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Archive for January, 2008

Fairies at Play

100_22321.jpg  I keep forgetting to publish the photos I took last summer of some of the fairies that I found in my yard. I was lucky that they stayed in view long enough for me to get the camera and take the pictures. I suppose they have been around long enough now that they know I am harmless. As long as I know they are about, I can avoid hitting them with a shovel or dropping a mound of topsoil on them. When I need to do some heavy work in the garden, I make sure to make loud  noises so that they have enough time to scatter. 100_2244.jpgI try not to destroy their little hiding places. It’s not easy. They are clever about finding the tiniest places to while away the time. Out of consideration for them, I have provided a few safe places for them just in case I inadvertently ruin one of their abodes. A pot on its side makes a nice cave, safe from the cold wind and rain. Of course, they still must be on the alert for neighborhood cats and hawks and other predatory animals. My dogs are used to them now and the fairies have no fear of them.  100_2238.jpg You will see in one of the pictures that a lady fairy has adopted a bird house for herself. I hope the birds don’t mind.  I found two fairies playing among some petunias and one cute little fairy has made the tipped over pot her home. She let me landscape around it and I think she’s happy.100_2240.jpg For some photos of the fairies in winter look at this post.  

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My husband surprised me for my birthday last year with a catered dinner party with several of our best friends. He coordinated his efforts with those of my neighbors who kindly hosted the party. A local caterer provided the delicious meal. My daughter served appetizers and Mojitos at my house before the group migrated next door. The caterer served beef tenderloin, potato and goat cheese gratin, and a spinach salad that is one of my favorites.

The next day I searched the internet for a selection of recipes for potatoes and goat cheese and downloaded several to study and select one or two to try. The opportunity presented itself last week when my younger daughter and her two children were visiting us. I wanted to prepare a special dinner for them one night and thought that I would try one of the potato recipes.

I chose the following one because of its simplicity and because I had everything I needed right on hand.

For the meat course, I prepared a flank steak with mushroom ragout and tossed salad. For dessert we had pumpkin swirl cheesecake. The cheesecake recipe is available on the Kraft foods website. The flank steak recipe was featured here a few months ago.

POTATO GRATIN WITH GOAT CHEESE AND GARLIC

(from Bon Appetit, February 2001, via epicurious.com)

1 c. whole milk

1 c. whipping cream

1 c. crumbled soft fresh goat cheese, about 5 ounces

1 garlic clove, minced

1 1/2 t. salt

3/4 t. pepper

1/8 t. ground nutmeg

2 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, thinly sliced

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Generously butter an 11 x 7 x 2-inch glass baking dish.

2. Whisk first 7 ingredients in a medium bowl to blend. 

3. Arrange 1/3 of the potatoes in bottom of prepared dish, overlapping slightly. Pour 1/3 of cream mixture over. Repeat layering potatoes and cream mixture 2 more times.

4. Bake uncovered until potatoes are tender and top is golden brown in spots, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Serve hot.

I hope you try this very easy dish. If you do, you will enjoy it.

UPDATE:

I fixed this dish again tonight with a few changes – just as good, just a little different. First of all, I only used 1/2 c. whipping cream, which I whisked with 1 T. flour. Then I added 1 c. reduced fat milk, whisked that with the cream and flour and stirred in 2 T. minced shallots, 1 minced garlic clove, some nutmeg and a dash of cloves, salt and pepper, 4 oz. crumbled goat cheese. I layered it in a gratin dish which I had sprayed with Pam, then I covered it with foil and baked it 1 hour at 375, uncovered it and baked it for another 15 minutes until the potatoes were tender when pierced with a knife. I let it sit for 5-10 minutes and served it with peas and beef steak. Delish! I think I liked it better than the first recipe.

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If you have been reading my posts, you have discovered that I am a huge fan of pork tenderloin. It is lean and tender, cooks relatively quickly, is readily accessible, not too expensive, and mingles well with lots of different flavors. It can be a plain, down-home entree, or perfect to serve to your grandest guests. I love pork.

And, it’s not chicken.  Oh, I eat chicken once, maybe twice a week, but that’s just for variety. I could eat pork more often than chicken, easily.  Throw in an occasional steak, pizza, or spaghetti dinner, and I’m a happy camper.

Here is an example of a quick entree that uses balsamic vinegar for a pan sauce.

PORK MEDALLIONS WITH BALSAMIC VINEGAR

pork tenderloin, sliced 1″ thick, pounded slightly to flatten

flour, 1/4-1/3 cup

salt and pepper

1 T. butter

1 T. olive oil

1/2 c. balsamic vinegar

1/4-1/3 c. chicken broth

1 T. fresh sage, chopped

1. Mix flour, salt and pepper in a shallow dish; dredge pork in the flour.

2. Heat oil and butter in a large saute pan or skillet to medium high.  Saute pork, in batches if necessary, a few minutes on each side, until golden brown. Remove pork from pan and set aside, covered with foil.

3. Deglaze pan with the vinegar, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan.  Cook, stirring, to reduce the vinegar a little.

4. Add the chicken broth to the vinegar and return the pork to the pan, along with any  juices that may have escaped from the meat.

5. Add the sage and continue cooking, turning the pork over, for a few minutes until the reduced sauce is dark and shiny.

6. Serve the tenderloin slices with the sauce.

(The tenderloin can also be left in one piece, browned in a skillet, and then roasted in the oven to finish cooking. This would be best with the skinny end folded under and tied in place to make the pork even in thickness. After roasting, let the pork rest, covered with foil while you make the sauce in the roasting pan. Slice the pork, and serve with the sauce.)

This pork dish would be great served with potatoes gratin, mashed potatoes, or even baked ones. I would probably not serve broccoli, or Brussels sprouts, or any other strong tasting vegetable with this. The balsamic vinegar sauce is strong enough. I might even serve the following dish instead of potatoes. It is rich and creamy, featuring the subtle taste of fennel, one of my favorite flavors. It can be prepared ahead of time, up to the baking, and then cooked while you are fixing the pork.

FENNEL GRATIN

2 lbs. fennel

1/2 t. salt

1/4 t. pepper

1 1/2 c. cream, half and half, or milk

1/4 – 1/3 c. bread crumbs or panko

1/4 c. parmesan, grated

1 T. butter

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Butter a gratin dish or other shallow baking pan. 
Trim the fronds from the fennel; remove any brown spots from the outer layer of the bulb.  Quarter the bulb and slice 
thinly. Lay the slices in the gratin dish.

2. Mix salt, pepper and cream and pour over the fennel.

3. Mix the crumbs and parmesan and sprinkle over the sauce. Dot with butter. (If preparing ahead, cover with foil and set aside until ready to bake.)

4. Bake 25 minutes covered, and 20 more minutes uncovered. (If stored in the refrigerator, add 10 minutes to the first 25 minutes in the oven.)

This would be beautiful with glazed carrots and the pork. I may have to make this next week.

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 I know it’s not spring yet. Darn it. I keep telling myself that winter was invented in order for us all to really love spring.

Well, I really love spring. I eagerly anticipate the rebirth of flora, little green nubs pushing up through the still frigid ground, reaching for sunkissed warmth; swollen buds on branches of stark naked trees. The return of the robin, chirping in the early morning darkness, gives me a sleepy smile as I lay abed before arising. The different aroma of the outdoor air, slightly sweet in its earthiness. Ahhh, spring.

images.jpgI was talking with my mother yesterday about the wonderful availability of fruits and vegetables in the groceries of today. We mentioned how much we both like the stronger tasting vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and of course, asparagus.

It’s so wonderful that we can now get fresh asparagus almost any time of the year. Of course it is probably much better to have spears poking up from the ground  in your own garden plot, but those of us with green thumbs for ;egetables have to settle for what we can get at the grocery.

As I mentioned here, I enjoyed a delicious asparagus spring pea soup at Panera a few years ago. It was so good that I was motivated to try to work up a reasonble fascimile. I prepared it within a few days so that I could compare my soup’s taste with my memory of what Panera served before my memory became cold. I was pretty well satisfied with  my rendition of the soup and here is the recipe for those of you who await spring and the greening of the Northern Hemisphere as much as I.

Morgana’s Spring Pea and Asparagus Soup 

1 T. butter and 1 T. olive oil

1 small onion, chopped (1/2-3/4 c.)

2 stalks celery, chopped (1/2 c.)

1 leek, split lengthwise, washed well and sliced (light green and white part only)

Mixed fresh herbs (I used thyme parsley, mint, and basil, about 1 T. of each chopped)

1 quart chicken broth (low sodium, preferred)

2 c. water

2 c. green shelled, English peas (fresh or frozen)

1 potato, peeled and cubed

1 bunch asparagus, ends discarded, and stalks sliced

Salt and pepper, to taste

Dash of Tabasco or other hot sauce, optional 

1 c. whole milk, half and half, heavy cream, or evaporated milk 

 1. Melt the butter in a large stock pot. Add oil and heat to medium high.

2. Saute onion, celery, and leek until tender, about 10 minutes. Don’t let them brown.

3. Add broth, water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and add potato. Cook until potato is nearly tender. Add peas and asparagus and cook for 5-10 minutes until asparagus stalks are tender. Season to taste with salt, pepper and Tabasco.

4.  Puree in batches in a blender or use a stick blender to puree in the cooking pot. Add milk, or cream and heat just until warm. Be careful not to boil.    This is great with some cheese and a big slice of good bread.

UPDATE:

For those of you who might have been bewildered by my earlier ingredient “2 d. peas”, I obviously had a typo pass by my normally eagle-eyed editor. It was supposed to read “2 c. peas”. These are your garden variety English green peas, not sugar snap, not split peas, not snow peas.

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I bought some nice thin chicken cutlets the other day at the grocery, a little time-saver. No need to pound them to an even thinness myself.

I prepared them day before yesterday by dredging them in flour, then egg, then slightly crushed, seasoned panko, while the skillet was preheating. It only took a few minutes on each side to get them nicely golden brown. I stuck them in the oven to keep warm since I had to do two batches.

We ate them plain, no sauce, no condiments; we just enjoyed the crunchy chicken. The seasonings were just salt and pepper and a little Lawry’s salt since I was too lazy to think up my own original mix.

We are having chicken again today – chicken thighs, tossed salad, baked potato, and the leftover green beans. I’m thinking I will make devilled chicken thighs. That’s nice and tasty, and will go well with the baked potato. I’ll probably make a relatively mild salad dressing, nothing too tangy.

If I have time, I’ll add some photos of the chicken as I prepare it.  

Here’s how I fix Devilled Chicken:

(1.)  First the ingredients:

2 T. catsup, 2 T. Worcestershire sauce, 1 t. anchovy paste, 2 T. Mango Chutney, 1 t. grated nutmeg (powdered works fine, too), salt and pepper to taste, 1 T. melted butter, a few drops of your favorite hot sauce.  Oh yeah, 4 chicken thighs (sure, you can use whatever chicken pieces you want.) 

  100_28071.jpg 100_28061.jpg100_28151.jpg 100_2808.jpg100_28101.jpg  100_28211.jpg 100_28181.jpg 100_28241.jpg

(2.)  The method: 

Mix all the ingredients except the chicken.

Paint the chicken thighs with the mixture.

Bake 350 for 30 minutes, turn, paint the other side. Bake 30 more minutes. (It might not take that long. It depends on how big the chicken pieces are and whether or not you are baking other things in the oven. Always check the chicken by slicing into it and checking to make sure the juices aren’t pink.)

Did you notice my ancient roasting pan? Although caked with the “funk of forty thousand years” it still works. It’s just the right size for 4 chicken thighs,  4 legs or 2 breasts and it fits easily in the dishwasher. I keep looking for a nonstick one that size, about 7 x 11. Nonstick would be nice.  Then it wouldn’t look so disgusting. Once a year or so, I do a scouring job on it, but it still looks pretty bad afterwards.

Meatloaf tonight.

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Rather than roast a pork loin just seasoned with salt and pepper yesterday, I chose to add a fennel and onion stuffing. I got the idea from watching Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network. I had everything on hand, except fennel bulbs and fresh bread crumbs.  Fortunately, I was able to get the fennel from the grocery.

I had a few hunks of leftover No Knead Bread in the freezer and with the aid of my trusty food processor, I had plenty of crumbs in just a few minutes. No-Knead Bread is so easy to make that I almost always have a least one new whole loaf on hand. We always start eating the newest loaf and leave the older one for toast, croutons, or bread crumbs. If there is a piece left, I bag it up and stick it in the freezer until I need it.

To make the pork roast, I first butterflied the pork loin lengthwise by slicing one third of the way down almost to the side. I opened it up like a book and then sliced another third of the way into the thicker side (you’re making a tri-fold, now cutting from the middle, not the opposite end from the first cut) and opened that up also. I now had a roast three times as wide as what I started with.  I pounded it out just a little to even it up and spread the stuffing over the roast, rolled it and tied it with string to keep it together while it roasted.

I hadn’t planned to make gravy, but at the last minute, I couldn’t stand to waste those good juices at the bottom of the roasting pan and quickly made up a gravy with some chicken stock and enhanced it with a tablespoon or so of heavy cream and a sprinkling of Julia Child’s pork seasoning.

The stuffing is simply sliced onion and fennel, sweated in olive oil and butter until tender, seasoned with salt and pepper, garlic and thyme, Pernod or white wine  (I used white wine), and mixed with bread crumbs. This is spread over the butterflied pork loin, which is rolled up and tied securely, roasted at 425 minutes for 30 minutes and 350 for another 30.  Let it rest for 10-15 minutes, slice it thickly and Bob’s-your-uncle. You can find the complete directions  below or here .

I try to use up leftovers as creatively as possible. Sometimes, it doesn’t work. (I tried making chili one time with leftover spaghetti sauce. Not good.) Other times, it works great.

We had leftovers last night. With lots of stuffed pork roast and gravy leftover (the little ones weren’t thrilled with the stuffing messing up the pork), we had the backbone of our meal. However,  I wanted to “kick up the gravy a notch” so I added a few tablespoons of currant jelly and stirred it in while the gravy heated up on the stove. It added a little bit of “sweet-tartness” to the gravy. Much better.

With the pork and leftover augratin potatoes, I fixed roasted butternut squash. I peeled the squash, removed the seeds and fibers from the cavity, and chopped the flesh into approximately 1″ cubes. I tossed the cubes with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, laid them out on a sheet pan lined with parchment and roasted them in a 400 degree oven for a half-hour or so, until a knife tip cut into a cube easily. They were pretty good, but a little dull. I tossed them with two tablespoons of maple syrup and then they were fine. We have lots of squash leftover. I may make a soup with what’s left. I’ll let you know if I do.

We even had leftover tossed salad from New Year’s Day. Yes, the lettuce was wilted. I added some more lettuce and a little bit of bottled blue cheese dressing. It was fine.

Blue cheese dressing can be too much for me sometimes. I often dilute it with homemade vinaigrette which I almost always have ready. This time, the vinaigrette on the wilted salad was also made from leftovers. For Christmas Eve, I made a beef tenderloin with a mustard-herb crust. I had some mustard/herb mixture from that still in the refrigerator. I added some vinegar and oil, salt, pepper and garlic, of course, and I had vinaigrette.

Try experimenting with leftovers. Just remember not to keep anything hanging around in the frig past the safe amount of time. Purge it the day before trash day and get rid of anything questionable at that time. Don’t leave stuff to grow moldy and yucky. Check way in the back. As George Carlin said, “Is it meat, or is it cake?” Throw it out.

INA GARTEN’S (BAREFOOT CONTESSA) PORK LOIN WITH FENNEL STUFFING

From Food Network

Good olive oil 
1 tablespoon unsalted butter 
2 cups sliced yellow onions (2 onions) 
2 cups sliced fennel (1 large bulb) 
Kosher salt 
Freshly ground black pepper 
2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 large cloves) 
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves 
1 tablespoon Pernod or white wine 
3 cups fresh bread crumbs 
1 (3 1/2-pound) loin of pork, butterflied
 

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.For the stuffing, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the butter in a large (12-inch) saute pan. Add the onions and fennel with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Cook over low to medium-low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions and fennel are tender and lightly browned. Add the garlic and thyme and cook for 1 more minute. Add the Pernod and cook for another minute, deglazing the pan. Cool slightly.

Add the bread crumbs and 1 teaspoon of salt to the stuffing mixture. Lay the pork on a board fat side down, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread the stuffing evenly on the pork and roll up lengthwise, ending with the fat on the top of the roll. Tie with kitchen string, rub with olive oil, and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.

Place the rolled pork loin on a baking rack on a sheet pan and roast for 30 minutes. Lower the heat to 350 degrees F and roast for another 20 to 30 minutes, until the interior of the pork is 137 degrees F. (If the thermometer hits stuffing rather than pork, it will register a higher temperature, so test the meat in several places.) Remove from the oven and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Allow to rest for 15 minutes. Remove the strings, slice thickly, and serve.

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