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Just finished 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 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 parents were 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 a old 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.

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.

Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

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 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.

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

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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.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on March 18th, 2017.

pepper_onion_roast_indian_spices

Oh yummy! After serving this to friends for dinner one night, I had about half of it left over. I ate it all over 3 meals. Cold or warmed, or hot. Delicious!

In a few days I’ll post a recipe for a grilled chicken that I made to go with this, but THIS recipe, to me, was the star of the menu. I found it online, but it’s from a book by Lynne Rosetto Kasper. She must enjoy Indian food just like I do.

What I wanted to do was use up 4-5 mixed colored bell peppers I had in my fridge. So I did a search for Indian bell peppers, and this one popped up. The chunks of bell peppers are mixed with chunks of red onion, canned, rinsed and drained garbanzo beans, with olive oil and some lovely spices. Nothing that would overwhelm any eater. The dish isn’t “hot,” just purely flavorful. It could be a vegetarian entrée; it could be a side salad, cold, or right out of the oven it’s purely sublime with some cilantro, lime juice sprinkled over the top. The recipe called for some yogurt on top – I forgot, and didn’t miss it.

pepper_onion_roast_raw_mixedFirst you combine the vegetables (raw) in a bowl, add the oil, salt, a pinch of sugar and the spices (cumin, black pepper and ground coriander that have been toasted, then ground to a fine powder). Meanwhile, you heat up the baking sheet in the oven, pour these veggies out onto it once it’s piping hot, then roast the veggies for about 40 minutes in a 450° oven.

If the pan is real crowded, I suggest you use two, as you want the vegetables to get caramelized and toasty on the edges. Those are the best bites of all!

With the left overs, I didn’t even bother to add cilantro – I just ate it straight out of the plastic dish I’d stored it in. Delicious down to the very last smidgen of roasted onion.I’ve increased the amount of onion (2 instead of 1), and I didn’t use the arugula – it might be nice added in after the mixture roasts – but I forgot that also, and didn’t miss it.

What’s GOOD: the combination of peppers, onions and garbanzos is just SO good. The roasting is easy, the chopping is really quite easy. I’d definitely make this again. Loved the spices – the only heat comes from the black pepper. Altogether wonderful.

What’s NOT: not a thing. It was delish.

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

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Pepper and Onion Roast with Soft Indian Spices

Recipe By: adapted slightly from The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper, Lynne Rosetto Kasper
Serving Size: 6

3 large cloves garlic
2 tablespoons cilantro — tightly packed
1 piece fresh ginger — (1″) peeled and thinly sliced
1 large red bell pepper — chopped into 1/2″ pieces
2 large yellow bell peppers — chopped into 1/2″ pieces
2 large red onions — chopped
16 ounces garbanzo beans, canned — drained and rinsed
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons lime juice
Generous pinch of sugar Salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup arugula — tightly packed (optional)
GARNISH: (all are optional)
Lime juice
Cilantro leaves
Plain yogurt

NOTES: If I made this again, I’d add the chopped fresh arugula to the mixture when it’s served; I wouldn’t roast the arugula.
1. Preheat the oven to 450°F, and put a large shallow pan (like a baking tray) onto the middle rack. The pan will preheat with the oven.
2. In a food processor, combine the garlic, cilantro and ginger and process until fine, but not pureed.
3. In a large bowl, combine this mixture with all of the other ingredients except for the garnishes. Toss to mix. Carefully spread the mixture in the pan which is already in the oven. (If there isn’t enough room around the veggies, use 2 pans – if it’s crowded, the veggies will steam rather than roast and won’t get crispy edges.) Roast for 40 minutes, stirring often and scraping up the brown bits on the bottom. The peppers should be tender, and the chickpeas should be crisp.
4. Transfer the vegetables to a serving bowl (and add the arugula if desired) and top with the garnishes. Serve. This is also equally good cold or served at room temp with or without the garnishes.
Per Serving: 195 Calories; 8g Fat (35.3% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 27g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 232mg Sodium.

Posted in Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on January 17th, 2017.

mushroom_cauliflower_risotto

Brown food doesn’t always look all that great in photos. But what it might lack in picture worthiness, is more than made up for in flavor. And low calories. And low fat. And nearly zero in carbs. There is no RICE in this dish, just so you know.

Cauliflower “rice” is sold at Costco, and at Trader Joe’s. Perhaps at other food purveyors as well. Trader Joe’s has both cauliflower and broccoli (more stems than green part) that’s been “riced.” That’s not what one usually means by riced, as in using a RICER with a cooked potato – no, this is the fresh, raw vegetable chopped up finely in a food processor so it has somewhat a similar shape as a kernel of rice. You can do it yourself with your own food processor. I’ve not tried it, but you could try using the grater with cauliflower too.

This dish was prepared at a cooking class I attended last month – a great class of French food, and this was served alongside a delicious beef tenderloin. Since then I’ve made it myself as well, and it was every bit as good. Using the word risotto, of course, connotes rice and a creamy consistency. I won’t tell you that it tastes just like risotto, but if you don’t think about it, you can conjure up the toothsome-ness of rice and slightly creamy texture. The success of the dish is all about the mushrooms, actually, and probably the jot of soy sauce added in for umami flavor. You absolutely do NOT taste cauliflower. I can guarantee it!

I’ve mentioned it here before, that one evening several years ago I served mashed cauliflower as “mashed potatoes” and fooled a friend, Lynn, about it. I didn’t know he detested cauliflower – I just thought it was so fun to mimic mashed potatoes, so I didn’t tell anyone it was cauliflower. Lynn lapped it up and liked it. Ever since, when he and Sue visit me, Lynn is wary of what I’m going to serve him. If he knew this was cauliflower he probably wouldn’t eat it, but if I didn’t say anything, I’m sure he’d wolf it down like everybody else did!

Shallot, minced up finely, starts the dish. Along with both Crimini mushrooms and Shiitake types (you need the Shiitake for extra flavor – they’re expensive, but you don’t need all that much of them). Dried thyme and garlic are added, then the cauliflower rice. You add a bit of low-sodium soy sauce, just a tiny bit of heavy cream, and truffle salt (if available). You cook it briefly – about 2 minutes for the Trader Joe’s type, and a bit longer for Costco’s (because theirs is a bit bigger chunks). Parsley is added at the end, and you serve it immediately while it’s still steamy hot. I did make it and had leftovers. When reheated, it wasn’t quite as good, only because the cauliflower was softer with further cooking it.

What’s GOOD: this is a veggie dish that’s loaded with flavor and it’s very satisfying. Add some grated Parm on top if you want to make it extra special. The soy sauce is almost indistinguishable, but it adds good umami flavor. I think this dish is spectacular – I’m fooled that it IS rice.

What’s NOT: nothing, really – it’s quick and easy – certainly comes together a whole lot quicker than making real risotto!

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

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Mushroom Cauliflower “Risotto”

Recipe By: Caroline Cayaumazou, chef, Antoine’s, San Clemente
Serving Size: 6

1 tablespoon EVOO
10 ounces Crimini mushrooms — sliced
3 1/2 ounces shiitake mushroom — sliced (discard stems)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large shallot — sliced
1 large garlic clove — chopped
1 pound cauliflower — in “rice” form (Trader Joe’s or Costco)
4 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Truffle salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons fresh parsley — chopped

1. In a large skillet or 3-quart saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add mushrooms, thyme, salt and shallot. Cook, stirring often, about 5 minutes, or until mushrooms are soft. Add garlic and cook for another minute only.
2. Add the cauliflower “rice” and stir well. Add soy sauce, cream, truffle salt and pepper to taste. Stir well and cook for a minute or two (longer if using Costco’s cauliflower) until the cauliflower is cooked through, but not so long that it becomes mushy. Stir in parsley and serve immediately.
Per Serving: 126 Calories; 5g Fat (29.1% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 7mg Cholesterol; 587mg Sodium.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on September 13th, 2016.

lime_cilantro_rice

Quick-like, I snapped this photo with the rice still in the rice cooker, rather than my usual staging with a plate, the meatloaf on the plate, a napkin and background . . it’s just the rice. But oh, it’s good!

A few days ago I gave you the new recipe for Italian-style meatloaf that I made up myself, that was really wonderful. This is what I served with it. Normally I’d do mashed potatoes, but for whatever reason – it was a warm, summer night – I didn’t have potatoes on hand anyway – I decided to accompany the meatloaf with rice.

This recipe came from the Pioneer Woman and she served it as a side with a Mexican menu. Yes, with the cilantro and lime in it, it certainly would be nice with Mexican flavors. But, it was just lovely with the meatloaf, I thought.

Previously I’ve talked about my Breville rice cooker – it’s really a bit of everything – you can sauté in it, make risotto in it, and use it as a slow cooker. And it has a rice setting, of course. It was perfect for this – I sautéed the onion a bit first, then added the garlic (lots) and lastly the rice and allowed that to sauté briefly. Then I added in the chicken broth and lime juice (I had to supplement with a tiny bit of lemon juice as I had just 2 limes). The lime zest was apparent in the dish – loved the flavors.

Ree Drummond’s recipe has you making this in a saucepan and she added just some of the chicken broth, adding more if needed. Well, my rice cooker shut off after about 12 minutes (because it was dry – and the rice wasn’t done) so I added in the remaining cup of chicken broth and let it go for another 4-8 minutes until it was perfectly done. Next time – with the rice cooker, I would just add all the broth at once. Just before serving I stirred in most of the cilantro and sprinkled the last of it on top just for the appearance factor!

What’s GOOD: the lime juice and lime zest add a real bonus flavor here – I loved it. The garlic is apparent also, and the onion added great texture. It’s not just rice – the onion is noticeable, in a good way. I liked this a lot and I’d definitely make this again.

What’s NOT: nothing at all. It’s a great recipe.

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

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Garlic Cilantro Lime Rice

Recipe By: A Pioneer Woman recipe, 2012
Serving Size: 8

1 tablespoon canola oil
3 cloves garlic — minced
1 large onion — chopped
2 cups long-grain rice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 medium limes — (use juice of 3, zest of 2)
1/3 cup fresh cilantro — chopped, for garnish

NOTES: I made this in my Breville rice cooker – I sauteed the onion in it also, then added liquid as indicated. It needed the extra cup of water, which I added in part way through the steam cycle. It was perfectly cooked. My advice – add in all the liquid at the beginning if using a rice cooker.
1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and onions and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add the rice and salt. Cook over a low heat for 3 minutes, stirring constantly to make sure the rice doesn’t burn. Add 2 cups of the broth, lime juice and zest of 2 limes and bring it to a boil.
2. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until the rice is done. Add more liquid as needed. The rice shouldn’t be sticky.
3. Just before serving, stir through the juice of a lime and lots of cilantro.
Per Serving: 210 Calories; 3g Fat (12.0% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 42g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 254mg 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)

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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 Appetizers, Veggies/sides, on July 31st, 2016.

artichoke_harissa_cream

Do you like artichokes? They’re not available everywhere, I know, and some folks just can’t seem to wrap their arms (or their mouths) around scraping the essence of the stem-end of each artichoke leaf through their teeth to gain this little tiny half a teaspoon of artichoke essence.

Growing up, my mother prepared artichokes frequently. They’re available many months of the year at the grocery stores here in California. They’re grown in abundance in the Salinas Valley, in the north end of the central part of California. And they grow well in other NoCal climes. My mother always put out a little bowl of mayo and we dipped each end into the mayo and scraped away. As I recall, my mom made ONE artichoke and the 3 of us shared it. It was never enough in my book.

When I married my DH, Dave, I soon discovered that he was an artichoke and BUTTER guy. He wanted a little bowl of melted butter to dip his artichoke. But after awhile he stopped using the butter and used nothing. He definitely didn’t like the mayo dip at all. My DH adored the artichoke heart, so I usually let him have my half too. He used to tell the story about his wonderful dog, Woof (a collie) who was a very bright dog. She died long before I met Dave. Dave taught her to scrape the artichoke. He’d hold the leaf and she’d ever so gently pull off the little bit of it. She LOVED them.

Recently I craved an artichoke, and saw some really pretty ones at the store. I pressure-cooked it for about 15 minutes. Just now I went on the ‘net and found recipes suggesting everything from 6 minutes (Kalyn’s Kitchen) to 22 minutes on one other, with several others suggesting times in between. Me? I added about a cup of water to the pressure cooker, squeezed half of a lemon into the water, cut the artichoke in half, leaving the choke intact, put them on a rack and pressure cooked them for the 15 minutes. Once cooled some, I used a spoon to remove the choke and let the artichokes cool to room temp. If the artichoke you buy is really big, use a longer cooking time; shorter if they’re smaller, obviously. Half an artichoke is a good-sized serving. I ate it with my dinner, but it also makes a nice appetizer too.

Then I mixed up the dipping sauce: nothing more than mayo, harissa sauce (if you want to know more about harissa, read my 2012 blog post about using it on lamb kebabs), a little bit of bacon jam (some high end markets carry this, it’s a refrigerated little jar, costs the moon, but it lasts forever), plus a little squeeze of lemon juice.

What’s GOOD: well, now, I love artichokes, so there’s no question any mayo-based sauce would taste great in my book, but if you want to make it special, try the addition of harissa and bacon jam. Delicious.

What’s NOT: nothing really, except the harissa is spicy; probably not to children’s tastes.

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Harissa Bacon Mayo for Artichokes

Recipe By: My own concoction
Serving Size: 2

1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon harissa — or more to taste
1 teaspoon bacon jam
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice — or more to taste

1. In a small bowl combine all ingredients. If time permits, let rest in the refrigerator for an hour or so for the flavors to meld.
2. Serve along side a cooked artichoke.
Per Serving: 271 Calories; 32g Fat (97.6% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 14mg Cholesterol; 227mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Desserts, Veggies/sides, on June 29th, 2016.

moms_pear_pie

It’s been decades since I made this pie. And it’s SO easy to prepare (well, IF you have frozen pie crusts standing by). You can buy Bosc pears year ‘round now, so anytime could be pear pie season.

A few weeks ago I made an astounding pear cobbler I wrote up about just a few days ago. I don’t exactly post my recipes in order as I make them, but that pear cobbler made me think about a recipe I hadn’t made for decades, my Mom’s pear pie. I had to go hunting for the recipe – it was in my little orange binder that I used when I first began to have enough recipes to save. Some of the recipes in there are in my mother’s handwriting, though this one was not – my mom must have kind of dictated it to me. It’s hardly a recipe, so I had to write it a bit better for posting here.

The pear cobbler is long gone – I served it to a group and it all disappeared except for one serving that’s in my freezer. But it certainly did resonate in my palate, telling me to eat more pears. Then, in the interim I either read or heard from somewhere that when you’re baking pears, the best ones to use are Bosc. Well, it was too late; I’d already bought 4 Bartlett pears with the thought that I’d make this pear pie. I also bought a package of 2 Marie Callender’s pie crust shells (frozen). I know they’re good; good enough for this pie, for sure. I don’t bake pies very often – always because making the crust is just such a nuisance. That will forever be changed now that Marie’s pie shells are available. Whoopee! I have a number of pies I’d like to make, some that date back to the 60s that I’ve never bothered to include here on my blog. I’d also like to update two pies that are old favorites.

crust_with_raw_pearsSo, this pie. I don’t know the history of it, other than I know it was my mother’s mother’s recipe. My grandmother’s name was Isis, and she was a very good baker. She and my grandfather lived all their lives on a farm in the central valley here in California – in Stanislaus (pronounced STAN-is-law) County, near Modesto. My grandmother cooked 3 meals a day for the entirety of their marriage, I imagine. There were years when there was almost no money (my mother went to junior college, then worked and HAD to send money home to her parents because they might have lost the farm altogether). She had 2 older brothers and 2 sisters, and I expect they may have sent money home too if they had extra during those skim depression years. I have a number of recipes from my grandmother Isis. I recently bought some apricots, thinking I’d make an old time recipe for an apricot cobbler. That recipe might have belonged to my great aunt. Not sure.

Anyway, this pear pie is just so easy to make. I had 4 Bartlett pears (use Bosc if you have them) and after peeling them I just sliced them directly into the frozen pie crust. See photo above. They were quite juicy – maybe too juicy. Then I mixed up the “filling,” which was merely sugar, a little bit of flour, an egg and a jot of vanilla. That was stirred up and topping_pear_piedrizzled all over the top of the pears. See photo at right. I used a spatula to kind of help the topping/filling to cover most of the pears. Then I dotted the top with butter and into a hot oven it went for about 10 minutes. Then the temp was turned down to 325° and baked for another 35-45 minutes, until the filling was golden brown and set.

Letting it cool was essential, and it held onto the heat for quite a while. My mother almost always served this with whipped cream, but you could also use vanilla ice cream. I intended to sprinkle the top of the pears with cardamom, but forgot in my rush to get the topping on the pears. I did use almond flavoring rather than vanilla, however.

Photo here shows the pie with butter dotting the top, ready to go into the oven. pear_pie_ready2bakeI thought this might have been a Betty Crocker recipe, but no. I just searched for it and this is nothing like any of Betty’s pear pies. I’d guess it’s a depression-era recipe because it calls for no other ingredients like sour cream or even any spices. The sugar mixes with the egg and the presumption is that any of the juices from the pears will firm up with the flour added into the filling/topping. The eggy mixture does slip down between the layers of pears and surrounds the pears.

I enjoyed 2 slices, then gave the rest of it to my neighbors, who have 2 little girls with hungry appetites. Both girls do swimming and water polo – the mom is a full time “bus” driver for the girls.

What’s GOOD: if you’re looking for straight-forward pear taste, this is it. Nothing else, really, to distract your taste buds – pears, sugar, a little flour, an egg, flavoring and butter dotting the top. That’s all there is to it. It’s very juicy – if you use Bosc they may not be quite so much so. I actually liked it plain with no topping at all.

What’s NOT: really nothing – it’s easy to make if you have already made pie  shells, or will buy frozen ones. It took about 10-15 minutes to put it all together and stick it in the oven.

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Mom’s Pear Pie

Recipe By: My Mother’s recipe, handed down from her mother.
Serving Size: 8

1 pie crust (9 inch) — unbaked
4 whole pears — Bosc, preferably
3/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract — or almond extract
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
2. Peel the pears (if using Bartlett it’s not necessary to peel, but it will look nicer if you do), quarter, core and slice the pears into the pie shell. The pears should gently mound the pie shell (they shrink during baking).
3 In a small bowl combine the sugar and flour, mix well with a fork. Crack the egg into the middle, add the flavoring (almond or vanilla extract) and mix well. Using a spoon or fork, dab the mixture all over the top of the pears. There may be a couple of spots where pears aren’t covered, but do your best. Using a spatula, gently try to spread it over all the filling.
4 Cut tiny pieces of the butter and sprinkle over the filling.
5 Place the pie on a metal baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Then reduce heat to 325° and continue to bake for another 30-45 minutes or until the top is golden and the filling looks set. Cool. Serve warm or at room temp with sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. If desired, add a tiny jot of almond extract to the whipped cream instead of vanilla. You can also sprinkle the top of the pears with about 1/2 tsp. of ground cardamom (not in my mother’s recipe).
Per Serving: 266 Calories; 9g Fat (30.4% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 45g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 32mg Cholesterol; 155mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Veggies/sides, on June 21st, 2016.

roasted_carrots_platter

Can I just say, this was one of the best-est dishes I’ve eaten of late. I feel like I’d like to devour that entire platter. What is it? Multi-colored carrots roasted, then tossed with a unique kind of dressing that contains raisins, hazelnuts and thyme. It’s serve with Greek yogurt and sumac flecked pita chips (at left on the platter).

Some weeks ago I attended a cooking class where this was prepared. I took pictures, but they didn’t come out all that well, so lo, and behold, another blogger, Adde of thisishowicook.com made this lovely dish and kindly has let me share HER photo she took when she made it. I’ll be making this sometime soon, then I’ll take my own photos. Thanks, Adde.

This masterpiece isn’t hard. But it does take a bit of time to do – the carrots need to be prepped (easy) then tossed with oil and spices and they’re roasted for about 30 minutes. Also not hard, but then you want to make the pita chips slathered with some oil and peppered with sumac and baked/toasted in the oven for 12-15 minutes. Then, the mixture you eventually toss with the carrots must be prepped – raisins, nuts, thyme, sumac cooked in a bit of butter. Once the carrots are done, you toss them with this raisin mixture and you platter them. Now, I think Adde did it according to the original Sunset recipe – yogurt on the bottom, then the carrots and pita chips. Our instructor put the carrots down first, then plopped Greek yogurt on top. Your choice as to how you do it.

spiced_carrots_yogurt_pitaWhat I will tell you for sure – this dish is off the charts. The carrots become soft and succulent and take on such a lovely sweetness from the caramelization going on during the roasting. The combo of raisins and hazelnuts is brilliant – I’d never have put those two together, nor combine them with carrots! Then you complement them with the yogurt and pita chips. Oh yum.

This can be served as an appetizer, using the sumac pita chips as your scoop, but it would be best to have small plates and forks as the carrots might be a bit difficult to eat. Or, in the class I attended, the chef served it as a side dish with chicken, which was also very lovely.

What’s GOOD: Oh my gosh. I just couldn’t get enough of this – probably it’s the sugar/sweet taste of the carrots, but complemented by the raisins and hazelnuts just makes this dish unctuous.

What’s NOT: well, you can’t throw this together in 30 minutes – it takes a bit longer. Hopefully you have hazelnuts on hand, and Greek yogurt AND the sumac. And pita bread rounds and multi-colored carrots. For me, this will require a special trip to the grocery store to make sure I have everything.

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Roasted Carrot Platter

Recipe By: Sunset Magazine, 12/2014
Serving Size: 8

5 tablespoons olive oil — divided
1 teaspoon kosher salt — divided
2 1/2 teaspoons ground sumac — divided
4 pita bread rounds — 6″ across
Zest of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 pound carrots — medium sized, peeled and sliced diagonally 1/4″ thick and 2 to 3″ long
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup hazelnuts — very coarsely chopped roasted
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves — divided (fresh)
1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt, full-fat
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley — coarsely chopped

NOTES: Buy the multi-colored carrots if you can find them – they make for a beautiful platter.
1. Preheat oven to 350°. In a medium bowl, combine 3 tbsp. oil, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 1 tsp. sumac. Cut pitas in half and split them horizontally. Brush all over with sumac oil. Stack, cut into 4 wedges, and arrange on 2 rimmed baking sheets.
2. Bake pita chips, turning once, until deep golden and crisp, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool.
3. Increase oven to 450°. In bowl used for pita oil, combine 1/2 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. sumac, the lemon zest, coriander, cumin, and remaining 2 tbsp. oil. Add carrots; toss to coat. Spread evenly on 1 rimmed baking sheet. Roast carrots, stirring once, until browned at edges, 15 to 18 minutes. Let cool.
4. Cook butter in a medium frying pan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until browned, 5 to 8 minutes. All at once, add raisins, hazelnuts, 1/2 tsp. thyme, and remaining 1/2 tsp. sumac. Cook, stirring, until raisins puff, 45 to 60 seconds. Let cool.
5. In a bowl, combine yogurt, 1/4 tsp. salt, and remaining 1/2 tsp. thyme.
6. Spread yogurt on a platter. In another bowl, toss carrots with nut mixture and parsley. Spoon over yogurt and serve with chips. Add more salt to taste. Or, alternately, spread the carrots on the platter and then spoon the yogurt on top, sprinkling a little zaatar on top, and surrounding the edges with the zaatar pita chips you’ve made.
Make ahead: Through step 5, up to 5 hours; chill yogurt and carrots separately. Bring carrots to room temperature, about 1 1/4 hours, before continuing.
Per Serving: 332 Calories; 21g Fat (56.1% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 30g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 25mg Cholesterol; 568mg Sodium.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on April 30th, 2016.

indian_spiced_cauliflower

Can I see frowns on your faces? Curry? Oh, I don’t like curry, you say, skip this recipe. Well, you’ll be missing out if you don’t at least try it. There is so little curry in this you can’t exactly identify it. Yet it adds a very elusive flavor.

A couple of weeks ago (when I made this) I’d just gotten home from a 5-day trip to Northern California to visit Taylor, my granddaughter who’s attending Sonoma State, and my daughter Dana and her family near Placerville. Once home from the trip I knew I needed to use up some things in my refrigerator and a head of cauliflower was first on the list.

And actually, when I threw together a dinner the next night (you know how it is – you get back from a trip – there’s laundry to do, phone calls to return, mail to go through, bills to pay) and I didn’t have much time to cook dinner. And it wasn’t even in my mind that the recipe would be worthy of a post here on the blog. I just needed a quick dinner and I’d get back to the things that needed doing.

I drizzled some canola oil into a frying pan and then added a bit of butter too. While it was heating up I quick-like sliced and chopped up the cauliflower. The pieces that I sliced were the ones that had more of the caramelization, so I’d vote for doing a lot of slicing rather than floret-ing. I grabbed my bunch of cilantro and twisted off a little chunk to mince. Once the pan was just about smoking (be careful as the butter could burn, and you don’t want that) I threw in the cauliflower, turned the heat down just a bit, turned on the overhead fan and let those pieces caramelize. It doesn’t take long – there is a fine line, though, between hot and burning. It took very little time to get those pieces of cauliflower to brown. I tossed and stirred, along with the bit of dried thyme I sprinkled over it. Once browned to my liking, I added some water to the pan, on went a lid and I let it steam for about a minute. Just a minute. Then I sprinkled on the curry powder, salt and pepper. I tasted a piece because I did want the cauliflower to be done. Oh my goodness was it delicious – so into that little bowl it went – and I took a photo.

As it happened I only cooked a half of a head of cauliflower, but shall I just confess? I ate it all. Every single bit. Does that tell you how wonderful it was? In my defense, I will say that it was a small half head!

What’s GOOD: If you read my last sentence, I ate a half of a cauliflower when I made this. The entire amount. It was that good. The curry powder (I use Madras because I like that type, but you can use any curry powder) isn’t predominating by a long shot. In fact, you can hardly taste it. If you want to make it more special, throw in some pine nuts. Toast those in the frying pan during the last minute of cooking. You could add some turmeric too. If you don’t like cilantro, add some Italian parsley (it was as much for color as anything else). If your family doesn’t much like cauliflower, they might like it this way. The vegetable almost tastes sweet – caramelization or roasting does that to a lot of vegetables.

What’s NOT: not a thing. I love cauliflower, so it was a no-brainer that I’d enjoy it. I just didn’t know how MUCH I’d enjoy it!

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Indian Spiced Cauliflower

Recipe By: my own concoction
Serving Size: 4

1 tablespoon canola oil — or olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 head cauliflower — cut into bite-sized pieces
1 teaspoon dried thyme — crushed between your palms
1 teaspoon Madras curry powder — slightly heaping
3 tablespoons cilantro — minced (garnish)
salt and pepper to taste

NOTES: As you cut up the cauliflower, it’s fine to cut some into slices, because they will lay flat in the pan and caramelize easier than florets. Just make them small, bite-sized. I advise you not to wash the cauliflower just before making this as it really will spit at you while cooking.
1. In a saute pan large enough to hold all the cauliflower in one layer, heat the oil and butter over medium-high heat until melted and almost spitting. Toss in the cauliflower and the dried thyme and maintaining fairly high heat as you brown (caramelize) the cauliflower. Use a spatula to turn the cauliflower periodically so browning occurs over all the surfaces. Watch the pan carefully so it doesn’t burn, and turn down the heat as you need to. Once all the pieces are nicely caramelized, add about 1/4 cup of water to the pan and cover for just a minute or two to cook the cauliflower through.
2. Sprinkle on the curry powder and toss in the pan. Season with salt and pepper, garnish with cilantro and serve immediately.
Per Serving: 68 Calories; 6g Fat (80.9% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 3g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 8mg Cholesterol; 11mg 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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