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Just finished The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

Read Grace Unshakled, by Irene Huising. From Amazon’s page, it says: “In the year 2025, 17-year-old Grace Duncan finds herself in shackles because of her faith in Christ. An obedient daughter and stellar student, doing time in jail was never on her mental radar, despite the changes in religious laws [this takes place here in the United States] over the past few years. Through twists and turns in circumstances, Grace and a small band of Christians in Newport Beach, California begin a journey to discover what it means to follow Christ with unwavering faith in the midst of increasing persecution. Facing the potential loss of all her hopes and dreams, would Christ be enough?” We read this for one of my book clubs, and it’s a scary thought about what it could mean if we take God out of our country. The author is a friend of a friend and she attended our book club meeting to share about how she came to write this book. I don’t often share my faith here on my website, but this book made me stop and think about the direction our government is going, removing more and more our ability to worship God. Or to worship in any religion. Will this book ever make waves in the book world? Probably not. My copy may be a pre-edited version, as it contained numerous typos and formatting errors. But they didn’t detract from the subject, just the cosmetics. The book doesn’t come to a resolution; in fact it leaves you hanging, as some books do. It was intentional (obviously), but left me wondering about the “end of the story.”

Also just finished reading The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

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

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

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

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 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!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

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)

Posted in Salads, Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on January 31st, 2016.

basmati_wild_rice_golden_raisins_salad

What a lovely side dish this is – or it could be a vegetarian entrée, it’s so filling and complete with nutrition! Technically, I  used golden raisins since I didn’t have any currants. It was just fabulous!

Looking for a variety-packed side dish (a carb) to serve with the big family dinner I did recently, I decided to try this wild  and basmati rice (my favorite kind of white rice) side salad. My cousin, who has to eat GF, was all over it (1 1/2 teaspoons of flour is called for in the recipe, to coat the onion topping, so I used his GF flour instead). My D-I-L thought it was a great find, and one she could make and pack small cups into her son’s lunch. I don’t think anyone didn’t like it, and I certainly heard only positive descriptors, so I’d say this dish was a hit. I’d definitely make it again.

Wild rice features in this, and I used one of those already-cooked packets. If you don’t have that, just make it from scratch as instructed in the recipe.

RICE CONUNDRUM: The rice is a bit of a perplexing method. Well, let’s just say that I doubted the accuracy of the recipe when I began making it . . . for over 2 cups of white rice you used just 1 1/2 cups of water? Eh what? Surely I thought that was a typo. You need more water than rice, making it in a traditional method. I went back to the recipe in Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottalenghi. Nope, it was right. So I went on the ‘net, thinking there would be others who had posted this recipe. Yes, but the few there all showed using the same amount of water. I went to Ottolenghi’s website, thinking there might be an errata page (book errors), but no, there wasn’t. I went to my food chemistry book, Harold McGee’s small encyclopedia, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. He has no less than 6 pages of info about rice (no recipes) and in one section it did elaborate that different cultures/cuisines use different proportions of water (no specifics) and he briefly discussed the Middle East’s penchant for flavorings, and the use of oil and butter. No help there. I did a google search on “how to slow steam rice” and that brought up about 100 slow-cooker methods. I took out the “slow” and then got dozens of youtube links to show me exactly how to steam rice. Not what I needed. I even went to the publisher’s website (Random House) hoping for an errata page. I couldn’t find one. What’s with that? Publishers always used to have an errata page.

So, what did I do? I cooked the rice according to the directions, but were I to make this again, I would increase the water by about half. Usually rice needs twice as much water to rice. I’d make it with 1 1/2 times the amount of water to see if that works. The rice is slow-slow cooked on the cooktop – I used my risottos cooker on its slow cooker setting and in the allotted 15 minutes it ran out of water. I let it sit for a bit, thinking that the grains would cook a bit more. I tasted it. It was okay – just a bit crunchy. Surprise. And yet, to me, the rice was on the firm side, for sure.

Once both rices are ready, you begin adding ingredients – herbs, spices, then the raisins. The chickpeas (garbanzos) are sautéed in some oil and spices too (so the flavorings stick to the beans) and those are added in. The onion is a common thread in Middle Eastern rice and grain salads, and not just onion added to the carb, but prepared separately. I didn’t deep fry the onion as the recipe indicated as I was using my cousin’s GF flour and wasn’t certain how it would react to frying, so I just used a few tablespoons of oil and did it that way. Next time I think I’d make more onions and I’d caramelize them, since that adds so much flavor. And I’d leave out the flour – some people made the onions like onion rings, but I prefer the full-bodied flavor of caramelized onions and would mix them in. I added in a bit more olive oil at the end because I thought the dish was very (too) dry, but you can go without that.

What’s GOOD: this was a wonderful side dish. I still question the quantity of water to rice and will alter the recipe if/when I make it again. The flavors were wonderful. The golden raisins (or currants) add such a surprise taste in the savory rice. It’s colorful and everyone liked it a lot.

What’s NOT: it does take a bit more time than some dishes, but none of it was difficult or all that time consuming. If I made caramelized onions next time, THAT would take some extra time.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Basmati and Wild Rice with Chickpeas, Currants and Herbs

Recipe By: Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Ottolenghi
Serving Size: 6

1/3 cup wild rice
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/4 cups basmati rice
1 1/2 cups boiling water [my opinion – it needs more water]
2/3 cup currants
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley — chopped
1 tablespoon dill weed — minced
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
Drizzle more oil before serving if salad seems dry
GARBANZO BEANS:
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1 1/2 cups garbanzo beans, canned — drained, rinsed, towel dried
FRIED ONIONS:
3/4 cup sunflower oil, for frying the onions (or other vegetable oil) [I used about 2 T. instead]
1 medium onion — thinly sliced * see notes
1 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

1. Start by putting the wild rice in a small saucepan, cover with plenty of water, bring to a boil, and leave to simmer for about 40 minutes, until the rice is cooked but still quite firm. Drain and set aside.
2. To cook the basmati rice, pour 1 tablespoon of the olive oil into a medium saucepan with a tightly fitting lid and place over high heat. Add the rice and 1/4 teaspoon salt and stir as you warm up the rice. Carefully add the boiling water, decrease the heat to very low, cover the pan with the lid, and leave to cook for 15 minutes.
3. Remove the pan from the heat, cover with a clean tea towel and then the lid, and leave off the heat for 10 minutes.
4. While the rice is cooking, prepare the chickpeas. Heat the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil in a small saucepan over high heat. Add the cumin seeds and curry powder, wait for a couple seconds, and then add the chickpeas and 1/4 teaspoon salt; make sure you do this quickly or the spices may burn in the oil. Stir over the heat for a minute or two, just to heat the chickpeas, then transfer to a large mixing bowl.
5. ONION: Wipe the saucepan clean, pour in the sunflower oil, and place over high heat. Make sure the oil is hot by throwing in a small piece of onion; it should sizzle vigorously. Use your hands to mix the onion with the flour to coat it slightly. Take some of the onion and carefully (it may spit!) place it in the oil. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown, then transfer to paper towels to drain and sprinkle with salt. Repeat in batches until all the onion is fried. *NOTE: next time I would use twice as much onion and I’d caramelize it in oil rather than batter and fry them, only to chop them up to add to the rice mixture.
6. Finally, add both types of rice to the chickpeas and then add the currants, herbs, and fried onion. Stir, taste, and add salt and pepper as you like. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Per Serving (altogether incorrect because it assumes you consume the oil you fry the onions in): 445 Calories; 8g Fat (16.4% calories from fat); 12g Protein; 83g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 232mg Sodium.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on January 19th, 2016.

butternut_sq_potato_gratinIf you’re looking for an elegant and over-the-top taste in a side vegetable, this is your ticket to success! Rich? Yes. Hard? No, not really, though it does take some prep work. Delicious? Absolutely!

Looking on my own blog archives, I see that I posted a similar gratin a year ago, a recipe that Phillis Carey made for a Butternut Squash & Caramelized Onion Gratin. That one is only butternut squash. This one, made by Diane Phillips at a cooking class I went to last month (and have since made myself) contains both butternut squash and potatoes in about equal measure. Phillis’ recipe used only Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, whereas this one uses Gruyere mostly, with a little bit of Parmigiano in it. Although Diane cooks global cuisines, she often does Italian food as her heritage is Italian, and she and her husband spend part of every year there.

But this dish, I think, is more French than Italian. There’s nothing much in it that rings of Italy except the Parmigiano, and nothing particular that rings French except the Gruyere, so I can’t pinpoint. Gratins are usually French, however!

butternut_potato_gratin_unbakedThere’s the casserole just before it went into the oven. Both butternut squash and Yukon potatoes (sliced on my mandoline at about 3/8 “ thick) are gently simmered in milk and cream until nearly done, then poured into an oiled baking dish, covered with a mixture of the cheeses and baked for about 45 minutes. Diane suggested 1/2” slices, but my mandoline only goes up to 3/8”, so that’s what this was – it may have cooked in less time, but otherwise there was no difference between mine and Diane’s. It also has a leek in it, some garlic, fresh thyme too. And if you’re feeling feisty, add some squirts of Tabasco (I didn’t when I made it just because there were children eating it).

Once baked it’s nice to let it sit out to cool just a bit – no question – if you had a bite of this straight from the oven you’d burn your mouth, so do let it rest for 5-10 minutes before digging into it. I took this to a family Christmas Eve dinner (the one above) and had a 2nd casserole that had enough for Christmas Day dinner as well. I reconfigured the recipe to serve 16 and it served more than that, I think. The casserole isn’t all that thick/deep, but because it’s rich, you don’t want to serve large portions. With a well-rounded dinner, I think this recipe below would feed 10 for sure, as long as nobody was doing seconds or taking a gigantic serving. Hungry teenagers? Well, it might only feed 6!

What’s GOOD: the combo of butternut squash and potatoes is sublime – the textures are different – but the mix produces a rich, silky casserole that’s everything you’d ever want in a beautiful, elegant side vegetable to a special occasion meal.

What’s NOT: well, only that it’s rich (it does contain heavy cream and ample grated cheese). But hey, it’s just one very special dish, not a regular weeknight kind of thing. It does take a bit of prep, but if you have a slicer or mandoline, it made quick work of the prep. I thought it was easier than expected.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Butternut Squash and Potato Gratin

Recipe By: Diane Phillips cooking class, 12/2015
Serving Size: 8

3 cups butternut squash — peeled, cut in 1/2″ slices
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes — scrubbed, 1/2″ slices
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 clove garlic — minced
1 whole leek — chopped finely, both white and tender green part
2 teaspoons fresh thyme — finely chopped
6 drops Tabasco sauce
1 1/2 cups Gruyere cheese — finely shredded
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated

NOTE: If you don’t have a leek, use half of a white onion, chop up and cook through in the milk/cream mixture.
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat the inside of a 9×13 baking dish with olive oil spray or nonstick cooking spray (not Pam).
2. In a large NONSTICK skillet, heat the squash slices, potato slices, milk, cream, garlic, leeks (or onion), thyme, Tabasco, and cook for 5-6 minutes, until the vegetables are almost done; they should be firm, but a knife will pierce them easily.
3. Transfer vegetables to prepared baking dish and sprinkle top with the cheeses.
4. Bake the gratin for 30-40 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the cheeses are golden brown. Allow to rest 5-10 minutes before serving. This dish is especially good with grilled meat, chicken or seafood.
Per Serving: 292 Calories; 19g Fat (58.1% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 69mg Cholesterol; 111mg Sodium.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on January 15th, 2016.

tomatillo_salsa_green_beans

There are a lot of recipes on this-here blog for green beans. I like them. I’ll eat them any old way, even steamed with a sprinkling of Butter Buds on them. But making something different with them is definitely my preference.

Last month at Phillis Carey’s bonanza “Diva” cooking class she made a kind of a southwest dinner. I have yet to share the star of her group of recipes – the pork tenderloin. Soon. Meanwhile, I wanted to make this green bean recipe. All for me. Just me. I’ve now had 3 meals with them and I still have some left over. They go a long way.

tomatillos3You know what tomatillos are, right?  There at left – they’re a Mexican fruit-like vegetable – they kind of look like green tomatoes, but they grow with a paper-like covering over them (probably to protect the tender flesh from the hot sun). You peel the covering off, wash them well (because they develop a kind of sticky residue on them) and cut them up. They’re TART. Lemony in a way. You wouldn’t eat them straight away – pucker power for sure. But they’re used frequently in all manner of Mexican cooking.

Phillis gave us the recipe for making a tomatillo salsa from scratch, but she said if you didn’t want to do that part, just buy a jar of tomatillo salsa or tomatillo verde at the grocery store. That’s what I did, Herdez brand. That saved a bunch of work. Some markets have fresh tomatillo salsa on the refrigerated shelves, at least here in SoCal. But the jarred stuff works fine.

To the jarred salsa I added some additional cumin and lime juice. Phillis’ recipe calls for a red onion. I didn’t have one, so I used a yellow onion instead. The green beans are simmered in water until they’re nearly done. Meanwhile you cook the sliced onion in vegetable oil until the strands are limp, then you add in the drained green beans and the tomatillo salsa. I decided to add something that’s likely not traditional – a bit of sour cream. It cut the acidity of the salsa a little bit and added a nice richness to them. There’s very little sour cream in them. You could try it without that too, which would be true to the original recipe. I added fresh cilantro to the finished dish, just because I could. I like cilantro in most things.

What’s GOOD: certainly this is a different kind of preparation of green beans – not a common method, with the tomatillos in it. The dish is tart, piquant. The sour cream softens it a little bit. If you or your family don’t like the tart flavor, leave out the lime juice (the jarred salsa may have enough) and add just a little bit of sugar. This makes a nice dinner presentation for a side veggie. A gussied-up veggie. It keeps for several days.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. It’s a lovely veggie. Different. Maybe not to everyone’s taste.

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Green Beans with Tomatillo Salsa

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from a Phillis Carey cooking class, 2015
Serving Size: 8

2 pounds green beans — haricot verts or regular ones cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 medium red onion — sliced
8 ounces Herdez tomatillo verde — jarred tomatillo sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro — chopped, plus some for garnish
2 teaspoons lime juice
3 tablespoons sour cream — optional

1. Bring a large stockpot full of water to a boil. Add salt, then add green beans. Simmer until beans are just BARELY done (you’ll cook them a minute more later). Drain and plunge into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Once cool, drain and dry. The green beans may be cooked up to 2 days ahead and stored in the refrigerator.
2. In a large skillet warm the oil, then add the sliced onion. Stir occasionally and cook over medium to low heat until the onion is completely limp. Add the jarred tomatillo verde sauce, ground cumin, lime juice and some of the cilantro. Bring to a simmer. Taste for seasonings – if the mixture seems too tart, add a couple of pinches of sugar. Add sour cream, continuing to heat, but do not boil. Add the green beans and warm them through until they’re hot. Pour out onto a platter and garnish with additional cilantro.
Per Serving: 87 Calories; 5g Fat (48.1% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 2mg Cholesterol; 1022mg Sodium.

Posted in Salads, Veggies/sides, on December 17th, 2015.

tomato_corn_salad_shallot_vinaigrette

We still have some fairly nice tomatoes at our farmer’s markets, and even in the grocery stores. Do make this if you still have some with bright, fresh available produce.

Last month one of my book clubs chose to read Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage , the memoir written by Molly Wizenberg, of Orangette fame (her blog that I’ve been reading for years). It’s a very cute book – about Molly’s journey from single woman, to meeting the man of her dreams and then the rocky road of opening a pizza restaurant in Seattle. The rocky road was about pouring all their hard earned savings into it, even when Molly wasn’t so sure it was a good idea, but she wanted to support her hubby in fulfilling HIS dream of making pizza like he remembered from a Brooklyn restaurant that makes, to this day, some amazing pizza (so we read in the book, anyway). Delancey was almost an overnight success (fortunately) but it was almost Molly’s undoing. She tells it all, sharing her innermost fears almost from day one.

Our book club doesn’t usually read food related books, or restaurant memoirs, so I was surprised when Peggy suggested it. Not that I didn’t want to read the book – I did – but wasn’t sure the other gals in the group, who aren’t all foodies necessarily, would. But yet, the book isn’t all about food – it’s about Molly’s journey. And interspersed in the book are recipes. This one you won’t find on her blog, Orangette. That’s kind of a cardinal rule in blogging – if you’re one of the fortunates, who has become a published author, you don’t write up the book recipes on the blog – why would people buy the book then?

Peggy & her husband Gary came to one of our gourmet group dinners recently, and she brought the salad – the one we’d read about in the book. And gosh, was it ever good. It’s a sterling recipe for showcasing good tomatoes. Don’t even think about making this if you can’t find good tomatoes and cherry tomatoes. These days we seem to be able to get corn on the cob year ‘round, so that’s not a problem. And basil is ever present too. It’s just the tomatoes you’ll have to be careful about.

The shallot vinaigrette is shaken in a glass jar – nothing difficult about it, and any left overs will keep for a few days. I was delighted to use the dressing on a salad a few days later. And actually the tomatoes themselves, the ones left over from the dinner, were still glorious 2 days later since they’d marinated in the dressing. Peggy said she added a little more salt and sugar to the dressing, so I’ve included that change in the recipe below. Taste the dressing to make sure it meets your approval – and add more sugar if it tastes too tart. Molly suggested having fresh bread to mop up the good juices – we didn’t do that, and I wished we’d had some, but we had a full meal without having any bread. This might make a lovely lunch salad with some bread.

What’s GOOD: it’s an easy recipe to make – it’s all about the tomatoes. But yet, the corn adds a very nice texture to the salad. There isn’t all that much of the corn, but it’s a lovely addition. And then, the shallot vinaigrette is really, really good. Nothing all that unusual about it, but I thought it was perfect for the tomatoes. It will keep a day or so, although I wouldn’t serve it to guests after the first time probably. Definitely a keeper.

What’s NOT: only if you can’t get good tomatoes – don’t even try making this if that’s the case.

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Tomato and Fresh Corn Salad with Shallot Vinaigrette

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Molly Wizenberg’s memoir, Delancey
Serving Size: 4

VINAIGRETTE:
1/2 extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 small shallot — minced
2 pinches salt — or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon sugar — or more to taste
Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
SALAD:
4 large tomatoes — sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes — halved
3/4 cup fresh corn — cut off the cob
6 whole basil leaves — thinly sliced
Fleur de sel or sea salt flakes — to taste

1. DRESSING: Put all ingredients in a screw top glass jar. Tightly close the jar and shake vigorously. Put aside until ready to dress the salad, or store in the fridge if you’re making it ahead of time.
2. SALAD: Place the sliced tomatoes on a large serving platter (or divide between individual serving plates). Scatter corn kernels over the tomatoes. Season with fleur de sel, then drizzle generously with vinaigrette. Sprinkle with the fresh basil. Serve immediately with crusty bread to mop up the juices.
Per Serving: 304 Calories; 28g Fat (78.6% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 15g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 102mg Sodium.

Posted in Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on December 9th, 2015.

squash_corn_sugarsnap_gratin

Although this could be a vegetable side dish, I made it as my dinner entrée the other night. It was absolutely delicious. And filling. And relatively good for me (however, there’s some milk in it – just a little – and some cheese – and some butter).

Seems like I’m not as good as I used to be at planning ahead. In this case it was planning for my own dinner. So, I hadn’t defrosted any chicken, or fish, or whatever – and by the time I thought about it, it was after 5 pm. But, I did have some fresh vegetables in the crisper.

This is a riff on an Ina Garten recipe that I’ve posted here on my blog already – zucchini gratin. (That dish was a favorite of my darling DH and I haven’t made this since he passed away last year.) It’s a very simple recipe to make – cooking some onion and zucchini, pouring it into a casserole dish and topping it with panko and grated cheeses. What I had in my refrigerator were yellow crookneck and sugarsquash_corn_sugarsnap_casserolesnap peas. I always have some corn in the freezer too. And I’d bought some Fontina cheese (a good melting cheese) and I always have some Parmigiano-Reggiano in the refrigerator also. First the onion is chopped up fine, cooked in butter, and while that’s cooking you slice up the squash – very thin actually. I have a small hand-held mandoline with 4 settings on it – I used the thickest, which is still pretty thin. All that’s added in and it gets cooked over low heat for about 8-10 minutes until the squash is just about cooked through. I’d chopped up some sugar snaps and found the corn in the freezer. That was cooked just slightly, then it’s seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg (and a little flour), then some milk is added to make a very light creamy sauce. Then it all was poured into a wide gratin pan. Then I grated the cheeses and tossed that with the panko crumbs. That got sprinkled on top and into a 400° oven it went and baked for about 20 minutes until the crumbs were golden brown and the vegetables were bubbling. I got two small casseroles out of the mixture, so I have another dinner of it in the near future. I’ll heat it in the toaster oven and turn it on to broil at the last minute to crisp up the crumbs.

What’s GOOD: a vegetable gratin is always delicious in my book. And since I love summer squash anyway, it’s a given I’d love this. The original recipe called for Gruyere cheese, and I think it probably has a bit more character (flavor) than the Fontina, but it was good anyway. I nearly licked the pan (not really) if that gives you an indication of how good it was. It’s comfort food.

What’s NOT: It does take a bit of work (mincing and slicing stuff) but it all comes together easily enough. From start to finish (out of the oven) took about 45 minutes, I guess.

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Yellow Squash, Red Onion, Corn & Sugar Snap Gratin

Recipe By: Inspired by an Ina Garten recipe for Zucchini Gratin
Serving Size: 4

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 large red onion — chopped
1 pound yellow crookneck squash — sliced thinly
1/3 cup corn
1/2 cup sugar snap peas — strings removed and coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoon fresh nutmeg
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole milk — hot
1/2 cup Panko
1/4 cup Fontina cheese — grated
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
1 tablespoon butter — for the top (optional)

1. In a large skillet melt the butter.
2. Chop up the red onion finely and add to the butter. Saute over low to medium heat for about 10-15 minutes until the onion is completely wilted.
3. Add the thinly sliced yellow squash to the pan, stir so the squash mixes up with the onion and butter, cover and allow to cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, until the squash is just barely cooked through and is limp. Add the corn and sugar snaps. Cook for another minute or two.
4. Preheat oven to 400°.
5. Add salt, pepper, nutmeg and flour. Stir around so the flour is disbursed throughout. Pour in the hot milk and stir until the “gravy” has formed and thickened. Continue to cook for about 1-2 minutes over low heat. Scoop the vegetables into a casserole dish (wider rather than tall if possible).
6. Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine the panko and the cheeses; stir to mix. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the top of the casserole and dot the top with butter (if desired).
7. Bake for 20 minutes until the top is golden brown and the mixture is bubbling. Remove from oven and allow to sit just a couple of minutes before serving.
Per Serving: 229 Calories; 15g Fat (58.7% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 43mg Cholesterol; 128mg Sodium.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on September 28th, 2015.

zucchini_cheesy_casserole

Something just a tad bit different. A riff on a standard Southern dish. Zucchini cloaked in a light custard, grated cheese added and cheese cracker crumbs sprinkled on top. Easy.

Have you ever read a recipe, thought you’d saved it and didn’t? Then 2 days later you go looking for it and can’t find it. That’s me. I was SURE I’d saved the recipe – I’d found it on somebody’s blog. Went to the 2 blogs I thought it must have been, but nope. Not there. So what’s a cook to do except hunt around on the ‘net for another one.

This recipe is very similar to hundreds. Squash casserole is ubiquitous in the South. Most of them are made with yellow squash, however. You could use yellow squash in this one, but I had zucchini.

As I write this I’ve just spent the last 5 days. 4-6 hours each day, going back in my blog for the last 4 years (to mid-2011) and adding all the posted recipes from my blog into my MasterCook software. What a tedious job that was. My buns were sore from sitting. My kitten kept me company in his little bed (one of those short cat poles with a round carpeted bed on top) waiting for strokes now and then. So at least I now have a record of all my blog recipes, but have still “lost” all the saved to-try recipes. There were hundreds of them. Oh well, so many recipes out there and never enough time to try them all anyway.

So, what I had was zucchini, Fontina cheese, Pecorino and some cheesy crackers – actually they weren’t Cheez-its (I never buy those anyway) but Trader Joe’s new cheese crackers. I don’t like them particularly, but they worked fine for this recipe which I knew I was going to make which is why I bought them. I’ll likely throw out the remainder of the box because they’re not good enough to snack on. Most of the recipes use Cheddar, or even American cheese.

I had a couple of leeks, so decided to use them, although they are not traditional in this casserole. They added a nice sweetness to the zucc_cheesy_casserole_unbakedcustard. I lightly sautéed onion and the leeks, then added the chunky zucchini in. I cooked all that until the zucchini was almost cooked, but not quite. That got poured into a casserole dish, a custard mixture (2 eggs, 2% milk and a tetch of cream) cheese was added on top, then the crushed up cheese crackers. I added the cream because I only had 2% milk, and the recipes I read all called for whole milk. You can do it all with 2% if you’d prefer. At left is the unbaked casserole.

Into the oven it went for about 20-25 minutes until the top was a bit crusty golden brown. The cheese crackers didn’t really brown, which was fine – it’s the cheese and the egg mixture that does. I let it sit out for about 5 minutes before I scooped out a serving. I’d made some salmon for my dinner. It was dreadful. Probably the preparation was fine, but the salmon had freezer burn on it and it just tasted awful. I ate about 3 tiny bites and threw it all out. I made a chunked up salad of tomatoes, mozzarella, red bell peppers and some Italian parsley. It made up for the awful salmon. I didn’t even zucc_cheesy_casserole_wholewant to put it in my trash (I don’t use my garbage disposal much anymore because it too easily gets clogged up) because I knew it would smell something fierce. The disposal made quick work of about 1/2 pound of salmon. Sigh. At right is the finished (baked) casserole.

What’s GOOD: it’s very easy to prepare and makes a simple vegetable very elegant and tasty. I liked the custard and the cheese. And the onions & leeks also added a sweetness. I could have done without the cheese cracker crumb crust – maybe next time I’d use saltines or panko. Or maybe if I’d used Cheez-its or Pepperidge Farms’ cheesy crackers it would have tasted better. But overall, it was a great dish. It could also be a very nice vegetarian entree.

What’s NOT: only that it takes about 15-20 minutes to get it ready for the oven. A bit of chopping and mixing. But worth doing.

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Zucchini Cheesy Custard Casserole

Recipe By: My own concoction, based on a variety of online recipes, 2015
Serving Size: 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 pound zucchini — stemmed, coarsely chopped
1/2 medium onion — chopped
1 large leek — cleaned, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup milk

1/4 cup heavy cream
2 medium eggs
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
2/3 cup Fontina cheese — grated (or Cheddar)
1/3 cup Pecorino cheese — grated (or Parmigiano, or some other cheese of choice)
1/2 cup cheese crackers — crushed

1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
2. In a large skillet heat olive oil until it begins to shimmer, then add onion and leeks. Cook until vegetables begin to soften, but not brown at all. Turn heat down if necessary.
3. Add zucchini and cover. Continue cooking for about 4-7 minutes until zucchini is nearly cooked through.
4. Meanwhile, in a small bowl whisk eggs until they’re blended, then add milk. Set aside.
5. Grate cheese and crumble the cheese crackers and set aside.
6. Grease a casserole dish (about 2 quart) and pour the vegetable mixture into the dish. Level slightly. Pour in the milk mixture and top with grated cheeses.
7. Top with cheese cracker mixture and bake for 20-30 minutes until the top is golden.
Per Serving: 239 Calories; 14g Fat (52.8% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 19g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 93mg Cholesterol; 341mg Sodium.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on September 20th, 2015.

spicy_cauliflower_pinenuts_tahini

Simple vegetable. Roasted. Spiced up. Pine nuts added. Tahini sauce on top. Yum.

I’d bought a cauliflower a couple of weeks ago. On a day when I thought, oh yes, I’ll fix that in a day or two. Days went by, and I forgot all about it stuffed into the back of the bottom shelf. By the time I decided to do something about it I truly thought it would have been over the hill (spoiled), but it wasn’t. Surprise. I’d read this recipe at Food52 that sounded really good and worth the effort to make.

cauliflower_spiced_roastingIt wasn’t hard to make though it did take some time to do – cut the cauliflower into florets, toss them in a spice blend of ground cumin, cayenne, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Drizzle the cauliflower with a few tablespoons of olive oil and spread them out on a big flat metal baking sheet. Roast in a hot oven for about 40 minutes, removing half way through to turn all the pieces over so they get brown toasty spots on at least 2 sides. Toast some pine nuts part way, and add them onto the pan with the cauliflower during the last 4 minutes or so of roasting. Meanwhile, you make the tahini sauce: tahini, some lemon juice, garlic, and water added to make it barely pourable, and some fresh parsley. Pour the hot-hot cauliflower out into a wide platter or bowl, sprinkle on some more chopped parsley and drizzle it with the tahini sauce (some of what you made, not all). Done. I cut the sauce part in half (because the original recipe indicated you’d have left over sauce). Well, maybe I didn’t put enough tahini sauce on the cauliflower because even making half, I have a LOT of sauce left over. So I’ve altered the recipe below to cut the sauce recipe down by 2/3. You can always make more.

What’s GOOD: a delicious way to make cauliflower more interesting. I like anything with sort-of Indian spices. This isn’t exactly Indian – maybe it is – I don’t know – but the cumin and cayenne gave it a little bit of zip. Cauliflower doesn’t ever get crisp because it has a lot of water in it – but it did get toasted on the edges as you can see in the photo at top. I liked the tahini drizzle. When I tasted it as I made it I was a bit ho-hum about it, but I added some more lemon tahini_lemon_juice_saucejuice, which brightened the flavors a lot and it enhanced the cauliflower. The tahini, surprisingly enough, doesn’t overwhelm the cauliflower as I thought it might. It’s a good recipe, worth making if you’re adventurous about spices on a humble veggie.

What’s NOT: it did take a bit of fuss to make – roasting the cauliflower; and, well, cutting it up into florets too (maybe get a helper to do that part), whisking up the tahini drizzle, toasting the nuts – certainly a bit more work than an ordinary quick veggie. Warmed up (the left overs) weren’t so perky – couldn’t seem to crisp up the cauliflower at all and the nuts had gotten soggy. So try to eat it at the first sitting.

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Spice-Roasted Cauliflower with Pine Nuts and Tahini Drizzle

Recipe By: From Food52
Serving Size: 4

1 whole cauliflower — cut into florets
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper — or up to 1/2 tsp if you like the heat
2 teaspoons garlic powder
3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt — to taste Fresh-cracked pepper — to taste
1/4 cup pine nuts — toasted for about 4 minutes in a separate pan in oven with cauliflower
3 tablespoons Italian parsley — chopped, as garnish
TAHINI DRIZZLE:
1/3 cup tahini
1 small lemon — juiced, divided use
1 small garlic clove — pressed or grated
Kosher salt — to taste
Fresh-cracked pepper — to taste
Warm water (start with 1/4 cup and add more as needed)
2 tablespoons Italian parsley — minced

1. Preheat the oven to 425° F.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cauliflower florets and spices. Drizzle the olive oil over top and toss to combine. Add the salt and pepper to taste. Toss in the mixing bowl to coat the cauliflower evenly, then spread out on a sheet pan.
3. Roast the cauliflower for about 40 minutes (depending on your oven), flipping once half-way through to ensure the cauliflower is evenly browned and roasted. About 4 minutes before they are done, sprinkle the toasted pine nuts over the florets and give the pan a shake to mix them in with the spices and oil.
4. SAUCE: In a small mixing bowl, add in the tahini, and mix in half of the lemon juice. Whisk to combine, and then add in a garlic clove and salt and pepper to taste.
5. Start adding in warm water a little bit at a time, and continue whisking, until it reaches your desired consistency (something drizzle-able)! [When I made it it required about the same amount of water as tahini.] Taste and make sure there is enough salt and pepper, and if you like a little more tanginess add as much of the remaining lemon juice as you’d like. You want the sauce to be tangy.
6. Add chopped parsley to the tahini sauce and set aside.
7. When the spiced cauliflower and pine nuts are done, remove them from the oven and arrange in a serving bowl. Drizzle with some of the tahini sauce, to taste, top with more fresh chopped parsley, and serve warm. Save the rest of the tahini sauce (there won’t be much) as a dip or make into a dressing.
Per Serving (assuming you use all the drizzle): 280 Calories; 26g Fat (76.9% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 37mg Sodium.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on September 16th, 2015.

mashed_potatoes_blue_cheese_caramelized_onions

Is it fall yet? Time for some heartier side carbs?

My son and his wife were celebrating their wedding anniversary (13 years) and they threw themselves a lovely sit-down dinner with all the bells and whistles – fine china, crystal – and they invited a few other family members. It was just so fun. Powell grilled thick ribeyes and a big slab of fresh tuna right off the day boat. I didn’t know what they were making, but was asked to bring a carb, so I searched around for something. It’s interesting that I decided NOT to make a potato salad (it is still very much summer here in SoCal) or a pasta salad, or a rice salad, or a corn salad. Nope. I’d picked out something and just couldn’t seem to get my arms wrapped around it, so I went back to look at other recipes and decided to make this mashed potato dish. I had all the ingredients on hand – thank goodness. I had some Humboldt Fog blue cheese in the freezer and I’d bought a bag of Yukon Gold potatoes without knowing if I’d be using them or not.

The most time consuming thing about making these was cooking the onions. Perhaps you can see in the photo, I used some red onion. The recipe calls for yellow onions, but I opted to use 1 yellow and 1 red. They’re slow-slowly cooked in a bit of oil and butter for a long time, stirring periodically so they don’t burn. Once they finally release all of the water they begin to caramelize (helped along with a tiny pinch of brown sugar). Once that’s done you add in some port wine. I thought I had a bottle of ruby port, but having searched through the multitude of liqueurs in the cabinet, I could only find Tawny port (which is slightly more aged port, that’s all). It took about another 15 minutes to cook that down until all the port was evaporated, but the onions then have this translucent red glaze on them. Oh my. I could have eaten the plate full of them. Forget the potatoes!

The potatoes are fairly straight forward – cook them in water – I halved the small Yukon Gold ones I bought – and I left the skins on, although you really can’t see them in the photo. They’re there, though. If you prefer, skin the potatoes first. Anyway, I tried to mash them with a potato masher and after many minutes of huffing and puffing with it, I gave up and got out the hand mixer. But I still had some little lumps after several minutes. They don’t bother me and I don’t think anyone else noticed, or if they did, they must have liked it that way too. Half and half is infused with thyme. I didn’t have any fresh thyme and I didn’t make a trip to the grocery store for it – so I used dried thyme and strained the mixture after it was heated and left to sit for awhile. I ended up adding a little bit more milk to the mixture to smooth it out – it was a bit too stiff. I chose to add the cheese into the potatoes early on (you can fold in the cheese and butter at the end if you prefer – I didn’t want little crumbles of blue. I wanted it to be mixed in well. Your choice. I piled the potatoes into a casserole dish and then added the caramelized onions to the top.

I made the casserole a couple of hours ahead and when I got to their house it was reheated in a 225° oven for about 35 minutes (uncovered).

NOTE: if you happen to taste the potatoes – by themselves – and you’re a bit alarmed at the blue-cheesy flavor, don’t be discouraged. I was more than a bit turned off by the flavor – blue cheese has a tannic taste – and I could definitely taste it in the potatoes. But paired with the (sweet) caramelized onions – oh, a match made in heaven. I decided that next time I’d make this I’d make twice as many onions just because they’re so good, and it’s nice to have plenty of onion to temper the blue cheese. So, I’ve upped the quantity of onions in the recipe below. In the original recipe, for 2 pounds of potatoes you use 4 ounces of blue cheese and use 2 onions with 1 cup of port wine. I’ve changed it to 3 ounces of blue cheese and 4 onions and double the port. Just so you know.

What’s GOOD: overall the flavor is wonderful – the blue cheese marries well with the sweetness of the caramelized onions. A great pairing. It’s a hearty dish, for sure, and goes well with a big hunk of meat (steak, roast, pork chop). I wouldn’t pair this with turkey (to me the blue cheese might overwhelm the delicacy of turkey). A chicken breast might be okay, though, as long as it wasn’t strongly flavored. Can be made ahead by several hours too.

What’s NOT: just the time it takes to make (caramelizing the onions and boiling down the port) but oh, it’s worth it if you can do it.

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Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Onions & Blue Cheese

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Cook’s Illustrated, Jan. 2003
Serving Size: 8

ONIONS:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
2 pounds yellow onions — sliced 1/4″ thick, 2 lbs=4 onions approx.
2 cups port wine — preferably ruby port [I used Tawny Port]
POTATOES:
3/4 cup half and half
1 teaspoon fresh thyme — chopped (and more if potatoes are really thick)
2 pounds russet potatoes — unpeeled, scrubbed (or use Yukon Gold)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/4 teaspoons table salt
3 ounces blue cheese — crumbled
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1. ONIONS: Heat butter and oil in 10-inch nonstick skillet over high heat; when foam subsides, stir in salt and sugar. Add onions and stir to coat; cook, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to soften and release some moisture, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium or medium-low; cook, stirring frequently, until onions are deeply browned and sticky, about 35 minutes longer (if onions are sizzling or scorching, reduce heat; if onions are not browning after 15 minutes, increase heat). Stir in port; continue to cook until port reduces to glaze, 8 to 10 minutes. Set onions aside.
2. POTATOES: If you prefer potatoes to be peeled, do that ahead. [I left the skins on.] While onions are cooking, bring half-and-half and thyme to boil in small saucepan or microwave oven; cover to keep warm.
3. Place potatoes in large saucepan with water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to boil over high heat, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until potatoes are just tender (paring knife can be slipped into and out of potato with very little resistance), 20 to 30 minutes. Drain.
4. Put potatoes through a food mill or ricer if desired. Or mash potatoes with potato masher directly in saucepan. Add warmed half and half and the blue cheese and fold in completely.
5. Add butter to potatoes stirring until incorporated. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately, topped with onions. Or, can be made a few hours ahead (topped with the onions) and reheated, uncovered, in a 225° oven for about 35 minutes.
Per Serving: 394 Calories; 18g Fat (47.1% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 38g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 44mg Cholesterol; 680mg Sodium.

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