Saturday, May 21, 2011

2nd Annual Brown Bag Challenge

A few weeks ago I led a group of energetic staff of the R.Kirk Landon Learning Center in their 2nd Annual Brown Bag Challenge. The idea was for them to use their creative minds and make an appetizer using all of the ingredients in the brown bag they selected. When we did this last year, I took much of what they needed in way of tools and small equipment, but this year, I just brought knives for them to use. There is a small kitchen at the center so I knew that they could find whatever else they needed. Like the outcome of last year's challenge, this year's was just a spectacular.

I have an outcome in mind when I am putting the individual bags together and it is always interesting to see if the group comes up with what I had in mind. Some do, adding their own twist to it, and some don't, which then gives me new ideas.

As with last year, they were tired after a long day and seemingly a bit leery about the whole challenge, but within minutes of choosing their bag and getting to their work area, they are back into full swing. The laughter and craziness was non-stop for the next 45 minutes. It was so much fun to go from group to group and interact with them. The group that had the dessert bag was having a bit of a time deciding how to whip the heavy cream and were just about to head to the kitchen to see if a hand mixer could be found when I shared with them that they could easily whip the cream by hand with a whisk in a matter of minutes. They did and were so surprised of the ease! They later told me that they were going to do this with their kids at the center. What a great learning experience!

At the end of the 45 minutes, each group had to present their dish. They had to tell what items were in their bags and what their final product was. I only wish I had a video of the group that rapped about their dish! I laughed until I had tears in my eyes!

I went from group to group taking "action" photos. Unfortunately my camera battery died at the start of the event so I was left to use the camera on my Blackberry, which doe not always take great pictures. I apologize.

Here is a picture of their creations as they presented them.

Upper left: Veggie sushi rolls
Upper right: Parmesan pizza bites
Right middle: Tomato bruschetta
Lower right: Creamy hummus and pita points
Lower left: Puff pastry "shortbread" with strawberries and whipped cream

Looking forward to our 3rd Annual Brown Bag Challenge next year!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

CSA - Community Supported Agriculture

I have known about CSA's (Community Supported Agriculture) for some time, but have never participated in them until this year. For those who do not know much about CSA's, here's what says about them:

Over the last 20 years, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. Here are the basics: a farmer offers a certain number of "shares" to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a "membership" or a "subscription") and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.

I went into this venture knowing that I will be paying a bit more for my vegetables than if I purchased them from the grocery store, due to the farmer using organic practices. I am okay with this.

My first CSA pickup was last Saturday. I have used some of the vegetables up already, like the carrots, but for the most part I have been able to stretch the rest of them out. We still have sugar snaps, a small head of broccoli, green onions, chives, oregano, lettuce and bokchoy left for this next week.

One of the natural things to make with these goodies is a stir fry. I used the bokchoy, broccoli, green onions, carrots and sugar snaps and added garlic, ginger, cremini mushrooms, water chestnuts, a splash of soy sauce and dark sesame seed oil. A quick stir and served over steamed rice made for a delicious and low calorie meal.

I also had some spot sticker wrappers in the fridge left over from a cook day so I decided to make pot stickers to go along with the stir fry. I don't really have a recipe but here's how I made mine.

No-recipe Vegetarian Pot Stickers
Make about 12

8 or 9 cremini mushrooms, destemmed, cleaned, and chopped
about 1/2 cup shredded napa cabbage
about 1/2 cup shredded carrots
1 or 2 green onions, chopped (both green and white part)
about 1 tablespoon Hosin Sauce
splash of soy sauce
Pinch of red pepper flakes
small clove garlic, finely minced

You want to have about 2 cups of the filling when you are finished.

Put about 1 tablespoon of filling in the middle of the wrappers. With your finger, wet the edge of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper in half and press the edges together.

Using a steamer basket sprayed with non-stick spray, steam the wrappers over a small amount of simmering water for 10-12 minutes. Do this in batches so as to not crowd the pot stickers. Keep the cooked pot stickers warm in a low heated oven.

I made a dipping sauce to go along with the pot stickers. I used soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, minced garlic, minced ginger, sugar, thinly sliced tops of green onions, and a bit of black pepper. Stir and serve.

I can't wait to see what next week's CSA share will have in it. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

April in Pictures

I knew that I had not posted in a while, but was really surprised to see that it had been an entire month! April was a very busy and very good month for my business...cookdays, crockpot set ups, private events, teaching at Viking, and family.  I'd like to have few more months like it. Here's what April looked like in pictures.

Cooking away on a very old stove!

Caramelized pears over baked Camembert with endive spears and baguette slices
Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Almonds


First CSA offereing of the year

Korean Short Ribs over Steamed Rice


Pre-prom Picture Party

One of my clients raises chickens and these are some of their eggs! Beautiful!

Client freezer after a cookday. This client lives on the 39th floor or a 40 floor high rise!

Making a new sidewalk

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Bit of Red Heaven

As I was enjoying my cup of coffee perusing some of my favorite blogs, I came across one from Anna Johnston in Australia for Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting. I love reading about food memories and Anna shared a wonderful one in this post.

The husband loves red velvet cake, but quite frankly I don't make too many of fact, I can only think of twice in 32 years that I made or attempted to make one. Anna's recipe inspired me to put on my apron, grab my scales to convert the measurements, and surprise the husband with a plate of red velvet cupcakes when he arrived home from work.

They were incredibly easy to make and tasted so good that we had to split a second one between us! The husband was absolutley thrilled.

This recipe made a really beautiful deep red pink here!
The cupcake papers did not want to cooperate so some of these look like they have crevices in them!

Thanks Anna for sharing your memories and your recipes!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

How Cute Is This?

In February I spent the weekend in Houston with 20 personal chefs, most whom I had not met before. We had a weekend of laughter, sharing, great food, and friendship. Sharon, our hostess extraordinaire, planned our day trips around various ethnic markets as well as other foodie stores. One of the stores that we visited was Phoenicia Specially Foods. It is an amazing market with imports of international gourmet foods. Much of what they sell is Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and North African with a smattering of foods from other countries. They are known for their fresh baked artisan breads, which "fall from the sky" and award winning pastries.

I could have wandered the isles for hours, but unfortunately we didn't have that much time. I did manage to pick up some fresh made pita bread, sesame bars, of which I have found an online site where I can order it them, several kinds of baklava and mamoul, all of which got eaten before I could take any photos! Sorry! I also found this really cute rainbow mortar and pestle.

Isn't is just the cutest thing you've ever seen? It's almost too cute to use, but I did actually grind rosemary in it the other day for a recipe I was preparing.

I just love fun kitchen gadgets. Don't you?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day

This is a repost from a 2011 post.

 Spotted Dog is in the oven as I type. Wishing you all a Happy St. Patick's Day!

May you always have a fire in your hearth
And flour in your bin.
May the cooking fairies smile kindly upon you
And may you always have spotted dog on your table.

Okay, so it's not a real Irish blessing (duh). In fact it's a really bad impersonation of one, but I couldn't resist. I don't have a poetic bone in my body, but sometimes...well just count this as one of those times I thought I did.

It's already St. Patrick's Day! All over the world, at least I'm pretty sure it's worldwide, people will be dining on Irish fare, or what they think is Irish fare. And we am no any different. We are approaching our St. Patrick's Day meal a little differently this year. Since there are just the two of us I decided not to make Guinness stew and colconnon. But I did make "Spotted Dog". Spotted Dog is probably the husband's favorite bread that I bake. It is super simple, and a great way to use up that extra buttermilk you have in the refrigerator, but yet I don't make it more than once a year, and he relishes every morsel.

I found the recipe in the late 90's when we were going to have some friends in for a St. Patrick's Day party. The recipe came from the "Will O'Glenn" Irish Bead and Breakfast in Glenn, Michigan.

Spotted Dog
(Irish Soda Bread)                               
Make one loaf

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups raisins
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp double acting baking powder
5 Tbs sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400F.

In a small bowl, cover raisins with boiling water and let stand for 5 minutes. In a large bowl, sift flour, soda, baking powder, and sugar. Cut in butter until mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Drain raisins, stir into flour mixture. Add buttermilk all at once. Stir vigorously with fork.

Shape into ball. Place on a greased 8-inch pie plate. bake 15 minutes at 400F, reduce heat to 375F and bake for 30 more minutes, or until a knife comes out clean

Remove from pie plate. Cool one hour. Cut into wedged or slices. Makes 10 large servings.

As for the rest of our St. Patrick's Day meal, I have Three Many Cooks to thank. We'll be celebrating the day with their Corned Beef and Cabbage Slaw Sliders and Baked Potato Chips with Paprika and Garlic.

Chan fhiach cuirm gun a còmhradh.
A feast is no use without good talk.
Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Baked Ratatouille with Goat Cheese

I really have been trying to go meatless on Monday's, but have not been as successful as I would like. However, yesterday was one of those successful days and we had a fabulous dish thanks to Chef Nancy Waldeck.

I subscribe to Chef Nancy's "The Friday 4" and last week her recipe was for Baked Ratatouille with Goat Cheese. I have had, and prepared, many versions of ratatouille, but never one that was baked. So on Sunday, as I was planning our weekly menu, another hit or miss activity, I decided that we would go meatless on Monday and have this dish.

After an appointment yesterday morning, I hit our brand new Fresh Market and picked up some zucchini and a beautiful egg plant, the stars of the recipe. I also grabbed a cylinder of creamy goat cheese. I was stoked. I love anything with goat cheese in it!

I got into my kitchen about 4:30 pm thinking that I'd get everything ready to pop in the oven about 5. I knew it would take about and hour or so to cook. That's when I read the entire recipe. I always tell the students in the cooking classes that I teach to read the recipe in its entirety before starting, but I didn't. See, the zucchini and eggplant had to be roasted before they were baked...something that I almost missed because I didn't follow my own advice. So we ate a little later than usual last night, but it was well worth the wait.

Here's the link for you to get the recipe Taste and Savor. Sign up for Chef Nancy's "The Friday Five" while you are there. Chef Nancy really knows her wine too and there is usually a pairing that is perfect with the dish of the the week.

I added my own little spin on the recipe by adding yellow peppers. I had a piece in the crisper that was just this side of gone, so I sliced it and threw it in to roast with the other vegetables. I used San Marzano marinara sauce, but Chef Nancy's gives you a great quick and easy tomato sauce recipe you might want to try.

The dish was perfect! The creamy goat cheese added just the right amount of tanginess and melted in your mouth. I paired the dish with a fresh crusty baguette and a salad.

And the husband said it's a "keeper". Guess we'll be seeing this dish again.

Thanks Chef Nancy!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Friday Night Pizza

Don't you love it when you know what you are having for dinner every Friday? I do! And for us, Friday has become pizza night. Several of my chef friends have been eating pizza on Friday's for years, but I am just now jumping on the the wagon. I love pizza, but until recently I had not found a pizza dough recipe that I really liked, well more like a dough that is easy to stretch and form. I have used different bread machine recipes and various recipes that I have found in cook books and on the Internet. They are all about the same as far as ingredients, but I just never seemed to be able to stretch them without a ton of work, and then they were pretty ugly.

About a month ago, I spent a wonderful weekend in Houston with some of by chef friends and we had pizza one evening. We had two master pizza makers in our midst so I paid close attention to both their dough recipes and techniques. I was determined to come away having learned their secrets. I'm not sure that I was that good of a student, but I did come away with a dough recipe that I love and some hints on making a better pizza.

Here is the recipe that I have been using since that weekend:

Pizza Dough
Makes 4 balls for 9” pizzas


1 package active dry yeast (I used Rapid Rise yeast and it worked fine. I still sprinkled it over the warm water.)
1 1/2 cups very warm water
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil


Sprinkle yeast over warm water to dissolve and set aside.

Place flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor with steel blade and pulse once or twice to mix the two together.

Add the olive oil to the dissolved yeast and water and, with the processor running, add to the flour in a steady stream. (Be sure all the yeast ends up in your dough). Pulse a couple of extra times to mix well.

Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured board. With floured hands give the dough a few kneads (avoid adding extra flour to the mass). Let the dough rest for 10 minutes, then divide it into four pieces with a sharp knife or dough scraper.

Knead or roll the pieces (without using extra flour) into tight balls.

At this point you can choose to freeze each ball individually in re-sealable bags for future use or refrigerate the balls for up to 2 days on a floured, dishtowel-lined pan, covered with plastic wrap. Or, to use the same day, you can allow the balls to rise at least 1 hour on a floured board, covered with a towel at room temperature. Give them room as they nearly double in size.

To shape the pizza: Take the risen dough ball and dip both sides lightly in flour, then place on a floured wood peel. With your fingertips press the ball down evenly into a disk about 1 1/2 inches-thick and 5 inches in diameter. Lift the dough onto the back of your fists  and gently stretch it, allowing gravity to help you use the weight of the dough to stretch it. Stretch and rotate the dough until it’s about 1/4 inch-thick with a nice thick rim and about 9 inches in diameter. (Try not to let the center of the disk become too thin.) Make sure the pizza peel is well-dusted with flour, then gently lay the disk of dough in the center. Now you’re ready to top your pizza.

This recipe makes very soft dough, which bakes up into the perfect bite of crunchy exterior and soft crumb. Don't overload this dough with topping; it has enough flavor just drizzled with olive oil and a bit of salt. The longer and slower the balls of dough rise, the better the texture and more flavorful the finished crust. Overnight in the fridge is best, but they'll rise more quickly (in an hour or less) if left out on a counter at room temperature.

NOTE: I put my dough in Ziploc baggies once I cut them. Put a little olive oil in the Ziploc bag, coating the entire interior, and then put the dough in. Seal and let rise in the refrigerator. Bring the dough back to room temperature before using…take it from the refrigerator 2 hours before you need it.

Adapted from: recipe and my fellow personal chef Chef Patti Anastasia.

Three stages of pizza dough

I have always used cornmeal to help keep the dough from sticking to my pizza peel when sliding it onto the stone. Well after the Texas Cheffin' Weekend, I learned an easier, and less messier, trick...parchment paper.  I shape my dough on a piece of parchment paper that has been sprayed with non-stick spray.  I then brush the dough with olive oil, sprinkle on kosher salt and black pepper and then add my toppings, being mindful not to go overboard with the toppings. Once I top the dough I slide it onto the stone, along with the parchment paper.

I also learned that a super hot oven is critical. I used to heat my oven to 425F, but learned that a hotter oven is needed for quick cooking and a super crispy crust. I now preheat my oven to 500F and my pizza stone for at least 30 minutes before using. When ready, I cook the pizza for 4 minutes and then pull out parchment paper, continuing to cook the pizza for another 4-5 minutes. At 500F, it does not take as long to cook the pizza.

Now the biggest challenge is figuring out what kinds of toppings to use. So far, I have used sausage, bacon, roasted heirloom tomatoes, roasted peppers, peppadews, basil, black and green olives, fresh mozzarella, wasabi goat cheese, artichokes and hummus. So...what kind of pizza will it be next Friday, maybe....

Pizza sauce, olives, basil and mozzarella and sauce, sausage, olives, and wasbi goat cheese.

Top: sauce, bacon, roasted herloom tomaotes, green peppers, basil,  and mozzarella
Bottom: hummus, artichokes, peppadews, and goat cheese

Friday, March 11, 2011

Food Rules

One of the blogs I follow had a great post last week focusing on the latest book by Michael Pollan, Food Rules, An Eater's Manual. You might be familiar with his other books, which include In Defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma. The blogger listed several of her favorite rules, there are 64, and I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorites.

Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.

(Imagine your great-grandmother, or even your grandmother picking up a package of Go-GURT Portable Yogurt tubes and no having a clue whether this cylinder of colored and colored gel is food or toothpaste.)

Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry.

(Ethoxylated diglycerides? Cellulose? Xanthan gum? If you wouldn't cook with them, why let others use these ingredients to cook for you?)

Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce.

(Basically the same idea, different mnemonic. Keep it simple!)

Avoid foods that are pretending to be something they are not.

(Imitation butter - aka margarine- is the classic example. To make something like nonfat cream cheese that contains neither cream nor cheese requires and extreme degree of processing.)

Eat only foods that will eventually rot.

(The more processed a food is, the longer the shelf life, and the less nutritious it typically is. Real food is alive - and therefor should eventually die.)


Don't ingest foods made in places where everyone is required to wear a surgical cap.

It's not food if it arrives through the window of your car.

("Eating what stands on one leg (mushrooms and plant foods) is better than eating what stands on two legs (fowl), which is better than eating what stands on four legs (cows, pigs, and other mammals." - Chinese proverb)

Don't eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk.

Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.

(There is nothing wrong with eating sweets, fried foods, pastries even drinking a soda every now and then, but food manufactures have made eating these formally expensive and hard-to-make treats so cheap and easy that we're eating every day. If you make your own French fries or cakes and pies, chances are you won't be making them everyday.)


Eat more like the French. Or the Japanese, Or the Italians. Or the Greeks.

(People who eat according to the rules of a traditional food culture are generally healthier than those of us eating a modern Western diet of processed food. Any traditional diet will do: If it were not a healthy diet, the people who follow it wouldn't still be around.)

Pay more, eat less.

(With food, as with so many things, you get what you pay for. There is also a trade-off between quality and quantity, and a person's "food experience".)

"The banquet is in the first bite."

(No other bite will taste as good as the first, and every subsequent bite will progressively diminish in satisfaction.)

Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it.

Buy smaller plates and glasses.

(The bigger the portion, the more we will eat - upward of 30 percent more. Research shows that reducing the size of the plate can reduce our consumption by 22 percent.)

"Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper."

Don't get your fuel from the same place your car does.

(American gas stations now make more money inside selling food (and cigarettes) than they do outside selling gas. But consider what kind of food it is.)


(Cooking for yourself, or if you can afford it, hiring a private chef,  is the only sure way to take back control of your diet from the food scientists and food processors, and to guarantee you're eating real food and not edible food like substances.)

Break the rules once in a while.

(Obsessing over food rules is bad for your happiness, and probably for your health too. All things in moderation, including moderation."

Source: Food Rules Am Eater's Manual by Michael Pollan.


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Cooking for others...a day in the life of a Personal Chef

When I became a personal chef, I envisioned preparing meals for clients so that they could come home and enjoy a delicious meal without the fuss. I would dazzle them with my wide variety of recipes, cooking techniques, and flavor profiles. I would have then begging for more...of me and my food.  In the first year or two I had a few regular dinner service clients. I would spend a day in their kitchens about every six weeks and prepare, what we in the PC world call, a 5x4, five different entrees with accompanying sides, four servings each. Occasionally I would prepare a 5x6 or a 3x4. Now days I have fewer regular clients and do more specal event cheffing, but when I do chef a dinner service I really enjoy it.

Recently, I had the opportunity to fulfill a dinner service gift certificate. It's been a while since I have done a dinner service so I had to have all of my ducks, or pots, in order to pull it off in a timely manner. Timing is everything. Knowing what to begin with first and what can wait until the end is essential.

I  first met with the GC recipents to get a sense of foods they liked and disliked. Luckily, they had no dislikes. I knew from our meeting that the client wanted to freeze everything I prepared, so keeping that in mind I developed a menu for their approval. After a phone call wanting to know what couscous was, the menu was approved and we set up the cook date.

Menu for 3x2 Gift Certificate

Classic Chicken Divan
Egg Noodles

Baked Chicken with Tomatoes, Olives, and Mushrooms
Brown Rice
Roasted Green Beans

Braised Honey Lemon Pork Tenderloin
Fruited Couscous
Baby Carrots and Peas

On the cook day I shopped for groceries, arrived at their home...and literally took over their kitchen for the next three hours, prepared, packaged the entrees and sides, and left them ready to go into the client's freezer.

3x2 Dinner Service

Meals packaged and ready for freezer

I love knowing that I have given my client's meals that are delcious, healthy, and quick for them to heat and eat. What a great job I have!

And as a bonus, sometimes I even get to prepare the husband's and my supper from what I had left after a cook day. This was one of those days.

Tomatoes, Olives, and Mushrooms over Chicken and Sauteed Spinach
It's a great day to be a personal chef!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Where's the meat?

Maybe it's a southern thing, but while I was growing up we would often have supper that was meatless. We grew many of the vegetables we ate and there is nothing better than fresh new potatoes and green beans. Add some fried yellow squash and a plate of corn bread and we had a wonderful meal.

I clearly remember the first time I attempted to serve an all vegetable meal to the husband. I must preface this by saying that he is not from the south.We had not been married very long when I made my first meatless meal. The husband was a soldier and worked long hours and always came home hungry for a good meal. We sat down to what I thought was a perfectly wonderful meal, so imagine my surprise when he finally spoke and, what I thought was going to be a compliment on another successful meal was actually, "Where's the meat?". He had the most confused look on his face. I simply could not understand what the problem was. After all, didn't everyone have meals without meat occasionally? The look on his face clearly answered, "No.". After trying to explain the concept of a no meat meal to the husband, which he clearly did not grasp, I ate my meal in silence. I am happy to say that after years of gradual indoctrination, I meant introduction, the husband now happily eats meatless meals. Poor sucker, he doesn't know what hit him!

One of my favorite foods are lentils. Lentils are a staple throughout much of the Middle East and India, and has long been used as a meat substitute. There are three main varieties of lentils, The French or European lentil, has a grayish-brown exterior with a creamy yellow interior. These are readily found in supermarkets. The Egyptian or red lentil, is reddish-orange and is smaller. There are also yellow and green lentils. Red, yellow, and green lentils, available in some supermarkets, must usually be purchases in Middle Eastern or East Indian markets. Lentils are great in soups, stews and mixed with other foods.

Meatless Monday is a great website that will help you get started on going meatless at least one day a week. The site has recipes, tool kits, articles and links to bloggers who support the meatless Monday concept.

One of the this weeks recipes was right up my alley. Not only did it have lentils, but it also had brown rice, which I love, and caramelized onions! Now what can be bad about that combination?  Here's how mine turned out.

Middle Eastern Lentils and Rice
Serves 6
1 cup brown rice
2 cups green lentils, rinsed and sorted
2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 large onions, sliced
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnanom
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped fine
A sprinkle of extra virgin olive oil, for serving

Place the rice in a saucepan over medium high heat with 2 cups of water and a dash of salt. Bring the rice to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 45-50 minutes, or until the rice is cooked through. Drain.

While the rice is cooking, cover the lentils with 2 inches of water in another pot over medium high heat. Bring the lentils to a boil and continue boiling for about 20-25 minutes, or until the lentils are cooked through, but not yet mushy. Drain.

While the lentils and rice are cooking, place the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions, stirring to make sure the slices have separated and are coated in oil. Reduce heat to low and cook for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions have caramelized.

When the rice, lentils and onions have completed cooking and caramelizing, toss them together in a large bowl. Season the rice, lentils and onions with the cumin, cinnamon, salt and black pepper to taste.
Divide the lentils and rice into 6 equal servings. Sprinkle each serving with the parsley and drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil and enjoy!

From fab frugal food via Meatless Monday

Comment from the husband...he'd add a splash of hot sauce to it. Note from me... I served it with Naan.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Get your Greens

Growing up in the southern, well really southwestern, region of the United States, one would assume that I came out of my mother's womb loving greens of all kinds. Let me assure you that I did not. I did not develop a taste for greens until I reached adulthood and then I am still not fond of all of them, particularly mustard greens and dandelion leaves.

In the past several years I have found that I love Swiss chard and kale. These are great winter greens. They are quite versatile and can be served many different ways such as in a salad, or soup, or simply sauteed.

Last Saturday morning as I was having my second cup of coffee I picked up the Off Duty section of the Wall Street Journal. On the first page of the section was a big picture of greens with the bold title "A Guide To Loving Winter Greens". On the next page, the article continued with eight recipes with winter greens as the centerpiece.  Here is the link...A Guide To Loving Winter Greens

After running errands Saturday afternoon I stopped at the grocery and picked a bunch of beautiful red Swiss chard and and equally beautiful fillet of salmon.  I was going to make my own version of greens. Here's what I did.

I gave the Swiss chard a good washing and cut away the ribs. I stacked the leaves, rolled them into a cigar shape, and cut into chiffonades.

Next I sliced a couple of shallots into rings. I had about 3/4 cup, but you can add more or less based on your tastes. I also minced up a couple of small cloves of garlic.

I heated a saute pan over medium high heat and added a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Once the oil was hot I added the shallots and cooked for several minutes, until softened and beginning to brown. I then added the garlic and stirred a few more minutes, making certain that the garlic did not burn.

Once I was happy with the way the shallots looked I added the Swiss chard, a dash of salt, and a pinch of freshly ground black pepper. I gave it a couple of stirs and then reduced my heat to medium. Within minutes it began to wilt and reduce in volume. I gave them an occasional stir. It took about 7 or 8 minutes to reach it's "finished" stage. I then gave it a splash of white balsamic vinegar to brighten up the flavors.

While the chard was cooking, I quickly pan sauteed a salmon fillet. I seasoned it lightly with salt and pepper and then finished it over a medium to medium-high heat.
mounded the chard in a bowl and topped with a piece of salmon. The flavors of the sauteed chard with the lightly seasoned salmon were a perfect match. And not to mention perfectly easy!

So, how are you going to 'get your greens'? I'd love hear how you prepare them!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I love pasta! It's quick to prepare and you can do so many things with it. Like dressing it with a simple marinara sauce or sauteed mushrooms with brown butter or even a rich lobster sauce. I keep dried pasta in my pantry but I do prefer fresh. Fresh is really easy to find these days. One just has to make a visit to their favorite grocer and you'll probably find it in the refrigerated section.

We used to have a wonderful fresh pasta store in Atlanta call Via Elisa. She offered a delightful array of pastas. One of her specialties was butternut squash ravioli. Unfortunately she is no longer open. The good news is that she has moved into the sauce making arena. Her sauces are available on-line and at Whole Foods. Visit her site, Via Elisa, for more information. You can sign up for a monthly newsletter as well.

Last Christmas I received a pasta machine from my husband with great expectations that I would be cranking out a variety of offerings. I have made plain pasta, spinach linguine, roasted red pepper spaghetti, and a variety of ravioli over the past year and plan to continue.

Yesterday was a southern snow day, i.e, little snow, lots of ice, so I decided that I'd break out the pasta maker and whip up a batch for dinner. I used a different recipe than I have used in the past and I really liked it. The recipe is from Saveur Cooks, Authentic Italian. This is a fabulous book and I have prepared many dishes from it. I prepared the basic egg pasta recipe, making a couple of additions to it. I also mixed my dough in my new Braun food processor instead of by hand.

Basic Egg Pasta for 4

1 cup unbleached flour
2 large eggs 

Here's where I made my additions. I added 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and one teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. To the eggs, I added 1/2 tablespoons olive oil.

To mix the dough, place the flour, salt and pepper in the work bowl of your food processor. Pulse it several times, combining the dry ingredients. Break eggs into a separate dish and whisk. Add the olive oil and whisk to combine. With the food processor running gradually pour the egg mixture through the feed tube. The dough should begin to 'ball' up and pull together. Process until it forms a ball.

Remove from processor and place on a lightly floured work space. With floured hands, gently knead dough until no longer sticky. You may need to add a bit more flour to achieve this. Cover with a damp cloth and let rest for at least 30 minutes.

To proceed, uncover dough and knead with the heel of your hand until dough is smooth, about five minutes. 

Flatten the dough and prepare it for running through a pasta machine or to be cut by hand into the shape and size you desire. I ran mine through the machine and then hand cut into pappardelle noodles.

To cook, bring a pot of water to boil. Add a generous amount of salt and drop noodles in a few at a time. using a pasta 'fork' gently stir to keep noodles from sticking together. Boil for 4-7 minutes depending on how you like your noodles cooked.

Drain and place in a large bowl. Finish with the sauce of your choosing. 
I tossed my pasta with Olio Pomodoro from Sotto Voce, a gift from my son's sweet girlfriend, gave it another grind of black pepper and finished with freshly grated parm. 
The resident taste tester gave it high marks. Always a good thing!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Where did the last two months go?

Someone stole the last two months from me! It couldn't possibly have been that long since I last posted a blog entry. But seeing is believing and indeed it has been two months. Sheesh! Since several holidays have passed, I wish you a belated Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year!

Here's a brief synopsis of my cooking forays since early November.

Christmas cookies are always baked beginning in mid-November. I have a dear friend and business associate to whom I always deliver a tin of cookies on December 1st so I have to be ready. Others deliveries are made throughout the month, but the December 1st delivery is the most critical.  I made 8 different kinds of cookies and three kids of candy. Here are pictures of some of my goodies.

Next came Thanksgiving.  I offered a dessert preparation service to my clients and I had a couple of takers. I made pumpkin pies, three-apple pies and Kentucky Derby pies. My pie crust recipes are from Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Pie and Pastry Bible. These are great recipes, but they are not quick to make. You really have to plan ahead if you are going to make one of her recipes. I used her "Great Pumpkin Pie" recipe for the first time and it will now be my go to recipe! Gingersnaps are sprinkled over the pie crust and it gives the pie another layer of flavor. The filling is made from cans of evaporated milk in this recipe.

We had a fabulous feast for 15! Of course I was too busy to take any pictures of my table but it was stunning. I dare say it would have made Martha Stewart proud.  Since I don't have pictures of the table or food, I'll slip one in of my favorite son, Jack. He flew home from Ft. Bragg that morning. The beagle boys, Bud and Miller, welcomed him home and quickly made themselves comfortable in his lap. Did you know that beagles are lap dogs?
Jack, Miller and Bud

Quickly following on the heels of Thanksgiving was Christmas and my busiest time of the year. I had private events the three weekend's before Christmas, and one weekend had two events! It was great! 

Madori and melon shooters, Bacon wrapped stuffed dates, Assorted cheese spreads       

Christmas day was a treat! Spending time with family and NOT having to cook was great! I did add an appetizer, cucumbers topped with wasabi mayo, pickled ginger and shrimp, and a mincemeat pie with hard sauce to the feast.

Our sweet Carol and me.    

And lastly, New Years! New Years is pretty low-key for us. Sometimes we go to a party and other times we don't. This year we did not. However, our New Year's Day feast is always the same. Growing up in the south, our New Year's Day meal was always, ham, greens of some sort, and black-eyed peas. I tried those foods the first couple of years I was married, but my hubby wasn't all that taken with the fare so I adopted his family's traditional meal, curried beef over rice with lots of condiments. I love this dish! 

Regis, the husband, and I have differing opinions, as you can see by the pictures, on how we are to place the condiments on our plates. He's a 'piler' and I like mine around the curry and rice, like a clock face. I keep telling him that presentation is important, but when it comes to his plate of curry, he could care less! He just wants to eat it not admire it!

Okay, that's it. I know this was a bit disjointed, but quite frankly that's the way I have felt these past two months. Now on to January!