Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Baking the Bacon

Do you like bacon?  I do.  But I hate the mess of frying it.  So I decided to give baking the bacon a try.  It works really well, the bacon is cooked in about the same amount of time as on the stove top, anyway from 15 minutes to 20, depending on thickness; it doesn’t make a mess (although you still have to dispose of the bacon grease. I like to strain mine and keep it in a container in the fridge, I use it to season green beans; fried potatoes, or even fried eggs).  And baking it is a great technique when you need to make bacon for a large group.


Great results baking bacon

Here’s what you do.  Put the bacon slices on a heavy rimmed cookie sheet.  Place it into a cold oven, turn the heat on to 375 degrees F and then just watch it cook; turn it a couple of times with tongs and when it’s cooked to your liking; remove the pan and drain the bacon on paper towels.  Discard the grease in the pan.  If you don’t care about keeping the grease, you could line the pan with some foil and then once the grease gets cold, roll it up and  just throw it away.

LindySez: Give it a try, baked not fried.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Santa Claus has come and gone...Now what's for breakfast?

Christmas morning.  It was years before our son beat us up in the morning.  No seriously.  We would wake up about 8 o’clock and he would still be snoozing; so we’d do a “pile on” to get him going.  But once he was up…look out.  He was all over Christmas.  We would take our time, opening and sharing presents; drinking coffee, that turned into drinking a little champagne or sparkling wine and then making something for breakfast.  Quiche was one of our favorites, French toast another.  A rasher of bacon or some sausage; orange juice to mix with that champagne and then settle into a day of checking out and playing with our new goodies and cooking Christmas dinner.  Whether you are enjoying a family tradition your already have, or are looking for a new idea for Christmas morning; here are a few of my favorites.
I made this stuffed French toast recipe up for my client to use one of their newest products; Perugina Panettone.  Panettone is a traditional Italian cake, usually enjoyed during the Christmas season.   It really make a delicious french toast on it’s own, but is even better when stuffed.

Stuffed Panettone French Toast

Stuffed Panettone French Toast
Ingredients
  • 1 panettone traditional Italian cake
  • 6 tablespoons mascarpone, or as needed (or desired)
  • 6 tablespoons apricot jam, or as needed
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons cream, (it’s important to use cream, not milk, or the cake will get too soggy and it will be hard to keep it together when you turn it)
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, or as needed
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • Powdered sugar for serving; optional

Directions
  1. Using a sharp serrated knife, thinly slice off two of the ends of the cake (save for another use); you should now have what resembles a loaf. Slice the cake into 8 even slices, about 1/3 inch thick.
  2. Lay on a clean work surface. spread mascarpone on one side of 4 pieces, and apricot jam on the other 4, fold together to form a “sandwich”.
  3. In a large shallow bowl beat the eggs until well mixed; add the cream and a pinch of salt and mix until well combined.
  4. Heat the oil and butter together in a large skilled or griddle over medium heat; when hot, dip each “sandwich” on both sides into the egg mixture; put on the hot griddle (do not dip the sandwich until ready to cook them; do in batches if necessary); cook until browned, then carefully turn and cook the other side. Serve whole, or cut in half, sprinkled with powdered sugar, if desired.
  5. LindySez: While I think mascarpone is the best choice, you could substitute softened cream cheese if desired.
  6. Variation: Use either orange marmalade or peach jam in place of the apricot jam.
Or how about a classic quiche?  You can make the crust the day before, have all of the cheese grated, eggs and cream mixed and then just put it together and pop it in the oven.  This one has bacon in it; try that or even some spinach.  Defrost a box of frozen chopped spinach, still one of the best bargains in the grocery store; squeeze it dry and put it into the shell with the cheese; pour the egg mixture over and voila.

Quiche Lorraine

Ingredients
1 pie crust (store bought or homemade)
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 6 slices of thick bacon, fried crisp and chopped (or chop first and then crisp) drained
  • 8 ounces gruyere, emmenthal, or other good Swiss cheese, grated (I use a 1/2 combo of gruyere and emmenthal)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper

Directions
  1. Whether you make your own crust or not, we want to first blind bake it. (If you made your own, put it into the freezer for about 30 minutes, if you bought one, it’s probably already frozen, so leave it so.) Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line your crust with aluminum foil and pie weights or beans to keep it from puffing up; and bake in the bottom third of the oven for 15 minutes, remove from the oven and remove the foil and weights; return to the oven for another 5 minutes or until the bottom is just golden. Set aside to cool.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream and milk. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper.
  3. Decrease oven temperature to 375 degrees F.
  4. Toss together the cheese and chopped bacon; layer into the bottom of the cooled shell. Pour the egg/cream mixture over.
  5. Place in the oven and bake, 45 to 50 minutes or until a knife, when inserted into the center, comes out clean (if the edges become too dark, place strips of aluminum foil over the edges.
  6. Allow to stand at least 10 minutes before serving. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Here’s another family fav.  It’s an oldie, but a goodie.

Chili Rellano  Casserole

Ingredients
  • 1 large can roasted whole green chilies (such as Ortega), drained and split open
  • 1 pound shredded jack cheese
  • 1 pound shredded mild cheddar cheese
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 (12 – ounce) can evaporated milk, (you can use reduced fat)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Layer the chilies and the cheese in a casserole dish. Mix together the milk and eggs, beat well; pour over chilies and cheese. Bake 45 minutes. Allow to cool for 5 – 10 minutes before cutting. Serve hot or warm.
Like with the quiche, this casserole can be assembled the day before.  Shred the cheese and layer it with the chilies.  Mix together the eggs and milk (keep in a separate container) and in the morning; heat the oven, pour the egg/milk mixture over the cheese in the casserole dish, pop it in the oven and go back to enjoying your Christmas morning until it’s done.
And of course, let’s not forget Super Simple Scones.  And in honor of the season, how about using some dried cranberries, pecans and grating in some orange zest?

Super Simple Scones

Ingredients
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (King Arthur preferred)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup HEAVY cream, plus more for brushing
  • About 1/2 cup dried fruit, such as dried blueberries, apricots (cut into small pieces), or dried cranberries, or other fruits of your choice
  • About 1/4 cup toasted nuts (I like sliced almonds, but pecans or walnuts work too) or to taste

Directions
  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly grease a baking pan.
  2. Sift together, in a medium bowl, the flour, baking powder and salt, stir in the sugar. Add the fruits and nuts. Stir with a fork to combine.
  3. Add the cream; stir just until a dough forms.
  4. Gather the dough into a ball; turn out onto a lightly floured counter or work surface, and fold and kneed about 6 or 7 times…then pat out into about a 10 inch round about 1/2 inch thick. Cut with a knife or pastry cutter into 8 wedges. Place them on the prepared sheet; brush the tops with cream and sprinkle with some sugar; place in the oven (rack in the middle of the oven); and bake 12 to 15 minutes, or until nice and browned.
No matter if you choose one of these, my favorites, or one of your own favorites…

LindySez - “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good Cheers.”


Friday, December 18, 2009

When Diet Food Isn't

I think it’s safe to say that most of us eat out at least a couple times a week, for either lunch or dinner.  So what choices we make are very important, especially when we are thinking about losing or at least not gaining any weight.  Here’s some food for thought:

“I’ll have a salad please”

Caesar salad
What 1010 calories and 76g of fat looks like

You are being so good, having a salad for lunch.  Maybe you even remembered to order the dressing on the side.  But be careful; not all salads are created equal.  For example:  a BBQ Chicken Salad at Applebees has a whopping 1360 Calories (that’s not a typo, that’s one thousand three hundred and sixty) with 21 grams of fat.  Hardly diet food.  And a Chicken Caesar Salad at Chilis?  1010 calories with 76 (seventy six) grams of fat.  That Cobb at Mimi’s Cafe?  1121 calories and 95g of fat.  You would actually be better off, calorie wise, to go with a McDonald’s Big Mac at only 540 calories and 29g of fat, or have their cheeseburger for a mere 300 calories and 12g of fat.  Add a small fry, 248 calories and 13g fat, and you’d still be under the calories and fat of that virtuous salad.  Now that said, the veggies of the salad may trump the fat and especially the saturated fats of the burger…but you get the idea that you have to be careful not only of what kind of salad you order…but how your order it.

A cobb salad
Here's 1121 Calories and 95g fat

“Dressing on the side” – should be your mantra.  Yet, the other day, while having a quick lunch, I noticed that many of the people who ordered the dressing on the side proceeded to dump the entire contents of that side dressing on their salad.  That simply defeats the purpose and the result is you are consuming as many, and possibly more calories and fat then if you had just ordered your salad “lightly dressed.”  Tablespoon for tablespoon, salad dressing is calorie heavy.  One tablespoon of Ranch Dressing has 73 calories and 7.7g of fat, Italian? 43 calories and 4.2g fat.  Caesar? 78 calories with 8.5g fat.  That’s on average, but the bottom line is you want to use dressings sparingly.  The best method?  Dip the tines of your fork into the dressing, then grab some salad on it, and eat it.  You get the full flavor of the dressing and use very little.

Another place you need to be very careful is that visit to the salad bar.  Lettuce is pretty much a freebie, but once you start adding those salad bar extras, that lean meal gets pretty fat.  Olives, eggs, cheese, nuts, bacon, all add up pretty quickly.  And any salad that is pre-made, especially those that contain mayonnaise, well, you know where those extra calories are going to end up…yep…on your hips with a side to your waist and butt.
So remember to be selective in your salad choices.  If you want that Caesar for lunch, ask for it to be served with half the cheese (at minimum) and take those croutons off, o.k. you can leave a couple of them on, but get rid of the rest…and order that dressing “on the side” using the tine dipping method.

Here’s a light version of Caesar Salad you can easily make at home.

Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad

LindySez: It’s the way to a slimmer, healthier you.

It's Cioppino Sunday


It’s Sunday.  Up, not too early (after all, we do need our beauty sleep) we plan our day.  Our Sonoma County museum is currently showing an exhibit,  a collection of maps, old maps, maps from the beginning of maps.  Discovery maps.  So we decide to go see this after an excellent breakfast of some Super Simple Scones, bacon and a beautiful Chandon Rose sparkling wine (it’s not champagne unless it comes from Champagne and that’s in France, Chandon is in Napa County in California so it’s sparkling wine.)  Of course, as is typical in my house, as we are eating our breakfast we are discussing what else we might eat during the day, specifically, for dinner… “I want something seafood” says the hubby…”and to be served with a red wine, a Syrah.”   “How about cioppino?”  I ask.  ”Sounds great” he says, “Whole Foods has some crab and I’ll make some garlic toasts to go with.”  Day planned.

We go to the exhibit, very interesting how the world was viewed in the years before Columbus, and even after how much influence the church had in determining what was acceptable as a world view and what was not. Did you know that Galileo was put under house arrest by the church because he proved the universe did not revolve around earth, but that it revolved around the sun?  Crazy thoughts now, but back then, not so much. And all the early maps show California as an island off the coast of America.  Well, if there’s a big quake, that might not be too far off the money.
Sonoma County Musuem
Early map with California as an island

 After the exhibit we decided to get a little bite at  a Thai place called Khoom Lanna, one of the few food establishments smart enough to be open in downtown Santa Rosa on a Sunday (and they wonder why there’s no business in our little downtown, um…people want to go to places where they can get something to eat…ya think?).  We ordered a few appetizers, they were not only beautifully presented, they were delicious.

Goodie Bags
Good Good Goodie Bags

On to seafood shopping.  As the DH said there was crab at Whole Foods, and I prefer their sustainable practices for seafood, meat and poultry, we decide to go there.  They don’t have any crab. “But you had some last week”…well they say, yes they did have it last week but since our local crabbing season starts tomorrow…we didn’t order any from Oregon or Washington and that’s where we got it last week…ya know, the whole local thing.   Great.  OK…so new plan.  We get our fresh clams, mussels, some shrimp and decide to go with Alaskan king crab leg (yeah, that’s totally local) and a lobster tail (Maine?) to replace the Dungenous crab.  While less local then before, I think it’s going to be one great Cioppino.

Lindy’s Cioppino


LindySez: When working with fresh shellfish, make sure that the bags (usually plastic) are not closed, ask them to leave them open.  Also, watch the person who is picking out your shellfish, don’t let them just grab them willy nilly, make sure they are checking them to make sure your bivalves are alive.  Alive is when the shells, even when open, close as soon as you touch them.  Dead is when they stay open .  And you don’t want dead. When you get home, take the clams and mussels out of the bags and put them into a large bowl, do not put them on ice, (as the ice melts they will drown) or put them in water.  I know, it seems counter intuitive, they live in water don’t they?  Yes, they do, but they can’t live in tap water.  So, put them into a large bowl and cover them with a damp clean towel and pop them into the refrigerator. (If you keep them like this, and the towel stays damp, you could probably keep them for a couple of days, although I like to buy and eat mine on the same day). Do not clean them until you are ready to cook them.  To clean them, rinse them under cold running water, scrubing the shells and taking and beards off the mussels.

LindySez: Cheers to Cioppino Sunday.

Dinner Possible - Mexican Style Chicken

poblano chili

Yes, I love to cook.  But some days I just don’t want to spend a lot of time cooking, or going to the store, or cleaning up after.  And I also don’t want to go out and spend an hour waiting for someone to bring me some mediocre food and charge me an outrageous amount of money for the privilege of eating their “fast food” that isn’t.  On those days I make what I call “a pantry meal”.  Using ingredients I have on hand, a little imagination and voila, I came up with this really tasty dish that was simple to prepare and on the table in about 15 minutes.  Granted, my pantry might be different then your pantry, (I’ll write soon about what I think should be in a  well stocked pantry); but these ingredients are easy to find, easy to prepare and won’t cost you an arm and a leg either.

I started with some chicken breasts, (which I always have on hand), a poblano and jalapeno pepper, (leftover from my dinner party preparations); a bag of frozen Trader Joes brown rice (a really handy thing to have on hand, 3 minutes in the microwave); a can of black beans and some Mexican style tomato sauce (I actually made some of this with my garden tomatoes and chilies and had it in the freezer…but a canned one will work just fine)

Mexican Style Chicken on Rice with Black Beans


Cutting the chicken breasts
Preparing the breast for plating
Mexican Style Chicken on Rice with Black Beans
Mexican Style Chicken

LindySez:  I hope you check it out and try it.  Simply good, simply simple.  And all in about 15 minutes.  Cheers

Dinner Possible - Spicy Mint Chicken or...

Here are a couple of weeknight meal ideas.  When I don’t have a lot of time or energy, I find these both easy and satisfying.  And since right now I’m working on a dinner party for Saturday, well, if you’ve been reading then you know that means pre-planning and pre-cooking.

Both of these meals use the same basic ingredients, chicken, snap peas, carrots, and rice. I prefer to serve a floral and flavorful Jasmine rice with these, but you could also just use white or brown rice.  Brown rice takes longer to cook; but it’s better for you because it has more fiber. One complaint I’ve always had about brown rice is its texture,  it always turns out chewy…but I found that by cooking it twice, (actually if you want to get technical,  you cook it once, and then steam it) it gives you get a nice soft brown rice.  And it actually takes less time to cook with this method.  Twice Cooked Brown Rice

Meal Idea #1 - Spicy Mint Chicken
This is a one pot, one stop stir fry.  Once you do the mincing and chopping, about 15 minutes worth of time, the stir fry only takes about 6 – 8 minutes…from the time the chicken hits the pan.  Start your rice when you start your prep and everything should end up done about the same time.  Try this on Ginger-Scented Jasmine Rice.

LindySez: It’s good.

Meal #2 Chinese -Style Baked Chicken Thighs is a very simple recipe using chicken thighs, or you could use legs and thighs if you want.  I know the kids love their chicken legs. They are simply basted and baked with some Hoisin Sauce. Hoisin sauce is basically Chinese barbecue sauce, with a sweet spicy flavor.  Serve these Chinese – Style Baked Chicken Thighs with the Ginger-Scented Jasmine Rice ; take those snow peas and carrots, steam them lightly, toss with a little butter or sesame seed oil and sprinkle some sesame seeds over the top, if you have any.

Dinner Menu #1, goes really nicely with a Viognier, the tropical fruits compliment the sweet mint and slight heat from the jalapeno.   Dinner Menu # 2 goes nicely with a Pinot Noir. The fruit in the Pinot works beautifully with the slightly anise flavors in the 5-Spice as well as the sweet hot of the hoisin.  They both go great with some Jasmine Tea.

LindySez: Cheers to easy!

Tell the Colonel Good-bye...Simply the Best Fried Chicken

The days are getting shorter and shorter, and on Sunday, we loose an hour.  How is that possible, that we can loose an hour? (update…we actually gain an hour, as we fall back)  Where does it go?  (Hey, I figured this out too…it goes to spring forward!)  This is the perfect weekend for some real comfort food!

What makes a comfort food a comfort food?   Usually it’s something enjoyed from childhood, that  makes it a comfort food.  Or something that makes you feel all warm on the inside, that’s comfort food.  A taste, a smell, a texture.  I think this dinner possible menu fits the total bill.

I start with some great home fried chicken. This isn’t just any fried chicken recipe, but with years of tweaking, I think, humbly, it’s simply one of the best.  It’s good hot, warm or cold.  So it would be perfect to take to a tailgate party.

Serve some deliciously smooth and creamy mashed potatoes and a fresh green bean and cherry tomato salad and imagine yourself in a cozy farmhouse kitchen with a fire burning in the hearth…soul-warming comfort.  That’s what that is.
Simply the Best Fried Chicken
There are a couple of tricks to making a really good fried chicken, but one of the most important ones is to soak the chicken in buttermilk for at least a couple of hours. This gives the meat great flavor and a slightly softer texture.  The second thing is to season the meat well, don’t season the flour, put the seasonings directly on the chicken pieces.  This insures that all the meat is properly seasoned.  Cooking at a steady, fairly low temperature is also key.  You don’t want to burn the outside and have raw chicken inside.  That is just not good.  And finally, draining the chicken.  Do it on a wire rack set over a cookie sheet (the cookie sheet is there to catch the oil but if you don’t mind cleaning counters, you can skip it :-) ).  Setting the pieces on paper towels or brown paper bags will soften the coating.  And while it will taste just fine, it won’t have the same crunch.  Now granted, if you refrigerate it to eat it cold, you will still loose the crunchiness in the coating, so if that is your purpose, to eat it cold, then go ahead and use any method to drain it.  Also if you try putting it in the oven to keep warm, the moisture generated will soften the crust.  So it’s best, if you want it crunchy, to eat it as soon as you can after finishing it.

Simply the Best Fried Chicken

Mashed Potatoes
Mashed potatoes.

I love mashed potatoes.  I remember the first time I went to Thanksgiving dinner at what was to be my new in-law’s house. They were setting up a big pot of water, with some milk and some butter and I asked them what they were making…”Mashed potatoes” came the reply.  Potato  Buds to be precise.  Now I think dehydrated potatoes have their place in this world, we used them when, as a child,  we would go camping for a few weeks in the high Sierras, (and practically all we ate was dehydrated food)  but they do NOT belong at Thanksgiving.  I didn’t say anything that year, I bit my tongue, and with enough gravy got them down in a most polite way.  But the next year, I stepped up to the plate, so to speak,  and said “We are having real mashed potatoes”.  But my MIL hesitated, “they always turn out like glue” she said.  With further investigation I found she was always trying to make her mashed potatoes out of White Rose potatoes, and that just isn’t going to work.  White Rose potatoes are a waxy potato, and you need to use a starchy potato to make a good mashed potato, my preference, a russet potato.  While Idaho would like to have us believe differently,  russet potatoes come from all over, not just Idaho…sorry Idaho.  Some people like to use red potatoes, or Yukon Gold, just make sure whichever potato you use, it’s got at least medium starch.  And, it’s always best to “dry” them out a little before adding the butter and milk.  Mashed potatoes should be creamy, smooth, no lumps.  Whipped together with fine butter and milk or cream or half and half, or my fav, buttermilk. Well, at least that’s my comfort food.

Mashed Potatoes


And finally we finish our meal with a simple  Green Bean and Cherry Tomato Salad. This uses the last of the season tomatoes (or you could dice an heirloom tomato).  It’s simple and delicious.

LindySez: I’m getting ready to hunker down, make a fire in the fireplace, wrap myself in my comforter, with a good book in my hand, or a good movie on the TV and enjoy this next season…full of holidays and family.

Cheers!

Christmas Eve, New Year's Day, a Swiss Chalet? Perfect Cheese Fondue



LindySez Making a Traditional Cheese Fondue
LindySez Making a Traditional Cheese Fondue


Our family enjoyed a cheese fondue every Christmas eve when I was growing up.  Each year, as we stood around the fondue pot, we would comment on how “that was the best one yet”.  Except for the one year when my father decided to follow a recipe that called for putting flour in it.  We did NOT like that one!  So when I was recently asked how to make it – that was the first thing I told them… don’t toss the cheese with flour.  ALL the recipes tell you to do it and you shouldn’t, it makes the fondue grainy…and it doesn’t soak into the bread like it should…I like mine to be a homogeneous creamy gooey cheesy pot of yum.
So here are the basics of making an excellent cheese fondue, the proper way :-) (or at least the LindySez way).

Use good cheese, I use half Emmental Swiss and gruyere, grate them up and toss them with some salt and fair amount of pepper. Let them sit out at room temp so they melt better . Cut your bread (good french bread, but not sourdough) into bite sized pieces making sure to have crust on each piece. Let those sit out for a while too so they aren’t too soft.

To each pound of cheese that you use, you are going to use 1 3/4 cups of a dry white wine, such as a Fume Blanc, a California Sauv Blanc (don’t use a New Zealand one as most are too grassy) or a Pouilly-Fume. When you are ready to make the fondue, rub the pot with a clove of garlic (we like garlic, so we leave the clove in, but you don’t need to); then place over a medium heat and add the wine. When the wine comes to a simmer, start slowly adding the cheese, sprinkling in a handful at a time, allowing each addition to melt (my dad said you always have to stir in the same direction, in a figure 8 motion, don't stir in a circle or the cheese will just turn into a big glop in the middle of a pot of wine, figure 8 is key); keep adding until you have a nice thick sauce, then add a splash of Kirsch and a pinch of nutmeg. Put over a burner to keep it bubbling, and stir often when you dip your bread.

A pound of cheese is enough for 4 people; or more if you are serving other things.  And the amounts are guesstimates.  I almost always grate too much cheese, so only add as much as you need to get the right consistency ; when you dip a piece of bread into the fondue, you want a nice coating of cheese and for the bread to absorb the wine.  That’s what it’s all about, cheese, wine and bread.  So use the best you can of each ingredient.  And any left over cheese makes for a mighty good ham and cheese omelet.

LindySez – and that’s how we fondue.  Now you?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dinner Possible - Ma Po Tofu

OK…I hear the groans already.  ”I don’t like tofu, it’s all soft and icky”.  Well, try this presentation, and I might just change your mind.
Tofu is soybean curd, a soft cheese like food that is made by curdling fresh hot soy milk with a coagulant; traditionally nigari; then it is pressed into blocks and kept either in a tub of salted water or vacuum packed. Either way, once it’s opened, you need to put any that you don’t use into a container with fresh water, change the water DAILY, and use it up within a week.
Tofu is a bland food.  It simply takes in the flavors of the seasonings in the dish it is being added to.
There are 3 main types of tofu; firm tofu is dense and holds up well in stir-fry dishes, soups or even on the grill (it’s what we are using for our stir-fry).  Soft tofu is a good choice for recipes that call for a blended tofu, or in an Oriental soup.  Silken tofu is made with a slightly different process that makes it softer and more custard like.  In Japan, silken tofu is enjoyed as is, dipped into a bit of soy sauce.  Silken tofu is what is most generally put into Japanese Miso Soup.
Tofu is a rich, high quality protein.  It is an excellent food source for people of all ages, from babies to the elderly.  It is a total chameleon, you can make it taste any way you want it to…
In this recipe, we take firm tofu and dry it between paper towels weighed down with a plate.  This takes the excess moisture out of the slices and then you can fry it and get a crisp edge.  I also use Buckwheat noodles (Soba); because its a natural grain, but if you prefer, you can use some whole wheat angel hair pasta.

Ma Po Tofu


Ma Po Tofu
Ingredients
  • 1 (12 – ounce) container firm tofu (you can use silken if you desire, I just buy firm tofu)
  • 1/2 cup low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce*
  • 2 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce*
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or grapeseed oil, divided
  • 8 ounces pork tenderloin, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger root
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1/3 cup sliced green onions (white and green parts)
  • 1/2 cup edamame, thawed if frozen**
  • 1 pound Soba noodles, cooked according to package directions, or whole wheat angel hair pasta
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seed oil
  • 2 green onions, sliced thinly for garnish (optional)

Directions
  1. Slice the tofu into 1/2 inch slices and place between several layers of paper towels, put a dinner plate on top and let stand for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the plate, discard the paper towels and cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
  2. In a small bowl whisk together the chicken broth, cornstarch, soy sauce, oyster sauce and garlic chili sauce; set aside.
  3. In a food processor, add the pork cubes, ginger, garlic, jalapeno, and green onions. Pulse until the meat is finely chopped.
  4. Heat a large skillet or wok over medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil and heat until hot but not smoking. Add the tofu and saute, stirring frequently, until lightly browned; remove and set aside.
  5. Reduce heat to medium. Add remaining oil and the pork mixture; saute, stirring frequently to break up the pieces; saute until the pork loses its pink color. Add the edamame and tofu; saute 1 minute.
  6. Add the sauce mixture; bring to a simmer and simmer until slightly thickened.
  7. Toss the hot cooked noodles with the sesame seed oil. Divide the pasta among four heated bowls, top with the Ma Po Tofu and garnish with green onions, if desired.
  8. Per Serving: 627 Calories (19% from fat); 14g Fat (2g Sat, 7g Mono, 3g Poly); 37g Protein; 95g Carbohydrate; 11g Dietary Fiber; 37mg Cholesterol; 495mg Sodium.
  9. *Oyster sauce and chili garlic sauce can be found in most supermarkets or at an Oriental Grocery Store.
  10. **Edamame (soy beans) can be found in most supermarkets in their frozen food section. If you cannot find edamame, move. Or substitute frozen peas.

LindySez: Chopsticks are optional…

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Fall - Winter Fancy Dinner Party Menu





I love to entertain.  And when I do, I love to serve many courses and pair a wonderful wine with each one.   While it may seem like a lot, with some good planning, and a little cook ahead time, a fancy dinner party isn’t so hard to put together.


LindySez likes it good, but she also likes it easy.

I remember many times during my childhood, my Mother when making the holiday dinners would get so stressed and tired that it was hard for her to sit down and actually enjoy the meal she had created.  So I like to take my time and spread the work over a number of days, doing only what has to be last minute… at the last minute.   That way I can actually sit down and enjoy myself and my guests on party day.

With a little planning, and some  refrigerator room, you can get this done.

So here’s my menu:

Appetizers

Hummus and Bread Sticks
Rosemary Almonds
Artisan Cured Olives

First Course

Served with:  2004 Verget Chablis Fourchaume

Second Course

Served with: 2004 Hartford Four Hearts Chardonnay – Russian River Valley

Intermezzo

Entree

Served with: 2001 Freemark Abbey Bosche Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

Dessert

Served with: Point Reyes Vineyard Lat Harvest

OK, it sounds like a mouthful, right?  Oh, and it was, many a wonderful mouthfuls!

Let’s start at the beginning, the appetizers.  Caviar is totally impressive and very simple to prepare,  open a jar, no prep needed.  Since I was using caviar in two places, I just bought  a bigger tin (2 ounces) and used some of it for the appetizer and some for the fish course.  I usually get mine from the refrigerator section of Bev-Mo, but most higher end grocery stores carry it.  (Do not buy the stuff in cans on your grocery stores selves…it is not good...and probably one of the big reasons why people say they don’t like caviar. Good caviar does not taste fishy, it taste fresh from the sea).  The Hummus and bread sticks come from Trader Joes, but you can get them in almost any store. Rosemary Almonds? Also TJ’s,  but you could make them by frying some blanched almonds in some oil and adding  rosemary, let them cool then put it into a zip top bag.  I buy mine and keep them in the freezer, taking them out about an hour before I need to serve them, you don’t want to serve frozen nuts.  (Keeping nuts in the freezer is a smart idea, as they turn rancid easily). Get your olives from your favorite grocery store olive bar (here in California they are everywhere). All of these appetizers go well with a champagne or sparkling wine.  How celebrant is that?

Now to the first course: The Winter White Vegetable Soup can be made almost a week in advance.  I usually make mine 3 to 4 days ahead. There is a huge advantage to cooking things in advance , for one you get to taste and correct the dish making sure it tastes exactly as you want it to;  or if necessary…throw it out and start again it over.   Although if you follow the recipe and don’t make too many substitutions, it should all work out o.k.

LindySez RANT: I hate it when I read a viewer comment after a recipe and they say “I didn’t like this recipe, but I didn’t have ingredient A…so I substituted D, and I didn’t have C so I put in this…then I boiled it instead of baking it“.  OK…slight exaggeration. While I love to  read recipes because they give me wonderful ideas, I also know that you cannot always  interchange ingredients. If you are a fairly experienced cook and  know something about flavors and textures,  you can probably come up with a reasonable substitute. But if you don’t,  well then darn it, make it like it’s written.

Immediately follow the soup with the tart.  The tart topping of peppers and onions can also be made in advance, just keep it in the fridge and take it out at least an hour before you want to make them.

Party Tip: Make a menu.  My friends think I post the menu to impress them and while I do want them to know what they are having,  I also use it to keep track of what I’m serving.  Did you ever go to a holiday meal where at the end the hostess says “Oh Darn…I forgot the ( fill in the blank)”? I know I have.  So when I have a dinner party I not only have a menu, but I have a time-line and plate sketch which shows me the plate I plan to use, and how I want to lay out my food. I thank  Hubert Keller for teaching me that trick.  And I set my plates out, where I can see them and be reminded about what is supposed to be on them.

After the first naturally comes the second.   The Sea Bass in Cabbage Leaves with Caviar is a  most decadent and impressive  dish.  And it’s so easy.  While you can make the sauce only a few hours in advance (I hold my sauce in a thermos)  the fish can be wrapped in the cabbage leaves the day before.  Keep, covered in  a container, lined  with some paper towels to them keep them  dry, and refrigerate.  Set these to steam while you are enjoying that Sweet Pepper Tart.

The Chili-Lime Sorbet is Dyno-mite. You can actually make this a week or more in advance.  I like to serve it in a demitasse or espresso cup, with a thin slice of jalapeno on top and a slice of lime for garnish. (If making a sorbet is too much, buy something light to serve in between, like Lemon or Mango sorbet.  It really helps to cleanse the pallet between courses).

Now for the main event.  Keep in mind that you don’t need to make huge portions of anything.  You get more courses with smaller portions. Again, all of the elements of the  main course can be made in advance.  The German Style Short Ribs are really better when they sit for  couple of days in the refrigerator, allowing all those  flavors to marry. Then, when ready, reheat.  Skim any hardened fat off the top before reheating and make this a low-cal meal (um, yeah, right!).  Put the meat, along with your  Timbale of Potatoes in the oven as your time-line advises…and you will be on track for a great  and relaxing dinner.

It’s dessert time. Slice the cheesecake you made the day before, put up some coffee, tea, or  both add a little late harvest wine and take a bow.  The dinner was great, your guests have gone home happy and full. Now it’s time to put on some great music and clean up.  Since most of it was made days before…it’s not so bad.  OK, there are a few dishes, but it was so worth it!

Here’s how I do a time-line…I work backwards from what time I want to serve the main course entree, and forward from the time guests are due to arrive.  Think of your time-line as your stress free recipe for success.  If you only have to look at one place for all your temperatures and cooking times, rather than having to refer to recipe after recipe, it’s just going to be that much smoother and easier to get it all on the table on time.

Guest due to arrive: 6:00


First course 7:00

5:00 Make the sauce for the fish course – hold in thermos

5:30 Bring in all the prepared food

6:00 – Set out appetizers, get out steamer (I use my rice cooker to steam the fish)

6:15 Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Put toppings on tarts.

6:30 Start heating the  soup, add cream – adjust seasonings

6:45 Put tarts in oven, set time for 25 minutes
Waters to table
Butter to plates
Start Steamer

7:00 Serve soup

7:20 Serve Tarts
Put fish in to steam
Lower oven heat to 325 degrees F. Put Short ribs and potatoes in the oven

7:45 Serve Fish

8:15 Serve intermezzo
Finish short ribs
Remove timbales from oven
Put dinner plates in oven to briefly warm

8:30 Serve main course
Ask guests if they want coffee or tea with dessert, if so, start coffee pot and hot water

9:00 serve dessert

Talk – laugh – have fun!

LindySez: That’s how she does it.  And if you have teenage children, hire them to help with the serving and clean-up.  It’s good training for them, and lets you relax all the more.

And now the Wine Geek weighs in with a word, or two, about our wine choices, why we chose what we did and what to look for as a good substitution.



2004 Verget Chablis Fourchaume


Our first course called for lean white wine and we chose an old world premier crus Chablis from the Fourchaume vineyard. Chablis is a very distinctive lean expression of Chardonnay, producing steely mineral tones and rich stone fruit flavors. Chablis typically receives little or no new oak and has been known to age. The Verget Fourchaume was a perfect pair for this first course.
If you cannot find this exact wine: Most any premier crus Chablis will give you the minerality and stone fruit flavors which paired so well with creamy soup, rich bleu cheese and the crunchy and tangy onion red pepper tart. If New World wines are more your style, look for unoaked chardonnays, sometime marketed as “naked Chardonnay” Or look for American producers of Chardonnay who use a very limited oak regime. Avoid sweeter, malolactic style chards (known for their creamy, buttery notes) which will overwhelm the flavors in this dish

2004 Hartford Four Hearts Chardonnay-Russian River Valley
 

With the second course, we shifted gears upward in the Chardonnay family and served the Hartford Four Hearts from the Russian River Valley. Unlike the Chablis, this wine is rounder in style and had flavors which paired nicely with the delicate sea bass and helped to highlight the creamy clam and tomato sauce. Four Hearts Chardonnay goes through 100% malolactic fermentation and is also 100% barrel fermented imparting a distinctive blend of pear, orange blossom and nectarine notes balanced with a weighty crème brulee like character and zesty acidity.
If you cannot find this exact wine look for other wines produced in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley or ask your local wine merchant for lean restrained Chardonnay’s which go through malolactic fermentation and have a fairly aggressive oak program.

2001 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Bosche Vineyard

With the entree,  the braised short ribs, we confidently served up a traditional and well know old Napa Valley Cabernet from Freemark Abbey. As the premier “brand” in the American Wine world, Napa Valley has made it’s most distinctive mark producing world class Cabernet Sauvignon for 120+ years. The warm climate and cool nights create ripe, lush full bodied flavors of currant, cassis, and blackberry, and this worked perfectly with the meat course. Our Bosche Vineyard cabernet had succulent aromas of cherry, black raspberry syrup, and walnut meat in addition to holiday spices like clove and nutmeg. Chocolate and caramel flavors round out the wine which has a long finish.
If you cannot find this exact wine look for other Napa Valley Cabernet producers. While Cabernet from other appellations will suffice, you are want to pair this dish with a cabernet which features flavors of black fruit, and rich undertones of chocolate and dark cherry.

Point Reyes Late Harvest Viognier (NV)

For Desert we served a Point Reyes Vineyard late harvest Viognier to pair with the Bellwether Farms cheese cake. As expected tropical fruit notes from the Viognier were punctuated by apricot and honey. The wine’s character was rich and unctuous which perfectly paired with the creamy sweetness of the Bellwether fromage.
If you cannot find this exact wine: Serve any new world late harvest Viognier, or sauvignon blanc. You are looking for sweet, tropical notes and a rich honey character. If you want to get more adventurous, ask your wine merchant for an Old World Sauterne selection-there are many affordable ones under $35 dollars (such as Chateau Barsac) Or if you are in the mood to pull out the stops—then get your hands on a bottle of Chateau Yquem ($275+ for the 2007 vintage) and be prepared for an explosion of flavors that will be the perfect finish to this Fancy-Schmancy dinner party!

Cheers!
The Wine Geek

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Mastering the Tasting Room, or to Spit or not to Spit


Sniff…Sip…

While one of the most enjoyable aspects of visiting wine country is visiting the various wine estates and sampling their wares, it can also be one of the most intimidating experiences for the un-intiated. Being armed with knowledge coming in can be the best way to overcome any feelings of…whatever…

So here we go:

Tasting means tasting: Tasting rooms are licensed by the respective state ABC’s (Alcohol Beverage Control Boards) to offer free tastes of wine. By law, a taste should not be more than 2 oz. In general a tasting room is not licensed to sell or serve glasses of wine like a restaurant or wine bar. That said, getting to know your host can result in getting a bit more than a “taste”.
It’s okay to spit: Many wineries will provide a spit bucket. If you are going to taste a lot of wine, spitting is the best way to appreciate all wine, especially those that are several hours away from your current destination. (Alcohol tends to dull the senses when consumed….but you know that….) Of course, if you are the DD, spitting is not only recommended but required.
When a tasting fee is not a tasting fee: Some wineries charge for tasting to recoup costs and to keep out the “let’s go party for free crowd” but you can still find some wine tasting rooms that don’t charge. Most wineries will offer a menu of available wines to taste that day and perhaps a reserve menu for an additional fee.  And most, but not all wineries will refund the “tasting fee” with the purchase of a bottle. If you are unsure, ask upfront.
It’s okay to hang out and shop for candles: If you don’t want to taste wine, that’s okay. In fact, if you want to bring children into the tasting room, that’s okay too…Some rooms are more kid friendly than others and will offer an apple juice and crackers/cookies to the young fry….
Your host is there to teach, for the most part: Most people who work in tasting rooms are very very knowledgeable about wine, want to socialize but aren’t particularly adept at “sales”. Therefore, you can have a wonderful educational experience and walk out the door. Don’t feel that you have to buy anything. Wine tasting is about discovery; what you like is what you should buy.
There are three primary ways to evaluate a glass of wine. Why you are evaluating that wine may fall into one of two categories: I am looking for wine I like to drink or I am blind tasting this wine to determine what it is and where it was made. As most you probably fall into the former, (finding wine to drink) I present the following steps for your evaluation pleasure. If you interested in the latter, (“blind tasting bingo”) I would suggest you contact a professional association, such as the Court of Sommeliers for their evaluation technique.
So here is the best way to evaluate a wine:

Sight

  1. The color of a wine is the first clue to its quality. White wines should be varying shades ranging from white to yellow, red wines from deep red/purple to brown. For the most part white wines will fall between straw and yellow, and red wines will be purple, ruby or garnet. When evaluating the wine visually, look for clarity (clear or cloudy) color, concentration (low-high) and evidence of gas, (“spritz”) then swirl the glass to determine the viscosity. This is the famous exercise of finding the wines “legs.” Legs are the alcohol in the wine which falls more slowly and forms “legs” on the side of the glass. Rule of thumb, the more legs and the faster they move, the higher the alcohol content of the wine, the slower and less numerous legs indicate a lower alcohol content.

Sniff

  1. Swirl the glass gently to produce a fairly vigorous wave circulating in the liquid.  The point of this is to activate the aromatic components in the wine so when the bouquet of the wine smelled can be fully appreciated.  When you taste wine, you are only able to detect four distinct flavors, sweet, sour, salty and bitter.  Your nose, however, can pick up over 200 different aromas.
  2. When sniffing, tilt the glass toward your face at a 45 degree angle, with your nose slightly below the rim of the glass, inhale gently for 3 or 4 seconds.  The scents in a wine may change during the course of the sniff.  Use one side of your nose and then the other.  You will find that you have one nostril that is more “dominant” and picks out more of the different scents.

Sip

  1. Take a good mouthful of the wine in order to coat all surfaces of your mouth.  Roll the wine around in your mouth.  The tongue has sensors in different areas that detect sweetness, saltiness, acidity and bitterness.
  2. To maximize the flavor of the wine, take in air while it’s in your mouth.  With your head in a normal position, draw in some breath- using gentle suction with the lips pursed.  It’s only necessary to allow the tiniest opening – less than the width of a pencil – and to suck in immediately.  Close your lips and breathe downwards through the nose.

Now…Swallow or Spit?

  1. After tasting, you can either swallow it, or do as the pros do, and spit it out.  Either way, the taste of the wine will remain.

Dinner Possible - Green Chili Chicken Tortilla Soup



I have all these beautiful chilies growing right now in my garden…so I decided to make this yummy Green Chili Chicken Tortilla Soup.  Whether your cold is coming from the inside (achew) or the outside (brrrr)…this soup is going to warm you up…
LindySez - SoSousMe and cheers to a great, easy soup.

Green Chili Chicken Tortilla Soup Recipe


Friday, October 23, 2009

Red Wine with Chicken? Yes, yes you can.

So most people, having to think about dinner only have to decide what to make.  LindySez is trying to make that process easier for you, but just when she thinks she has it nailed…Chicken breasts, roasted potatoes and a green salad, the DH calls and says…”I hope you are making something red wine friendly…cause I’m bringing home a 1994 and we need to see if it’s still playing.”   GREAT..what do you do to make this red wine friendly?
Well, it turned out nicely…and in less then 30 minutes from start to table…the trick that turned it…onions.  Well, that and a few herbs.  I tossed the potatoes with some extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and minced rosemary, threw them in the oven to roast, put Italian seasonings on the chicken breast, gave them a good saute (well, more of a fry, I wanted them good and brown) in hot olive oil, finished them in the oven and then browned a sliced onion in the pan, scraping up all the browned bits,  added some chicken stock and let that boil down a bit; poured that over the chicken and voila – red wine friendly dinner.  And guess what?  The 1994 Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Cabernet…still played nice.
LindySez: Remember the wine pairing theory?  Red wine can go with anything, it’s all in the preparation.

About Me - Who is this LindySez


When I was young, I loved food.  Now that I’m all grown (well, let’s just say mostly grown), I still love food.  Good food.  Not necessarily fussy food, or fancy food  although if someone else is cooking it, fussy and fancy is fine.

When I was young, while other kids were watching cartoons and Sheriff John (green light, red light, anyone remember that?)  I turned on  the Galloping Gourmet and Julia Child.  I often helped my Mom in the kitchen, she was a good cook, from Germany, so many of the dishes we had came from there, Sauerbraten ( a long braised beef roast that had been marinated for days in a mixture of wine, onions, garlic and herbs),  Hassenpfeffer (Rabbit) and sauerkraut; stuff the neighborhood kids thought was “crazy food”, of course half of them were eating hot dogs, canned spaghetti compliments of Chef Boyardee, and cold cereal, so in comparison I guess we were eating crazy food.  My parents also taught me the importance of family meals; we ate together most every night right up until the time I left home.  These are traditions I still hold on to.  Although my youngest is now a senior in high school and very busy, we try to sit down at least a few times a week, and Sunday night dinner is still pretty much mandatory.  Sitting down and sharing a meal is the best way to keep in contact with your children, although I do caution you to keep the conversations light, and to not turn dinner into a nightly confrontation of why you didn’t do this, or why did you do that…but it is an excellent time to share your views and thoughts about the world, and listen to them as they share theirs.  Key word there…LISTEN…Old joke – “Why did God give you two ears and only one mouth?”…”So you would use your ears twice as much as your mouth.

When I was in grade school they had mandatory Home Economics for all the girls, the boys went to Wood Shop.  Doesn’t work that way in today’s world, thank goodness, but back then all of us girls were supposed to learn to “take care of our families” and the guys, well, they needed those skills to “work around the house”…funny to think how much the world has changed in such a short time.  I remember getting the cooking assignments; some real dandys like Chili with Beans, which was really pretty much kidney beans, in tomato sauce with some cut up chunks of beef, not much chili involved at all; but I made it all in good cheer.  Until the day the teacher told us we were going to make a “Broccoli Custard Casserole” for our side dish.  NONE of my favs…didn’t like broccoli then, mostly cause it was frozen and then cooked to death, and egg custard, not  for me thank you very much, put them together and gag me with  spoon.  So I told her, “I’ll make it…but I won’t eat it.” The eating of our creations was required, so I again said “not me” and then spent the rest of the period in the principal’s office.  I spent a lot more time in the principal’s office after that, but I figured I would rather sit in there than have to eat some of that incredibly inedible stuff they were presenting as food.  But I did pass the course and did graduate into the big world of high school.  So I thought I would skate through Home Ec…first day of school I go to my class and sit down, the teacher comes in, NO WAY, it’s the same  teacher…man, I just can’t believe it…I thought I left her behind in 8th grade..I glare at her, she looks at me, and breaks into a big smile.  “I’m sure” she said, “we will get along just fine Linda…in high school you get to pick your own dishes to prepare.”  We did get along just fine, cook to cook and by the end of the year I was her assistant.

I married young;  my first husband was not an adventurous eater even though his mother was Belgium.  She mostly tried to fit in and cook American, although as time went on; she would sometimes cook something from her “home” and I did learn a few dishes and tricks.  But ultimately she mostly cooked from the pages of Ladies Home Journal, Woman’s Day and the like.  For my ex it was meat and potatoes…no fish - “you might get a bone.” After 17 years, life moved on.  I met my current and last husband soon after.

Well, what would you expect when two foodies meet in a bar.  Food and wine are a huge part of our life.  We travel to experience food.  We try new restaurants; new foods…if I cook it, he’ll eat it.  We love to taste and drink wine.  Our original commingling of wine (200 bottles) has turned into a wine cellar of over 1000; although it’s still hard to figure out what to drink with tonight’s dinner.

LindySez and the Wine Geek get marriedI’ll always remember the first time he cooked for me…he came over in a Tux with a bag; inside was Cornish game hens and wild rice.  Whoo hoo, I got me a live one here. I found out later, that was the only thing he really knew how to cook, but it was an impressive start and he still looks good in a Tux.

We are very lucky; our lives have always had some sort of food element in it, either through entertaining our friends, impromptu parties or being entertained by clients. The only dark spot was when we moved to Tulsa; the fish became scarce; the meat prominent and the weight went on.  Luckily that only lasted 14 months, 7 days, 4 1/2 hours before we were on a plane and headed to the city of food, San Francisco, where he was going to be the new VP of Marketing for the Convention Bureau…can we say “Hallelujah?”

LindySez with Chef Bobby FlayAs he slowly changed the image of the city – to the city with the best restaurants… from the city with the best icons, we got to eat in some of the best restaurants in the world, Dankos, Fleur de Lys, La Folie, The Ritz Carlton Dining Room, The French Laundry, Masa’s and so many more… we also got to dine with Ruth Reichel, and other editor’s and publishers of epicurean magazines…and trust me, when you are eating with publishers and editors of epicurean magazines, you get some over the top meals;  you are not generally ordering “off the menu”.  I also got kitchen tours, and was able to talk to the chefs, Hubert Keller of Fleur de Lys, showed me his “book” where he laid out all his plates so they would all be the same…a trick I still use for dinner parties.  I got to go to Aspen with Food and Wine magazine for their 10 Best New Chefs  for 4 years in a row, not only getting to meet and talk with the likes of Bobby Flay, Mario Batali (don’t try to drink Mario under the table, he’ll win), Rick Bayless, Jacques Pepin and many more, as well as the new and upcoming chefs, who either were being recognized or were in culinary school following their passion for food.  OK, funny story, we were invited to an “after” party, that the newest best chefs were having after they finished serving their “signature” dish to about 1000+ people…we are so excited…we get there, they get there and they start making the snacks, I’m antsy with anticipation, what wonderful creations will we be eating…and then they come out….with frozen pizza rolls, cocktail wieners in barbecue sauce, some frozen egg rolls, and then there was the $2500.00 kilo tin of Beluga caviar.  Yes, easy cocktail party food.

I absorbed information, techniques, ideas.  That’s what I want to share with you.  And yes, I met Julia Child.  A wonderfully warm lady…with a fantastic sense of humor. As a matter of fact, with only a few exceptions I find that most all chefs are warm, caring and inviting people.  That’s why they cook.  That’s why I cook.  To share our love.

Now I live in Sonoma County, my husband is realizing a life’s dream of working in the world of wine, selling some of the best juice in the country and I am going to continue to pursue my love of cooking.  My eldest son and my granddaughter both say that the best time they have when they visit with me is to cook with me. So I hope you will enjoy it as well. To me, a knife hitting a wooden cutting board makes a delicious sound.  It relaxes me.  If you use a glass cutting board cause you worry about germs (we’ll get into that in a Rant and Rave)  switch boards and feel the relax.  I’ll share tools, tricks and of course, recipes with you…and hopefully not bore you too much with stories, but you can always skip past those and just get to the good stuff…the food.

Cheers – Lindy

aka LindySez aka SoSousMe


 

Under Pressure - Split Pea Soup

So, it’s Scout night…I usually do something quick and easy for the boy so he can get to his meeting, and then something a little more slow and easy for the hubby and me…but all of a sudden I am reminded that this is a “Court of Honor” meeting…where all the boys are awarded the badges and recognition they get for their last 3 months work…and it’s a 6 month Court, which means the leadership roles the boys play also changes…so it’s important that we are THERE…but wait, I’ve not only not thought about how to feed all of us the same thing, but it’s my son’s birthday…so I quickly look to the pantry…it’s always a good thing to have a well stocked pantry, but more on that later..split peas…k…we all like split pea soup…onions, carrots and celery are a staple…ham hocks in the freezer…k DINNER.  But I only have an hour…so…pressure cooker to the rescue.

“Pressure cookers are scary”…this comes from the tales of kitchen lore, the days when the lid BURST off of the pot, spraying hot food everywhere.  “What’s that on the ceiling Mom?”  “Dinner” she replies.  Well, it is true, sort of.  In the “olden days” before the days of litigation and safety standards; pressure cookers didn’t have the safety features they do today.  Early pressure cookers only had a basic primary safety valve and if poorly maintained; the pressure could not be properly released.  Modern cookers (and I say modern loosely, I bought my pressure cooker at the LA County Fair over 20 years ago) typically feature two or three independent safety valves, as well as interlocks to prevent the opening of the lid while it’s internal pressure exceeds atmospheric pressure.  Proper maintenance is still important to keep the cooker working the way it’s supposed to, keeping food particles out of the valves and keeping the rubber gaskets free of dried foods to allow it to properly seal and set.  So use some common sense and check the valves and gaskets before you start to cook.  Another thing you want to avoid is over-filling the pot with liquid, never fill more than 2/3 to 3/4 full, check the manual on your model for details.

There are a lot of advantages to cooking in a pressure cooker.  While boiling water cannot exceed 212 degrees F, when trapped inside a pressure cooker the steam under the locked lid can reach temperatures up to 250 degrees F and can be maintained at 15 pounds of pressure.  Cooking at 15 pounds of pressure cuts most cooking times by 1/3…from the moment you put on the lid, until you release the pressure.  You can use less water since the liquids are “trapped” AND less energy. Steaming vegetables can be done in as little as 3 minutes, potatoes, 15.  And by using the steamer basket, the vegetables retain more of their nutritional values.

Releasing the pressure is important.  Generally, if you are cooking something delicate or something that can easily be quickly overcooked, such as vegetables, use the “quick release” method.  When the food is cooked, take the pressure cooker to the sink and run cold water over it, the pressure will be quickly relieved.  For stews and heartier dishes allow the pot to sit for 10 or 15 minutes and let the pressure drop on it’s own.

I love my pressure cooker.  I love it better than my crock-pot.  And there’s a few reasons why…

1. It’s a great “last minute” tool.  With a crock-pot you have to think of dinner in advance.  Most of us have to go to work, so that means that you have to either prepare your ingredients in the morning, or have them done the night before.  And if I decide I want beans with dinner, I can make them, in about 1/2 hour…no pre-soaking needed.  (Just add 1 tablespoon oil for each cup of beans to the water to keep them from foaming up and yes, clogging that important valve thing).

2. Most of the time, you need to brown the meat and the vegetables before putting them in a crock-pot…just another dirty pan to clean.

3. Many crock-pot recipes overcook in the time you are at work.  I’ve had a couple chicken dishes where the chicken fell so apart, that the tiny little back bones were so mixed in with the meat…well, dodging bones when I eat is not my idea of fun, or good eats.

4. I find that many times when cooking in a crock-pot, the long, slow cooking process makes everything taste kind of alike.  Mucks up the flavors.

Now I don’t want you to think I don’t have, and use a crock-pot, I just like the way food tastes and the time control I have with a pressure cooker.

LindySez: Step out of your comfort zone for just a minute; look at your pressure cooker’s manual for general information and then give it a spin.  Here’s a few great recipes to get you started.

Under Pressure Split Pea Soup

Pretty Darn Good Chili Verde

Beer Braised Beef with Onions

Once you do it, I think you’ll love it.

A Different Kind of Muffin Top

Mornings are tough.  Trying to get everyone ready and out of the house with something in their stomachs becomes a daily challenge.  And then you get the “I don’t want that” or “I don’t like that” coming out of their mouths.  Or simply “I don’t have time”.  Well, here is a couple of ideas that are portable, grab and run. Chocolate Banana Muffins and Wheat Germ Banana Muffins. With the addition of wheat germ you up the nutritional value and add fiber.  And what kid is going to object to chocolate?  Well, there may be a few, but they are few and far between.

Say goodbye to the Mc Donald’s  sausage biscuit, the $3.00 muffin at Starbucks and the bagel with cream cheese.  Try these cheaper, and much healthier alternatives.  And don’t forget about the Super Simple Scones recipe.  With the addition of nuts and dried fruits, especially blueberries and almonds (both known as “Superfoods“) you add a great nutritional punch.

LindySez: SoSousMe again, I like to save money and I like to know what’s in my food.
Feel free to share your morning quick recipe ideas.

Linguine with Fresh Pesto and Tomatoes

The summer garden is winding its way down.  The tomatoes will soon be gone; and my basil is near the end.  I know I will miss the tomatoes once they are gone, but for right now, I’m ready to be done with the tomatoes.  Perhaps next year I won’t plant quite as many plants (I say that every year, and then I get all excited come spring and start buying all kinds of new varieties, plus all my favs and end up with 20 + tomato plants).  And anyway, during the winter months, I do so enjoying going into my freezer and getting out a container of homemade tomato sauce or marinara.  So, more than likely, I will be once again looking forward to the beginning and the end of tomato season.  But for now, I’m going to enjoy the last of my crop with this great simple dish -

Linguine with Fresh Pesto and Tomatoes…

Ingredients
  • 3 quarts water
  • 12 ounces linguine
  • 1/2 cup Basil Pesto (recipe follows)
  • 2 cups seeded and diced fresh tomatoes, preferably a mix of Heirloom tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup feta cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Basil Pesto
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
  • 3 large cloves garlic
  • 2 2/3 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Directions
  1. Make the Basil Pesto – Drop the pine nuts and garlic through the food chute of a food processor with the motor running; process until minced, stopping to scape the sides of the bowl as necessary. Stop the machine; add basil, cheese and lemon juice; process until finely minced. With processor on, slowly pour the oil through the chute and process until well blended.
  2. Meanwhile; bring the water to a rolling boil. Add a large pinch of salt; cook pasta according to package directions. Drain well – reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water.
  3. Combine the pesto and pasta in a large bowl; toss well. Use the reserved pasta water to thin as necessary. Add the tomatoes, basil and feta. Toss gently to coat. Adjust seasonings; serve immediately.
This dish can be made in less than 30 minutes.  As you boil the water, make the pesto (if you need to buy pre-made pesto, buy the kind in the refrigerator section) and dice the tomatoes.  Then once the pasta is cooked, you just toss it all together.  Add a salad and it’s a great quick and easy dinner.
Remember – as long as you are making pesto anyway, you can always make extra.  Put it into ice cube trays in the freezer; once frozen pop the little cubes out and put them into a zip-top bag.  Anytime you need a little pesto, pop one out.  Pesto is great when added to a vegetable, bean, or minestrone soup. Just gives it a little pizzaz…

LindySez – Eat fresh and seasonal foods whenever you can.

Dare to Prepare - Fennel

A bulb of fennel looks very much like a “ball” of celery.  Fennel is often mislabeled “sweet anise,” in the supermarket causing those who don’t like the flavor of licorice to avoid it.   The confusion stems from the fact that both plants contain an essential oil of similar chemical composition and share a licorice-like flavor and aroma. The flavor of fennel, however, is sweeter and more delicate than anise and, when cooked, becomes even lighter and sweeter than in its raw state.   Fennel leaves are feathery and make a nice garnish or can be chopped and used as an herb.  The top stalks can be added to soups or stocks for seasoning,  but are generally too tough to eat.

The first fennel grown in the United States was grown in 1824 by Thomas Jefferson when he received a packet of seeds from the American Consul in Florence.  If you would like to grow fennel in your garden, be sure to choose Florence fennel for its edible bulb.  Common fennel will give you edible leaves, and eventually fennel seeds, but the rest of the plant will be too tough and stringy to eat.

To Choose: Someone once told me that fennel with a round bulb is female; flat is male.  Not sure if that’s true, I’ve not delved into the sex organs of fennel; but have found that the round bulbs are more tender and sweeter, so maybe that proves they are female.  The bulbs should be white, with crisp bright greens – no cuts or bruises.

To Prepare: Separate the top stalks and leaves by slicing across close to the bulb.  Trim the base of the bulb no more than is necessary, then quarter the bulb lengthwise.  Prepare according to your recipe.  If left exposed to air for too long it may discolor, so either rub the exposed parts with lemon juice or put it in cold water with a splash of vinegar.

Fennel is great raw, although the licorice flavor will be more prominent, or you can braise, roast or grill it.  It is lovely with fish and plays nicely with tomatoes, oranges, lemons, apples, walnuts and dill.

LindySez: Try it.  If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it again, I promise…

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Roasted Fennel

4 Servings
Ingredients:
2 medium fennel bulbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
Preparation:
Heat oven to 375 F
Trim the fennel bulbs and blanch them in boiling water for 9 to 10 minutes.  Immediately plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking process.  Cut lengthwise into ¼ inch slices.
Brush the roasting pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil and arrange fennel slices in a single layer. Brush the tops with the remaining oil.
Roast 15 minutes, then turn.  Continue roasting another 15 minutes or until the slices can be easily pierced with a skewer and they are lightly browned.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve hot or at room temperature.
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Fennel – Carrot Confit

6 – 8 Servings

Ingredients:
2 medium fennel bulbs – halved, cored and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 pound carrots – peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
¼ cup olive oil – extra virgin preferred
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest (use only the yellow, none of the white pith as it is bitter)
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves- minced
2 cloves garlic – minced
Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:
Heat oven to 275 F.
In a large baking dish, toss the fennel with the carrots, olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, thyme leaves and garlic.  Season with salt and pepper.  Spread the vegetables evenly in the pan.  Cover tightly with foil and bake in oven for 2 hours.  The vegetables should be very tender.
Warm a 10 to 12 inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat.  Working in batches, add the vegetables and their juices and cook, stirring gently until slightly browned, about 8 minutes per batch.  Put in a warm serving dish and garnish with minced fennel fronds, if desired and serve.

Lindy’s party tip:  The carrots and fennel can be prepared and baked up to 2 days before.  Place covered in the refrigerator and then finish by frying them prior to serving.
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Chicken Thighs with Fennel, Lemon and Garlic

(Reprinted  from the Chronicle San Francisco Cookbook)
Serves 4 – 6

Michael Bauer devised this one-pot dish, inspired by Richard Olney.  Because of their meatiness and density, chicken thighs work much better than white meat for this recipe.  Slices of lemon are cooked in a fennel – and garlic-laced broth.  The lemon melts down, adding a lovely tart flavor.  If it’s too puckery, add a teaspoon or so of sugar.

Ingredients:
8 – 12 chicken thighs, bones and skinned
Flour
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ cups dry white wine
12 garlic cloves, quartered
1 lemon, peeled, seeded and sliced
3 fennel bulbs, sliced
Sugar to taste (optional)
Zest of 1 lemon, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fennel tops

Preparation:
Lightly coat the chicken with flour that has been well seasoned with salt and pepper.
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken and sauté until browned on all sides.  Remove the chicken from the pan: set aside.
Add the wine to the pan and simmer, scraping up all the browned bits on the bottom.  Add the garlic and lemon slices; let boil about 5 minutes.  Add the fennel, cover and cook about 10 minutes.  Stir well, and then return the chicken to the pan, placing it on the fennel.  Cover and simmer 30 minutes.
Lindy’s party tip: Can be prepared to this point 2 days ahead.  Cover and refrigerate.
Just before serving, taste the sauce.  If it’s too tart, add a little sugar.  If necessary, boil the sauce rapidly to reduce excess juices.  Remove the chicken from the pan.
Combine the zest and fennel tops and stir most of the mixture into the fennel, reserving a little for garnish.  Spoon the fennel onto serving plates and top with the chicken.  Garnish with the remaining lemon zest – fennel top mixture

Recommended Wine Varietals: A California or Italian Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio or a  California or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Why they work: First of all, Pinot Gris is the same grape as Pinot Grigio.  Where it is grown will tell us the wine’s style.  A California or Italian Pinot Gris will be on the crisp, more acidic side of the spectrum.  This works well with the lemony chicken.  The same holds true for the California and New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs.  The fresh high-toned acid will bring out the brightness of the dish.  Sauvignon Blancs are also known for their citrus fruits – lemon, lime, and grapefruit, which again works well with the lemony chicken, and the tropical fruits – pineapple and melon will complement the sweetness of the fennel.
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Halibut with Herbs and Fennel Tomato Sauce

Serves 4

Ingredients:
4 (4 – 6 ounce) halibut steaks or fillets
1 1/3 tablespoons marjoram, minced (if you don’t have marjoram, you could use oregano.  Marjoram is slightly sweeter and a little milder than is oregano, so use only 1 tablespoon oregano.)
1 1/3 tablespoons thyme, minced
1 teaspoon lemon zest (be sure to only use the yellow part, no white pith)
1 teaspoon orange zest (ditto as above only using the orange part, of course)
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced laterally
1 cup canned tomatoes, with juice
2 cups dry white wine
1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil, or as needed
2 tablespoons basil leaves, thinly sliced (chiffonad)
2 tablespoons parsley, preferably Italian flat leaf, minced

Preparation:
In a small bowl combine the herbs and zests.  Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper, then spread the herb mixture on one side.  Set- aside.
Put 1 tablespoon oil in a saute pan; when hot, add the fennel and cook until the fennel starts to brown on the edges, about 10 minutes.  Add the wine and cook until the wine is reduced by 1/2.  Add the tomatoes along with their juice;  use the back of a spoon to mash them slightly, simmer on medium-high heat until reduced by 1/2.  Reduce heat to low; add the olives and capers; simmer until the sauce is very thick.
In another skillet, heat the remaining oil.  When hot, add the fish herb side down.  Cook about 3 minutes; turn.  Add a little more oil to the pan if necessary; cook until the fish is just cooked; another 3 to 4 minutes.  Do not overcook the fish.  (This is one of the biggest mistakes people make when cooking fish is they overcook it and it gets all dry and yucky – keep the fish moist, cook only until it’s opaque.  If you cook it until it “flakes easily with a fork” you’ve already overcooked it.)
Place the fennel with sauce onto a warmed plate; place the fish, herb side up on top, sprinkle with basil and parsley.

Wine Recommendation: A fruity Merlot.  (What!  Red wine with fish?)

Why it Works: Merlot is generally softer and silkier than a Cabernet Sauvignon.  Its flavor profile is generally red fruit driven with undertones of black fruits.  Its characteristic soft tannis work well smoothing out the slightly acidic tomato sauce.