Monday, September 24, 2007

Home Again, Home Again for Creamy Mushroom Soup

The other night I invited a couple of old and dear friends over for dinner. All of us had left our homes here as young women, just starting out with new marriages and careers. And now, for altogether different reasons, we've all found our ways back to our hometown to live again. It seemed important to me to re-establish the ties that bound us when our families shared Friday night dinners out and holiday picnic breakfasts. Everyone needs a friend who can look into our middle-aged eyes and see the girls we were before . . . well . . . before, whatever has happened to us since then.

I was not sure what to make for dinner, so my husband, who generally does not care what he eats, or so he says, suggested this creamy mushroom soup. I have suspected for quite a while now that he really is more aware of mealtime than he professes -- and now I know! After I recovered from my shock that he actually remembered and savored a delicious flavor from his past, I decided it would be perfect for a light September supper. A recently purchased bottle of Champagne Pear Vinaigrette from Trader Joe's (which I enthusiastically encourage you to try!) inspired a salad of butterhead lettuce and curly endive with sliced and grilled fresh pears, toasted pecans, and crumbled gorgonzola. Hearty La Brea Whole Grain bread rounded out my changing seasons menu -- that and a bit of Ben and Jerry's finest vanilla with fresh raspberries and crumbled Amaretti Cookies. My favorite new wine, Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, seemed a good match to my palate.

Dinner was wonderful and I definitely will make the whole menu again, probably several times through the chilly months ahead. The true joy of the evening though, was sharing our stories and finding old and new things to laugh about. Sometimes, if you're lucky, you can go home again -- and it's good to have a friend there.

adated from Barefoot Contessa at Home, by Ina Garten
8 oz. fresh shitake mushrooms
8 oz. fresh portobello mushrooms
8 oz. fresh cremini mushrooms
1 tbsp. good olive oil
1 stick (4 oz.) + 1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 c. chopped onion
1 c. chopped carrot
1 sprig fresh thyme + 1 tsp. minced thyme leaves
2 c. good beef broth
4 c. water
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
2 c. chopped leeks (2-3 leeks white and light green parts)
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. sherry or dry white wine (I like the sherry!)
2 c. half-and-half
1/2 c. fresh Italian parsley, minced

Clean the mushrooms with damp paper towels and/or a soft brush, but do not wash them or they will get soggy. Snap off the mushroom stems and give them a coarse chop. Slice the mushroom caps into 1/4-in. slices, and in half again if the mushrooms are very large. Set the caps aside.

In a large pot, heat olive oil and 1 tbsp. butter and add the chopped mushroom stems, chopped onions, chopped carrots, sprig of thyme, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper; cook on low for about 15 minutes, until the vegetables are softened. Add the beef broth and water, bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat. Simmer the uncovered pot for 30 minutes and remove from heat. After mixture has cooled for 10 minutes, pour through a strainer to remove vegetables; reserve the stock and add water, if needed, to yield 5 cups.

In another large pot, heat 1/4 lb. butter and add sliced leeks. Cook over low heat until leeks begin to turn a golden brown color. Add the mushroom slices and cook for 10 minutes. Add the flour and stir while cooking for 1 minute. Add the sherry (or wine) and stir to loosen mixture from the bottom of the pot. Add the reserved mushroom stock, minced thyme leaves, salt and pepper to taste and bring all to a boil. Reduce the heat and continue to simmer for 15 minutes. Finally, add the half-and-half, and parsley and continue to cook until soup is warmed throughout, but do not boil. Soup should be served hot. Serves 6.

Note: This soup is excellent when first made, but is even better the second or third day after preparing. May need to be thinned a little with a bit more half-and-half when reheating. Also makes a wonderful sauce for sautéed chicken or grilled steaks -- good enough for serious company!


Friday, September 14, 2007

A Cookbook In Every Kitchen

When I was growing up, the kitchen was the center of family activity in our home, and my mother always seemed grateful to have company, and especially help, when it was time for her to prepare dinner, or supper, as we called it then. Of course, we were usually just in there trying to hurry up the process of getting the food to the table, and getting in the way. As it turns out, we all must have learned a thing or two while we were bobbing and weaving, because all five of my brothers turned out to be excellent cooks, including one who is a chef. And believe me, none of us goes hungry when left to our own devices in any kitchen.

When I started cooking, the tools in my mother’s kitchen were the conventional ones found in most family kitchens of the day. Pots and pans, mixing bowls, electric mixer, blender, cake pans, cookie sheets, wooden spoons, rolling pin, The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook and The Joy of Cooking. The standard stuff. As the oldest child in the family and the only girl, it was just expected that I would be the kitchen helper and learn how to turn ingredients into tasty meals. I fell easily into the role and discovered I liked to cook, even if I didn’t enjoy cleaning up.

Even before I left home, I knew I wanted a big, beautifully equipped kitchen of my own someday. I didn’t wait to get a start on gathering my own cooking tools either. One day, while still living at home and going to college, I sifted through the racks at the bookstore, searching for the many novels required for my English class. A slim little book caught my eye, with its charming drawings and colorful cover. I paused to thumb through it and felt myself being drawn into a world of romantic and delicious possibilities that could be mine for just $1.50. Simple Italian Cookery became my very first cookbook, and a collector was born.

Today, I am fortunate to have the kitchen I thought would only ever exist in my dreams. It is equipped with all manner of cookware and appliances -- all the essentials and a few of those that Alton Brown dismisses for their singular function. But cookbooks are still my weakness and my bookcases bulge with a collection of hundreds and hundreds of them. I am still just as easily captivated when I pick one up to read as I am by a good novel. And even though I’m not cooking nearly as much as I used to, I can still enjoy the excitement of a crowded kitchen and taste all the delicious possibilities in the pages of a good cookbook.

Lately, I find myself leafing through my cookbooks a little more often than I used to before I lost my computer. Seasonal recipes already culled and set aside in cyber files for future use are gone, just as summer has changed into autumn and I’m craving apples, pumpkin, sausage, and soup. It’s been fun spending hours searching through my favorite cookbooks again, and especially some I’ve overlooked for a while. Finding my first, thin little volume took me way back to the excitement I felt when I first opened it, and made me hungry for an earthy, satisfying Italian dinner like the first meal I cooked for my husband from its pages.

Another great find was a different take on the Italian recipes we tend to go to so often. Fagioli: The Bean Cuisine of Italy takes on this food staple, sometimes dismissed as bland and boring, and elevates it to its well-deserved new status as a nutrient rich and satisfying ingredient in all kinds of dishes. Bean recipes are perfect for fall cooking, and especially for crockpot creations like soups and stews. I’ve grown especially fond of lentils and white beans lately, and have always been a big fan of bean soups.

Just so you don’t think of me as an old-fashioned sort of cook who is limited to traditional print media for my research, I’ve also been surfing up a storm on my new computer. Some of my most interesting discoveries have already found their way into my new cyber food files. My bookmarks now include a site for the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance ( - a brand new project to research and document the foods and flavors of the Great Lakes and Great Plains states, similar to what the Southern Foodways Alliance ( is doing across the southern U.S. The first Midwestern food to garner their attentions at a meeting in Chicago last week was sausage, but plans are underway for a second conference titled, Midwestern Nut and Dessert traditions. And, according to Catherine Lambrecht, one of the founders of this new group, there are plans being discussed for a meeting in our part of the state – possibly Carbondale - for next spring.

Another rich source for excellent seasonal recipes is food blogs. I’ve written here before about the wonderful world of blogging and the extensive community of people who chronicle their food finds and creations. My current favorite blog is A Veggie Venture ( by Alanna Kellogg, from nearby Kirkwood, MO. Alanna has accumulated an enormous and impressive collection of vegetable recipes, organized alphabetically by vegetable, Weight Watcher points, low carb eating, month, and . . . well, just look her up and see for yourself. Alanna has done the work for you – and included nutritional analysis! -- to make it easy to add delicious seasonal vegetables to your daily diet with her site and her food column, Kitchen Parade. She has graciously allowed me to include here her recipe for slow-roasted tomatoes, for those of you who still have a few Roma tomatoes left on the vine. The rest of us will have to be content with plans for preserving next year’s bumper crop, while we check out her recipes for this season’s best foods.

Cooking for just one or two is the biggest challenge I face in my kitchen these days. Recipes I’ve used for years seem too big for my needs now – refrigerators and freezers only hold so many leftovers, and two people can only eat so many. No matter how good something tastes, after a few days of repeats, my taste buds long for fresh flavors, so I’ve been looking for fresh ideas to trim the number of servings I make at one time in my empty-nest kitchen. Cooking For Two, by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, has just joined my library of cookbooks and promises to help me conquer the dilemma of keeping meals fresh and exciting and perfectly proportioned when cooking for two.

Open any cookbook today and discover an exciting recipe to nourish you and those you cook with and care for from your kitchen. A reliable old favorite will do nicely. A new way of looking at a special diet or special needs could inspire you to overcome a challenge. But don’t limit yourself to traditional print cookbooks. Check out websites and blogs for creative ways to cook and enjoy fresh seasonal recipes. A good cookbook of your very own is one of the first tools every cook should have in her home kitchen. But a good computer recipe file is like having a world library of cookbooks every time you need a fresh outlook. I have strong connections to both, and find it difficult to work without either one in my “dream” kitchen.

Adapted from Simple Italian Cookery,
compiled by Edna Beilenson

4-5 lbs. chicken pieces
6 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 lb. mushrooms
1 onion, chopped
1/2 c. white wine
1 can Italian tomatoes
1 tbsp. brandy
a few sprigs fresh parsley, chopped
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp. butter

Rinse and dry chicken pieces, sprinkle with salt and pepper, roll in flour and fry in olive oil until golden brown. Remove chicken from pan, and to the remaining oil add mushrooms and chopped onion, and cook until slightly brown. Add wine and tomatoes. Cook 5 minutes and put chicken back in pan, making sure that it is well heated through again. Add brandy, chopped parsley and garlic. Cover and cook slowly. When chicken is tender, add butter. Delicious with rice. Serves 6.

Adapted from Fagioli: The Bean Cuisine of Italy,
by Judith Barrett

1 c. small brown lentils
2 ribs celery, 1 cut in large pieces, 1 finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled, 1 whole, 1 finely chopped
kosher salt
1/4 c. olive oil
2 lbs. sweet Italian sausage, casings removed, cut into 2-in. pieces, or ground pork
1 c. tomato puree
2 c. chicken or meat broth
freshly ground black pepper
5 stems fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped

Combine the lentils with the large pieces of celery and whole clove of garlic in a medium saucepan with 6 cups cold water over medium-high heat. When the water begins to boil, lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, about 30 minutes, until the lentils are barely tender. Season with salt to taste and drain.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped celery and chopped garlic and cook, stirring 2-3 minutes, until the celery begins to soften. Add the sausage and cook, stirring, 3-5 minutes longer, until the meat loses it raw pink color. Add the lentils, tomato puree, and broth. Stir well to combine.
When the liquid comes to a simmer, cover the skillet and cook slowly, about 30 minutes longer, until the sauce is thick. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Delicious served with polenta. Garnish each serving with parsley. Makes 4 servings.

Recipe Courtesy of Kitchen
Hands-on time: 20 minutes
Oven time: 10 - 12 hours
Makes about 2 cups

1 tablespoon olive oil
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons mixed dried herbs (Italian seasoning, basil, oregano, sage or thyme)
1 tablespoon fennel seed
4 pounds meaty tomatoes (Cascade or Roma)
Unpeeled cloves of garlic, optional
Freshly ground pepper

Set oven to 200F. Drizzle a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and seasonings.

Halve the tomatoes lengthwise, leaving the stem socket on one side so after roasting, the skins slip off more easily.

Rub each cut side in the oil and herbs, then arrange cut-side down in a single layer, butted together. Tuck in garlic cloves. Sprinkle tomato tops with salt and pepper.

Roast for 10 to 12 hours. If roasting two trays at once, swap racks after 6 to 8 hours. Let cool. Slip off and discard skins. Use within 2 to 3 days or freeze.
NUTRITION ESTIMATE Per Batch: 367 Cal (30% from Fat); 14g Tot Fat; 2g Sat Fat; 59g Carb; 20g Fiber; 164mg Sodium; 0mg Cholesterol; Weight Watchers 8 points

Adapted from Risotto,
by Maxine Clark

about 6 cups hot light chicken broth
1 stick unsalted butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
1-2 fresh or dried red chiles, seeded and finely chopped
1 lb. Fresh butternut squash or pumpkin, peeled and finely chopped (2 1/2 cups.)
2 1/3 c. Arborio rice
3 tbsp. chopped fresh sage
3/4 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pour the broth into a saucepan and keep at a gentle simmer. Melt half the butter in a large, heavy saucepan and add the onion. Cook gently for 10 minutes until soft, golden, and translucent, but not browned. Stir in the chopped chiles and cook for 1 minute. Add the butternut squash and cook, stirring constantly over the heat for 5 minutes, until it begins to soften slightly. Stir in the rice to coat with the butter and vegetables. Cook for a few minutes to toast the grains.
Begin adding the broth, a large ladle at a time, stirring gently until each ladle has almost been absorbed by the rice. The risotto should be kept at a bare simmer throughout cooking, so don’t let the rice dry out – add more broth as necessary. Continue until the rice is tender and creamy, but the grains still firm and the squash or pumpkin beginning to disintegrate. This should take about 15-20 minutes depending on the type of rice used – check the package instructions.
Taste, season well with salt and pepper, and stir in the sage, remaining butter, and all the Parmesan. Cover, let rest for a couple of minutes, and then serve.

Adapted from Healthy Cooking for Two,
By Frances, Price, RD

1 medium acorn squash, halved lengthwise
1 medium Granny Smith or other baking apple, cubed
2 tsp. maple syrup
1 tsp. butter
1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Scoop out and discard the seed and strings from the squash. Place the squash, cut side up, in a deep 2-cup casserole. Fill the center with the apples, cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
In a small microwave-safe bowl, combine the maple syrup and butter. Microwave on high power for 20 seconds, or until liquefied.
Remove the foil from the squash and drizzle it with the syrup mixture. Sprinkle with the nutmeg or cinnamon. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the squash and apples are tender. Serve hot.
NUTRITION PER SERVING: 186 calories, 4.2 g. total fat, 2.6 g. saturated fat, 5 mg. Cholesterol, 27 mg. Sodium, 2 g. protein, 39.4 g. carbohydrates, 4.5 g. dietary fiber

Adapted from Pumpkins and Squash,
By Kathleen Desmond Stang

3 large eggs, separated
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 c. (packed) light brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1 c. pumpkin, canned or homemade
1 c. milk
2 tbsp. butter, melted
whipped cream flavored with chopped crystallized ginger or rum

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a 1 1/2-qt. baking dish or soufflé dish. In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in 1/4 c. of the brown sugar. Beat until it holds stiff upright peaks; set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks until light. Beat in the remaining 1/4 c. brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt. Stir in the pumpkin and milk. Fold one third of the egg white mixture into the egg yolk mixture. Blend until smooth. Gently fold in the remaining egg white mixture and the melted butter.
Pour into the baking dish Place the baking dish in a large baking pan. Pour in water to a depth of 1 inch Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool slightly.
Serve with flavored whipped cream. To make the flavored whipped cream: In a small, deep bowl, whip 1 cup of heavy cream until stiff. Fold in 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar and 3 tablespoons of finely crystallized ginger or 2 tablespoon of dark rum.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Sensational Sandwiches

(my monthly column for HEARTLAND WOMEN)
September 2007

The ubiquitous sandwich is one of nature’s and lunchtime’s truly perfect foods, incorporating all food groups into a hand-y meal. Salads and pizza are the other perfect foods, in my humble opinion, but that’s a story for another day.

Every year about this time, just as schools across the country are cranking up, home kitchens begin cranking out lunch bags. We vow to send them out with a healthy, home-packed, affordable lunch. We, too, long for tasty, inspired creations to brighten our own midday break. But, despite our best intentions, and before the leaves even begin to change colors, we hae usually fallen back into the same old unimaginative PB&J, carrot sticks, and apple habit. Not that it is a bad lunch. It just lacks imagination and appeal for anyone over the age of ten.

If you truly love sandwiches, as I do, then there is no reason to suffer one more boring sack lunch. I have found some delicious sandwich ideas, most of which make use of the late summer stragglers in your garden or the farmer’s market. There are not a lot of sandwich cookbooks or sandwich recipes out there, but that should not stop us. To experience your full potential as a sandwich “artiste” you might seek inspiration from sandwich shop menus, glossy food magazines, or just open the fridge and forage for last night’s leftovers. The sandwich may be born of necessity, but a true sandwich masterpiece is the perfect blend of form, function, and personal taste, along a dash of panache.

Several of my favorite sandwiches feature canned tuna – but not just the usual old tuna with mayo, and not just any tuna. I have fallen in love with Italian canned tuna packed in olive oil. The first few times I bought it, I was enticed by articles extolling the uncommonly good taste of imported canned Italian tuna. Sure enough, I found it superior to our own dry, tasteless domestic brands, but at three or four times the price, it was not destined for daily consumption at my house. However, a much more affordable alternative is now available in our local groceries. The brand, Genova Tonno, is solid light tuna in olive oil, and about $2 per 6-oz. can. This is not at all like the old-fashioned mystery-oil-packed tuna you eschewed in favor of flavorless water-packed so many years ago. If you are a tuna lover, or would like to be, give this Italian-style olive oil version a try and taste the difference for yourself.

Another of my favorite sandwich ingredients is sprouts. I absolutely adore the crunchy texture sprouts add to sandwiches. Recently I came across a big bag of alfalfa seeds – at a Wild Oats store in Indianapolis, I think – and brought some home. Tucked away in a cabinet, I located the set of graduated size, screened jar lids I use to grow my own sprouts. I was forced to beg a wide-mouth jar from my friend, Phyllis, -- not much canning and preserving going on around my house lately – and I grew my first batch of sprouts last week. They were even better than I remembered and much fresher and crunchier than store-bought! What a treat!

The sandwich recipes and ideas I have here feature tuna and eggs – both are lunchtime classics after all – and some other fresh ideas. If you prefer a salad for lunch, just omit the bread and toss these ingredients with the lettuce of your choice, for a lighter version. And, of course, the reverse is true too! Salads are not just about lettuce and a big bowl anymore. If you make a great salad, but still long for a satisfying sandwich now and then, just stuff your salad between two pieces of whole grain bread and enjoy!

(adapted from s’kat and the food blog)
2 cans tuna, packed in olive oil
1/4 c. red onion, minced
8 kalamata olives, chopped
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/4 c. capers, drained and rinsed
1 hot red cherry pepper, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 marinated red pepper strip, minced
1/4 c. minced fresh parsley and basil combined
juice of one lemon

Drain one can of tuna. Combine the drained tuna, the tuna with oil from the second can, and the remaining ingredients. Refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours, or overnight, if you can wait that long. Serve as is, or on your choice of bread for a sandwich.

(adapted from s’kat and the food, Lynne Rosetto Kasper's weekly food email The Splendid Table, and from Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals by Sara Moulton)
4 oz. good-quality feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp. water
2 tbsp. mayonnaise
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. fresh oregano leaves, or 1/2 tsp. dried
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 oz. fresh, rinsed baby spinach
4 medium plum tomatoes, halved and thinly sliced
1 1/2 c. English cucumber, thinly sliced
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 tbsp. fresh mint leaves, rinsed, dried and minced
1/3 c. pitted, brine-cured olives such as Kalamata
6 pepperoncini, chopped
4 pita rounds, cut in half

Combine feta, oil, water, the mayonnaise, lemon juice and oregano in blender or food processor, blending until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Combine remaining ingredients in a bowl and toss with feta dressing. Divide salad mixture among the 8 pita halves and serve. Notes: Add canned tuna or smoked salmon, along with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Or try with cold, sliced leftover lamb and some chopped garlic, if you like.

1/4 c. red wine vinegar
1/2 c. olive oil
1 tbsp. grated, fresh Parmesan cheese
freshly ground black pepper
1 sm. red onion, sliced very thinly
1 – 2 tsp. capers, drained and rinsed
1 can tuna, drained
1 tomato, sliced 1/4-in. thick
Kalamata olives, sliced
leafy greens
day old crusty bread

Combine red wine vinegar, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, and black pepper, adjusting to taste as necessary. Place sliced red onion into same container, and let sit while preparing the remaining ingredients. Slice bread in half, and hollow out a portion of the interior. Beginning with bottom piece of bread, layer with vinaigrette-drenched onions. Follow with capers, tuna, tomatoes, olives and leafy greens. If desired, add one more layer of onions, finish with top slice of bread, and press down firmly to make sandwich.

2 romaine lettuce leaves
2 tomato slices
2 slices crisp bacon
2 oz. sliced turkey
1 sliced hard-boiled egg
3 slices avocado
1 tbsp. chopped black olives
1 oz. crumbled blue cheese
1 tbsp. creamy blue cheese dressing or
olive oil vinaigrette
1 crusty French roll

Slice roll and remove some of bread inside. Layer sandwich ingredients into bread and sprinkle with dressing. Press roll together firmly.

1 French baguette
1 tbsp. good extra virgin olive oil
1 oz. brie cheese
2 fresh tomato slices
spring lettuce mix
fresh basil leaves
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper

Slice the bread into a sandwich length and then in half horizontally. Splash some olive oil on the inside of the bread. Layer the bread with the brie cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, and basil leaves. Add salt and pepper to taste.

1 crusty French roll or baguette
1 oz. sliced havarti cheese
mix of fresh lettuces
6 cucumber slices
1 big slice fresh garden tomato
3 fresh red pepper strips
3 avocado slices
alfalfa sprouts
olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper

Slice the bread, layer the cheese and vegetables, finish with olive oil, salt and pepper.

1 croissant
2 tbsp. cream cheese
1 tbsp. pesto
leftover grilled salmon or
sliced smoked salmon
6 cucumber slices
3 avocado slices (sprinkled with lemon juice to prevent browning)

Slice the croissant in half. Mix the cream cheese and pesto and spread on both sides of the croissant. Layer the salmon over the croissant and top with cucumber and avocado slices.

2 slices bacon
2 hard boiled eggs, chopped
1 tbsp. chopped celery
1 tbsp. chopped green olives
2 tbsp. mayonnaise
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 lettuce leaves
2 slices whole grain bread

Fry or microwave bacon until crisp; drain on paper towel. In a small bowl, combine eggs, celery and green olives. Stir in mayonnaise and mustard until well blended. Spread more mayonnaise on both slices of bread; top one slice with lettuce leaves and egg salad mixture. Cut bacon slices in half and lay on top of egg salad. Top with second piece of bread.

2 8-oz. pkgs. cream cheese
1/2 c. grated carrots
1/2 c. chopped pecans
1/2 c. chopped Granny Smith apple
1/2 c. chopped dates
1/4 tsp. cinnamon (optional)
1/8 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg (optional)

Soften cream cheese and stir in remaining ingredients. Spread on whole grain whole wheat bread and add your choice of other toppings – lettuce, sprouts, mayo, etc.

4 large eggs
1/4 c. mayonnaise
1/4 tsp. paprika
2 tsp. regular yellow mustard
2 tbsp. snipped chives
dash of Worcestershire sauce
dash of hot sauce
1/4 c. diced celery
salt and freshly ground pepper

Place eggs in a medium saucepan filled with cold water and bring to a rapid boil; cover, remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Drain and fill the pan with cold water. Peel the eggs and coarsely chop them. In a medium bowl, combine the mayonnaise, paprika, dry mustard, chives, Worcestershire and hot sauce. Add the chopped eggs and celery and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate the egg salad before serving on whole wheat bread with lettuce and mayonnaise or mustard.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Summer's Last Hurrah - Panzanella Anyone?

Picture perfect and good enough to eat!

A written daily post is a possible thing. A daily post, complete with photo may be more than I can handle right now. Digital camera proficiency has eluded my grasp so far. In fact, I probably peaked somewhere around the Polaroid Swinger and Kodak Instamatic era. When I visit other blogs and food sites, the dazzling pictures of beautiful food make me crave a bite. No telling when or if I'll ever be able to do any recipe justice in that same way, even though I'm studying with a more experienced photographer. Soon I hope to add regular documentary proof that I can cook just like my fellow bloggers, or that I have a lovely herb garden. In the meantime, my favorite husband is helping me out when he can with the pictures you see here.

Over the weekend we gathered some beautiful vegetables and a crusty loaf of bread for our favorite late summer treat, Panzanella. Much has already been written about Panzanella by bloggers. It is, after all, the logical choice for an over abundance of summer produce. My personal favorite recipe for this Italian classic is from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Parties cookbook. I think what I like best about her version is the tangy vinaigrette. I usually adapt the ingredients to suit what I have on hand from the local farmer's market or neighbor's garden, but I like the simplicity of tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. Choose your homegrown favorites and add Ina's dressing to the mix to savor summer's last hurrah.

adapted from Barefoot Contessa Parties! by Ina Garten
3 tbsp. or more Olio Santo or other good olive oil
1 loaf dense French bread, cut or torn into bite-size peices
kosher salt
2 or more large ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-in. chunks
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, cut into 1-in. chunks
1 large red, green, and/or yellow bell pepper, seeded, cut into 1-in. chunks
1 red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
small bunch of basil leaves, coarsely chopped

1/2 - 1 tsp. finely minced garlic
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
3 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 c. Olio Santo or other good olive oil
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Heat enough oil to cover surface of a large pan. Add the bread; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently for about 10 minutes, or until nicely browned. More oil may be needed to coat bread cubes. Remove bread cubes to paper towel or brown paper and salt lightly.

Whisk together the ingredients for the vinaigrette in a bowl large enough to hold all the salad ingredients. Add the tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, basil and bread cubes to the blended vinaigrette and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let stand, at room temperature, for about 30 minutes (or longer, if necessary) for the flavors to blend before serving. Excellent for a light supper with grilled chicken, fish, or shrimp and a fresh fruit dessert!

Friday, September 7, 2007

I Amaze Myself

Just two days into this new world and I have managed to put my thoughts together into an acceptable blog format, but not without some gnashing of teeth, I will admit. I have a lot to learn! For now, though, let's get down to the business of food.

For the past two weekends, we have had company for dinner. The first party was to celebrate my brother-in-law's recent marriage. He and Lisa wanted to have both of their families get acquainted, so we volunteered our house as a fairly central location. All together, we had thirty-two people for brunch, an afternoon of swimming, canoeing, and games, and a dinner outside -- my first 12-hour party! Everything went beautifully and we are thrilled with our new sister-in-law and her lovely -- and fun! -- family.

Last weekend, we decided a repeat of the dinner from the week before would be a perfect Labor Day get-together for our neighbors. So we did it all again, but just for ten of us this time. Kenny, Phyllis, Jim, Becky, Dan, Dianna, and Dan's brother, Dick, and sister-in-law, Twila, all joined us here for a late-summer dinner on the deck.

This recipe is just perfect to make ahead, so you can join your guests and enjoy being outside while the weather is so pleasant. Frogmore Stew is from the little town of Frogmore, near Beaufort, SC, that does not even exist anymore -- at least according to the post office. However, Frogmore Stew lives on, often known now as Low Country Boil. Whatever you call it, and even if you live thousands of miles from the SC beach, like I do, it is some good eating!

I like to chop up all the ingredients the day before and put them in separate containers or zip bags to keep in the fridge until time to cook. The recipe easily accommodates variations, so adapt it to your own tastes, if you like, with more or less of the listed ingredients. Additions like garlic, lemon halves, chicken thighs, firm meaty fish, etc. might work well too. Just make sure you do not skimp on the seasonings and you may even want to crank them up a bit for some tastes.

This particular recipe is adapted from a favorite cookbook of mine, The Coastal Living Cookbook. I recommend it, especially if you love seafood and casual outdoor eating. I found out about the book from my friend, Deb, who fell in love with a particular potato salad on page 132. Check it out, but don't wait for the book to enjoy some Frogmore Stew. And be sure to share!

Note: This is not the best picture, but you get the idea. And BTW, the lobster tails (2) were a last minute add-in, just because we had them available and so, why not!

adapted from The Coastal Living Cookbook
5 qt. water (more or less, depending on your cooking pot)
3 cans of beer (not light!)
1/2 c. Old Bay seasoning
4 lbs. small red potatoes
1 large or 2 medium onions, peeled
4 lbs. kielbasa or other smoked sausage
6 ears fresh corn on the cob
4 lbs. unpeeled, large fresh (or thawed) shrimp
cocktail sauce
melted butter
lemon wedges

Wash and cut potatoes into bite-size chunks (halves or quarters). Cut the onions into chunks. Cut the smoked sausage into 1 to 2-inch chunks. Shuck the corn and cut into 2-in. pieces.

Bring the water, beer, and Old Bay seasoning to rolling boil in a large covered stockpot. When the water has reached a boil, add the potatoes and onion; return to a boil and cook uncovered for 10 minutes. Next, add the sausage and corn, and return to a boil. Cook 10 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

Add shrimp to stockpot; cook 3 to 4 minutes or until shrimp turn pink. Do not over cook the shrimp. Drain the water from the pot. Pour the Frogmore Stew onto the center of tables covered with lots of newspaper and eat with your hands. Serve with cocktail sauce, melted butter, lemon wedges and a few loaves of crusty bread. I like to put the cocktail sauce and melted butter in restaurant-style plastic ketchup and mustard bottles, which make it easy to tell which is which and easy to squirt right where you want it. Serves 10-12.

Starting over!

A couple of personal notes before I get on with my usual musings on food and recipes:

To the person who broke into my home on August 2nd and took, among other things, my dear, sweet, 8-year old, wood-burning, black, Apple G-3, laptop computer, along with the back-up hard drive containing my duplicate files: I can’t imagine what you will do with the hundreds of recipes I have carefully collected over my lifetime, dutifully documented, painstakingly preserved in my computer files, and conscientiously backed-up to avoid ever losing one of them.

The hardship is not replacing the computer – I probably needed a new one anyway. Rather, it is being without the fifty years worth of recipes and memories collected from family and friends, and the countless hours of work putting them on my computer. They are completely useless to you, or anyone else, and virtually impossible for me to reconstruct. What you have taken from me is worth much more than that old computer or anything you could have gotten for it.

So . . . until a new computer is up and running to manage my website, Season to Taste, I'll be posting website articles here, inlcuding my monthly food column for Heartland Women.

Neither a lifetime of collected recipes, nor the reconstruction of a website can be accomplished quickly, but we're looking forward to the opportunity to try new things!

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Just getting started . . .

. . . at this blogging stuff. Right now I am working on getting things set up, organized and ready to publish.

Please check back in a few days. Thanks!