make a beautiful salad for Thanksgiving or Christmas, if you have a big celebration. Or a small one, for that matter. I’ve offered to make this for Thanksgiving at my son and daughter-in-law’s home. It will go well with turkey, I think.

You can use haricot verts beans, or regular sized – but I’d cut the regular sized in half. They are cooked just barely – so they’re al dente (or you can cook them to whatever tenderness you prefer). Cool off in cold and/or icy water, drain and set aside. Then, you make a vinaigrette with walnut oil and Sherry wine vinegar. Add some chives and parsley, plus finely minced shallots too. And some fresh, shredded basil. Toast some walnuts, shave the Parmesan and lastly cut up the pears. You’ll want to make this just before serving. Toss together then add the shaved Parm on top. That’s it. You’ll be happy to have this recipe in your collection, I promise. It came from a cooking class I did last month with Susan V, although I found the recipe online at farmflavor.com.

What’s GOOD: the food combination (pears, green beans and Parm are just super together). You can make just about everything ahead of time and cut up the pears at the last. If you’ve used Bosc pears, the salad should keep well for a day (leftovers). Altogether wonderful.

What’s NOT: There are a few steps to this (preparing dressing, toasting walnuts, preparing the green beans, shaving the Parm, etc) but it’s all worth doing.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Green Bean Salad with Pears and Parmesan

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Susan V, 2017, but also at farmflavor.com
Serving Size: 6

1 1/2 pounds haricots verts — (French green beans) or other slender green beans, trimmed
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
5 tablespoons walnut oil — (can substitute vegetable oil)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh chives — chopped
3 tablespoons fresh parsley — chopped
3 tablespoons shallots — minced
3 tablespoons fresh basil — chopped
2 small pears — firm but ripe pears, such as Bosc, peeled, cored and julienned (cut into matchstick-size strips)
1/2 cup walnuts — toasted and chopped
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — shaved with vegetable peeler (or more)

1. Cook haricots verts (French green beans) in large pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 6 minutes. Drain, then rinse with cold water. Drain well, and set aside. Can prepare beans ahead and chill in refrigerator if desired.
2. Whisk together walnut oil, vinegar, olive oil, chives, parsley and shallots in large bowl. Add haricots verts, basil, pears and walnuts; toss gently. Season with salt and pepper. Top with Parmesan, and serve.
Per Serving: 273 Calories; 22g Fat (68.3% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; trace Cholesterol; 9mg Sodium.

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

baked_portobello_mashed_potatoes

Maybe it’s just that I love mashed potatoes, and I feel guilty every time I eat them! And yet these are somewhat redeemed because they’re blended with a lot of spinach (healthy) and mounded on a big portobello mushroom (healthy!).

In either case, this is a dish you will want to make. I can’t wait for the weather to turn a little cooler and I’ll be making this as my dinner entrée. It was served at a cooking class alongside a steak, but I was just taken with the mushroom. If you served a whole mushroom, it could easily be your dinner as I expect to do it that way.

You probably already know that when preparing portobellos (they’re also called baby bellas) you need to remove all those black gills on the under side. They contain a dark ink I’ll call it – and it turns anything that touches them black and ugly. So, use a spoon and scrape out all those gills until you get down to regular mushroom flesh. Do that first!

Then, next in order is to make a batch of mashed potatoes, and at the last you throw in a bag of baby spinach (cooked briefly) along with some grated Parm, sour cream, butter and milk. The potatoes and their accompaniments probably aren’t all that healthy, but everything else about this dish IS. The mushrooms are brushed with an oil/balsamic vinegar mixture and broiled briefly, then seasoned with salt and pepper. You do need to mop out the juices in the mushroom when you broil it on its underside (up). It creates too much fluid and would make the potatoes soupy. Just use a paper towel to remove the liquid that oozes out. Then you pile in the potatoes, top with green onions and bake for 10-15 minutes to heat them through, but still leaves the mushrooms solid enough that you can move it with a spatula. You could also sprinkle with some more green onions. Delicious. For a mushroom meal, use a big honkin’ mushroom, but if serving as part of a dinner, I’d buy smaller portobellos if you can find them. Otherwise, cut each big portobello in half to serve.

What’s GOOD: all the flavors in this dish are ever-so-tasty. But then, I am a sucker for good, flavorful mashed potatoes. The spinach gives it some pretty green speckled color, and some healthy elements. The mushroom is also a great “plate” for the potatoes and if you buy a big mushroom, it will easily be a meal.

What’s NOT: nothing really – a bit of fuss to make the mashed potatoes – but that’s about it!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Baked Portobello Mushrooms with Parmesan Mashed Potatoes

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Susan Vollmer, 2017
Serving Size: 8

4 pounds Russet potatoes
4 ounces unsalted butter
3/4 cup milk
1 pound baby spinach
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup olive oil — use an herb flavored one if available
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
8 large Portobello mushroom caps
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 large green onions — minced

1. Peel potatoes and cook them in boiling, salted water until tender. Drain, then return potatoes to the saucepan. Add butter and milk and mash the potatoes.
2. In a large skillet, briefly cook the baby spinach in a little bit of olive oil so the leaves are wilted. Add it to the potatoes, then add the Parm and sour cream. Season mixture with salt and pepper to taste.
3. In a measuring cup, combine the oil and vinegar. Set aside.
4. Preheat broiler. Clean the mushroom caps of gills and stem. Brush the mushrooms lightly with the oil/vinegar mixture and season with salt and pepper.
5. Broil the mushrooms for about 2 minutes per side. Remove from the oven and use paper towels to mop up any brown juices in the center of the mushroom cap. Fill each mushroom cap with potato mixture and place in a baking dish. Reduce oven temp to 400F.
6. Top all of the mushrooms with some of the green onions and bake for 10-15 minutes just to heat through. Serve within about 5 minutes.
Per Serving: 462 Calories; 26g Fat (48.5% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 51g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 47mg Cholesterol; 93mg Sodium.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on September 2nd, 2017.

bacon_hasselback_potatoes

I’ve been slow to get on the Hasselback Potato bandwagon. Now I’m definitely on the train! Gosh were these fun and tasty!

My granddaughter Sabrina was visiting with me (before she flew back to So Carolina to return for her sophomore year at Clemson University). She loves to cook (we also do art together – I worked on a Zentangle design, and she used acrylics to paint a sunset/landscape), so we worked in the kitchen together and she helped me slip the bacon in between the slices, and she made some squash for us for our dinner. We also had some of that Chili-Rubbed Salmon I made a few weeks ago, that was so good. These potatoes were a great side dish for the salmon.

These little beauties, these potatoes, are on the small side, but I THINK they’re better if they’re smaller. I suppose you could do a big potato using this method, but the smaller ones are just so CUTE! These were a Yukon Gold type and about 3” long. I had figured she and I would each eat two of them, but no, we just had one. They’re rich. And decadent. But the bacon – oh gosh, the bacon – they “make” this dish, IMHO.

hasselback_cutsFirst, you cut the potatoes – use two wooden style spoon handles, one on either side of the potato, so when you make the cut, you don’t cut all the way through. That, of course, is the whole thing about Hasselbacks – the little thin cuts. So the photo at left you can see the cutting. About 1/16” or 1/8 inch. At right you can see the two spoons on either side so you don’t slice all the way through.

hasselback_with_spoonsIt’s actually pretty easy to do. I used the back of my left hand to hold the spoons in place and used my fingers to anchor the potato. Requires a bit of dexterity, I suppose. If you have a kitchen helper, have them hold the spoons. Then, the next step is to partially cook the potatoes. Bring a pot of water to a boil and slip these already cut potatoes in it for FOUR MINUTES only. Remove boiling_hasselback_potatoesand set aside to let them cool.

Meanwhile, you will have used a few slices of thick-sliced bacon and frozen them on a flat surface (a pan), then slipped them into the freezer so they stay super cold/frozen. You know, fat doesn’t actually freeze clear through, but it’s good enough. Then you put the little slips of frozen freeezing_bacon_chipsbacon into the slices, pushing them down gently. You don’t want to “break” the potato’s back so it’s important that you slide the bacon in carefully.

Then you melt some butter and slather some on the potatoes with a brush and into an oven they go. Now I veered off a little bit from the original recipe I found (at Food Network) because it said cook the potatoes at 350° for 2 HOURS. I didn’t have 2 hours of time to devote to that, so I cranked the oven up to 400° and baked them for 6_hasselback_bacon_potatoesabout 35 minutes. They certainly weren’t as dark-brown-crispy looking as the originals were, but they were cooked through. The bacon was brown. They came out of the oven, I then brushed more melted butter (with green onions and garlic) on top and stuck them back in the oven for about 10 minutes. Perfectly done. I”ll be making these again for sure!

What’s GOOD: these were so fun, different. Very tasty – of course, the butter helps a lot. A lot of the butter oozed out onto the baking sheet, unfortunately. See all the fat on the Silpat lined pan above. But the bacon slowly oozed into the potatoes too, so they had plenty of fat to make it delicious. For me, the bacon was the star of the dish, but also loved the soft consistency of the potatoes too.

What’s NOT: only that they take a bit of work to get them ready to go. But not difficult, and if you have anyone to help, it’ll get done in no time.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Bacon Hasselback Potatoes

Recipe By: Food Network Kitchens
Serving Size: 6

2 slices thick-sliced bacon — each cut crosswise into 9 pieces
Kosher salt
6 medium Yukon gold potatoes — peeled
1/2 stick unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 whole green onion — finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 clove garlic — finely chopped

NOTE: Use more bacon in each potato if you don’t mind the calories & fat.
1. Lay the bacon pieces on a baking sheet and freeze until hard, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
2. Using a sharp knife, make crosswise cuts in each potato, about 1/8 inch apart, stopping about 1/4 inch from the bottom.
3. Add the potatoes to the boiling water and cook 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and carefully transfer to a baking sheet; let cool slightly. Pat the potatoes dry, then insert 3 pieces of the frozen bacon into the cuts of each potato, spacing the bacon evenly and letting it poke out of the top. Melt a few tablespoons of butter and brush generously over the potatoes and in the cuts. Reserve any excess butter for basting. Season the potatoes with salt and pepper.
4. Transfer the potatoes to the oven and bake until the outsides are browned and crisp, about 2 hours, basting halfway through with the reserved melted butter. (Note: I increased the temp to 400° and baked them about 35 minutes – they won’t be as brown and crispy as doing them for 2 hours, but they’re cooked through.)
5. When the potatoes are almost done, melt the remaining butter and mix with the scallions, parsley and garlic. Spoon over the potatoes and roast 5-10 more minutes. Transfer to a platter and season with salt and pepper.
Per Serving: 163 Calories; 10g Fat (53.9% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 15g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 24mg Cholesterol; 74mg Sodium.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on August 1st, 2017.

twice_cooked_cabbage_bacon

An easy side vegetable, could be made ahead.

Back a week ago I’d purchased a package of pre-sliced green cabbage at Trader Joe’s. I’d intended to use it in a cole slaw, to go with some Italian sausage I’d defrosted. I didn’t, so needed to find a recipe for cabbage. Searching through my recipes I came across this, a Kalyn’s Kitchen one. I had everything except Mozzarella, so I substituted Cheddar. And I needed to use up a red onion (so I substituted for the yellow onion). I had a package of thick-sliced bacon in my refrigerator that needed to be opened and rolled up and packaged for freezing, so it was an easy decision to make this recipe. Kalyn’s adheres to a South Beach diet, and this one qualifies on all counts. My DH would have loved this casserole.

I used just one skillet – I cooked up the bacon and removed it to a paper towel. There was very little fat left in the pan, so I used that plus a tad of olive oil and sautéed the onion until it was wilted, then added the cabbage. That needed to be stirred frequently or only the cabbage touching the pan would have been cooked, so as I prepared other parts of my dinner, I just tossed the cabbage several times until it was about 2/3 cooked. Then the bacon is put back in and stirred a minute or two. Then that mixture went into a deep pie dish (I made a smaller version of Kalyn’s recipe). Sour twice_cooked_cabbage_bacon_casserolecream was haphazardly spread on top, then I grated the cheddar and sprinkled that all over the top. Into a 375° F oven it went and baked for about 18 minutes. If you make a larger casserole, it likely will take longer to bake, to get the cheese all bubbling and beginning to brown here and there.

I scooped out that big spoonful onto my plate and had my dinner. I needed to let the cabbage sit a few minutes because it was tongue-burning hot. Thanks Kalyn, for a easy, tasty recipe!

What’s GOOD: I loved the flavor of the cabbage, onion and bacon. I mean – – – really, what’s there not to like about that? Surely this qualifies as comfort food with the ooey-gooey cheese on the top. I could easily have had 3 servings. I don’t suppose I would say this dish knocked my socks off, but it sure was satisfying. Easy. Tasty. I had enough for 4 dinners for myself. If I’d been making this for eating in one meal, I’d have left the cabbage mixture in the cast iron skillet and just added the sour cream and cheese and served the whole thing on the table. Minimal dishes! It’s also very low calorie.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. Takes a bit of preparation, but not much.

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Low-Carb Twice-Cooked Cabbage with Sour Cream and Bacon

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Kalyn’s Kitchen, 2016
Serving Size: 4

2 slices thick-sliced bacon — cut into thin strips
1 teaspoon olive oil — or bacon fat
1/3 cup yellow onion — finely minced
1/2 head cabbage — core cut out and cut into thin strips
1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup sour cream
3/8 cup cheddar cheese — grated (or mozzarella)

1. Preheat oven to 375°F/190C. Slice the bacon. Cut the core out of the cabbage and cut it into thin strips. Mince the onion.
2. Heat a large frying pan over medium high heat, add the strips of bacon, and cook until the bacon is browned and very crisp. Drain bacon on paper towels.
3. Heat olive oil (or use the bacon fat that’s in the pan, if you prefer) in the frying pan, add the minced onion, and cook over medium-high heat until it’s barely starting to brown. Add the sliced cabbage, season with paprika, salt, and pepper, and cook just until it has softened partly, stirring frequently. Then add the crisp bacon pieces, stir to combine with the cabbage, and cook 1-2 minutes more to combine flavors.
4. Spray a glass baking dish with olive oil or non-stick spray. Pour the sauteed cabbage in the casserole dish and spread the sour cream over, then sprinkle with the grated cheese.
5. Bake about 20-30 minutes, or until it’s bubbling hot and the top is nicely browned. Serve hot.
Per Serving: 159 Calories; 14g Fat (77.5% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 3g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 29mg Cholesterol; 185mg Sodium.

Posted in Salads, Uncategorized, Veggies/sides, on July 28th, 2017.

pasta_abrazzese_salad

A pasta salad – served at room temp – with an unusual type of pasta, like little twigs. The salad is all about tomatoes.

It’s been about 6 weeks ago I went to a cooking class – I’m now attending a relatively new one for me, with a group of homemakers, offered in a home, and my friend Cherrie and I have been invited because the chef is our friend, and because the group has room to grow a little bit. Tarla Fallgatter is the chef, and we can always count on a really delicious meal to enjoy whenever she cooks.

This salad was really big on tomato flavor – it has what’s called a confit (kan-fee) added to it, which means a method of cooking food in fat, oil or a water syrup at a low temperature, usually cooked down to a soft pulp. Most commonly it refers to goose or duck, but in this case it’s about cooking and softening the sun-dried tomatoes and dried tomatoes both, in a flavorful mixture that coats the pasta well (see the orange/red color). What was unusual about this dish, though, was the pasta. Tarla passed around the bag of pasta – one of those more expensive, imported-from-Italy types.

The pasta shapes look a lot like pale twigs, and the only thing I’ll say is that it’s important to cook them to the right consistency. If you sample one of the tiny twig ENDS, it might be done, but the thicker center of the twig pasta will still be too firm. So test it by eating the center, thicker part. And when it’s done, the narrow ends are actually overcooked, but it can’t be helped.

The confit is easy enough to make – the two types of sun-dried tomatoes, shallot, basil, some spices, olive oil and red wine. You could easily make this ahead and set aside. Toast the pine nuts and set aside and cut up the little heirloom tomatoes to add in later.

Cook the pasta – you can use any kind of pasta you want, but Tarla thought this abrezzese was just so very fun (and different). Otherwise, orzo would be good with this too. Cook it, drain it, then add the tomato stuff, add the chopped tomatoes and pine nuts. Donabrazzeze_pastae. Taste for seasoning. Make this as a side dish for an outdoor dinner, or a potluck lunch. Whatever.

What’s GOOD: this has a different flavor – intense with the sun-dried tomatoes in it, but also because of the pasta shape. Delicious salad. Nothing extraordinary, but really good nonetheless. Easy to make – takes a bit of chopping here and there, but not hard.

What’s NOT: nothing at all. Don’t stress if you can’t find the abrezzese pasta – just use orzo.

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Pasta Abrazzese with Sun-Dried Tomato Confit

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

2 cups cooked pasta — abrazzese or orzo
SUN-DRIED TOMATO CONFIT:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 whole shallot — peeled, diced
1 teaspoon spice rub — Blackened, Cajun or your choice
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, oil-packed — drained and julienned
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 cup red wine
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 large basil leaves — julienned
1 cup tomatoes — heirloom, mini-sized, quartered or halved
1/3 cup pine nuts — toasted
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Heat olive oil in saute pan; add shallot and cook until translucent. Stir in spice rub. Reduce heat to low, then add oil-packed and regular sun-dried tomatoes plus the red wine. Simmer until wine is reduced by about half. Add balsamic vinegar and basil leaves off the heat.
2. Place hot, cooked pasta in a medium bowl and stir in the tomato mixture, then the fresh tomatoes and toasted pine nuts. Garnish with minced Italian parsley, if desired. Taste for seasonings. May need additional salt.
Per Serving: 169 Calories; 8g Fat (41.6% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 78mg Sodium.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ricotta Cheese Corn Pudding

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

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

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

Posted in Veggies/sides, on May 9th, 2017.

perfect_baked_potato

Who would have thought that I could get so excited about a baked potato?

Recently I was watching America’s Test Kitchen and they did a segment about the perfectly cooked baked potato. They talked about what makes a good potato (first off, a nicely shaped oval Russet variety for sure with few blemishes, dents or eyes). But they mentioned all the things that go along with it – you want it fluffy. That’s probably the most important. You want crispy skin. And fluffy. Fluffy! So the chefs at ATK went about perfecting it, and OH did they! One of the secrets to this recipe is baking the potatoes to exactly 205°F. More and more, we’re figuring out the exact perfect temperature for cooking all kinds of things.

There are a list of steps to make these:

  1. buy a really nice oval Russet with few blemishes, about  7-9 ounces each (mine were heavier)
  2. poke the potato 6 times on the top with a fork
  3. dip the potato in heavily salted water (see exact amounts below)
  4. bake on a rack on top of a baking sheet at 450°F
  5. bake about 45-60 minutes, or until the internal temp reaches exactly 205°F
  6. remove from oven and brush the outside with vegetable oil
  7. bake another 10 minutes
  8. remove and cut a big X in the top and smoosh the two ends together to open up the top
  9. plop a lovely tablespoon of butter inside, add salt and pepper to taste
  10. swoon.

russets_poked_and_soakedAnd I mean swoon (definition: a state of ecstasy). I could have made just that for a dinner for myself – maybe I will one of these days. I invited 3 friends for dinner (made some grilled shrimp with a garlic and butter sauce, a new green goddess dressing that was the best I’ve ever made, and crumbled asparagus) So, that means I tried 3 new recipes. All 3 of them winners. Yes, I’ll post the other recipes soon.

Pictured, the potatoes after they’d been swirled in the heavily salted water.

These potatoes are just SO good. When I pulled the potatoes out of the oven, steam was escaping from the fork holes in the tops. Then, when cut the X and smooshed the ends in, there was a geyser of steam from each potato, and OH, were they fluffy inside. I had 4 pats of butter (room temp) and dropped one into each. I also made a topping for them, that was recommended by ATK to go along with it, but I preferred the potato just plain, with butter, salt and pepper.

The outside skins were crunchy-perfect and salty – at the end of our meal I just kept pulling off little chunks of skin and eating it. Stone cold. But still delicious, and those pieces didn’t have any pepper, butter or topping on them. Just the salty, crunchy skin.

All 4 of us left our potatoes with most of the insides eaten and everyone went home with their own shells. Today, for lunch, I’m going to open up the potato fully, maybe fry up a slice or two of bacon, shred some cheddar, bake it for 10 minutes or so in my toaster oven, then top it with some green onions. Oh, and maybe a tablespoon or so of sour cream. Decadent. And I will eat the entire thing, the little bit of inside potato and all.

Image result for thermapenTHERMAPEN: As an aside, I’ll mention that I was so upset a couple of weeks ago when my beloved Thermapen quit working after 6 years! Woe is me! I use it ALL THE TIME. So I contacted ThermoWorks, and mailed the probe to them, with a $25 check and they repaired it with all new insides. Since these Thermapens are expensive, it was well worth paying $25 to get it fixed to near-new.

What’s GOOD: where do I start? Everything about this potato was downright perfect. Hence, the perfect baked potato. The crunchy, salty skin, the super-fluffy insides. This will be my go-to preparation from here on! DO MAKE THESE, okay? Thanks to Cook’s Country or America’s Test Kitchen they’ll be absolutely perfect!

What’s NOT: none of it is hard, but there are a few steps involved. Get everything ready (mis en place) so you don’t have to hunt for the thermometer, the pan and rack, the vegetable oil or brush, and have the butter at room temp. That will make the process easier and quicker. And once they’re out of the oven, no dilly-dallying getting to the table to sit down!

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Perfect Baked Potatoes

Recipe By: Cook’s Illustrated, Jan, 2016
Serving Size: 4

4 russet potatoes — unpeeled, each lightly pricked with fork in 6 places (about 7-9 ounces each)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

NOTE: Open up the potatoes immediately after removal from the oven in step 3 so steam can escape. Top them as desired.
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450°F. Dissolve 2 tablespoons salt in 1/2 cup water in large bowl. Place potatoes in bowl and toss so exteriors of potatoes are evenly moistened. Using a fork, poke each potato about 6 times on the top half.Transfer potatoes to wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet and bake until center of largest potato registers 205°F, 45 minutes to 1 hour. (I put foil underneath them.)
2. Remove potatoes from oven and brush tops and sides with oil. Return potatoes to oven and continue to bake for 10 minutes.
3. Remove potatoes from oven and, using paring knife, make 2 slits, forming X, in each potato. Using clean dish towel, hold ends and squeeze slightly to push flesh up and out. Season with salt and pepper to taste and a pat of butter. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 89 Calories; 3g Fat (34.2% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 5mg Sodium.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on April 17th, 2017.

kabocha_cornmeal_polenta

Polenta usually is made with cornmeal only. This one veers off the grid and uses mostly kabocha squash and some cornmeal. It has a very similar consistency, but maybe more healthy for us!

Polenta is really, really good stuff. And I just wish it weren’t so heavy in carbs. In this version, made with kabocha squash (which is a winter squash and a carb) it has all the benefits of flavor, but maybe because of the squash, it might be a bit healthier. Just sayin’. A serving of this has 44 grams of carbs. That’s a lot, but oh gosh, was it ever good with the Sicilian Chicken Stew. My downfall is that once I have a serving of polenta, I want more. It’s kind of like popcorn at the movies – I don’t EVER buy it, because I can’t stop eating it once I start!

Image result for kabocha squashDo you know kabocha squash? It’s mostly credited to Japan (but it isn’t, really). Like the photo at left (from Trader Joe’s), they’re round, globe-like, sometimes more squat that this one shows. They’re very nutritious and have lots of good flavor.

According to Wikipedia, Portuguese sailors introduced kabocha to Japan in 1541, bringing it with them from Cambodia. The squash claims a whole lot of beta-carotene.

In any case, they’re tasty things. At the cooking class, Chef Caroline said that she usually cooks the kabocha for about about 20 minutes (at 425°F) BEFORE she tries to cut it open. It has a pretty hard shell. Once cooled a bit, she cuts it in half crosswise, then puts the squash, cut side down onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and roasts it for about 35 minutes. At that point the flesh is totally soft and scoops out easily. As with regular polenta, the cornmeal is slowly added to simmering vegetable broth and in this case, some milk, and then cooked gently for about 5 minutes. Then you add some salt, butter and the mashed up squash – which gives the polenta a more orange color. Taste for seasonings. Serve while it’s HOT.

What’s GOOD: loved the added flavor from the kabocha – an unexpected treat. Still tastes like polenta, but perhaps more nutritious.

What’s NOT: maybe just the nuisance of having to bake the squash – not difficult, just a bit time consuming, plus having to cut it. Winter squashes are sometimes really hard to handle – and cut.

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Cornmeal and Kabocha Squash Polenta

Recipe By: Caroline Cazaumayou, chef, Antoine’s San Clemente, CA, 2017
Serving Size: 8

3 1/2 pounds kabocha squash — yield: about 4 cups flesh
4 cups vegetable broth — low sodium
1 cup whole milk
1 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Poke a few holes in the kabocha squash (upper half) and roast it whole for about 20 minutes. This will allow you to cut in half with ease. Cool for about 20 minutes, then cut in half crosswise. Turn it cut side down onto a parchment lined baking sheet and bake an additional 35 minutes or so. Cool, then scoop out the flesh and set aside to cool.
2. In a 4-quart saucepan, bring the broth and milk to a boil. Lower heat and slowly whisk in the cornmeal. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
3. Stir in the salt, butter and squash and stir until well combined, the squash is completely heated through and butter is fully melted. Add seasonings to taste. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 319 Calories; 9g Fat (27.4% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 44g Carbohydrate; 9g Dietary Fiber; 21mg Cholesterol; 1301mg Sodium.

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