Monday, October 14, 2013

Ruby's Apple Pudding Cake: The 100th Blog Post!

Can you believe it?  This is the 100th post to "The Friendly Table" !  It's true that time flies by when you're having fun!  I've so enjoyed sharing recipes and stories with you and hope that there will be many more (100?!).
I thought and thought about what to do for the 100th post.  At first it sounded fun to do a 100 year old recipe.  After some research, I found some interesting dishes, but in the course of things, I re-discovered my mom's collection of recipes and decided to make something that would honor her.
My mom's name was Ruby.  She told me once she didn't like her name much, but I always did.  Marie, my daughter, tells me it is popular again now days!  Even as a kid, I observed that she appreciated beauty of all sorts: in the home, clothing, the outdoors and gardening.  My dad was a rancher, but they also owned a flower shop and my mom was there almost every day designing and helping people during their proms, weddings, anniversaries, and funerals.   In summer, after working all day at the flower shop, she would rush home and ride around in the truck with my dad while he "set water" for irrigating the fields, admiring the cattle and crops.   I guess this was their time to discuss things and catch up with one another.  When she died, my dad said that was what he missed the most.
Mom was a wonderful cook in the practical, efficient way of a farming/ranching wife.  In the country, there aren't many restaurants, so  going out to eat is not common.  Cooking almost every meal, every day was the norm.  Somehow she got it all done gracefully and deliciously though!  Even after a long, hard day at work, when Mom would come home, she would be happy and excited to start cooking.  It never seemed like a chore!
Her collection is a complete jumble of recipes cut out of magazines and newspapers, written on the backs of envelopes (there are a lot of these!), pages from letters that included a recipe, and typed.  I laughed at the typed ones because I remember her asking me to type recipes out for her when she needed to keep me busy (out of her way).  She would act like there was a very urgent need for a certain recipe and that it would be SO helpful if I would type it out for her on the typewriter.  (Can you believe 1.  I fell for that. and 2.  There was such a thing as a typewriter?) I never did question why she couldn't just use the recipe right out of the newspaper or whatever-- why it needed to be transcribed onto a piece of typing paper.  She could be very convincing :)  
Anyway, it was lovely to go back and look at the collection.  Finally, I came across the recipe I knew I wanted to make:  Apple Pudding Cake, a recipe that was originally from the "Farm Journal", a magazine all the families in our area subscribed to.  My mom used to make this practically every week during the fall and winter.  We lived in a part of Colorado that was known for orchards, so apples were always in abundance during that time of year.  We stored them in a shed and the cold weather kept them edible all winter.  Being a literal type of kid (and kind of "buggy"), I used to bother my mom almost every time she made it because it was called "pudding cake" and it seemed like just a "cake".  My mom was (generally) patient and would tell me the pudding name was for the sauce that was served over the cake.  "So why wouldn't it be called 'Apple Cake with Pudding Sauce'?"  I would counter.  "Because they didn't." was my mom's wise (and tired) reply!
We lived in a very rural area, and in those days other farmers and ranchers used to drop by all the time unannounced in the winter, so every farm wife had to be prepared with coffee and some kind of dessert.  The apple pudding cake was quick and easy to prepare and we always had the ingredients.  Spicy, moist, apple fragrant and topped with a browned-butter sauce, I will always associate this cake with pleasant times at our house.  As a kid, I wasn't too interested in the conversations: the price of cattle, how much hay cost this year, whether the snow was going to result in enough water for the spring, but even back then, it was comforting and homey to hear the voices of my parents' friends, sharing stories around a cup of coffee and this cake-- with the pudding-like sauce!  Ha!  
I hope you'll try this recipe because it's delicious!  After making it again, I think it was called a "pudding cake" because it is so moist that it's almost like a pudding!

Apple Pudding Cake
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
pinch of salt
*3 medium apples, peeled, cored, and sliced very thinly (We used to sometimes grate the apples, but they are best sliced super thin.)
1/2 cup nuts, coarsely chopped (We always used walnuts, but any are good.)

*Any type of apples will work, but make sure they are juicy and firm.

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Spray a 9x9-inch square pan with PAM.
Cream the butter and sugar well.  Add the egg and beat until fluffy.  Add the flour, soda, baking powder, salt and spices.  Beat on low until somewhat combined.  The mixture will seem dry.  Add the apples and beat on low until all are incorporated.  The mixture will be thick, but moist now.  Stir in the nuts.  
Spread the batter evenly into the baking dish.  Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the center is set and a toothpick comes out clean from the middle.

Allow to cool a bit and serve with the warm sauce:

2 Tbl. butter
2 Tbl. flour
2 cups milk
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 cup sugar

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and allow it to heat until light brown in color.  Add the flour and stir together.  Add the milk, and stir until the mixture starts to steam.  Add the sugar.  Stir and cook until the mixture boils.  Add the nutmeg.  Allow the sauce to cool to warm.  Pour over each serving of cake.
Serve with coffee or tea and some friendly conversation with family, friends, and / or pets!

Happy fall to you!  

Here's the recipe card my mom had in her collection.  It's in my handwriting, and I remember her asking me to write it out for her, even though she had the recipe memorized.  Now, I'm glad she did!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Mussels on the Grill!

There's a fun little restaurant in San Antonio called La Frite Belgian Bistro.  They have all sorts of delicious, traditional dishes like vol au vent, crepes, and other fancy sounding foods that I understand are actually home-style meals-- at least in Europe!  One dish that Ben and I enjoy there is Moule Frite, a dish of mussels cooked in a flavorful wine-y broth and served with French fries!  Yum!  I never got into dipping the fries in mayonnaise, but I'm told that's traditional.
Anyway, so mussels are a super easy meal to prepare at home!  They are a good source of all kinds of vitamins and minerals, are a sustainable sea food (a farm-raised product), and cook up super fast.  Plus, they taste great!  If you haven't eaten them before, they have a kind of mineral-y, clam-like taste, but sweeter than other bivalves.  Mussels were on sale the other day at our market, so I thought it might be fun to try cooking them outside on the grill-- you know, less Belgium, more Texas :)
Well, this was the BEST dish of mussels I've ever made!  The broth was slightly smokey and the mussels cooked up very tender and sweet.  Served with sweet potato fries (although regular fries are ALWAYS good!), this was a different, delicious twist on an already terrific dish!

Mussels on the Grill (2 entree sized portions)
2 lbs. fresh mussels 
2 Tbl. olive oil
2 strips bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1-1.5 cups vegetable broth (I like Trader Joe's organic)
chopped parsley or chives
Cast iron skillet (or another type that can go directly on an outdoor grill)

Nowdays, farm-raised mussels have been cleaned quite well.  Still, check them all very carefully to make sure they are still alive.  Each mussel should feel heavy and be tightly closed.  When you tap on it, it shouldn't sound hollow.  If a mussel is open, tap on the shell.  If it closes, the mussel is good, but if it doesn't, then throw it away.
Wash the mussels in a colander under running water to remove any sand or grit.  Remove any black stringy things that might be hanging from the mussels.  Those are called the "beard" and help the mussel anchor itself to rocks, etc.  
Put the skillet over hot coals.  Add the olive oil, bacon, and garlic.  Cook until the bacon is looking crisp.  Add the vegetable broth, salt and pepper and heat until boiling.
Now add the mussels all at once.  Stir gently.  Cover the grill and cook the mussels for 5 minutes.  They should be open and look very dramatic :)  Bring the skillet to the table and sprinkle the chives over.  Ladle the mussels and broth into bowls.  Throw away any mussels that didn't open.
Serve with sweet potato (or regular) fries and crusty bread to soak up the delicious broth!
Bon appetit, ya'll!

P.S.  My next entry will be my 100th post!  What should I do?  

Friday, September 20, 2013

Pork Picadillo Tacos

Do you ever use ground pork?  Sometimes I buy it to mix with ground beef and ground veal to make meatballs or meatloaf, and it's the protein of choice for Chinese dumplings, but it's also really tasty in Mexican dishes!  Now days you can buy very lean ground pork and it's economical also.  I like to use it as a change to ground beef or ground turkey.  The flavor is very mild, so it takes well to lots of spices and herbs.
This pork picadillo taco filling is super easy and comes together in one pan.  Serve it in soft, whole wheat or crispy, corn tortillas, or put it over tortilla chips as the beginning of delicious nachos!
This is an quick, simple recipe.  The secret to it's delicious-ness is to allow everything to brown well at the beginning!

Pork Picadillo Tacos (makes 6 generous tacos)
1-1.5 lb. lean ground pork (or turkey)
1 rather large jalapeno pepper, chopped (keep the seeds if you want it super spicy!)
2 roma tomatoes, chopped
1 large clove garlic, sliced thinly
6 medium sized mushrooms, chopped coarsely
2 Tbl. sliced almonds
1 Tbl. golden raisins (regular are fine)
1 Tbl. olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt 
Baby greens

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil.  Add the pork, mushrooms, garlic, and almonds, stirring to break up the pork.  After it's broken up, let it cook without stirring much, to let things brown nicely. 
Add the tomatoes, jalapeno and raisins.  Stir and cook about 3 minutes.  Add the salt and about 1/2 cup water.  Let the mixture cook down until the water is almost evaporated.  Taste for seasoning.
Heat the tortillas in the oven a few minutes.  Place a few baby greens on a tortilla and top with some picadillo.  Fold over and eat!  Repeat!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Maple Cream Pie: For Canadians Only!

Okay, well, you know I LOVE pies and making pies, but this was a new one for me!
There was one more event to commemorate at my friend, Jane's, house.  She got a new job as an art teacher!  Since Jane is very creative and loves children, this was a terrific opportunity for her and for her new students!  Being a new teacher is wonderful, but hectic, so I told Jane I'd love to bring over a meal for her family during her first teaching days.
Jane is Canadian, so I was thrilled to find a recipe in "Canadian Living" for something called "French Canadian Maple Cream Pie"!  It looked so innocent and simple in the photograph!  When I looked at the recipe, I was surprised at how simple it was, but I knew Canadian cooking tended to be "no frills", so I thought this would be just the thing!  It was super easy too!
Oh, my gosh.  I have never tasted anything so rich, creamy, decadent, sweet, did I mention rich? in my life!!  Obviously, this pie is meant only for those northern people that will be shoveling snow and playing hockey, and tapping more maple trees right after dinner!!  
I'm giving the recipe for curiosity's sake, but if you're not living in a place where there will soon be temperatures at minus something, I'm not sure I'd recommend making it!  However, it would be a good pie for a crowd because this thing could probably feed, oh, say, 100 ? :)

French Canadian Maple Cream Pie
12 oz. Grade B Maple Syrup (not a misprint!)
1 cup heavy cream (again....not a misprint!)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup cold water
1, pre-baked, 9-inch pie shell

Whisk together the syrup and cream.  In a separate bowl, whisk the cornstarch and water.  Combine the two, whisking well, in a heavy saucepan.  Heat over medium-high, stirring well, until the mixture comes to a boil.  Boil softly for 2 minutes, stirring.  The mixture will be thick.
Pour into the pie shell.  
Refrigerate until set, 4 hours or more.  

Note:  I got the fun pastry cutters at Williams-Sonoma!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Four Layer Mini-Devil's Food Cake

School has started up again in South Texas.  My friend, Jane's, daughter is a senior this year, so I wanted to make her a little something special to celebrate the day!  Plus, as you know, I'm looking for any reason these days to bake for other people! :)
I saw this 4 layer, mini-cake in Bon Appetit awhile back and thought it was SO CUTE!  It looks just like one of those cakes we made with the "Easy Bake Oven" only on steroids.  Jane's daughter is a real chocolate lover, so I thought this would be the perfect treat!
It was so easy to make this cake!  I thought the layers would be tricky, but the "trick" is to use two bamboo skewers (the kind you use for kabobs on the grill)!  Just push them in through the top of the cake and it stabilizes all four layers while you frost the sides.  When everything is frosted, just pull the skewers out and frost over the holes-- Yay!  No "leaning tower"!
I'm not sure how many people this cake will serve.  Maybe four if the recipient is generous.  Maybe one if you feel like just digging in all by yourself :)

4 Layer Mini Devil's Food Cake (adapted from Cook's Illustrated)
1 stick unsalted butter
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
2 Tbl. cocoa powder
3/4 cup boiling water
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup cake flour-- Sift to remove lumps-- I didn't do that and you can detect small white bits in     the baked cake-- live and learn:(
1/2 tsp. baking soda
dash of salt
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 stick unsalted butter
5 oz. bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, melted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups or so of powdered sugar
2 thin skewers (The bamboo type for grilled meats work great!)

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Spray 4 mini-layer cake pans (5" diameter, 2" deep-- they are usually springform-- like for mini-cheesecakes) with Pam.
Put the chocolate in a small bowl and pour the boiling water over.  Allow to sit awhile and then whisk to combine well.
Cream the butter and brown sugar about 3 minutes in a stand mixer.  Add the eggs and beat until fluffy.  Add the buttermilk and the vanilla and mix well.  Add the flours, baking soda, and salt and beat just a bit, then pour in the chocolate mixture.  Beat everything together until smooth, but don't overbeat.  Pour into the prepared pans.  Set them on a baking sheet and place in the oven.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until they test done with a toothpick.  Don't underbake them though because they need to be firm enough to stack up!
Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn them out on a rack to cool completely.
Make the frosting by beating the butter until fluffy.  Add about 3 cups powdered sugar, the vanilla, melted chocolate, and 2 Tbl. milk.  Beat well, adding milk and / or powdered sugar to make a smooth, fluffy frosting.  
Put one cake layer top side down, on a small plate.  Frost the top generously, then put the next layer, on the same way.  Repeat with the third layer, then put the fourth layer top side up.  
Push two skewers through the whole cake, each a little to the right or left of center.  This will keep the cake layers straight.  Hold the skewer tops while you gently frost the sides of the cake with a thin layer of frosting.  Refrigerate the cake about 15 minutes to set the frosting.  Now you can frost the whole cake generously without getting things all "crumb-y".  Frost the top of the cake with the skewers still in it.  Refrigerate the cake again about 15 minutes.  Remove the skewers and frost over the holes with little dabs of frosting.  Refrigerate the cake at least an hour to set the frosting well, but it tastes better if you leave it out awhile before serving so it's not super cold.
Present to the nearest chocoholic!


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Farro and Tuna Salad with Fresh Herbs + Okra!

August is HOT in south Texas!  Day after day of 100+ weather can wear on anyone, but the good news is that we still get to enjoy ripe, red tomatoes and fresh green herbs from the garden-- well, those that haven't burned up in the heat yet :)
Anyway, so have you tried farro yet?  It is a very ancient grain originally from Italy.  It's a "whole grain" with all the nutritional good stuff associated with that; plus, it tastes terrific!  I buy the quick-cooking type and it's ready in 10 minutes.  Farro is good served hot as a side dish or cold as a salad so when I cook it, I make a lot and freeze it in baggies.  It thaws in no time and still tastes freshly made.
This salad uses cold farro and canned tuna, so it comes together easily and quickly.  The fresh herbs and avocado give it a wonderful summer taste that goes great served on a sliced red tomato!  The dressing is super easy and light.
Some people say they lose their appetite in hot weather, but that's never been my problem:)  However, I think this salad will perk up any appetite-- even in the "dog days" of summer (why do they call it that?) !

Farro and Tuna Salad with Fresh Herbs (serves 2)
1 cup of cooked farro
1- 5 oz. can good quality tuna, drained
2 Tbl. sliced red onion
1 Tbl. chopped fresh chives
1 Tbl. chopped fresh oregano
1 Tbl. chopped fresh mint
1/2 avocado, cubed
1/3  cup chopped cauliflower
2 Tbl. capers
1 large tomato, cut into thin wedges
Salt and pepper

Dressing:  2 Tbl. fresh lemon juice mixed with 3 Tbl. olive oil and 1/2 tsp. salt

Mix all the salad ingredients together except the tomato.  Taste for seasoning.  If you have time, cover and allow to sit in the fridge for 30 minutes, but if not, it will still taste yummy!
Put the tomato wedges on two plates.  Season with salt and pepper.  Pour the dressing over the salad and mix well.  Divide onto the tomato wedges and serve!

Baked "Fried" Okra

So here's a little extra recipe you might enjoy!  I LOVE fried okra, but now that I need some alternatives to fried foods, I developed this recipe and it tastes great!  The coating is fat-free and high in fiber, so it doesn't take anything away from the veggie nutrition.

Unfried Okra (serves 2, but I could eat the whole recipe myself)
2 Tbl. ground flax seed (not as hard to find as you would think-- I found it in the baking aisle)
2 Tbl. whole wheat bread crumbs
1/2 tsp. granulated garlic
1/4 tsp. salt
few grinds of pepper
1 egg white, beaten to a froth with a fork
16 or so, small, fresh okra, washed and dried
Preheat the oven to 425F.  Put a wire rack on a baking sheet and spray it with PAM.
Combine the ground flax seed, bread crumbs, garlic, pepper,and salt.
Roll the okra in the egg white, then in the seasoned crumbs.  Put on the wire rack.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the okra is tender and the crumbs are dry and crisp.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Sweet-Sour Lime Shortbread Cookies: Baking for Friends!

What a fun afternoon I've had!  It's been awhile since I've gotten to bake anything due to our new healthy eating plans (!), but today was all about baking for friends!  Sweets for the sweet as they say!  
I made a buttermilk pie for one of Ben's godsons today.  Jack is one of my biggest pie fans and I guess no matter how much I have to cut back on making pies for Ben, Jack will probably be willing to consume my "projects"!  Buttermilk pie is already on one of my posts though, so today I'll tell you about "Sweet-Sour Lime Shortbread Cookies"!  
Wow!  These are so yummy and a bit different because they have a sweet / sour taste that is very intriguing!  The secret is something called "sour salt" or citric acid, which is the same stuff in "SweetTarts"-- remember those?!  Citric acid is also used to prevent peaches, apples, etc. from getting brown once you've cut them.  It's a natural product that is in all citrus fruits.  You'll use only a total of 1/2 teaspoon or so.  I buy it in the "bulk foods" section of my grocery store so I can just buy a little bit. 
I adapted this recipe from one on the "King Arthur Flour" website.  It called for lime oil and I'm not sure where to get that, so I substituted grated lime zest (contains natural lime oil) and I think it was probably an adequate substitute!  
Anyway, these cookies are wonderful for showers or "ladies' parties", but they are also fun for anytime because of their unexpected ZIP!

Sweet-Sour Lime Shortbread Cookies (makes 4 doz. small cookies)
3/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
2 Tbl. fresh lime juice
grated zest of 1 lime
1/4 tsp. citric acid (sour salt)
1 large egg
2.5 cups flour

Preheat the oven to 350F.
Cream the butter and sugar together.  Add the salt, baking powder, lime juice, zest, and citric acid and blend well.  Beat in the egg.  Add the flour and slowly combine to make a smooth dough.
Use a 1-inch scoop to portion out the dough onto parchment lined cookie sheets or roll the dough into 1-inch balls.  The cookies won't spread much, so they can be rather close together.
Bake the cookies for 15-16 minutes, or until they are browned on the bottom.  Allow them to cool for 10 minutes on the sheets, then shake them around in a bag that contains:
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 tsp. citric acid (you can add more-- depends how strong a sour taste you want!)

Then place them on a rack to cool completely.  Before serving, shake the cookies in the bag again to coat with the sour-sugar.  
These cookies freeze well.  Freeze after the first coating of sugar, then coat again right before serving.


Friday, July 26, 2013

Almond Crusted Sea Trout

I guess it's not coming as a surprise to anyone that lately, Ben and I have both been trying to eat a little healthier.  Have you noticed an absence of sweet treat posts?  This doesn't please me, but I know it's a blessing to be able to maintain health by eating right, so I'm trying to have a good (or accepting) attitude! 
Sometimes though, eating healthy can be a pleasure and this was one of those times!  Our friend and neighbor brought over his latest catch of the day, Texas Gulf sea trout.  Really fresh fish is one of those lovely things that tastes great AND is good for us, so I was happy to come up with a recipe that showcased this local delicacy!
Of course, around here, FRIED fish is the cooking method of choice, but baking, broiling, and grilling are wonderful!  I wanted to do something different and I LOVE trout almondine, but somehow, pan sauteeing the fish in browned butter with loads of almonds and MORE butter just didn't seem the way to go under the circumstances.  Still, I knew almonds, in moderation, were very good for us, so what could I do....?
Here's a recipe I came up with that uses a small amount of almonds, and a TINY bit of butter to make a delicious, nut crusted fish that's tasty, light, and healthy!  Hope you like it!  It will work with any type of mild filet.  Happy and healthy eating!

Almond Crusted Sea Trout (serves 2)
2 filets of sea trout, about 1 inch at the thickest end, each cut in two cross-wise
1/4 cup sliced almonds, chopped up and put on a piece of waxed paper or a dish
1 egg white
salt and pepper
celery salt
powdered or granulated garlic
a baking sheet and baking rack
1 T. butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 425F.
Dry the filets well with paper towels.  Sprinkle them with salt, pepper, celery salt, cayenne and garlic to taste.  Press the seasonings into the fish.  
Put the egg white in a shallow bowl, add just a few drops of water and beat with a fork until foamy.
Put just the fleshy side of the fish down into the egg white.  Allow the excess to drip back into the dish and press the filet down into the almonds.  The egg white will cause the almonds to stick well.  Put the filet on the baking rack and repeat with the other ones.  Drizzle each filet with the melted butter.  It will be just a few drops, but it will help the almonds to brown and they will taste great!
Bake the fish for 10 minutes, or until the almonds are slightly browned and the fish is cooked through.  Serve immediately.  Yum!

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Perfect Poached Eggs / Smoked Avocados

Hi!  This title might seem a little random...and it is!  But I thought you might enjoy a few tips on making poached eggs (there actually are some tricks!) and I had to let you in on the most delicious, easy, new (to me!) way to eat avocados!
While we were in Park City, we enjoyed a delicious guacamole made with smoked avocados.  This sounded very exotic and difficult to me, but I asked the waitress about it and she made it sound very simple!  And guess what?  She was right!  It literally is a 5 minute process and the result is scrumptious!  The next time you're grilling, be sure to try this because it is SO worth it.  You can make guacamole, or you can just serve the smoked avocado slices-- either way, they are definitely yummy!
Now, about poached you like them?  I do!  There is something elegant about a beautiful poached egg, but at the same time, they are simple and just tasty!  If you've ever tried making them and they ended up being a ragged mess, please try again using this method!  I think you'll be successful and your family will be SO impressed at your next brunch! :)  In the photo, I've placed them atop a grilled veggie ratatouille.  Along with the smoked avocado, this made a tasty, healthy lunch!  Poached eggs are very healthy by themselves, but of course, there's delicious hollandaise, buttery English muffins, fried Canadian bacon.........well, you get the idea! :)

Smoked Avocados
2 (or more) ripe (but not over-ripe) avocados, room temperature
lemon juice
olive oil
salt and pepper

Cut the avocados in half length-wise and remove the seed.  Brush the cut sides with lemon juice and olive oil.  Place cut-side down on a hot grill for 2-3 minutes (just until there are definite grill marks).  Remove the avocados and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Serve sliced or mash up with your favorite guacamole fixings!  Really good!

Perfect Poached Eggs (makes 2)
*2 super fresh, large eggs (Like from the Farmer's Market if you can get them.)
1 T. white vinegar, depending on the size of your saucepan
a medium saucepan (2-qt is good) filled about 1/2 way with water
salt and pepper

First, the eggs must be room temperature, so if they're straight from the fridge, microwave them (yes, in the shell is okay!) for 10 seconds on high, or until they don't feel cold.
Heat the water and vinegar until the water is almost boiling.  Crack one egg in a small cup like a custard cup or tea cup.  
Hold the cup close to the surface of the water and pour the egg in quickly.  It will set almost immediately into an oval shape.  Keep the water just below the boiling point.  Repeat with the other egg, slipping it in far enough from the other egg to not crowd them.  Poach the eggs for 3 minutes if you want a runny yolk.
Use a slotted spoon to lift an egg out of the water.  Hold a folded piece of paper toweling under the spoon to blot the excess water, then touch it lightly on the egg surface to remove the moisture there.  Put the egg on whatever you're serving.  Repeat with the other one.  Serve immediately!

OR:  You can make the eggs ahead and keep them in a warm water bath for a short time (30 minutes).  I've heard you can even put them in cold water and keep in the fridge for longer (re-warming carefully when needed), but I haven't tried that yet!  Be sure to blot them well before serving.

*Using the freshest eggs you can find is very important.  A really fresh egg stays together in the water a LOT better than a not-so-fresh one.  The vinegar helps to coagulate the white also.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Easy Shrimp Creole with Garlic-Chive White Beans

We're back from a lovely long weekend in Park City, Utah!  It was a great way to enjoy the Fourth of July and to celebrate my son-in-law, Miles', and Ben's birthdays!  We had some very tasty meals in the charming restaurants in Park City, but now we're home and it's back to thinking about what to make for dinner!!
Usually, I look forward to getting back to my own kitchen and this time was no different.  The weekdays don't leave a lot of time to spend making dinner, but this is a good, short-cut recipe for shrimp Creole.  It's usually served with rice, but since Ben needs to watch the carbs, I made a bed of white beans, garlic, and chives.  It was a pretty tasty substitute!

Easy Shrimp Creole with Garlic-Chive White Beans (serves 2-3)
1/2 lb. shrimp, cleaned, deveined, and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 14.5oz. can diced tomatoes
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
1 Tbl. olive oil
1/2 large onion, diced
1 medium green pepper, diced
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
1 Tbl. fresh thyme or 1 tsp. dried
1/2 tsp. Tabasco sauce
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onions and green pepper in the olive oil in a medium pot until they are limp.  Add all the other ingredients except the shrimp and lemon.  Simmer for 30 minutes.  Add the shrimp and simmer 5 minutes more.  Add the lemon juice.  Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.   Serve with rice or........

Garlic-Chive White Beans 
1 1-lb. can white cannelini beans
1 small clove garlic, minced
2 Tbl. chives, chopped
salt and pepper

Rinse the beans in a colander, then place in a small saucepan with about 1/2 cup water.  Add the garlic and simmer slowly while the shrimp Creole is cooking.  When the beans are nice and super soft and the water is almost evaporated, add the chives.  Cook a few minutes more.  Use a fork to coarsely mash the beans (leave some texture).  Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.  

Kale with red jalapenos from the garden!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Hoisin Turkey Tenders with Spicy Asian Slaw

Sometimes it's Tuesday, and it's hot, and everyone's hungry, and everyone's on a diet (egads!),  and nothing sounds that tasty, and well, you get the idea:)
This is a dish for one of those days.  It's simple, healthy, attractive, and GOOD!  I've included the recipe for a quick dressing for the Asian slaw, but a bottled soy-ginger dressing would be delicious!  The turkey tenders are baked with a brush of hoisin sauce (bottled-- in the Asian foods aisle) and the Asian slaw can be put together in minutes.  Of course, just about any veggie would go well in the slaw, substitutions are a necessity when it's one of those days! :)  

Hoisin Turkey Tenders with Spicy Asian Slaw (makes 3 generous servings)
3 turkey tenders
1 Tbl. olive oil
salt and pepper
3 Tbl. bottled hoisin sauce
1/2 small Napa cabbage, sliced thinly (throw away the core)
2 carrots, shredded
1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves
1/2 cup sliced snow peas or snap peas
3 green onions, sliced 
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. Sriracha sauce
1 small garlic clove, minced (or 1/2 tsp. granulated garlic)
1 tsp. minced fresh ginger 

Heat the oven to 350F.  Use a knife to split the tenders lengthwise, but not all the way through.  Open them out and push to flatten them.  Place on a rimmed baking sheet.  Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake for 20 minutes.  
In the meantime, prepare the dressing by mixing everything up in a jar and shaking.  Set aside.
Toss the cabbage, carrots, cilantro, snap peas, and green onions in a large bowl.
Turn the turkey tenders over and brush with some hoisin sauce.  Bake another 5 minutes.  Turn the turkey over again and brush with the remaining sauce.  Turn the oven to 400F.  Bake another 5 minutes, until the turkey is cooked through and the hoisin has formed a glaze.  
Slice each tender into about 1/4-inch slices.  Toss the slaw with the dressing.  Divide the slaw among bowls.  Top with the sliced turkey and serve!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Summer Pasta!

It's definitely summer in South Texas!  Temperatures are in the high 90's (at least), the days are long, and the tomatoes are ripe and red!  
I've mentioned before that one of my hobbies is collecting and reading old cookbooks.  Sometimes there are the most intriguing recipes that I'd never heard of before.  This recipe is definitely one of them.  It's from a book titled, "Cook Until Done" and is written by a man that had learned to cook during his travels throughout the world.  Every chapter begins with a girl, so I think he might have been some kind of "international playboy" back when they said that sort of thing :)  The names of all his dishes don't ignite much inspiration.  For example, this refreshing, interesting, delicious pasta dish was simply titled, "Cold Sauce".  While it is a "cold sauce", that title no more describes this wonderful summer dish than "puffed eggs" describes a souffle!  The sauce is a combination of vine-ripened tomatoes, other veggies, fresh herbs, and olive oil.  It is refrigerated until very cold, then served on the hottest (as in temperature) whole-wheat pasta you can manage.  The combination of hot and cold with the savory sauce and nutty pasta-- well, it IS inspirational, despite the mundane title!  
This dish has all the summer essentials:  simple, bright, seasonal, healthy, and SO GOOD!!
Note:  This recipe uses a food processor.  If you don't have one, just mince everything up.
Cold Sauce (serves 4)
12 oz. whole wheat spaghetti (use 16 oz. if you have big eaters)
2 medium, vine ripened tomatoes, *peeled cut into large pieces
3 medium sized stalks celery, cut up into small chunks
1 Tbl. capers
1/2 large green pepper, or 1 small one, seeded, and cut into chunks (can also use an Anaheim chile if you like spicy!)
2 Tbl. fresh oregano leaves
2 Tbl. fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbl. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper

* To peel tomatoes, submerge into boiling water for about 30 seconds.  Run under cold water briefly to cool.  The skin will peel off easily.
Add the tomatoes, celery, capers, green pepper, oregano, and basil to the food processor.  Pulse until everything is minced, but don't let it get smooth or pureed.  Pour into a bowl.  Sprinkle with the vinegar.  Add the salt and pepper.  Stir everything gently, then pour the olive oil over.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours-- longer is great!
Cook the spaghetti according to package directions and put your pasta bowls in the oven to warm them.  When the pasta is done to your liking, drain it and divide among the warm bowls.  Stir the sauce well, then spoon over the hot pasta.  Serve immediately.  Mmmmmm!!!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Dad's Day!

What did you do for Father's Day?  If you are like most of us, you celebrated Dad with a cookout-- with Dad doing the cooking!  Isn't that funny about Dad's Day?  On Mother's Day, a concerted effort is made (usually) to give Mom a break from cooking, but on Father's Day, well, we just assume Dad will be grilling his own steak and wouldn't want it any other way!
This is probably a true assumption for most Dads and the other's are probably just being good sports, but nevertheless, Father's Day demands an outdoor meal!
This year was no different at our house.  Ben was at the grill and in fact, did most every part of the meal on the grill because MY STOVE AND OVEN are broken!!! :(  I made the dessert ahead, but by Sunday, that appliance had completely died.  I had planned to try to make a healthier menu this year: bison burgers (one of Ben's favorites and discussed on a previous post), a light dessert-- blackberry parfait, and grilled corn.  BUT, I was also planning to make fried green tomatoes, another one of Ben's favorite summer treats.  With no stove, we had to improvise, but guess what?  Grilled green tomatoes are delicious, and I think they actually are better than the fried ones!  Heresy!  But really, they are a LOT easier, healthier, AND tastier!  Why not give them a try?
Grilled corn is easy enough, but if you haven't done it, there are a lot of recipes online that are very complicated and hard to "get right".  I cook the fresh corn in the microwave until it's almost done, then just finish it off on the grill to get the good, roasted flavor and yummy looking grill marks without any of the hassles.

Of course, you can doctor the corn up all you want with butter, roll it in shredded cheese, sprinkle with hot pepper, etc., but since we were going for a lighter meal, I skipped all that this time!  This was super fresh, local corn anyway.  It didn't really need "help" to taste fantastic!
The dessert, pictured above, was a combination of fresh blackberries from the Farmer's Market, a very few crushed vanilla wafers and pecans, and a super simple, old fashioned "pudding" that is made without eggs.  It is fairly low in sugar, too, so completely fit the bill for my Healthy Dad's Day Dinner without tasting like "no fun" :)  These types of puddings are called "blancmange" in the old cookbooks and are thickened with cornstarch.
All in all, the menu was super tasty and Ben really liked it even though he pretty much cooked it himself! :)  Super Dad!

Lighter Blackberry Parfait (serves four generously)
3 cups 2% milk (or even skim will work)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1.5 tsp. vanilla extract
1 pint blackberries, reserve 4 for garnish
8 vanilla wafers, crushed coarsely
2 Tbl. pecans, chopped finely

In a heavy saucepan, mix the sugar, salt, and cornstarch.  Add the milk and blend well with a whisk.  Over medium high heat, cook and stir the mixture until it thickens.  Allow it to simmer gently, stirring, for about 3 minutes.  Off the heat, stir in the vanilla.  Let the pudding cool and refrigerate until cold.
Combine the pecans and the crushed wafers. In 4 small parfait glasses or regular drink glasses, put a bit of the wafer mixture in the bottom of each glass.  Add some blackberries, then spoon a generous amount of pudding into the glass.  Add more blackberries, then more pudding.  Sprinkle the top with the remaining wafers.  Add a berry and a mint leaf, if you have it, to garnish the top.  Refrigerate.  These will keep in the fridge all day, but might get mushy if made the night before.  
You might not use up all the pudding, but that's okay!  It's great over cake, fruit, just about anything!

Grilled Green Tomatoes
Green tomatoes, sliced about 1/4 inch thick (not thicker-- they have to cook somewhat on the grill, so it's easier if they are on the thin side)
olive oil
salt, pepper

Drizzle the tomato slices with olive oil and turn them so they are coated on both sides.  Put on the grill and cook, turning once.  They're done when they get a bit softer and have the pretty grill markings.  Put on a platter and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  That's it, and they are delicious!

Easiest Grilled Corn
Fresh corn, shucked
olive oil
salt, pepper

Place the corn in a microwave safe dish that is big enough to hold them in one layer.  Add a splash of water and cover with waxed paper.  Microwave on high, turning them over once during cooking, until they are cooked through.  It takes about 10 minutes to do a 13x9 glass dish full of corn with my microwave, but you have to just see how yours works.  
Drizzle the corn with olive oil, place on the grill and cook until they get their yummy roasted look.  It doesn't take long at all.  Place on a platter and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

These are hardly "recipes", but I hope you try them because they make the most of these wonderful summer treats!

And Happy Father's Day all you wonderful Dads!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Anniversary Dinner!

Tuesday was our anniversary!  What a blessing to be married a LONG time :) and to still enjoy each other's company across the dinner table!  As with most holidays around here, I wanted to cook at home, but in the morning, Ben took me to a very nice restaurant that serves the best, most elegant breakfasts!  That was a treat!  
For dinner, I wanted to make something seasonal, but Ben had purchased a nice bottle of wine that was going to probably go very well with duck.  Duck is usually a fall / winter meal, but I found this recipe from a BBC website that was made for summer!  The crispy-skinned duck breasts are paired with the most delicious medley of new potatoes, peas, and baby lima beans.  Of course, it's best if all these things can be obtained fresh, but the fresh peas have come and gone in south Texas and it's the same with baby limas ("summer" here isn't the same as summer in England!).  I substituted a good brand of frozen veggies and the result was wonderful!  A little bacon and a teaspoon or two of duck fat really work their magic :) !  If you've never had duck, please give it a try!  It's so easy to make and the flavor of domestically raised birds is mild and tasty!
I also made a super old-school shrimp cocktail as our appetizer.  I wanted to use these dishes I got at an estate sale.  They have one purpose only-- to serve shrimp cocktail, but they were so '60's cool!  A shaved fennel and mixed greens salad and Key lime pie for dessert rounded out the menu deliciously!  
By the way, the pie was the winner of the 2013 National Pie Baking Contest and is officially called "Sittin' On a Sandbar Key Lime Pie".  It was really good and a fun twist on the traditional pie.  The crust is made with crushed vanilla wafers and that was a definite inspiration!  If you want to make it, here's the link.

Kind of a fuzzy pic, but it was tasty!

Duck with Peas and Baby Lima Beans (adapted from BBC Good Food)
2 duck breasts, skin on
coarse cracked black pepper
Kosher or sea salt
1/2 lb. red new potatoes, scrubbed and halved
1 cup peas 
1 cup baby lima beans
1-2 slices bacon, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1.5 Tbl. red wine vinegar
1 Tbl. chopped parsley

Heat the oven to 425F.  
Boil the new potatoes in salted water for 10 minutes.  Add the baby limas and continue boiling 5 minutes or until the potatoes and beans are tender.  Drain and set aside.
With a very sharp knife, score the skin only of the duck breasts.  Try not to pierce the meat.  Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper on both sides.  Heat a heavy skillet until hot and sear the duck skin side down for 5-6 minutes, until the skin is browned and crisp.  Turn them over and cook another 2 minutes, then place the breasts in a small baking pan. Pour out the duck fat into a small bowl and wipe out the skillet.  Put the duck into the oven and roast 8-10 minutes, depending on the degree of doneness you like.  We like ours medium-well.  Remove the duck and allow to rest for about 10 minutes.
While the duck is resting, add 1 tsp. of the reserved duck fat to the skillet and cook the bacon in it until crisp.  Add the potatoes, peas, and lima beans to the skillet.  Stir and cook until everything is hot.  Add the vinegar and parsley.  Cook and stir as it bubbles up.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve the duck breasts with the veggie mixture alongside.  Yum!
My mom and dad used to get shrimp cocktails like these at restaurants in the '60's!

Fennel and mixed greens salad was just the right refreshing touch with a simple lime and olive oil vinaigrette.

Friday, June 7, 2013

First Caprese Salad of the Summer

Remember my container garden tomatoes?  Here they are in the first caprese salad of the summer!  We never knew about this delicious combination of vine ripened tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and herbs when I was growing up.  I always think that was too bad because we had some wonderful tomatoes during those Colorado summers!  
Anyway, now days most everyone makes this delicious salad, so I just wanted you to see the garden update!  The basil is from our garden also, and the mozzarella is "house made" at our neighborhood grocery store, so we were feeling pretty good about "going local" :)
If you haven't made a caprese salad, here's a kind of recipe, but it's mostly just a guide!  

Caprese Salad  (serves two at our house!)
2 ripe, red tomatoes, sliced into a bit less than 1/4 inch slices
1/2 ball of fresh mozzarella, sliced thinly
1 very small clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and black pepper
Fresh basil leaves

Place the tomato slices and cheese slices on 2 salad plates.  I only use the center slices of tomato (the ends are good for the cook!) because they look nice that way.  Mix the garlic, oil, and red pepper flakes well.  Drizzle over the salads generously.  Let them sit out at room temperature while you're making the rest of dinner or at least 30 minutes.  Right before serving, sprinkle the salads with a nice amount of salt and just a tiny bit of black pepper.  Tear the basil leaves and sprinkle over the salads.  

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Summer Rolls: Fun with Rice Paper !

Have you ever tried to make summer rolls?  They are a healthier, non-fried version of egg rolls in a way, but really, they're an altogether different thing!  The wrapper is super thin rice paper and the fillings are generally fresh veggies like carrots, green onions, cilantro, and some light protein like chicken or shrimp.  Usually they are served with a tasty dipping sauce too.
Anyway, I've always been curious about the rice paper, ie, whether it is super difficult to work with.  Well, let me tell you, it is actually super easy!  These days, most every grocery store carries them in the Asian foods section.  Light, fresh tasting and almost no calories, these are wonderful wrappers for just about any combinations!  
Most all the recipes I saw for summer rolls encouraged wrapping the rolls very tightly.  This is a good idea because it allows you to cut the rolls in half to serve them and they look prettier if everything stays in place.  However, I wanted the rolls to be easier to eat, so I cut everything up rather small and that made them not hold together as well after cutting (see photo!).  If you leave everything in long strips, the rolls will look beautiful and they will cut very nicely.  It's up to you!  Mostly, it doesn't matter because they taste so good everyone is too busy eating them to notice this type of thing!
Summer Rolls (makes about 8)
1 pkg. Vietnamese rice paper wrappers
3 green onions, sliced in long strips or chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely grated or julienned
1/4 English cucumber, seeds removed and sliced into thin strips
1 cup coarsely chopped cilantro (or use sprigs)
2 small, cooked chicken breast halves, sliced into strips (I used leftover baked chicken from the night before.)

Juice of 1/2 lime
1 T. soy sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. grated ginger
1 tsp. grated garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp. Sriaccha sauce (I still can't spell it right!)

Get a pie plate and pour in hot water almost to the top.  Dip one rice paper into the water for 15 seconds, making sure it is submerged.  Remove and allow the water to drain off.  Put the wrapper on a dry glass plate.  Add a few pieces of onion, cucumber, cilantro and carrot in a horizontal pile a bit lower than the center line of the wrapper.  Add a few chicken strips.  Begin wrapping by drawing the lower part of the wrapper up over the filling.  Press down to compact the filling.  Fold the two ends in over the filling too, then continue wrapping up to the end.  Everything will stick fine and hold together.  Place the roll on a piece of waxed paper or parchment on a plate or sheet pan.  Repeat until all the filling is used up.
Whisk the lime juice, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, olive oil and Sriaccha sauce in a small bowl or shake in a jar.  
You can cut the rolls on the diagonal and serve them on a platter, or serve them whole.  Serve little individual bowls of the sauce or just let everyone spoon it on their rolls and they would like.
Light, refreshing, and cool-- summer's here!