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

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

Also finished The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel by Gabrielle Zevin. It popped up on a list I subscribe to and was available for $1.13 as an e-book. As it begins, you’re hearing from A.J., a grieving widower who owns a bookstore on an obscure island off the East Coast. He’s angry, rude and every other negative adjective you can imagine. A book rep comes to visit and he’s awful to her, yet she perseveres and manages to sell him a few books. You get to know his friends (a friendship with him is full of sharp points) and one day an abandoned toddler is found in his bookshop. In between the story line about A.J., the book rep, the little girl and others, you will learn all about A.J.’s book tastes. If you’re an avid reader, you’ll really enjoy that part. It’s a charming book; loved it.

Also read a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you need that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

 

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 Soups, on July 18th, 2017.

creamofcucumbersoup_larger

It’s summer. It’s hot. Who wants to COOK in a warm afternoon kitchen?

Back in 2008 I posted this recipe, and it’s as much a winner of a recipe now as it was then. It’s a recipe from my friend Jackie P, and I’ve made it numerous times over the years. It’s easy to make – do it in the morning when it’s cooler, chill it down and serve it for lunch, or before dinner. I made a big batch of it last week, and am still enjoying it, down to the last little bit of it. I took new photos (gee, my photography had a long way to go when I was first a blogger) so have inserted a new one into that old post. If you want to make it less caloric, substitute Greek yogurt for the sour cream. It tastes just as wonderful.

The original post is HERE. Just go there and make this soup, okay? I garnished the soup with toasted sliced almonds because I didn’t have any fresh dill (I used dried dill to flavor the soup too) and I really liked the crunch of the almonds to give some texture to the soup. It makes a lovely first course, or for me, it WAS my lunch a couple of days last week. Altogether refreshing.

Posted in Salads, Vegetarian, on July 16th, 2017.

watermelon_haloumi_salad

The best halloumi I’ve ever had – grilled and served with watermelon and arugula and mint, plus pine nuts and a balsamic glaze drizzled over the top.

My only experience with Halloumi (see Wikipedia info here) has been at a local Greek restaurant, where they serve it fiery hot in a small pan with some bread. My take-away (that one and only time at least 20 years ago) was that it was so salty I couldn’t eat it. Since then I’d never tried it! What I’ve learned is that people in the “west” prefer a less salty version. I suppose the Greek restaurant serves it the way they do in Greece where it’s aged and cured some, so the salt content is more pronounced. (FYI: the 4-ounce package I bought when I finally did locate some shows an ounce of Halloumi contains 673 milligrams of sodium. A lot. Some brands contain less sodium – look for them if you can.) My guess from my reading is that if you buy a U.S. made version, it will likely be less salty. You might check the sodium level before you buy it. Halloumi is usually made from a mixture of cow and sheep milk.

sub_zero_wolf_showroomRecently my friend Joan invited me to a cooking demo at our local Wolf/Sub-Zero Demonstration Kitchen. I said SURE, I’d be happy to go along. We had much fun with seats right in front of the chef. She was a fountain of information (mostly about Wolf kitchen appliances, though they also have Sub-Zero refrigerators and freezers – the two companies are merged somewhat). My Sub-Zero freezer (separate unit) and refrigerator (also separate) are models that date back 15 years or so. Newer ones have lots of new features not available when I had to replace the ones in this house I’m in (that was in about 2004). When we remodeled the kitchen in ‘06 I kept the two, obviously, since they are very pricey! Though I’m very happy with them – I’ve been a fan of Sub-Zero since I bought them for our previous house when we remodeled it in 1990.

Anyway, Joan and I watched as the chef took out nice little rectangles (measuring about 3” x 3” by 1/4”) of halloumi and placed them on the olive oil greased Wolf flat grill. (I was very impressed with the grill – wish I had it in my kitchen – it kind of looked like a mini-restaurant flat grill). My stove top is made by Dacor and then I have 2 Dacor matching ovens under my kitchen island. I’m not in the market for any new appliances, but Joan is, as she’s about to remodel her kitchen. (If any of you are considering remodeling your kitchen, I’d recommend  you at least look at Wolf – their appliances are pretty darned amazing and you can attend a cooking class in their demonstration kitchens without having purchased any of their units.)

haloumi_grilledhaloumi_grillingThe chef grilled the cheese at a very low heat, so it just barely bubbled and sizzled and got just gorgeously golden brown (see photos). The Wolf grill top can be set to a specific temperature (nice) which was 375°. She prepped the salad first by laying the little strips of sweet watermelon on the plate, then the little mound of arugula and mint which she dressed with a bit of olive oil. Then she just placed the hot halloumi on the side. Then she sprinkled the toasted pine nuts on top and drizzled it with balsamic glaze (I buy it at Trader Joe’s, but you can make your own if you want to – you can find lots of recipes online for how to do it).

The cheese was just outstanding – I wanted more, it was so good. I’ve been looking for halloumi at my local markets since this class and so far have not found it. I’ll need to go to a more upscale market or a Whole Foods or Bristol Farms to find it, I suppose. I want some!! It keeps frozen for months and months.

This dish could easily be a light entrée and if you served it with more of the cheese, it could be dinner, for sure. In this case, at the class, it was a first course as we were served fried chicken (done in the Wolf deep fryer) and delicious mashed potatoes. Then we were served a fresh peach half with a bread crumb, nut and brown sugar topping on it (done on convection bake in one of their numerous Wolf ovens). All delicious. But this salad won the day for me. I’ll be making this if only for myself.Perhaps you live in a location where there is a substantial Greek population and Halloumi is very popular. I don’t, so it’s a bit harder to find. Seek out a store that carries a goodly selection of world cheeses.

What’s GOOD: if you find the less-salty halloumi, this is a winner of a recipe. All prep-able ahead of time, so easy to serve with just a few minutes of arranging and drizzling.

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Watermelon and Halloumi Salad

Recipe By: Wolf Demonstration Kitchen, 2017
Serving Size: 8

4 cups watermelon — cut in 3″ long batons
8 ounces halloumi cheese
1/2 cup fresh mint — chopped
6 ounces arugula
3 tablespoons EVOO
1/3 cup pine nuts — toasted
4 tablespoons balsamic glaze
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat griddle or flat pan to 375° F.
2. Cut thin rectangles of Halloumi cheese and gently brown the pieces on the flat grill or pan for about 3-5 minutes per side, or until the cheese is golden brown.
3. Meanwhile, in a bowl combine the arugula and mint. Toss with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.
4. On each plate, place two slices of watermelon side by side. Mound the arugula on top, but allow most of the watermelon to show. Place hot cheese leaned up against the arugula, then sprinkle with toasted pine nuts. Drizzle salad with balsamic glaze and serve immediately.
Per Serving: 219 Calories; 17g Fat (70.2% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 361mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on July 12th, 2017.

bittersweet_choc_almond_torte

Would you ever guess I like chocolate? Ha! I need a daily (small) chocolate fix, and was ever so glad when the FDA or someone announced some years ago that an ounce of chocolate a day is good for us. Hooray! My challenge is keeping the chocolate to ONE ounce.

This torte is all about chocolate and almonds. There’s Amaretto and almond extract in the cake/torte part, then there are toasted almonds sprinkled on top when you serve it. The word decadent comes to mind here. The cake/torte part is certainly easy to mix up – it’s got the usual ingredients (sugar, butter, chocolate and numerous eggs) but then it also contains the Amaretto too and some espresso powder as well. AND the almond extract which gives this an extra boost of almond flavor. You do have to bake it in a water bath – that may be the only down side to making this if you hate that part.

choc_almond_torte_coolingIn my previous home I designed the kitchen myself and had a small Gaggenau baking oven, the kind that you could bake things without a bain marie (water bath). It was really, really nice to have, but the oven was very small and barely would fit a casserole dish – so small that a regular 9×13 pan wouldn’t fit in it unless it was small for its size. I had just one 9×13 pan that would fit. Other, smaller baking dishes were no problem, though. Fortunately I had a 2nd, regular oven for the larger pans. When I designed my current kitchen in 2006, I bought Dacor brand appliances (plus the Sub-Zero refrigerator and freezer), and the two ovens I have, as good as they are, don’t have that kind of a baking oven. In the Gaggenau, it had to do with the insulation around the oven – it had deep insulation so the heat was very gentle. I don’t know that Gaggenau makes that kind of baking oven anymore. Maybe to the professional trade.

choc_almond_torte_frostedWell anyway, back to this torte. You DO need to use a water bath – just place the torte in a large and deep baking dish or pan and pour in warm water (hot tap water works) while it bakes. Then you need to make the ganache which is nothing but bittersweet chocolate and heavy cream. Once the cake cools an hour you spread it over the torte (which you’ve removed from the pan – carefully). Ideally, let it cool completely before serving, but do serve it within a few hours with a dollop of whipped cream and the toasted almonds. And a lovely mint leaf if you have one. Yum. This was from a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter.

What’s GOOD: I loved-loved the almond flavor in this – it’s VERY intense almond. And very much chocolate. You’ll swoon with each bite if you’re a chocoholic and love almonds like I do! A real treat.

What’s NOT: only the hassle of the water bath, I suppose. Maybe the calorie and fat content – cut small pieces so you won’t feel so guilty! This torte is definitely worth making.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Bittersweet Chocolate Almond Torte

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking class, 2017
Serving Size: 10

TORTE:
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
4 ounces unsalted butter — cubed
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate — cut in pieces
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup Amaretto — or cold-brewed coffee
2 teaspoons almond extract
6 large eggs
GANACHE:
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate — cut in pieces
GARNISH:
1/2 cup sliced almonds — toasted
1/2 cup heavy cream — beaten with sugar and vanilla to taste
mint sprigs

NOTE: This “cake” is almost the consistency of a firm pudding. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.
1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
2. Butter a 9×2″ round cake pan, line with parchment paper and butter the top of the parchment.
3. Bring water and sugar to a boil; remove from heat. Add butter, chopped chocolate, espresso powder and salt and let sit for a few minutes until chocolate has melted. Stir until smooth. Add Amaretto and almond extract. Set aside.
4. Whisk eggs until thick. Add chocolate mixture and fold gently. Pour batter into prepared cake pan and place cake pan inside a roasting pan. Add warm water to pan, halfway up the side of the cake pan. Bake until puffed and soft to the touch, 40-45 minutes. Remove roasting pan from oven, then remove cake pan to a cooling rack. Let cake cool one hour. Run a knife around inside of the cake pan; invert onto a platter and peel off the parchment; cool completely.
5. GANACHE: Heat cream, add chocolate and let it sit for a few minutes until the chocolate has melted. Stir until smooth. Let cool slightly. Spread mixture over the top and down the sides of the torte. If needed, very, very carefully slide the cake onto a serving plate or tall cake stand. Cake is very tender and soft.
6. Sprinkle top with toasted almonds and serve with sweetened whipped cream. Garnish with a mint sprig on each slice.
Per Serving: 549 Calories; 50g Fat (74.7% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 27g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 185mg Cholesterol; 113mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, on July 8th, 2017.

hot_biscuits_flaky

As I’m writing this, looking at the photo, my mouth is watering. Wishing I could just have one of those, right this minute.

I can’t take much of any credit for these – I was at my daughter Sara’s house, and she decided on the spur of the moment, to make some biscuits. I think it was for breakfast. Sara loves to bake, and her two teenagers love it, whatever their mom makes. Sabrina is home for the summer now, from her first year at Clemson University. She loved school, the campus, the college environment (she’s pre-vet), but OH, did she miss her mom’s cooking and baking. Sara sent her a “care” package now and then, chock full of baked goodies.

Anyway, Sara remembered that she’d made these before and had used a Southern Living recipe she’d found online. Sure enough, we found it and the biscuits got mixed, flattened, rolled, and flattened, cut and baked in no time.

frozen_grated_butterWhat’s unusual about these was that you grated the unsalted butter on a box grater – but from a FROZEN state. Here’s the photo I took of the mound of grated butter. THAT’s the secret to this recipe, I’m certain! Buttermilk also adds a lovely lightness to biscuits.

The biscuits actually get more mixing – actually rolling, followed by folding, then rolling and folding again. That’s done a few times, which helps create all those multiple layers you see in the top photo. Sara just cut them into squares and into the oven they went and were done. As that frozen butter melted, it created the lovely pockets of air that give these biscuits the lightest of textures.

These biscuits were just sublime. Especially with a pat of butter and some preserves on top.

Yum!

biscuits_and_sausage_breakfast

What’s GOOD: everything about these biscuits is good – tender, rich, of course flaky, tasty. I want one right now! They’re easy to mix up and prep for cutting. Do try this recipe – it’s a winner.

What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever. A perfect Southern biscuit, for sure.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Buttermilk Biscuits (Southern Living)

Recipe By: Southern Living Magazine
Serving Size: 12+

1/2 cup butter — (1 stick), frozen
2 1/2 cups self-rising flour — *See Note
1 cup chilled buttermilk Parchment paper
2 tablespoons butter — melted

NOTE: If you don’t have self-rising flour use this formula: For each 1 cup all purpose flour add 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 tsp. salt. I always use just a tad less salt.
1. Preheat oven to 475°. Grate frozen butter using large holes of a box grater. Toss together grated butter and flour in a medium bowl. Chill 10 minutes.
2. Make a well in center of mixture. Add buttermilk, and stir 15 times. Dough will be sticky. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Lightly sprinkle flour over top of dough. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll dough into a 3/4-inch-thick rectangle (about 9 x 5 inches). Fold dough in half so short ends meet. Repeat rolling and folding process 4 more times.
3. Roll dough to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut with a 2 1/2-inch floured round cutter (OR: cut the rectangle into squares 2″, using all the dough, so it doesn’t require reshaping the scraps), reshaping scraps and flouring as needed.
4. Place dough rounds on a parchment paper-lined jelly-roll pan. Bake at 475° for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Brush with melted butter. Serve immediately.
5. For Pillowy Dinner Rolls: Cut in 1/2 cup cold shortening instead of cold butter. You’ll get a soft biscuit that stays tender, even when cool. Plus, shortening has a neutral flavor that will complement anything on your dinner plate.
6. For Sweet Shortcakes: Add 2 Tbsp. sugar to the flour, and replace buttermilk with heavy cream. The sugar lends the biscuits a subtle sweetness, and the extra fat in heavy cream gives them a crumbly texture like shortbread. They’re the perfect base for shortcake desserts.
7. For Crunchy-Bottomed Biscuits: Warm a cast-iron skillet in the oven, and spread a bit of butter in the skillet before adding the biscuits. The bottoms will end up crunchy and golden brown and provide a sturdy base that holds up to a smothering of sausage gravy.
8. For Pickle Biscuits: Stir 4 Tbsp. drained dill pickle relish into buttermilk before adding to flour mixture. Split baked biscuits, and top with ham and mustard for the World’s Best Ham Sandwich!
Per Serving: 185 Calories; 10g Fat (48.8% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 27mg Cholesterol; 450mg Sodium.

Posted in Fish, Grilling, on July 4th, 2017.

Trust me on this one – it’s a winner.

Years ago, it must have been in the late 80s, my DH and I took a cruise on the inland passage to Alaska. That was our first one (we did it 3 times). We were with a group of friends. The ship left out of Vancouver, for a week, and we just loved it all. Since I get seasick, this trip was one of the few I could do as there was only one 12-14 hour stretch when these routes are in open ocean (and all 3 times we did this trip, I was down sick in the stateroom for the duration of open-ocean cruising feeling very quesy).

At one of the ports of call on the Alaska mainland, we took a day trip up into a deep lush valley and enjoyed a salmon lunch cooked over open coals, huddled under some plastic tarps to protect us from the rain. It wasn’t anything fancy – the salmon, some cole slaw, as I recall, and potatoes, or a potato salad. But what I remember was the salmon. OMGosh was it good. I asked the chef, who was gently tending the salmon, worrying that the rain was going to damp out the coals, what was in the glaze he was brushing on the huge slabs of salmon. He said, butter, brown sugar and white wine – and I think he said equal quantities of each. Pretty easy. I tucked that bit of info into the back of my brain and never pursued trying to find a recipe for it.

taku_grilled_salmon_bastingThen I was reading something some years back, and the memories of that salmon came flooding back into my brain. We didn’t go to Taku Lodge back then (it’s a 15-minute flight in a small plane from Juneau), but it brought back all those wonderful mouth-watering memories of our first salmon bake in the wilderness. This link has the recipe, and also this one from Sunset Magazine’s version from 2003. It’s taken me this long to make it. What a waste of years – not to have made this until now.

salmon_fresh_off_grillSunset’s recipe is the one I used. Both recipes are a little bit different – same ingredients, but different quantities. One has you marinate the salmon (I didn’t), and I didn’t grill it on the open grill – I did the salmon slab on heavy-duty foil, in a kind of a foil-sling/pan with the edges of the foil rolled inward so the glaze wouldn’t drip out. I had my son-in-law man the gas grill, putting the “pan” on the heat for about 4 minutes, then moving it off-heat until it was fully cooked – maybe 10 minutes. You know it’s done when the collagen starts leaking up through the flakes. We moved the foil slab onto a serving platter and guests just cut what they wanted with a long spatula. You can scoot the salmon off the foil pan onto a heated serving platter – looks prettier that way.

As it turned out, even with 8 people eating, we didn’t quite finish 2 slabs, and I was so happy about that because I crumbled half of it into a green salad for lunch one day and the remainder I ate as dinner a few nights later briefly reheated in the microwave. There was a little bit of the glaze in the refrigerator container I had it in, and I almost wanted to drink it (I didn’t).

What’s GOOD: the glaze gives the salmon a lovely sweet caramely kind of taste. It’s not overly sweet, but I suppose you could cut down on the sugar if you are concerned about that. The butter keeps it moist. It’s just wonderful. Do try it.

What’s not: nothing that I can think of – this is a quick, easy dinner. Do use two layers of the foil so there aren’t any chances of a leaking accident in the grill. That would not be good!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Grilled Salmon a la Taku Lodge

Recipe By: adapted from Taku Glacier Lodge in Juneau
Serving Size: 12

1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons dry white wine
2 1/2 pounds salmon
1/3 cup parsley — finely minced

NOTE: I buy the whole farm-raised salmon slabs at Costco and they vary in size and thickness.
1. In a medium saucepan melt butter over medium heat. Stir in brown sugar until dissolved. Add lemon juice and wine. Stir and heat through, about 5 minutes.
2. Prepare foil “pan,” by placing 2 pieces of heavy-duty foil together, spray foil with nonstick spray, then place salmon on top, curling the thin, tapered end under so the salmon slab is about an even thickness. Carefully crinkle/roll the foil edges inward so it kind of surrounds the fish, like a boat. Baste the salmon with the glaze (don’t use it all). Set aside until the grill is ready.
3. Preheat grill to high. Leave one part of the grill off, or bank coals to one side.
4. Turn down the grill heat to medium. Place salmon “pan” on heat for about 4 minutes, then move the “pan” to the unheated side and continue cooking (lid closed). Baste the salmon several times with the glaze. It’s done when the collagen begins to leak through to the top of the salmon, about 4-8 minutes, depending on the thickness. The fish should flake when tested with a fork.
5. If desired, open the short end of the foil pan and using a spatula, gently scoot the whole salmon off onto a heated platter. Pour any remaining glaze over the top. Garnish with minced parsley.
Per Serving: 226 Calories; 11g Fat (44.1% calories from fat); 19g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 70mg Cholesterol; 147mg Sodium.

Posted in Soups, on June 30th, 2017.

zucchini_mint_soup

Really subtle, a little bit chunky, but altogether refreshing summer soup. Can also be served hot.

When Tarla Fallgatter made this soup, I wasn’t expecting to like it so much. Afterwards, I thought maybe I was just overly hungry at the class when she made this, but I liked it so much, I made it a week later to SEE if it really did tick all my boxes as much as I thought it did. Yes. I wrote a note on the recipe – “almost tastes like there’s cheese in it, but no.” It must be the leeks, we decided, that gave the soup such a lovely consistency and flavor. I do love leeks, and they provide an abundance of flavor to things. My favorite leeks come from Trader Joe’s, because they’re already trimmed and mostly clean too, 2 to a pack. When I made this, I made a double batch (so about 12 leeks) and 6 pounds of zucchini. I wanted to have leftovers to freeze.

The leeks do have to be softened in butter for awhile, and the zucchini is cooked not fully soft, then you add the broth and simmer for about 20 minutes. The soup is pureed in a blender, but don’t overdo it – don’t make it smooth – I liked the little bit of texture to it, but that’s your choice. After pureeing, add the little bit of cream and mint. Serve hot/warm or chill and garnish with a mint leaf on top.

If you’re lucky enough to be growing zucchini, do save this recipe to make when you have an abundance of them.

What’s GOOD: really liked this soup – it’s fairly healthy (just a bit of cream) and it can be served hot, warm or cold. How versatile is THAT? Loved the little bit of texture from not pureeing it completely. Lots of depth of flavor, most likely from the leeks. Freezes well. It’s not an “over the top” type, but it’s delicious and relatively filling.

What’s NOT: not a single thing.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chilled Zucchini-Mint Soup

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking class, 2017
Serving Size: 8

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 cups leeks — use both white and green part (about 6 leeks)
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth — or vegetable broth
3 pounds zucchini — chopped (about 8 cups)
1/3 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons fresh mint — (packed) minced
whole mint leaves for garnish

1. Melt butter in a large saute pan, then add leeks and saute until soft, but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add zucchini and saute until beginning to soften, about 5 more minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until zucchini is tender, about 20 minutes.
2. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender until smooth, but still a bit of texture remaining. Return puree to same pot, add cream and the chopped mint. Allow to cool, cover and chill until cold, at least 3 hours, and up to 24 hours.
3. Taste soup and add more broth if it’s too thick. Season with salt and/or pepper to taste. Garnish with mint leaves.
Per Serving: 152 Calories; 10g Fat (47.4% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 25mg Cholesterol; 51mg Sodium.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ricotta Cheese Corn Pudding

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

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

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

Posted in Desserts, on June 22nd, 2017.

ginger_spice_cake_dried_cherries

Think gingerbread. Think spicy gingerbread.

As you’ve read here before, every few weeks I entertain a bible study group here at my home, and I always make some kind of dessert. Since I love to bake, it’s often a cake of some kind. I’d read about this cake somewhere, and found it online at Taking On Magazines, a blog. The cake just sounded so good, and the night I served this, it was still feeling like winter.

You mustn’t expect a light and fluffy cake here – it’s pretty darned hard to get that when you use molasses anyway. Just know, if you decide to make this, that it’s a fairly firm, dense cake. Delicious, but more on the heavy side. The original recipe called for a chocolate icing, but I ran out of time, so served it with whipped cream. I actually think it would be best served with vanilla ice cream. I think the icing would make this cake truly over-the-top rich. But, I didn’t try it, so I could very well be wrong about that part.

The dried cherries (the tart, Montmorency type) are soaked in hot espresso, along with the spices. AND real Dijon mustard. What an odd ingredient – I have no idea the reason for it, but I had it, so I used it! My only recommendation, when you’re preparing the fresh chopped ginger – make sure it’s very fine, and that you include no threads of it. I used 3 different graters, including what is supposed to be a ginger grater, and none worked very well, so I ended up chopping and then mincing it like crazy with a very sharp butcher’s knife. If you have any threads visible, remove them, as they aren’t very appetizing in the cake. I thought they were cat hairs (embarrassing!) but no, they were ginger threads. Whew!

This is a regular cake – nothing unusual about the preparation of it. A stand mixer helps since it’s a thick batter. Cut it in relatively narrow pieces, and I think it will serve more than 12. I have half of it in my freezer to pull out next month when I have family visiting. That with vanilla ice cream will make a very nice and easy dessert.

What’s GOOD: the flavors are really good – you can taste the minced up dried cherries, and all the warm fall spices are tummy-warming. Even the black pepper. Just know this is a dense cake.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. This kind of dense, dark cake may not be to everyone’s taste. Do serve it with something to cut the richness of it (whipped cream, ice cream, or the icing).

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

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Ginger Spice Cake with Dried Cherries

Recipe By: From Taking on Magazines blog
Serving Size: 12

1/2 cup unsalted butter — room temperature, plus more for pan
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour — plus more for the pan
1 cup light molasses
1 cup dried tart cherries — finely chopped
1/2 cup crystallized ginger — finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh ginger — peeled, finely minced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 cup espresso coffee — hot (I used decaf)
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
CHOCOLATE ICING: (optional)
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons espresso coffee — hot, or strong coffee
8 ounces semisweet chocolate — or bittersweet

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Butter Bundt pan. Dust pan with flour, tapping out excess. Combine cherries, crystallized ginger, grated ginger, and Dijon mustard in a medium bowl. Pour espresso over cherry mixture and set aside. In a medium bowl whisk 2 1/2 cups flour, ground ginger, baking soda, salt, allspice, cinnamon, and pepper.
2. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat 1/2 cup butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add brown sugar and beat for 2 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time, then beat in molasses.
3. Strain cherry mixture into a small bowl, reserving soaking liquid. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture in 3 additions, alternately with soaking liquid in 2 additions, beating to blend between additions. Fold in drained cherry mixture. Scrape batter into prepared pan.
4. Bake until top of cake springs back when lightly pressed in the middle, about 1 hour. Let cool in pan on a wire rack. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.
5. Remove cake from pan. May be served as is, or with icing. Or serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
6. Spoon chocolate Icing over cake, if using, allowing it to drip down sides. Cut cake into wedges to serve.
7. ICING: Heat cream in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of pan. Stir in hot espresso. Place chopped chocolate in a medium bowl. Add hot cream mixture; let stand for 1 minute, then stir until icing is melted and smooth. DO AHEAD: Icing can be made 3 days ahead. Let cool completely at room temperature, then cover and chill. Rewarm icing slightly before using.
Per Serving: 483 Calories; 19g Fat (33.7% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 77g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 87mg Cholesterol; 508mg Sodium.

Posted in Soups, on June 18th, 2017.

carrot_soup_tarragon_orange

A simple soup. Mostly carrots, but the flavors are rich and complex with the addition of tarragon and orange.

Every few months I have to do a bunch of administrative offloading of all the photos I take for the recipes I post. They’re on my kitchen computer, and need to put them into storage.  They’re all divided up by recipe title, but I have a hard time finding things if the file directory gets over about 50-60, so I transfer them to a CD. I was about to do this, this morning, but I looked at this carrot soup and thought, hmmm, I don’t remember posting this. Sure enough, I hadn’t. It’s from a cooking class I took last fall. Maybe it was in December – –  can’t recall. But this soup is easy and delicious. It’s starting to be NOT soup weather, so I’d best get this posted and offload it!

Anyway, the soup is super easy to make and just requires a blender at the end, then you add in a bit of orange juice (enough that you can taste the orangey flavor), a jot of brandy and the fresh tarragon. Do use orange carrots, not the multicolored ones, as I think the color of the soup might be off-putting to some. The sweeter and carrots the better.

What’s GOOD: the soup is very easy to make – just requires some orange juice and fresh tarragon that you might not have in your kitchen. I don’t drink OJ anymore, but I always have a can of frozen juice in the freezer, so I can scoop out a bit of that slush to make a cup of orange juice for recipes. Soup is really tasty. Different because of the orange. And I liked the tarragon at the end. Would freeze really well.

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of. If you don’t like tarragon, use fresh thyme instead.

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

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Carrot Soup with Tarragon and Orange

Recipe By: Caroline Cazaumayou, chef, 2016
Serving Size: 8

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds carrots — peeled, sliced
1 1/2 cups onion — chopped
6 cups chicken broth — or vegetable broth
1 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons brandy — optional
4 teaspoons fresh tarragon — finely minced
Fresh tarragon sprigs for garnish

1. Melt butter in large heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add carrots and onion and saute until onion is soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add broth; cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, uncover and simmer until carrots are tender, about 10 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before proceeding.
2. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender, filling half way only. Pour into another container and continue to puree until all the soup is smooth. Pour soup back into the soup pot; add orange juice, brandy and the chopped tarragon. May be made a day ahead to this point and refrigerated. Can be frozen at this point.
3. Simmer soup for 5 minutes for flavors to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour into bowls and serve with tarragon sprigs on top.
Per Serving: 132 Calories; 4g Fat (30.0% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 8mg Cholesterol; 609mg Sodium.

Posted in Chicken, Sous Vide, on June 14th, 2017.

sous_vide_red_chile_chicken

I know most of you don’t have a sous vide, so just skip this one. But if you do, you DO need to try this recipe. It’s a winner.

Now that I’m a family of one, I don’t use my sous vide very often. My DH and I were just at the point of perfecting steak on the barbecue, but pre-cooked in the sous vide. I very rarely make steak for myself (alone), but if I did, I might try it again. Sometimes it’s just easier to use the older method (searing, then putting it off-heat in the barbecue, closed, until it reached about 120°, then quickly searing it again for a minute of so until it reached 125-128°F).

Anyway, I’ve subscribed to Milk Street, the new magazine from Chris Kimball (formerly the geeky guy from Cook’s Illustrated – he started the company many years ago). He got ousted by their board and started up his own, very similar business model. No TV shows yet, but they say it’s coming. The magazine is different than C.I. in that the articles are shorter, and it’s filled with color photos, which I like. It’s the identical format (shape, size and frequency of issues) and I also listen to the podcasts from the new Milk Street kitchens.

Image result for ancho chilesSo, anyway, the May-June issue had a double-spread about sous vide. In it J.M. Hirsch writes that you can make a perfect poached egg in 45 minutes at 145°F. I may have to try that one. There are much cheaper sous vide instruments (using your own container) than when I bought mine. Mine was several hundred dollars. New immersion pods start at $79 (Sous Smart) and $129 (Anova). And another new one that uses a phone app to run it (they liked that one a lot, called Joules) for $199. They perfected this chicken recipe and it sounded so intriguing I just had to try it. I halved the below recipe (using one packet of boneless, skinless chicken breasts from Costco, which contained 2 nice-sized breasts) and I actually  used ordinary ziploc bags instead of digging out my vacuum sealer. You lower the filled bag in water until it reaches the zip portion (but it’s unzipped at this point), then press out all the air and zip it. Am not sure the zip tab type would work for this. Anyway, that worked just fine using Ziploc. Picture at left from chefsinfo.com.

sous_vide_chicken_in_bagI made one other change – I didn’t have any ancho chiles (dried) in my pantry. Anchos are dried pasilla chiles, which have such a very unique flavor. I need to get some, because I’ll be making this recipe again. So instead, I used guajillo, which are mild flavored and similar. Otherwise, I followed the recipe except for browning the chiles. Seems kind of redundant to me. The sauce you make is quite easy to do and it’s full of flavor, but hardly any heat at all. I refrigerated the chicken packets for an hour or two while I heated up the sous vide, which should have kind of marinated them. I have a rack for my sous vide and I used it to make sure the chicken packets were kept submerged completely. Timer set for 1 1/2 hours and then I made the sauce and cooked some fresh asparagus and my dinner was done.

Oh my. The chicken was SO tender, and absolutely perfectly cooked through and juicy. I could practically cut it with a fork, though I did use a knife. Loved the chile flavor, the smokiness of the dried cumin. Couldn’t taste the cinnamon. The chiles completely dissolve in the sauce (because you whiz it up in the food processor). The sauce was an absolute cinch to make and dinner was ready with a bit of cilantro on top. Don’t dilly dally once they’re done as the chicken is hot and you don’t want to eat it lukewarm. A definite make-again dish.

What’s GOOD: everything about it was good. The chicken was PERFECTLY cooked and as juicy as chicken could possibly be. Easy to do in the sous vide. You could easily make the marinade/sauce ahead of time and combine them just before cooking. I have a second packet left over and from the article I understand it will be just as tender and good as the first time. Loved the sauce – mild and very flavorful. Not hot because anchos or guajillos are mild chiles.

What’s NOT: not much unless you don’t like the hassle of cooking sous vide.

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

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Sous Vide Red Chile Chicken

Recipe By: Milk Street magazine, 2017
Serving Size: 4

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil — or canola oil
2 ounces dried ancho peppers — stemmed and seeded
2/3 cup water
1 tablespoon dried oregano — Mexican type if available
2 large garlic cloves — smashed
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
SAUCE:
2 tablespoons butter — salted if available
1 tablespoon lime juice
GARNISH:
1/3 cup cilantro — chopped

1. Preheat sous vide to 145°F. (And yes, after 1 1/2 hours of immersion, the chicken breast will be perfectly cooked, even though the water temp is below the usually accepted cooked chicken temp.)
2. In a medium skillet, heat oil until it shimmers, then add chiles and toast until lightly browned, about 20 seconds (I skipped this step). Transfer to a food processor, saving the oil in the skillet. Process until coarsely chopped (I had to tear some of the pieces into smaller ones), about 30 seconds.
3. In a small saucepan bring the water to a boil. Add the chile mixture, oregano and garlic. Cover and remove from the heat and set aside for 15 minutes.
4. In the food processor combine the sugar, vinegar, salt, pepper, cumin, cinnamon and the little bit of reserved chili oil from the frying pan. Add the chile-water mixture and process until smooth, about a minute, scraping the bowl as needed.
5. Place each chicken breast into a vacuum-seal bag and add an equal portion of the chile mixture to each one. Squeeze the bag a bit to coat the chicken evenly. Seal each chicken breast, then refrigerate for a few hours if time permits. If not, place breasts in sous vide. Chicken packets must remain completely under the water, not floating. Once the temperature reaches 145°F again (usually just a few minutes), set a timer for 90 minutes.
6. When chicken is cooked, remove from sous vide. Pour the juices from inside each bag into a saucepan and simmer until liquid is thickened slightly, about a minute or two. Off heat add the butter and lime juice. Serve the chicken drizzled with the sauce. Garnish with chopped cilantro.
Per Serving: 322 Calories; 15g Fat (42.5% calories from fat); 30g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 84mg Cholesterol; 1484mg Sodium.

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