Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Over the big pond we go!!

Only in Europe can you find a scene like this one. This was taken in France several years ago. Tomorrow morning we are leaving for the Black Forest of Germany and for the Auvergne region of France in south central France, Massif Central. I will not be taking the computer with us, but hope to find an Internet cafe now and then to simply check on things.
I will be back in 3 weeks and will be blogging again then. I plan on taking lots of notes and lots of pictures so I hope you will be back then to share the journey with me.

Friday, April 23, 2010

It's the American Pie Council contest again!!!

What can I say? The American Pie Council has once again invited us to be judges of the great American pie contest. So that is where we spent this Saturday. Last year we judged commercial pies and that was fun, but we wanted to get into the really great pies this year, those baked with tender loving care by the amateurs. Many of you are out there, I know. In fact, I am almost, and I emphasize ALMOST, tempted to enter myself.

But, I see the stress and disappointed all around. You have to be very different, unique and an excellent pie baker. It would be a tremendous challenge. Can you imagine....a full year of practicing "pies" and spreading the results among the neighbors. That would have to happen, you know, or else you would never be able to waddle up to the contest.
This year I was at the Fruit/Berry table. The Trout had one of his favorites, Raisin. He said he did not find one pie that was outstanding. I tasted 17 pies and there were two that I found very good. Some were almost inedible. So the whole day, I am tasting and thinking to myself, "I can do better than this."
My very favorite was called Humbleberry Pie. Very excellent crust, blueberries, raspberries, rhubarb with a lattice crust top and drizzled with a powdered sugar frosting. There was also a blueberry that everyone at the table raved about, but I felt it was a little heavy on some spice I wasn't quite sure of.
On The Morning Show on Monday morning, you will see what was filmed today. It was a fun day, but do not be surprised if I am not judging next year and instead, entering a pie or two in the contest. I am going to research in the next year, check out the winners of the last few years and see what pie, if any, seems to win more often, and then start practicing. I also have the added advantage that I only live 30-40 minutes from the hotel where the judging takes place, so I can bake at home and not worry about learning a new oven, forgetting ingredients, etc. It is a good deal all around.
This years winners should be on the Internet at http://www.piecouncil.org/ in the next few weeks. So, does anyone else feel a challenge coming on?

FYI: I thought afterward that I might tell you about the prizes. For Best in Show, $5000, a Sears Kenmore Range, and a Crisco gift basket. $200 and a Crisco gift basket for first place in each flavor category. There are 9 flavor categories.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Basil, Pesto equals Pasta

The herbs in our rectangular boxes are growing beautifully. Decided to make them more portable this year, but still not quite sure what we will do with them when we leave for the summer. The basil is doing so beautifully, we knew we had to make pesto before we leave this weekend. It is one of our favorite ways to eat pasta, especially if it is right out of the garden.

Here is the pesto after running through the food processor. Patiently waiting for the pasta to boil and join it in the bowl.

Linguine with Pesto Sauce
Linguine con pesto
3/4 cup fresh basil leaves
3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled
3 tbsp pine nuts
1/2 tsp salt
5 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 lb linguine
serves 5-6
Place the basil, garlic, pine nuts ( I have successfully substituted walnuts), salt and olive oil in a food processor and process until smooth. Remove to a bowl. If desired, the sauce can be frozen in this state before adding the cheese.
Stir in the parmesan. Taste for seasoning.
Cook the pasta in a large pot of rapidly boilings salted water until al dente. Just before draining, take about 4 tbsp of the cooking water and stir into the sauce. Drain the pasta and toss with the sauce. Serve immediately.
We added two grilled Italian sausages to this meal and enjoyed it very much. A 2008 Carmenere Casillero del Diablo from Chile topped the taste buds perfectly.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Use your spring lettuce

The lettuce is beautiful, fresh and crisp.

Topped with the bacon dressing, this salad will become a spring favorite.

We stopped at the downtown farmer's market yesterday morning. We saw the beautiful new lettuce and the Trout said, "you have to make wilted lettuce." And so, today, I did.

Back-tracking....when I first met my to-be mother-in-law, I realized immediately that she would be a cook to contend with. She was excellent, what I would call a true "farm cook", but everything out of her kitchen was delicious. One of my favorite memories, and there are many, was the beautiful lettuce that came out of her garden in early spring and her delicious wilted lettuce.

Then, we move to 1968 when the Trout and I were living in Germany. His sister, Joyce, corresponded with us frequently, through tape recordings or letters. I remember mentioning to her that I did not have any cookbooks with me and obviously, new bride that I was, did not have much in memory storage.

What a pleasant surprise when one day a package arrived for me. In it was a paperback cookbook, The All New Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking School Cookbook. This paperback is now over 42 years old, a little ratty (being well-used), the pages are yellowed, the front and back covers have been torn off, but IT STILL WORKS FOR ME!! The Fanny Farmer cookbook was first published in 1896. I had the 15th printing, June 1968.

I have cooked out of this little book a lot through the years, but definitely the most repeated recipe was on page 258, "Wilted Lettuce". Today, I want to share it with you, because the time is right. Many of you are gardeners and the new lettuce is perfect for this. In fact, the only type of lettuce that will truly work to give this salad its exceptional taste. Yes, it has bacon and the dreaded word...BACON FAT...but once or twice a spring, it is definitely worth it. I hope you try it soon and let me know if you don't think it is the best.


Wash and dry thoroughly
2 small heads of tender lettuce (not iceberg)

Tear into pieces and put in a large salad bowl.

Fry until crisp 4 strips bacon. Drain the bacon on a paper towel and crumble into bits. Add to the fat in the pan

2 tablespoons vinegar (I use white, not Heinze, as it is too strong)
2 tablespoons water
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Heat to the boiling point. Add the bacon and pour the hot dressing over the lettuce. Toss to wilt the lettuce.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

My dreams and the Thunderbirds

The Air Force Thunderbirds are in town and we caught them practicing yesterday for the annual Sun 'n Fun get together here in Lakeland.

They are so fast and loud, you can't help but have goose bumps!! It just is so American..it makes you proud.
I am up early. In 11 days we will be flying across the big pond. That is if everything is in order again, like no volcanic clouds over Iceland, no airline strike...you get the picture.
So, as predicted, I am having crazy dreams. It always happens this way. You would think after all these years of traveling, the dreams would subside. I just heard Dr. Oz say that during REM sleep, your arms and legs are partially paralyzed so that you do not act out your dreams. That is a good thing, because all last night I was back in my childhood home waiting for the school bus and I keep missing it. You know, it just doesn't seem right for a child to have so much "missing the bus" stress before school. I can't believe I am still experiencing it.
The Trout must be having dreams also. He woke me in the middle of the night to remind me to get out the passports so we don't forget them. That dream will start closer to take-off for me. I find myself at the airport in my dreams, and without passport.
I have been reading on different blogs that computers are crashing. Several years ago, we got a second computer, a laptop. That is the one I use. It has been getting slower and slower so yesterday we took it in to be over-hauled before something bad happens. So, I am sharing the desktop with the Trout. That also means I will be cutting down the time I use the computer for a few days which is probably a good thing. I have much to take care of before we go on this trip.
Oh yes, we are driving 15 hours to get to the airport. Isn't that a hoot? Our bichon is getting older and we do not have the heart to put her in a kennel anymore. So, we are taking her to our daughter's house so that she can have a good time with her family while we are gone. It also gives us a wonderful chance to spend some time with our grandsons again. We see them several times a year, but do miss all the grandkids a lot.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Haricots Verts Breton

Or...Green Beans, Breton Style. Don't you love the lilting syllables tripping off the tongue? The green beans at the farmer's market looked very nice on Monday, so tonight along with some marinated flank steak grilled, we had the beans from Susan Hermann Loomis' cookbook " French Farm House Cookbook."

Green Beans, Breton Style

Sea salt
2 pounds ( 1 kg) green beans, trimmed and checked for strings
1 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh summer savory leaves (optional)I used thyme.
1 tablespoons lightly salted butter
Freshly ground pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the beans until tender, not more than 5 minutes. Transfer to ice water and when cool, drain and pat dry.

Mince the parsley and garlic and savory together. (I did not have savory, but substituted thyme)

In a large skillet, melt the butter and add the beans and saute' until hot through, 2 to 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic mixture and continue sauteing until you can smell the garlic cooking, 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, toss and transfer to a warmed bowl.

This was a lovely dish for these fresh green beans and will be used again.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A very delightful Flan

Here the sugar has been carmelized and swirled around the pan.
After baking to a golden brown.

The sliced flan.

Somewhere back in the 1980's I came across a recipe from an acquaintance in the Newcomers' Club we belonged to. She willingly shared the recipe with me and it has become a favorite ever since.

A flan is a Spanish or Mexican dessert and I think every country has some sort of variation on this theme. I like this recipe because it tastes wonderful, is reliable and I have not found one person who did not like it. The flavoring that goes into it is up to you. Kahlua always seems perfect, but this time I used Cointreau. Creme de Cacao would also be great. Or, if you prefer, a good quality vanilla extract would be tasty also. The recipe comes together quickly, spends a night in the refrigerator and then is ready to serve when you are ready to eat it.


3 tablespoons sugar
3 oz. blanched almonds
1 can sweetened condensed milk such as Eagle Brand
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 whole eggs
2 teaspoons Kahlua, Grand Marnier or your choice

Heat sugar in an 8" cake pan with 1 1/2" sides on top of the stove until golden brown. Don't rush this. Put on your oven mitts and moved the sugar as it melts around to cover the entire bottom of the cake pan. Be aware that as this cools it hardens and then starts cracking. This is normal.

Chop almonds in a blender until fine. Add the condensed milk, cream, eggs and Kahlua or Grand Marnier. Blend 10 seconds. Pour into the flan pan on top of the hardened golden melted sugar that is now crack hard and set in a larger pan with 1" water. This will be like a water bath to help it bake evenly.

Bake for 45 minutes at 325 degrees. Cool, and then refrigerate overnight. To serve, run edge of knife around the pan. Place the serving plate upside down on top of the flan pan and flip over. Shake it down slowly onto the serving plate. The caramelized sugar will run down the sides. Cut in wedges. Easily 8 servings.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Salad Nicoise

For many, many years, a favorite light dinner in our kitchen has always been Salad Nicoise. Salad Nicoise is a French composed salad of lettuce, tuna, green beans, hard-cooked eggs, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, olives and anchovies topped with a vinaigrette. Tonight we had just that accompanied by a rose' wine from France. Light, filling and very tasty. The Trout added a touch of Agave nectar for sweetness to the vinaigrette and it was perfect. We have been using Agave a lot in place of sugar and have been real fans.

Of course, the wine again. A beautiful rose' from 2008 from a village near Nimes.

Salad Nicoise is not new to use. In the picture below, you see me in 2005 in the village of Vaison la Romaine after a day at the market. We were seated on the balcony of a restaurant. The salad nicoise that day was huge and it was our total lunch. Beyond that wall is the river with a visual monument to the war dead.
Vaison la Romaine, in the area of Provence, is a beautiful city filled with Roman ruins. With just a tiny bit of imagination, one can see Julius Caesar walking the streets, the traders selling their wares, and the people, the many Roman people doing their daily routines. We loved this city and would love to go back some day. Besides, the market with all the spices, fruits, grains, meats, vegetables and Provencal wares for sale is enough to make anyone want to go back. I found beautiful tablecloths and placemats from Provence that we love to use for our dinners with guests.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Chicken Marengo and Quinoa

My blogger friend, Sam, at My Carolina Kitchen, reminded me that I had not made Chicken Marengo in many years.

I followed her recipe
and this evening we had a lovely Chicken Marengo dish. We both enjoyed it very much.

I decided to serve it with Quinoa, pronounced Keen-wah. We like Quinoa a lot. It is a perfect protein and a wonderful substitute for rice or couscous. It is high in iron, calcium, magnesium, B vitamins and fiber.

Quinoa can be used in salads and pilafs and as a simple side. It is also gluten-free and wheat-free. If you have not tried it, I really suggest that you might like it.

Thank you Sam for a delightful Chicken Marengo. I did not even bother finding my old recipe as I knew this one sounded perfect.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Lamb with Beans and the WINE

We had our Easter dinner last night. We went to early church this morning and are planning on playing a little golf this afternoon, so yesterday seemed just right for our lamb dinner.

After researching a lot as to just how I wanted to roast this lamb shoulder (slow and covered or high and uncovered), we settled on a version from Emeril Lagasse. Might change a few things next time, but we really enjoyed the lamb. Served the flageolet beans which we purchased from Rancho Gordo along side and grilled asparagus spears. The beans are so good. I always thought a dried bean was a dried bean, but these Rancho Gordo beans that I bought over the Internet are such winners. A little more pricey, but so very, very good.

Lamb Roasted with Garlic and Anchovies

3 tablespoons minced garlic

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt

4 canned anchovy fillets (we used anchovy paste)

5 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

4-5 pound leg of lamb or semi-boned sirloin

1 cup dry white wine

1/12 cups chicken stock

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley leaves

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves

In a small bowl, combine garlic, rosemary, 1 tablespoon salt, anchovies, 4 tablespoons olive oil and vinegar and stir to form a paste. (I would leave out the vinegar next time) Using a sharp knife, make evenly spaced deep slits all over the roast and stuff the slits with as much of the paste mixture as you can. Using your hands, rub any remaining paste all over the sides of the lamb and place in a baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Remove the lamb from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature. Preheat over to 375 degrees F.

Remove the plastic wrap and add white wine and chicken stock to the bottom of the baking dish. (I really feel the wine was not necessary). Rub the lamb with remaining tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with remaining salt and pepper. Transfer to preheated oven and bake, uncovered, basting occasionally with the pan juices until the thickest part registers 130 to 140 degrees F for medium rare.

Remove from oven and let rest 10 to 15 minutes before carving. Serve garnished with chopped parsley and mint before serving.


1 cup dried flageolets or cannellini beans

olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled and sliced

stock or bouillon cube

salt and pepper

Soak the beans overnight in twice their volume of water. Rinse and drain. Heat olive oil in a medium heavy-bottomed pot. Add the beans and onions and cook until the onions are soft.

Pour in cold stock to just cover, and bring to a simmer. Cook for 40-50 minutes or until the beans are tender. Season with salt 30 minutes into the cooking and sprinkle with freshly ground pepper just before serving.

And now, the wine. When we were in Siena, Italy, in 2001, we visited the regional wine store where only the best producers were allowed to offer their wines. Trout sat down with one of their knowledgeable staff and asked for 6 bottles of various Tuscany wines, to take home, that best characterized the various "terroirs" of the region. The 1995 Caparzo Brunello was selected for that region and carefully stored until last eve.

Brunellos only come from the small region in Tuscany called Brunello di Montalcino, home of the "brunello" variety of sangiovese grape and is highly sought after by collectors. It is made from 100% Sangiovese grapes and must be aged at least 2 years in wood barrels. This wine can be drunk immediately upon release but really improves if left to age for 10-20 years. Only about 600,000 cases are produced in regular and reserva bottlings with 200,000 finding their way to the USA. I paid $32 way back when for my bottle while expect to pay $50-100 a bottle now due to its relative scarcity and uniqueness.

Brunello is supposed to be more powerful, bolder and richer than the Vino Nobiles and Chianti Classicos nearby. It can be characterized in the usual terms of "crushed berries, light raisin, coffee, chocolate, tar, oak, tobacco, tannic," etc. etc..

We very much enjoyed out Brunello with the wonderful lamb roast. I let it breathe for an hour via our decanter. Would I pay $50 or more for Brunello vs $10-25 for an excellent Chianti Classico like Felsina, Banfi, etc.? Probably not, as I did not find this wine that much better, but it was a treat none the less. Maybe this was due to my under-educated palate for such rare wines.

My thanks to the Trout for the wine selection and for his write-up.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Frittata di pasta avanzata

We had great old friends visiting us yesterday and one of the sides for our dinner was whole wheat angel hair pasta with pesto made out of the basil in our garden. There was just enough left over to make this frittata for dinner this evening. This is a beautiful way to use up leftover pasta, no matter what sauce it has.
Frittata di pasta avanzata
Frittata of Leftover Pasta
(from Italian cookbook by Barnes and Noble, 2003)
5-6 eggs
1 1/2 - 2 cups cold cooked pasta, with any sauce
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt and freshly ground pepper
5 tbsp. butter
In a medium bowl. beat the eggs lightly with a fork. Stir in the pasta and the Parmesan cheese. Season to taste.
Heat half the butter in a large non-stick or heavy frying pan. As soon as the foam subsides, pour in the pasta mixture. Cook over moderate heat, without stirring, for 4-5 minutes, or until the bottom is golden brown. Loosen the frittata by shaking the pan backwards and forwards.
Take a large plate and place it upside down over the pan and holding it firmly with oven mitts, turn the pan and the frittata over onto it. Add the remaining butter to the pan. As soon as the foaming stops, slide the frittata back into the pan and continue cooking until golden brown on the second side, 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat. Can be served hot, at room temperature or cold. Cut into wedges to serve.