Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Learning New Skill at the IFBC Conference

     I really enjoy the International Food Bloggers Conference - I enjoy learning about - and trying - new products; I enjoy listening to speakers who provide me new ways of thinking about things; and I really enjoy meetings other participants. And sometimes, I get to practice a new skills.
     This year, one of the sessions was on food styling difficult foods. We were each given a small cutting board, a paring knife, and an ordinary Haas avocado and prepared to peel and slice the avocado into a beautiful rose decoration for serving. Or at least that was the whole point of the session.
     I think I can count on one hand the number of avocados I've prepared in my whole life. Being born and raised with Scandinavian, German, Polish (with a smattering of British) cooking and eating environment, I would occasionally eat guacamole, but preparing it is not in my wheelhouse.

     So, I picked up my avocado and paring knife and attempted to follow instructions on cutting it in half and removing the large seed in the center. My neighbor did a beautiful job of it - pictured on the left. Mine, on the other hand, was a total disaster, pictured on the right.
     I finally managed to remove the pit and find a piece big enough to peel. Then our instructions were to carefully slice the peeled avocado into 1/8th inch slices.
     The final step was to take those slices and arrange them into a circle, forming a rose. Mine was more like a pile of pieces, but it was edible. I think it would make a fine guacamole!
My version of a "rose"


Friday, September 29, 2017

Food Bloggers Conference Saceamento 2017

So here I am at the International Food Bloggers Confertence 2017 in beautiful Sacramento, CA. I took Amtrak from Denver and the trip across the Rockies, the Continental Divide, the Sierra Madres was beautiful. And I met such intersting folks on the train. Two were traveling all over the US to celebrate a 70th birthday. They were from England and were truly enjoying their adventure. Another couple was from Australia and China, also take several weeks to travel all over the US and Canada. Another couple was from Denver, and as they put it :Our kids are all grown and out of the house, so we're being totally irresponsible spending their future inheritance."
      There were some excursions yesterday, but the official conference started this morning. It included my three favorite "Ps" - Presenters, Products, and Participants. The keynote speaker this morning has been collecting stories and is starting to videotape them. To paraphrase, facts, figures, opinions, plans, and goals are all worthy topics, but it is people and their stories that make those topics come alive. I look forward to reading more stories and seeing his videos in the future.
     Melissa and Abeer spent an hour telling us how they have monetized their blogs and gave us some ideas and suggestions of various money streams. For me, some were obvious (find a food-related company to pay you to blog about them) and others less so (find small, probably local, companies and propose to them to help them write content for their websites or blogs or you write for them). Gave me some good ideas.
     In the afternoon, I had to choose between Balsamic Vinegar from Moderna and Lamb. I chose balsamic vinegar and was glad for it. Federico gave us lots of details bout how balsamic vinegar is produced and explained why the taste differences and price difference among brands. We got to taste cheese dipped in a fresh balsamic vinegar and and aged balsamic vinegar and went hone happy with a small bottle of aged balsamic vinegar.
     We then again had to choose either more about monetizing your blog and getting paid for food writing in general presented by Babi. The other session was about increasing you Instagram followers by Stephani. I chose monetizing my work again and we got into depth on the topic. I learned a lot!
     Finishing the day, was an extravaganza of food tastings from local establishment - chicken cole slaw, seviche, truffles, potatoe chips, lamb burgers, cake, and more. And then a trip through the Goody Room - tables full of free products ranging from oatmeal, to popcorn, to cutting boards, water bottles with fruit/veggie infusers, cheese, salsa, and on and on.
     The fun contnues tomorrow and I can't wait!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Sacramento: Here we come!

Purveyors of food, vendors, sponsors, and restauranteurs - polish your forks and knives, because here comes a hungry bunch of foodies. We are such foodies that we even write about food! The annual International Food Bloggers Conference of 2017 starts in just a few days, and according to information we receive from the organizers and anticipatory blogs by bloggers, we are all excited.

And Sacramento is such a beautiful city. Several events are planned outside the conference - tours, farm-to-fork dinners, and a wine train excursion are waiting for us.

I will be blogging from the conference, telling you all about the events, activities, and conference sessions. And I look forward to meeting a lot of people who are also interested in food writing and food adventures. Stay tuned . . .

Friday, September 15, 2017

Chicken and Leek Pie

     Why does English cooking generally get such a bad rap? A lot of people say, when I mention English food, "But it's so bland, so boring, so blah!" I do not find it so, but maybe it has to do more with the particular cook, rather than the cuisine itself. It's also possible that it was so much parr of my upbringing that I don't notice. My Dad's side of the family was English. My Mom's side of the family was Finnish. They both grew up in Iowa and Minnesota on farms and very small towns. I grew up in Minnesota, surrounded by English, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, German, and Polish folk. Spices and herbs were not used much when I was growing up - spicy meant there was a lot of pepper and salt! My Mom would use paprika to help color fried chicken or roast turkey or to make deviled eggs, potato salad, and mashed potatoes company-worthy fancy. It was years before I realized paprika comes in several distinctive flavor.
     My daughter's mother-in-law is British, and though she has lived in the States for many many years, she definite still cooks in an English style. This is especially true for special occasion and holiday dinners where I expect roast beef or lamb, Brussels sprouts, glazed carrots, baby peas, green beans, Yorkshire pudding, and so on.The other nigh, she made a delicious chicken pot pie with leeks and potatoes. It's one of those dishes that doesn't have an actual recipe (at least Pamela doesn't cook from one) but she's willing to share the ingredients that she put in it. Here's a photo to get your mouth watering:
Chicken Leek Pie
     In the photo, you'll notice her little blackbird right in the middle of the pie. This little cutie is there to let out steam from the inside of the pie. They're fun to use, but if you don't have one, simply cut a small hole (about the size of a dime) in the center of the crust, and make 3 - 4 slashes on top of the crust as well This all ensure that your crust stays flaky and doesn't get soggy from the steamy, bubbly inside of the pie while it's baking.
     The crust can be from your own favorite recipe or it can be bought frozen or refrigerated and prepared. As long as it is buttery, flaky, and light, it will be delicious. In a large bowl, she combined cooked chopped chicken (use some dark meat to add flavor and juiciness to white meat), mashed potatoes (mashed with butter and cream), cleaned, steamed leeks cut into bite sized pieces. A little leftover chicken gravy, or if you don't have any, make a medium white sauce - just enough to stick everything together. Salt and pepper completes her list. If I have anything else, such as green beans, broccoli, carrots, celery, those are nice additions and adds color, texture, and flavor. This is a very forgiving dish in terms of ingredients. I also tend to use white pepper instead of black pepper, and I might be tempted to ass some fresh thyme and/or sage. But these are my preferences - be sure to use what you like!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Frozen TV Dinner Stories

     This has really been a heck of a year for me - after I completed the first 8 weeks or so of healing and rehabilitation after open heart surgery, I found it necessary to move. On the plus side, it's only 3 or 4 blocks from my old house, it's a secured entrance condo with an indoor swimming pool, hot tub, sauna, steam room, exercise room, and a pool table. Plus, really nice and welcoming residents. It's at the other end of town from my daughter, son-in-law, and grandkids, but that's only 5-6 miles away, so it's not too bad. Would have been much nicer to live a block or two away from them, but it didn't happen that way.
     Quite a few years ago, I moved about the same distance but that time was horrible - I thought, I'll just throw things in the back seat of my car and make a few trips. Right. After several days of this, we had to finish the move so had friends help us. It was hot and tiring, and things mostly ended up in the basement. I vower never again! So, this time, I packed everything and got professional movers because some of the furniture and boxes were pretty heavy. I still have a weight limit of what I can push, pull, drag, lift, etc., so I'm relatively useless. I also spent some of the last couple of weeks eating from my freezer (which I had no room for in my new condo) and refrigerator. I actually did a pretty fair job of that.
     The first night in my condo, I had planned on eating a frozen TV dinner, so I didn't have to worry about finding and unpacking pots and pans, plates, etc. I didn't even think about flatware! So, as I scrambled through the house trying to find a fork or spoon (I did find a pickle tongs and considered that!) I was reminded of a similar situation a few years back.
     For my day job, I had a meeting in a different city. We were all to arrive in the afternoon and planned to meet for dinner at 7 PM. My first plane was late, so I missed the connecting flight, and the new and final flight was delayed, so instead of arriving around 3 in the afternoon, I arrived at the hotel about midnight. Starving, because I figured I could eat once I got there. Room service ended at 11:00 PM and the kitchen was closed. I went to the front desk and begged them to take me to a McDonalds or pizza place - anything open after midnight. There was nothing like that for 30 miles. One person mentioned there was a convenience store as part of a gas station that they could take me to, and reminded my that there was a microwave oven in the room. So, off we went.
     For some reason, they were out of almost everything except popsicles and ice cream, but I found a Salisbury steak, gravy, corn niblets, and mashed potatoes frozen TV dinner. I grabbed it.
     Back in my hotel room, I stuck the container in the microwave and then started looking for flatware (which, of course, I neglected to grab at the gas station). No luck. I did find those skinny straws-like stirring sticks for coffee. Aha! Problem solved! I sat down to eat and tried to use the stir-sticks like chopsticks. I managed to spear a piece of Salisbury steak and could scoop up some mashed potatoes, but the corn was one kernel at a time. And I was so hungry!!! Sitting cross-legged on the bed, I thought, "No one is here to see you!" so I grabbed a washcloth as a napkin, and proceeded to eat everything with my fingers. What a mess - but fingers were our original utensils, after all.
     I though about this experience as I searched for a fork or something for my creamed chicken, broccoli, fettuccini meal. Luckily, I did find a fork, and a messy meal was averted.
     The one thing I kept thinking about, though, was "Thank Goodness that IFBC is on the close horizon" - I cannot wait to get there!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Summer Cooking

     I love summer cooking - lots of fresh vegetables and fruits and meats cooked on a grill. I especially like summer cooking when someone else does it! I really love to cook, but while I'm recovering from surgery, others are cooking for me and it's such a treat!

Here's a yummy meal - hamburger patty with caramelized onions, oven-baked tater tots, pickles, sliced fresh tomatoes, and corn on the cob. Is there anything better than corn on the cob? This was a bi-color variety which was extra sweet. It didn't need butter or salt - just ate it as it was.

    Here's another summer favorite: Barbecued pork baby back ribs, steamed broccoli, and that fabulous bi-colored corn on the cob again. I have an easy and never-fail recipe (well, it's never failed for me!) for barbecues ribs.

     Remove (or have your butcher remove) the silvery membrane from the bone side of a rack of nice meaty pork baby back ribs. Rinse the ribs in cool water and pat dry. Place ribs on aluminum foil on a baking sheet. Brush all sides with olive oil or your favorite vegetable oil. Generously sprinkle on dry rub (see note below) on both the meaty side and the bone side, loosely cover with a piece of aluminum foil and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (can be done the day before).
     Preheat oven to 450༠ and bake ribs for 15 minutes. Without opening the oven, turn down temperature to 325༠ and bake for 90 minutes. Take ribs out of oven and, if desired, brush on barbecue sauce and return ribs to oven for another 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand 10 - 15 minutes. Cut between the ribs and place on platter or plates and serve. These ribs are flavorful, tender, and falls off the bone - finger-licking good!

Note about Rib Rub: There are lots of great commercial rib rubs available, but I like to make my own by combining dark brown sugar, cayenne pepper, cumin, chili powder, cardamon, garlic powder, and sweet paprika. Use what you like. The purpose of the rub is to lay down a flavor base that is great with ribs that are sauced or not.

I'm Baaack! - and better than ever!

     You may have noticed that it's been 9 weeks since my last blog - I have really missed writing it and hope you've missed reading it. I won't go into gory details, but I have a reason for my absence. A few days after my last post, I landed in the hospital and had major surgery - this came as a huge shock and was totally unplanned. After a week in the hospital, and then 3 weeks in a rehabilitation facility, I came home to continue my recovery. I still have a long way to go but am steadily improving. My biggest problem is lack of patience - that has never been a strength of mine. I'm also used to being in control and in charge and I'm trying to learn a new way of being.  😮
     I would like to report that post-surgery hospital food is delicious, but here's what they served me:
Yummy IV fluids
After I graduated from  IV fluids, I remember broth, soup, juice, applesauce, and not much else. I was still under leftover anesthesia and pain meds, so even if they did serve something fabulous, I have no recollection of it. And not willing to go back to check it out!
     Following my hospital stay, I was admitted to a rehabilitation facility to continue recovery. Though I'm grateful for the medical care I received, my culinary experience there was extremely unpleasant, even after talking with the dietitians.  I know that after major surgery it takes awhile for your appetite to return. And I was on a "no added salt" diet to lose the 15 pounds of fluids added to my body during surgery. And I know that salt is amazing for enhancing flavors, even sweet ones (have you ever sprinkled a little salt on ripe watermelon?). I also know that there are so many other ways to add flavor to foods including herbs, spices, vegetables. The person who made the soups, stews, and chili three times a week obviously knew how to season food - the soups were the high point of the time I spent there. But the rest of the food was plain - picture a boiled/poached in water boneless, skinless chicken breast on a plain white plate - and nothing else.   Oh my.
     But all turned out well - here I am the first morning home, happily bundled up sitting on my patio in the sun, drinking 100% Kona coffee from a real china coffee cup. Pure bliss. And then my daughter made me this terrific breakfast - the best food in a month!


Monday, June 5, 2017

Birthday Brunch & Picnic

     Somehow, both my daughter and granddaughter have managed to each have multiple birthday celebrations this year: family dinners, small celebrations, a couple of parties, and this final one for 2017, which was a birthday brunch picnic. It was a gorgeous day with blue skies, lots of sun, and temperature in the low 80s. There was a tent, a covered porch, and shade trees for those of us who don't tolerate sun well, but plenty of sun for those who do. Badminton, croquet, trampoline-jumping accompanied good friends and great conversations.
     My son-in-law bartended and made us all Bloody Mary's, Mimosas, and Blue Drinks. We had juice, lemonade, water, and the most delicious Hibiscus Tea Lemonade to quench our thirst. For food, we had a buffet brunch with pork link sausages, mushroom-stuffed mushrooms, chilled shrimp with cocktail sauce, roasted fingerling potatoes, chicken salad, wilted cucumbers, heirloom cherry tomatoes, olives, a cheese plate, assorted crackers, grapes, and a strawberry raspberry compote. There was pumpkin bread and a cardamom coffee cake - which disappeared very quickly! A couple people spotted the crumbs and asked if we had any more hiding in the kitchen. We also made 6 different quiches and those will be the recipes for today's blog.
     For our brunch, the 6 quiches we served were:
          Broccoli and Almond                                  Spinach and Sun Dried Tomatoes
          Ham and Swiss Cheese                               4 Cheeses and Fresh Herbs
          Sausage, Green Chiles, and Cheese            Caramelized Onion and Red Bell Pepper
The finished quiches are pictured at the end of this blog.

The Basics of Quiche

The Crust
     You cane make your 8 or 9 inch pie crust with your favorite recipe, or you can buy refrigerated pie dough, or even frozen pie crusts. For our party, we expected quite a few people who eat gluten-free, so we purchased frozen gluten-free pie crusts from the King Soopers Grocery store's frozen specialty freezer. We decided to make all quiches gluten-free and to instead concentrate on various type of fillings. We like to bake our pie crusts for 15 - 20 minutes in a 350º oven before we fill the pies. It's not absolutely necessary, and I've made lots of quiches without pre-baking the crust, but there's less chance of an underdone, soggy crust if you pre-bake. If you do decide to pre-bake, don't forget to pierce the crust with a fork a couple of times before baking so it doesn't puff up.

The Eggy Filling or Custard
     The filling that makes everything stick together and makes your dish a quiche is very easy to make. I use the basic proportion of 4 large eggs to 1 cup of milk. This amount is perfect for an 8" quiche with about 1 1/2 cups of filling. For a larger crust, add another egg and 1/4 cup of milk. And a note about milk: you can use milk, Half 'n' Half, heavy cream, or some combination of these. The cream, of course, will make a richer quiche (and added calories and fat), but they all work well. To make it easy, use a 2 cup measuring cup, pour in the milk/cream to the 1 cup level, add the eggs, and whisk until well-combined.

The Rest of the Filling
     Almost any type of vegetable you can think of works well in a quiche. Think of the ones you like, think of their textures and colors, and I don't think you can go wrong. Sometimes I like to pre-cook the vegetables such as potatoes, celery, rutabagas, carrots, sweet potatoes, yams, beets, etc. They wouldn't cook enough during baking and would end up being too crunchy in your finished quiche. I also like to sauté some vegetables as that changes the flavor. Here I'm thinking of onions, cabbage, and the like. But you could certainly use raw scallions, onions, minced garlic, if you like that stronger flavor. Some vegetables, such as diced bell peppers and tiny broccoli florets, sun-dried tomatoes, tomatoes, canned green chiles, and so on really don't need to be pre-cooked. Mostly, it's going to depend on how soft or crispy you like your vegetables or if you like the cooked flavor versus the uncooked flavors and textures.
     I like to put meats in my quiche sometimes. Cooked pork sausage, bacon, and ham - traditional breakfast meats - tend to work very well, but don't forget about shredded cooked chicken, turkey, pork, or beef. I also enjoy cooked shrimp and lobster and you can certainly experiment with other types of seafood or fish. Really - quiche fillings are totally dependent on your personal preferences.

The Cheese, etc.
     I think that any type of cheese that melts is delicious in a quiche. Not only does cheese add flavor, but it also adds to the richness and texture of your quiche. Depending on what else I'k adding to the quiche, I tend to like cheddar, Colby, jack and related cheeses such as Colby, pepper-jack, and the like. Sometimes I use a Mexican Cheese shredded blend. I also like the Italian Cheese shredded blend with asiago, mozzarella, parmesan cheeses, I also like Swiss cheese, but instead of shredding it, I cut slices into tiny squares and distribute them on top of other fillings. Don't forget your very soft cheeses such as cream cheese, ricotta, and cottage cheese. In the cheese category, I also think of dairy sour cream and plain yogurt which all add richness to the quiche.

Pre-bake the crust for 15 - 20 minutes at 350º. Place the cooked meats and vegetables in the crust. Add the cheese, if using cheese. Carefully pour the eggy filling over all. Fresh herbs can be mixed in with the vegetables, cheese, or eggy filling, or can be sprinkled on top. Transfer quiche to pre-heated oven and bake for 30 - 45 minutes. The eggs will be set and the crust lightly browned. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting and serving. Quiche can be served hot, warm, or room temperature, some even taste good chilled from the refrigerator.
Pre-baked crusts filled with vegetables and
meats, ready for the eggy filling and cheese

Onion & Red Bell Pepper        Broccoli & Almond

Ham & Swiss Cheese              Spinach & Sun Dried Tomatoes

4 Cheese & Fresh Herbs           Sausage, Green Chiles, Cheese


Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day Picnic

     Weather-wise, this has been a wild Memorial Day weekend. Saturday, it started out chilly and drizzling and then changed to cold, rainy, thunder, lightening, and hail. Three of us in our family were dance performers at the Boulder Creek Festival. We were the lucky ones because we got a little wet running from the costume-changing tent to the covered performance stage, but at least we were mostly covered - unlike our very supportive and brave family who sat on wet straw bales in the rain with only their jackets and umbrellas. Livia, Gracie, and I truly appreciate them!
     Sunday was beautiful - blue skies, warm and sunny weather. We went to a pasta dinner last night and we all ate outdoors and enjoyed it. Today, Monday, the sky was blue and the sun was out until around noon when the clouds rolled in. As of mid afternoon, there was no rain yet, but I did hear thunder. It's coming . . .  Of course, we have a BBQ picnic scheduled for dinner, so we may end up picnicking inside. You hafta roll with the punches - at least we enjoy each others' company! Besides, with all the rain we've had recently, we have pulled out of the drought-conditions. We all hope our gardens will grow as great as the weeds are growing!
     My offering for the picnic today is Wilted Cucumbers. One could rightly call these "pickles" because of the cucumbers and vinegar, but our family has always called them "wilted cucumbers." They are easy to make and are delicious year 'round - they are on our tables Thanksgiving and Christmas - but they are especially yummy in the summer because they are light and cool to eat.

Wilted Cucumbers
Makes a little over 2 cups or about 20 (scant 1/4 cup) servings

4 medium cucumbers
1 white onion
table salt (1/4 to 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
optional: scallions, garlic, carrots, bell peppers, other peppers, fresh dill, fresh basil, fresh oregano

1.  Peel cucumbers; I usually leave a little of the dark green peel on them for a touch of color
2.  Slice the cucumbers as thinly as possible
3.  Peel the onion and cut in half; slice the onion as thinly as possible
4.  In a large bowl, place the cucumber and onion slices in a single layer and then salt that layer, repeat layering and salting each layer until all cucumber and onion is used. Note: I don't measure the salt ahead of time, I simply liberally salt each layer as I go along; I estimate that I use between 1/4 and 1/2 cup altogether
5. Place a small plate or flat bowl on top of cucumbers and onions and use something relatively heavy to help the plate press down on them
6.  Refrigerate at least 2 hours (I usually make these the night before so they're pressed overnight
7.  A couple of hours before severing, place the cucumbers and onions in a large colander and rinse really well with cold water - you want to make sure you get all that salt off, so toss with your hand or tongs and keep rinsing
8.  Place the rinsed cucumbers and onions back into the large mixing bowl
9.  In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the cider vinegar, water, and sugar and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved
10. Pour the vinegar mixture over the cucumbers; toss lightly to coat everything, and return to refrigerator to chill completely
11. When ready to serve, place vegetables in a pretty dish and pour off the extra dressing
12. IF you have leftovers, they keep nicely covered in the refrigerator for several days

Salted cucumbers in bowl with
weighted plate on top
Translucent cucumber and onion slices
after marinating overnight

Wilted Cucumbers
ready to serve

Monday, May 22, 2017

Roast Pork Chops and Veggies

We've had quite a few days of 60-70-80-and-even-90 degrees. The lilacs have blossomed and finished, tulips are up, daffodils, jonquils, and iris have leaves but no blooms quite yet. Some of our trees have leafed out, but not all just yet. And then we got 10 inches of snow 3 days ago. Welcome to Springtime in Colorado! Today, the sun is out, skies are blue, and all the snow has finally melted, but I felt like making a winter-like dinner. Plus, it is a delicious and super easy meal.

Roast Pork Chops and Veggies
makes 4 servings

non-stick cooking spray
1 1/2 pounds Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes
1 1/2 pounds red cabbage (about 1/2 medium-large head)
optional: Brussels sprouts, carrots, rutabaga, parsnips, beets, pearl onions, apples
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 teaspoon ground black pepper, divided
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, divided
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves, divided
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (if use garlic salt, decrease the plain salt), divided
4 bone-in pork chops (6 to 7 ounces each)

Preheat oven to 400º
1.  Spray a large baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray
2.  In a large mixing bowl, place the potatoes which have been cut into large chunks
3.  Sprinkle with 1 tablespoons of olive oil and about 1/3 of each of the seasonings; toss well to coat all potato pieces; place potatoes along one long side of the baking sheet
4.  In the remaining oil and seasonings in the bowl, coat the other vegetables except the red cabbage
5.  Cut the red cabbage into wedges about 1/2 inch wide; place another tablespoon of oil in the mixing bowl and add another 1/3 of the seasonings; to keep the red cabbage wedges from falling apart, I hold a wedge in one hand and use a piece of red cabbage leaf as a brush to brush on the seasoned oil. Arrange the red cabbage wedges along the other long side of the baking sheet
6. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes
7.  While the vegetables are roasting, place the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the last 1/3 of the seasonings in the large mixing bowl; place the pork chops in the bowl and coat with seasoned oil; place the pork chops in a single row in the center of the baking sheet - they can touch each other but not overlap - and roast for 15 minutes
9.  Turn the pork chops and red cabbage over using tongs, stir the potatoes and other vegetables, and return to the oven for an additional 15 minutes; the total roasting time is 45 minutes
10. Plate 1 pork chop and 1/4 of the potatoes and vegetables per serving

potatoes and vegetables
ready to roast
plated dinner

Note: when I make this for my husband and me, I make the full recipe. After serving ourselves half, I place the remaining food into a glass baking dish, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for a day or two. To serve, remove the plastic wrap and bake the food in a 350º for 30 minutes. The vegetables will get heated through and the pork chops may brown a little to make an easy leftover dinner.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Norwegian Potluck Picnic

     I recently joined the Boulder Colorado chapter of Sons of Noway - the Vesterheim Lodge. This past Saturday, we celebrated Syttende Mai (May 17th) which is the anniversary of the signing of the Norwegian Constitution in 1814. Picnic day was gorgeous, sunny and about 80 degrees, with just a slight breeze.

Buffet - Note the kransekake
in the center of table

     After a parade with people in Norwegian costumes and a presentation of the Norwegian flag, we then participated in a favorite Norwegian pastime: eating! In addition to common picnic fare of hot dogs, we had many salads to choose from including several different potato salads, sweet potato salad, cucumber salad, green salad, pea salad, fruit salad, and chicken salad (recipe below). Corn pudding, pate on crackers, and chilled shrimp completed the main offerings.

     Desserts included homemade ice-cream, chocolate cake, blueberry pie, cream puffs, cupcakes, watermelon, and  the edible centerpiece, the towering kransekake. Kransekake is made of almond marzipan-like heavy dough that is baked in special ring pans. The result is a crispy outside with a chewy but soft interior. It is almond-flavored with a sweetly delicate white icing used to help stick the tower of rings together and add a little vanilla sweetness. It's beautiful to look at and delicious to eat!

Chicken Macaroni Salad
Makes about 24 (1/2 cup) servings

2 cups roughly chopped chilled poached chicken
7 ounce box macaroni (tiny rings, shells, or other small pasta), cooked and chilled
3 large eggs, hard-boiled and chilled
2 stalks celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 cup mayonnaise
2/3 cup Miracle Whip salad dressing
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

      Note: The chicken, macaroni, and hard boiled eggs all need to be prepared ahead of time and chilled for at least 
      2 hours or up to a day ahead of serving.
1.  Poach 1 skinless chicken breast and 4 skinless thighs in a small amount of chicken broth seasoned with thyme, onion, and white pepper. When poached, remove from broth, remove meat from bones, discard broth and chicken bones; roughly chop chicken meat and chill covered in the refrigerator. I make mine the day ahead of time, increasing the chicken by several pieces, poaching it in a slow cooker. That way, I had cooked enough chicken for a dinner meal the day before and enough chicken for the salad. Or, you can buy a roasted chicken from the grocery store and use the meat from that. The meat should chill for at least 2 hours or the day before.
2.  Prepare the macaroni according to package directions and chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours. I prefer to use tiny macaroni rings. I always bring home several packages in my suitcase when I visit my family in Minnesota because I haven't been able to find them where I live. If you can't find them or prefer other macaroni, a good substitution is tiny shells or bow ties. I have put a picture of the macaroni rings after this recipe along with a photo of the finished chicken salad. Notice that I pulled out a single macaroni ring on the back of the dish so you can see how small they are.
3.  Hard boil 3 large eggs, peel and roughly chop; chill at least 2 hours in refrigerator. If you wish, you can set aside one of the eggs and slice them as a decorative topping.
4.  Dice the celery and carrot and set aside.
5.  In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine the mayonnaise, Miracle Whip, pepper, and salt and whisk together until blended. I like the combination of mayonnaise and Miracle Whip because of their different tastes. You may wish to use one or the other or substitute dairy sour cream for Miracle Whip.
6. In a large mixing bowl, combine the chicken, macaroni, eggs, celery, carrot, and dressing. Toss lightly to coat everything, taking care not to smash the delicate macaroni rings.
7. Serve chilled.
8. There is the option of adding what you like or not including what you don't. Examples of additions that I've used include radishes, bell peppers, chopped Romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, green onions, green beans, pecans, walnuts, slivered almonds, cashews, grapes, apple pieces, pear pieces, and berries.

My favorite macaroni rings
Chicken Salad - note the tiny macaroni
ring on the back of the dish

 This chicken salad is one of my favorites that I often bring to potluck parties. I add and subtract ingredients depending on my mood and what's available in my pantry or in the grocery store. I encourage you to do the same, but caution you to pay attention because of my experience. Years ago, I had a dinner party on a hot summer evening. I served my chicken salad and everyone said how delicious it was and what a great chicken salad it was. Later that evening after our guests had gone, I was cleaning up the kitchen and putting things away when I discovered a nice big bowl of chilled chopped chicken in the refrigerator . . . the chicken that I had forgotten to put in the chicken salad! Some world-famous Chicken Salad, indeed!!!

     Back to the Syttende Mai party - after eating, we all watched some Viking Re-enactors. Once they had demonstrated their skills and demolished each other, they called up all the kids, gave them Noodles as weapons and let them vanquish the Vikings. The kids had a blast and we were very entertained watching them burn off all the sugar they had eaten at dinner. It was a great way to end the party.

Viking Re-enactors
Kids attacking the Vikings

Monday, May 8, 2017

Cinco de Mayo

¡ Ola !
Happy Cinco de Mayo

On May 5th, we went to - ¿where else? - a Cinco de Mayo party. Though I am Finnish/English and my husband is Norwegian/Swedish and both of us were born and raised in Minnesota, why not celebrate Cinco de Mayo? After all, I marched in a St. Patrick's Day parade with my Hawaiian Hula classmates (!!!).  I love cultural celebrations and cross-cultural celebrations are the best!

This was a fun and sweet family potluck party. The weather was gorgeous, sunny and warm. Most of us ate outdoors to enjoy the evening. We had beans, refried beans, shredded chicken and beef, cheese, tomatoes, onions, roasted beets with cheese, chips, tortillas, taco shells, tostado shells, and several salsas. Oh, and delicious strawberry margaritas. I made a fruity and spicy Pineapple Mango Salsa. It's very easy to make and tastes delicious. I love Pico de Gallo, Salsa Fresca, Picante Sauce, and other tomato-based salsas, but this one is excellent and a welcome addition to your table. Here's the recipe:

Pineapple Mango Salsa
makes about 5 cups

2 cups (about 10 ounces, peeled and pitted) diced ripe mango *
2 cups (about 10 ounces, peeled and cored) diced ripe pineapple *
1/2 onion (red, yellow, or white), peeled and diced
1 whole jalapeño pepper, stem removed, most seeds removed, minced **
1/2 cup (about 20 stems with leaves) cilantro, mostly leaves roughly chopped
juice from 2 limes (about 1 1/2 tablespoons)
Kosher salt, to taste

1. Prepare the mango and pineapple by dicing the peeled fruits into small pieces (think of fresh salsa you eat to get an idea of the size)
     * If you don't know how or don't want to peel, pit, core the fresh mango
        and pineapple, you can find these fruits in the refrigerated cut fruit
        section of most large grocery stores
2. Dice the onion into small pieces
3. Prepare the jalapeno:
     ** Remove the stem end of the jalapeno pepper and remove most of the
        seeds and white pith; you can use all the seeds and pith if you like
        your salsa hot - I like to leave a few seeds to add a little heat. Finely
        dice the pepper. I use disposable gloves while handling the pepper,
        especially the seeds and pith
4. Chop the fresh cilantro, removing most of the stems and using the leaves for the salsa; a few stems are OK if you chop them finely
5. Combine the mango, pineapple, onion, jalapeno, and cilantro, tossing lightly to combine
6. Squeeze the lime juice over all and add a dash or two of salt to help enhance the flavors
7. Toss everything lightly
8. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, up to 24 hours is even better!
9. Serve with chips, or use as accompaniment to roast pork, chicken, or grilled beef steak


Monday, May 1, 2017

Whole30 Cleanse Program

Whole30 Cleanse Program
by guest blogger Karin Hoskin

So a friend of mine posted on Facebook that she was about to do a second round of the Whole30 cleanse. Her decision to do it at all was based on the fact that she wanted to do a cleanse, but only if it allowed coffee and bacon . . . Whole30 does. I liked how that sounded so I committed to doing it also . . . and I committed my husband, my mother-in-law, my teenage son, and pre-teen daughter. Was I crazy? Yes. Did we do it? Yes. And no one starved.

The basic concept is to eat meat, veggies, and fruit. No dairy, no grains, no sugar....for 30 whole days. We already don’t eat wheat with three of us being extremely gluten reactive. We LOVE dairy, but were wondering if my daughter has an allergy to dairy. Oh, and we eat too much sugar, probably way too much sugar, especially after I realized that sugar is in EVERYTHING. Even bacon. Yep, sugar is in most commercial bacon brands.

We are cooks in our family. I love to cook, my mom loves to cook, and my mother-in-law loves to cook. And we are good cooks, yep, we cook really well. But there is always room for growth, so I took it upon myself to try new recipes during the 30 days and we have definitely found some new favorites. One if them is a super simple ‘Bistro Breakfast’, recipe as follows:

Bistro Breakfast
Feeds 4

1 (10 oz) package of bacon (Pederson’s is sugar/sweetener free bacon found at Sprouts Grocery)
1 head of curly endive lettuce
8 eggs, poached (directions at end of recipe)

For the dressing:
1 ½ tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon prepared Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon minced garlic (about 1 medium clove)
salt & pepper to taste

Cook the bacon until crisp, drain, then set aside
While bacon is cooking, wash and tear up the lettuce leaves
Toss the lettuce with dressing, divide the lettuce, placing on 4 plates
Crumble the cooked bacon on top
Top each salad with two poached eggs and serve immediately

Poaching Eggs
There are many YouTube videos of poaching eggs, but basically I lightly spray or oil a frying pan and add about 2 inches of water, bring to a soft boil and crack the egg into the water, I sprinkle salt and pepper, then gently use a metal spatula to make sure egg is not sticking to the bottom of pan, cover and check in about 1 minute later, when done to your liking (traditionally it's right after the clear egg part turns white, so the yellow part is still very runny), use slotted spoon to remove the egg. You can poach more than 1 egg at a time, but you need to do it quickly as the eggs cook very fast.

Here's a recipe for a dinner that was fast, easy, and delicious:

Broccoli Chicken
Feeds 4

1 pound chicken thighs, boneless and skinless, cut into bite-sized pieces
Coco Aminos (or I have used Tamari, which is a wheat-free soy sauce, or soy sauce; Coco Aminos is a little sweeter and less salty)
Vegetable oil or peanut oil for stir frying
2 big heads of broccoli, trimmed and cut into florets
1 sweet onion, peeled and sliced into bite-sized pieces
1 cup roasted salted cashews (optional)

Marinate the prepared chicken in Coco Aminos for at least 30 minutes
Stir fry the chicken, broccoli, and onion until chicken is cooked and vegetables are fork-tender
Add the cashews and cook until warm
Use Coco Aminos, Tamari, or Soy sauce for additional flavor

I served pineapple and kiwi for dessert afterword!

We continue to basically eat Whole30 with a few allowances. I buy regular ketchup, because the sugar/sweetener free stuff is gross. We have homemade pizza usually once a week, but we don’t also have lasagna the day before and macaroni and cheese the day after . . . so we’re trying to be conscious of not eating so many grains and so much cheese. As far as sweets or alcohol goes, we eat and drink treats, but very consciously, meaning that we’re not eating handfuls of crappy candy, but savoring a beautiful tasty chocolate truffle. Or rather than drinking a few beers, we now enjoy one really amazing local small batch brew, a very nice wine, or a specialty cocktail.  

Monday, April 24, 2017

Tea Party

I attended a potluck tea party yesterday. It was 75 sunny degrees outside, lilacs and tulips in full bloom in Boulder CO, and the trees beginning to leaf out. It's a tough time for those with allergies, but a beautiful spring day is wonderful. Here's a photo of the table and the napkins, which were originally white, but dyed with sawdust (!) to this lovely yellow color.

What is it about a tea party with friends and family that is so elegant, nice, and satisfying? Maybe it's that we dress up a little, use special dishes and serving pieces, food that's not everyday fare, or the tea itself. Whatever the reason, it was special and we intend to make this a regular event.

For tea, we had cucumber tea sandwiches, watercress and cream cheese sandwiches, and egg salad sandwiches, homemade scones and homemade lemon curd, homemade crumpets and butter, broccoli and Swiss cheese quiche, chicken salad, assorted crackers, pavlovas (meringues) with fresh fruit sauce and whipped cream, and chocolate mini-cupcakes which were festively decorated.

I brought a cold chicken salad. Here's the recipe and photo. This recipe is what I made for yesterday, but you can add, subtract, or change ingredients as you wish - it's very versatile!

Cindy's Chicken Salad
Makes 8 (3/4 cup) servings

1/2 boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 12 ounces)
4 chicken thighs (about 24 ounces altogether)
1 cup chicken broth or stock
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 onion, cut into chunks, peel included
1 carrot, cut into large chunks, and some carrot greens if you have them
1/2 cup fresh celery leave
1 clove garlic, sliced
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup mayonnaise-style salad dressing (I use Miracle Whip)
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 large stalk celery, sliced
2 hard-boiled eggs, roughly chopped
1 cup red or green seedless grapes, cut in halves or quarters


  1. Poach the chicken in the broth, thyme, pepper, salt, onion, carrot, celery leaves, and garlic. This should take about 15 - 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of pieces.
  2. Remove chicken, cool for about 15 minutes and then continue cooling in the refrigerator. This step can be done a day ahead of time, keeping the chicken refrigerated. Discard the poaching broth and vegetables (or freeze to add later to soup, if you're thrifty!).
  3. When ready to assemble the salad, remove the skin, bones, and visible fat from chicken thighs, and shred or roughly chop into pieces; shred or chop chicken breast; set chicken aside.
  4. In a medium mixing bowl, combine mayonnaise, salad dressing, pepper, and lemon juice; whisk until smooth; set aside.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, combine chicken, celery, and dressing, tossing lightly to coat.
  6. Fold in eggs and grapes, tossing lightly to combine thoroughly.
  7. Place chicken salad in a serving bowl or on individual plates.
Notes: This recipe is very forgiving, so feel free to make your own changes.  Some ideas:
  • If you like a tangier dressing, replace the salad dressing with creamy ranch dressing.
  • Really like veggies? Add broccoli, cauliflower, onion, scallions, carrots, cucumbers, green beans, chopped lettuce, bell peppers, etc.
  • If you like, add cut sweet, dill, or bread and butter pickles, or olives (green, Nicoise, black, kalamata, etc.).
  • Not crazy about grapes? Try apples, tangerine segments, dried cranberries or cherries, pineapple, ripe pitted cherries, melon, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries.
  • I like the combination of light and dark meat chicken because of the taste and texture difference; breast meat tends to be drier and less fatty, and dark meat has a bit more flavor and is juicier. Use the combination or one or the other you prefer. If you don't want to poach the chicken, use a ready-cooked chicken from the grocery store and shred the meat. It's easier to shred or cut the meat if the chicken is cool or cold. 
  • Go nuts! Add cashews, slivered almonds, walnut, pecans, peanuts. Macadamias and hazelnuts are good too, but be sure to use chopped nuts.
  • What about coconut? Hmmmmm - yes!
  • If you want to make this chicken salad stretch farther or include more carbs, follow the above steps and toss with cooled or chilled cooked pasta. I use tiny ring macaroni, but you can use small shells, small rotini, small penne, elbow macaroni, and so on. You'll probably have to make a little extra dressing, depending on how much pasta you add.

Peace, Love, and Yumminess

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Cindy B's Potluck blog

 I began this blog back in 2014 and then went on a hiatus. I had just retired, did some traveling, a lot of sailing, and then had major computer problems. I spent a lot of time in 2015 and 2016 volunteering at Tacoma General Hospital - which I loved.  I managed to get sidetracked into volunteering, knitting for charity, playing water volleyball, and hanging out with friends, and I lost track of my blog 😕.

2016 was a Truly Challenging Year and I am so relieved and glad that it is over! I proclaim that 2017 will be different - a Year of Awesome Fabulosity! That includes getting back to blogging and other types of writing. To underscore just how different 2017 will be, I have switched from using a PC (for decades) to a Mac. And that's just the beginning.

I'll blog about everyday cooking, festive holiday meals, family dinners, and recipes.  I'll also blog about restaurants, food trends, farmers' markets, and new food finds. Coming soon is my first guest blogger, my daughter, who will describe her experience with a detoxing, cleansing, habit changing, month long program called the Whole30® Program. If any of you would like to be considered as a guest blogger, let me know!

This is a weekly blog, posted every Monday. I may include extra blogs every now and then; next September/October, you'll see several posts from me while I attend the International Food Bloggers Conference in Sacramento. I have attended this conference before and it was so informative and so much fun! There are great speakers, interesting vendors, and lots of friendly bloggers who attend. If you think you might be interested, Google IFBC 2017.

Peace, Love, and Yumminess!

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

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

  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
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!

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

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

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!