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Carolyn

Sara

Sara and me

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Esther Freud’s book The Sea House: A Novel is about a small village on England’s southern coast. There are characters galore in this book, and it sometimes takes a bit to figure out which decade you’re reading about (few clues) or which person. Oh yes, her, current day. Oh, that’s him, during the war. Max, oh, I thought he died. No, that’s his son. I think. The book is about love found, love lost, love sometimes found again, sometimes not. About how fleeting it can be or seem. There is family dysfunction. Relationship dysfunction. There is quite a bit of adultery going on, yet I found myself understanding why. The book relays a true story (names changed) about an architect and a woman who is trying to write a book about him. Drawings and paintings of this village play a big part. There is some mental dis-health too. And throughout, it’s about the land, the sea, and this remarkable house. I wondered if in the hardback edition there were any photo plates of the drawings. One character is driven to draw the rooms he’s in, the house he’s in, or the house he conjures in his mind. There are lots of beach walks, and there is a huge tidal flood too. Despite having some difficulty keeping track of the characters, it was a good read.

Amor Towles’ book, Rules of Civility: A Novel was quite a read. It’s NYC, 1937. Twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent [Kon-TENT she iterates to many] is in a Greenwich Village jazz bar when a handsome banker, happens to sit down at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a year-long journey into the upper echelons of New York society—where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve. She struggles to keep her poverty at bay, and like many women of her time and the day, wished themselves on men of means. There is love. There is loss. And through it all, the thread that holds it all together is the mores – the rules of civility – required of most everyone. To keep up the face. To swing. To survive. Really well developed drama and a very real sense of place. I’m reviewing the book in one of my book clubs; fortunately there is a lot online about this book.

Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O’Brien. What an adorable book. True story about Stacey’s 20 years with a feisty but lovable barn owl. She’s a biologist, was working at Cal Tech and someone brought in a tiny abandoned barn owl. She took him home, and he became her “mate” (that happens at year two). Everything about this book is interesting, from how she nurtures him in his tiny habitat, to how she transforms her living space to accommodate a full grown owl. He couldn’t be habilitated to the wild because of a wing injury (likely when he fell out of the nest). It’s a heartwarming story.

Loved The Wedding Officer: A Novel by Anthony Capella. It takes place in the middle of WWII in Naples. A young British officer, Captain James Gould, is sent to Naples to wade through the zilions of applications from soldiers to marry local Italian women (and presumably take them back to England when the war ends). The supposition is that all the women are ladies of the night, and it’s their ticket to a better life. He holds to his principles until he meets lovely Livia, who begins cooking for a group of soldiers (it was a real job). Food plays a starring role in this book, as well as Vesuvius’ eruption. It’s a very interesting story – I don’t know if it’s true there were such positions in the British military, but it sounds like it. Gould has to find his way through the miasma of politics, corruption, provisioning in a war-torn country and the warfront. But all of it is laced with the very sweet love story.

Reading behind Bars: A True Story of Literature, Law, and Life as a Prison Librarian by Jill Grunenwald. So interesting. Jill is  young, with a newly minted degree in library science at a time when the economy was very slow. She accepts a position in a minimum security prison in Ohio. She needs a job, and agrees to the commute, rain, shine or snow. The “library” is limited. The inmates her “staff.” She weaves her way through the pitfalls of limited funds, theft, perversion, jerks, rules, and every myriad of inmate problems. Very interesting read.

The Walls of Lucca by Steve Physioc. A novel that takes place in between WWI and II. Franco is a weary Italian soldier. He stumbles into a vineyard and is hired. It’s hard work (nothing he’s ever done before) but he’s a very diligent worker. He didn’t stop there to find love, but it found him. There’s a lot of sinister Fascist activity throughout the book, plenty of local history, and of course, a bit about the walls of Lucca.

The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna. A novel about Croatia in the aftermath of their more recent wars. A British family buys a very dilapidated house, and a local man (the handyman) begins helping them fix it up. Two children play a part, with the British husband merely peeking in now and then. There is local dissension, town secrets, some violence as the town tries to heal from years of war. And the handyman just keeps working, pondering his own demons as well. Very riveting story.

A Column of Fire: A Novel by Ken Follett. It takes place in the 1500s, in England, and has everything to do with the war between the Catholics and the Protestants, that raged throughout Europe during that time, culminating in the Spanish Inquisition. Some of that is hard to read, but Follett writes sagas, and I was really “into it.” Have always loved his writing, and if you haven’t ever read this sidebar before, or my section on books, his book, The Pillars of the Earth: A Novel  is my#1 favorite book I’ve ever read. In this Fire book, though, there are numerous characters, families really, in France, London and the (fictitious I think) town of Kingsbridge. Riveting reading, as are all of his books.

Having read all of Kristin Hannah’s books, I knew I’d read her latest too: Between Sisters: A Novel.  Two sisters, raised by the same mother but different fathers. At a young age a rift occurs and the sisters go their own way. Anger is there, but deep down you know, reading this, that they care about each other. The one that left is a successful but lonely attorney in Seattle. The other is a single mother who owns a small seasonal cabin rental facility near Seattle. It’s a very sweet story – takes awhile to “get there” but you know they’re going to reconcile and find their sister-groove again. Good book. Worth reading.

Just finished Matt McCarthy’s book The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly: A Physician’s First Year. It tells the true life story of his first year as an intern at a New York hospital. You ride the wave of his first, painful days when he questions if he was ever meant to be a doctor, to the end of the year when he recognized his true passion for infectious disease diagnostics. I really enjoyed the book, and commend him for being so brutally honest about his own vulnerabilities and what he saw as complete inexperience. If you enjoy this genre of book, this is a good one.

Also read Karen Harper’s book The Royal Nanny: A Novel. The time frame is 1890s onward, at Sandringham, when Charlotte Bill (a real person) was hired by the Duke and Duchess of York, to care for their children. She was hired as an under-nurse, but soon became the prime caregiver of the youngest children. She became “Lala” to the children, and they loved her dearly. And she them. This is a serious below-stairs look at that part of the royal family, their foibles, idiosyncrasies, and even the proclivities of the children themselves. It was a great read. Loved it from the first page.

Also read Roger Swindell’s Mendelevski’s Box. It’s an historical novel about the aftermath of WWII in impoverished Amsterdam. It’s an eye-opener. Over the last many years I’ve marveled at authors who have found a niche of some part of that awful war and it was enough to write a great story. Simon is the hero, here. He was a Jew and miraculously survived Auschwitz and returned to his home, hoping to find his mother and sister (who were also at Auschwitz, but he knew not their fates). He knew his father had died in the camp. The family home had been taken over by others. He was destitute. He befriended two young women (one had worked for his father in his clock-making business). There is a “box” in the story – an important element. Simon finds a job, income, friends, and love. Finds some caring people, but also encounters some very shady characters as well. The story is told very well. There is mystery, poignant love and redemption. Well worth reading.

Camille De Maio wrote Before the Rain Falls. Very interesting story about a young doctor who returns to her border town in Texas for a very short vacation. And about a young down-on-his-luck journalist who goes to the same town to get a story. There’s a death/murder long ago, the sharp shards of emotions that remain in the town. The survivors. The grandmother who spent 7 decades in prison. And a love story. Very sweet book about family. Love. Loss. As I write this, it’s $.99 on Kindle.

Also read a very quirky non-fiction book: The Perfect Gentleman: The remarkable life of Dr. James Miranda Barry by June Rose. This is a biography about a person who lived in the mid-1800s. He was a surgeon; graduated from Edinburgh Medical School at the age of 14. Joined the British Army as a medical officer then sent off to South Africa and many other tropical outposts during his career. There was always “talk” about him. He never married. He was querulous. He got high-handed too frequently. He was a tee-totaler, and always had a dog named Psyche. He was a brilliant diagnostician and was appalled at the condition of prisons and even ordinary Army barracks. When he died it came out – Dr. James Barry was really a woman. And a woman who had borne a child. Facts that were suspected by many, but never corroborated. S/he did so because a woman wasn’t allowed to go to college, let alone medical school. When you read it in context, it’s logical what her mentors suggested she do. I can’t say that this book is all that well written – some of it uses the stilted language of the time, even though it’s current in its publication. But it’s a fascinating read nonetheless. So I’ve read, there is going to be a documentary made about her life.

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. The premise of this book is different . . . a woman writer goes to Scotland to connect with distant heritage. She hopes to gain inspiration for her next book. As she investigates, she discovers she’s related to a family that lived in the early 1700s at Slains Castle on the east coast of Scotland near Aberdeen. This was the time of the Jacobite rebellion (the exiled King James and his hoped-for return to England). When I say this woman gets inspiration . . .well, it’s more than that. She questions whether she could possibly have genes that contain memory (what an idea, huh?), because she begins to know how events took place, who the people were, what they said, exactly where they stood, the layout of the castle, even the furniture in the rooms. She wasn’t channeling, actually, but I suppose it could be interpreted so. The book is full of the Jacobite history (more than I’d ever known before, but then I love English/Scottish history). There’s a romance back then, and a romance in the today time. Both lovely. Great book. An historical novel of the first order.

Another great read, The Island of Sea Women: A Novel by Lisa See. Six months ago I attended an author’s talk at the Bowers Museum. Lisa See was the speaker and shared her story about this book. I’ve heard her speak several times before (she lives near me) and have read several of her books. This one, though, is very different. She was sitting in a doctor’s office reading some magazine and spotted a tiny snippet of data about Jeju Island off the coast of Korea where the island as a whole is matriarchal because the women were trained from a young age to deep dive, free dive, for mollusks. These women were the breadwinners. Husbands stayed home and cared for the babies. The island is real. The history is real. And what happened during WWII on this island is horrific – makes me feel ashamed that our military had a hand in what happened to many people. But everyone should read this book. It’s a novel, about 2 girls who are divers and how their lives diverge for a variety of cultural reasons and because of the war.

Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford. A novel about the early days of radio in London. This book takes place in the 1920s and tells not only the general history of the early days of radio, but also the role women played (a vital one). Initially it was in the background, because women weren’t considered intelligent enough. Maisie, the heroine in the book, works her way up the ranks. It’s a fascinating read from beginning to end. Many famous characters (real) flow through the studios. Early voting rights play a part in the story line also. And some wartime intrigue. You’ll find yourself cheering from the bleachers when women make a tiny inroad into the male-dominated field.

A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler. My friend Ann, from Idaho, brought it with her as we spent a week in Palm Desert in February. She handed it to me and said I’d really like it. Oh, did I! Loved the book. This book is a novel, but based on the life of Alva Smith Vanderbilt (Belmont). Her family was nearly destitute (and faking it) when a marriage was proposed for her with William Vanderbilt. There is lots of dialogue in the book which is made up, but I’m guessing the author probably read many diary entries of Alva (and the family) to create a very intriguing and readable story. A life of unbelievable privilege. Several children, including one who marries into a titled family in England. You see the inner life of Alva – her day to day busy work, charity work, visiting for afternoon tea, the undercurrent of society’s morals – men were nearly expected to have mistresses or affairs. This was the Victorian Age when sex between husbands and wives was not necessarily, and usually not, passionate. I loved this book from page one until the end.  Alva was a suffragette of the first order. Having read the book, I have a lot of admiration for her, even though she lived in the highest echelons of society.

Also read In Falling Snow: A Novel, by Mary-Rose McColl. From amazon: Iris, a young Australian nurse, travels to France during World War I to bring home her fifteen-year-old brother, who ran away to enlist. But in Paris she meets the charismatic Dr. Frances Ivens, who convinces Iris to help establish a field hospital in the old abbey at Royaumont, staffed entirely by women—a decision that will change her life. Seamlessly interwoven is the story of Grace, Iris’s granddaughter in 1970s Australia. Together their narratives paint a portrait of the changing role of women in medicine and the powerful legacy of love. The book  gives you a vivid picture of the state of nursing in WWI, but the story is quite mesmerizing. And there’s a twist almost at the end. Highly recommend.

Also couldn’t put down The Secret Wife by Gill Paul. A long story that begins in war-torn Russia. Cavalry officer Dmitri falls head over heels in love with one of the daughters of Tzar Nicholas. But events intervene, as history tells us. That was 1914. Cut to 2016 when a young woman inherits an ancient cabin in upper New York State and she discovers a jeweled pendant. The two times weave together to make a really riveting story. Lots of Russian history; well written; as I said, couldn’t put it down.

Uncommon Woman. A book about Colonial America, but really the western frontier at that time, which is in western Pennsylvania. The warring native Americans play large in this book. There is a romance, yes, but this book is not “a romance.” It’s more than that – about the hardships of living on the land, away from protection, Tessa and her family struggle to make a living and avoid the angered natives who take revenge when their people are murdered. Clay Tygart is a respected officer/soldier and commands a fort near where Tessa lives. Clay was captured by Lanape Indians when he was a young man, so he straddles both sides of the equation – first hand, he knows how the natives feel, but also his role in the lure of American exploration of the west. The natives wish to preserve their hunting grounds from the encroaching settlers. This book takes place in the mid-1700s I think. Loved it. Not only the history that is brilliantly detailed, even to the summer heat they experience. The crops they raise, the constant fear of attack. And the sweet love that weaves through it. Not a speck of sex in it.

Reading mysteries has never loomed large in my reading life. Occasionally, yes. And some espionage type books. But light mysteries have not intrigued me much. But one of my book clubs had us read Louise Penny’s novel, A Rule Against Murder (Chief Inspector Gamache Novel). The member actually handed out a cheat sheet of the characters in the book (many) and posed several questions of us as we read through it. The cheat sheet really helped. She asked us when (or if) we caught the foreshadowing of the murder culprit (I never did). The book takes place at a lovely inn in Canada and Chief Inspector Gamache (he is quite a character – along with his wife – are vacationing there) when a murder occurs. None of the characters escape the C.I.’s scrutiny. Lois, our book club member, led us through a very thorough and lively discussion of the book. Usually, my complaint about murder mysteries is that they don’t make for good discussion at a book club – but this book was an exception, for sure. Many of my learned book club friends rave about Louise Penny. One told me I should read Still Life next, and probably should have read it before I read this one.

Rachel Hauck is an author I’ve enjoyed reading over the years. Just finished reading The Memory House. It’s about relationships. Love. About family. About secrets. Doesn’t that just describe about 90% of every novel out there these days? Beck is a cop in NYC; a series of events occur and she is forced to take leave. Just then she inherits a house in Florida. She barely remembers the woman who bequeathed the house to her. Then you meet Bruno, a sports agent who will figure large in Beck’s life. Then the book jumps back in time to Everleigh, the woman who owned the house and you learn her story. Really stories of her two husbands. And how do those stories connect to present day. Very sweet book. Not a speck of sex in this one, either.

The Parrot Who Owns Me: The Story of a Relationship by Joanna Burger. Such an interesting book – nonfiction. The author is an ornithologist by profession (and a PhD) and this memoir of sorts is about her Red-Lored Amazon parrot she and her husband own. But no, it’s the parrot who owns her/them.

My Name Is Resolute by Nancy Turner. She’s the author of another book of some renown, These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 (P.S.). Resolute is what I’m discussing here. A book club friend recommended this book, I immediately bought it on my Kindle. I could NOT put the book down. I devoured it. Any other “work” I should have been doing was swept aside as I read and read of Resolute’s adventures. It’s fiction, but based some on a true story. Resolute, as a young girl from a privileged life on a plantation in Jamaica, was taken captive by slavers, eventually ended up in Colonial America. This book is the story of her life. The people she met, the men in her life, her children, and always about her indefatigable energy for life. Always hoping to return to Jamaica.

Finished The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek: A Novel by Kim Richardson.  It’s a novel about the first mobile library in Kentucky (this is the 1930s) and the fierce, brave packhorse librarians who wove their way from shack to shack dispensing literacy, hope, and, just as importantly, a compassionate human connection.

The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. This book was offered as a bargain book from Bookbub, and something about the description resonated with me – maybe because of my Old Testament readings regarding the lives of shepherds back in ancient days. I utterly loved this book. It might not suit everyone – it’s a memoir, so a true story, of a young man growing up in the Lake District of Northern England, the son of a farming family, who sabotages everything in his being regarding going to school and leaves as soon as he is able (probably about 8th grade, I’d guess). And becomes a shepherd. And at night, he read literature that he accumulated from his grandfather. He bickers with his father, eventually moves out. One night in a pub with his blokes (friends) he enters some kind of a contest in the pub and realizes he has a lot more knowledge than he thought he did. In time he applies to get what I’d call here in the U.S. a G.E.D (high school diploma), which he does, and then he applies to Oxford, on a whim. And gets in. He graduates. He applies his knowledge to his rural life. He marries, has children, but still, his day to day life is all about his Herdwick sheep, although he does have a day job too working for UNESCO. You’ll learn more about sheep than you might have wanted to know. I absolutely loved, LOVED this book. If you are interested, James Rebanks has a Twitter feed, called @herdyshepherd1, and you can sign up to get updates from him about his farm and his sheep. I don’t do Twitter or I would.

Moloka’i: A Novel by Alan Brennert. A riveting book about the early days of Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) in Hawaii, and the stigma attached to the victims AND their families. It chronicles the story of a young woman, diagnosed almost as a child, and ostracized from her family, subsequently learning to live alone and remote.

House by the Fjord by Rosalind Laker. What a darling story. From amazon: A touching and atmospheric love story – When Anna Harvik travels to Norway in 1946 in order to visit the family of her late husband, the country is only just recovering from five cruel years of Nazi occupation. So it is with surprise that she finds in this cold and bitter country the capacity for new love and perhaps even a new home. I just loved this book – could hardly put it down; yet it’s not a mystery. You’ll come away with a desire to find that house by the fjord. I want to go there and have some coffee with the Anna, who was a Brit, yet fell head over heels in love with Norway.

Running Blind (Jack Reacher) by Lee Child. A Jack Reacher mystery. From amazon: Across the country, women are being murdered, victims of a disciplined and clever killer who leaves no trace evidence, no fatal wounds, no signs of struggle, and no clues to an apparent motive. They are, truly, perfect crimes. Until Jack Reacher gets in the middle of it. A page turner, as are all of the Jack Reacher stories.

Say Goodbye for Now by Catherine Ryan Hyde. This story, which takes place in a kind of Texas backwater, sets a town into an angry mess when two young boys, one white, one black, become friends, something most folks don’t like. At all. There’s a dog involved, the father of the black boy, the father of the white boy plus a woman who lives in the town and does her best to avoid people altogether. But they all get fused. Wonderful story.

Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart. A sweet book, true story, of the author and her friend, during one summer in the midst of their college years, going by train to NYC and ultimately getting a job of Tiffany’s.  Cute read.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. You might think what a stretch – what does an Indian (Native American) tribe have to do with the FBI. Read and you’ll find out. This is back in time, 50s I think, and a number of murders have taken place on the Osage Reservation. A wake up call, even for today.

Oh wow. Just finished reading David Guterson’s book, East of the Mountains. You know this author from his most well known book, Snow Falling on Cedars. I loved the Cedars book when I read it years ago, and assumed I’d like this other book (not new) as well. Have you learned to trust my judgment when I tell you, you HAVE to read a book? If I tell you the story line, I can already hear you thinking . . . oh no, I don’t want to read this kind of a book. Please trust me. You’ll come away from it being glad you did.

A fabulous read – Catherine Ryan Hyde’s newest book, Have You Seen Luis Velez? I marvel sometimes about how authors ever come up with the ideas they do, to create the premise for a novel. And this one is right up there at the top of the list. Raymond, a youngster, an older teenager, who has a big lack of self-confidence and feels like an odd duck sometimes, reluctantly (at first) befriends an elderly woman in the apartment building where he lives with his mother and step-father. He discovers she’s blind and needs some help, which he gives her.

Magic Hour: A Novel

Excellent Women

Pachinko (National Book Award Finalist) by Min Jin Lee

An American Marriage (Oprah’s Book Club): A Novel by Tayari Jones.

Recently finished Sally Field’s memoir (autobiography) called In Pieces.

If you want grit, well, read Kristen Hannah’s newest book, The Great Alone: A Novel.

You’ve got to read Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book – Take Me With You. What a story.  From Amazon’s description: August Shroeder, a burned-out teacher, has been sober since his nineteen-year-old son died. Every year he’s spent the summer on the road, but making it to Yellowstone this year means everything. The plan had been to travel there with his son, but now August is making the trip with Philip’s ashes instead. An unexpected twist of fate lands August with two extra passengers for his journey, two half-orphans with nowhere else to go. What none of them could have known was how transformative both the trip—and the bonds that develop between them—would prove, driving each to create a new destiny together. Have a tissue handy at the end. It’s such a charming, sweet story. You’ll fall in love with the young boys, and fall in love with them again 10 years later.

The Last Letter from Your Lover: A Novel by JoJo Moyes.

Mark of the Lion : A Voice in the Wind, An Echo in the Darkness, As Sure As the Dawn (Vol 1-3) by Francine Rivers.

Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America

Answer As a Man

Celeste Ng Little Fires Everywhere.

The Rent Collector by Camron Wright.

C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel).

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant.

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen.

Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee.

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian.

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Appetizers, Veggies/sides, on July 3rd, 2020.

asparagus_appetizer_secret_sauce

Most likely you’re going to laugh. Secret sauce? Eh-what?

Making this appetizer is so very simple – other than having to cook the asparagus to just that right al-dente bite. You don’t want limp asparagus. You want them barely cooked through, but not so they’d totally fall over in a stand-up container. Part of the fun of this is using some kind of fun vertical container. If I had a glass cylinder that wasn’t too tall, I’d use that, just so you can see the asparagus full length.

It’s been decades since I first read or heard about this method of offering asparagus as an appetizer. To tell you the truth, I don’t remember where I got it. It could have been at a Weight Watcher’s meeting. It might have been from some old-old cookbook. It might have been at a cooking class. I didn’t even have a recipe written up for this – like a real, honest to goodness recipe to follow. I had to write one for this post. Asparagus, some salt, water, and then the secret ingredient. And a tad of sesame seeds as a garnish.

First, you just have to steam or simmer the trimmed asparagus in salted water until they’re just barely tender. Sorry, I’m repeating myself here. It’s important you not overcook them, so they stand up. Drain them and let them dry. If you’re in a hurry, put them out on paper towels or a tea towel and gently dry them off. I prefer these cool or cold, but that’s up to you.

Then, ta-da, you merely roll them in some seasoned rice wine vinegar and sprinkle them with the sesame seeds. That’s it. You DO NOT make this ahead (the acid in the rice wine vinegar will make the asparagus turn an insipid canned-asparagus-color). Not good. So JUST before you’re ready to serve them, you put them in a flat dish or flat bowl, sprinkle a bit of the seasoned rice wine vinegar over them, roll them around with your fingers. If I’m feeling adventurous, I also sprinkle toasted secret_sauce_rice_wine_vinegarsesame seeds around the top of the asparagus, picking up a bunch in my hand. Then stand them up in your chosen vertical vessel. Coffee mugs are just about the right height. I took this to my a family dinner a week or so ago. They were gone in a flash. Even my grandson Vaughan, who professes to not like asparagus very much, had a bunch.

I forgot to take the sesame seeds when I served them last time, so you can’t see them sticking to the tops. I’m making them again today, so am going to put out the sesame seeds – so I don’t forget!

What’s GOOD: so easy and extremely low calorie. Nice for a picnic although do take a wet paper towel to wipe off your fingers after you’ve used the vinegar. The vinegar has some sugar in it (that makes it “seasoned”) so it’ll make your fingers sticky. I guarantee you, they’ll be a hit. One of the fun things is serving this in a vertical container.

What’s NOT: only that you have to do the seasoning (finger-rolling in the vinegar) at the last minute, but truly it’ll take you less than one minute to do it.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Asparagus Appetizer with Secret Sauce

Recipe By: Can’t remember; I’ve been making these for 40+ years
Serving Size: 6

1 pound asparagus — not too thin, not too thick
salted water to cook the asparagus
1 tablespoon seasoned rice wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds — toasted, garnish

NOTE: This is meant as an appetizer, but it can also be served as a side dish.
1. Trim asparagus of woody stems. You do not want them to be all the same length.
2. Using a wide saucepan, bring a cup or so of water to a simmer (just enough to cover the asparagus), add some salt to taste, then add the asparagus. Bring the water back to a simmer again, watching it carefully and cook for 3-5 minutes, until the asparagus is just barely al-dente, stirring and rolling the asparagus around so all the stalks are under the water line. Do not overcook them. They need to be firm enough they’ll stand up in a mug or tall container.
3. Remove asparagus and cool, then blot dry with paper towels or tea towel. Chill if you have the time.
4. Into a shallow dish place the asparagus and sprinkle the rice wine vinegar over the top, drizzling back and forth. Using your fingers, roll the asparagus so all of them have been in contact with the vinegar. DO NOT make this ahead as the asparagus will turn yellow. Holding the asparagus in one hand, gently sprinkle the sesame seeds on the tops of the asparagus, as you turn the asparagus around. Stand the asparagus into a vertical container (coffee mug or similar shape) and serve immediately. If you’re not sure you’ll eat all the asparagus it’s wise to season some of it, serve, then if you need more you can always add more to the vinegar and serve more of them.
Per Serving: 21 Calories; trace Fat (7.8% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 89mg Sodium; 1g Total Sugars; 0mcg Vitamin D; 21mg Calcium; 2mg Iron; 154mg Potassium; 41mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Appetizers, Gundry-friendly, on October 25th, 2019.

zucchini_hummus

A variation on a hummus theme. So delicious. You’d never know it was made with zucchini!

I’ve kind of begun to tire of hummus. Actually – no, I AM tired of hummus. Seems like it’s become so commonplace, and so popular, nearly every hostess serves it. Therefore, I got tired of it. But then, now that I’m on this anti-lectin thing, regular hummus or garbanzo beans are out. Besides the calories (although I know – I know – beans are good for us – I just can’t eat them unless they’ve been pressure cooked, which kills the lectins), I’m kind of past the taste of garbanzo – they do have a unique flavor.

So, when I saw this recipe for hummus made from zucchini, I knew I could adapt it to fit my lectin-free diet. I just had to peel and seed the zucchini. Everything else in this was fine. And the taste? Oh gosh. It was fabulous! Even though I’m tired of hummus, somehow, eating this I felt differently about it – just knowing it was zucchini. It has the texture of hummus. It has the flavor of hummus. But better, by far.

If you make this, you don’t have to peel and seed the zucchini like I do – but I think taking off the green skin will keep this looking more brown, like hummus – with the green skin, I’m not sure about the color. What’s on top – black sesame seeds, some good EVOO, some ground cumin, and I’d forgotten the smoked paprika (I added it after I took the photo).

Everyone ate it – that bowl was gone by the time I served dinner. I have a little bit left in my frig, and I still have a few of the fresh-cut carrots and celery. Maybe I’ll have that for my lunch.

The only time-consuming thing was roasting the zucchini. It took longer than the recipe indicated – and you definitely do not want to roast these to the point of drying out. That would not be good. Into the food processor everything else goes (garlic, cumin, oil – maybe water, although I didn’t add any) and some tahini – sesame seed paste). That last part is what gives it the hummus taste. Sesame seed paste is, in and of itself, a very unique flavor. So when my guests ate it, they thought it was garbanzo hummus. Everyone was intrigued – even the guys in the group – and liked it.

What’s GOOD:  it’s lower in calorie than regular hummus, that’s for sure. Tastes as good if not better than. You’re eating vegetables instead of beans . . .altogether deliciousness. Yes, I’ll make it again.

What’s NOT: maybe just the time it takes to make – you can buy ready made hummus inexpensively, but this tastes so much better.

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Roasted Zucchini Hummus

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Keto Diet App
Serving Size: 10

3/4 pound zucchini
1/4 cup EVOO — divided use
sea salt — to taste
black pepper — to taste
1/4 cup tahini
2 medium garlic cloves
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice — or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons water — (2 to 3) optional
GARNISHES:
1 1/2 tablespoons EVOO
1/2 teaspoon both smoked paprika and cumin
2 teaspoons black sesame seeds (or white if that’s what you have)
fresh parsley leaves
SERVE: crackers, raw vegetables

NOTE: If eating lectin-free, peel and seed the zucchini before roasting.
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F, or 350°F (convection). Cut the ends off the zucchini, and quarter them.
2. Arrange on a baking sheet cut side up and drizzle with EVOO, using your hands to massage oil over all edges. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until browned on top. Do not overcook them as you do not want them to dry out.
3. To make the hummus, add all ingredients (including the remaining olive oil) except the water to a food processor and blend until smooth. Add the water if you think the mixture is too thick, using a tablespoon at a time. Taste for seasonings (lemon juice? salt?). Chill to allow flavors to meld.
4. To serve, pour into a flatter shaped bowl and use the tip of a teaspoon to create a whorl in the hummus. Drizzle with oil, and sprinkle with spices and seeds.
5. Serves 6-8 as a side served with crackers, fresh carrots and celery. Store in a sealed container in the fridge up to 5 days.
Per Serving: 108 Calories; 11g Fat (84.8% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 3g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 8mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, lectin-free, on June 14th, 2019.

cauliflower_hummus

Truly a miracle – hummus (sort of) using roasted cauliflower plus all the other ingredients that make it taste like hummus.

Tomorrow I’m going to San Diego to celebrate with my grandson John as he graduates from high school. His mom and dad, Sara and John, are having a big family gathering. My job is to bring appetizers. I’ve got a big hunk of Manchego cheese to take along, some crackers, and will be making a Brussels sprouts appetizer too. If it’s really good, I’ll post that recipe too. It has to be made at the last minute, obviously.

So, this recipe came from a blog I follow, As Easy as Apple Pie. Elena developed it (thank you, Elena) and I’m just so glad she did. Although the texture of this isn’t exactly like bean-hummus, I would be surprised if anyone could tell. With the additions (lemon juice, tahini, garlic, olive oil, cumin, S&P) you really don’t notice. Trust me when I say certainly you won’t think cauliflower when you eat this. You will think hummus, through and through.

The cauliflower florets get roasted for about 20 minutes; then cooled. Into the food processor they went along with all the other ingredients and whizzed it up until smooth. I added a bit more ground cumin. Done. I made a double batch (used a small head) since we’re having a bunch of people at the party. I’m sure this will keep for several days – I made it 2 days ahead and am sure it will hold up well. For the photo I didn’t put on any of the toppings – I’ll do that when I serve it. You could easily use some chopped parsley or cilantro too. Or even some chopped walnuts.

When I took this to my daughter’s I had two of the family members taste it – they didn’t like it at all. They recognized the cauliflower, and although they both like cauliflower, they didn’t like this. SO, it got pureed with one can of garbanzo beans (drained and rinsed) and it was much better. But then, that took away the low-carb aspect of this. They thought the garlic was too much (it had a very sharp zing to it) and just didn’t care for the taste. I agreed about the garlic – so be careful how much you add in. I still liked it. Make a small batch first and see if you like it!

What’s GOOD: easy to make; lower in calorie; very tasty; healthy.

What’s NOT: not a thing.

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Cauliflower Hummus

Recipe By: Blog- as easy as apple pie
Serving Size: 5

CAULIFLOWER:
3 cups cauliflower — cut in florets
a drizzle of EVOO
salt and pepper
HUMMUS:
3 tablespoons tahini
2 small garlic cloves
1 1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoon water — plus more if needed
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
TOPPINGS:
1 tablespoon EVOO — drizzle on top
1 tablespoon sunflower seeds, or sesame seeds
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes — minced

1. Preheat the oven 400° F. Arrange cauliflower florets on parchment-lined baking sheet, sprinkle liberally with olive oil and add salt and pepper. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until tender and lightly browned around the edges. Cool cauliflower.
2. Into a food processor add the cooled cauliflower with olive oil, water, lemon juice, tahini, garlic, salt, and cumin. Puree to your liking. If it’s too thick, add more water in very small amounts to get the desired consistency. Taste for salt, pepper and cumin.
3. Chill, then spoon into a serving bowl and garnish as you’d like: olive oil, nuts or seeds, red pepper flakes. Serve with raw vegetables.
Per Serving: 144 Calories; 13g Fat (73.6% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 242mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on December 24th, 2018.

gorgonzola_fig_terrine

Another one of those . . . do you trust me? Make this. So delicious and not difficult, though there are several steps to getting this done. You can use prepared fig jam, but I’d recommend making the sauce/jam from scratch, which uses an entire bottle of Port.

One of the cooking class groups I attend is maybe going to close down. Just can’t quite get enough people to be there on a regular basis, and lots of the attenders don’t want to host the class in their homes. Some homes are more conducive to a class setting than others. My friend Cherrie hosted the group a week or so ago, and Tarla Fallgatter, the instructor, made a super varied menu of holiday sides. I’ll be posting some of the recipes from the class, even though I couldn’t eat the dressing (stuffing), or the cake dessert. I had one bite and determined the cake was a winner, though. And I nibbled on the mushrooms and sausage in the dressing.

So, this appetizer . . . it’s a gorgonzola cheese mixture (mellowed with cream cheese), layered in a round bowl with the fig/port mixture (made from dried figs) in between. You serve it with walnuts on the side (a real great taste companion) and crackers.

What’s GOOD: the flavor, first and foremost. The port-sweetened fig jam is just stellar in this dish, and the creaminess of the cream cheese/gorgonzola layers, the crunch of the walnut with each bite. Altogether wonderful.

What’s NOT: nothing, other than taking the time to reduce down the Port mixture until it becomes a kind of syrup – don’t let it burn up because you’re not watching it!!

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Gorgonzola and Fig Terrine

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter cooking class, 2018
Serving Size: 12

1 bottle Ruby Port — (750 ml)
1/2 pound mission figs — dried, stemmed
4 strips orange peel. (orange part only) — about 2″ long
1 1/2 cups Gorgonzola cheese — (about 12 ounces) crumbled, packed
5 1/2 ounces cream cheese — room temperature (about 2/3 cup)
1/2 cup walnuts — toasted halves
Assorted grapes and crackers

1. Combine Port, figs, and orange peel in heavy medium saucepan. Simmer over medium heat until figs soften, about 20 minutes, Discard peel. Using slotted spoon, transfer figs to processor along with 3 Tablespoons Port poaching liquid, puree to make fig jam. (At this point, I tasted the mixture and it was not to my liking. I added about 1/4 cup of preserved figs that I had in my refrigerate. It enhanced the flavor and the consistency). Transfer to small bowl to cool. Simmer remaining liquid over medium heat until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 30 minutes, Cover and refrigerate syrup.
2. Line a small loaf pan (or a bowl or a mold) with plastic wrap bringing up edges over the side of the pan. Using an electric mixer, beat Gorgonzola and cream cheese in medium bowl to blend. Spread 1/2 cup cheese mixture evenly on bottom of prepared pan. Spread 1/4 cup jam, another 1/2 cup cheese mixture, then 1/4 cup jam. Top with remaining cheese mixture. Cover terrine and remaining jam with plastic wrap and refrigerate separately. Chill until firm, at least four hours. (Reduced Port syrup and terrine can be made one week ahead. Keep refrigerated.)
3. Remove terrine from refrigerator 30 minutes before serving. Unwrap terrine on to serving platter, and carefully remove pan. Run spatula under hot water, wipe dry, and use to smooth the edges of terrine. Drizzle port syrup over terrine (if too thick, microwave 20 seconds to thin.) Garnish with toasted walnuts and grapes.
Per Serving: 197 Calories; 18g Fat (73.5% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 41mg Cholesterol; 451mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Breads, on September 12th, 2018.

cheesy_shrimp_garlic_bread

Oh my, garlic bread, but on steroids. This is ciabatta bread, sliced in half horizontally, piled with a bunch of cheeses, tomatoes and shrimp. With a bunch of other flavor enhancers added in too.

Having had this at a cooking class, my friend Cherrie and I decided that after having had the watermelon blueberry drink, then this garlic bread, that could have been our “dinner,” and we’d have happily gone home. Not really, but we were somewhat full when we got done with this. (Although, I didn’t eat any of the bread – – the topping was wonderful, just sayin’.)

If you’re ever wanting to have some amped up kind of garlic bread – this is it – and you could serve this without the shrimp as a bread to go with a bowl of soup. If it was fish soup, then the shrimp would be fine there! You could also cut this up into much smaller squares and put it out on a buffet table.

What it is is delicious. Unctuous in my book. All that cheesy stuff going on. Shrimp is cooked through barely, then you add in chopped tomatoes and garlic. Then you chop up the shrimp a bit (or do it ahead of time, which might be easier) and add mayo, lemon juice, mozzarella and Parm. That gets piled onto the top of the ciabatta bread, sprinkled with more cheese (plus some Fontina there also), baked for 18-20 minutes, and garnish with chopped parsley. Phillis Carey made this at a class, and she happened to have bacon fat in a frying pan because she’d cooked up a bunch of bacon for a salad, so she cooked the shrimp in the bacon grease. Which might have made this even more tasty.

You can do all of the work ahead of time, except for piling the mixture on top of the bread – then you bake it. Easy peasy.

What’s GOOD: all the cheesy flavors are wonderful. Gooey deliciousness. The shrimp add something different – bet you’ve never had garlic bread with shrimp on the top, have you?

What’s not: nothing that I can think of. Really good dish.

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Cheesy Shrimp Garlic Bread

Recipe By: Cooking class, Phillis Carey, 2018
Serving Size: 6 (I think more than that)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 packages shrimp — cleaned, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
2 tomatoes — diced
3 cloves garlic — minced
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese — grated
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
1 small ciabatta loaf — halved horizontally, lengthwise
TOPPING:
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese — grated
1/4 cup Fontina cheese — grated
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
1/4 cup fresh parsley — chopped

NOTE: Buy a thin ciabbatta loaf if possible, i.e. you do not want height with this as it will be too bready.
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter (if you have bacon fat on hand, use that). Add chopped shrimp and season with salt and pepper. Cook until pink and cooked through, about 3-4 minutes, then stir in tomatoes and garlic and cook until fragrant, about one more minute. Remove from heat and cool.
2. Transfer shrimp to a bowl and mix with mayo, lemon juice, zest mozzarella and Parm. Season with more salt and pepper.
3. Spread shrimp mixture onto bread and add toppings: more Mozzarella, Fontina, Parm. Bake until bread is crispy and cheese is bubbly and golden on top, 18-20 minutes. Remove from oven and add parsley immediately (so it sticks to the bubbly cheese). Cool for 2-4 minutes only, then cut into stick-sized portions and serve.
Per Serving: 393 Calories; 20g Fat (46.1% calories from fat); 13g Protein; 41g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 38mg Cholesterol; 548mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on July 9th, 2018.

mex_st_corn_dip

Oh my goodness. If you love corn – and if you happen to know the fabulous taste of Mexican Street corn, then you’ll already know this dip will be off the charts fabulous.

If you’ve been a reader of my blog for awhile, you may possibly remember a recipe I posted several years ago for Mexican Street Corn. My hubby and I had gone to a local restaurant (this was 4+ years ago since I’ve been a widow for that long) and I’d ordered the Mexican Street Corn on the menu. I went nuts over it. So did my DH. So I came home, researched the recipe and promptly made it myself. Many times. Often for guests because it’s such a crowd-pleaser. I don’t think I’ve made it since, however. Mostly, I think, because corn is a carb, and there’s not much of anything healthy about the preparation, so I convince myself I don’t need it, etc. etc.

But then, Phillis Carey decided to make it into a dip. Oh gosh, was it good. On my current diet, this would be a no-no, but when I went to the class, I was not , so I ate it all. And it was fabulous. It’s the same ingredients, made a little bit looser so it’s a dip, and served with chips. Phillis put a whole lot more varied ingredients into the corn dip – cream cheese, sour cream, mayo, shredded Jack, garlic, jalapeno, cumin, chili powder, lime juice (which was discernible, so don’t skip that ingredient), red onion, hot sauce and fresh cilantro. It’s baked in the oven and lastly sprinkled with some Cotija cheese (a Mexican dry, crumbly cheese somewhat like Feta).

What’s GOOD: every single solitary morsel of this is delish. I’m having a family gathering soon, so perhaps I’ll make this. Or maybe not since several of the family members (coincidentally) are on nearly-no -carb diets too. But YOU should make it, for sure.

What’s NOT: uhm, nothing at all, other than calories!

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Mexican Street Corn Dip

Recipe By: Phillis Carey, cooking instructor, 5/2018
Serving Size: 8

8 ounces cream cheese — softened
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 cup pepper jack cheese — or plain jack if preferred, DIVIDED USE
2 tablespoons unsalted butter — or vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic — minced
1 whole jalapeno chile pepper — chopped
16 ounces frozen corn — or use Trader Joe’s fire roasted corn
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder — New Mexican, if possible
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3/4 cup Cotija cheese — crumbled, DIVIDED USE
3 tablespoons red onion — chopped
1 tablespoon hot sauce — Cholula, or Sriracha
4 tablespoons fresh cilantro — chopped, DIVIDED USE
corn chips for serving

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a food processor place the cream cheese, sour cream, mayo and 1/2 cup pepper jack. Blend until fully combined. Transer to a large bowl.
2. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and jalapeno and cook 1-2 minutes. Add corn and increase heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring often, until corn begins to brown. Stir in cumin and chili powder. Cool completely to room temp, then stir in lime juice.
3. When corn is COOL, fold into the cream cheese mxture along with the remaining pepper jack, 1/2 cup Cotija cheese, red onion and 3 T cilantro. Pour mixture into prepared baking dish, like a deep dish pie plate. Top with remaining pepper jack cheese.
4. Bake dip for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is hot and bubbly. If you like, drizzle the top with hot sauce and garnish with remaining Cotija cheese and cilantro. Serve with blue corn tortilla chips.
Per Serving: 358 Calories; 29g Fat (78.0% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 73mg Cholesterol; 377mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on April 1st, 2018.

zucchini_patties_feta_dill

Tender little pancake-shaped fritters of shredded zucchini, onion, Feta and topped with a dollop of yogurt. Make sure you add the dill!

Some years ago I made a version of this, Turkish Zucchini Pancakes, and liked them. Those, that I made in 2008 contained tons of green onions instead of white onion, and had 4 eggs in the batch and included chopped walnuts too. I don’t know why I don’t make some version of these more often, because I love them. They could easily (for me anyway) be dinner. I’d have about 4 of them, I suppose. These are quite thin, and they’re fragile-tender. They’re full of flavor (from the onions, dill, the spice rub and Italian parsley), and once cooked, they have a lovely (but tender) texture. There is a bit of flour added to help hold them together (plus an egg and egg yolk).

Do start an hour or so ahead as you need to salt the grated zucchini and let it sit a bit, to give off some of their water before you start to mix up the batter. The onions (chopped) need to be squeezed of their extra fluid also. Then you can mix up everything, including about 1/2 cup of Feta. Speaking of Feta, Tarla Fallgatter, the cooking instructor who made these recently, recommended Bulgarian Feta. She buys it at a local ethnic market, and prefers it because it’s lower in sodium and she likes the flavor of Bulgarian over others. So, the batter is formed into thin patties, and you can work as you go – do some for the first batch and while they’re frying, form more rounds of them.

Into a big frying pan they go with some olive oil (you’ll likely need to add more olive oil with each subsequent batch you fry). This recipe makes 16-18 of the pancakes, but they’re thin, so surely you’d have 2 per person, or more. For an entrée you’d have 4-5 per person, I’d guess. Maybe more if your crowd is really hungry. Anyway, they take about 5 minutes per side to get golden brown. Transfer them to paper towels to drain. If you make as you go, you’d be serving them immediately. Otherwise, put them on a paper-lined rack on a tray and keep them in a 250°F oven while you finish preparing them all. Because they are thin pancakes, they’ll cool off way too fast.

Meanwhile you chop up some fresh dill for the pretty-factor. DILL is essential in these – there are just food combinations that are made in heaven – zucchini-yogurt-dill is one. To serve, make them pretty with a dollop of the yogurt and garnish with a little sprig of dill on top. My mouth is watering . . . . .

What’s GOOD: the pancakes are delicate and tender. Full of flavor and satisfying. I would think these could be prepared and frozen too, then reheated in a toaster oven easily enough. If you have a bumper crop of zucchini this could be a great make-ahead dish. This would go nicely with a roast (lamb or pork I’m thinking), or all by itself.

What’s NOT: really nothing except that you do need to drain the zucchini and onion so start a bit ahead of when you’re going to prepare them.

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Zucchini Patties with Feta

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking instructor
Serving Size: 8

2 1/2 cups zucchini — coarsely grated (about 3 medium)
1 teaspoon salt — divided use
1 teaspoon spice rub — or use a combo of Mediterranean spices/herbs
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup all purpose flour — (or more)
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 cup chopped onions
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup olive oil — (about)
1/2 cup Greek yogurt, full-fat — with dill to garnish

1. Toss zucchini and 1/2 teaspoon salt in large bowl. Let stand 5 minutes. Transfer to sieve. Press out excess liquid; place zucchini in dry bowl. Chop the onion finely and gather it into a couple of paper towels and allow to drain for a couple of minutes, then squeeze to extract some of the liquid from the onions. Add onion in with zucchini. Mix in egg, yolk, 1/2 cup flour, cheese, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Mix in parsley and dill. If batter is very wet, add more flour by spoonfuls.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Working in batches, drop batter by rounded tablespoonfuls into skillet. Fry patties until golden, 5 minutes per side, adding more olive oil oil as needed. Transfer to paper towels. Serve immediately or keep warm by placing patties on paper towels on a rack, on a baking sheet in a 225°F oven. Serve with yogurt and garnish with dill.
DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Place on baking sheet, cover, and chill. Rewarm uncovered in 350°F oven 12 minutes.
Per Serving: 218 Calories; 18g Fat (73.9% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 67mg Cholesterol; 396mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on January 24th, 2018.

cheese_ball_horseradish

A lovely tasting cheese ball, suitable for anytime. The little bit of horseradish in it gives it a different and subtle hint of it – not at all overpowering.

Cheese balls are so appropriate for the holidays. I made this a few days before Christmas and took it to daughter Sara’s house. We were spending the afternoon making tamales, but we ended up eating this and a big pan full of nachos (with the leftover pork and red chile tamale filling and a bunch of jack cheese sprinkled on top) as dinner. After the tamale fest, everyone was fatigued with the process, and the last thing Sara wanted to do was prepare a sit-down dinner. So out came the cheese ball and we just noshed.

For the last several months I’ve subscribed to the New York Times’ daily food section email. And of course, they want me to subscribe (the pay type, and no, I’m not doing that), and every day they remind me that I’m not subscribed, but yet I am able to access the recipes they include in those emails. Most of the time there isn’t anything all that noteworthy, but occasionally they rave about something. And the last week of December they mailed out links (and photos) of the favorites of 2017. This is one of them. And they particularly mentioned the hint of horseradish gave it really great flavor.

There are two steps to making this: (1) the nut coating; and (2) the cheese ball. You use a stand mixer for the cheese – maybe it could be done with a hand-held mixer (try it and see) but the stand mixer made it easy to combine the ingredients. The nut coating (walnuts, maple syrup, butter and salt) is roasted in the oven until just golden brown, then you chop up the nuts and set those aside. The cheese  ball needs to be refrigerated for a few hours (I did mine overnight) and just before serving you roll the ball in the nut mixture and onto a serving platter it goes. Very simple, and nice to make ahead if you’re having a group over and want minimal fuss at the last minute.

The recipe calls for cream cheese, cheddar and Gruyere. I didn’t have the last one, and Trader Joe’s was out of Gruyere (darn) but I found another Swiss type cheese that was similar. I do not recommend you use a domestic Swiss cheese in this – whatever it is American cheese producers do to our Swiss cheese, well, let’s just say I don’t want that flavor profile in the cheese ball. I used Emmental and it was perfect. The herbs add a nice little green hint throughout, and of course, the horseradish, to me, is the subtle star of the show. Also liked the nut coating.

What’s GOOD: loved the horseradish hint in the mixture, and enjoyed the cheese combo too. Very tasty. Easy to make, really, and I like that it all can be made ahead except for rolling the ball in the nuts. A keeper. I see why it made the best of 2017 at the N.Y. Times. I will say, that there is another cheese ball in my life, Bombay Cheese Ball, and I may just like it the best but if you’re not into Indian-style spices (i.e., curry), then this one would be a better choice.

What’s NOT: nothing!

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The Perfect Cheese Ball

Recipe By: The New York Times, 2017
Serving Size: 10

NUT COATING:
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon butter — melted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups walnuts — coarsely chopped
CHEESE BALL:
12 ounces cream cheese — softened
2 teaspoons white balsamic vinegar — or white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper — fine grind
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese — finely shredded
1 cup Gruyere cheese — shredded (or other Swiss type, but NOT American Swiss)
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — finely grated
1/4 cup chopped chives
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons fresh dill — chopped (or use 2 tsp dried dill)

Crackers and fresh vegetables for serving

1. NUT COATING: Preheat oven to 375° F. Line a sheet tray with parchment paper. Set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, mix together maple syrup, butter, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add the walnuts and toss to coat. Pour the nuts onto the parchment lined sheet tray and roast for 8 minutes or until nuts are lightly toasted and fragrant. Set aside to cool. Once cool, roughly chop the nuts to a finer grind.
3. CHEESE BALL: In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the cream cheese, vinegar, and horseradish until smooth. Season with pepper and salt. Then, add in all the cheese and herbs and mix until just combined. Place the mixture, in a big mound, onto a big sheet of plastic wrap. Fold the excess plastic wrap over the mound and form into a ball. Chill until firm, at least an hour, but a few hours would be better. [Will keep several days.]
4. When you’re ready to serve, remove the cheese ball from the fridge for 20 minutes to soften a bit. Roll the cheese ball in the nuts to coat. Serve with crackers and fresh veggies.
Per Serving: 345 Calories; 31g Fat (78.1% calories from fat); 13g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 65mg Cholesterol; 435mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on December 19th, 2017.

ricotta_roasted_grape_crostini

This might seem like an unlikely combination. Roasted grapes, you say? Yes, and garnished with toasted pine nuts and fresh thyme, then drizzled with some honey. Sublime.

Roasting every kind of food is certainly “in” these days, isn’t it? I’m most definitely on the bandwagon too – I particularly love roasted vegetables – they gain such incredible caramelization when roasted. So, why wouldn’t grapes be amped up with the same treatment. In fact, fruit of any kind is enhanced with roasting because the sugar in fruit makes for easy caramelization.

There is a bit of assembly required here, so it’s best to get everything ready before hand. Roast the grapes (tossed with vinegar, fresh thyme and olive oil). Cut and toast the baguette slices, toast the pine nuts too. Slightly warm the ricotta cheese to room temp too. Have the honey out (warm it just slightly in the microwave if it’s too thick) and some of the thyme leaves already chopped up.

Gather all the ingredients around you, grab a baguette slice and spread it with the ricotta cheese (do use full fat here – it has so much more flavor), then gently add 4-5 of the oh-so-cute wrinkled grapes on top, sprinkle with pine nuts and more fresh thyme, then drizzle the whole thing with just a tiny bit of honey. The grapes are the star of the show here, as they just burst in your mouth. The pine nuts add wonderful chewy texture, and then you get the honey on your tongue and the rounded-out flavor from the fresh thyme. If you have lemons, add a tiny sprinkle of zest on top too. This recipe came from a cooking class I took a couple of weeks ago with Tarla Fallgatter.

What’s GOOD: the flavor combo is just delicious. I wouldn’t be serving this to a cocktail party as they do require assembly at the last minute, but to a small group of friends or family, it’s do-able. Expect each person to eat at least two of them. You’ll love the squish in your mouth when you chomp down on the grapes. Yum. Then you get the flavors of the honey, the chewiness of the pine nuts then the hint of fresh thyme too. Altogether delicious.

What’s NOT: just that it requires last minute assembly. Don’t make it for a large crowd unless you have help in the kitchen. Assembly would be great for a teenager to do if you have one on hand!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Ricotta and Roasted Grape Crostini

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

GRAPES:
1 pound seedless grapes — mixed varieties, de-stemmed
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
CROSTINI:
3/4 cup ricotta cheese — (use full fat)
3 tablespoons pine nuts — toasted
2 tablespoons thyme sprigs
12 baguette slices — lightly toasted
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons lemon zest — finely grated

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. On a parchment paper lined baking sheet toss the grapes with vinegar, thyme and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Roast for 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until grapes are softened and skins have started to pop.
2. Spoon a tablespoon of ricotta onto each crostini slice, spoon 3-5 grapes on top and sprinkle with pine nuts. Arrange on a serving platter, then drizzle with honey and sprinkle each with more thyme leaves and fresh lemon zest. Add salt and pepper, if desired.
Per Serving: 319 Calories; 12g Fat (33.9% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 44g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 336mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on December 3rd, 2017.

lentil_hummus

Not exactly the prettiest of colors, but the flavors are great. And healthy.

Wanting a simple appetizer that wasn’t rich, cheesy, or full of fat, I found this recipe in my to-try file, that came from Food & Wine. Made with lentils. It called for green lentils – I didn’t have any – nor did I remember ever seeing them at any of my local markets. I guess you can mail-order them. I used brown lentils, which, of course, made the finished product . . . well, BROWN. Do doctor up the top with a drizzle of olive oil and paprika to make it look a little bit better. The recipe indicated serving with red pepper strips (didn’t have any) or fennel strips (had them, but didn’t take the time) so I served it with crackers (pita chip type).

It’s made in the food processor. I actually took liberties with this – I bought a small package of already-cooked lentils (TJ’s carries them). I know . . . lentils are cinchy easy to make. But that was the way it was that day. So since I didn’t make them from scratch, I added a little sprinkle of powdered bay leaf in the mix. This part’s not in the recipe below, since I assume you’ll just make up a batch of fresh lentils for this. I was into saving time since I was having dinner guests and didn’t begin cooking dinner until 3 pm, and they were arriving at 6. I was into speedy. I made a sheet pan dinner (chicken, sweet potatoes, bacon, red onions, big chunks of sourdough croutons) which, when served, I plopped, in the pan, right in the middle of my dining room table. Easy for serving firsts and seconds. Everybody wanted more croutons and red onions.

The hummus is whizzed up in the food processor (so easy) with fresh lemon juice, EVOO, garlic, ground cumin, fresh cilantro, salt, tahini, cayenne – and I added a bit of water because I used the already-cooked type lentils (they’re on the dry side) –  you could add some of the cooking liquid if your mixture is too stiff. Taste it for seasonings – adding more salt or lemon juice or cumin. Into a container it went and chilled for a couple of hours (allowed the garlic to mellow a little bit) and it was ready to serve. That recipe is coming up next, I think.

What’s GOOD: how easy this was to make. As I’m writing this it’s the next day and I’ve just dipped a couple of crackers into it – it’s very tasty – healthy too. It will keep for a few days, so you could definitely make this ahead.

What’s NOT: don’t love the brown color, but the taste will shine through that little down side. If possible, try to find green lentils!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Lentil Tahini Hummus

Recipe By: Adapted from a Food & Wine recipe
Serving Size: 7

1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup lentils — about 6 ounces * (see note)
1/2 bay leaf
1 1/2 garlic cloves — coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons tahini
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1/4 teaspoon
Salt — or more if needed
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Sweet paprika for sprinkling on top
Pita chips, sliced fennel and red bell pepper strips, for serving

NOTE: If you can find green lentils, good – use them. The finished hummus will have a more greenish tint rather than brown, which isn’t quite as appetizing.
1. In a medium saucepan, combine the chicken stock, lentils and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, about 30+ minutes. If using green lentils, they take a bit longer to cook, up to 45 minutes. Uncover and boil the lentils over high heat until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and let the lentils cool slightly.
2. Transfer the cooked lentils to a food processor. Add the chopped garlic, tahini, olive oil, ground cumin, cayenne, salt, cilantro and lemon juice and puree until smooth. Scrape the hummus into a bowl. Garnish the hummus with paprika and some extra cilantro. Serve the lentil hummus warm or at room temperature with pita chips and vegetable crudités.
Per Serving: 132 Calories; 9g Fat (54.2% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 92mg Sodium.

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