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Carolyn

Sara

Sara and me

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Erik Larson’s tome, The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz. This book covers the “reign” of Winston Churchill during the height of WWII. You’ll learn so much more about him. About the war. About the inner workings of the British government, including political. I’m a great admirer of the late Mr. Churchill. One of my more recent trips to England I visited Chartwell, the family home and where Winston died. If you’ve never been there, do add it to your itinerary next time. Beautiful grounds, including the small studio he used to paint.

Ken Follett is one of my fav authors, and I pre-ordered his newest, The Evening and the Morning (Kingsbridge), which is a prequel to The Pillars of the Earth: A Novel (Kingsbridge), my all-time favorite book I’ve ever read. Time period: 975 to about 1007 or so. Give or take. It follows a poor, but eager and intelligent builder as he earns his trade. It’s about his loves. His failures. The families all around, and much about the ever-present church (and its leaders, some honest, many not). Could hardly put the book down. Love Follett’s style of writing.

Every so often I read a romance of some kind. Historical ones mostly. And most I don’t include them here. But one I liked a lot is The Secrets of Saffron Hall by Clare Marchant. It happens to be very inexpensive right now on amazon, on Kindle, in case you’re interested. It jumps from 1538 and to 2019. Having to do with a precious book, a Book of Hours, and what secrets it contains. The growing of saffron plays large here and both romance in Tudor times and a tenuous marriage in current time, but nearly all of it takes place at a Tudor castle. Loved the book.

The book Where the Blind Horse Sings: Love and Healing at an Animal Sanctuary shares the story of a number of animals brought to an animal sanctuary in the Catskills. If you’re an animal lover, you’ll enjoy the stories, each animal bringing more to the human-animal relationship than you might even guess. Profound stories of love of animals. Not a long book; I think I got it as a bargain book from bookbub.

The title caught my attention on this one: Threading My Prayer Rug: One Woman’s Journey from Pakistani Muslim to American Muslim by Sabeeha Rehman. She’s written her own autobiography, beginning when she was a young child in Pakistan, to her eventual settling in New York. It’s about the Muslim experience. Their beliefs, their customs and traditions, told in a very pleasing and informational way. She marries in American Pakistani Muslim (an arranged marriage) and it’s the story of everything. Nothing much is left out of the journey she made, and still makes. She became a kind of activist for her religion, trying to bring Muslim customs to integrate into American culture (not always an easy task). Her husband is a doctor; she a hospital administrator. Likely you’ll learn more than you thought about Muslims. Very well written. Enjoyed it very much.

Finished Chinn’s story, The English Wife. What a great read. Could hardly put it down. I’m reading 3-4 books a week these days, and am so happy when I have a book I can’t wait to get back to. Really the story is about two sisters. Partly in Norwich, England, then in Newfoundland. One there, one here. And some of it takes place during WWII in Norwich, and much of it Newfoundland, then, and more recent. I loved the part of the book that took place on 9/11 when flights were diverted to Newfoundland. Family secrets, family lies, much anger between the sisters. There’s romance. There’s war. There is love of family. Particularly I savored the descriptions of Newfoundland, mostly rock, if you’ve never been there. It’s a twisted tale, by that I mean the family secrets which become the undoing. It’s a bargain on amazon right now, as I write this.

Also finished reading Sue Monk Kidd’s recent book, The Book of Longings: A Novel. It is a book that might challenge some Christian readers, as it tells the tale of Jesus marrying a woman named Mary. The story is all about Mary, her growing up, her scholarly pursuits, and then from the moment she meets Jesus as a young man. The story follows along to and beyond his death on the cross. In the time of Christ it was extremely uncommon for a man not to marry. It was almost unseemly. Fraught with suspicions, I’d suppose. Although scripture, as scripture, does not play a very strong part here, if you’ve read the Bible you’ll see many of the stories of Jesus’ life through Mary’s eyes. I loved the book from the first word to the last one. The book is believable to me, even though the Bible never says one way or the other that Jesus ever married. It’s been presumed he never did. But maybe he did?

Jeanine Cummins has written an eye-opener, American Dirt. A must read. Oh my goodness. I will never, ever, ever look at Mexican (and further southern) migrants, particularly those who are victims of the vicious cartels, without sympathy. It tells the story of a woman and her young son, who were lucky enough to hide when the cartel murdered every member of her family – her husband, her mother, and many others. Her husband was a journalist, and his life was always in danger because he wrote the truth, and that was taking a risk. The story is about her escape, with harrowing chapters as she makes her way north from Acapulco, with various major detours, one step, or sometimes nothing more than a hair’s width ahead of the cartel minions trying to find her. I could NOT put this book down. The author is not Hispanic, and some have criticized her for that, but she did her research, and many authors write about places and people they are not. I have nothing but respect for her having told this story. You need to read this.

Also read JoJo Moyes’ book, The Giver of Stars. Oh gosh, what a GREAT book. Alice, living in an English home which lacks much, leaps to agree to marry a visiting American. It was an escape for her. He is a man of some family wealth, and she travels from England to Kentucky, during the 1920s. Once settled into the family home, she discovers married life is not what she had expected. Affection is lacking, and she must share the home with her tyrannical father-in-law, the owner of mines in the deep mountains. And with the ghost of the deceased mother-in-law. The family cook won’t tolerate Alice’s help in the kitchen. Alice is terribly lonely and unhappy. The town doesn’t much like this English woman with her funny way of speaking. But then, she meets a woman who encourages her to join the Horseback Librarians. With trepidation, she begins traversing the remote hills, through unbelievable weather, to deliver old, battered and tattered books to the remote inhabitants of the area. She makes friends, wonderful, loving people from all walks of life. There is tremendous tension from the danger of the mines, the unions trying to get a foothold, plus the unraveling of her marriage, including the dreaded father-in-law who feels she should answer to him, behave as he wants. Uh, no. Alice goes her own route. Her new friends become her family, and, oh, what love. There has been much criticism of Moyes’ possible plagiarism of another book regarding the Horseback Librarians. I read the other book – but I didn’t feel remotely as intrigued by that story as I was by Moyes’ version. A feel good story, but it takes some while getting to that “feel good” part, nearly to the end.

Frances Liardet has written a blockbuster tale, We Must Be Brave. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Although the scene is WWII England, this book is not really about the war. It’s about the people at home, waiting it out, struggling with enough food, clothing and enough heat. It’s about Ellen. Her early years, under much hardship. About her teens, some of it as an orphan. Then a young adult, which includes marriage, a marriage blanc, which I didn’t understand until you learn the meaning. Then a child enters the picture, a child that will become a focus for the remainder of the book. Through the war, and beyond. I cried several times, as will you, I suspect. What’s a constant is the descriptions of the place, a town called Upton, near Southampton. About the hills and dales, the flora and fauna, the rain, the mud sometimes, the flooding sometimes. But throughout, it’s about neighbors caring for neighbors, and about love. A must read. Would make a really good book club read.

Jamie Ford has written another good one, Love and Other Consolation Prizes. Remember, he wrote The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Loved that book. This one takes on a rather ugly part of America’s past, when Chinese people were treated like trinkets. Ernest Young is such a boy, who ends up being a “prize” at an event, and with great angst, ends up as a kind of servant at a high-class bordello in Seattle. Yet, the women and girls there become HIS family. He is intelligent and learns many lessons. Eventually, when society women battle to close down such houses of ill repute, he leaves that life, with his wife. They have children. The bulk of the book is about the early years around the turn of the 20th century, then you pick up the threads nearing the end of his life, and his wife’s. There are any number of small mysteries, which unravel with a word here or there – you know that word foreshadowing? Really interesting read.

In between more literary novels, I bought a comedic memoir . . . Juliette Sobanet’s Meet Me in Paris. There’s the falling apart of a marriage (and divorce), but in the inbetween, she decides to take a trip (sans husband) around Europe to get her head straight. The kind of tour that would drive me crazy, but it was one night, maybe two at each major city. She knew no one, but soon enough bonds with  three other women. Then she has a chance-meeting of a young Frenchman who had been an exchange student in her home town. They’d lost touch, yet there were definitely sparks there, never realized. Some of the touristy stuff was trite, I must say, although the women do try to take in all the major sites, if only for a few minutes. There is plenty of humor. Some steamy stuff too as she meets up with the young man in another city. Apparently it’s a happy-ever-after story. Great literature it is not, but it was a fun romp, so to speak.

Recently finished Thomas Nelson’s The Hideaway. It seems like there are SO many novels out there about families finding, inheriting or otherwise going to an old house with memories. Especially ones on the water. With stories to tell. It’s a great way to introduce some light mystery to the telling of some other family story. In this case it’s Sara’s grandmother who was enigmatic in every way. And Sara inherits the run-down, ramshackle B&B on Mobile Bay. Cute story with lots of twists and turns.

Also just finished James Conroyd Martin’s Fortune’s Child: A Novel of Empress Theodora (Book 1 of 2). Theodora grew up the daughter of a circus performer, but then moved onto “the boards,” as acting was called back in Byzantine times (Constantinople, 6th century). She always had high expectations – she just “knew” she was going to accomplish great things. She was an occasional prostitute, a mistress, and then, behold, the son of Emperor Justin is mesmerized by her beauty, takes her on, and makes her his wife, amid much royal machinations. A young eunuch also plays large in the story too, a man hopelessly in love with Thea, but knows his love can never be returned or fulfilled. He becomes an historian to the Empress. Quite a story – much of it chronicles her early life and not a lot of it in Constantinople. But riveting story.

I’m doing SO much reading of late. Read this book in one day. The Glass Hotel: A novel by Emily St. John Mandel. Loosely based on the story of Bernie Madoff (Ponzi scheme), it tells a novelized version of a man with incredible power and charisma who gathers a group of willing partners. It’s about the people he cuckolded, and the people who took him down. At the beginning drugs come into play and I almost didn’t continue, but that was a very short section. Well worth reading. Lots to discuss if you’re looking for a book club read.

Once in awhile I read a poignant animal story, as you know if you’ve followed this sidebar for any length of time. Craig & Fred: A Marine, A Stray Dog, and How They Rescued Each Other by Craig Gross, tells the story of his military duty in Afghanistan, in a war zone. And how his unit befriended a dog, a stray, and how that dog really did become his lifeline.

Cara Wall’s new book, The Dearly Beloved: A Novel. It tells the story of two couples. The two husbands become co-pastors of a New York City church. The wives? Oh my, are they ever different. They don’t abide. The husbands try to get a grip on their jobs, pastoring, preaching, and keeping the wives happy.

Loved-loved Gregory Buford’s humorous memoir, Kept: An American Househusband in India. He aims to be a U.S. diplomat, takes the tests and fails. On a whim, his wife takes the test and is hired. Their first assignment: Chennai, India. They spent two years there, with his much-loved wife going off to do diplomatic duties (albeit at a low level – everyone must pay their dues at the beginning) and Greg is left at home to deal with the servants, the house, the beggars, the nanny, the construction next door, shopping, and also partly caring for their infant.

William Kent Krueger wrote Ordinary Grace. From amazon: a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God. It’s a coming of age story.

Shirley Ann Grau’s book, The Keepers of the House. Hmmm. Much to think about. [from an amazon review]: There is a reason it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1965. Seven generations of Howlands have lived on this rural Alabama plantation in good times and bad. It tells the story of this family from the time its patriarch settled the land in the early 1800s to the mid-20th century.

Marie Martin wrote Harbored Secrets. From amazon: In May of 1935, Blinny Platt’s homestead shack burns to the ground forever leaving her family asunder, scattering them like the embers flew on the Montana wind. She was only 8, sent away and in charge of her little sister. She could handle that because Platts take care of Platts. However, it is the hidden secrets of her parents smoldering beneath the charred remains that haunts Blinny until 1982.

Best book I’ve read recently. Not new. Called Follow the River: A Novel by James Alexander Thom. This one is also based on the history of a woman (married, pregnant) who was captured by the Shawnee, during the early settlement days east of the Ohio River, about 1755. And her eventual escape. I stayed up all hours to keep reading. The book was written from the many journals and writing compiled by her children. Her name: Mary Ingles. And it chronicles her 1000-mile trek in treacherous weather and over uncharted ground. What an amazing woman, and what a story.

Alan Hlad has written quite a novel. From true life. The Long Flight Home. It tells the story based on family history, of the homing pigeons that were used in Britain during WWII that flew back and forth across the English Channel into German-occupied France. It’s a heartwarming story. Heart-wrenching sometimes. War is an awful thing no matter which side you’re on when it comes to how it affects everyday people. You’ll learn a lot about pigeons, but also about love. Great read.

Riveted to Katie Munnick’s novel The Heart Beats in Secret. It begins in Scotland in 1940. A woman, a single mother. A journey across the sea. Then her daughter’s story, and finally the granddaughter’s story, when she inherits her grandmother’s old cottage back in Scotland. Plenty of mother-daughter dysfunction. But it comes right in the end.

Sarah Vallance has written a book about her devastating brain injury. Prognosis: A Memoir of My Brain. What a story. What a saga of her recovery. And how she did it. An open wide sharing of her angst, her anger, her journey. Well worth reading. If you have anyone who has suffered a brain injury, it would be wise reading.

Just love all of Amy Harmon’s books. This one is no exception. Where the Lost Wander: A Novel. A pioneer story of a young woman made a widow on the trail to the west. 1850s. As it was in life, tragedies occur. But there is caring and love too. Loved it.

Read Her Mother’s Hope by Francine Rivers. After leaving her childhood home of Switzerland, young Marta Schneider dreams of one day owning a boardinghouse, until marriage and motherhood change her ambitions. Determined to give her family a better life, she vows to raise strong children. But her tough love is often misunderstood, especially by her oldest daughter, Hildemara Rose, creating repercussions that will echo for generations.

Esther Freud’s book The Sea House: A Novel is about a small village on England’s southern coast.  The book is about love found, love lost, love sometimes found again, sometimes not. About how fleeting it can be or seem.

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.

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.

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).

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.

The Walls of Lucca by Steve Physioc. A novel that takes place in between WWI and II about a weary Italian soldier.

The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna. A novel about Croatia in the aftermath of their more recent wars.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Also read Roger Swindell’s Mendelevski’s Box. It’s an historical novel about the aftermath of WWII in impoverished Amsterdam.

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.

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. The premise of this book is different . . . a woman writer goes to Scotland to connect with her distant heritage.

Another great read, The Island of Sea Women: A Novel by Lisa See. It’s 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.

Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford. A novel about the early days of radio in London.

A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler. 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.  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.

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. 

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.

Uncommon Woman. A book about Colonial America, but really the western frontier at that time, which is in western Pennsylvania.

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. 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.

The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. This is 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. And then what happens to him as he grows up. Riveting.

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.

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.

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? Raymond, a youngster, an older teenager, who  lacks 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. Sweet story.

Magic Hour: A Novel

Excellent Women

Pachinko (National Book Award Finalist) by Min Jin Lee. Everyone should read this one.

An American Marriage (Oprah’s Book Club): A Novel by Tayari Jones. DIdn’t like it much, but others do.

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.

 

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)

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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)

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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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