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Archive for March, 2007

If you look to the right of this posting, you will see a calendar. The dates that are in boldface type are the dates that I’ve added new posts to this site. You can click on any of those dates and that day’s posting will appear. I just figured it out. I thought I was just putting a nice calendar up for your convenience. I wondered why some of the dates were in bold type. Hmmmm.

Clever, very clever, these programmers are. I used to be one, way, way back in the dark ages of computer programming, long before personal computers were invented. Long before Microsoft and Windows and Apples and Macs. Back when the whole room-sized computer, noisy as heck, and very temperamental, had a grand total 16K memory. Whew! How things have changed!

I’m having a party here tomorrow and today I’m doing all the cooking. I doctored up potato salad from a grocery store, made corn salad, and pasta salad. (If you use the calendar on this page and click on the date March 23 you will find the recipe for pasta salad.) Usually grocery store potato salad isn’t worth bringing home. It’s too sweet, too bland, too something or other. I must admit I make good potato salad but I didn’t relish the thought of preparing ten pounds of it. A local IGA in West Milton, Ohio makes a darn good subsitute and I sometimes add a few things to make it “my own.”

I added some chopped celery, chopped red bell pepper, green olives, and some red French dressing, just 1/4 c. for the whole ten pounds. I also added some chopped red onion. Let me tell you it is hard to gently fold those ingredients into a large bowl of potato salad. I hope I didn’t mush it up too much. My taste test found it to be fine.

My neighbor Fern had a party last night and had some leftovers. I am getting the benefit of some of that and trading her some veggies that I hadn’t had time to prepare for a veggie tray that she had leftover. Also, she has a fruit salad that she won’t be able to finish up herself. It pays to have good neighbors, Fern and Jake are the best. Jake gets home from work before Mac and often he’s kind enough to do snow removal duty for us. I wish you all had neighbors as wonderful as the Havliceks.

Until next time, happy dining!

Morgana

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Although it was in my plans, I didn’t fix chicken last night. After catching up with my foodie blogs in the morning, cleaning up the house, running errands, grocery shopping, and planting pansies, I was more in the mood for quick hamburgers than any chicken fixin’.

The hamburgers were good. In the past, we tried to find the best type of ground meat to use for burgers. We read every article we could find on choosing the best meat, grinding it ourselves, combining types of meat, salting, seasoning, frying, grilling, broiling, and then choosing condiments. We tried lots of the suggestions with varying degrees of success. We finally settled for half ground chuck and half  ground sirloin, but we occasionally just use ground chuck. After trying various seasonings and seasoning combinations, we usually just use salt and pepper. However, rather than seasoning the individual patties, we season the all the meat before forming the patties.

One technique that is definitely worth remembering is to form the patties as loosely as possible while still having them cohere. We used to pack them tightly and press the heck out of them while they were frying in the skillet. That’s the way Momma used to do it. No wonder the burgers were dry and hard. There was nowhere for the juices to go but out into the pan. Keeping them loosely packed, and not pressing them down, leaves little spaces for the juices to hide until you bite into one and enjoy the flavor of the beef. The burgers are also much more tender.

I used to eat them rare or medium rare. I still love them that way but, unless I am grinding my own beef, I will cook them to medium. No mad cow disease for me, if I can help it. I did buy chuck roasts and grind the meat at home for a while, but it was such a pain to get the grinder out and wash all the pieces that I quit doing it. If I intended to do it myself I would buy a meat grinder instead of using the clumsy Kitchen Aid attachment to my mixer. 

Another thing we like to do is to toast the buns, sometimes buttered, sometimes just plain. I put them under the broiler for a minute or two until golden brown. It’s a little thing but I think it makes a big difference. I also do it with hot dog buns. But be sure to set a timer for a minute or two or you’ll burn them as I have once or twice.

Blue cheese burgers seem to be in vogue now. I have inserted crumbled blue cheese in the centers of burger before cooking. It’s okay, but I prefer the taste of the beef without the blue cheese. I’ll take the crumbles on my salad, thank you very much.

Tonight we are having pork chops probably with the pork seasoning that I mentioned in an earlier posting here. I have some fresh broccoli to steam and some potatoes to bake, and with a lettuce salad we’ll be all set. I do need to remember to make some dressing. Where’s the blue cheese?

By the way, check my post on Goody-Goody Sauce for hamburgers. Try it – it’s an easy recipe. Just  click on this.

Hope you enjoy your dinner tonight. We will.

Best to you,

Morgana

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picture.jpgWe’ve made it through four letters of the alphabet, the ABC’s of Vegetables. We’ve looked at artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, and cabbage and lastly, dandelion greens. I hope you’ve found at least one recipe that appeals to your culinary adventurous spirit. In doing my research, I have. I found asparagus and cabbage recipes that I plan to fix in the near future. I have them in the stack of about 2,356 other new recipes that I plan to fix in the near future.

I have realized that if I prepare a new recipe for dinner each day, or even three new recipes, I will never use all the recipes I have clipped or bookmarked or saved on one of our three computers. It is a little discouraging, especially since I keep on looking and saving more. I cancelled subscriptions to four of the cooking magazines I was receiving. Now I’m down to four and I plan to cancel one that I used to really enjoy.

Cook’s Illustrated has become tiresome. I have decided that the recipes can be too complex, not difficult mind you, just too complicated to be worth the slight increase in their tasters’ enjoyment. I have tried a lot of the recipes “perfected” by the magazine’s staff and just can’t say that they are often worth the extra step(s) recommended. The last issue comes with an invitation to subscribe to their online site for more recipes and tips. Sorry, but if I’m already paying for the magazine, the last thing I want to see at the bottom of an article is the suggestion to join the online version to see more information about the article. So, I’m going to cancel it. That will reduce my clipped recipe increases by a few per month.

Part of the problem is organizational. If I want to fix a chicken breast recipe for example, I have too many places to look. It can be overwhelming, to say the least. Often I will just say “Heck with it. I’ll just fix a quick saute and deglaze the pan.” Of course, then I have to decide with what to deglaze the pan. Wine? Vinegar? Do I add herbs? Fresh? Dried? Do I need to shop for ingredients?

Every year I declare my resolution to go through my recipes (as if I could do it in a year!) and weed them of repeats, ones that no longer are appealing, or ones that are just too unhealthful for me. You know what they say about the road to hell being paved with good intentions. I must be near pergatory by now.

Anyway, tonight we are having chicken. Maybe I’ll find a new recipe to fix. I have a new cookbook to look through.

Morgana

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We’re still on our trip through the alphabet with vegetables and now that we’re at “D”, I could only find “dandelion greens” and “daikon radish.” I’m sure there must be more “D’s” but since any more must be very limited in availability I decided to stick with the only one I have any experience with and that’s dandelion greens.

Dandelions are the scourge of lawn purists, yellow heads bobbing up among blades of grass, spreading leaves smothering new growth, seeds hiding in gardens waiting for spring’s warmth to pop up unbidden and nearly un-pullable. Yes, I know the flowers are pretty and I enjoyed blowing the white seed heads just like any other child does.  Each one of those spent dandelion flowers probably has hundreds of seeds ready to land somewhere and start growing anew. The taproot grows deeply and stubbornly and once established , the weed (definition of a weed:  any plant growing where it oughtn’t ) holds on for dear life to the soil around it.  This is why homeowner’s and lawn managers resort to chemicals to prevent or stop the growth of the little devils.

By the way, what is the origin of the name “dandelion?” It comes from the French words “dent de lion” or “lion’s tooth,” so called for the deeply lobed shape of the leaves. 

What about the culinary uses?  I’ve  heard of dandelion wine but  never tasted it.  I understand  dandelions are used raw in salads, young leaves and flower buds, but I’ve never tasted that either.  That leaves me to discuss dandelion greens.

I love cooked greens, collards, kale, mustard, chard.  Definitely a comfort food, dandelion greens are required in some homes for a New Year’s Day traditional meal.  We often have it then, with pork and cornbread. Here is how I fix a “mess of greens.”

Greens – serves 8

4-5 pounds greens, all one kind or a mixture

a couple of ham hocks

1-2 onions, chopped coarsely

2 quarts water, or more

1-2 t. salt

pepper

Hot sauce, optional

—————————————

Remove the tough stems and ribs from the greens.  Wash the greens in cold water, three times, or until water is totally clear of sand and mud.

Chop the leaves in roughly 1/2″ pieces.

Put water, ham, and onion in a large stockpot.  Bring it to a boil. 

Add the greens a large handful at a time, stirring after each addition. Return pot to a boil.

Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer the greens for an hour or two.  Remove the ham hocks and cut off any meat if you want to add it to the greens.

Serve with the pot “likker” and hot sauce, if desired.  Soak it up with  cornbread.

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Although it’s more of a cold weather dish for me, it’s great any time of the year.

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Pasta Salad

We’re out of town for the weekend visiting our daughter in Knoxville.  She is expecting a baby girl in a few weeks and we wanted to see her, her husband, and 18 month-old son, Hank, before the big event.

She’s a good cook, as is our other daughter.  They are both not only competent in the kitchen but also cookbook readers; must be in the genes.  We were treated today to a  vegetable hoagie sandwich on a baguette. It was loaded with cheese, tomatoes, green peppers sliced very thin,  red onion, vinaigrette, and red pepper spread (hoagie spread).  She sliced the baguette into 12 easy to handle pieces.

Along with the sandwich, we had pasta salad.  The recipe follows without exact amounts for some ingredients which she adds according to her preference at the moment.   

LEXY’S PASTA SALAD

1/2 lb. pasta (campanelle) cooked and drained

12 cherry tomatoes, quartered

1 head broccoli, divided into florets, washed (blanch if desired)

14 oz. can black olives, halved

scallions, sliced, to taste

sliced pepperoni, cut in half

15 oz. jar marinated artichokes hearts, cut in bite-size pieces

Vinaigrette (red wine vinegar; half olive, half canola oil; garlic; dijon mustard; little bit of mayo and dijon mustard; and.  salt and pepper.)

Mix all in a large bowl.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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The Lowly Cabbage

Kentucky Pride CabbageWell, mon choux, what shall we say about the lowly cabbage? Cole slaw? Cabbage rolls and cabbage soup? Boiled cabbage? Sauerkraut? Cabbage is certainly presented in a variety of forms, world wide. Easily grown, easily stored, it has been a mainstay of diets everywhere, and it provides a good dose of vitamin C.

I love cabbage rolls, filled with meat and rice, and cooked in a tomato sauce with a little sauerkraut. We have a restaurant in town that specializes in Eastern European food and I enjoy the menu’s cabbage rolls on a cool evening in the fall or winter with a good beer.

There are many variations of cole slaw, from the Dutch word koolsla, meaning cabbage salad, some made with vinegar and oil and some made with mayonnaise. Both have their merits and their fans. I prefer the creamy version, although I rarely prepare it. I have a great recipe, with the unusual addition of cilantro, from one of the Cook’s Illustrated books.

Mac and I enjoy braised red cabbage in the fall and winter. Give me a good pork roast, some kind of potatoes, and red cabbage and we’re in hog heaven, a rather apt expression.

BRAISED RED CABBAGE

(This makes a ton, so feel free to halve the ingredients if you’re not feeding an army.)

1 head red cabbage, 2 pounds, quartered, cored and cut the quarters into thirds
2 T. butter
1 onion, sliced
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced
2 bay leaves
10 juniper berries (optional)
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/3 c. cider vinegar
2 T. sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Rinse the cabbage in cold water and set aside. In a large pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Saute the onion and apples for 2 minutes until they begin to soften. Add the bay leaves, cabbage, juniper berries, and broth. Cook for 5 minutes until the cabbage begins to wilt. Stir in the vinegar. Add the sugar, salt andpepper and cook for 20 minutes until the cabbage is soft. Give it a stir now and then. Serve and enjoy. (This recipe was adapted from the Food Network.)

COLESLAW – CREAMY

(Don’t let the salting and draining the cabbage section put you off. This is supposed to keep the cabbage crisp. I didn’t mess with it. I just proceeded to prepare the slaw without salting the cabbage. Don’t use the 1 teaspoon of salt, however. It would probably be too salty if you added that much to the final preparation.)

1/2 (one-lb.) head green cabbage, shredded fine or chopped (about 6 cups)
Salt
1 medium carrot, peeled, shredded
1/3 c. buttermilk
2 T. mayonnaise
2 T. sour cream
1 small shallot,or 2 scallions minced
2 T. minced fresh parsley leaves (or 1 T. cilantro)
1/2 t. cider vinegar (or 1 t. lime juice of using cilantro)
1/4 t. Dijon mustard (omit if using cilantro)
1/2 t. sugar
1/8 t. black pepper or to taste

1. Toss the cabbage and 1 teaspoon salt in a colander or strainer set over a medium bowl. Let stand until the cabbage wilts, at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours.

2. Rinse the cabbage under cold water. Press, but don’t squeeze, to drain. Pat dry with paper towels. Place the wilted cabbage and the carrot in a large bowl.

3. Stir buttermilk, mayonnaise, sour cream, shallot or scallions, parsely or cilantro, vinegar or lime juice, mustard, if using, sugar, 1/4 t. salt, and pepper in a small bowl.
Pour the dressing over the cabbage and refrigerate until read to serve. (Can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

4. Add more buttermilk, mayo or sour cream if you need to.

Enjoy!

Morgana

Photo courtesy Kentucky Department of Agriculture

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Kirby – A Dog’s Life

He came into our lives in October, 1996, a scrawny, long-legged bundle of energy, about to enter his third, fourth or fifth life. If cats are said to have nine lives, surely dogs must have more than one. This dog, rescued from a Washngton, DC animal shelter, started his official “second” life when our daughter took him home to her small apartment already occupied by two cats. When the cats refused to accept his still puppy-like ways, he started his “third” life in Ohio with us.

He must have thought that he was in heaven. A large fenced back yard, another dog to play with, a nice house, warm in winter, and cool in summer, and two more people who would grow to love him like no other dog. Our dog at the time, Jesse James, was five years old, and somewhat set in her ways, but she accepted Kirby and the two of them chased around the house and yard with wild abandon.

How to describe Kirby? Part terrier, part hound, deep chested, tiny waist, long, skinny legs. Sparse fur which grew in a coarse-looking manner, but was surprisingly soft to the touch. Mostly white, with a few large tan spots, black spots on his pink skin, big ears, long tail, with one eye rimmed in black which made it appear smaller than the other. He was definitely an original. He always drew attention wherever he went. “What kind of dog is that?” was heard countless times. Our standard answer was “He’s a Kirby,” a true one and only.

He had the mannerisms of Tramp, from the Disney movie, spunky, and boyish to the nth degree. His favorite pastime was chasing tennis balls, a not unusual activity for dogs, but he did it in his own way. When my husband mowed the lawn, he would throw the tennis ball for Kirby, who would run at speed to fetch it. He was smart enough to drop the ball right in the path of the mower to ensure that it would be thrown again immediately. This made lawn mowing take a little more time, but he never tired of chasing the ball during the whole hour and a half, and he would gladly sacrifice a torn claw to retrieve the ball after one bounce.

In his first life, Kirby must have known love and attention. He came to the animal shelter totally housetrained, understanding the word “NO” and quickly learned the boundaries of our unfenced front yard. He was obedient, always came to us when called, and although a little destructive in the beginning, quickly learned what he was allowed and not allowed to chew on. He only strayed once, during a heavy snowstorm when he wandered between two neighboring houses and found himself on the street behind us, slightly disoriented. We were outside with him shoveling snow and when we missed him, we scattered and luckily found him right away.

When Jesse James died, we waited a year to get another dog. The new one was Little Dixie, a Maltese puppy. Kirby’s gentle nature let him adopt her and put up with her chewing on his heels, ears, and tail. In spite of the great difference in their sizes, the two of them played and chased each other around the house. His only fault was in not sharing toys with her. He would carry his stash of toys upstairs, one by one, and hide them from her in a guest bedroom. If we bought tiny toys for her and big toys for him, he learned to leave the tiny ones alone, but he never let her play with any of his.

We have always wondered what his early life was like. When our daughter first adopted him, he was filthy, with grease stains on his back. He had obviously been living on the streets for a while. I’m sure he had some unpleasant memories but he kept them to himself. His only outward fear was of thunder and fireworks, a common fear for dogs. He was boarded over one fourth of July weekend while we were back in DC visiting our daughter. When we returned, the kennel owners told us that he had escaped the kennel and they had no idea where he was. We were horrified and spent two days with the help of friends searching for him. When we finally got a phone call telling us that he was found, we were so relieved. During his flight, probably caused by his panic at the sound of fireworks nearby, he was clever enough to go up to the front door of a house where the lights were on. He looked in the screen door and the people inside finally saw him and were kind enough to give him food and water. He stayed on their porch overnight and they finally let him inside to rest. I must have walked and driven right by that house several times while I was searching for him never knowing he was safe inside. Those wonderful people called the animal shelter who had already been notified by the kennel. They put two and two together and that’s how Kirby was rescued yet again. He sat on my lap during the twenty minute ride home and cried the whole time, as if trying to tell me about his frightening adventure.

That was the last time he was boarded at that place. They never told me how he managed to get out, if they even knew. He definitely didn’t like confinement, maybe due to  his memory of being at the animal shelter in DC. When we found a reliable indoor boarding kennel, with several doors between the boarding area and the outside, we were lucky that Maureen, the kennel mistress, developed a deep connection with Kirby. He was only in a cage at night, when the kennel staff left for the day. The rest of the time, he was allowed in the staff room, the office, the supply room, wherever he wasn’t in the way. They gave us a photo of him curled up in an empty kitty litter box in their storeroom. Another time, he slept wrapped around their fax machine, on the counter in the office. But eventually, as he got older, his extreme fear of being caged was more than he could bear. During his last kenneling, he destroyed the heavy stainless steel kennel door, and became so distraught that the kennel mistress had the vet in the facility examine him and sedate him because his life was in danger.

Fortunately, he survived the ordeal and we decided never to kennel him again. We found “Ark Angels”, a pet sitting service that was a loving alternative for the times we had to leave town for a few days. Wonderful neighbors filled in when family emergencies prevented our arranging for pet sitters. Our DC daughter eventually moved to our town and Kirby was reunited with his original “Mommy” rescuer. Although he lived with us, the two of them had a special bond, evidenced by the way he “talked” to her whenever she came to our house.

He also “talked” to my sister from New York. She loved Kirby as if he were her own. And the two of them would sing “You are My Sunshine”. He would relish the opportunity to sleep in bed with her whenever she spent the night with us.

Yesterday, unquestionably the hardest day of our life, we had our dear Kirby put down. After a mercifully short illness, heart failure, he was unable to do much more than lift his head. He refused medication after a few days and we stopped forcing the pills on him. We spent his last few days giving him small bits of steak, scrambled eggs, and more steak. Our dedicated vet and his wife spent a generous amount of time with us and we finally left Kirby there, secure in the knowlege that he was in no pain and would never have any more fears. Oddly enough, we had a thunderstorm soon after we arrived home. It was some consolation that Kirby was not bothered by those thunder claps. It was the only bright thing in the whole dark, dismal day.

I know the pain we feel will ease, but there will always be our deep, abiding love for the very special dog Kirby who will be missed by many, many people.

UPDATE:
It’s been three months and I still cannot read this without crying. I suppose I always will.
We did get another dog, a black male cockapoo, who is adorable. If “Knuckles” develops into a dog just half as great as Kirby, we will be lucky indeed.
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Roasted Chicken

I had a request for the roast chicken we had last week.  Very simple, really.

Whole chicken, about 3 1/2 pounds

3-4 large carrots, peeled and cut in 2″ chunks

2 onions, in thick wedges

2 stalks celery, cut in 2″ chunks

Salt, pepper, paprika, whatever herbs or spices you want

Preheat oven to 450.

Rinse the chicken, inside and out, and pat the outside dry with paper towels.  Season the outside of the chicken with the salt, pepper and paprika.  Place in a shallow roasting pan on top of the vegetables.

Roast uncovered for 30 minutes. Turn oven down to 375 and continue roasting until the juices run clear when the thickest part of the thigh is poked. (About another 30-45 minutes.)

Remove from oven. Take the chicken out of the roaster and cover it with foil to keep it hot. Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon and place them in a small serving bowl. Take as much fat out of the roasting pan as possible. Then add flour, 1-2 tablespoons, to the remaining juices in the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, to cook the flour. Add 3/4 to 1 cup chicken broth and cook, stirring, until gravy thickens.  You may add a tablespoon of cream to enrich the sauce if desired. 

Slice the chicken, cut off legs, thighs and serve with the gravy.

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Try a Mojito

mojito_4.jpgIf you’re looking for a refreshing cocktail to add to your bartending repertoire, you might consider the mojito. A traditional Cuban drink, it is easy to make, most easily done ahead of time, and requires no unusual ingredients, or fancy liqueurs.

Here is my recipe, provided by El Meson, a Spanish heritage restaurant in Ohio.

To get in the right frame of mind listen to the music.

Mojito 

2 oz. white rum
1 1/2 oz. lime juice
1 1/2 oz. simple syrup*
1 oz. club soda
mint leaves
lime wedge, for garnish, optional

Muddle 3 mint leaves in the bottom of a tall glass. Fill with ice. Mix rum, lime juice and syrup in glass. Add club soda and lime wedge for garnish.

*equal parts sugar and water, heat and stir to dissolve sugar.

To prepare it ahead of time for a party, increase the amounts proportionately according to the number of drinks you wish to make. Make the syrup ahead of time and mix all the liquids, except the club soda, in a pitcher. Keep refrigerated. When ready to serve, muddle the leaves in each glass and pour 5 ounces of the mojito mix and add an ounce of soda. Garnish and serve.

Enjoy!

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driedbeans.jpg  After a preview of spring to come with two days of 70 degree temperature, a cold spell has arrived to remind us that it is March, not April and the “lion” has not yet given way to the “lamb”.  Yesterday, with cold wind and rain, it seemed like a good day for soup.  I awoke at 3:30am, tossed and turned a while, then remembered my chicken carcass in the refrigerator. 

I had roasted a chicken Tuesday evening.  We only ate  half the meat for dinner and I wrapped up the carcass with remaining meat still attached, and refrigerated it.  Yesterday at 4:30 am, I got the chicken, saved what meat was easily removed, and put the rest of the carcass into a pot of water to make broth.  So, by 5:30 the kitchen smelled like chicken soup.  Not a bad way to start the day.

I fixed chicken salad with the leftover chicken, enough for two or three, and made soup, enough for an army.  I used a container of mixed beans, red, black, pinto, navy, split peas, lentils, and I don’t know what else.  I did the quick soak method for preparing the beans, which I had already picked over.  I boiled them for a minute, covered the pot, and let it sit for an hour.  I drained the water, refilled the pot with the chicken broth made earlier in the day (about 5 cups were produced) and a few more cups of water. I added 2 ham hocks, a couple of sliced onions, and cooked the beans at a simmer, for about 3 hours.  The last hour I added two stalks of celery and 1 large carrot, chopped. I cut off whatever ham I could find on the hocks and put the ham into the soup.  I also added 2 cans of diced tomatoes, a red pepper cut into bits, and 2 large garlic cloves, a tablespoon of red wine vinegar, a pinch of ginger, salt, and lots of black pepper.  I let this simmer another hour and then we tasted it. My husband suggested adding some sugar (?) and I added about a tablespoonful for the whole pot. Then it was time to cool it down before storing it in the refrigerator.  Out came the stainless steel bowls and I pour some soup into each.  After it had cooled a while, I transferred it into smaller containers.

I gave some to my daughter to take home but we still have enough for twenty meals.  I may freeze some, because I know we will never eat it all before it would spoil.  I’ll get a loaf of good country bread, ciabatta, or sourdough, and we can enjoy a soup, cheese, bread meal or two over the weekend.

If it’s chilly where you are, maybe it’s going to be a soup day for you, too.  If so, happy slurping!

Morgana

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Keep those empty spice jars when you use the last teaspoon. Every now and then you will come upon a recipe for a spice/herb mixture or a dry rub. Mix it up and fill your  empty jar. Just label it and store it away. 

 I have a jar of a spice marinade from an old Julia Child cookbook, “The Way to Cook.”  It is for pork, pates, sausages, goose and duck.  Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t cook goose or duck and don’t mix my own sausage, although I might someday. Therefore, I can only say that the spice mixture is indeed good for pork.  I have rubbed it on roasts and chops with good results. If you have an old coffee grinder you can use it to grind up anything whole.  Clean the grinder with dry rice and it’s ready for next time.

I used the dry marinade last night on pork chops and to flavor a quick sauce.  First, I seasoned the two chops with a little salt and black pepper then sprinkled a little of the spice mix on both sides.  Next, I dredged them in flour and shook off the excess.

Then I sauteed the chops in a little olive oil in a skillet.  After a two or three  minutes on each side, the chops and the skillet went into a preheated 375 degree oven for ten minutes while I got the rest of the dinner under way. We had potato salad already fixed, and I had made Greek salad dressing and washed lettuce earlier in the day.  All I had to do was peel and slice cucumber, chop some green bell peppers, slice up some roasted red pepper, halve some Kalamata olives and toss it all together with  tomato wedges and feta cheese for garnishing.

When I removed the skillet from the oven, I sprinkled 1/4 teaspoon of the spice mixture in the skillet and then deglazed the pan with 1/4 cup white wine. I added 1/4 cup chicken broth and cooked that for a few minutes to thicken it slightly and then added about  one tablespoon of heavy cream with a little salt.  I served this over the chops and it was very good.  Try it, but get the marinade ready in advance.

JULIA CHILD’S DRY PORK MARINADE AND SEASONING MIX

(Makes about 1 1/4 c., so reduce amounts if necessary to fit your container.)

2 T. each ground: imported bay leaf, clove, mace, nutmeg, paprika, and thyme

1 T. each ground: allspice, cinnamon, and savory

5 T. white peppercorns, ground

———————–

Blend it all together and store in a screw-top jar.

Use up to 1/2 t. per pound of meat

By the way, when putting your skillet in the oven to finish cooking, be sure you have an ovenproof handle.  Also, be sure not to grab the handle once it is removed from the oven.  It’s so easy (I know – I’ve done it!) to just grab the handle to stir up a sauce, forgetting that it is probably 350 degrees and will leave quite a burn after only 1 second. Keep a hot pad over the handle or find one of those grips that fit over the handle. pan-handle.jpgAmazon.com

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More on Broccoli

My sister and her husband live in Brooklyn where they enjoy the availability of many ethnic restaurants. They are both adventurous people, both in travel, and in culinary endeavors. They have spent time in India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Cambodia.

Ellen has been visiting Sri Lanka since the early l970’s where she spent nearly a year studying dance. She has returned there several times both to visit old friends and to continue her studies as well as to film a documentary on Sri Lankan rituals and festivals.

Bruce is currently back in Thailand where he is working with his Thai friends on art projects, mainly a beautiful mural depicting Thai and Cambodian folklore. I have seen portions of the work and it is very impressive. In a month or so, he and Ellen will be going to Cambodia for more work on the project and, I believe, a showing of his work.

For several years, Ellen worked at the James Beard House where she was able to meet some of the best chefs in the country. The Foundation’s mission is to celebrate, preserve, and nuture America’s culinary heritage and diversity in order to elevate the appreciation of our culinary excellence. She observed food preparation and service and had a valuable education in American cuisine at its best.

Ellen is an intuitive cook, much more so than I. I like the security of recipes, but Ellen has more of a natural instinct with an adventurous flair. She occasionally caters events both large and small and tackles each job head on successfully. Cooking over an open fire? No problem. For several years, while renovating their vacation home in the Adirondacks, the lack of a kitchen did’t stop her from preparing delicious meals. We had bacon and blueberry pancakes, corn chowder and more all prepared over an outdoor fire pit.

Here is the broccoli recipe from Ellen that I described in the prior post. Use your own intuitition for the amounts. Go easy on the sesame oil (the dark variety) unless you know you like a lot of it.

BROCCOLI:

Blanch brocolli spears by dropping in boiling salt water for 3 -4 minutes.
Then shock with ice water and drain.
Put some olive oil & sesame oil in frying pan, add sliced garlic and fresh or bottled ginger slices, and cook for a few minutes, add soy sauce & sugar… to taste. Pour over room temperature broccoli and serve.

Sorry I do not have the measurements, but do by sight & taste
Enjoy.
Ellen

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The bane of many children’s, and adults’, dinner plates, broccoli has always been a favorite of mine.  As a child, I ate frozen broccoli spears, sometimes with cheese sauce, and sometimes just plain, but I don’t remember even seeing fresh broccoli in the local groceries.

I have found and enjoyed many different casseroles, soups and salads with broccoli as a main ingredient and am always on the lookout for something new. At the bottom of this post, I will give you a recipe for a broccoli salad that often appears on our Christmas Eve Feast menu. This might be the “something new” that you are looking for.

It would be hard to find another vegetable as loaded with nutritional goodies as broccoli.  Full of vitamin A, C, B1, B2, B3, B6,  iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and zinc, it has lots of the trace mineral chromium as well as phytochemicals. Look for dark green flowerets and stems without hollow cores to be sure to get the freshest possible.

I always cut a shallow “X” in the bottom of the stems before steaming broccoli, which supposedly helps them cook faster.  I never peel the stems, although I see recipes that call for it. Sometimes a sprinkling of Parmesan is all that I do before serving and sometimes I fix a cheese sauce. My sister fixes a delicious broccoli dish with lots of garlic and soy sauce. I’ll get the recipe from her and pass it along later.

We used to have a phony “Eggs Benedict” for dinner.  I would top toasted English muffins with a poached egg and surround it with broccoli. With cheddar cheese sauce on top, it was a delicious dinner, although not exactly low fat, the way I made the cheese sauce. I had a recipe that was delicious for extremely quick cheese sauce: 1 c. milk, 1 c. mayonnaise, and 1 c. grated cheddar cheesePut in a saucepan, whisk together and cook over med-low heat, with a stir now and then.  Mmmmmm. That served 4 people but was still rather heavy on the fat and calories.  An optional addition to the above is a slice of canadian bacon, or even ham chunks added to the cheese sauce.  Broccoli is what made that dish attractive as well as tasty, and added some good nutrients to boot.

BROCCOLI-CAULIFLOWER SALAD

large head broccoli, cut into florets, thickest part of the stems reserved for soup.

head cauliflower, cut into florets

4 strips bacon, cooked, drained and chopped

1/2 c. red onion, chopped

1/2 c.Mayonnaise

1/2 c. Green goddess dressing*

1/2 t. Celery seed

Black pepper

1 ripe tomato, cut into wedges, or cherry tomatoes for garnish

——————-

In a large mixing bowl, mix mayonnaise and green goddess dressing with seasonings and bacon pieces.  Add the broccoli, cauliflower and onion and stir gently.  Refrigerate overnight or at least 6 hours.  Garnish with tomato wedges or cherry tomatoes, halved if large, just before serving.

* Green Goddess dressing can be hard to find.  I use 7 Seas when I can find it.  If I can’t find it,  I sometimes substitute creamy italian dressing, but look for the green goddess, it makes a difference. But here is a recipe for making your own.

Happy dining,

Morgana

Photo credit

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A is for Asparagus

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Asparagus is a vegetable that we were served only occasionally when I was a child. Mother opened a can of asparagus spears and heated them on the stove with a couple of tablespoon of butter.  I rather liked the funny-smelling, slimy little devils. 

At some point I had fresh asparagus, probably steamed, but not within an inch of its life.  It was tender but still had some body.  I don’t remember if it had a sauce or not. But I do remember wondering how something this green, and tasty became the yellowish, slimy pseudo-asparagus of my youth.

I have not had canned asparagus, or frozen, since then.  Now that fresh asparagus is available year-round, there is no reason to settle for second, or third best. 

One bundle of asparagus can serve the two of us easily, maybe even with some leftovers.  I usually steam it and sometimes serve it with a dollop of a super quick dijon/tarragon sauce*, and sometimes just rolled in browned butter.

Last spring, I had a delicious asparagus and spring pea soup at Panera. As soon as I could, I went to Panera’s website where nutritional and ingredient listings are available for menu items.  I found the ingredients for their asparagus soup, and after “googling” for other similar recipes, came up with my own interpretation. I thought it was good and prepared it a few times when fresh peas were available at the farmer’s market.  Someday, I’ll share the recipe with you.

Asparagus is a vegetable that a lot of people dislike.  One reason may be one of the peculiar aspects of asparagus-eating, the peculiar odor appearing in the urine of some people soon after eating it. Apparently, only 40% of the population displays this odor, and only 40% can detect it.  Curiouser and curiouser.The United States is the world’s largest producer of asparagus, mainly in Michigan, Washington and California. Peru exports the most asparagus followed by China and Mexico. 

*Dijon/Tarragon Sauce for Asparagus(The amounts depend of how many people are to be served. The following amounts are for at least two generous servings.)

Mix the following and serve on cooked asparagus:

2 T.Mayonnaise (Hellmans’, of course)

1 t. Dijon mustard1

t. Dried tarragon, or fresh if you have it——————————-Photo credit

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What a treat! Our great friends, Ralph and Mary Ethel treated us to a magnificent dinner at Jag’s, a relatively new restaurant north of Cincinnati and about an hour south of where we live. They had dined there once before and had been raving about how good the food was. We were invited to go with them to celebrate Mac’s and my March birthdays.

Luckily, the weather cooperated and we had a most pleasant drive from their house to the restaurant. No ice, snow, rain, or cold weather, just a clear blue sky that later revealed more stars than I’d seen in a long time.  Before leaving their house, we stood in their driveway and watched a deer nibbling on acorns in the backyard.  Soon two more ambled out of the woods to join the other.  With only a few glances in our direction, they nibbled in peace.

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The restaurant has a beautiful, classic and classy club-like atmosphere, dark, rich woods,  several well-appointed dining rooms, raw bar, piano lounge, and a menu replete with tasty offerings.  The presentation of the food was modern, but not intimidating; no architectural wonders threatening to topple over when touched by a fork. The service was prompt, correct, and not obtrusive. The courses arrived well-timed from the kitchen.  It always irritates me to have my salad brought before I’ve had time to enjoy a cocktail or glass of wine, and then the entree rushed right out before I’ve finished my salad.  I do tend to linger over a salad and often enjoy nibbling on it while enjoying the entree, so it must be hard for a server to judge when to remove my salad plate. It was no problem at Jag’s. 

 My salad was a mixture of greens with some raw vegetables and the house red wine vinaigrette on the side.  The dressing was the first indication that the meal to follow would be great.  I often gauge a restaurant by it’s salad dressing.  (I would miss salads more than desserts if forced to omit one or the other.) This one was perfectly emulsified, slightly creamy but not thick, faintly garlicky, not too  much vinegar, just the way I like it.  I will be trying to duplicate it in the future. My entree, after much deliberation, was the sea bass with a Thai chili beurre blanc that had just the right amount of heat for my taste. It was served with garlic mashed potatoes, perfectly cooked asparagus spears, and julienned carrots.  The generous portion of sea bass was cooked just right and I managed to save some to bring home with some leftover potatoes. Mary Ethel also had the sea bass which she had ordered the first time she ate at Jag’s.

The gentlemen ordered steak. Ralph had the Kobe filet, just to see if it was worth the extraa $$$.  The Verdict?  Undecided, which I guess means it wasn’t worth the $$$.  You would think that upon the first bite, the heavens would open up and choirs of angels would sing if it was significantly better. But it’s hard to decide without a blind tasting. Mac had a New York strip steak.  Everyone’s beef was great, prepared and served carefully.  The boys had au gratin potatoes, Ralph with fresh steamed green beans, and Mac with a forest of beautiful broccoli.                                                                    

 menu-food1.jpgFor dessert our friends shared a sundae, certainly big enough for two to share.  Mac ordered the key lime torte which I sampled a few times. It was a light dessert,  tart and sweet,  not filling.  The perfect ending to a perfect meal.

We were wondering where the name “Jag’s” came from.  There was a beautiful gold new Jaguar parked in front – a connection? Nice ride.

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I wanted to use beef cubes bought earlier in the week and found a recipe for Beef Stroganoff adapted for the crockpot.  It’s one of the “dreaded” recipes that calls for browning the meat before putting it in the crockpot.  I had the time for that step and I had all the ingredients necessary.

I made a few additions to the ingredients which made it especially good.  I’m sorry I only made enough for one meal with just a little leftover. It was very good. I served it with mashed potatoes instead of the usual noodles.

This recipe is from The Slow Cooker Ready & Waiting Cookbook.

Beef Stroganoff  – 4-6 servings

2 T. oil, more if needed

2 1/2 lbs. beef cubes, 2″ pieces, well trimmed of fat

1 t. Sweet Hungarian paprika

1/2 t. salt

1/4 t. pepper, or to taste

1 lb. fresh mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed and sliced thickly

2 medium onions, sliced

1/2 c. beef broth

1/4 c. water

1 T. cornstarch

1 c. sour cream

2 T. fesh dill or 1 t. dried dill (I used dried)

Hot cooked noodles

——————————————–

(My additions: 1 clove garlic, 1 t. tomato paste*, 1 t. “Glace de Viande Gold”**)

1.  In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the beef, in batches without crowding and cook, turning often until browned on all sides.  Transfer to a 3 1/2 Qt. slow cooker.  Season with the paprika, salt and pepper and stir well.

2. Add the mushrooms and onions to the skillet and add more oil if necessary. Add the garlic. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms exude their liquid and begin to brown.  Add the beef broth and water and stir to scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the skillet.  (At this point, I added the tomato paste and Glace de Viande.)  Transfer sauce to the slow cooker. 

3. Cover and cook 7-8 hours on low heat.

4. With a slotted spoon, remove the beef and vegetables to a serving bowl and cover to keep warm.

5. In a small bowl, whisk the sour cream with the cornstarch and dill.  Stir into the slow cooker and cookk until the sauce has thickened somewhat, about 5 minutes.  Pour the sauce over the meat and serve.

* I love the tomato paste in tubes so much that I bought a whole case of it since I can’t always find it in my neighborhood grocery.  I know all about dividing the remaining paste in the can into tablespoon-sized dollops and freezing them, then wrapping them individually in plastic and bagging them up for use later.  I’ve tried it and then can’t find the small bag of paste lost in the far reaches of the freezer.  Trust me, the tubes are better. I keep the opened one in a quart plastic container along with tubes of pesto and anchovy paste.

** Glace de Viande Gold – It’s a small container (1.5oz) of reduced brown stock. The addition of a teaspoon of the thick gelatinous substance is enough to add richness to any  beef-based sauce  you are  making.  For a larger amount of liquid, such as for a soup base, the entire container could be used. Available at this website or through Amazon and gourmet shops.

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The artichoke is a member of the thistle family, a fact confirmed when one sees the purple blooms that match the pesky weeds in the garden.  The edible part is actually the immature flower bud.   

180px-artichoke01.jpg   We in the United States can thank the French who imported them to New Orleans and the Spanish who brought them to California where nearly 100% of the artichoke crop is cultivated, mainly in Monterey County, where Castroville declares itself to be “The Artichoke Center of the World.”

What keeps more people from buying and cooking artichokes is the rather intimidating list of steps needed to get to the heart of the matter. First, if you plan to leave the artichoke uncooked, to stuff it, for example, you must prepare a bowl of water with the lemon juice into which you plunge the artichoke which will start to turn brown when cut.  With a chef’s knife, cut off the top inch of the artichoke, and cut the stem flush with the base.  Then you must deal with the thorns at the tips of the leaves which stagger in a spiral around the outside of the vegetable. It’s easier to use a pair of scissors to remove them.

If you are going to cook the artichoke, you can either boil, steam or microwave it. In this case, it isn’t necessary to de-thorn the leaves since they will soften during cooking. Some people prefer to remove the thorns anyway because they like the look of it. To boil it, stand it upright in a deep saucepan with 3 inches of boiling water to which oil, and lemon juice may be added. Cover and boil gently 25 to 40 minutes, depending on size, until the base can be easily pierced. Stand it upside down to drain. Steam an artichoke on a rack above an inch or two of boiling water, covered, for 25 to 45 minutes. For microwaving, set it upside down in a small glass bowl like a 2 cup glass measuring cup with 1/4 c. water, 1/2 t. each lemon juice and oil.  Cover with plastic wrap and cook 6 to 7 minutes. Let stand covered 5 minutes.

To eat the artichoke, pull each leaf off,  and, holding the cut end drag the bottom half of the leaf through your teeth, skimming the soft flesh into your mouth. Some people dip this in drawn butter or into a dipping sauce. You can find a variety of dip recipes at the California Artichoke Advisory board website. When you get to the fuzzy, purple “choke” scoop it out and discard it.  Under it is the “heart”, the favorite part for some people, your truly included.  It has a nutty, buttery flavor that can stand alone or be accompanied by a marinade, or sauce such as  bearnaise.

I promised you a recipe using artichoke hearts and I will deliver. Unfortunately, I can’t remember where I found the recipe. I suspect it was from the “Everyday Food” magazine.  We really enjoyed it and I passed the recipe on to my daughters who enjoyed it as well. It is easy and quick.

CHICKEN WITH ARTICHOKES AND SUN-DRIED TOMATOES (serves 2)

2 Boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Kosher salt and black pepper

1 T. flour

4 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and sliced

1T. and 1 t. olive oil

1/2 c. water or chicken broth

1/2 can artichoke hearts, in water, drained and cut in half

4 green onions , thinly sliced(I used more)

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

Prepared couscous, optional

————————-

1. Place the chicken between wet plastic wrap sheets.  Pound carefully to 1/2 inch thickness.

2. In a medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil on medium heat.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper and dust lightly with flour, shaking off excess. Saute until golden brown and cooked through, 2-3 minutes per side if you pounded them thinly enough.  Remove to plate and cover with foil to keep warm.

3. To the pan, add garlic, scallions, and the water or  chicken broth. Bring to a boil, scraping up all the good browned bits on the bottom of the skillet.  Add the artichokes, tomatoes and the rest of the oil.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Return the chicken to the pan and cook, stirring until the sauce has been reduced slightly.

4.  Serve with couscous and the sauce.

I hope you try this recipe.  If you do, comment at the bottom of any post and let me know.

Best,

Morgana

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I thought it might be interesting to explore the Wonderful World of Vegetables in a series of posts featuring a vegetable for each letter of the alphabet.  So, when I have to particular food topic to discuss, or great recipe to share, I will pick a vegetable in alphabetical order.  There may be a letter for which I will talk about more than one vegetable.  We’ll just have to wait and see how this turns out. 

So much nutritional advice recommends the addition of ever more vegetables to our daily diet.  If the vegetarians have any sway, we will soon be implored to have a 100% diet of vegetables.  I can understand someone’s impetus to become a vegetarian, for ethical, conservation, religious, or health reasons.  I just wish that the moral superiority that some vegetarians assume would be replaced with my “a chacun son gout” (to each his own) philosophy.

Anyway, the USDA provides nutritional recommendations in their periodically updated food pyramid. It is an interactive site, and after one provides the required age, sex, weight, height, and activity levels, a personal food pyramid is generated with specific amounts of each category detailed.  Your tax dollars at work.

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The orange slice represents the grains portion, green for vegetables, red for fruit, yellow for oil, blue for milk, and purple for meat.  My personal USDA recommended pyramid suggests 7 oz. grains, 3 c. vegetables, 2 c. fruit, 6 t. oil, 3 c. milk, and 6 oz. meat per day.   

The next “Vegetable” posting will be the first in the series, featuring the letter “A”, in green instead of scarlet.  I think it will be about artichokes.  That is a vegetable that I eat only in its cooked, peeled, de-choked, and preferably marinated state.  It was a vegetable never served in my childhood; I have never cooked an artichoke; I did get a sample when my sister prepared one once and really can’t remember much about it.  Tomorrow, I will provide a recipe that uses artichoke hearts that is one of my favorites and we will explore other uses.  Who knows?Maybe I’ll become adventurous and actually prepare a fresh one. 

Stay tuned and happy dining!

Morgana

PS.  If you have a vegetable recipe request, send me a comment and I will try to provide one for you.

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Brazilian Chicken

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I mentioned yesterday that I was preparing a new recipe and would review it today. Here is a photo, the best I could take last night at 10:00pm. We were taking care of Annabelle while her parents took her brother Xan to the hospital for Xrays.  He fell out of bed yesterday and had been complaining all day of a sore neck and head.  All was well, but in the meantime, Anna was here playing, wearing her “Princess” dress and watching “Peter Pan” and “Cinderella” while playing with toy trains and my box of “critters.” So, dinner was a little late, but fortunately it was easy to prepare and very tasty.

The recipe was included in  a newsletter from one of the best grocery stores in Ohio, if not in the country.  It is Dorothy Lane Market, with three stores in the area, and the closest is about 20 miles from our house.  We go to one of the stores  about once a month because of the quality, display, and merchandise beyond what one finds in a typical grocery, even the big box ones. 

The original store is on the small side but it is a model of what one can do with imagination and creativity in order to make the most of the relatively small space. The two newer stores benefit from the owner’s experience as well as the expertise of consultants. They are larger without being so large that it is an effort to go from one end of the store to the other.  The staff must be comparatively large, because the shelves are always well stocked, displays are attractive and some are tended, samples are frequent and fresh. A service meat counter provides the basic cuts of meat as well as others that are impossible to find at regular chain stores -lots of fish and seafood, as well as cuts of veal and other specialty meats.  When I’m in the mood for veal chops, I shop for them at Dorothy Lane where  I can get beautiful thick chops that I know will be delicious. I could go on about the various departments, but suffice it to say that they are all well done. A newsletter is available on-line as well as weekly specials emailed to customers requesting it. The store is a veritable cook’s paradise, so much so that I occasionally think about moving, just to be closer to it.

Back to the recipe! The newletter credits the original recipe to Ann Heller, the  food columnist in the Dayton Daily News. I followed the recipe with only a few exceptions.  I halved the ingredients, since I was only serving two adults and one child, and I substituted brown rice for the whole wheat spaghetti. I also used a can of diced tomatoes instead of fresh ones, and only drained some of the juice. I used 2 halves of chicken breast, 1/2 large green pepper, and a can of white corn instead of frozen.

I hope you try it and if so, I hope you enjoy it.  Mac and I did; Anna wasn’t too excited about it. She wanted to get back to “Peter Pan”. I have enough leftover for a good lunch.

Morgana

BRAZILIAN CHICKEN – Serves 8

(To shorten the prep time, make the marinade the day ahead, or in the morning. Then marinate the chicken at dinner time while you fix the vegetables.)

Marinade: Mix all together.

1/3 c. olive oil

2/3 c. fresh lime juice (about 2 large limes)

2/3 c. chopped fresh cilantro

1 or 2 fresh jalapenos, seeded and finely chopped

1 T. minced garlic

1 t. ground cumin

1/2 t. sea salt

——–

1 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into thin strips

15-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 1/2 lb. tomatoes (about 5), seeded and chopped

2 small green peppers, seeded and chopped

10-oz. bag frozen corn, thawed

1 bunch green onions, sliced

1 T. olive oil

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 lb. whole wheat spaghetti, freshly cooked

————-

Place the chicken in a shallow glass dish (or strong plastic bag) and spoon about 1/3 of the marinade over it. Toss well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Meanwhile, place the beans, tomatoes,green peppers, corn, and onions in a large bowl.  Pour remaining marinade over the vegetables and stir to mix.  Refrigerate until chicken is ready.

Place 1 tablespoon of oil in  large skillet and heat to medium high.  Add the chicken and cook, stirring, for about 6 minutes, or until cooked through.  Add the vegetables to the skillet; reduce heat to medium and simmer until the vegetables begin to soften, 3-5 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve over spaghetti.

Per serving: 494 calories (25% from fat; 14g total fat; 2g saturated fat; 49 mg cholesterol;217 mg sodium; 62 g total carbohydrates; 34g protein)

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This morning I prepared my version of the “Egg McMuffin” from McDonalds, toasted English muffins, thin slice of Canadian bacon, fried egg and a piece of American cheese.  I was a hungry girl this morning and this was perfect.  A veddy, veddy Anglo breakfast, English, Canadian, American, inspired by a “Scottish” restaurant. Okay, that’s a stretch.

I was treated to lunch today for my birthday which is in two days. My two knitting buddies took me to “Mimi’s Cafe”, which is very appropriately named, since my grandchildren call me “Mimi.”  This is the first in our area and has received good reviews. I ordered the Thai chicken rolls which came with a very nice  salad.  By that I mean it was just right for lunch, not one of those huge platters, full of iceberg lettuce and bacon bits. It was red leaf lettuce, maybe a little romaine, with ripe strawberry slices on top. It had a tasty but mild balsamic vinaigrette dressing which didn’t fight with the spicy peanut sauce for the Thai chicken rolls which were wrapped not in rice paper but in a tortilla.  Everything was very good and I will be returning to sample some of their other dishes.

For dinner tonight, we are having a dish with chicken (I guess it’s a chicken day), black beans, corn, green onions, lime juice with brown rice on the side.  It’s a new recipe so I will review it tomorrow and give you the instructions.

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swiss-chard.jpgAt  At the market yesterday, I bought two bunches of swiss chard.  It was beautiful, a combination of bright red stems and deep green leaves.  I had to buy it.  I knew exactly how I was going to fix it also and couldn’t wait until today to do so. 

I wanted to fix steak tonight – a real steak and potatoes meal to start the week off right.  With a good salad and healthy vegetable, we could be assured of great taste and a healthful meal.  Mac and I split a thick New York strip steak, on sale at our meat market this week. He had a baked potato and I passed on the extra carbs and butter I would have used to adorn it.  Our salad was a pseudo-Greek salad,  all the fixings, without the lettuce.   Lemon juice, olive oil, kalamata olives, cucumber, green bell pepper, red onion, feta cheese, a little roasted red pepper, and salt and pepper. Hmmmm.  I could eat that every other night.  I hear my niece Marian fixes a mean Greek salad.  I can’t wait to taste hers but  I’ve never met one I didn’t like. 

The swiss chard was a simple dish; it took no more than 15 minutes to get it ready to bake.  The hardest part was getting it clean.  Three rinses in my dishpan and a good spinning in the salad spinner and it was ready to rough cut in approximately 2″ pieces, stems and all. Then it was into 1/2″ of boiling water in a large sauce pan for 5-6 minutes, covered, while I chopped up a small onion and grated about a 1/4 cup of Swiss cheese.  (Let’s hear it for the Swiss! Cheese and Chard!)We should have been drinking “Swiss Miss” instead of a bottle of wine.  Nah.)  After the chard was drained it was mixed with 1 T. olive oil, the cheese, some salt and pepper,  and then into a shallow baking pan, a gratin dish is perfect, although a glass pie pan would be fine. Fifteen minutes in a 375 degree oven, next to a baking potato and the skillet with our steak and it was good to go.

The steak was indeed thick, at least 1 1/2″.  I put a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saute pan, and while that was heating up, I seasoned the steaks with salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper.  The steaks went into the hot skillet for 3 minutes on one side, 2 on the other and then into the 375 oven for 10 minutes with the rest. It was medium-medium rare.  I didn’t make a sauce for the steak.  We didn’t need one.  Everything was perfect.

This time, I remembered to put a hot pad over the handle of the skillet.  A few months ago, I burnt the you-know-what out of my hand by grabbing the handle of a skillet just removed from a 425 degree oven.  Immediate blisters and pain, pain, pain.  Remember that tip, friends.  Always put a heatproof hot pad over the handle as soon as you remove the skillet from a hot oven.  We are so used to holding the handle to steady the pan while removing the food or making a sauce that it is second nature to grab hold without a hot pad, forgetting that it could be very dangerous. I had blisters for a week, although the pain was nearly gone the next day. I could see exactly where the metal handle rested on each finger and palm. Ouch!

The meal was great, and really didn’t take that much time.  I did the salad about 2 hours before we ate, left it at room temperature so that the flavors could develop.  The chard was also prepared an hour or so I cooked it. 

Until next time, happy dining.

Morgana

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La Piazza

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Tonight we are going out to dinner with one of our daughters and her husband.  We’re going to a restaurant just one town up the highway called La Piazza.  It is an Italian restaurant run by the third generation of a family to run Italian restaurants in our area. 

When I was growing up, my dad had a group of friends who went once every other month of so to one of the Italian restaurants in our city.  There were about five or six at that time, all family run, no Olive Gardens in those days.  There was Vito’s, Anticoli’s, Dominic’s, Annarino’s and probably a few more that I can’t remember. He always wore his “spaghetti shirt”, a brightly patterned sport shirt with lots of red to hide the inevitable splashes of sauce.  When my sister and I were old enough to act civilized in “grown-up” restaurants, we were taken to Anticoli’s as a special treat.  That was the closest of these spaghetti houses to our home.  

Anticoli’s was a rather formal place, with three rooms; the first was the main dining room, with booths around the sides, and tables in the middle; the second, a loungewith eight to ten booths and a bar with seating for another 10 people; the last was a room for larger groups or private parties. The food was the typical Italian fare –  spaghetti, ravioli, lasagne, chicken marsala and parmesan, etc.,  along with steaks and lamb chops for those who didn’t want the Italian side of the menu.

After I married, my husband and I continued to be “regulars’ at Anticoli’s, always asking for a booth in the bar.  We often entertained family and friend with meals there. A good friend Elaine from California always made a point to visit Anticoli’s whenever she was in town.  She liked the salad dressing so much (good and garlicky – the kind that makes one stink for a day or two, with real garlic, not garlic powder) that she would buy jars of it home to take home with her on the plane. The management was happy to indulge her at $3.00 per 5oz. jar. She also was a great fan of their  lamb chops.

My children’s first experiences with “grown-up” restaurants was at Anticoli’s and Vito’s Venice Inn. It was there that they asked the strolling musicians, with a violin and accordion, to play “Lady of Spain”.  The accordion player must have hated to play that cliched number but wouldn’t refuse the two darling girls who asked him to play it.

As time went on, the neighborhood changed, robberies were a threat in the parking lot. A  guard were hired to provide security, but people quit being “regulars” and eventually, the place closed.  By then, one of the sons and his son and daughter had opened a “satellite” family restaurant, La Piazza, on the main square in a neighboring town. The menu was similar and happened to be closer to where we lived at that time.  The ambiance while attractive, was not the same, and we never became more than occasional patrons.  After several years, another spin-off,  Caffe Anticoli, opened in a new location, a few miles from the original.  It has always been a disappointment to us, the few times we’ve been there.  Maybe our expectations were too high, maybe the spell is broken.  We no longer go there.

Vito’s Venice Inn closed long ago, as did Annarino’s.  Dominic’s is still around, but too far for us to go on  most occasions. Most of the  remaining Italian restaurants are chains and they hold no appeal for us.

So, tonight, we go to La Piazza, and give a toast to independent restaurateurs everywhere with our glasses of vino rosso, over our plates of spaghetti,  lasagne, or  ravioli,  and tomorrow we will stink like crazy and be glad of it.

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