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Sara

Sara and me

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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. Soldiers aren’t supposed to have any attachment to the stray dogs, let alone bring them onto the home base where he spent part of his time. His unit all fell in love with Fred, but Craig was obviously the dog’s first love. A very inspiring story; a few tears were shed here and there as I read it. Fred now lives here in the U.S. against all odds.

Also read 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. There is joy, grief, a tiny bit of religion, and likely this book wouldn’t make you think much of pastors. They’re flawed as we all are. Quite a read, for one of my book clubs. I had hoped the book would paint a brighter picture of the profession (I have a wonderful pastor at my own church).

Loved-loved Gregory Buford’s 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. He is a consummate humorist and can find chuckles in almost every task. I ate this book up in one go. LOL funny and interesting on all fronts.

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, centered around a tragic event in their small town in Minnesota. About how he reviews his memories as he grows old, looking at the people, the event, and his part in it.

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. Abigail Howland, who came to the house as a little girl, lives with her crusty but loveable grandfather. Her grandfather’s forbidden love life is an open secret, but long after his death it is Abigail who must pay the price for a love match Southern society could not abide. Lots of sub-stories. Very interesting read.

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. She once again leaves the home place to build a house for herself. As the foundation is poured and the walls go up, each of the hurtful memories are uncovered. Finally the mystery, left in the ashes of the burned home, is revealed. How could her mother do what she did? Very interesting read.

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, easy, on February 28th, 2014.

crostini_grape_leaves_olives

Need an easy artichoke heart mixture to serve to guests that’s tasty and very quick to put together? And has no mayo or sour cream in it?

This recipe has been in my arsenal for years, from a decades-ago class I took from Joanne Weir. I’d forgotten all about it, but noticed that it didn’t have a photo attached to it (this in my MasterCook software program I use for all my recipes). That’s an automatic signal that I took the class long before I began taking a quick pix of the food when I attended the class. It also meant I’d not written it up here on my blog either! Since it’s an easy recipe to make, I chose to include it for a dinner party we were having recently.

Making it the day before is no problem – in fact it helped me to get at least one dish done ahead of time. This topping/dip keeps for about a week or so. In the class Joanne just chopped up the ingredients on a cutting board. It calls for canned or defrosted artichoke hearts, not marinated type, a few brined grape leaves, garlic, green olives –  Joanne called for picholine but I couldn’t find that type the day I went shopping so I used a plain green olive – some Parmigiano cheese, lemon juice and just a little bit of EVOO to smooth it out. That’s IT. Easy, huh? Changing the type of olive in this would likely change the flavor profile a little bit. Don’t use kalamata – they would overpower the mixture. Don’t use ripe olives, and don’t use the green stuffed olives either.

When I made this I used the food processor – I was into “easy” that day. If you’d prefer a bit more texture to the spread, then definitely do the mince and chop version. Do allow the mixture to refrigerate for a few hours – so the garlic isn’t so harsh and it has time to permeate it all.

What’s GOOD: how easy it is to make, plus it keeps for awhile. Make it 2 days ahead – that’s fine too. Very tasty – you definitely know it’s artichoke hearts but you can’t exactly pick out the grape leaves (it adds just a little bit of sharpness) along with the lemon juice. Very delish appetizer that I’ve made over and over.
What’s NOT: you might not have brined/jarred grape leaves on hand (I didn’t) but I found them easily enough at my local upscale market. And you might not have the right olives – but I substituted some other small green olives instead.

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Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Crostini with Artichokes, Grape Leaves and Olives

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Joanne Weir
Serving Size: 8

6 large artichoke hearts — frozen, defrosted (or canned, drained)
4 whole grape leaves — bottled, rinsed
1/3 cup green olives — Picholine, pitted, chopped
1 clove garlic — minced
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
8 shaves Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — crumbled
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
24 pieces French baguette sliced
lemon wedges for garnish

Notes: This can be made ahead, but don’t add garlic until just before serving. Use a country bread – coarse textured, about 2 inches in diameter. You can also grill the bread slices rather than bake them. I made this in a food processor until it was smooth, so I didn’t do quite so much mincing and chopping and let the processor do all the work.
1. Remove the stems from the grape leaves before mincing.
2. In a bowl combine the chopped artichoke hearts, grape leaves, olives, cheese, garlic and lemon zest. Pour mixture onto a cutting board and continue to chop together until coarsely chopped. Place mixture back in the bowl and add cheese, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Use plenty of salt, as once you put it on bread, it dilutes the salt. Taste for additional lemon juice as well. If made ahead, allow mixture to sit out at room temp for at least 30 minutes.
3. Coat the thin bread slices with olive oil and a little salt, then bake in a 400° oven until just crisp. Do not overbake. Serve crostini with a thin slather of the artichoke mixture.
Per Serving: 292 Calories; 7g Fat (21.3% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 47g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 4mg Cholesterol; 709mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, Brunch, easy, on February 12th, 2014.

apricot_jam_pastry

Oh my goodness, is this ever fantastic. The problems with this are: (1) finding good, tender and rich brioche bread; and (2) keeping your fingers out of the finished pastry. They are just so delicious. The base is a thick slice of brioche bread (the one above is about 1/2 inch thick, maybe just slightly thicker), spread with a ground almond and butter mixture (an almond cream, it’s called), spread with a little bit of apricot jam, some almonds sprinkled on top and baked briefly, then generously sprinkled with powdered sugar.

The other morning we were at one of my book group meetings, at our friend Peggy’s establishment, (Peggy & Gary own it along with their son) Mead’s Green Door Café in old-town Orange. Every other month we meet at their little café and enjoy a latte or cappucino and some lovely treat Peggy has baked while we discuss our current book selection. Peggy and her husband used to own a restaurant in Orange, but sold it a few years ago and bought a derelict building and spent over a year renovating it to the Café it is now. Cute as a bug, Old-world style, country-ish, eclectic, offbeat, catering a lot to the young Chapman University crowd nearby. They serve vegetarian and vegan food only, with usually at least one GF item too. They specialize in breakfast and lunch. Peggy does 90% of the baking. Peggy’s #1 seller (of her pastries) is her sweet potato scone, which is delish also, I can attest!

This little number, which blew me away, is so easy to make. Disclaimer here – I didn’t make the one you see above – Peggy did. But it’s so very easy, I was fairly certain you wouldn’t mind me showing you hers. If I made this now, I’d be gobbling it down. The recipe came from Sunset Magazine (earlier last year). First you must start with good brioche. Maybe one of our local bakeries (like Panera or Corner Bakery) will have it – I’ll have to look. You slice it thick (the recipe said 1-inch; I think Peggy sliced hers closer to 1/2 inch. Anyway, thick brioche. Then you spread the top with a little apricot jam, then a mixture of butter, granulated sugar, salt, egg, and half-and-half that’s been whizzed  up in the food processor. Then the top is sprinkled with almonds and sugar. Baked for 20 minutes or so, sprinkled with powdered sugar. Done. Very easy. Very special.

What’s GOOD: certainly the taste is first and foremost! These things are just delish. Worth making. You can make the almond cream ahead and it will keep for several days. The almond cream makes more than what you’ll use to make 8 – so perhaps cut down on the quantity first time.

What’s NOT: really nothing.

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Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Almond and Jam Pastries

Recipe By: Sunset Magazine, March, 2013
Serving Size: 8

ALMOND CREAM: (you’ll have more than is needed)
1 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup granulated sugar — divided
2/3 cup unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg
2 tablespoons half and half — or milk
TOASTS:
8 slices brioche — or challah bread, 1/2 in. thick or thicker
1/2 cup apricot jam — or other flavor
2 cups sliced almonds — about 2 T per toast
Powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Whirl 1 cup almonds with 1/4 cup granulated sugar in a food processor until finely ground. Transfer mixture to a bowl.
2. Blend butter and remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar in a food processor until smooth. Add salt, egg, and half-and-half and pulse just to blend. Add reserved ground almonds and blend until mixture is smooth.
3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread about 1 tbsp. jam, then 2 tbsp. almond cream, on each slice of bread (you’ll have almond cream left over). Sprinkle each with about 2 tbsp. sliced almonds.
4. Bake until almond cream is golden brown and almonds are toasted, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.
5. Make ahead: Chill extra almond cream airtight up to 2 weeks and use for making more pastries.
Per Serving (not accurate because you make more almond cream than you’ll use): 831 Calories; 55g Fat (57.6% calories from fat); 20g Protein; 71g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 141mg Cholesterol; 371mg Sodium.

Posted in easy, Fish, on January 31st, 2014.

salmon_capers_lekue

If you’re not into new gadgets, you may as well skip on by this post. I’d been eyeing this new thingamabob for several months and finally decided to bite.

The company that makes Lékué is in Spain. And when you try to SAY the word, speak it fast – you don’t languish the word out but quick step it fast. The product appears to be made of silicone (like Silpats, for instance – it has a similar feel to it), but nothing says exactly what or how. Other than it can withstand microwaving at 800 watts and the oven up to 400° F. It’s not a hard surface – it’s very soft and pliable but sturdy enough to stay put, although if you have food in the steam case (that’s what I bought – they have lots of other products as well) it will bend. Hence you walk from counter to microwave holding both ends of the Lekue Steam Case with Tray for 1 to 2 Persons.

Obviously the products have met the standards of the EU, since it’s manufactured in Spain. Everything says its very safe for storing, cooking, baking and microwaving. I’ll take their word for it since the EU is far more strict about these kinds of things than we are here in the U.S. Photo at left is from the company’s website. (Yes, they make them in green like mine, or orange or clear.)

What you see there is the smaller of the two types of steam cases. It has a slightly rounded bottom, but the little soft, silicone tray sits inside it (removable because you can cook without it).

Since I’m retired, you’d think I’d have endless time on my hands to cook whatever and whenever with no concern for the time involved. Not so. I don’t know how I found time to work, back when I did. I’m SO busy. I treasure my time at home on the occasional day when I don’t have any plans. The evening I used my new steam case I was pressed for time. I’m guessing you are also, so ride along with me as I explain how I made dinner in about 15 minutes flat.

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There you can see my about-to-be cooked dinner. The tray thing is in the bottom – the fish is sitting on it.

Into the bottom I poured in about 1/3 cup of water, then I squeezed a half of a lemon in the water also. The water or liquid is below the tray and although the tray has holes in it, the fluid didn’t come up over the edges. The tray went in and I gently placed the fish on top.

I sprinkled the top of the salmon with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, then I spread about 2 teaspoons of butter as best I could all over the salmon. That part was a bit difficult because the salmon was moist and the butter, although soft, didn’t really want to spread. You can see how well I did there in the top photo.

Next I drizzled the top of the salmon with a little tiny bit of olive oil. I don’t exactly know why since I’d already spread butter on it, but the recipe said to use both. Okay.

Then I sprinkled about a tablespoon of capers on top of that and sprinkled about a tablespoon or more of freshly chopped Italian parsley on top of that. The lid was closed. Easy. Up to this point I think it took me about 2 minutes, including the time it took to walk out to the garden to find Italian parsley. Well, I may be a little off – maybe 3 minutes total.

Into the microwave it went to 2 minutes. I do need to go find my instruction booklet for my Dacor microwave because I think mine is higher wattage than 800, and the recipes are all for 800 watts. So I might need to cook whatever I do make in this at a lower power setting.

The recipe I followed was for fillet of sole, and my salmon was actually quite thin – not much thicker than sole, but I did cook it for 2 minutes, rather than the 1 1/2 minutes suggested for the sole. And sure enough, it was perfectly cooked. Wow.

The rest of the dinner was all ready (yellow crookneck squash and a big green salad with lots of vegetables in it and my favorite Creamy Garlic Blue Cheese Dressing that I make many times a year). I quick-like dished up the vegetables and the salad, then lastly I put the salmon out on our dinner plates and we sat down. It might have been better had I taken the steam case to the dinner table – it would stay hotter longer – but it was still piping hot when we ate our first bites.

What’s GOOD: first and foremost, the speed at which I got this dinner on the table. Wow. The vegetables were left overs, so all I had to do was warm them up. The salad took about 15 minutes to make. The recipe was a good one – we could taste the citrusy aspect of this, and of course, the capers give it lots of flavor anyway. Sometimes fish is just best done the simplest way. It was juicy and tender. Only a couple of little edges (that leaned up against the inside wall of the steam case) were a bit overcooked, but still edible. I’ll watch that next time. So far so good, I’d say, with my new cooking utensil investment. I’ll be trying other dishes. One intrigues me – you can make scalloped potatoes (like au gratin) in no time flat.
What’s NOT: so far, nothing at all. I like this thing, this Lékué and I liked the recipe.

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Steamed Salmon with Capers in the Lékué

Recipe By: Adapted from the Lekue cookbook
Serving Size: 2

10 ounces salmon fillets
2 tablespoons water Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons soft butter
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon capers — drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon Italian parsley — divided use

1. Using the small (1-2 person serving) Lekue case, pour in water and lemon juice. Insert tray.
2. Place salmon fillet on top of the tray and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
3. Spread the fish with the butter and drizzle with olive oil.
4. Add capers and half of the Italian parsley. Fold lids closed.
5. Microwave at 800 watts for 2 minutes (if using thicker salmon, it will take longer). Remove Likue case from microwave and leave the lid closed for one minute longer (it continues to cook).
6. Serve on heated plates and garnish with additional parsley and lemon wedges, if desired.
Per Serving: 228 Calories; 12g Fat (48.6% calories from fat); 28g Protein; trace Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 81mg Cholesterol; 161mg Sodium.

Posted in easy, Fish, Grilling, on January 19th, 2014.

cedar_planked_salmon_mustard_brownsugar

Are you looking for a super-easy dinner with salmon? You’ve come to the right recipe – this one’s so simple – as long as you’re willing to do the cedar-plank thing on the grill.

Not taking a lot of time to hunt for a recipe this time, I just googled “cedar plank salmon.” The #1 recipe came from the Food Network. It’s a Steven Raichlen recipe, but from what I read, Bobbie Flay must have had him on his BBQ show and prepared this dish. What convinced me was the 5-star rating. I read through some of them – a few people didn’t like the quantity of mustard or thought it was bitter. My thought is that they used cheap Dijon. If you use the real stuff, particularly the Maille brand, there won’t be any bitterness. I did reduce the quantity of both mustard and brown sugar, and we were ooohing and aaahing as we ate it.

First we soaked a cedar plank (one worked for the portion we were grilling, but you might need 2) for about 2 hours in cold water. Then the plank itself went onto a medium-hot grill for about 4 minutes. That gave it time to steam-out most of the water, but got the plank super-hot. Then my DH salmon_mustard_sugarturned the plank over and carefully placed the lightly slathered and brown sugared salmon fillet (pictured at left with the slather and sugar ready for grilling) on top of the plank. The lid was closed, the heat reduced just slightly, and 10 minutes later the salmon had reached 135°F and it came off. When Dave lifted the lid the last time (he checked the temp of the fish twice) a big plume of smoke engulfed him and burned his sinuses a little. He had a honkin’ headache for the rest of the evening, poor guy. Beware of that, my friends! He said the plank was slightly in flames too, but it didn’t reach the fish. Obviously, you toss the plank once it’s used. You could also do this in the oven, I suppose, but not with the cedar plank – unless you do it at a lower temp. You don’t want that kind of smoke swirling around in your oven.

The salmon needed nothing else – perhaps I could have served it with a little wedge of lemon – but it truly didn’t need it. It was a tiny bit crispy along the edges (from the brown sugar) and the mustard added just a lovely character to the fish. It was perfectly done, juicy, flaky. Delicious.

What’s GOOD: rip-roaring easy and tasty. That’s about all I can say, it should be enough for you to try this super-simple recipe. Good enough for guests too. I haven’t tried oven roasting this, but it should be easy to do that if you don’t want to cedar plank it.
What’s NOT: nada, nothing!
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Cedar Planked Salmon with Dijon and Brown Sugar

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from a Steven Raichlen recipe, via the Food Network
Serving Size: 4

one cedar plank (6 by 14 inches)
1 1/2 pounds salmon fillets
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons brown sugar

1. Soak the cedar plank(s) under water for 2 hours or more.
2. Preheat grill to medium-high. Place the cedar plank on the grill, cover and allow to pre-heat for about 4 minutes.
3. In the kitchen, spread the salmon fillets with a coating of Dijon, then sprinkle the brown sugar evenly on top. Do this just before you’re ready to grill – otherwise the sugar will begin to melt off the fish, even sitting at room temp.
4. When the cedar plank is super-hot, carefully turn the plank over with tongs and place the fish on top/center of the plank. Close lid, reduce heat just slightly (you don’t want the plank to burn, if at all possible). Depending on the thickness of the fish, cook for 10-15 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 135° (use an instant-read thermometer). If the edges of the plank start to catch fire, have a spray bottle of water handy and carefully spray the wood (not the salmon) and perhaps lower the heat slightly. Remove from grill and serve immediately.
Per Serving: 231 Calories; 6g Fat (25.5% calories from fat); 34g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 89mg Cholesterol; 258mg Sodium.

Posted in easy, Pork, on January 1st, 2014.

milk_braised_pork_chops

Surely you’ve heard somebody talk about milk braising a pork roast. I know I had, but somehow, even though I’d read and heard it was a really tasty way to prepare pork, I’d never actually done it. Plus, I’d simply pictured a curdled gloppy sauce. Who boils milk with any expectation of something pretty!

What I had were pork chops, not a roast. Time was at a premium that day (when I made this a couple of weeks ago I was deep in a quagmire of gift wrapping and Christmas card mailing), I quickly scanned through some recipes for pork and stopped at milk-braised pork. Hmmm. The original recipe I had would take too long, so I researched online and came across this extra-easy and quicker method (although it does take about 1 1/2 hours from start to finish) that was perfect for my timing.

I didn’t even print out the recipe – it was that kind of simple, although I did double check the cooking time and the last-minute saucing. The recipe came from about.com. the Southern Food section of that site, from Diana Rattray, who has provided most, if not all, of the recipes. And this is simple with a capital S! First you make a flour, salt and pepper mixture (and there is very little flour) and coat the chops. You shake off any excess. Into a hot frying pan they go (with a little oil and butter). Meanwhile, you use whatever amount of flour is left over from the dipping (not much) and use a whisk to combine it with some milk. You want to remove all the lumps. Once the chops are browned for about 3 minutes per side, you pour off most of the drippings, and add the milk/flour mixture, reduce heat to a simmer, and cover. It cooks for about 30 minutes or so, stirring every so often. You don’t want the sauce to reduce-down too much and burn.

Not realizing the nuances of the flour, I’d put a bit too much in the bowl, so I had to add additional milk so this mixture was soupy, not thick. If it’s thick it will likely burn and/or boil away. It won’t be pretty! If you have a low-enough burner, it’ll cook very gently. That’s the goal. After 20-30 minutes, you turn the chops over and add more milk. The amount can vary because of the flour amount used. I added just a little bit of my Penzey’s chicken soup base to add more flavor. Again, stir it around, cover and simmer for about another 30 minutes. During this time, check the sauce – if the gravy is too thick, add more milk, but don’t add too much. I added some dried thyme to this, as it’s my go-to herb when I want to add some flavor. Then you take off the cover and allow the pork to continue bubbling away, but the sauce will reduce and get thicker. In that time I quick-like made a salad and some mashed potatoes.

My DH thought he was back home as a kid. Growing up, his mother and dad had a housekeeper named Sarah, a loving Black woman who cooked and cared for the family nearly her whole life. She was from the South, and often cooked kale, turnip greens, black eyed peas and the like. This dish just reminded him of the meals she used to prepare. He wanted to sop up every single bit of the gravy (since I don’t make this kind of a meal very often).

What’s GOOD: how easy this was to make, although it does take more than an hour of just simmering – you want that pork to be fork tender. The sauce was lovely. It’s NOT a fancy sauce – it’s just milk, flour, salt and pepper, so don’t expect some deep character kind of gravy here. Do make some kind of carb (rice would be fine too, or even noodles) to eat with the sauce. I’ve added a note in the recipe about throwing in some mushrooms to this. I didn’t, but if I’d had any, I’d have used them in the sauce. Definitely a keeper of a recipe. Comfort food, for sure.
What’s NOT: probably the lengthy cooking – for pork chops, 1 1/4 hours is a long time to simmer. Hard to do with a table full of hungry children waiting. If you can plan ahead, by all means do it.

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Milk Braised Pork Chops

Recipe By: Adapted from about.com, Diana Rattray
Serving Size: 4

4 pork loin chops — about 3/4 to 1-inch thickness
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper — or more, or seasoned pepper
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme — [my addition]
2/3 cup milk
2 teaspoons butter
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
3/4 cup milk — added at the end (may not need all of it)
1/2 teaspoon Penzey’s chicken soup base — or other paste-type chicken base
1 cup mushrooms, sliced (optional)

1. Trim excess fat from the pork chops.
2. Combine flour, thyme, salt, and pepper in a large food storage bag. Add chops; shake to coat them with the seasoned flour mixture. Remove chops from bag; pour remaining flour mixture in a medium bowl and gradually whisk in 2/3 cup milk. Whisk to remove any and all lumps.
3. In a skillet over medium heat, melt butter with the vegetable oil. Add pork chops and cook for 3 minutes on each side, or until browned. Pour off all but 2 teaspoons of the drippings. Add milk and flour mixture to the skillet. Stir well until it’s smooth, adding more milk if needed, so it’s a soupy sauce, not a thick one or it will burn during the braising process.
4. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Turn the chops over. Add remaining milk and chicken soup base (paste); stir to dissolve; cover and cook 20 to 30 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. Add mushrooms, if you’d like to during this section of cooking. If the soupy sauce boils away too soon, add more milk and reduce heat.
6. Uncover skillet and cook the chops for about 15 minutes longer, or until the liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup, or to your desired consistency.
Per Serving: 235 Calories; 12g Fat (48.1% calories from fat); 22g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 64mg Cholesterol; 309mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, easy, on December 28th, 2013.

savory_herb_buttermilk_scones

Oh, just gaze at those. Merely looking at the photo makes my mouth water. These scones (or rich biscuits) are just the cat’s meow. The bestest. The most tender scones I’ve ever made, for sure. And they are just a pairing from heaven with some hot soup. Like cream of tomato? I made them to serve with one of my favorite recipes – Italian Sausage and Tomato Soup

The recipe came from a recent cooking class with Phillis Carey. And as she explained at the class, it’s very unusual to see eggs IN scones. Used as a glaze on top, yes, but rarely do you see any recipe with eggs in the dough. These scones (biscuits) are going onto my favorites list, if that’s any indication how good they were (are).

These are incredibly easy to make. You combine the dry ingredients and lightly fluff them with a fork so the salt and baking soda don’t clump in one spot. Then you add the cold-cold butter that’s been cut into little cubes. I use a pastry fork, and then sometimes I dig in with my fingers, since that’s fairly easy to do. The trick to this is leaving some of the butter in tiny little shreds. But in this case, the eggs provide additional leavening to the batter too. This one has fresh herbs in it, but you can vary which ones you use – don’t like rosemary? – just use dill or thyme. The cheese also adds a nice taste to them.

herb_buttermilk_scones_before_bakingThe dough makes a big chunk, so you cut it in half and shape each half into a circle, an inch thick. Don’t use any more hand-power than necessary – the less the better. I used a sharp knife to cut the scones into 6 wedges, then I carefully scrunched them back into the circle – barely touching. If you like all the edges to be more crisp, separate the wedges. If you want just 6 biscuits, halve the recipe below. When they’re shaped up and ready, use a pastry brush or silicone brush with some additional heavy cream to glaze the top, then sprinkle more herbs and cheese on top.

The end result is a very, very tender scone – almost like a light cake in texture. For years I’ve been making scones from a recipe I acquired back in the 1980s, and it’s been my go-to recipe – it’s also on my favorites list – Buttermilk Scones – and they’re just very different from these. The others are more like a biscuit, a southern biscuit, I suppose.

These are scrumptious with soup. I served them the other night, as I mentioned above, with another of Phillis’ recipes, the Italian Sausage, Tomato and Orzo Soup. We had 6 of us for dinner, and I had 4 scones left over – a few people took 2nds on both soup and scones. I wrapped each scone in plastic wrap and edged them into a freezer ziploc bag and they’ll be perfect for a later soup dinner.

What’s GOOD: oh gosh. Everything about them is good – texture, taste, tenderness, even the savory aspect  (the cheese and herbs). They’re very light in texture, which I like a lot. You’ll not be sorry if you try them.
What’s NOT: nothing, other than they’re fairly high in calorie. If you serve them with soup, perhaps the meal balances out, right?

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Savory Herb Buttermilk Scones

Recipe By: Phillis Carey cooking class, December 2013
Serving Size: 12

1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
1/2 cup cheddar cheese — grated
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary — minced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme — minced
1 teaspoon Italian parsley — minced
SCONES:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter — chilled, cut in tiny cubes
2 large eggs — beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup heavy cream
Additional cream for brushing on the tops

Notes: this batch can be made into slightly smaller scones if you shape each half into a rectangle and use a square cutter – about 8 per half (2 across by 4 lengthwise) = 16 scones. The batch for 12 makes fairly large scones.
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a small bowl, stir together 1 T. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, 2 T. cheddar cheese and 1/2 tsp each rosemary, thyme and parsley. Set aside for sprinkling on top of the scones.
3. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Scatter the butter over the top and cut into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Quickly mix in the eggs, buttermilk and 1/2 cup cream. Quickly mix in remaining cheeses and herbs.
4. Turn dough onto a lightly floured work surface and divide dough in half. Pat each half into a circle about 1-inch thick (about 6 inches across). Cut each circle into 6 wedges and arrange, with edges mostly touching, on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the top of each scone with a little cream, then sprinkle on the reserved cheese and herb mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the bottoms are lightly golden. The tops of these will not show browning or even a golden color – look at the bottom to determine if they’re done. Serve immediately with butter. [When I baked these it took exactly 25 minutes.]
Per Serving: 248 Calories; 15g Fat (54.7% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 78mg Cholesterol; 330mg Sodium.

Posted in easy, Fish, Veggies/sides, on December 17th, 2013.

salmon_papillotes_redpeppercorns_ginger

It’s fun being a teacher in the kitchen. All of our 3 children know how to cook, and during their growing-up years they helped in the kitchen. For a year or so during the teens, each kid had to cook a meal for everyone once a week. Skip forward 25 years, and now our various grandchildren are visiting from time and time. I’ve spent patient hours in the kitchen with each of them, helping them to master a recipe or two. Mostly it’s seemed to be cookies, because that’s what they wanted to make. Fine with me. This time, it was our oldest grandson’s [girl] friend Mary’s turn. She’s never cooked, so with coaching from me, she made dinner!

Logan had asked for salmon. I chose a recipe I’ve been wanting to make anyway, and with a couple of exceptions, I had all the ingredients. I had lemons, not limes, and I didn’t have any fresh dill. But this recipe was delicious enough as is – but yes, next time I try it I’ll buy limes and dill.

mary_carolyn_kitchenThere’s Mary listening to me explain about something. I talked to her about Sichuan pepper, what a “pinch” was, and how to drizzle. Also how to use a mortar and pestle, grate fresh ginger, chop and sauté mushrooms in butter, make rice (she’d done that before). She was a very good student – I demonstrated some of the things and she quickly tried it and did it all very well.

We used a rice cooker, did the mushrooms separately, and combined them at the end. The salmon was prepped with some fresh ginger spread on each piece, salt, the Sichuan pepper, red peppercorns, a bit of oil, then they were baked in foil packets – about 10+ minutes. Mary made a green salad – I already had some of my Molasses Honey Vinaigrette in the refrigerator, so Mary just had to chop up the salad.

It was a lovely dinner. Mary did a superb job of getting everything done and the dinner came together well. And the salmon? It was really, really good. I think we all liked the crunch of the red peppercorns, and the amount of heat from the Sichuan pepper was just right.  The little crunch from fleur de sel on top was an added, nice crunch. As I mentioned, with Mary’s help, we made a rice cooker batch of basmati rice with mushrooms that was fabulous. I’ve included it in the recipe below. It was so good I made the rice again some days later for an Indian chicken dinner, which I’ll write up in a few days.

What’s GOOD: the salmon was cooked perfectly (almost under-done, but it was cooked through) and we all liked the seasonings a lot. The foil packet made it so simple with an easy clean-up. I’d definitely make this again, and it’s nice enough to make for guests too. The little drizzle of cream on the salmon at the end (just before serving) gave it a little lusciousness, although almost once poured you couldn’t see it – it was only a teaspoon per serving. I’d definitely make this again. I don’t guarantee the flavors if you use anything but the red peppercorns. Black ones would be oh-too strong, for sure.

What’s NOT: nothing at all.

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Salmon Papillotes with Red Peppercorns, Lime and Fresh Ginger

Recipe By: On Food 52, but from Babette’s Feast, 1/1/2010
Serving Size: 5

35 ounces fresh salmon fillet — (about 7 ounces each)
2 inches fresh ginger — peeled and grated
3 tablespoons red peppercorns
1 1/2 limes — freshly juiced
A couple of pinches of Sichuan Pepper
salt to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
5 sprigs fresh dill
5 teaspoons heavy cream
Fleur de Sel
1 tablespoon chives — fresh, coarsely chopped
RICE WITH MUSHROOMS:
1 cup rice — (Basmati preferred)
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 cup fresh mushrooms — sliced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter — for the mushrooms
2 tablespoons Italian parsley — minced, for garnish, if desired

1. Take 2 large pieces of aluminum foil (or parchment paper) the same length and put one on top of the other, both shiny sides outside. Roll together on the length the aluminum foil together to make a seam and tighten it. Roll this seam 2 more times and press on it so the 2 pieces of aluminum foil are tight together. Gently open the foil. Press on the seam which is now in the middle and you have a double width piece of foil that can take all the pieces inside. Turn the foil so the seam is perpendicular to you and you have a wide aluminum piece. Fold it in half and lightly press so you know where the middle is.
2. Clean the salmon fillets of all bones and if you prefer remove the skin. Otherwise place salmon skin side down. Spread each piece of salmon with the fresh ginger, then season with a pinch of salt, freshly ground Sichuan pepper, and lime juice.
3. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
4. Place the foil on a baking tray so that the bottom half is sitting on the tray. Drizzle the olive oil on the foil half nearer to you, place the salmon with the seasoning on top and add the red peppercorns that you lightly crush with your hands (or lightly grind with a mortar & pestle). Place the dill on top of each salmon fillet and fold the top half of the foil towards you. Go round the foil folding together the 2 foils (top and bottom) 2 or 3 times so you completely seal all around.
5. Bake about 10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. The papillote, if closed tightly, should puff up with the steam inside the packet (ours didn’t do this).
6. Discard the dill, serve one fillet per person on a bed of sautéed vegetables. Drizzle a teaspoon of thick cream down the length of each piece of salmon, sprinkle with some chopped chives and a little Fleur de Sel.
7. RICE: In a saucepan combine the chicken broth, butter, lime juice and salt. Bring to a boil, then add rice. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and allow to cook for 15-20 minutes until the rice has absorbed all the liquid and the rice is tender.
8. In a small skillet melt the butter and add the sliced mushrooms. Saute for about 5 minutes until the mushrooms are tender. Add them to the rice just before serving and garnish with Italian parsley if desired.
Per Serving: 514 Calories; 18g Fat (31.3% calories from fat); 46g Protein; 42g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 120mg Cholesterol; 631mg Sodium.

Posted in Chicken, easy, on December 4th, 2013.

turkey_hachis_parmentier

An altogether different (for me anyway) way to use left over turkey. And it will likely become a favorite. Made especially easy because I was able to use our Thanksgiving turkey meat, and left over mashed potatoes too, which were taking up space in my refrigerator.

Not knowing anything about the history of the French word Parmentier, I looked it up online, only to find that, in culinary terms it means a potato on top, almost like a shepherd’s pie, or a cottage pie. The dish is named after Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, a French pharmacist, nutritionist, and inventor who, in the late 18th century, was instrumental in the promotion of the potato as an edible crop. So, that’s why (per wikipedia). The hachis part means chopped meat.

I read the recipe over at Susan Herrmann Loomis’ blog, On Rue Tatin. If you don’t know about her, you should. She’s an American, but went to live in France a long time ago now, wrote a book about her culinary experiences (very cute) including meeting her husband (I see that she doesn’t mention her husband on her About page, so perhaps she’s divorced now . . . don’t know . . . but she does have a couple of children). She lives in Normandy in the little town of Louviers, gives English-speaking cooking classes regularly if you’re interested and has written about 12 cookbooks.

turkey_hache_parmentier

My version of this – from the picture above – is a much more wet casserole – not exactly soupy, but certainly it oozed all over the plate. My mashed potatoes were very soft to begin with. But that made no difference to the flavor.

One of the things that stood out in my mind as I was reading Susan’s blog, was her little quip that “ . . . . sprinkling Gruyere cheese on almost everything that goes in the oven is a French custom. . .”  Having visited the Gruyere cheese factory (a very small place considering the volume of cheese sold ‘round the world with its name on it – hence I always buy the imported, the “real” Gruyere), and since I had a chunk of the cheese in my refrigerator already, it was a no-brainer I’d make this.

It took about 10 minutes to create the casserole: first I sautéed the onion (Susan used a red onion, I used a yellow) in a bit of oil and butter. While that cooked briefly I shredded the turkey meat and shredded the Gruyere. Into the casserole dish went the mostly cooked onion with a tiny sprinkling of cheese (I was remembering Susan’s comment about the cheese). I sprinkled the top with a little bit of salt, pepper and a light dusting of powdered bay leaf. Then I added all the turkey meat, with another light sprinkling of cheese. I drizzled the cream on top of that and added the little bit of turkey gravy (her recipe has you add stock – I used the gravy because I had a bunch in the refrigerator and never seem to know what to do with it except in reheated left over Thanksgiving dinner). Then using my hands to mush and squish the cold mashed potatoes, I gently placed the potatoes on top and tried to cover it barely and completely. I wanted a solid potato covering, but I didn’t want it to be thick, so I gently pushed and shoved the potatoes so it would be a solid slate of them. If you have youngsters to feed, you’ll likely want a much deeper potato layer, which is fine! The bulk of the grated cheese goes on top of the potatoes. Make sure the casserole is deep enough that the potatoes aren’t heaped above the edge or you’ll have a bit of bubbling overflow. Fortunately I put the casserole on another pan so the drips didn’t burn up in the oven!

We had pan-roasted Brussels sprouts with this, but any green veg would be fine, or even a salad. You could – I’m sure – use some left over veg inside this dish (like peas or broccoli) but I wanted to make it as true to Susan’s recipe as I could. I did make a few changes, but I hope they did nothing but enhance the flavors rather than detract from them!

One little caveat: I used the best-est turkey chunks (both breast and dark meat) from our kosher bird, which was super-moist and tender; I used the left over mashed potatoes which contained cream cheese, so they were rich-rich already. I used ample cheese (maybe more than Susan did – I didn’t weigh it – she used 2 ounces for a larger casserole, I think). I did use heavy cream, although I just added it into the meat section (not used in the potatoes as she did). Just know that it’s rich in fat grams.  Oh, I’d make it again in a second! But then, shepherd’s pie, which is so very similar to this, is also a particular favorite flavor-taste for me.

What’s GOOD: oh gosh, was this ever fantastic. For me – it’s all about the CHEESE. It absolutely “makes” this dish, in my opinion. Gruyere has such a unique flavor – it’s not a straight eating kind of cheese (at least not to me) but has a kind of sharp, yet deep nutty quality to it. I use some Gruyere or Emmental in my cheese fondue  recipe because it’s just the best combo for flavor. Anyway, the flavor in this dish is over-the-top delicious! This is going to go onto my list of Carolyn’s favs, and will be added to my usual Thanksgiving roundup under the section of left overs.
What’s NOT: not a single, solitary thing. It IS rich. Decadent, I suppose. A splurge in the calorie department.

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Turkey Hachis Parmentier

Recipe By: Adapted from On Rue Tatin (blog)
Serving Size: 4

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion — halved, very thinly sliced
3 cups cooked turkey — shredded
1/2 cup turkey gravy
1/3 cup heavy cream
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground bay leaf
2 cups mashed potatoes — left over, seasoned with milk, salt and pepper
1 cup Gruyere cheese — grated

Notes: Shred (rather than cube) the turkey meat to give a wonderful texture to the dish. Sprinkling Gruyere cheese on almost everything that goes in the oven is a French custom and is entirely optional, but the flavor will be SO enhanced with the cheese.
1. Melt the butter and oil in a medium-sized, heavy saucepan over medium heat. When it is heated, add the onions and stir so they are coated with the fat; cover, and cook until they are tender and translucent, about 15 minutes, stirring frequently so they don’t stick. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
2. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
3. When the onions are cooked, transfer them to a medium-sized baking dish, and spread them evenly across the bottom. Top with the shredded turkey. Drizzle gravy and cream over all. Sprinkle just a little bit of cheese over the turkey.
4. Spread the potatoes over the turkey in an even layer. If the potatoes are cold, mash them gently in your fingers and drop pieces over the turkey, filling in the holes without mashing down the potatoes. It’s okay if the top is craggy but it should be completely covered. Sprinkle evenly with the cheese, and bake in the center of the oven until the cheese and the potatoes are slightly golden, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and serve.
Per Serving: 522 Calories; 31g Fat (53.0% calories from fat); 42g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 147mg Cholesterol; 591mg Sodium.

Posted in easy, Pork, on November 29th, 2013.

pork_tenderloin_tangiers

Pork Tenderloin is such a versatile meat and is also very quick and easy to prepare. We needed to eat dinner by 6pm (to leave to go to a concert) and I started dinner at 5 and everything was done at exactly 6:00. This version is quite simple and very tasty.

This time I searched at Eat Your Books to find a pork tenderloin recipe that would be (1) easy; and (2) quick. Success on both counts. I have Barbara Kafka’s book that’s all about roasting any kind of meat. It’s one I refer to whenever I’m doing some hunk of meat, so when her book popped up on the list, I looked at the ingredients needed – oh good – I had them all. If you’re at all tentative about the process of roasting, you might consider having her book in your repertoire: Roasting: A Simple Art.

This recipe required no more than combining a simple rub that went on first, then I gently rubbed olive oil into the meat as well. The spices are Moroccan in culture – hence the Tangiers in the title, but the spices are available everywhere. Nothing all that exotic – the recipe called for salt, cinnamon and cardamom. I added some turmeric and smoked pepper. Into a roasting pan it went, into a hot oven and in 20 minutes flat it was out of the oven and cooked perfectly. I tented the meat with foil and while the meat rested, I made a very simple sauce from the few pan drippings, adding some white wine and stock, and lastly adding in just a little bit of butter. So very easy. We’re trying to eat less and less red meat (although pork tenderloin is really, really lean to begin with), so this one tenderloin actually provided enough for us for 3 dinners. I sliced the meat thinly and widely diagonal, so we had the illusion of eating big pieces of meat, but it really wasn’t. Each serving had just a tiny bit of the sauce drizzled on top.

What’s GOOD: how quick and easy it was to make. Including the sauce at the end. I got everything ready so when the meat came out of the oven everything was right there to whisk together the sauce on the stove top. I quick-like made a vegetable and a salad, and dinner was ready. Love it when that happens. Taste was nice – this isn’t an off-the-charts kind of dinner, but it was good for sure.
What’s NOT: nothing, really.

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Pork Tenderloin Tangiers

Recipe By: Adapted from Roasting, by Barbara Kafka
Serving Size: 3

1 pound pork tenderloin
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon smoked pepper — (Schilling)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons Italian parsley — chopped (for garnish)
SAUCE:
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup pork stock — or water, or chicken broth
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Remove silverskin from pork tenderloin. Preheat oven to 500°F.
2. Combine turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, pepper and salt in a small bowl and mix thoroughly. Sprinkle the spices all over (all sides) of the pork. Pour half the olive oil into your palm and gently smear it all over the pork. Repeat with remaining oil. Don’t rub, just gently spread the oil all over. Place the tenderloin into a shallow roasting pan with low sides (that’s just slightly bigger than the roast), tucking the thin end under by an inch or two.
3. Roast tenderloin for 10 minutes, turn the roast over and continue roasting (about 5-10 minutes, depending on your oven and the thickness of the pork) until it reaches an internal temperature of 145°F.
4. Remove pan and place on your stovetop. Remove pork to a heated platter and tent loosely with foil.
5. SAUCE: In a measuring cup combine the wine and broth. The pan will be intensely hot – turn on vent and slowly add the liquid. It will steam and boil. Do NOT touch the pan. Turn on the heat under the pan and simmer the liquid, scraping up any browned bits from the pork. Simmer until the liquid has reduced by half. Taste for seasonings (salt and pepper?). Turn off the heat and allow mixture to stop boiling. Add half the butter and gently stir until it’s melted, then add the remaining butter. Pour into a pitcher to serve.
6. Slice the pork across the grain and on the diagonal (to get larger slices) and drizzle the sauce on top. Add some minced Italian parsley if desired.
Per Serving: 306 Calories; 15g Fat (51.2% calories from fat); 32g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 114mg Cholesterol; 747mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, easy, on October 15th, 2013.

cinnamon_apple_pudding_cake

You know pudding cake, right? That mysterious chemistry that happens when you combine certain baking ingredients and it makes its own sauce – like magic! I’ve had chocolate pudding cake and lemon pudding cake (here on my blog it’s called a Lemon Sponge Pudding), and count them as favorites of mine, but oh, this one. Wait till you try it.

Since it’s October, my thoughts turn to Fall. I love Fall. Here in Southern California, though, it comes late and doesn’t last long. My physical calendar says yes, October is Fall, but real Fall doesn’t arrive here, usually, until November. As I write this we’ve had a couple of beautiful cooler days, but we’re anticipating Santa Ana winds which usually come with very high heat (winds blow in from the hot deserts). Most people dread them – they blow like hell. They wreak all kinds of minor havoc. Light weight things get tossed around back yards, into pools, get hung up in trees. And leaves and debris blow just everywhere. Weak limbs on trees and even whole trees can fall and block roads and down power lines. Often my internet connection is shaky. Why that should be I don’t know since the cable is underground. But it happens almost every time. And no, none of this is related to a hurricane – there is no water/rain associated with the Santa Ana winds. Here where we live, on a western-facing hill, the winds come roaring up and over the peak of the hill behind us, then create a twist and roll back to our yard and particularly our side patio. Birds hunker down and try to hold on. I don’t know how they manage to eat when we have the winds. Our awnings are pulled in, all our summer umbrellas are stowed, our rolling cart that lives on our patio is tied down. We keep towels on our patio, covering cushions to protect them from sun damage – if we didn’t take those in they’d all be flying up the road, off to neighbors’ yards, or caught in bushes. It’s crazy. We get these winds during the Fall and Spring mostly. And now is the season. We’ve been told we’ll have 3 days of winds – that’s a long one. If we’re lucky they last just one day. Not this time, I hear.

But it’s a good day to stay inside and bake, if you’re so inclined! I am going to bake bread today (one of those overnight no-knead types that I mixed up a couple of days ago). If it’s successful, I’ll post it. It’s a whole wheat rye loaf.

We expected a big crowd for our bible study group last week when I made this. We had 9 people, I think it was, and am so glad I made a double batch of this – that way we did have a bit of left overs. A couple of conscientious people decided not to have any. I couldn’t resist. I made some sweetened whipped cream to put on top, but didn’t take the time to photograph one, so I created a photo-worthy version the next day with some cream poured over.

The recipe comes from fellow blogger (and friend) Marie Rayner, who lives in England. I started reading her blog many years ago, A Year from Oak Cottage. Some years ago when we visited England, we visited Marie and her husband Todd (and their adorable then-puppy Mitzie) and went out to dinner together. Marie’s recipes are posted at her 2nd blog, The English Kitchen. Marie loves pudding cakes and explains on the blog post about this recipe about several of her other pudding cakes. When I made this I didn’t have enough milk, but I did have buttermilk, so I adapted the recipe. That meant I reduced the amount of baking powder and added baking soda – I also added just a tetch more fluid – I had to do that because the initial batter was so thick it couldn’t hardly hold all the flour. Hence I added more buttermilk.

cinn_apple_pudd_cake_collageNow, let’s get to this pudding cake. I am very long-winded this morning . . . this dessert is SO easy to make. You create a cake batter first (it’s just a bit on the stiff side), then you create the sauce part (a lot of brown sugar, water and butter). The batter is spread into a pan, the sauce part is poured over, then you dot the top with fresh chopped apples and walnuts. That’s it. Into the oven to bake for nearly an hour and it’s done.

Here at left you can see the different steps. The top photo shows the fairly stiff batter in the pan. The liquid was poured in after that and when you do that the batter starts to separate some. Blobs of batter float to the top. Don’t be dismayed by the appearance (I should have taken a picture of it at that point). Just persevere. The 2nd photo shows it ready to go in the oven, then below that that finished cake. At first – when I snapped the photo of that step, you could not see or feel the pudding part.

The cake cools for awhile and when I scooped into the pan to serve it, there is all that delicious, brown sugary caramel-like sauce in the bottom. Do spoon some of that sauce over each portion.

What’s GOOD: oh my goodness, everything about it. I just loved this dessert. Do note that a 8×8 pan only contains 2 T. of butter – so it’s very VERY low fat. It’s not low sugar, however. I should have made it with some Splenda, but often the first time I make things I want to make it according to the recipe. Since this is one of those mysterious chemistry things, I was afraid to change it much.

What’s NOT: gosh, nothing. Definitely a keeper.

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Cinnamon Apple Pudding Cake

Recipe By: Adapted from The English Kitchen blog
Serving Size: 8

CAKE PART:
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 1/8 cups buttermilk
PUDDING PART:
1 1/2 cups water
1 3/4 cups light brown sugar — packed
2 tablespoons butter
1 large apple — peeled, cored, chopped (or 2 medium sized ones)
1/3 cup walnuts — toasted, chopped (or more)

Note: if you don’t have buttermilk, make it with milk, per the original recipe – 1 cup milk, and 4 tsp baking powder. Do not add soda in this case.
1. Preheat the oven to 350*F or 180°C. Butter the bottom of a deep 8×8 inch square baking dish. Set aside.
2. Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon together in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the buttermilk,. Whisk together until smooth – it will be a bit on the stiff side and not like a typical cake batter. Pour into the prepared pan and spread out to the edges.
3. Heat the water, brown sugar and butter together until the butter melts, the sugar dissolves and the mixture boils. This can be done in the microwave – use a large glass bowl and watch carefully so it doesn’t boil over. Pour this carefully over top of the batter in the pan. The mixture will look very odd (part of the cake batter will separate and float). Just carry on – it all will turn out fine. Sprinkle the chopped apples and walnuts over top.
4. Bake for 45-50 minutes until risen and set, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm and spooned out into bowls (including some of the pudding/sauce part), with or without cream or ice cream. It’s definitely better with cream, whipped cream or ice cream.
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Per Serving: 413 Calories; 7g Fat (13.9% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 85g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 9mg Cholesterol; 353mg Sodium.

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