Monday, January 31, 2011

Truffle Fest

Yesterday, I met C & G in Eugene to check out the Oregon Truffle Marketplace, which is part of the Oregon Truffle Festival held annually down there. Oregon, in addition to being a prime growing region for grapes, is also gaining a reputation for being one of the best places outside of Europe to harvest truffles.

And I do love me some truffles.

There were cooking demos, wine tasting, and a number of local vendors on hand with everything from soup to nuts (literally). We kind of ate our way from one end of the building to the other.

Along the way, I ran across some locally sourced olive oil. Now, Oregon is not the first place you’d think of when it comes to growing olives. And the few people I’ve run across who are doing it have my complete respect, both as a person who loves to cook and someone who would have a difficult time harvesting mud.

I’m just sayin’.

Anyway, I tried a sample Red Ridge Farms olive oil, which had a nice, bright, fruitiness. I picked up a bottle, and after checking out their site, can’t wait to take a trip up to the Dundee area for a visit.

I think the one item I was most fascinated with was this little coffee maker that the group from Last Stand Coffee Company was using. Also scored a sample of their micro-roasted coffee, which was very nice.

Mostly we just had fun talking to different people (and several ‘truffle dogs’), nibbling and sipping. The weather was beautiful and WARM, and it was just another great day to live in Oregon.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Time Flies

Spent the morning at the Oregon Truffle Marketplace,which I will post on later.  Spent the afternoon at a birthday party for my now 6 year old niece.  Amazing how quickly these little ones grow up.

Happy Birthday, Maddie Maddie.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Keeping the Peace

I’d like to say that the one thing I make that causes my offspring to fight for the last crumb is something I spend hours preparing and lovingly coaxing into its perfect form.

I’d like to say that.

But I’d be lying.

Case in point… At the request of Offspring #1, I made this super-simple, throw it together in 10 minutes key lime cream cheese pie for her birthday lunch. Actually, I made two, just to be sure I had enough for everyone. Apparently, the unforgiveable error I made was in sending home the remaining ¾ of a pie with the birthday girl and not keeping any for her sister (bad mommy).

I was in the doghouse for days.

And so, in order to maintain household harmony, I threw another one together last night. If I was in a more ‘foodie’ frame of mind, I would have done something exciting with the crust.

I wasn’t.

And actually, I didn’t even use the type of crust that I prefer for this, which is more of a shortbread type of thing. Instead, I went with your run-of-the-mill, off-the-shelf, store-bought graham cracker crust.

And peace reined supreme.

Key Lime Cream Cheese Pie

2 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, softened
½ cup sugar
1 can (about 14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¾ cup key lime juice (I used Nellie & Joe’s brand)
Zest of one lime, grated
1 shortbread (or graham cracker) crust

In a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese until fluffy and smooth. Slowly add the sugar and continue to beat until sugar is thoroughly incorporated. With the mixer running on the lowest setting, slowly pour in the condensed milk and then add the vanilla. Mix until smooth, scrape the sides of the bowl, and continue to mix on low.

Slowly add lime juice a couple of tablespoons at a time (or you’ll be wearing it), stopping to scrape the sides if necessary and mixing until mixture is completely smooth. Stir in lime zest and pour into crust.

Allow to set up in fridge for a couple of hours.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Naughty, Naughty

As I've mentioned, I've been trying to exercise regularly, not because I see myself frolicking in the surf any time soon, but so I can continue to enjoy eating the way I like to eat.  In other words, I'm not giving up on butter any time soon.

However, I have cut way back in the sugar department, at least in what I've been eating myself (not as much in what I've been making for others).  But this weekend, several weeks of a sugar-free lifestyle, along with the stress of dealing with Scamp R. ERR finally took its toll.

I required something hot, gooey and full of chocolate.

Somehow I'm positive that Mr. 2-D Trainer Dude on my exercise video could sense what I was up to.  He certainly seemed very condescending the next time I tuned in.  Or maybe the glob of bittersweet chocolate at the corner of my mouth gave me away.  Whatever.  I hit the 'mute' button and carried smugly on.  Take that, 2-D.

One-pan Chocolate Skillet Cookie
adapted from Sophistimom

1 stick (8 Tbs) unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 1/2 cups AP flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt
6 oz bittersweet chocolate chips (I used Guittard)

Preheat oven to 350º.  In an 8-inch cast iron skillet, heat butter over medium heat.  When it's melted about halfway, remove the pan from the heat and allow the butter to continue to melt.  Add sugars to pan and mix until thoroughly combined.  Add vanilla and egg and mix quickly until egg is thoroughly incorporated into the mix.  Slowly stir in flour, baking soda and salt.  Spread mixture evenly in pan, then sprinkle chocolate chips over the top of the mixture, pressing in slightly.

Transfer pan to oven and bake 15 - 18 minutes, or until the edges are golden but mixture is still soft in the middle (it will continue to cook once removed from oven, so don't be tempted to leave it in too long or you will have more of a shortbread, which is still tasty but doesn't really have that 'gooey' factor).  Serve with almond ice cream, or whatever other flavor elicits moans of pleasure.

Or grab a fork (as I did) and eat straight from the pan.  I'm not apologizing.  I would have been more tempted to stand over the kitchen sink, pan in one hand and fork in the other, but those cast iron skillets are HEAVY!

Monday, January 24, 2011

However You Pronounce It

Sometime over the course of the last year or so I decided to stop making excuses for not doing the things I wanted to and just DO THEM. I talked about starting a blog for years before actually doing it. And before I even knew what blogging was I had a plan for putting down into some kind of tangible format my culinary journey, if only so my kids could have something to look at. I was going to start by taming that stack of food mags, doggedly wend my way through all of the recipes I wanted to try, and put into a perfect, logical order all of the ones I deemed worthy of keeping.

But there were so MANY.

And who has the TIME???

Then last year I forced myself to make the leap and at least START. Baby steps, Grasshopper. And while I can’t really say that the stack of magazines and recipes has gotten any smaller, blogging has at least has forced me to stay on task somewhat. It’s also made me (slightly) less likely to eat a bag of popcorn for dinner when I think I’m not in the mood to cook.

I’ve also gotten serious about exercising regularly. Not because I wanted to be a ‘hot mom’ or anything but because I like food enough that I want to be able to continue to enjoy it on my terms. I don’t want my menu dictated to me by a doctor.

And finally, I decided to set aside the notion that I needed to have a bigger living space if I wanted to cook and entertain for friends. ‘Bollocks’, as my friends in Newcastle would say. Not only has there been enough space, but ‘eating in’ has given me the opportunity to really enjoy the company of friends, instead of feeling like we’re on some kind of time allotted outing that ends as soon as the waiter brings the check to usher us out the door.

But I’m rambling.

Saturday evening was one of those hang out and enjoy the company of friends kind of nights. No schedules. No rush. No wondering how much to tip the waiter.

And as a glaring deviation from my usual m.o., I actually cooked something REALLY HEALTHY. There was no butter to be found in this meal. Well, ok, I didn’t ADD any butter to this meal. Obviously, the little puff pastry ‘lids’ were chock full of the stuff, but considering that the original rendition of this was wrapped in the pastry and served with a cream sauce, I thought I did pretty well.

Pomegranate and Balsamic Glazed Salmon with Sautéed Leeks
2 leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced
1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
4 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil, separated
1 tsp dried tarragon
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup white wine
6 Tbs pomegranate juice
4 Tbs brown sugar
4 Tbs balsamic vinegar
2 Tbs Dijon mustard
2 tsp cornstarch
A pinch (or two) of cayenne pepper
2 lbs salmon fillets, cut into portion sized pieces

Heat oven to 300º.

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, heat 2 Tbs of olive oil.  Add the leeks and onions and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to soften.  Add tarragon and season with salt and pepper.  Deglaze pan with wine and continue to cook until wine evaporates.  Remove to a bowl and set aside.

In a small saucepan, add the pomegranate juice, brown sugar, vinegar, mustard, cornstarch and cayenne.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and allow to reduce until the mixture is of glaze consistency.

In the meantime, heat another 2 Tbs oil in the sauté pan over medium-high heat until the pan is hot.  Season the salmon with salt and pepper and add to the pan.  Sear briefly on each side, about 2 minutes each (for about a 2 - 3" thick slice of salmon).

Place salmon in an oven proof dish (or leave it in the pan you cooked it in if it can go into the oven).  Brush salmon with glaze and transfer to oven.  Cook just until the salmon is translucent and registers 125º internally, about 7 - 10 minutes.

** Serving idea:  I adapted this as a low-fat, sugar-free recipe for a friend by substituting Splenda brown sugar blend in the glaze, and rather than wrapping the salmon in puff pastry (as originally called for), I just cut puff pastry into wedges and baked them in the oven, using the wedges as little 'caps'.

In keeping with the 'healthy' theme, I decided to try something I've been reading about but haven't gotten around to trying....  Quinoa.  In reading up on the stuff, I swear it used to grow wild where I lived growing up (in the South) and was just another weed.  Kind of tickles me that it's the 'in' thing now.

Apparently, the proper pronunciation of quinoa is "KEEN-WAH".  OBVIOUSLY.  Of course the joke the entire night was in trying to get it right and not revert to the more logical "QUIN-O-AH".  Offspring gave up and started referring to it as 'couscous rice'.  Don't blame me.  I'm just her mother.

Anyway, I will have to say that I thought the stuff was pretty tasty.  I used a tri-color mix, just to make it pretty.

If you have been wanting to try it but haven't quite convinced yourself to do so, go ahead and give it a shot.  It's got a nutty flavor and sure beats the heck out of bran in the flavor department (haven't we all tried a 'healthy' muffin with the consistency of sawdust?).  And it's very versatile in what you can add to it.


Quinoa with Butternut Squash, Pears and Sage

1 small butternut squash, peeled and cubed (in all honesty, I used a Delicata)
1 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup roasted hazelnuts, chopped
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs butter (I substituted olive oil in this particular instance)
6 small sage leaves
1 pear, peeled and diced
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 Meyer lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oven to 400º.   Place cubed squash on a small roasting pan, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with a bit of olive oil.  Bake just until squash is cooked through, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, thoroughly rinse your quinoa, drain well, and add to a medium saucepan.  Add water and about 1/2 a teaspoon of salt.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and allow to simmer for 10 - 12 minutes.  Remove from heat, allow to sit another 5 minutes, and then fluff with a fork.

In a sauté pan heat 1 Tbs oil and add hazelnuts.  Allow to toast just a minute or two, then remove the nuts.  Add pear cubes and sauté until pear is just softened, about 2 minutes.  Add roasted squash to the pan, season with salt and pepper, then add the mustard and lemon juice.  Thoroughly combine and then add to the quinoa pan, along with the nuts.

In the same sauté pan, heat the butter until it sizzles.  Add sage leaves and fry just until they crisp up and are starting to brown at the edges.  Drain on a paper towel.  Crumble 3 - 4 of the leaves and add to quinoa mixture.  Stir to combine.  Use the remaining leaves for garnish.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


So, I haven't really been blogging because, well, I haven't really been cooking.

And the reason I haven't been cooking is that I've been dealing with one of these...

And yes, I believe this is exactly what the damned thing looks like because it has defied every attempt I've made to rid myself of it.

And of course, when I say 'it', I mean 'them'.  Because where there's one...


I of course heard it before I saw it.  And at that point believed it was the size of a possum.  Turns out it really wasn't.  But the problem isn't the size.  It's the scampering.  Nothing that scampers can be good.

I have looked for solutions online.  I have consulted with friends, who seem to be split between the ones that are sympathetic and have the same kind of gut-thumping reaction to the idea of a SCAMPERER in the kitchen, and those who just seem to think I'm being a big baby.


I do have to say that I seemed to have attracted not just a run of the mill, everyday house mouse but a freaking MENSA mouse.  I have traps slathered in peanut butter, which I was assured by several online 'experts'  is like crack to these things.  Not so, apparently.

I was also assured that the smell of ammonia repels them.  So I soaked several cotton balls in the stuff and placed them in front of suspected entryways.  One was picked up and dragged a couple of feet before being left behind.

There is also a very engaged feline in the mix.  I'm telling you, this thing is BRILLIANT (The mouse, not the cat.  OBVIOUSLY).

Anyway, I've been using friends' kitchens, eating out, or eating cold for the most part over the course of the last couple of weeks.  Yesterday I decided to start taking back my kitchen.  And tomorrow I'm declaring war.

But I may be standing on a chair when I do it.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Milestone Birthday

Offspring #1 turned 21 today.  Oy.  I'm still trying to wrap my head around the entire concept and the idea that she'd rather have top shelf vodka than Barbie dolls (although, to be truthful, she was never really a huge fan of those).


Over the weekend we had a family get-together for her.  And I was so wrapped up in getting everything together that I managed to only snap a few pictures.

At her request, I made Shrimp Wraps with Mango Salsa.  And in addition to her birthday 'cake', which was actually a key lime pie, I made her White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Fudge.  There were many other things there as well, but alas, no photos.

The wraps had a number of components, including a revisit to the Toasted Parmesan Flatbread from the previous weekend.  Just thought they'd make a nice substitute for tortillas.

I had eleven people to feed, so I made double batches of everything.  The amounts can be cut down for smaller numbers of servings.  Once the flatbread was ready to go, the next component was a coconut rice flavored with a bit of cumin.

Gingered Coconut Rice

2 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp freshly grated ginger
2 cups long-grained rice
1 14 oz. can unsweetened coconut milk
1 14 oz. can low-sodium chicken broth (or substitute water)
1 tsp salt

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat.  As soon as oil gets hot, add cumin and ginger and sauté just until fragrant.  Add rice and stir to coat with oil.  Continue to stir and cook for a minute or two and allow the rice to toast slightly.

Add coconut milk and chicken broth, plus enough water to bring the total amount of liquid to 4 cups.  Add salt.  Turn heat up to medium-high and stir a couple of times to completely incorporate the liquid.  Allow to come to a boil, then lower heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 16 - 18 minutes.  Let stand for 5 minutes, then stir to incorporate the coconut milk solids, which will settle on the top.

Garlic Shrimp

2 lbs peeled and deveined shrimp (I used small 55 - 60 count to better fit in the wraps)
2 Tbs olive oil
1/2 tsp dried chili flakes
3 - 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste (I like to use a course salt here)

In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until it starts to smoke.  Add chili flakes and garlic.  Sauté just long enough for the garlic to start toasting.  Immediately add shrimp (if your pan is small, do this in a couple of batches so the shrimp flash fries and doesn't steam).  Cook and stir until shrimp is just cooked through.  This will only take a couple of minutes.

Mango Salsa

1/2 red onion, finely chopped
2 ripe mangos, cut into small cubes
1 small jalapeño, seeded and finely diced
1/2 small red bell pepper, diced to the same size as the onions
1 lime
Salt to taste
(you can also add some finely chopped cilantro to this)

Combine the first four ingredients in a bowl.  Zest the lime and add to the mixture, then add the juice from the lime as well.  Season.

** We set up a buffet and allowed everyone to assemble their wraps according to their own specifications.  Also had avocado and olives on hand to add to the mix.

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Fudge

3 cups sugar
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 small can (5 oz.) evaporated milk (about 2/3 cup)
1- 12 oz. pkg. white chocolate chips
1 jar (7 oz.) Marshmallow Creme
1 cup chopped macadamia nuts
1 tsp. vanilla
Line a 9-inch square pan with foil, with ends of foil extending over sides of pan; set aside. Place sugar, butter and evaporated milk in large heavy saucepan. Bring to full rolling boil on medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil until a candy thermometer reaches 234° (about 4 minutes), stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Remove from heat.

Add chocolate chips and marshmallow creme; stir until completely melted. Add nuts and vanilla; mix well.

Pour immediately into the prepared pan; spread to form even layer in pan. Let stand at room temperature 4 hours or until completely cooled; cut into 1-inch squares. Store in tightly covered container at room temperature

Friday, January 14, 2011

Mediterranean Night

I hope that I can fit everything into one post because I want to tell you all about the extremely post-worthy meal the other night!

So, as I've mentioned, 'Chip' (heh heh) and I have been getting together once a month (along with (my) Offspring and her hubby) and preparing themed dinners.  This month we opted for Mediterranean, and I think I can say it was a smashing success.  Probably my favorite to date.

Here are a couple of photos of 'the spread'.

As a starter, I prepared this mezze platter along with some crackers and flatbread (recipe for that below).  It included:  Moroccan and Italian olives, Baba Ganouj, Toasted hazelnuts, Medjool dates, and Fresh ricotta with lemon zest and honey.

Then we really got serious about eating....

On the menu, from yours truly:

Toasted Parmesan Flatbread and Mezze Platter
Slow-braised Pork with Grapes and Balsamic
Saffron Rice with Pignolis
Flourless Lemon-Almond Cake

And, courtesy of "Chip":

Meyer Lemon Gelato (which paired very nicely with the cake)
Fried Eggplant Balls with Rigatoni (hands down my favorite dish)
Green Beans with Almonds, Onions and Parmesan
Fish Sautéed with Lemon and Olives

I will be using all of these recipes again, most definitely!

Toasted Parmesan Flatbread

1 cup lukewarm water
1 Tbs + 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 pkg active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 1/2 - 2 cups AP flour (next time I think I'll substitute all whole wheat)
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/4 tsp salt

Whisk the water, 1 Tbs of oil, sugar and yeast in a mixing bowl bowl. Let sit about 5 minutes, until it starts to get a little foamy.

While the yeast is sitting, assemble dry ingredients (the 1 1/2 cups AP flour, wheat flour, Parmesan and salt).

Add the dry ingredients to the yeast mixture and stir to combine (I used my stand mixer and the dough hook). If it is too sticky to work with, add a little of the remaining 1/2 cup of the flour. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead for about 5 minutes, adding more flour as needed (I used very little).

Add the remaining tsp of oil to a large bowl, shape the dough into a ball, and place in the bowl, coating with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Punch down the dough and divide into six equal balls (it makes a lovely, soft dough that contracts very little when rolled out). Roll out each ball onto a floured work surface until it’s about seven inches in diameter (and about 1/4" thick).

Preheat a skillet (I used a cast iron grill pan, which added nice markings) over medium heat until it is very hot. Add a very small amount of olive oil (just enough to coat the pan).  Place a dough circle on the heated pan and cook until it starts to bubble up, about 2 minutes.  Rotate to create markings if you're using a grill pan.  Flip over and repeat.

Transfer to a plate or a wire rack and repeat with the remaining dough. You might have to adjust the heat a bit if the bread starts to brown too quickly.
Baba Ganouj
2 medium eggplants, sliced in half lengthwise
Olive Oil
Sea salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbs. lemon juice
2 Tbs. tahini
2 cloves garlic, coursely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375º.  Place eggplant halves on a baking sheet, and drizzle the flesh with a good amount of olive oil (a couple of glugs for each).  Season with salt.  Roast for about 20 - 30 minutes, or until meat is cooked through.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.
In a blender, combine olive oil, lemon juice, tahini and garlic.  Peel the skin from the eggplant halves and roughly chop.  Add to blender and season with salt and pepper.  Process to desired consistency.
Green Beans with Almonds, Onions and Parmesan
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs olive oil
1/2 cup whole raw almonds
1 tsp fleur de sel or other medium-course sea salt
1 lb. green beans, trimmed
5 oz. Parmigiano Reggiano, cut into 1/3 - 1/2" irregular chunks
1 small red onion, thinly sliced or shaved on a mandoline
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley
Heat 2 Tbs oil in a small skillet over medium heat.  Add almonds and cook, shaking the pan back and forth, until almonds are cooked and starting to pop, about 4 minutes.  Remove from heat, sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. salt, and stir.  Remove nuts with slotted spoon and drain on paper towel, then coarsely chop.
Bring a large saucepan of well-salted water to a boil.  Add beans and cook until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.  Drain, transfer to a large bowl, and immediately toss with remaining 1/4 cup olive oil.
Add cheese, onion and parsley; toss well.  Let sit for a few minutes, then toss with almonds and serve.
** These were fantastic, by the way.  Loved the crispness of the veggies and crunch of the almonds.

Saffron Rice with Pignolis

1/2 cup pignolis (pine nuts)
1 32 oz. carton low-sodium chicken stock (or the homemade equivalent)
About 1/4 - 1/2 tsp saffron threads (just use a decent pinch)
2 cups jasmine rice
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, toast the pine nuts just until golden (these tend to burn fast, so keep a close eye on them).  Remove from pan and set aside.

Add chicken broth and saffron to saucepan.  Bring to a simmer, then turn off the heat and allow to steep for about 15 minutes.

Return the saucepan to a medium-high heat, and when it begins to boil, slowly add rice, stirring gently.  Season with salt and pepper.  When the broth comes back to a boil, turn the heat down to medium to medium-low, cover, and cook for 16 - 18 minutes.  Allow to sit for a few minutes, then gently fluff the rice.

Just prior to serving, stir in pine nuts.

Fried Eggplant Balls
2 large eggplant (about 2 3/4 lbs)
1 large egg
2 cups medium-ground fresh breadcrumbs
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for garnish
3 Tbs chopped, fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
Extra-virgin olive oil for shallow frying
Preheat oven to 375º.  Prick each eggplant several times with a fork.  Roast until cooked through, about an hour.  Allow to cool.
Scoop flesh from eggplant halves and place in a fine sieve set over a mixing bowl.  Discard skins.  Drain for 4 hours at room temperature or overnight in the fridge.
Transfer eggplant to food processor (discard juices).  Add egg, breadcrumbs, cheese, parsley, garlic and salt.  Pulse to combine; transfer to a plate or bowl.  Form into 1-inch balls (makes about 40).
Fill a large skillet with 1/4" oil and heat to about 360º.  Using a slotted spoon, add several eggplant balls to oil and cook until golden on all sides, about 5 minutes.  Remove and drain on paper towels.  Repeat with remaining balls.
** "Chip" served these with rigatoni and some olives with just a bit of olive oil and more Parmesan, I think.  Simple, but man, was this good.  And the perfect dish to serve if you have vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike.  You'll make each happy.

The cooked pork with sauce simmering away in the background

Slow-Braised Pork with Grapes and Balsamic

1 4-pound boneless pork shoulder
4 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil, divided

3 large shallots, halved, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
3 cups seedless grapes
2 Tbs sugar
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cups low-salt chicken broth
2 large fresh sage sprigs
4 large fresh thyme sprigs
2 large fresh rosemary sprigs

Preheat oven to 325°F. Sprinkle pork with salt and pepper. Heat 2 Tbs oil in heavy large ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Add pork to pot and cook until browned on all sides, about 13 minutes total. Transfer pork to plate; discard fat in pot.
Heat remaining 2 Tbs oil in same pot over medium heat. Add shallots and grapes; sauté until shallots are golden, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Add sugar; sauté 30 seconds. Add vinegar; bring mixture to boil and cook until slightly reduced, about 3 minutes. Add broth, all herb sprigs, and pork with juices from plate. Bring to boil. Cover pot and transfer to oven. Braise pork 1 hour. Using tongs, turn pork over and continue braising until meat is very tender, about 45 minutes longer. Using slotted spoon, transfer pork to platter; tent with foil.

Remove herb sprigs from pot and skim fat from surface of cooking liquid. Boil cooking liquid over high heat until thickened, about 7 minutes. Season sauce with salt and pepper. Pour over pork and serve.

** Leftovers make a really good version of 'pulled pork', Italian style on a ciabatta roll.

And lest you think we had no room to spare for dessert, au contraire!

Flourless Lemon-Almond Cake

1 1/3 cups blanched slivered almonds

8 Tbs sugar
4 large eggs, separated
5 tsp packed grated lemon peel
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter and flour 9-inch-diameter cake pan with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Line bottom of pan with waxed paper. Finely grind almonds with 2 Tbs sugar in processor. Combine yolks, 2 Tbs sugar, lemon peel, cinnamon and salt in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat until thick and smooth, about 2 minutes. Stir in almond mixture. Using clean beaters, beat egg whites in large bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add 4 Tbs sugar, beating until stiff but not dry. Fold large spoonful of whites into almond mixture (start with a medium sized one and mix well since the almonds and yolks get pretty thick). Gently fold in remaining whites.

Transfer batter to pan. Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool in pan on rack. Turn out onto platter. Remove waxed paper.

Once cool, sprinkle with powdered sugar.

I served this with an Amaretto Whipped Cream (basically just whipping cream beaten with a bit of sugar and then Amaretto added to taste).

"Chip" had some Meyer Lemons fresh from California and made this gelato, which was fantastic (if I've used that too much here, sorry, but everything was just... fantastic :-)))  ).

Meyer Lemon Gelato

1 cup sugar
3/4 cup fresh Meyer Lemon juice (from 5 or 6 lemons)
1/2 cup cold water
1 cup whole milk
2 large egg whites
pinch of sea salt

Whisk together sugar, lemon juice and water in a medium bowl until sugar dissolves.  Add milk and whisk to combine (it will curdle; this is ok).

In another bowl, whisk egg whites and salt until whites hold a soft peak.  Fold egg whites into lemon juice mixture.

Churn mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.  Serve, or pack into a container and freeze.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

When Life Gives You Lemons - Preserve Them!

I am very excited to post about our latest 'themed' dinner, which we had this last weekend.  We went with a Mediterranean theme, and everything was just really darned tasty!  As a matter of fact, I think it's my favorite to date, and I can't wait to share recipes (which I will as soon as I upload photos).

In honor of our theme, I decided to make some preserved lemons.  It's one of those items that I see from time to time on a list of ingredients, but they're not easy to find, and when you do find them, they are ATROCIOUSLY expensive.  Especially considering the simplicity of the ingredients.

They do take a bit of pre-planning since they 'cure' for several days.  Which is why they didn't make it into any of the items I prepared (woeful lack of preparedness on my part ).  But I'm anxious to use them now that they're raring to go, so stay tuned...

Preserved Lemons
adapted from

6 lemons
1/2 - 2/3 cup kosher salt
1 to 1 1/2 cups fresh lemon juice (from 5 to 6 additional lemons)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 bay leaves
6 - 10 peppercorns

Blanch lemons in boiling water 5 minutes, then drain. When cool enough to handle, cut each lemon into 8 wedges, discarding seeds (do this on a plate to catch any juice). Place lemons in glass jar, alternating with kosher salt, packing tightly.

Add enough lemon juice to cover lemons. Seal jar and let lemons stand at room temperature, shaking gently once a day, for 5 days.

Add oil, bay leaves and peppercorns to jar and refrigerate.  Keeps for a year.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

An Old Standby

Don't you just hate it when you have a point to make and then realize that all of your assumptions were in your head and not out there in plain sight for the entire world to see?


Ok, maybe it's just me...


I had it in my head that I should post my recipe for Roasted Brussels Sprouts because I was just CERTAIN that I had photos scattered throughout this blog with them making appearances as part of the meal.  Then when I hunted through old posts looking for links to prove my point, I came up with this.  And that's it.

So you'll just have to believe me when I say that we eat a lot of sprouts, and by and large, this is how I prepare them.  No mushy gray sprouts here.  These have a wonderful nutty flavor to them.  And then there's the garlic.  I mean, who can go wrong with roasted garlic, am I right?

So without further adieu, I give you Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Garlic.  And now I'm going to go hunt down all of those photos that I just KNOW are lurking around!

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Garlic

1 - 1 1/2 lbs Brussels sprouts
Olive oil (extra virgin)
Course Kosher salt and pepper to taste
2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 400º.  Line a baking sheet with foil (I use the non-stick variety, and it works wonders.  I'm truly addicted to the stuff).

Cut the ends off the sprouts and remove outer (loose) leaves.  Slice in half, or quarters if they're particularly large.  Basically, you want them all to be the same size.  Spread evenly over baking sheet.

Coat the sprouts lightly with olive oil and mix them around a bit to make sure they're evenly coated.  Season with salt and pepper.

Bake the sprouts for about 20 minutes, or just until they start to brown.  Remove from oven and scatter the garlic around the sprouts.  Return to oven and bake another 10 minutes, or until garlic is cooked through.

Sometimes I give these a little shower of grated Parmesan and/or a sprinkling of balsamic vinegar.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Something To Look Forward To

I began blogging mainly as a way of documenting recipes for my kids and myself (don't know how many times I've created a recipe and then promptly forgotten all about it), but also to share with others.  And whether my following is 2 or 2,000 matters not to me.

One thing I got serious about a few years ago was couponing.  Up to that point, my forays into the world of saving were sporadic at best.  But once I realized what a huge difference it made in not only sticking to a budget, but giving me the means to indulge in all the other little things I enjoy doing, I was hooked.

I've listed a few of the blogs I follow to keep up with other saving opportunities.  Fabulessly Frugal is celebrating its 2 MILLIONTH hit.  Wow.  And to celebrate, they're not only giving away a Visa card, but challenging people to turn that $100 into ANOTHER $100 for those in need.  Simply... Fabulous.  :-)

Friday, January 7, 2011

Butternut Squash Gnocchi Redux

Because the butternut squash gnocchi was just so tasty, I decided to make it again for Christmas dinner.  This year we opted for an Italian spread in honor of my mom's recent return from Rome.

This stuff freezes really well.  Just place the individual gnocchis in a single layer on a wax paper lined cookie sheet and freeze.  Then pop them into a freezer bag and store in the freezer until you're ready to use them.  They go right into boiling water and make for a quick meal.

Just a word of warning, though, from someone who knows...  If you are transporting your frozen gnocchi in their freezer bag in a heated car 45 miles to your sister's house to prepare, they will begin to thaw and stick together, and a portion of them will be unsalvageable.

You have been warned.

Anyway....  This went together quickly and to rave reviews.

Sautéed Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage and Ricotta Salata

1 recipe Butternut Squash Gnocchi
1 cup cooked, cubed butternut squash (I used the leftovers from making the gnocchi)
2 Tbs unsalted butter
1 Tbs olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
3 fresh sage leaves, cut into a chiffonade
Shaved ricotta salata*

Bring a large pot of salted water to a simmer (you really don't want a hard boil on this).  Add the gnocchi, let it come back up to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes.  Drain well.

In a large frying pan, add the butter and olive oil.  Heat over medium - medium high heat until butter starts to sizzle.  Add cubed squash and sauté until squash is warmed through (remember, it's already cooked).  Add drained gnocchi.  Cook, turning occasionally with a spatula (to avoid breaking the gnocchi) until gnocchi begins to turn golden.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add sage leaves and continue to cook until gnocchi is browned and slightly crisp on the outsides.

Sprinkle with cheese and serve.

*Ricotta salata is the firmer version of ricotta cheese.  If you can't find it, use any firm cheese you'd like.  Parmesan or Asiago work great.

A Hot Drink for Cold Nights

I'm usually pretty lukewarm on the subject of hot drinks (Heh.  I'm so clever).  My daily coffee regimen is 4 shots of espresso over ice.  Year round.  It isn't that I NEVER enjoy a hot drink.  It's just not something I immediately go to.

Then I ran across this recipe in Bon Appétit years ago.  I don't make it often because I can almost hear my hips groan as they immediately start to expand upon drinking this stuff.  But it is SOOO good.  It's kind of become the unofficial tree decorating drink during the holidays.  But don't wait for that.  A chilly evening is all the excuse you need.  And let's face it.  It's January.  We've got those to spare.

Heavenly Hot Chocolate
adapted from Bon Appétit
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2/3 cup fine (bakers) sugar (truthfully, I usually use regular sugar with no problems)
½ cup unsweetened, good quality cocoa powder (this does make a difference)
½ cup water
Pinch of sea salt
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1 pint half and half
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup chilled whipping cream

Pour sugar in a small bowl.  Using the tip of a knife, scrape seeds from vanilla bean. Add to sugar and distribute throughout.

Transfer all but about 3 Tbs of the vanilla sugar to a medium saucepan. Add unsweetened cocoa powder, ½ c water and salt and whisk until smooth. Whisk over medium heat until beginning to bubble. Whisk in whole milk and half and half. Add reserved vanilla bean; bring mixture to simmer. Remove from heat; whisk in vanilla extract. Keep warm.
Beat cream with reserved sugar until medium-firm peaks form. Discard vanilla bean from cocoa mixture.  Divide hot chocolate among 6 mugs; top with whipped cream.

**If you want to amp things up a bit, add a shot of whatever your favorite spirit is.  I'm particularly fond of Frangelico myself.

Monday, January 3, 2011

And... We're Back!

So, I was off work for about 11 days.  Couldn't WAIT to throw myself into cooking and blogging.  But there was Christmas to contend with, which I got.... ONE PICTURE OF (at least the food), then there was all the after Christmas hoopla, followed by...  me getting sick.  Bleh.  So anyway, not much exciting in the food area.

Offspring 2 and I have vowed to outpace our calorie consumption more successfully in the new year.  Not to really eat differently (which, when you love food, and love to cook, is pretty useless), but to at least work a little harder at chipping away at that vast divide between calories consumed and calories burned.


With a rude gesture at the overly perky video 'trainer' on the new exercise video, I put this together.  The original recipe called for sweet potato fries - which I am 100% for, but I had this little bag of baby potatoes sitting on the counter needing to be used.  So I adjusted accordingly.

First of all, the recipe called for these...  cheese curds, which to be honest, I've always found the thought of rather off-putting.  But I figured 10 million Canadians couldn't be wrong, eh?  So I picked some up.  After adding them to the hot potatoes and covering in gravy, they started getting all melty, and I got it.  I really did.

Poutine with Roasted Potatoes

1 small bag (about 1/2 lb) baby potatoes
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

2 Tbs butter
2 Tbs flour
1 shallot
4 Tbs wine (I used white - the recipe called for red)
1/4 tsp thyme
Pinch of brown sugar
Salt and pepper
2 cups beef stock
4 Tbs freshly chopped parsley
1 cup cheese curds

Heat oven to 400º.  Toss potatoes with olive oil on a foil-lined baking sheet.  Season with salt and pepper.  Roast in oven for 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and add garlic.  Toss well.  Return to oven and cook another 10 - 15 minutes, or until garlic is cooked through.
**  You'll start out with this

and end up with this...  **

And yes, I realize I didn't follow my own instructions and cooked the garlic the entire time.  But really, unless you want garlic 'chips', go with the shorter cooking time.  :-)))
Now onto the gravy...
In a medium saucepan, melt butter.  Add shallot and sauté until softened.  Add flour and stir well.  Cook and stir for about a minute.  Deglaze pan with wine, then add thyme, brown sugar, and slowly pour in beef stock.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cook and stir until mixture thickens.  Toss in parsley.
Toss potatoes and cheese curds together.  Pour gravy over the top.  Enjoy!

And yes, those are roasted Brussels sprouts again.  We eat a LOT of Brussels sprouts.