Friday, July 31, 2009

A Gift and Some Good Things To Know



Some of you may remember from previous posts our 10 year old nephew Shane, has cancer. He is now preparing for his fourth (4th.) round of chemotherapy. Shane is a trooper, fighting back against this monster with everything he has.

I have been fortunate in my life to have worked and studied with many talented people. 

Professors and teachers who were passionate about sharing knowledge. Bosses who truly wanted me to succeed. Chef's who were more than happy to share their life's secrets and recipes. 

And a truly gifted graphic artist/designer. Anita is one of those rare breed of individuals who is both talented and humble. She is patient beyond Job. I know. Anita designed my logos, website, business brochure, business card and all my stationary. 

She put up with endless edits. Frantic reprints. A thousand requests... 
She designed my aprons and continues to offer me suggestions and redesigns. (She took one look at my original, pitiful attempt at a blog header and fixed it immediately)

Recently Anita has gone above and beyond the call of a Graphic Artist. On her own time, with again the patience of Job and the fortitude of a saint, she designed [pro bono] a logo for Shane. 
She took the time to get to know him, waited for me to take pictures, designed and redesigned as an entire family weighed in with opinions.... Here is Shane's logo and mantra, soon to be appearing on T-Shirts everywhere:
Yes, that is Shane's face and body in a Jedi Knight uniform. He's a big fan of Star Wars and he is striking back against cancer (Mr. Lucas, I hope you understand)

There are gifted people in this world and then there are people who are a gift to know. Anita is both. 

*If you'd care to contact Anita for your design needs, she is beyond reasonable, I know (cook's don't make a lot of money and this blog thing doesn't pay the rent)...  you can contact Anita at SpeckGold@comcast.net.

Tell her The Good Cook sent you.

Because I have been remiss dear readers in giving you culinary tips and tricks, here is your weekly reading list of culinary terms. Enjoy. 

These terms are from my Soup and Bread class:

Some good terms to know:

Mise en place: (meez ahn plahs) A French term referring to having all the ingredients necessary for a dish prepared and ready to combine up to the point of cooking. Good cooks know that stuff happens in the kitchen. Kids cry, dogs need to go out, phones ring. By practicing Mise en place, you will never ask yourself, did I add the salt yet???

Mirpoix; mirepois: (mihr-PWAH) A mixture of diced carrots, onions, celery and herbs sautéed in butter or oil. Sometimes ham or bacon is added. Mirepoix is used to season sauces, soups and stews, as well as for a bed on which to braise foods, usually meats or fish. A white mirepoix omits the carrots and often incorporates mushrooms and/or parsnips.

Stock: In the most basic terms, stock is the strained liquid that is the result of cooking vegetables, meat or fish and other seasoning ingredients in water. A brown stock is made by browning bones, vegetables and other ingredients before they’re cooked in the liquid. Most soups begin with a stock of some kind and many sauces are based on reduced stocks.

Reduction: (reduce) Culinarily, to boil a liquid (usually stock, wine or a sauce mixture) rapidly until the volume is reduced by evaporation. This will thicken the consistency and intensify the flavor.

Chop: Using quick, heavy blows of a knife to cut food into bite size or smaller pieces.

Mince: To cut food into very small pieces. Minced food is in smaller pieces than chopped food.

Poach: To cook food gently in liquid just below the boiling point when the liquid’s surface is beginning to show some quivering movement.

Yeast: Yeast is a living, microscopic, sing-cell organism that, as it grows, converts its food (through a process known as fermentation) into alcohol and carbon dioxide.

Baking Powder: a leavener containing a combination of baking soda (an acid) and a moisture-absorber (such as cornstarch). When mixed with liquid, baking powder releases carbon dioxide gas bubbles that cause a bread or cake to rise. Baking powder is perishable. To test if your baking powder is still good, combine 1 teaspoon of it with 1/3 cup hot water. If it bubbles enthusiastically, it’s fine.

Expect a pop quiz in a future post! 






It's The Thought That Counts - Cashew Chicken



I've posted before that I am catering a dinner party down the shore this weekend. Now when I say catering, I don't mean drop the food off and run.

No, I stay and cook. Everything. Soup to nuts come out of the client's kitchen. It's more like a private chef event. Fun. I have terrific people who serve for me, help plate and of course clean up. 

It's really a lovely way to have a dinner party. I may try it sometime. 

The 2 to 3 days before the event have me practicing mise en place. Mise en place? 

Definition: Mise en place: (meez ahn plahs) A French term referring to having all the ingredients necessary for a dish prepared and ready to combine up to the point of cooking.

Good cooks know that stuff happens in the kitchen. Kids cry, dogs need to go out, phones ring. By practicing Mise en place, you will never ask yourself, did I add the salt yet???

When I arrive at the client's home, I unpack, set up and voila; I'm ready to cook. No measuring, no sifting, no chopping or mincing.. everything is ready to be cooked. It's a lot of work before so it is not a lot of work during. And of course, it cuts down on mistakes. Do try the art of mise en place in your own kitchen. It will cut down on stress and eliminate mistakes. 

So what is this post about? 

Oh, yeah. It's the thought that counts. The Best Husband In The World, because he is the best husband in the world, is very tuned in to my days leading up to a big event. Last night, out of the goodness of his little old heart he decided that he was going to cook dinner since I had been slicing and dicing most the day. 

TBHITW has a couple of recipes up his sleeve for moments like this. One of them is Cashew Chicken. While I was at the market TBHITW called to tell me of his plan to cook me dinner and "since you're already at the store could you pick up a few ingredients..." HUH

I retrace all my steps and pick up the necessary items for his dinner. 
I load up the car and drive home.
I carry all HIS items plus my dinner party items into the house (the kidadults are still sleeping at this point, I mean it is only 11:30 am)
After unpacking all the bags and storing all the food items I proceed to my mise en place. 

Fast forward 5:30 pm. 

TBHITW gets home and proceeds to cook dinner. 

Finished with my day's chores, I pour a glass of wine and prepare to be cooked for. (feet up)

Him: Where's the chicken?
Me: In the fridge
Him: Can't find it. 
Me: getting up and going to fridge, here it is.
I sit back down and sip my wine... 
Him: Where's the cornstarch
Me: second shelf, corner cupboard
Him: Don't see it
Me: getting up and getting it out of cupboard
Him: where's the chicken broth
Me: getting up and getting it out of freezer
Him: um, don't get up, but where's the soy sauce
Me: in the fridge door. 
Him: no it's not.
Me: getting up and handing him the soy sauce which was in the door of the fridge.
Him: um.. what pan should I use? 
Me: the wok
Him: where is the wok?

You get the idea. But it's the thought that counts... 

Cashew Chicken (serves 4-5)

One 8 ounce can bamboo shoots
One 8 ounce can sliced water chestnuts
3-4 stalks celery, sliced on an angle about 1/2 inch thick
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon ginger
2 tablespoons cornstarch, dissolved in 1/4 cup COLD water
2 whole chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch cubes
1/2 cup cashews, unsalted
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons vegetable or other non-flavored oil

Saute the chicken in oil until almost done. Toss in the celery, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts. Stir. Put a lid on the pan and cook for 2 minutes over medium/low heat.
Add chicken broth, then cornstarch/water mixture and ginger. Simmer for 1 minutes. Add cashews and stir to combine. 

Serve this over white or brown rice and thank the cook who made it (even if it was your very own self)

I am cooking tonight. 
 

Thursday, July 30, 2009

House Renovation #2 and Crab Wontons



The painter is finished and the walls and ceilings look great! 

House renovation #2 coming up - hard wood floors.

In lieu of vacation this year, as well as a nod to our crazy economy, we are investing in some much needed renovations to the house. 

KC, our shepherd who died last August, was the first dog to do major "oops" on the carpeting... then along came Holly Bear (now nine months old) and well, you get the idea. 

So carpeting is coming up in the living areas and hallways and hardwood is going down. Ugg... 

I hate having the house in an uproar, but it has to be done. 

Before I have wood workers crawling all over my home I've got some major cooking to do. I'm going to start with a crowd pleaser. Everyone loves these Crab Wontons. They are easy to make, feed many and freeze and reheat beautifully so you can make them in advance. I made these last night after the house was [somewhat] back in order.

While you're at it, make two batches. Eat one, freeze the other and use it as your "go-to" when company stops by:

Crab Wontons: makes 48 wontons 

1 package wonton wrappers
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
4 ounces jumbo lump crabmeat 
1 stalk celery, minced
1/4 red bell pepper, minced
dash of worcestershire sauce
pinch salt
pinch pepper
Oil for frying (use peanut or canola)
Duck Sauce for dipping

Mince the celery and pepper - and I do mean mince:



In a bowl, combine the cream cheese, crab, worcestershire, bell pepper, celery, salt and pepper and blend well. 

Lay out 9 to 12 wonton wrappers in front of you. If you're new to this, start with 9 and work slowly. Have water and a small pastry brush ready to help you seal the wontons. Place 1/2 teaspoon of the crab filling slightly off center of the wonton wrapper. Brush edges with a little water.


Fold in half, pressing the sides and ends together to form a tight seal. 



Now, take the wonton in your hand, make a fold with your finger at the top of the wonton and pull the two pointed edges together at the top, folding over slightly to seal. 


Place on waxed paper and continue filling and folding until all your wontons are filled. 

Now you're ready to fry the wontons. Fill your dutch oven or deep fat fryer with 2-3 inches of oil. Heat oil to 350 degrees F. Working quickly, fry only 6-8 wontons at a time. Do not crowd. The wontons only take about 2 minutes. Remove when golden and drain on paper towels. 

Continue frying until all your wontons are cooked. They are a thing of beauty as they come out of the fryer - but watch out! That filling is hot! 



Now, you can eat these right away, serve warm with duck sauce for dipping OR store in your fridge for a day OR you can freeze them once they are cool in a ziplock bag for up to a month. 

Reheat in a 400 degree oven for 5 minutes. Keep your eye on them, they will heat quickly. No need to defrost before reheating. 

A Cook's Notes: Make these when no one else is home. If you do make them with others in the house be prepared to double the batch as they will disappear as they come out of the fryer... they are just that good.

PS - What is your "go-to" appetizer or hors doerve when company stops by?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My Kitchen


The painter has arrived in the kitchen.

MY kitchen.

Such Angst. Such Preparation. Such Drama. 

And it's only 7:25 AM.

The kitchen, my kitchen, is off limits to me. It looks like a scene from "Dexter"... only the painter is way too nice a guy for any major killing AND Dexter only kills bad guys and there are no bad guys about (as far as I know)

The one thing I do know is I won't be doing any cooking today. 

I have no idea what I will be doing today. 

Perhaps I'll just stroll along to all of YOUR blogs and do some happy reading.. sound like a plan? 

Do check back Thursday, Friday and Saturday as there will be major cooking going on... I am catering a private dinner party at the beach (down the shore) on Saturday night and the menu has grown to epic proportions. 

And you know me, I love to share. 

Happy Wednesday everyone. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Painter In The House and Hungry Painter Sandwiches


I am having my living room, kitchen and hallways painted. 


I have a painter in my house. 

For the next 4 days.... 

Now, in case you don't know this about me by now, no one gets out of my home without being fed. It's what I do. I feed people. And what better people to feed than people doing work in your home?? 

Hungry. Grateful. Did I mention hungry? AND an incentive to KEEP working... no need to leave for breakfast, coffee or lunch breaks.. everything you need is right here. 

Hungry Painter Sandwiches with two sauces (feeds the painter and the family)

1 whole tenderloin of beef (Always wondered what to do with these babies? Here's the recipe)
3 heads of garlic, separated and skinned
1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons pepper
plastic ziplock bag
10-12 ciabatta rolls or hard(ish) rolls of choice. Baguettes work equally as well. 

Start this the morning of or the night before serving. (Morning = dinner, night before = lunch)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Trim your tenderloin or have the butcher do it. You will get some cubes, some scrap (feed to the dog or cook down for a base for a sauce)

Slice the tenderloin between a 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick. Press down each slice with the palm of your hand to flatten and stretch the meat. 

Place the garlic cloves in a pie or cake plate, add olive oil, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Roast in the oven until soft - about 30-45 minutes, stirring halfway through.

When garlic is soft and mashable, cool. Add garlic and accompanying oil to sliced beef in a ziploc bag. Squeeze to combine. Place in fridge to marinate at least 4 hours and up to 18.

When ready to begin cooking: Preheat grill to high.
Lay meat out single layer on grill. Grill about 45 seconds to 1 minute per side. 
Remove to platter, tent and let rest.
Cut rolls or baguettes. Smear cut side with smashed garlic. Grill, face down for a few seconds to crisp. 
Layer meat on rolls, passing these two sauces:

Chipotle Pepper Steak Sauce (my family's favorite)

2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon (or more) chipotle pepper flakes, ground
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sherry wine vinegar

Mash garlic, paprika, pepper flakes and salt in mortor or with back of spoon. Whisk in remaining ingredients. Cover and chill. Can be made 2 days in advance.

ps. This sauce is kind of the new color in my living room!

Gorgonzola Sauce: (adapted from Barefoot Contessa, Copyright 2001)

2 cups heavy cream
2 to 3 ounces crumbly Gorgonzola cheese (don't use creamy or dolce)
1 1/2 tablespoons parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh minced parsley

Bring the heavy cream to a boil. Watch carefully, it will boil over on you! Continue to boil until thick, like a white sauce, stirring occasionally. This will take 30-40 minutes. 
Once thickened, take off heat and stir in cheeses, salt, pepper and parsely, whisking until blended. 
You can make this ahead, just rewarm, whisking vigorously to bring the sauce back together. Serve warm.

Painting is hungry work. Pass a couple of sandwiches to the painter, along with the side sauces. 










Sunday, July 26, 2009

Specialty Coffee and Brownies for Thirtysomething



Some days you just need a brownie. And a really great cup of coffee. 

Not just any brownie mind you. And not just any coffee.

Some days you need decadent, fudgy brownies and coffee with a kick. 

There is a lovely southern mom and blogger (not to be defined by these two terms alone) over at 


Mama Grits is in need of a really good brownie. I am throwing in the Specialty Coffee just in case the brownies don't do it by themselves. 

If you're having a manic Monday, a rainy day, a relaxing day, company, a day by yourself or you just feel like splurging, bake yourself up some brownies, pour yourself this cup of Joe and head on over to "Mama Grits" for a good read. 

My Family's Brownies (makes a 9 inch pan)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)

Butter a 9 inch pan. 
Melt chocolate and butter over very low heat (or use a double boiler). Stirring until smooth. Remove from heat. Stir in sugar, eggs, salt, flour, vanilla and nuts (if using).
Pur into prepared pan. 

Bake a SCANT 30-35 minutes. Do not overbake. 
Cool on rack at least 30-40 minutes before slicing. 
(Brownies are done when a toothpick inserted 1 inch from the side comes out ALMOST clean)
For a variation, halfway through baking, sprinkle with a 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Honest, sea salt, the combination of sweet and salty is unbelievably good. 

Coffee with a Kick: (for two)

Add 1/4 teaspoon vanilla and a 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon to your coffee grounds. Brew enough coffee of two large glasses. (4 to 6 cups)

Coffee
Bailey's Irish Cream
Cinnamon
Heavy Cream for whipping
1 tablespoon powdered sugar

Place 1 inch Bailey's in the bottom of a wine glass. 
Meanwhile, whip about 1/4 cup heavy cream, halfway through whipping, add powdered sugar, continue to beat until stiff peaks form. 
Pour coffee over Bailey's, top with whipped cream. Sprinkle with cinnamon. 

Cut the brownies. 

Eat and drink. (sigh)












Friday, July 24, 2009

Sing Along and Elegant Potatoes



I'm feeling a little funky today.

Like Funky Town. 

Like Singing.. a song. Like cooking and singing a song.. 

Come on, sing with me: 

to the tune of When You're A Jet from West Side Story:

When you're a Cook,

You're a Cook all the way

From your first omelet

To your last cheese souffle

 

When you're a Cook,

When the butter hits the pan,

You got eaters around,

You're a family man!

 

You're never alone,

You're never disconnected!

You're home with your own:

When company's expected,

You're the Cook elected!

 

Then you are set

With a capital C,

Which you'll never forget

Till they cart you away.

When you're a Cook,

You stay a Cook! 


Okay - singing not your thing? Try these potatoes instead of your regular side of mash or baked or however you've been enjoying spuds lately.

Baked Potatoes Stuffed with Anchovies, Bacon and Sage (serves 4)

adapted from Jamie Oliver's "Cook with Jamie" page 304.

Don't let the anchovies scare you. You wont' taste the fish. You will taste a buttery richness as the anchovies melt into the potato. Trust me on this one. 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

4 medium sized potatoes, skin on (try Yukon Gold)

olive oil

sea salt

2 slices of bacon (cut in half)

4 fresh sage leaves

4 anchovy fillets packed in oil, drained

1 clove of garlic, peeled and sliced lengthways

Zest of one lemon

Stick one end of an apple corer into the potato and twist to remove a "core" from the potato. Repeat with other three spuds, reserve the core. We are going to use it like a cork.

Lay out the stuffing for each potato. A piece of bacon, a sage leaf, an anchovy, a sliver of garlic. Grate some lemon zest over each stuffing. 

Fold and twist the stuffing into a little sausage shape (4 of them) and stuff into each potato. Cut the potato cores and use as corks to hold the stuffing in place. They will stick out a little, that's okay. 

Prick each potato with a fork, rub with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt. Place on a cookie sheet and bake for one hour, turning every now and then, cook until skin is crisp and golden.

Don't tell anyone about the anchovies, they will never guess. But DO sing them the Cook song.. 





Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Down The Shore and An Award



Today I am going to the beach with my sister M, her two boys Cal and Wes and my youngest, Z.

Of course I'm packing a picnic lunch with all manner of beach eats. 

Smoked Turkey Sandwiches
Fresh Fruit
Chips (I'll only eat a few!)
Water, Gatorade and Iced Tea
A couple of cookies - cuz, well, you know.. 

Anyway, that's what I'm doing. Dipping my toes into the Great Atlantic Ocean. If you're from Jersey or New York or Pennsylvania you say,

"I'm going down the shore." That's the way folks around here say "I'm going to the beach". 

So, without further to-do let me write what this post is really about and then I'm going down the shore. 

Marguerite, over at Cajun Delights  has deemed my blog worthy of a very lovely award, a Creative Blog award. 

First off, thank you Marguerite. I never know what to say when I am flattered so I'll say what my mother taught me, Thank You.

Marguerite and her blog Cajun Delights are a joy. Both her and her blog. Fun, fun, fun, Cajun Style. I would not kid you about that. The food is to die for. 

The Best Husband In The World, having lived in New Orleans, makes me read the food descriptions, a trip down memory lane for him and a gourmet novel for me. 

So, once again, Thank You Marguerite, I am flattered. 

Now, in keeping with the spirit of the award I'm supposed to pass this on to other bloggers that I admire AND I'm supposed to tell you seven things you may not know about me. Hmmm.. both are equally difficult. 

Here goes:

1. I am not a natural red-head (gasp!)
2. I truly believe that I am the luckiest woman in the world because I am married to The Best Husband In The World. 
3. I have two grandlittles. 
4. I always wished I could have had more children, but now that 3 out of 4 are teenagers, I'm glad I didn't.
5. Sometimes I drink too much wine. It makes me very sleepy.
6. I cook for my dog. 
7. My blog makes me happy. 

Did you know any of this stuff? 

Now, (drum roll) I love all the blogs and the bloggers behind them. When good people put their hearts and lives out there in the blog netherworld how can you not stop, smile, and sometimes cry, just a little. 

So... I'm not following the rules. If you are reading this post, give yourself this award. You deserve it. You write, you rewrite, you delete, you post pictures... you put yourself out there and that alone deserves a reward.

Now I'm going down the shore. 

ps. I could not for the life of me get the Creative Blog Award jpeg to post. See if you can grab it at Cajun Delights.


A Natural Born Diva and Asparagus Pizza



I got an email today from a former student. 

You may remember Abby. 



Abby had a Good Cook birthday party where she, and seven of her BFF's (her words, not mine) made vegetable dip, personal pizzas, cupcakes and taco (waffle) sundays. 

Abby's email was in regards to the recent post I did of Lilyanna, another little girl who recently, with her mom, took one of my cooking lessons. 

Abby wanted to know why there was a picture of "some little girl who isn't me on The Good Cook's Blog? I was the one who had the party"..

Ahh.. a Diva is born.

Abby's mom sent me this recipe to try out. Since I have asparagus and recently made goat cheese (chevre) and pesto I'm going to make it tonight. 

Let's all enjoy Abby's mom's recipe and beware of 7-year old diva's sporting chef hats.

Goat Cheese and Asparagus Pizza

(For a crispier pizza coat the crust with cooking spray before adding the toppings)
 
1/3 cup prepared pesto
1 Boboli pizza crust (Abby's mom used a Boboli whole wheat crust and said it was good)
2-3 plum tomatoes
8 asparagus spears, cut into 1-inch pieces
3/4 cup (3 ounces) crumbled goat cheese
 
Preheat oven to 450. Spread pesto over the pizza crust, and top with tomatoes, asparagus and cheese. (I put my crust on a baking pan but the recipe said to place it directly on oven rack). Bake at 450 for 10-12 minutes or until asparagus is crisp tender and cheese melts.

A Cook's Note: I think this would be great on the grill. Simply rub one side of the crust with olive oil and grill lightly (2-3 minutes). Turn over and place your toppings on this side. Then, transfer to grill and grill until toppings are hot and melted. 

If you are using a gas grill. Light the outside burners to medium high. Light the middle burners to low. Place the pizza on the middle burners and close the lid. This should bake and grill the pizza nicely - but watch closely!! 


 




Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Rainy Days and Thyme, Olive Oil Cakes with Lemon Glaze


It's a rainy day here in the Northeast. The kind of rain that you just know is going to last all day. 

No bother. 

My mouth is still hurting from the insult of a root canal. The gardens really needed a good soaking by Mother Nature and I have some recipes that need testing. 

Here is one I already tested. It also comes with the seal of approval by The Best Husband In The World. I adapted it from a recipe from The Food Network magazine, August/September 2009 issue. 


Mini Thyme and Olive Oil Cakes with Lemon Glaze
(makes 48 mini cakes or 24 cup cake size)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Position rack in middle of oven.

Butter and flour your cake pans. 

1 cup flour
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 tablespoons lemon zest (about 2 lemons)
2 large eggs
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2/3 cup milk (I used 1%)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (I used fine sea salt)
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh thyme, plus tiny sprigs for garnish

In your food processor, blender or stand mixer, pulse the lemon zest and sugar to combine. Add eggs one at a time and mix. With motor running, slowly pour in olive oil, then milk. Keep motor running until you have a thin batter. In two batches, add flour combined with baking powder, salt and then thyme. 

If using mini pans (pictured) place 1 tablespoon batter in each cake. If using cupcake pans, place 1/4 cup in each. 

Bake at 350. 20 minutes for mini pans, 22-25 minutes for cupcakes.
Cool in pans for 5 minutes, transfer to rack. 

Glaze:
1 1/2 cups confectionary sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 to 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Whisk together the sugar, butter and juice. Thin with more juice if necessary. Pour over warm cakes. Garnish each cake with a sprig of thyme. 

A Cooks Note: to make a more savory cake, decrease sugar by 1/3 cup. Substitute rosemary for thyme. MMMM... I'm also thinking sage and cornmeal.. yes! Thanksgiving... 



Monday, July 20, 2009

Dentists and A Perfect Summer Dinner


I don't go to the dentist anymore for a simple cleaning.. oh, I go every six months like the good little patient I am.. but it's never that easy.. 

No, life on the other side of fifty is more complicated than that. Seems every filling I've ever had is now listed on the Smithsonian's Dental Roles as antique and has to be redone.

Redone is code word for Root Canal. 

Now my dentist, bless his heart, always tries his best to avoid the dreaded Root Canal. But my antique mouth resists all manner of dental work. It wants the cadillac of service. 

I swear one tooth looks at the other and says, how come she gets a brand new shiny crown and I have to settle for a standard old filling? 

This tooth bemoans their filling state over the coarse of a few days until BAM - a full blown toothache wakes me in the middle of the night, mouth pounding, jaw screaming... 

So here I am waiting for my dentist, bless his heart, to call me back and send me off to the special root canal dentist. Then I'll go back to my dentist for the crown that will cost me somewhere around a $gazillion dollars. 

I'm glad we had the perfect summer dinner last night. Tonight I'll be sipping soup, and taking motrin. 

Grilled Steak, Shrimp and Pesto Corn: (for two)

Not a pot in the house gets used for this dinner. Pour a nice Rose, make the pesto in advance , then sit back and let the man do the cooking:

2 Rib Eye Steaks (or meat of choice)
1/2 pound Extra Large Shrimp (about 8)
2 ears fresh shucked sweet corn
Pesto (recipe follows)
Olive Oil 
Salt and Pepper

Take steak out of fridge one hour before cooking time. 
Peel and devein shrimp. Thread on skews
Drizzle steaks and shrimp with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper (both sides)

Heat Grill to Medium High

Pesto:

2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (or more)
salt and pepper

Place basil in food processor, pulse a few times. Add cheese and pine nuts and process until almost smooth. With motor running, drizzle in olive oil until desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pulse one or more times.

Paint pesto on fresh shucked corn. 

Grill steaks, shrimp and corn until done. 

Slice some watermelon for dessert. 

Mmmm... tastes like summer. 

A Cook's Notes:
The pesto freezes beautifully! I freeze it in little 1/4 cup containers, then use it all winter long on pasta, pizza and chicken. 

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Beautiful Day

It's a beautiful day here in the Northeast.. working in the garden, taking the pup for a stroll and enjoying life!
Happy Sunday Everyone

My flower garden: (yes I have a white picket fence)




Saturday, July 18, 2009

Impatience and Fried Green Tomatoes


I have posted before that my garden has taught me many things. 

Gardening, by nature (no pun intended) teaches patience. You just can't rush Mother Nature. Things grow. They ripen. And then you eat them. That's the way it is.

Unless it's a tomato you're growing.. 

Now I know I should wait out the next week or so and then harvest beautiful red, ripe tomatoes, but I can't wait. I want to eat tomatoes today. I'll just pick a few... 

I'm learning patience, I haven't perfected it.

(OVEN) Fried Green Tomatoes: makes as many as you want...

3 green tomatoes
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. 
Pour the olive oil into a rimmed cookie sheet.
Slice the tomatoes about 1/2 inch thick. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. 
Set up your breading station with 2 shallow pie plates. 
Combine the panko and cheese in one.
Beat the egg in the other.
Dip the tomato slices in egg, then coat with the panko / cheese mixture
Set aside to allow the tomatoes to "dry".
While the tomatoes are drying, place the cookie sheet into the oven for 5 minutes for the oil to get hot. 
Carefully, lay the tomatoes in the oil and place back into the oven.
Oven fry for 10 minutes. Turn the tomatoes over and oven fry for 10 more minutes.
Sprinkle with salt and enjoy. 

Patience is a virtue, but fried green tomatoes are a blessing. 

Garden Tip:


Old knee high stockings or panty hose make great tomato ties. They stretch, water flows through them and they won't hurt the tender tomato stalks (or anything else you need to tie up) They are also virtually invisible in the garden! 

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Cooking Class, A Girl, A Good Day and Basic White Bread


Meet Lilyanna. Lily for short. 

She is as beautiful as she is smart as she is talented. 

One day she wants to be either a chef or a plastic surgeon. She has some time to decide. 

I had the good fortune to spend a day cooking with Lily and her mom, Renee.

Lily loves soup. And bread. And cupcakes.



So that's what I taught her to make. 



Fresh Chicken Stock - that we turned into chicken noodle soup.
Fresh Loaves of white bread.
Classic Golden Cupcakes with Chocolate Butter Cream Frosting. 

After we cooked (for 4 hours!) We ate. 

It was a good day with two very nice people. And now Lily, and her mom Renee, know how to make some of Lily's favorite things. 

I do believe I have the best job in the world. And yes, I got hugs from both Lily and her mom when I left. When was the last time that happened to you at work?

Basic White Bread (makes two loaves)

1 package dry yeast

1/3 cup warm water (105-115 degrees F)

3/12 to 4 cups flour (I like to use ½ bread flour and half all purpose)

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 ¼ cups warm water

Dissolve yeast in 1/3 cup warm water. Let stand 5 minutes.

Mix flour and salt together (start with 3 cups)

Add 1 ¼ cups warm water to dissolved yeast and stir.

Slowly, in 3 additions, add flour/salt mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon after each addition. If dough is workable…. (it will still be sticky - don't add more flour...)

Turn out on lightly floured board. Have ½ to 1 cup flour measured and knead dough, adding flour by small amounts to board, not top of dough.

Knead about 10 minutes, incorporating more flour until smooth and elastic.

Form into a ball and place in a greased bowl. Cover with a dry towel and let rise 1 hour (minimum) or until doubled.

Punch down. Shape into 2 loaves, rounds, or rolls.

Place on ungreased and floured pans.

Cover and let rise 1 to 2 hours or until doubled in size

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Place a cake pan with 1 inch hot water on bottom rack.

Brush loaves with egg white beaten with teaspoon water OR mist gently with water.

Place on middle rack (above cake pan of water) and bake for 15 minutes.

Turn oven down to 350 degrees and bake 15 more minutes or until golden brown and hollow sounding when rapped with knuckles. 





By The Sweat of My Brow - Cucumber Salad



I garden. 

Therefore I eat. 

If I were in charge of the world (someday, someday) I would make everyone grow at least one thing to eat.  It would do everyone much good to grow just one thing that nourished them.

Over the years my garden has taught me many things. 

Patience
Wonder
Frustration
Humility
Awe
Hunger
Joy
Courage
Fear 

Every year, before the first hint of spring, I start thinking about what I'm going to grow for the coming season. Now let me make this clear. I do not like digging, bending, yanking, back aches, bug bites, sweating, getting really dirty. Well, okay, I kind of don't mind getting dirty. 

It is the joy of the growing and the triumph of the harvest that keep drawing me back to the dirt. 

When you start the garden, it is cold. The earth is muddy and ungiving. It is only a good imagination that allows the gardener to "see" the garden. 

So you dig
And you plant
And you water
It helps if you have one of these:


A rain barrel collects all that spring melt and up coming rains. Plus it looks pretty cool in your yard.

So after a few weeks of looking at what appears to be pitiful wilted green things lounging around in the mud, one day you go outside to pull yet one more weed and you find something like this:


It's the hint of a cucumber. Not even big enough to be a gherkin.. a veritable Vlasic reject, a kosher pickle wannabe - but just big enough to spur you to bend over and  pull one more weed, one more time. 

A few weeks, some rain and sunshine later and you find that the little patch of cucumbers and squash, look like this:


By now your heart is racing because under these leaves you know (you hope) you are going to find what you've been waiting for, hoping for, sweating for:



Cucumber Salad with Yogurt and Mint: (serves 5)

4 large cucumbers, preferably home grown, thinly sliced.
1 cup greek style 0% fat yogurt 
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped fine
Sea Salt and freshly ground pepper

Whisk together the yogurt, honey, salt and pepper.
Toss the cucumbers with the mint. 
Stir in yogurt dressing and serve chilled. 

This goes great with lamb. Or simple grilled chicken. 

I just spotted this today - be still my pounding heart,  the cherry tomatoes are getting ripe, the eggplants are growing...
Time to weed... to bend, to sweat a little more. Hush my aching back...






Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Pet Peeve and Fresh Corn Fritters with Chipotle Pepper Salsa


My kitchen is my domain. I am lordess and master over all that goes on in my kitchen. 

That's the way it is. Period. You want good eats? Listen up. Obey.

As lordess and master I have a few rules that must be obeyed. I'm not anal about a lot of things. Messy bedrooms, whatever. 
Dog paw prints pretty much everywhere - that's the way it goes. 
You want to wear the same dirty underwear 3 days in a row? I gave up trying for mother of the year eons ago. Have at it. 

But the kitchen.. ah.. that's another story. 

So, when a simple rule is broken - it tends to send me over the edge of reason. 

I have a nifty little garbage bin attached to the door under my sink. I use the bin for coffee grounds, egg shells, vegetable refuse. When it's full, it goes into my compost bin for regeneration into rich, fertile soil for my garden. This is not a new rule or phenomenon. This is the way it is. 

So, then. ahem... can anyone tell me what this is doing in my refuse bin, nestled among the coffee grounds and recycled paper towels and eggplant skins?


A can? A Vernor's Ginger Ale can to be exact. 

How many years will the can take to turn to compost? Oh, I don't know, let's see.. maybe a million???? 

Nothing frosts me more than messing with my garden, my compost or my kitchen rules. Is it too much to ask to follow a few simple compost / kitchen rules?

The only thing I can do with such wanton disregard of a few simple rules is wait until each and everyone of my KidAdults is grown and have homes (and rules) of their own. Then revenge will be mine. I plan on visiting on a regular basis and breaking some rules! 

Fresh Corn Fritters with Chipotle Pepper Salsa: (adapted from Fine Cooking, August/September 2009 issue, page 38.

I lightened the original recipe by replacing whole milk with skim milk and sour cream with Zero % fat Greek yogurt. I also simplified the recipe by using store bought salsa and adding Chipotle Pepper flakes. I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do! 

1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt (and more for sprinkling)
1/2 cup skim milk
1/4 cup greek style yogurt
2 large eggs
1 cup fresh corn kernels cut off the cob and coarsely chopped (about 2 ears of fresh corn, uncooked)
Vegetable or Canola Oil for frying

Stir flour, cornmeal, baking powder, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. 
In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, yogurt and eggs. 

With a rubber spatula, fold the milk combination into the flour mixture. Fold in corn kernels. Let sit for 10 minutes for baking powder to do its job. 

Meanwhile, heat oil in a frying pan to 350 degrees. (you want about 2 inches of oil)

Using a tablespoon or mini ice cream scoop, drop batter into hot oil. Don't crowd the fritters and work in batches. Fry until golden, about 2 minutes, turn and fry other side another 2 minutes. Repeat until all batter is used. Drain on brown paper bags and sprinkle with salt. 

Serve with store bought salsa (the heat level is your choice) to which 1 teaspoon of Chipotle Pepper Flakes is added per 1 cup of salsa. 


If you have any leftovers eat them in the morning, sprinkled with powdered sugar and warm maple syrup for dipping. 

Let me know how that leftover thing works because I've never had leftovers... unless of course someone keeps putting cans into my compost bin... 


Because...cobblers and corn fritters



Because the cobblers were so good I'm posting another pic. Enjoy the pic. Now bake the cobblers and enjoy the real thing. 

ps. DO NOT SKIP PUTTING THE RAMEKINS ON A RIMMED BAKING SHEET. Consider yourself (and your oven) warned.



OH - and here's a sneak peak at tomorrow's recipe. Plan ahead.

Fresh Corn Fritters with Chipotle Pepper Salsa: 




Pastry Class and Fresh Berry Cobbler



Ever notice how cooks aren't bakers and bakers aren't cooks? Well, I'm out to erase that distinction. 

I was lucky enough to attend a pastry lesson at one of our favorite local bistros, A Toute Heure. Chef William Mauceri, the Executive Pastry Chef, is one of the most talented, humble and likable pastry chefs I have ever met. 

His pastries are delicate, sweet (and sometimes savory), beautiful creations that are a delight to everyone of the senses. 

On Monday, along with tasting the blueberry tart and berry cobbler we students created in class, Chef William presented us with two gorgeous savory tarts for tasting. The one I chose to sample was a carmelized onion and blue cheese creation that instantly took me back to Bayonne, France - land of the most amazing tart I'd ever eaten. He very humbly accepted my praise.. a lovely man and a lovely way to spend a Monday, learning, making and sampling pastries.. 

It's berry season in New Jersey and I suspect in many other parts of the world right now. Take advantage of the bounty and bake this up for yourself and anyone you love (or anyone you want to love you!)

Chef William Mauceri's Fresh Berry Cobbler: (makes about 6 depending on the size of your ramekins)

For the filling:
2 cups mixed berries (I'm using blueberries, blackberries and cherries)
3 tablespoons sugar

Wash and drain the berries. Place them in a bowl and sprinkle with sugar. This will bring out the natural juices. Set aside (at room temperature)

Cobbler Dough:

2 cups all purpose flour
3 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
5 tablespoons (2.5 ounces) unsalted butter, very cold, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup whole milk - cold
1/2 cup heavy cream - cold
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder and stir with a fork to blend. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients using a pastry blender or pulsing a few times with your food processor. DON'T CUT THE BUTTER TOO SMALL. YOU WANT SOME CHUNKS

Combine the milk, cream and vanilla. Pour into the dry ingredients. Using a spatula, FOLD the milk mixture into the flour - gently. The dough should be very wet and sticky with visible lumps of butter.

Place a little butter cube in the bottom of each ramekin. Spoon berries over. Tear off tablespoon size pieces of dough and place several on top of each ramekin full of berries. It's okay to not cover completely. Sprinkle with a little sugar. 

Place ramekins on a cookie sheet (preferably with a rim - for cook-over)

Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes or until top is golden brown and berries are bubbling. Serve warm. 

Thank you Chef William. Please save me some of that Mint Ice Cream you were making. I'll be in for dinner on Friday night. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tick Warning for Summer

TICK WARNING!

 
I hate it when people forward bogus warnings,

and I have even done it myself a couple times unintentionally

but this one is real, and it's important.
 
 Please send this warning to everyone on your e- mail list.
 
 If someone comes to your front door saying

they are checking for ticks due to the warm weather

and asks you to take your clothes off and dance around with your arms up,
 
 DO NOT DO IT!! 

 

THIS IS A SCAM!!
 They only want to see you naked.
 

                        I wish I'd gotten this yesterday.  I feel so stupid. 

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mid-Life Crisis and BLT's - Revisited



About 27 months ago I suffered what I now lovingly refer to as my Mid-Life Crisis or simply, The Crisis. 

There were several things going on my life that contributed to The Crisis

Our then 17 year old had just gotten his driver's license. 

The Best Husband In The World was just diagnosed with an incurable, life-threatening autoimmune disease, dermatomyositis.  

I quit smoking and was gaining weight overnight (for the first time in my life)

I had a stressful job that had me travelling on a regular basis while trying to serve a sales force of over 2,000 who 50% of the time made unreasonable demands and the other 50% of the time made impossible demands. 

We were planning a family trip of a lifetime to Iceland - yes, Iceland. The Best Husband In The World's dream trip - a Geologist's Disney World. Land of the midnight sun, the aurora borealis, glaciers, geysers, waterfalls, icebergs and volcanoes, all wrapped up in one tidy island. All the trip needed was micro-planning by the minute - by me. 

I became a grandmother. 

Oh, yeah, and I was fast approaching the 1/2 century mark. 

Bleah

What's a girl to do? 

I did what any normal, red blooded American would do. I had a Mid-Life Crisis. 

Now, the way I looked at it, there were several ways of responding to The Crisis. 

1. I could have an affair. But I was already having the love affair of my life with my husband. How much passion could a middle aged woman muster? So, check off affair. 

2. I could change the color of my hair.  Oh, that was easy enough done. 90 minutes in the chair of my favorite salon and I emerged a red head, gone was the natural light brown I was born with. I was somewhat authentic since my youngest son IS a natural red head and besides, only your GYN knows for sure! 

3. I could trade in my super practical 50 mile a gallon, Honda Civic Hybrid mom car:




 and get a souped up luxury Saab convertible. 



New red hair flying in the wind, I put the pedal to the medal and drove this little baby girl off the lot. The whole transaction was painless, exhilarating and FUN! For about 4 hours. Then I realized:

1. A two door vehicle is not convenient when you have to constantly drive kids and their friends around.

2. The dog could never travel in a white leather interior.

3. A six speed manual transmission in New Jersey, land of the traffic jam - was building up my right bicep to Arnold Schwarzenegger proportions.

4. A four seater car with teenagers and friends doesn't add up to enough seats per bottoms. 

5. Nine months out of the year it's too cold to have the top down. The other 3 months it's either raining or too hot. 

6. If I didn't want to look like Carrot Top being electrocuted I would have to wear a baseball cap when driving with the top down - not a good look for me. 

So, the 27 month lease is up this week. The Crisis Car is going back to the dealer. 

It was fun. It was pretty. It was fast. And it so did not fit my lifestyle. (I am keeping the red hair, brown / gray roots and all)

Lesson learned, from now on when I feel The Crisis calling my name I'll stick to the exciting adventure of fooling around with common foods, like this BLT gone wild. 

Not Your Mama's BLT: serves 4

12 slices Whole Grain Bread, toasted lightly
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced into 4 slices
8 fresh basil leaves
1 red tomato
1 yellow tomato
2 cups arugula, washed and dried (or mixed baby greens)
2 boneless chicken breasts, cooked, sliced thinly
8 pieces panchetta (Italian Bacon), cooked crisp (or you can use turkey or regular bacon)
1 ripe Haas Avocado, pitted, then crushed (keep it chunky) 
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Kosher Salt and Pepper

Thick slice the tomatoes, 4 slices each. 

In a shallow pan, layer the tomatoes, basil leaves and mozzarella cheese. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set aside to marinate for 15 minutes. 

In a small bowl toss arugula with olive oil, season with salt and pepper.

Lightly toast the bread. Spread a tablespoon of the mashed avocado on four pieces. Divide the chicken among the four pieces. Top with 2 bacon slices, 1/4 of the arugula, then a piece of toast. Next, layer in the tomatoes (red and yellow on each), basil and mozzarella cheese. Spread 1 tablespoon of the avocado on last piece of toast and top the sandwich. Slice in half on the diagonal. 

Serve with watermelon slices and fresh corn on the cob. 

Crisis Averted. 

Hmm.. maybe a little something with an automatic transmission and a moonroof.... 

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