Sunday, November 9, 2014

Scandinavian Dinner and Green Pea Salad

The other night, I was initiated into a local chapter of the Daughters of Norway. I wanted to tell you about what we had for dinner that night as it was a typical Scandinavian repast.

The very first thing that happened that evening was that I was astounded at how much I felt like home at this meeting. Even in the parking lot, I was greeted by several women, even though it was my first meeting and didn't know anyone. As I walked into the basement meeting hall of a Lutheran Church, I felt immediately that I Was Home. The cue was that before I reached the sign-in table, there was a huge pot of coffee and lots of coffee mugs. This brought back so many memories of growing up in a Scandinavian-influenced Lutheran Church in Minnesota that it immediately transported me back several decades. Of course, the coffee was most excellent. And there were a lot of friendly women who greeted me and made sure I had a place to sit along with some dinner companions.

Dinner was offered by several women (each month, a half dozen women decorate the tables and bring the food; this rotates, so it's not too often any one person is responsible for all of this). We had Gjetost (a goat cheese favored by Norwegians) on rye bread; cream cheese on date bread; ham and Havarti cheese on rye bread; Julekaka (fruit cake); cold pea salad (recipe to follow); pickled herring; pickled beets; wilted cucumber salad; green Jell-O salad with pineapple; strawberry Jell-O salad with strawberry yogurt; and little waffles with raspberry jam that was not too sweet. On the dessert table, there were rosettes; banana pudding; apple crisp; lemon bars; nut bars; date bars; and sugar cookies. I'm sure I've forgotten to list something, but I had a little of almost everything and this is what I remember. There may have been other beverages offered than coffee, but the coffee was so delicious, I didn't look for anything else. And I lost count of how many cups I had.

So here's where my sisters, daughter, and my entire family, will think I've gone completely bonkers because I'm including a recipe for Green Pea Salad. They'll think I'm bonkers because of my long-standing and vehement dislike of peas - and that dislike has been since I was very little and has been a source of teasing for decades. The story that illustrates my dislike of peas (and my brilliant creativity) is that when I was little - maybe 4 or 5 - my Mother tried to get me to eat my peas by not letting me down from the table until they were all gone. I had already tried hiding them under mashed potatoes, in my napkin, and feeding them to our dog, but none of that worked. She left me alone in the kitchen to finish the now cold and disgusting canned peas. So I took the peas, placed one in the center of each of the green floor tiles in the kitchen, and stepped on them to smash them into the floor. I thought it was brilliant, but unfortunately my Mom was too observant and noticed them. Sigh. For years, my Mom would share a recipe with me or make a hotdish or salad and "forget" how much I hated peas until she saw my face and then said, "Oh! I forgot! Well, just pick them out."

Cold Green Pea Salad

Ingredients:
2 (10 ounce) bags of frozen tiny peas
1 cup dairy sour cream
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice or 1 teaspoon Real Lemon
1 teaspoon dried dill weed (or 2 teaspoons fresh)
1 teaspoon dried chives (or 2 teaspoons fresh)
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

Instructions:
  1. Prepare the peas according to the package directions; drain very well and set aside
  2. In a small bowl, combine sour cream, lemon juice, dill weed, chives, salt, and pepper and mix well with whisk until light and smooth
  3. Gently toss the peas in the dressing 
  4. Chill for at least 1 hour before serving

Monday, October 27, 2014

Look at and buy our cookbooks

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, my sisters and I write and publish cookbooks under our company name, CB Cooks. Our cookbooks are geared towards the home cook - nothing too fancy, just plain good food that's easy to make and yummy to eat. Almost all of our recipes include nutritional information which a lot of people find helpful for a variety of reasons. We have published 10 books, 7 of which are still in print. They are:

Simple Slow Cooking: Simply Sensational Recipes for Your Slow Cooker
Ethnic Slow Cooking: Combining the Flavors of the World with the Convenience of a Slow
   Cooker
Eating Out: Recipes for Camping, Boating, Backpacking, Tailgating
mm-mmm Muffins!
Girls Just Wanna Have Fudge!
More to Celebrate: Party Inspirations for Not-So-Big Holidays
Smorgasbord: The Customs and Pleasures of a Scandinavian Feast

We sell our cookbooks on our website, word of mouth, small gift shops, and through friends, but most of our sales are during holiday gift shows, October - December. If you are in the neighborhood, we'd love it if you come to one of our holiday shows, look at our cookbooks and related products, and meet us in person. Be sure to tell us that you read this blog!

Washington
33rd Annual Holiday Craft Fair, Spanaway High School, Spanaway, WA
November 1-2, 2014 Saturday 9-5, Sunday 10-3

Homemade for the Holidays, Thurston County Fairgrounds, Lacey, WA
November 7-8, Friday 4-8, Saturday 9-4

Holiday Bazaar, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Lakewood, WA
November 14-15, Friday 9-4, Saturday 9-4

Bearzaar, Olympia High School, Olympia, WA
November 22, Saturday 9-4

Kent Commons Holiday Bazaar, Kent Commons, Kent, WA
December 5-6, Friday 10-6, Saturday 9-5

Oregon
Seaside Holiday Fair, Seaside Convention Center, Seaside, OR
November 28-30, Friday 12-6, Saturday 10-6, Sunday 10-3

Minnesota
Shepherd of the Lake Lutheran Church, Prior Lake, MN
November 8, Saturday 10-6

Pax Christi Catholic Church, Eden Prairie, MN
December 6, Saturday 10-6

 
Our website:  www.cbcbcooks.com

Our logo:                                  

I LOVE Potluck Parties!

I have had a wonderful last few weeks - I spent some time in Minnesota attending my niece's wedding and getting to see my other nieces and nephew, their kids and spouses, my brother, my sisters, and other family and friends. The weather cooperated - brilliant blue skies, but definitely autumn in the air. The winds kicked up while we were waiting outside the church for the bride and groom, but overall, it was a beautiful Minnesota fall weekend. Two blogs ago, I described the wedding and the amazing dinner. And then there was the cross-half-the-country train trip from Minneapolis to Seattle. The train was hours late, but my daughter and old friend and I had a sleeping compartment, books to read, and they kept feeding us, so we were happy. This was followed by several days in a gorgeous house on Haro Strait just outside of Sidney, BC. That's at the north end of the Saanich Peninsula, about 18 miles from Victoria. My last blog tells some of our travel story.

I finally got home and was settling in to my life which turns busy in a week or so (see my next blog, which will appear midweek this week, for details). I went to my water volleyball session at the Y, which I had really missed; while in the locker room, I walked SMACK BANG into a heavy wooden bench, which was attached to the wall and had been there forever. I spent most of the rest of the day with the doctor and radiologist, who diagnosed a spiral fracture in my little toe. Ow. I spent the rest of the week trying to stay off of it, wearing an uncomfortable "shoe" - really, it was an inflexible piece of material held on to my foot with light cotton and Velcro. Fashion and comfort all rolled into one!

The good news for the week is that we had a potluck party at our house - I do love potlucks! Once again, the food was delicious and non-repetitious. We had scalloped potatoes with lots of bite sized pieces of pork chop/pork loin - it was so homey and yummy. I kept wanting to make an egg casserole brunch dish, but couldn't get my mind off lasagna (it was chilly and drizzly all week), so I ended up making a lasagna with pasta, marinara meat sauce, ricotta cheese, Romano cheese, Parmesan cheese, Mozzarella cheese, and Asiago cheese, and lots of fresh basil. We had roasted garlic cloves, olives, pickles, Italian wine salami, assorted cheeses, crackers, and baguette. We had grapes, mandarin oranges, bananas, and then to complete our meal, several desserts. There was a pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting, angel food cake with pineapple, white confetti cake with sparkly orange buttercream frosting, chocolate brownies, and dark chocolate truffles. And a can of whipped cream which we used liberally.

There's nothing quite like a potluck party with good friends and yummy food - I can't wait until the next one.

Don't forget to check back later this week for my next blog, detailing holiday gift shows that my sisters and I are vendors at; if you're in the neighborhood, we'd love for you to drop by and see our cookbooks. Be sure to tell us that you read our blog!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sidney, BC


This weekend, I’m on a wonderful Chick Trip. Every year for the past 17 years, my sisters and I have taken a trip together – just us, no brother, no Mom, no husbands, no kids, just the three of us. We look forward to it so much that we begin planning the next one even while (and sometimes even before the current one!). And yet we enjoy them fully. We wish we could do 2 or 3 a year, but that’s not likely.

This is the second time in all our years that we have an Extended Chick Trip. Last time, we invited our daughters (only one could come, the others are not at the time in their lives that it’s particularly attractive, but that will come); we invited our two oldest friends (I’m the oldest and I’ve known them since I was about 6 years old); one of them brought their daughter who was just a few months younger than my daughter – they played together a lot when they were little. This year, those two couldn’t come, so we each invited a really good friend with a long friendship history. And my daughter and her best friend came along, so there are 8 of us. Perfect number of people.

But we’re here to discuss food, yes? Oh my – I want to talk about two meals we’ve had in the Sidney / Victoria area of British Columbia. The first was Afternoon Tea at the Empress Hotel. This is an experience not to be missed. Yes, you can get an excellent Afternoon Tea for less money in Victoria, but this was an Experience with Ambiance in addition to delicious tea and tea items. I think everyone should take Afternoon Tea at the Empress Hotel at least once in their lives.

I got the Empress Blend tea which is my very favorite; I’ve tried some of their other teas, but this one is perfect for my tastes; and at the end of tea, they give you a box with 10 tea bags of Empress Blend in it – a nice little take-away. Some of our group got different teas and pronounced them delicious. Tea comprised a three tiered plate display. You begin eating from the bottom plate, which were little sandwiches. There was a marble rye finger sandwich with Moroccan curried chicken; a cranberry bread finger sandwich with smoked ham; a triangle sandwich with cream cheese and cucumber; a spiral sandwich slice with salmon; and a mini-croissant with egg salad. Then give yourself a little time to digest and you move to the middle plate which transitions you from savory to sweet. This layer has a golden raisin scone with a little pot of unsweetened whipped cream and some strawberry jam. This was delicious; one of group said she’d be happy with just that plate only with a few more scones! The top plate had the sweets. There was a pumpkin and caramel mousse-like bar; a black current coconut cake ball, a cheesecake with lemon curd in a white chocolate cup, ginger topped shortbread, and best of all, a chocolate mousse in a dark chocolate cup. The Empress Hotel is so accommodating. We asked for gluten free tea items for two people. They brought a beautiful three tiered tea plates – the sandwich breads were GF as well as the scones and the tiny desserts. It looked (and reportedly tasted) as wonderful as the other tea plates. Well, I have to report that as “difficult” as it was, we ate every bit – and waddled to our cars full and happy.

The other food experience was Friday night’s dinner in Sidney. We found a restaurant highly recommended in Urban Spoon that we went to, and I’m so glad we did! It was one of the best meals ever! The restaurant is called Seaglass on the Waterfront; it’s on Harbour Road in Sidney, just off of highway 17. Our waiter, Lee, quickly realized that he had 8 –let’s call us high-spirited – women and knew just how much to let us run and when to reel us back in. His descriptions of entrees and specials were spot on and he willingly repeated himself as we needed. We started out with wine and cocktails; 4 of us had a particularly yummy cocktail called the Pink Piranha, made from vodka, cranberry juice, pomegranate liqueur, and lychee liqueur, with a slice of lime. Mm-mmm.

We split some salads (unless you have a huge appetite, I’d recommend this – there was plenty of salad for two people). I had the Artisanal Salad with mixed greens, julienned carrots and beets, candied pecans, Craisins, and sliced kiwi – what a nice change from cucumbers! We had a citrus and black pepper vinaigrette. The other half of us had Caesar salad with freshly made dressing – they said it was also delicious. Freshly baked rosemary focaccia and soft butter accompanied the salads.

The meals, however, were spectacular! I’ll do my best to describe them. I had a pecan encrusted chicken breast that was juicy, tender, and flavorful. It rested on a large portion of mashed Yukon potatoes, with steamed carrots and broccoli on the sides. It had a little pile of julienned apples that were sautéed, with sugar and cinnamon. This was garnished with pea tendrils. Then there was a Bartlett pear compote and what I thought was a large piece of pear on the side, but when I tasted it, it was a golden beet. The whole meal was one delicious bite after another. I did leave some of the potatoes on my plate, but I finished every last bite of everything else – even the pea tendrils!

One person had braised short ribs. These were so tender, your fork barely touched it and it fell apart. And it melted right in your mouth. It was served on a bed of risotto and a cabernet reduction (a gorgeous red) and with steamed carrots (a bright deep orange color) – truly as beautiful as delicious. Three of our group had halibut, tender, mild, flavorful crusted with an olive tapenade. The halibut steak was thick and cooked to perfection throughout – difficult to do. This was presented on top of garlic mashed Yukon potatoes, with steamed carrots and steamed broccoli, plus bell peppers, tomatoes, and garnished with pea tendrils. Two of us had tenderloin steak – thinner cut but just as tender and flavorful as a filet mignon. The steak was sauced with a mushroom demi-glace, served on Yukon mashed potatoes, and as others, garnished with steamed broccoli and steamed carrots, topped with pea tendrils. And one person had a stuffed portabella mushroom, served on a cake of steamed jasmine rice with garlic, onion, and carrot. The portabella was stuffed with goat cheese, crab, and all sorts of vegetables. It was pronounced delicious with so many complementary flavors.

For dessert, we were stuffed, but Lee made a couple of excellent suggestions, so we found a tiny bit more room and the eight of us shared 3 desserts. One was a luscious crème bruleé with grated fresh ginger and scraped vanilla bean on the crystalized sugar topping. Oh my, that was fantastic – what an wonderful interplay among flavors – this chef is really inspired!. The other two desserts were a chocolate hazelnut flourless torte with chocolate ganache, blackberry coulis, a fresh strawberry, and a dab of not-very-sweet  whipped cream. Again, what wonderful flavor combinations to finish off our meal.

 All in all, all eight of us highly recommend this restaurant. Every single bite of every single dish we had was superb and we wouldn’t change a thing Not even any of the garnishes. And Lee was one of the most fun, most professional, most friendly, and most knowledgeable waiters we’ve come across. So, three cheers to Seaglass, to Lee, to Chef,Ron Vincent and to his spectacular food and flavor profiles. I have to quit now because I have run out of superlative adjectives.
 
A PS to this post: We actually went back to Seaglass a couple days later (and we have never repeated a restaurant on our Chick Trips) - we all had a different entrée, different dressings on our salad, and besides the crème brulee and chocolate torte, added a lemon tart to our experience. Really, if you get anywhere near Sidney on Vancouver Island - even take the ferry from Tswassen BC or Anacortes WA - you have to try Seaglass. We can't stop raving about it!

 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Wedding Banquet

I usually don't remark on wedding banquets, simply because I usually don't find the food particularly noteworthy. Generally, they're passable and the company and event are far more interesting.

Last night, my niece got married to her childhood sweetheart. And the event was fun and noteworthy - full of happy tears and joy. And everyone looked so beautiful; the bride was gorgeous and so was the groom; the parents of the bride and of the groom looked fabulous; the weather cooperated except for a VERY brisk wind - what more could one want in an October wedding in Minnesota?
But here, the food was also very good. We had gone back to our hotel to rest a bit and so missed the hors d'ouevres. I asked a couple of people what was served, but alas, all I got from these well-meaning, but definitely non-foodies was "shrimp, beef, you know...'

To find our seating, my sister and her daughter, the bride, spent hours tying tags to caramel apples. The apples had cellophane wrapped around them and then they tied on a little tag with our names, the table number; the color of the tag indicated to the wait staff if you had a beef, chicken, or vegetarian entree. Very clever and nice since I had long forgotten which entree I had ordered.

For dinner, we first had a mixed greens salad with sliced almonds and mandarin oranges, dressed with a raspberry vinaigrette. Multigrain rolls were an accompaniment. I discovered that I had ordered the beef entree and so was served a bacon-wrapped filet mignon, cooked perfectly and was, as expected, very tender. I prefer my bacon more cooked, so enjoyed the bacon flavor on my steak while my brother - who has never turned down food - got my bacon. The steak was topped with a grilled baby portobello cap and a veal stock demi glace. The sides were mashed yukon potatoes with feta and garlic. The cheese and garlic were very mild and subtle so you could still taste the buttery potatoes. Delicious. Also as a side were steamed green beans with strips of red bell pepper. They barely steamed the beans, so they were nice and crisp. The side benefit was that the red peppers were also lightly steamed ad retained their shape, texture and flavor. How many times have you had this combination only to find that the peppers could have been pimientos? Not here - they did a standout job in the kitchen.

The other entree options were a quarter chicken served with a maple raspberry glaze garnished with fresh raspberries and toasted pie nuts. I was told by those at my table that the chicken was moist and delicious. The third entree option was a vegetarian dish of wheat linguine with steamed mixed vegetables and feta. I don't know how that was - my family are total carnivores. They even had a special meal for kids with chicken strips, french fries, and a fruit cup. Everyone was happy. Finally, for dessert, there were individual warn apple pies with the traditional double crust. Adorable and just the perfect size.

After dinner and an hour of dancing and champagne toasts, they invited us outside to a small bonfire and s'mores. For those of you unfortunates who've never had a campfire s'more, it's two graham crackers with a toasted (or totally burned, depending on your tastes and skills) marshmallow and a chunk of Hershey's milk chocolate candy bar. All squished together, it's ooey - gooey and makes you want  "s'more."

After a couple more hours of dancing, they brought out sliders and french fries. The sliders were delicious - the meat very well seasoned and with cheese, bacon, catsup, and barbecue sauce.

I have to give this place a plug - the reception venue was beautiful (though I wish the wind wasn't so strong so we could have enjoyed the outside views more), the waitstaff was efficient, pleasant, friendly, and very helpful. As an original Minnesotan, I appreciated getting coffee along with my meal insted of having to wait for dessert. The food was plentiful and outstaning - everything was cooked and seasoned perfectly, not an easy feat when serving 250 guests! So, if you're in Minnesota and looking for a great venue for an event, I heartily recommend Rush Creek Golf Club in Maple Grove, Minnesota.

Congratulations Rachel and Bryan - may you have many happy married years and great memories of your special day!

Taste of Washington cookbook review

Last week's International Food Blogger Conference (IFBC) in Seattle began with the book launch and signing of A Taste of Washington: Favorite Recipes from the Evergreen State by Chef Michele Morris. Although this was a book launch, the official publication date is October 2014. This is a special cookbook because not only does Chef Morris provide recipes from restaurants and chefs from all over Washington state, she took almost all of the photographs herself - and they are stunning.
The recipes look so good and use Washington state's special offering to very good use - and my mouth waters just reading through some of the. In the coming months, I write about the recipes I try, but in the meantime, I do suggest you check out this very special and stunning cookbook.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

First Half, Second Day of IFBC - WOWIE!!!!!

The first half of the second day of the International Food Blogger Conference in Seattle started with a BANG and just got better and better.

We started Saturday morning with a breakfast sponsored by Nooksa Yoghurt. They provided plain and pumpkin flavored yoghurts along with an assortment of toppings including fresh strawberries, dried apricots, Craisins, M&Ms, sliced almonds, and granola. Fruit juices, coffee, tea, and muffins completed the meal. And again, one of the very best features of the conference was the company at breakfast - open, curious, informative, friendly, and fun.

The first session was presented by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, a husband-wife couple who have been working together for far more than a decade. Their first book was Becoming a Chef, 1992. They interviewed 60 chefs to get an inside look at the culinary industry from a chef's point of view. Karen and Andrew's advice, based on their experience getting this book published, was to persevere even through many rejections and to participate heavily in selling your book - let people know it exists! Their books are:
Becoming a Chef, 1992
Culinary Artistry, 1996 (culinary composition, artistry, creations)
Dining Out, 1998 (interviewing and dining out with restaurant critics)
Chefs' Night Out, 2001 (where and what chefs eat, their transformative experiences)
What to Drink with What You Eat, 2006 (pairing foods with wine, beer, spirits, tea, coffee)
The Flavor Bible, 2008 (reference of compatible flavors)
Food Lover's Guide to Wine, 2011 (which wines go with certain foods and flavors)
The Vegetarian Flavor Bible, 2014 (flavor pairings of vegetables, grains, legumes, herbs, spices)

They mentioned a couple of trends they're seeing. One is treating plants like meat; for example, grilling cauliflower "steaks," increased use of mushrooms instead of meat, and using combinations of vegetables instead of treating each vegetable separately.  Another trend is the percentage of Americans eating plant-based diets. Combining those who eat vegan, vegetarian, and semi-vegetarian, are 54% Americans; the remaining 46% are omnivores.

From this session, was a session on photography. I had expected a technical discussion on camera types and settings, lighting, digital decisions, etc. Luckily, I was wrong. Todd Coleman who has been the executive food editor for Saveur for a number of years, was funny, interesting, and gave us a lot of suggestions which I think can be boiled down to, "Don't be banal or boring. Play with backgrounds, settings, light, shadow, color, and shapes. Always photographing perfectly styled food can get boring - sometimes a messy dish is far more interesting."  His philosophy is to take photographs that you can be proud of and others can be inspired by. I think the same applies to blogging as well as cooking.

The third session of this jam-packed fantastic morning was Chef Thierry Rautureau. Thierry (pronounced "Terry") is the winner of many awards, both French and American. He has been featured in many food-related magazines. He and Chef Tom Douglas have had 2 radio shows in Seattle. He's also been a featured chef and judge on several TV shows and was a finalist on Top Chef Masters on Bravo TV.  He owns two Seattle restaurants, Loulay and Luc  His session was a cooking demonstration sponsored by Urban Spoon, but honestly what I remember mostly is Thierry himself. He is funny, casual, chatty, informative all at the same time. My favorite parts were when he mimicked Julia Child in a high squeaky voice,  "If you're afraid of butter, use cream!"

As he began his demonstrations, he passed around little duck sliders - duck confit stuffed into a profiterole, drizzled with balsamic vinegar and garnished with chives. It was salty, ducky, melt-in-your-mouth, goodness in a tiny bun. What a delicious surprise! His first demonstration was on how to use your garden or farmers' market tomatoes. he made a basic tomato sauce that can be extended into several sauces, made into soup, or pureed into a Bloody Mary. Very easy and versatile. The next demonstration was using chanterelles, sauteed crispy, and used as a topping for a yellow plum jam spiced with the African pepper, harissa. Spread the spiced jam on toasted baguette slices and top with the crispy chanterelles. We didn't get to taste it, but it certainly smelled wonderful.  Again, using these basic ideas and techniques, one could make a wide variety of dishes.

With all of these great fragrances and the duck confit in a profiterole as an amuse bouche, we were very hungry for lunch. This was served buffet style and featured salads, roasted vegetables, ratatouille, chicken Parmesan, vegetable lasagne, penne pasta, foccacia, a vegetable platter, and little tiramisu and tartlets with fresh berries, and biscotti for dessert.

And all of this fabulousness was from 7:00 AM - 2:00 PM. WOWIE!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Day One of International Food Blogger Conference

At the end of Day 1 of the Food Blogger Conference, I am exhausted. Actually, it wasn't even a day, but from 4:30 PM until about 9:00 PM. First, I went to the launch and book signing for A Taste of Washington - a beautiful cookbook featuring Washington ingredients and recipes by  Chef and Sommelier Michele Morris. In addition to buying my own book and getting it signed, there was wine and new people to meet. Following this was conference registration and then the opening reception and gift suite. The reception had more wine, a variety of different preparations of salmon from salmon cakes, to stir fry, to teriyaki salmon. And to go with the salmon were mini-deserts including little cupcakes, little parfaits, apple turnovers, and chocolate by Theo.

And then there was the wonderful gift suite. It was in one of the large rooms, with tables all around the walls and a square section in the middle. All loaded with samples, recipes, and gifts. I haven't gone through all my swag yet, but I know I have a bib apron, hot pad, measuring cups, vanilla beans, brownie mix, olives, seaweed chips, teriyaki sauce, a variety of chips, nuts, and other snack items. I staggered out of there with 2 very full bags, glad that I live in the area and don't have to figure out how to get it all home on a plane.

As wonderful as all these goodies are, I think the very best part of today was meeting some very friendly and interesting people. Someone said that food bloggers don't tend to see themselves as competitors to each other, but rather tend to seek each other out, offer help, tips, wisdom, experience, and contacts. And that truly was my experience tonight - lots of fun, friendly, interesting people - wanting to hear my story as well as telling theirs.

Tomorrow is going to be much longer with breakfast starting at 7 and ending with a chef and vendor reception at about 9. I may not have energy left to post a blog Saturday night, so look for it on Sunday.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Food Blogger Conference and Apple Pie with Chocolate Ice Cream

Next Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, I am attending the 2014 International Food Blogger Conference (IFBC) in Seattle. I am so looking forward to it. Expect some extra blogs next weekend as I describe some of the events, activities, and conference sessions. I'll be blogging from the conference.

The IFBC is organized by Foodista and Zephyr Adventures. Foodista is an active community of food-lovers with the idea to share information and ideas about all things food. They have recipes, resources, and dialogue about food at www.foodista.com/  Check them out!

Zephyr Adventures organizes and operates trekking, hiking, biking, etc. tours throughout the world. In addition to these sports-related tours, they also operate food-related tours and conferences including this one, beer-related and wine-related conferences and events. Check them out at www.zephyradventures.com/

Some of the IFBC sessions I'm looking forward to involve food writing, food photography, social media - the bones of blogging if you will. There will also be presentations on new foods, new restaurant concepts, food trends, and the like; I hope to gain insight on how we may think about, prepare, and use food in the future. There will be lots of vendors and sponsors eager to share their tools, tips, techniques, and tastes with the foodie community.

If you'd like more information on the conference or see if there's a possibility of attending at the last minute, check out their website at www.foodista.com/

In the meantime, I don't have a recipe to share tonight - instead I'm telling you what we're having for dessert. I made a traditional American double-crusted apple pie; we're having a piece with a small scoop of chocolate ice cream. Trust me - it's a delicious combination! Try it the next time you have some apple pie.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

End of Summer Tea Party

One of my friends, Mary, gave a tea party this past week. It was a proper English Afternoon Tea; several of us brought fancy little tidbits for us all to enjoy. And enjoy them all we did! We had:
  • cucumber cream cheese sandwiches with dill and watercress
  • chicken salad in puff pastry baskets
  • chicken, cabbage, water chestnut, ramen noodle salad
  • brie en croute
  • bacon, cheese, and onion quiche with nasturtium flowers as edible garnish
  • tomatoes, cheese, crackers
  • mini tarts made with cream cheese, lemon curd, and blackberries
  • chocolate cake balls
  • assorted cookies, mostly chocolate
  • grapes, strawberries, plums
  • wine and tea
 We enjoyed these little fancies on good china with gorgeous teacups. It was a lovely respite in a busy week, and so much fun to spend some quality time with people I like. I brought one of my favorites: Puff Pastry Baskets with Chicken Salad. Don't be scared by "Puff Pastry" because I use pre-made puff pastry sheets found in the grocer's freezer section.

Puff Pastry Baskets with Chicken Salad
Makes 24 
These may be made one or two days ahead, but be sure to store the puff pastry separate from the chicken salad and don't fill the baskets until just before serving.

Ingredients:
1 (17.3 oz) package Pepperidge Farms Puff Pastry Sheets
10 - 12 ounces shredded chicken (about 1 1/2 cups) - can be rotisserie chicken from deli or poach a
     couple of boneless skinless breasts in chicken broth
2/3 cups mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper (more , if you like)
1 stalk celery, diced very fine

Instructions:
Puff Pastry Baskets
  1. Unwrap the puff pastry sheets and and let them thaw at room temperature for about 45 minutes
  2. Heat oven to 400 degrees
  3. Prepare 2 baking sheets with parchment paper
  4. Using a sharp knife, cut the pastry sheets into 24 little rectangles about 2 1/2 x 3 inches each (12 from each pastry sheet)
  5. Carefully place the rectangles on the baking sheets
  6. Using a toothpick, score a smaller rectangle on the inside of each rectangle; be careful to only score the surface - do not push the toothpick all the way through
  7. Bake for 12 minutes, until golden brown
  8. Cool on wire rack for 5 minutes and then remove the baskets to a wire rack 
  9. After about 5 minutes, carefully pry off the little rectangles and scoop out any extra pastry inside. Save the pastry you pry out - they're yummy to snack on
  10. Cool completely before filling - at least 30 minutes. Store in airtight container

Chicken Salad
  1. In a bowl, shred the chicken
  2. Add mayonnaise, white pepper, and celery and mix well
  3. Chill for at least 1 hour before using
  4. Store in covered container in the refrigerator

Assembly   (assemble within an hour of serving so pastry doesn't get soggy)
  1. Carefully and lightly spoon chicken salad into the hole in the puff pastry baskets
  2. Arrange on a plate for serving

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Simple Slow Cooker Green Beans & Chicken

My sisters and I are working on the next version of our best selling cookbook, Simple Slow Cooking. This next cookbook will feature new and super easy slow cooker recipes. Look for it in 2015. Here's a recipe that will appear in that cookbook:

Green Beans and Chicken
Note: This takes a little while to prepare everything, depending on how fast you are, but once prepped, everything goes in at the same time and you're done until you serve it. I made this in a
5 quart slow cooker.

Ingredients:
3/4 cup chicken broth or stock
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1 large clove shallot, peeled and diced
4 - 5 medium potatoes (Yukon or Russet), peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper, divided (more if you like more pepper)
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, each cut into 3 or 4 large pieces
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons sweet Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon salt
2 - 3 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 pound fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into approximately 2 inch pieces

Instructions:
  1. Prepare all the vegetables and chicken; set aside
  2. In a 5 quart slow cooker, place chicken broth, carrot, and shallot
  3. Next, layer the potato and top with half the white pepper
  4. Then, place the pieces of chicken, arranged in a single layer
  5. Drizzle the olive oil over the chicken and sprinkle on the paprika, salt, the remaining half of the white pepper, and thyme
  6. Finally, spread the green beans over everything
  7. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 hours

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Veggie Salad

We went to a potluck party today. With about 15 people there and no pre-planning, there was a fully balanced meal with no duplicates! Amazing when this happens. We had meatballs, potato salad, taco salad, creamy orange Jell-o salad, ambrosia salad, veggie salad (recipe below), kale salad, a bowl of huge blueberries, Brie encroute with apricot preserves and almonds, cheesecake, chocolate cupcakes, donuts, no-bake cookies, and a variety of beverages. We ate, chatted, played croquet, and horseshoes, and had a great time. I love potlucks because you never know what's going to be served, and I love the creativity and traditional recipes from others.

Veggie Salad
This is a very flexible salad to make; feel free to omit vegetables you don't like for those that you do or add other veggies that you enjoy. The beets, carrots, and cabbage make for a very pleasing-looking salad, the veggies all have a nice crunch to them, and the dressing is light and refreshing and doesn't overpower the veggies. All in all, a very pretty, delicious slaw-type salad.
  Ingredients:
1 red beet, peeled and shredded
1 golden beet, peeled and shredded
1 carrot, peeled and shredded
1 large stalk celery, sliced thinly
1 tart apple, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, and shredded
1/4 - 1/2 small head green cabbage, shredded
12 cherry tomatoes, quartered 
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup chopped cilantro or leafy parsley
1/2 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons water
 1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

Instructions:
  1. In a serving bowl, gently toss the prepared vegetables, apple, sunflower seeds, and cilantro until well-mixed
  2. In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar, water, sugar, and white pepper until well-mixed
  3. Add the dressing to the salad and toss gently until well-coated
  4. Cover and chill at least 1 hour
  5. For serving, the salad can be either chilled or at room temperature

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Furry Friends' Fundraiser

Today, I participated in a fundraiser for the Sunny Sky's Animal Rescue and Shelter in Puyallup, WA. I had a vendor booth, where I sold our CB Cooks cookbooks (titles below), handcrafted wooden cutting boards and trivets made from reclaimed forest wood, and some kitty toys. For the toys, I knit some small squares and rectangles, rolled them into tubes, and put catnip on the inside. One of my cats loves them; he cuddles them, sucks on them, and drools until they're dripping wet. I also made some without catnip, but made from alpaca yarn instead. My other cat goes nuts over these - they must still carry some alpaca scent, though I don't smell it. And I made some feather kitty teasers - always a hit with my guys.

Back to the cookbooks. For those of you who don't know, my sisters and I write and publish cookbooks, geared for the home cook. We're very proud of these and have several more in the pipeline for our burgeoning publishing empire. Our daughters have been involved by creating recipes, proofreading, creating our logo, and designing our book covers. It's a family affair. Here are the cookbook titles:

Simple Slow Cooking
Ethnic Slow Cooking
Eating Out
More to Celebrate
Girls Just Wanna Have Fudge!
mm-mmm Muffins
Scandinavian Smorgasbord

For more information about our cookbooks, email me at cbcbcooks@gmail.com


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Slow Cooker Chicken Barley Stew

Last Thursday was one of those crazy days, starting with water volleyball at 6:45 AM, ending with knitting with friends at an alpaca rescue ranch and fiber shop, and filled with all sorts of errands in the middle of the day. Thank goodness for slow cookers!  I decided to make Chicken Barley Stew. This recipe is extremely quick and easy to get into the cooker, fills the house with yummy smells, and tastes wonderful. On top of all that, it's a pretty healthy dish. The longest part of the prep will be the vegetables, so chop quickly - or even dice the veggies ahead of time and keep in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until you want to use it.

Slow Cooker Chicken Barley Stew
Makes 2 - 4 servings

Ingredients:
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup pearled barley
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon ground dried thyme
2 stalks celery, diced, including leafy tops
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 small sweet onion, peeled and diced
1 tomato, seeded and diced
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
Optional Ingredients:
1 cup finely shredded cabbage
1 bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 cup green or wax beans, cut into 1/2" pieces
1 cup corn niblets, fresh, frozen, or canned
1 small rutabaga or turnip, peeled and diced
1 medium Yukon or Russet potato, peeled and diced
any other vegetable that won't turn mushy being cooked all day

Instructions:
  1. Place the chicken broth, barley, and chicken breasts in a slow cooker
  2. Sprinkle white pepper and thyme on top
  3. Add celery, carrots, onion, tomato, garlic, and any other vegetables you'd like to use
  4. Cover and cook on LOW for about 8 hours

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Comfort Food

This past week, a few of us were discussing comfort food. The first thing we noticed was that  each of us could name several comfort foods without any trouble. The next thing we noticed was that each of us had different ideas of what comfort food is and came to the conclusion that comfort food is what comforts me - it's very individual. Some of us thought about food that was ethnic, such as lasagne, smothered enchiladas, or noodles in broth. Others of us described foods from our childhood and because we're different ages, those foods were also different and related to the decade we were children, such as Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Malt-o-Meal, Spaghettio's, or Pirate's Booty.

We then got even more specific and described the comfort food our Moms made when we were sick. These resulted in "Eww," or "Really?" or "Oh, yum!" Here are some of the comfort foods we crave when we're not feeling well:

  • Make a grilled cheese sandwich using white bread and American cheese. Tear grilled sandwich into pieces and place in a bowl. Pour hot cream of tomato soup over the sandwich pieces.
  • Make strawberry Jell-o with a lot of bananas sliced into it; make sure to use very overripe bananas. Serve chilled with whipped cream from a can such as Reddi-Whip.
  • Make chicken noodle soup with chicken, celery, carrots, and extra-wide egg noodles.
  • Make sandwiches from Graham crackers with peanut butter on one side, Marshmallow Fluff on the other side, and chocolate chips in the middle.
  • Break saltine crackers into large pieces and put into a bowl. Pour hot milk over the crackers and top with sugar.
  • Cook some white rice and when cooked, stir in applesauce and ground cinnamon.
  • Make creamy mashed potatoes and near the end of mashing them, add shredded cheese.
  • Heat a bowl of your favorite ice cream in the microwave until it's completely melted.
  • Peel, core, and slice tart apples. Saute them in butter, sugar, and cinnamon until very soft. Serve plain, or with vanilla ice cream, or with whipped cream.
  • Warm dark chocolate pudding.
  • Warm homemade cookies (especially chocolate chip, snickerdoodles, oatmeal raisin, or ginger snaps) and serve with ice cold milk.
  • Yogurt with your favorite topping such as chocolate syrup, maple syrup, caramel syrup, sugared and mashed berries, etc.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Chicken, Broccoli, and Noodles

We've had a busy last few days, Randy working and me volunteering, a day trip to the Pacific Ocean to visit friends, and both of us playing water volleyball, so we wanted something good but fast for dinner tonight. Unfortunately, I didn't start anything in a Crock-Pot this morning, so it's in the kitchen making something yummy but easy. This is one of my favorite recipes for times like these - plus, it has the added benefit of being really flexible - be sure to see some suggested substitutions or options at the end of the recipe. And it makes yummy leftovers - what could be better?

Chicken, Broccoli, and Noodles
Makes about 6 servings
Leftovers reheat well

Ingredients:
3/4 cup chicken broth
12 - 16 ounces skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
12 ounce package egg noodles
2 cups broccoli florets, either fresh or frozen
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk, heated
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper, or to taste


Instructions:
  1. In a frying pan, poach the pieces of chicken in chicken broth, adding more broth if necessary
  2. Meanwhile, bring water to a boil in a large pot; add noodles when water boils and cook according to package directions (about 8 minutes); drain noodles; set aside keeping hot
  3. In a saucepan, steam or boil the broccoli until just tender; drain and set aside
  4. In a saucepan, make a Béchamel (white sauce) by melting the butter, then adding the flour; cook flour and butter for a few minutes, but don't let it brown; whisk in the hot milk and continue cooking until sauce has thickened; add white pepper and mix well
  5. In a large serving dish, combine chicken, broccoli, noodles, and Béchamel and mix well

Substitutions and Options:
  • You can increase or decrease the amount of chicken and/or broccoli according to what you have in your kitchen or to your tastes
  • You can jazz up the chicken by adding thyme, a couple lemon slices, a little onion or garlic to the poaching liquid
  • You can substitute 2 (10 1/2 ounce) cans of Cream of Chicken soup and 3/4 cup of milk for the Béchamel (but the Béchamel is really easy and tastes better!)
  • To make this fancier, poach chicken breasts whole and slice into nice pieces after cooking; use broccoli spears instead of florets and arrange them next to the chicken slices on top of the cooked egg noodles; drizzle the Béchamel over all and pass the extra in a gravy boat
  • To add a pop of color, dice a red bell pepper and steam with broccoli the last 2 minutes or so
  • To make this richer, make the Béchamel an Alfredo sauce by adding 4 - 6 ounces grated Parmesan cheese and 4 - 8 ounces cream cheese
  • You can substitute mashed potatoes, steamed rice, barley, quinoa, polenta, pasta, or spaghetti squash for the egg noodles
  • You can substitute turkey breast or even boneless pork loin for the chicken; once, I even substituted a couple of sliced hard boiled eggs for the meat

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Summer Salad

It's the third week of July and the farmers' markets and farm stands are rapidly filling with all sorts of fruits and vegetables. It's so easy to walk through them and get lots of ideas of wonderful things to cook. This summer salad is full of colorful, healthy, delicious fruits and vegetables, and it's flexible too. I'll suggest ingredients, but really, feel free to use whatever is available in your area and that seems yummy to you. You really can't go wrong here.

Summer Salad
Choose ingredients from vegetables and fruits; toss them lightly together; make dressing and use the minimum amount to dress the salad just before serving.

Vegetables:
dark leafy greens such as spinach, arugula, watercress, red or green leaf lettuce, torn
herbs such as basil, oregano, mint, thyme
red, green, or napa cabbage, shredded
celery, sliced thinly
carrots, shredded
red onion, shallot, or scallions, sliced thinly
bell pepper, sliced thinly
mushrooms, sliced
cucumber, seeded and sliced thinly
beets, peeled and shredded
any other vegetable that you find irresistible

Fruits:
blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, or other berries
pomegranates
mangoes, peeled and diced
apples, diced
grapes
pineapple, peeled and cut tidbit-sized
any other fruits that you enjoy

Other:
unsweetened coconut flakes
sunflower seeds or pistachio
walnuts or pecans
croutons

Dressing:
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup pomegranate juice
juice from 1/2 lime
1 tablespoon honey or agave syrup
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Falling Off the Bone BBQ Ribs

Our grand-kids were visiting and one night we had a great summer dinner: barbecued pork ribs, corn on the cob, steamed green beans, and sliced fresh tomatoes. There are millions of recipes and techniques for barbecued ribs, but this one is my favorite because it's versatile, can be made in any season, is super easy, the meat is guaranteed to fall off the bone, and is flavorful and delicious. I use a dry rub to infuse some flavor and lay down a nice base of sweet heat. My husband likes his with just the dry rub, but I like a sweet thick barbecue sauce to finish it - maybe I like the extra mess of barbecue sauce on my chin and maybe a drip on my shirt. Luckily, this recipe can accommodate both ways even if you're cooking only one rack of ribs.

Although this is a super easy recipe and you spend little time actually doing something, it does take a few hours overall, so read through the instructions and plan accordingly. Here's the recipe for the dry rub, followed by the recipe for the ribs. Plan on putting the rub on at least 2 hours ahead of cooking the ribs; the rub can be left on for several hours if you cover the ribs with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Plan on another 3 hours for cooking the ribs.

Rib Rub
This makes a little more than one cup of rub, enough for about 3 racks of ribs. Any that you don't use can be saved for the future.

Ingredients:
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup chili powder
2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon cayenne (ground red) pepper
1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin


Instructions:
  1. Combine all ingredients, mixing well so there are no brown sugar lumps and all spices are evenly distributed
  2. Store any extra in an airtight container
Falling Off the Bone BBQ Ribs

Ingredients:
 1 rack of pork baby back ribs (one rack serves 3 - 4 people)
1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil (or any vegetable oil)
1/3 - 1/2 cup rib rub
optional:
your favorite barbecue sauce

Instructions:
  1.  At least 5 hours before serving, prepare the ribs. You may wish to remove the silver-white membrane on the back of the ribs called "silverskin," though it's not absolutely necessary. Some say you must always remove it and others say you don't have to. I usually do; it's an easy process: simply slide the blade of a table knife under the membrane and work towards one end. Pick up the end of the membrane with a paper towel and peel off the rest. It's very easy
  2. Place the rib rack(s) on a baking sheet; brush one side with olive oil and sprinkle on half of the rib rub (about 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup). Turn ribs over and repeat on the other side
  3. Cover ribs with aluminum foil and refrigerate until about 3 hours before you wish to serve them
  4. Preheat oven to 300 degrees
  5. Bake for 3 hours unless you are planning on basting the ribs with barbecue sauce. If using sauce, brush on sauce after 2 hours of baking and baste every 20 minutes until total baking time is about 3 hours
  6. If you wish, you can remove the ribs from the oven after 2 3/4 hours and finish them on a grill

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Potluck BBQ

Today, we had a potluck BBQ. We provided regular-sized hamburgers, sliders, hotdogs, brats, chips, pretzels, and a variety of beverages. And everyone else brought what they wanted to. Remember one of my very first blogs where I mentioned that you're taking a chance when people don't sign up ahead of time for what to bring, or when you don't assign a category such as salads or desserts. Well, I'm always up for taking a culinary risk, so didn't have anyone organize what to bring. And it worked perfectly with a wonderful balance and variety of foods.

In addition to the hamburgers and hot dogs, I made a big platter of tomatoes, onions, lettuce, bell peppers, and cheese and included catsup, mustard, mayonnaise, pickles, and sauerkraut. Someone brought a delicious salad made with kale, carrots, cherry tomatoes, and I don't know what else, but it was colorful and delicious. And someone else brought a cucumber salad which was gorgeous and delicious too. Then there were the dilly beans - dilled green beans - that were so good! We had a baked brie covered with apricot spread and wrapped in pastry - yummy!

For some healthy desserts, we had fresh pineapple, fresh cherries, and fresh strawberries. For more decadent foods, we had a blackberry cobbler, strawberry cheesecake, and a 5 layer chocolate cake. It was Yvonne's birthday and we had to light the candles 4 times before they stayed lit enough for her to make a wish and blow them out.

So, there were no duplications, and everything was delicious and went well together. The weather also cooperated - sunny, in the 70s with a light breeze. Our deck was partly sunny and partly shady, so everyone could sit in the sun or shade. And the company was fun and interesting, lubricated with wine, champagne, pop, and water. Perfect day after the Solstice!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Casino Buffets

Although it has been a few years since I've eaten in a casino buffet (last few times were in Las Vegas), I've eaten in a few in Minnesota and Washington in the last couple of months. Because the buffets were in casinos, one big problem for me was that you had to make your way through the smoky casino floor to get to the restaurants. And a couple were so close to the action, that they were slightly smoky inside the restaurant.

So I was pleasantly surprised at the buffet in Snoqualmie Casino in Snoqualmie, WA. When I entered the casino from the parking garage elevator, the first thing I noticed was that the smoke smell was pretty faint - not at all overwhelming. The smoking section was at the ballroom end of the casino gaming floor and the restaurants were at the opposite end. So, it was very easy to find the buffet and eat there as well as play some of the machines without getting overcome by smoke. A definite plus!

One end of the restaurant was banked with windows overlooking the mountains and valleys of the Cascades - beautiful. Chairs and tables were comfortable and not too close to each other. And the servers were attentive, refilled our beverages frequently and made sure we had whatever we needed.

The food was very good - none of us got something that we didn't like which is unusual at a buffet. The salad bar had items that were chilled and crisp, including some items not usually found - alfalfa sprouts, radishes, walnuts - and 9 salad dressings in addition to raspberry vinaigrette, balsamic vinaigrette, and oil and vinegar. Plus they offered the usual additional items such as Caesar salad, coleslaw, potator salad, cottage cheese, fruits, and soups.

For hot offerings, there was an Asian section with Mongolian stir fry, chow mein, sukiyaki, teriyaki, sweet and sour pork, broccoli beef, fried rice, steamed rice, and a few other typical items. I had the chow mein; the vegetables were still a little crispy which I like and it had a nice sauce that wasn't overpowering. There was an Italian section with lasagne, spaghetti and meatballs, breadsticks, Italian pork chops, and pizza. The pizza was pretty good - not pizzeria-style, but not bad. Oh - and a large bowl full of roasted garlic - my husband would be in Heaven!

There was a fish and seafood section with cod, halibut, salmon, crab cakes, and calamari. I'm not much of a fish eater, so I skipped this section, but my companions said they were pleased with the food. There was also a meat-and-potatoes section with roasted turkey, turkey gravy, ham, mashed potatoes, potatoes au gratin, green beans, corn on the cob, sweet potatoes, teriyaki meatballs, fresh fruit, cheese, biscuits, and dinner rolls.

For dessert, there were cookies, bars, a chocolate fountain with strawberries and marshmallows, soft serve ice cream, and a variety of cakes and pies. I had a pina colada bar and a chocolate brownie, both of which were very good. My friends had the bread pudding, a berry crumble, cookies, bars - everything was pronounced very good. But, they didn't have any carrot cake, which is a particular favorite of a couple of us - just a minor disappointment as we were so stuffed anyway.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised at Snoqualmie Casino and would recommend the buffet. At lunch, it was only $10.95, so a very good deal for all you could - but probably shouldn't - eat.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Fantastic Raisin Bran Apple Muffins

Have you ever lost your mind and bought a commercially prepared high fiber bran muffin? I have - and I'm always sorry. They're usually way too sweet and have a greasy or oily aftertaste. And with so many chemical stabilizers and such, I think a lot of the "healthy" benefits disappear.

When I was on my retirement vacation up north Minnesota, friend Nita made some fabulous muffins made from Raisin Bran cereal - they were so delicious, not too sweet, no aftertaste, and made us feel good and virtuous eating them.

This is my version of Nita's muffins - there are a few differences, but you end up with delicious and similar results.

Raisin Bran Apple Muffins
Makes 12 regular sized muffins

Ingredients:
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup applesauce
1 cup milk
1 cup plain yogurt
1 carrot, grated
1 tart apple, peeled, cored, and finely diced
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 cups Raisin Bran cereal
Optional:
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup Craisins
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans


Instructions:
  1. Prepare muffin pans by greasing each cup or using paper muffin liners;  set aside
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  3. In a large bowl, beat oil and sugar together until the sugar is completely dissolved
  4. Add egg, applesauce, milk, and yogurt and mix until well-combined
  5. Fold in the grated carrot and diced apple
  6. In a small separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and cinnamon and mix well; add this dry mixture to the wet mixture and mix well
  7. Fold in the Raisin Bran cereal and mix well
  8. Add in any or all of the optional ingredients
  9. Bake in prepared muffin tins at 400 degrees for 18-20 minutes; cool in pan for 10 minutes
If you make these muffins according to the recipe above with no optional ingredients, each muffin has 288 calories, 50 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams fat, 6 grams protein, and 3 grams fiber.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Chicken Salad and Alpacas

I spent this past Saturday with a few people for a "Forever - Whatever" party. It's a session devoted to those projects (knitting, crocheting, cross stitching, etc.) that have hung around "forever" and need to be worked on. We met at an Alpaca Ranch - the owner has more than 2 dozen alpacas, most of them are rescues. She also has a shop there, selling alpaca fleece and yarns. The alpacas had just been shorn, so they looked crazy skinny, and were enjoying the beautiful mid-70s sunny weather. She turned on a sprinkler and they played in it like little children. It made me want to run through a sprinkler too!

Anyway, it was a beautiful June afternoon in the Pacific Northwest - sunny, warm, a little breeze. I made a cold chicken salad to share with everyone. It is my World Famous Chicken Salad - so easy, so versatile, and so yummy! I always get requests to bring it for parties and potlucks. Here's the recipe:

Cindy's World Famous Chicken Salad
Ingredients:
1 or 2 chicken breasts
2/3 cup chicken broth
7 ounce box Creamette macaroni salad rings *
2 stalks celery
1 cup mayonnaise **
2/3 cup Miracle Whip salad dressing **
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 - 3 hard boiled eggs

*   I import my pasta rings from Minnesota; if you can't find them, substitute any
     tiny macaroni, such as tiny shells, bow ties, etc.
** I like this combination of mayonnaise and salad dressing; if you prefer, you can use all 
     mayonnaise, all salad dressing, or mix it in whatever proportions you prefer

Optional:
Chopped seedless grapes
Chopped apples
Chopped pecans or walnuts
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
2 -3 radishes, sliced thinly
1 green, red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, seeded and diced

Instructions:
  1. Poach the chicken breasts in chicken broth
  2. Remove chicken skin and bones, if any and discard; shred chicken and refrigerate to cool
  3. Prepare the macaroni according to directions; drain and rinse under cold water; place in large bowl and refrigerate to cool
  4. Dice the celery and combine in large bowl with shredded chicken and macaroni rings
  5. Fold in mayonnaise, Miracle Whip, and white pepper
  6. Fold in chopped hard boiled eggs
  7. Fold in any of the optional ingredients, if desired
This salad is especially good served with cantaloupe, watermelon, or red ripe tomatoes

Retirement Vacation

I'm sorry for not posting the last couple of weeks. Besides forgetting to alert you all, I packed wrongly for my trip - way too many warm clothes, anticipating cold weather. Which didn't occur. I retired 4 months ago and so was in desperate need for a vacation. Retirement is HARD! Well, okay, that's not really the story, but it did catch your attention, didn't it? I did go on a vacation and it was fabulous.

I started out with a trip on Amtrak from Tacoma to St. Paul, Minnesota. I almost always travel in a sleeping compartment, so even though my train there was 6 hours late (oil trains in North Dakota), I had a book and my knitting and I didn't care. The trip there was the beginning of my vacation. The trip began about 1:30 PM on Thursday and I got to Minnesota about 11:00 Saturday morning. Lovely and so very relaxing. I always meet interesting people on the train too - it's part of the dining car experience.

First on my agenda was a slumber party with two of my oldest friends; seriously, we've known each other since we were 5-6 years old. They are part of the Fancy Five mentioned in earlier blog posts. We had lunch at Tucci Benucchi at the Mall of America; my spaghetti bolognese was delicious. It was rich, meaty, creamy, and made with fresh basil and oregano. They finished it with thin shavings of parmesan cheese. My friends had baked spaghetti and pronounced it delicious as well, with a very thick and slightly chunky tomato sauce. We spent the afternoon and evening and into the wee hours talking and talking. We never run out of things to talk about! It was so good to spend some time with them.

The next thing was to spend some time with my sister Nancy. As we sat on her sun porch chatting, I re-bonded with her doggies. And we ate Ol' Piper Pizza. It's not the best pizza in the world, but it is good and it's traditional in our family. We've been eating Ol' Piper for decades; plus, they cut it into squares, which I contend makes the pizza taste better. We then stopped at Dairy Queen on the way to visit my niece, nephew-in-law, and my 2 great nephews. Not sure if they were more excited to see their grandma or the ice cream, but we had a lovely visit  and they are so adorable. Then it was on to another niece, nephew-in-law, and their newborn son. He is adorable and the new parents are so thrilled. He was a preemie and his birth created a compulsion in me to knit preemie and newborn baby caps. I've knit 27 so far and am still compelled. I gave him a couple and have donated the rest to our local hospital.

Nancy dropped me off at my other sister, Joyce's, house where I was FORCED to eat Ol' Piper pizza again.  Though I managed to eat several pieces, it was under protest - except I think I forgot to actually protest. I spent the night there and repacked a little for the next leg of my journey.

I was headed up north with some girlfriends from high school. I met one of them in second grade; she was also the one who introduced me to my husband on a blind date, so we all go way back. As an aside, in Minnesota, people say that they're going "up north," to "the lake," or to "the cabin." Only if someone asks specifically do Minnesotans say which city or lake they're referring to. It is an odd thing, but is typically Minnesotan.

We stayed in friend Nita's hunting lodge - a log cabin lodge. We stayed on the main floor that had a living room, dining area, kitchen, bathroom, and 2 big bedrooms. There were 6 of us, 3 beds in each bedroom, and luckily, 3 of us like freezing cold rooms and the other 3 like warm rooms to sleep in, so it worked out perfectly. During the week, we talked, shopped, talked, ate, talked, had a pontoon ride, talked, and played Dominoes (specifically, Mexican Train Chicken Foot) until the wee hours of the morning. It was a new game for most of us and we quickly got hooked. Minnesota was beautiful - sunny, 72 degrees, 40 degrees overnight, and too early for mosquitos, the state bird. Our timing was perfect. I had some excellent food with wild rice - one was a chilled salad with wild rice, craisins, apples, celery, pecans, and a light dressing. As soon as I recreate the dressing, I'll post the recipe here. I'll also post a recipe for cranberry wild rice bread which was also delicious - I had that for a roast turkey sandwich - was perfect.

After returning from up north, I stayed with sister Joyce and got to see my other niece and nephew, both home from school. So, all together, I saw ALL of my nieces, nephews, and grand nephews except for one, who lives in Oklahoma. Molly - come home!!!!! Plus, my brother John stopped by for dinner and a boat ride; it was good to get caught up with him too. And to continue my perfect timing, my sister and her husband bought a new pontoon and had it delivered the day I was there, so we all got a ride on the new boat. My brother-in-law got a humongous motor for the pontoon - Until then, I had not known that a pontoon could go 30 mph! We had a gorgeous sunset cruise.

The next day, we slept in, showered, lazed around, played with their dogs, and drank a lot of coffee on the porch overlooking the lake. Then Joyce drove me to the Amtrak station. There's a Greek restaurant there, which has gotten very good reviews, so I had dinner there. Excellent pork chops (that made the edges of my lips tingle), pita bread, rice pilaf, and excellent merlot. I got on Amtrak, tucked myself into bed, and had a very lovely ride back home. We were on time coming back, which is too bad - I wanted to extend my trip - but I was so happy to see Randy again. When I got home, my cats sniffed me and then went back to their napping.

Recipes from this trip to follow in future posts . . .

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Creole-style Barley Jambalaya

In Minnesota, the hotdish reigns supreme. A hotdish includes meat, vegetables, starch, and some type of soup or similar to stick it all together. One reason the hotdish is so popular is that there are thousands of variations, and therefore it's easy to prepare with what you have on hand, and it's easy to create your own signature hotdish with all your favorite flavors and ingredients.

In the deep South, they have something similar in jambalaya - thousands of flavor and ingredient combinations are possible, so it's easy to be inventive. Many different meats may be used and even combined: chicken, beef, pork, sausages, shrimp, duck, alligator, and ham. Vegetables always include the South's Holy Trinity: red or green bell peppers, onions, and celery. Other vegetables may be added, such as mushrooms, carrots, squash, or garlic, but the Holy Trinity is a must. There are a couple of basics that are useful to remember: Creole-style jambalaya, also known as red jambalaya, has tomatoes and/or tomato sauce. Cajun-style jambalaya, also known as brown jambalaya, is made with a browned chicken stock or beef stock. Rice serves as the starch for this dish.

I decided to experiment a little with more traditional jambalayas by substituting pearled barley for rice (Is this heresy? A sacrilege? Will I be struck down by lightning with a Southern accent?) and cooked it all day in a slow cooker. I like using barley because I love the nutty flavor and the chewiness of the grain. In addition, you can cook it for a very long time in a slow cooker without it getting mushy and falling apart. For the meats, I chose chicken and smoked sausage, because that's what I had on hand. I like tomatoes, so this was a Creole-style or red jambalaya. My family loves garlic, so I used both garlic and shallots along with the onions, celery, and peppers. A few mushrooms and carrots rounded out the vegetables.

This little experiment turned out to be so easy to make, made the house smelled wonderful all day, and was bursting with hearty, spicy flavors. If your family doesn't like it very spicy, just modify some of the spices and concentrate on using paprika, bay leaves, thyme, and oregano. It will still be very flavorful, but not spicy. Be sure to use a smoked sausage or kielbasa rather than a hot or andouille sausage.

Creole-Style Barley Jambalaya
Ingredients:
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1 cup pearl barley
1 uncooked boneless, skinless chicken breast, diced
1 andouille sausage, diced
2 - 4 ounces ham, diced
2 stalks celery, diced, including leaves
1 large onion, peeled and diced
1 large green or red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 shallot, peeled and diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
8 mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 (14 1/2 ounce) can petit diced tomatoes

2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons sweet Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon cayenne (ground red) pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper


Instructions:
  1. Place all ingredients in a 5 quart slow cooker; mix well
  2. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 hours or longer
  3. Remove the 2 bay leaves and serve the jambalaya

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Steak and Cooking Class

Last week, I attended a Taste of Home cooking class. There were about 500 people in the audience. The presentation cook prepared 10 different dishes; all recipes were in a little magazine and she shared her shortcuts and substitutions. There was a lot of energy in the room and it was a lot of fun. The magazine - and this particular series of cooking classes - are geared towards the home cook: tasty, nothing fancy, and easy to prepare. I'm interested because this is the type of cookbooks my sisters and I write; they're definitely focused on the home cook who want something easy, delicious, and nutritious.

Along with demonstrating the 10 recipes, the presenter gave some tips and shortcuts, quite a few of which I know and use regularly. But one was new to me and really intrigued me. When you're cooking or grilling a beef steak, how do you know when it's done to your liking? One way is to use a meat thermometer, which definitely works, but also pokes holes in your steak and lets out all the juices. Another way is to cut the steak in half and see what color it is. Again, it works, but the problem is that it also lets out all the precious meat juices. Her trick (and I've since learned that Rachel Ray has also used this on her TV show) is to use your fingers and touch it. First, touch your cheek - if the meat feels like that, it's still rare; touch your chin or the tip of your nose, and it's medium; touch your forehead, and if it feels firm like that, it's well done. My Mom always liked her steak cooked very well done. The joke in our family is that when her steak looked liked a charcoal briquette, it was done. most of us like is a little less done than that!

Tonight, I cooked us New York strip steaks and used the face-touching method. And it worked!
I stopped cooking the steaks just a little rarer than we like them because the meat will continue cooking as it rests. You should let it rest about 5 - 8 minutes to let all the juices settle back into the meat.

If you need a specific temperature for your steak, this would not be the correct method - it's a rough estimate at best. Use a meat thermometer if you want preciseness. But this method works just fine as an estimate and is certainly better than cutting your steak open to peek at the color.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Eggceptional Eggs

We spent an afternoon last week visiting some friends, drinking tea, and discussing all sorts of things.They have an urban farm with a good sized vegetable garden, chickens, and the most adorable baby goose I've ever seen. The goose stood about a foot high, had soft fuzzy greenish-grey down, chatted amiably with us by quacking, and liked to be picked up, held, and petted.  So sweet! When they grow up, geese can be very territorial and aggressive to trespassers, so we'll take advantage of his amiableness while he's a baby. As we were leaving, they gathered some eggs and gave us some to take home. They were beautiful. One was an off-white, one a light tan, and one was a light greenish-blue. Egg color has nothing to do with the nutritional quality or taste of the egg - the colors are almost all due to the breed of the hen.

I cooked these eggs my favorite way: scrambled. There are several different ways to scramble eggs, but mostly it comes down to what you add - if anything - to the eggs and the way you prepare them.

A "hard scramble" is what you usually get at a restaurant. These can be prepared in one of two ways; In a restaurant, the eggs are cracked and stored in a container and some of the beaten eggs are poured onto the griddle as needed. In some restaurants, usually those with fewer scrambled eggs ordered, the eggs are cracked open and beaten as needed. In both cases, a little butter might be used, but the egg mixture contains nothing but eggs. These are allowed to start setting on the griddle or in the pan, and then stirred or scrambled as they finish cooking. And, usually, these eggs are cooked hard - until they're completely set in the pan or on the griddle.

The other type of eggs are "fluffy" or "soft scrambled eggs." Crack the eggs into a bowl and add a little dairy sour cream (about 1 tablespoon per 2 eggs) and a couple of tablespoons of shredded cheese if you like. To prepare the eggs, put a little butter (about 1 teaspoon per egg) and cream or half 'n' half (about 1 tablespoon per egg) into a small frying pan. Heat this until the cream is scalding and then quickly add the beaten eggs. Stir briskly and constantly as soon as you add the eggs to the cream and cook until the eggs are softly set. Don't cook completely because they'll cook a little more after you remove from the heat; you want these eggs to be soft and fluffy.


One of my favorite things is to make fluffy scrambled eggs with cheese and also fold in some cooked vegetable as the eggs are cooking. I especially love sauteed onions and cauliflower or broccoli, but feel free to add any vegetable you like or have as leftovers. You could also add some cooked bacon or sausage or some diced ham or chicken. Feeling fancy? Sprinkle on some sliced almonds or chopped walnuts. And a touch of fresh herbs, such as parsley, thyme, basil, or oregano - it looks gorgeous and adds a pop of flavor. Be creative and adventurous!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Passover and Easter

This time of the year marks the Passover and Easter. For a lot of people, even though Spring officially started March 21, Passover and Easter signify the real beginning of Spring and all the promise that holds: joy, peace, new beginnings. It's a time to dust off the cobwebs of our dormant season and plant for upcoming growth and harvest seasons. Food, family, and fellowship are important components of both Passover and Easter. And everyone has their own "must haves" for those important meals. I've listed some menu suggestions below, just in case you'd like to add to your traditions. But first, a couple little stories.

When I was growing up, wearing brand new dresses, shoes, and Easter hats to church was the big deal. And we also got to wear white gloves and socks with ruffled tops. We were really something! Church was followed by an Easter egg hunt and baskets full of chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, and Peeps. And dinner always included devilled eggs, ham, au gratin potatoes (which we kids called "all rotten potatoes"), and since we lived in Minnesota, of course there was Jell-O. Everything else changed from year to year, but we could always count on those essentials.

I think one of my favorite Easter stories happened to my baby sister, not me. They had a golden retriever named Sundance who was generally well-behaved and was a beloved member of the family. One year, my sister served one of those spiral cut hams that you bring to room temperature instead of baking. She set the table, set out the ham, and they all went to church. When they got home, they discovered that Sundance had broken into the house and devoured the entire ham. Can you imagine? A house full of dinner guests and the main course was obliterated. That dog was lucky it survived for several more years!

Easter dinners generally feature ham, lamb, or chicken. This is usually accompanied by potatoes au gratin, escalloped potatoes, parsley buttered potatoes, or creamed new potatoes. Spring vegetables are favored: asparagus, spring peas, artichokes, and green salads. Desserts are often on the lighter side: carrot cake, coconut cake, lemon meringue pie, angel food cake, and strawberry shortcake.

Passover dinners usually include beef rib roast, braised veal shoulder, or roast chicken. Matzo balls show up in soups such as chicken soup with parsley, sage, and leek matzos or matzo balls in lemongrass chicken broth. Vegetables such as herbed new potatoes, braised baby artichokes,  or potato leek matzo balls as well as mixed green salads with apples, Asian pears, and walnuts. Favorite desserts are dark chocolate torte, chocolate orange honey cake, and meringue tortes with berry sauce.

I'm sure that you and your families have your favorites, your traditions, but remember that it's fun to try something new each year. Who knows? It might become your new tradition!


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Thank goodness for Crockpots!

This past week has been a busy one! Had breakfast twice with friends and lunch twice with friends. We managed to play water volleyball three times this past week. Also included were shopping, knitting with friends, and three meetings all at the same time - I chose to go to "Women Who Kill" which was presented by some Sisters in Crime members, sponsored by King County Libraries. The three presenting authors discussed character development, how much of themselves appeared in their protagonists, and did they kill off people they don't like or do they develop them as murderers. It was very enjoyable. And yesterday was lovely outside, so I spent two hours at a nursery buying and potting some plants: strawberries, sage, oregano, rosemary, thyme, chives, peppermint, chocolate mint, and catnip. And fuchsias. Great start for the summer. Next time, I'm going to get several lettuces and salad greens - they also looked great. I also spent some time doing baking experiments - I'll share those results in a future blog.

With all of that, thank goodness for Crockpots. Here are two recipes I made this week - enough for dinners and leftovers as well.

Curried Chicken
Makes 6  (1 1/2 cup) servings

Ingredients:


1 medium onion, peeled and diced
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 small carrot, diced
1 - 2 tablespoons curry powder
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon ground red (cayenne) pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup chicken broth or stock
2 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs, large pieces of fat removed and discarded
2 (10 3/4 ounce) cans cream of chicken soup OR 1 cup heavy cream


Instructions:
  1. In a 5 quart Crockpot, combine onion, garlic, celery, carrot, and all spices with chicken broth; mix well
  2. Add chicken and mix well to coat all pieces of chicken
  3. Cook covered on LOW for 6 - 9 hours
  4. Add cream of chicken soup or cream, cover, and cook another 30 minutes
Serve with steamed rice or pasta; also delicious with potatoes.

Chili
Makes 8 (1 1/2 cup) servings

Ingredients:
1 pound lean ground beef
1 large onion, peeled and diced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
3 (15 ounce) can chili beans
1 (15 ounce) small kidney beans, drained
1 (4 1/2 ounce) can chopped or diced green chilies
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne)
1/2 teaspoon salt


Instructions:
  1. In a frying pan, saute hamburger, onion, and garlic until hamburger is no longer pink. Drain well and place cooked meat, onion, and garlic in a 5 quart Crockpot
  2. Add tomato sauce, beans, chilies, and spices and mix well
  3. Cover and cook on LOW for 5 - 9 hours
Note: If you wish, you can use different beans or combinations of beans, such as pinto beans, great northern beans, large kidney beans, and black beans

Corn bread and a crisp green salad are excellent accompaniments. You can also serve this with shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, or even a chunky salsa. Tortilla chips or corn chips make a nice crunchy addition to the meal.

If you have some leftovers, but not quite enough for the number of servings you want, cook some egg noodles, drain, and add to heated leftover chili. The egg noodles cool down the chili heat.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Time Flies

     I have noticed that I no sooner publish a blog post that it's time to write the next one. Time seems to be flying by faster and faster. I got thinking about when time didn't seem to go so fast - when I was a kid. The school years seemed to last forever and summer was luxuriously long. We had time to do so many wonderful things.
     My sister, friends, and I called ourselves The Fancy Five. We were always trying to come up with money-making schemes. We knew that we were about to hit the big time, but somehow, these schemes didn't ever quite pan out. For example, one summer day we decided to sell cookies that one of our moms had made. Sales were very slow, so we got the bright idea to give away a bottle of pop with each cookie sold. We raided the bar of my girlfriend's parents for the pop. When her folks got home from work, they were not very happy with us. I don't know if my friend got punished, but I remember being told to go home and not come back for several days.
     We knew we were finally going to make the big time when my Dad built us a car of sorts. He had gone to the dump and found an old wooden ironing board, mounted it on 4 wheels, put a box on the front to look like an engine compartment, an old bicycle seat to sit on, and a box in back for a passenger. The whole thing was steered with a rope that just pulled the wheels from left to right. And it was pedal powered - it would go as fast as we could pedal. Not content with just taking turns driving this contraption, we named it the Woody-mobile (after my Dad, Woody) and decided we would make money by using it as a taxi and giving kids rides to and from school. I don't recall anyone ever paying for a ride, but we had great fun giving each other rides.
     And then there was the time we formed a little circus; we had a parade, hoping to draw hundreds of people to watch us perform tricks on a swingset. We had exotic names, draped ourselves with scarves, and hung upside down from the trapeze. We swung as high as we could and jumped off, arms extended wide and graceful so that we'd look like we were flying. I think we managed to cajole a couple of our moms into coming, but other than that, those large crowds that would propel us to stardom never materialized.
     Undaunted, we never gave up. We temporarily reorganized The Fancy Five into a serious stitching group called the Knit Wits (we were so very clever!). Our plan was to knit these amazing afghans and blankets and sell them for hundreds of dollars.  As I recall, we each managed to make a dishcloth or two. Yet again, our ideas and chutzpah didn't quite match reality.
     What finally brought all these schemes to an end was puberty and the discovery that maybe boys weren't stupid or icky after all; our energies were directed towards attracting their attention.
And now, later in life after our biggest dreams of getting married and having kids and grand-kids have been realized, maybe it's time to resurrect The Fancy Five . . .

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lemon Olive Garlic Chicken

A good friend was visiting last week and we came up with some amazing meals. I wanted to make chicken for dinner one night and she said that she liked all kinds of chicken, but really didn't like the skin, regardless of how crispy it was. I had some boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the freezer and took those out to thaw. An hour before we wanted dinner, I started preparing the chicken. This is one of the easiest meals to make and the flavor and fragrance is wonderful. Do give it a try!

Lemon Olive Garlic Chicken
Serves 4
Ingredients:
1 large lemon
4 cloves garlic
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
12 - 16 pitted kalamata olives (can substitute green olives)
1 shallot
1/3 cup white wine
1/3 cup chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

Instructions:
  1. Slice the lemon in 1/4 inch wide slices; remove seeds; slice lemon into half moons; place half of the lemon slices in the bottom of a large baking dish and set aside the remaining slices
  2. Slice the garlic cloves thinly; place half of them in the bottom of the baking dish and set aside the remaining garlic slices
  3. Place the chicken breasts in a single layer on top of the lemon and garlic; sprinkle lightly with paprika
  4. Place remaining lemon and garlic slices on the chicken along with the olives
  5. Slice the shallot thinly and place on top of the chicken
  6. In a small bowl, combine the wine, chicken broth, white pepper, thyme, and oregano; mix well and pour over the chicken
  7. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven
I served this with baked potatoes. If you prefer, you can bake fingering or small new potatoes in with the chicken or you can use quartered Yukon potatoes. Or you could serve steamed rice, angel hair pasta, or orzo.

You can also add a couple of more chicken breasts without changing the rest of the ingredients. We had leftover chicken and ate it chilled the next day - it was delicious!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Pie Time!

I've just finished reading a culinary cozy mystery novel, Pies and Prejudice by Ellery Adams. For those of you who are not familiar with the mystery genre, a cozy is a type of mystery where the murder is not a focus of the book, solving the mystery of whodunit is the focus. And the solution is found through understanding people, sifting through gossip, and paying attention to subtle signs rather than forensics or following police procedure. This book was a fun read about a woman who returns to her hometown to open a pie shop and discovers that she has some extra talents: when she has very strong emotions and is making a pie, her emotions get transferred into the pie and are exhibited by those who eat it. Finishing this book made me want to offer a couple of my favorite pie recipes: Cherry Cream Cheese Pie and Spring Rhubarb Pie.

Cherry Cream Cheese Pie
This is my husband's favorite pie. His Mom taught me this recipe over 40 years ago; she probably got it 
from a woman's magazine or possibly from the label of one of the few ingredients. It's so easy to make, 
is foolproof, and most everyone loves it.

Ingredients:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons lemon juice
9 inch prepared graham cracker pie crust
21 ounce can cherry pie filling

Instructions:
  1. Combine cream cheese, milk, and lemon juice in a mixing bowl and beat with electric mixer for several minutes, until it's light and fluffy
  2. Spoon this mixture into a prepared graham cracker pie shell and smooth the top
  3. Lightly spoon the cherry pie filling on top, totally covering the cheese mixture
  4. Chill in refrigerator for at least 4 hours
Spring Rhubarb Pie
 I'm thinking of this particular pie because the rhubarb in my yard is just about ready to pick. It's one 
of the very earliest things to grow and it comes up every year, without fail.

Ingredients:
4 cups of rhubarb, sliced in 1/4 inch pieces
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
6 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon butter
2 9 inch pie crusts (use your favorite recipe)
topping:
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Instructions:
  1. In a mixing bowl, combine rhubarb, sugar, and flour; mix thoroughly to coat rhubarb
  2. In a pie dish, place the bottom crust and smooth to fit
  3. Spoon the rhubarb mixture into the pie dish
  4. Dot the top of the rhubarb mixture with the tablespoon of butter
  5. Place the top crust on the rhubarb mixture and pinch the edges to seal
  6. Cut 3 or 4 1 inch slits in the top of the crust
  7. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 350 and bake another 45 minutes
  8. Remove pie from oven and brush on the tablespoon of butter and sprinkle on the 2 tablespoons of sugar; cool at least 30 minutes before serving

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Blueberries Are Coming!

It has been a fairly typical March in the Pacific Northwest: showers, occasional sunshine, and temperatures in the 50s. The daffodils and jonquils are opening their bright yellow blooms; tulips are poking their leaves out of the ground, and flowering trees are beginning to bloom. This morning, I saw that my blueberry bushes are beginning to bud and I am so excited to see my blueberries later this spring. I love blueberries just plain, or on my cereal, or in muffins, but I also like them in a chutney.

Chutney is a relish or condiment that is both sweet and spicy. It accompanies meats such as pork or chicken, and can also be served as a topping for cheese, bread, or crackers. I really like blueberry chutney on Brie, or as a topping for cream cheese or ricotta cheese on crackers or sliced French baguettes.

Chutney can be made from a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices. These include blueberries, cherries, apples, mangoes, pineapples, figs, dates, raisins, onions, tomatoes, garlic, shallots, peppers, fenugreek, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, and so on. Here's my recipe for a blueberry chutney:

Blueberry Chutney
Ingredients:
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 lemon, both juice and zest
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

Instructions:
  1. In a large saucepan over low heat, cook the onion in butter until the onion is soft and translucent - about 10 - 15 minutes
  2. Add the garlic and cook another 2 minutes
  3. Add the blueberries, vinegar, and lemon juice; bring to a boil and then lower the heat; simmer for about 20 minutes; some of the blueberries will pop
  4. Add the lemon zest, brown sugar, cornstarch, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and cayenne pepper; mix well and cook over low heat until thickened - about 10 minutes
Serve warm with meat, such as pork or chicken, or chill for at least an hour and serve with cheese, bread, crackers, etc. This chutney is delicious warm, room temperature, or chilled.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Little of This, A Little of That

Sometimes - or I guess, often - blog posts are a lot like weekday meals: a little of this and a little of that. There are so many blog topics to choose from and sometimes each of those choices aren't quite enough for a full post. This week's blog is like that; and so I'll describe a great meal we had last night. We had beef, barley, vegetable soup - it was so rich and satisfying on a rainy night! But because my friend Bobbie built it from leftovers, I'll first need to describe the original ingredients.

Slow Cooker Braised Beef Roast
Ingredients:
2.5 pounds (approximately) roast beef (I used a sirloin tip roast)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup red wine
20 ounces beef broth
1 onion, peeled and diced into large chunks
2 stalks celery, cut in 1/2 inch chunks
2 carrots, cut in 1/2 inch chunks
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
4 potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 bay leaves

Instructions:
  1. Rinse roast beef and pat dry; sprinkle with salt and pepper
  2. In a large pot, heat oil; then add roast and brown on all sides
  3. Add red wine and cover quickly; simmer 5 minutes
  4. In a slow cooker (such as a Crockpot), heat the beef broth while browning beef
  5. Add the beef and all remaining ingredients
  6. Cover and cook on LOW setting for 6 - 9 hours
  7. Remove bay leaves; let roast rest for 10 minutes and then slice; serve au jus with vegetables
Here's the recipe for the soup from leftovers (Note: this is soup from leftovers, so all of these measurements are approximate. Feel free to modify as you wish - it'll still be wonderful!)

Beef with Barley and Vegetables Soup
Ingredients:
leftover beef broth - about 2 - 4 cups
1 - 2 cups water
1/2 cup pearled barley
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 large onion, peeled and diced
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
leftover roast beef - about 8 ounces or so, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 cup diced mushrooms
8 - 12 cherry tomatoes, diced
 
Instructions:
  1. In a large pot, combine broth, water, barley, carrots, celery, onion, and bay leaves
  2. Simmer until barley is soft - we like it a little chewy or al dente; add water as necessary
  3. In a large frying pan, saute the beef, peppers, mushrooms, and tomatoes until soft; set aside
  4. When the barley is cooked to your liking, add the beef, peppers, mushrooms, and tomatoes to the soup and heat through
  5. Remove the bay leaves and serve
We had this soup with a cold, crisp Romaine salad and completed the meal with Trader Joe's Triple Ginger Cookies - great combination. Oh! And we had an actual terrific wine pairing with this meal: Washington state's Columbia Crest Merlot, 2011. Delicious!