Monday, September 29, 2008

Give me an 'O'

It's almost October, but that's not what the 'O' is for this post. Instead, it's for 'Onions', one of those versatile foods that it would be hard to live without. It's also for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month (see end of post), an important kind of awareness for sure.

Onions go into a lot of my favorite foods, but there is one recipe that is so simple that it would be lost without the onion. It has a limited number of ingredients, so be sure to use a good firm onion with flavor. I usually use a yellow onion.

This is also a great dish to make ahead, chill, then reheat because it tastes even better that way. The chilling also allows you to remove any fat that rises to the top of the sauce before you reheat it...good if you care about that sort of thing.

Last, but not least, it's easy-peasy to make. I've been making this for so long that if there ever was a recipe I have no idea of the details. Go on, give it a try. Then go to the end of the post and participate in raising awareness for Ovarian Cancer and maybe help raise a bit of funds, too.

Simply Delish Chicken, Onions and Tomatoes

2 tablespoons olive oil (or less if using a non-stick skillet)
6 - 8 chicken can use boneless and skinless if you like
1 large onion, cut in half, then thinly sliced
1 cup fresh chard or kale, washed and chopped (optional)
1 can diced tomatoes in juice or the equivalent of fresh diced, peeled, seeded tomatoes
1 can chicken broth or the equivalent of home made chicken broth
1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon mixed Italian seasonings
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large ovenproof skillet, saute' the chicken thighs, 4 minutes on a side, until browned and partially cooked through. Set aside. If necessary add more oil to the pan.

Add the onions and stir as you saute' for 2 minutes, until crispy-tender. If using the chard or kale, add to the pan and continue cooking another minute.

Spread out the vegetables, then place the chicken around the pan, spacing equally.

On top of the chicken, add the tomatoes, broth, parsley, Italian seasonings, salt and pepper to the pan.

Cover the pan tightly, then put into the oven and bake at least 45 minutes or up to an hour. Can sit in a turned off oven for another hour; after that either serve or refrigerate.

Serve hot over rice, noodles, polenta, or potatoes. Great with a crisp mixed greens salad.

Serves 4 - 6

O Foods for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month Contest

I was saddened to learn that Gina De Palma, author of the splendid cookbook, Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen and executive pastry chef of Babbo Ristorante in NYC,has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and in honor of Gina, Sara of Ms Adventures in Italy, Jenn of The Leftover Queen, and Michelle of Bleeding Espresso are asking you to donate to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (via and to partake in their O Foods for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month Contest. Interested? Here's what you need to do (this is from Sara's blog):

1. Post a recipe to your blog using a food that starts or ends with the letter O (e.g., oatmeal, orange, okra, octopus, olive, onion, potato, tomato) and include this entire text box in the post;

2. If you’re not into the recipe thing, simply post this entire text box in a post on your blog to help spread the word about the event and Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.

3. Then send your post url [along with a photo (100 x 100) if you've made a recipe] to ofoods[at]gmail[dot]com by 11:59 pm (Italy time) on September 30, 2008.
We will post a roundup and announce prize winners on October 3.
1 Recipe Prize for best “O food” concoction: $50 gift certificate to Amazon;
1 Awareness Prize for only publicizing event: Copy of Dolce Italiano cookbook.

From the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund:

Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from gynecologic cancers in the United States and is the fifth leading cause of cancer death among U.S. women; a woman’s lifetime risk of ovarian cancer is 1 in 67.

The American Cancer Society estimates that 21,650 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the U.S. in 2008 and about 15,520 women will die from the disease.

The symptoms of ovarian cancer are often vague and subtle, making it difficult to diagnose. There is no effective screening test for ovarian cancer but there are tests which can detect ovarian cancer when patients are at high risk or have early symptoms.

In spite of this patients are usually diagnosed in advanced stages and only 45% survive longer than five years. Only 19% of cases are caught before the cancer has spread beyond the ovary to the pelvic region.

When ovarian cancer is detected and treated early on, the five-year survival rate is greater than 92%.

Please donate to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fundand help spread the word!
This post is in memory of Janna Barto, a victim of Ovarian Cancer and a fantastic woman.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Daring Bakers Do Vegan

Joy of joys, this month the Daring Bakers were given a savory recipe with not a smidgen of butter, and only a tiny amount of sweetness in the yeast dough, necessary to help the yeasties grow. A huge thank you to Natalie of Gluten A Go Go and Shel of Musings From The Fishbowl for being the hosts and giving us such a nice change of pace for the challenge. To up the ante, they also asked for a fully vegan spread or dip to go with the baked part. My answer to that part of the challenge follows the latest story from the Land of St. Honore' that I dream up each month to go with the challenge. The recipe for the challenge can be found at Natalie's and Shel's blogs. The link to the daring Baker blogroll...which will take you to all the wondrous versions of this challenge that the hundreds and hundreds of other Daring Bakers have made, is on the right of this post. Enjoy!

September 2008 Story from the Land of St. Honore' - a Tale of Elves

The five elves gathered in the kitchen one fine morning. Now they do happen to be near neighbors of the seven dwarfs of storybook and Disney fame, but are not nearly as well known, and that bothers them a bit. They are also no relation to the Keebler elves, although that could have been a useful relationship today, considering what they are baking.

The first elf, Tigger, gathered the ingredients: flour, yeast, salt, oil, sugar, water. She proofed the yeast in the water and sugar because the expire date was coming up and who wants to waste flour these days?

When it looked like the yeast was active, the second elf, Elm, mixed the dough and kneaded, and kneaded, and kneaded...good thing he had strong arms and shoulders and supple hands...hence the nickname. Eventually the dough was satiny and stretchy, so he oiled a bowl and put the dough in to rise.

Once the dough was risen, the third elf, Moon Doggy, removed it from over the dryer where it had risen to double it's size, thanks to the effects of a load of laundry drying during rising time. Unfortunately, she became distracted since the other four elves were involved in a rousing game of mumbleypeg and she wanted to play, too.

Hours later Moon Doggy realized that she didn't have time to finish the project, so she shoved the dough, covered with a tea towel, into the fridge. It sat there overnight.

The next morning the fourth elf, Swifty, took over. She was a bit dismayed to find that the top surface of the dough had toughened up...a skin formed overnight. Moon Doggy had gone off surfing, so Swifty did what she could. She coated the skin very lightly with a smear of olive oil and let it sit while she had her first cup of coffee. Then she placed the dough on a lightly floured surface, divided it in half, used her fingers on each half to break up the skin and kneaded each half a few times. That distributed the tougher dough into the softer dough.

The fifth elf, Shorty, got up on his stool, put one half of the dough between large sheets of baking parchment and rolled, rolled, rolled the dough with his rolling pin.
Every now and then he would remove the paper, turn the dough over, re-cover it, and let the dough sit for a minute or so to rest, then he rolled some more. In time he had a sort of oval of dough rolled as thin as he could manage.

Once Shorty had rolled out the other half of the dough, Tigger docked the dough with the tines of a fork and then misted the dough with water.

The rest of the elves sprinkled on some sesame seed, poppy seed, flax seed and salt. Shorty used the pizza cutter to cut rectangles. Into the preheated oven it all went.

After 20 minutes the crackers were baked and smelling wonderful! After cooling a bit, Elm broke them apart along the cut lines.Unfortunately the water mist didn't hod the seeds, so most ended up in the pan. Who cared? All the elves agreed that the crackers still were delicious. Moon Doggy even came home in time to try out a few crackers with the spinach and roasted garlic spread.

Spinach and Roasted Garlic Spread
1 10-oz package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, warmed and drained OR
1 pound fresh spinach, washed, steamed, chopped, and drained
1 can cannelli (white) beans, drained
3-5 cloves roasted garlic, or to taste
¼ - ½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, or to taste
salt to taste
Place all the ingredients in a food processor and process until a smooth spread is formed. Check for seasonings. Serve with crackers, sliced baguettes, or fresh veggies.

Roasted garlic:
Take a whole head of garlic and remove most of the papery skin. Put the garlic in a small heat-proof dish. Add ¼ cup olive oil and ¼ cup water. Cover tightly with foil and bake in a 350 degree oven (toaster oven works fine if you have one) for 45 minutes to an hour, or until cloves are very soft. Remove from oven and let cool. The oil left in the dish can be used for salad dressings. The rest of the roasted garlic also tastes good in the following, non-vegan recipe:

Ricotta and Roasted Garlic
1 cup ricotta cheese
3-5 cloves roasted garlic (or to taste) mashed
salt & pepper to taste
Mix ingredients thoroughly. Serve with crackers, baguette slices, or fresh veggies

By the way, no elves actually helped with making any of these foods...except in my imagination.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Sticky Turtles

The power of suggestion is often stronger than we realize. I see something on sale that I use occasionally and suddenly I'm reminded of a recipe using that ingredient that I just HAVE to make. Or I spot something already made that I just KNOW that I can make myself a half the price, so, indeed, I MUST go home and make it. Fortunately it doesn't happen often, but recently I was checking out at our local market and there was a box of Turtle Candies on sale, by the piece. The caramel, pecans and chocolate looked delicious, but I decided that I should try making the candies myself.

A well stocked pantry is a great assist for such silliness, so once I got the groceries I'd bought unloaded and put away, I looked in my supplies and found some pecan halves, some Scharfenberger semi-sweet chocolate and some caramel bits. What could be easier?

Well, first off I decided to melt the caramel bits in the microwave. Should have done it on the top of a double boiler. I ended up with lumps of caramel that were soft in places and crunchy in other places. Undaunted, I stuck the pecan halves into the soft parts of the caramel blobs, then let them cool while I played with the chocolate.

Finely chopped chocolate can be melted in the microwave by using short bursts of very low power, then stirring. That worked just fine and the melted chocolate was scooped with a spoon onto the cooled caramel/nut mounds. Then I put the mounds into the freezer to chill and firm up the chocolate.

Except for the inconsistent texture of the caramel, they were delicious and fun to eat. The chocolate got a little melted by my fingers, but then I got to lick my!

As you can see, there is really no recipe for this, just ingredients. I only made a few, too. To do a full plate of cute Sticky Turtles, use a full bag of caramels, melt them in the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, stirring until smooth. Plan on 4 pecan halves per candy, so about 48 or so. Use a full bar of semi-sweet chocolate 8 - 9 ounces, chopped fine and melted in the microwave or in the top of the double boiler, set over simmering water. I put my candies in flattened cupcake papers.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Al Fresco Florentine

One of the blessings about having Wednesday off is that we can have a mid-week luncheon with friends. Today we ventured north to sun baked Healdsburg for an al fresco know, a lunch eaten outdoors.

First we had appetisers and white in the shade of the gazebo in comfy chairs with wisteria vines overhead. Conversation meandered from mutual friends and family doings to politics and current events to gardening and restaurants.

For lunch we moved to the deck and enjoyed an excellent salad with red and butter lettuces, radish slices, garden fresh yellow tomatoes, sugar snap peas, asparagus and avocados. The dressing, a French vinaigrette, was sublime.

My contribution was a quiche. I call it Florentine since it contains chopped spinach, but it also was the first quiche I've ever made with leeks and it turns out that leeks, sauteed in butter, add a light onion flavor...quite nice. The filling also had crimini mushrooms,

bacon...shall I say it again?? BACON...and eggs and milk and some nutmeg, salt & pepper. The crust was my favorite 'cheat' of Pillsbury ReadyCrust (see notes with crust recipes below to see why), blind baked with some dry beans I use as pie weights.

This quiche is full flavored and could make a nice brunch or light supper dish, too. The crust recipe and general proportions for the quiche are from The Big Book of Breakfasts by Maryana Vollstedt. Even though the day heated up to the mid-90s, the quiche eaten out of door was a great accompaniment to good conversation and great friends.

Florentine Quiche
¼ cup (4 tablespoons) butter
1 large leek, root removed and sliced into ½ inch slices, those slices halved, and all washed in a strainer to remove any sand or grit
1 cup sliced mushrooms – white or crimmini
½ pkg frozen spinach, thawed, excess liquid squeezed out
1 prepared Quiche crust (recipe follows)
1 cup diced Swiss cheese, divided
¼ cup bacon crumbles (about 3-4 slices, well cooked, drained, then crumbled)
3 large eggs
1 ½ cups whole milk
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large skillet melt the butter and sauté’ the leeks until translucent, about 4 minutes, stirring often.
Add the mushroom slices and sauté’ another 4 or 5 minutes while the mushrooms brown and release their juices. Add the squeezed spinach and stir well to distribute.

Sprinkle half the Swiss cheese over the bottom of the quiche crust. Spread the sautéed vegetable mixture over the cheese. Sprinkle the bacon crumbles evenly over the vegetable mixture. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese over that.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and milk together. Add the salt, pepper, and grated nutmeg. Pour this mixture slowly over the ingredients in the quiche crust.

Place quiche in prepared oven and bake 20 – 25 minutes, or until just set and lightly browned on top.

Serve warm. Serves 6 – 8


After working all day, we went to dinner with friends. I started making this quiche at 8:30 at night, so making a crust from scratch was not an option. (The ‘from scratch’ recipe is below my substitution.)

I used Pillsbury ReadyCrust. One round was fitted into a 9-inch pie pan, the edges were crimped, a round of parchment paper was put inside and dry beans were used as pie weights. Crust was baked in a 450 degree F. oven for about 10 minutes. Pie pan was put on a cooling rack, parchment and beans were removed, and crust was left to cool.

Official Shell for Quiche
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cold shortening, cut into small pieces
½ cup (1 stick) frozen butter, cut into small pieces
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup cold water
Place all ingredients in a food processor and process until dough holds together and starts to forma a ball, about 25 seconds. Do not over mix.

Remove dough and shape into a 6-inch disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place disk on a lightly floured surface, and with a lightly floured rolling pin roll dough from the center out to the edges, changing the direction with each stroke, until the circle is 1/8 inch thick and about 1 inch larger than the pie plate. Fold dough in half and transfer to pie plate. Press gently to remove air bubbles. Fold edge under and flute. Do not prick dough for a quiche because the filling will seep under the shell. To partially bake the shell for a quiche, bake it for 8 minutes. Cool slightly on a rack. It should be slightly warm when filling is added.

Turn the oven down to 350 degrees F for the quiche.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Spicy Pumpkin Muffins for Fall

Yep, the long awaited season of Fall will officially be here...I think tomorrow...and I'm welcoming it with open arms. The cool air, bright colors, and harvest flavors are such a delight in the Fall.

A local bakery used to have a pumpkin muffin with a sweet cheese surprise inside each fall, usually through Thanksgiving. The crumbly topping was part of the charm, too. Now the bakery is owned by someone else and the pumpkin muffins no longer have the cheese filling and the topping isn't as copious, but the muffin itself continues to be one of the best. The pumpkin flavor is intense, the spices are rich and they add walnuts for crunch.

Baking and cooking things that require long oven time, or roasting and braising become a favored activity in the autumn. Last week I tried making my own version of the pumpkin muffins, although I didn't do a topping, just a sprinkle of broken toffee walnuts. I used canned pumpkin, which is so easy, but the pumpkin flavor wasn't quite as intense at the bakery's. I added some molasses and maple syrup for sweetness and flavor, sour cream for moistness and tang, and applesauce to add moistness and cut the amount of oil needed. They must have been good because Sweetie ate three of them barely out of the oven. I thought they tasted better the next day.

So here's to Autumn - more baking weather, brisk walks through fallen leaves, brilliant blue skies and new recipes.
Spicy Pumpkin Muffins
started with basic muffins in Joy of Cooking, then went wild

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 large eggs ( or ½ cup egg substitute)
1 cup canned pumpkin – not pumpkin pie filling
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
¼ cup maple syrup
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup molasses
¼ cup sour cream or nonfat sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup raisins
¼ cup chopped walnuts or chopped toffee coated walnuts

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease and flour (or use baking spray) one 12- cup muffin tin. Set aside.

In a large bowl or on a large sheet of waxed paper, measure out all of the dry ingredients and spices: flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger, nutmeg. Mix together with a fork. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, pumpkin, oil, applesauce, maple syrup, granulated sugar, molasses, sour cream and vanilla.

Put the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture bowl. With as few strokes as possible, combine the wet and dry ingredients. Do not over mix. Fold in the raisins just to distribute.

Fill the muffin cups ¾ full with the batter, dividing evenly among the cups. Sprinkle the tops with the chopped nuts.

Bake in the preheated oven 20 – 25 minutes, or until muffins spring back when the center is gently pressed.

Makes 12.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Foiled Again

If you are wondering what happened to the Feeding My Enthusiasms blog that had lots of baked goods, especially sweet ones, well, it seems that with all the cooking I'm doing for work that there is less baking going on! Check back now and then because there will be some baked goods soon. Actually this post contains a recipe for something baked...baked chicken.

This week I'm cooking at work for three dinners. Usually it is only for one and in the past I've done two dinners when clinic starts, but this week the regular Tuesday dinner is being followed by the Thursday / Friday dinners, with only today in between...and today has been filled with scholarship groups work. When I realized that there were three dinners to make, I had a grand time going through cook books, old magazines and the web looking for just the right things to cook.

For Tuesday I had a request for roasted red potatoes with rosemary and red pepper, so I was looking for an entree that would work well with them. I found a recipe for chicken breasts stuffed with a ricotta and herb mixture, then baked. It sounded just right. I also decided to grill late summer veggies - zucchini, mixed colors of bell peppers, and some crookneck squash, too. I even purchased a Japanese eggplant to grill. (The 'even' is because I don't care for eggplant myself and don't usually cook it either.)

There's a TV show called Modern Marvels which talks about things like plywood and plastic bubble wrap...very informative...but in my book some of the modern marvels to be extolled are kitchen items. One that has gotten a lot of use in the last little while is good old aluminum foil. In this case, heavy duty aluminum foil.

This is were the foil comes in. Let me tell you boys and girls, I used a lot of aluminum foil on Tuesday. The foil kept the cooked chicken warm after it came out of the oven. The foil lined the baking pans that held all of the prepped squash and peppers and eggplant. At first it was for easy and quick cleanup (because I' theory...doing my regular job at the same time I'm cooking, so getting out of the kitchen and back to the office quickly is ideal), but later the foil was a blessing for another reason.

At our house, Sweetie does almost all the grilling. Last week when I mentioned the idea of grilling to my boss, he showed me his gas grill and how to use it....very easy. Unfortunately I discovered after all the squash and peppers and eggplant slices were ready to go on the grill that the grill wasn't working yesterday, so the veggies were cooked under the broiler instead...and the foil made that soooo easy. Didn't have quite the same flavor as grilled veggies, but still quite tasty.

I don't have recipes for the veggies or potatoes; all were cut up, shaken in a plastic bag with some olive oil, laid out on the foil lined pans and sprinkled with salt, pepper and a little garlic salt. The potatoes had the addition of fresh rosemary and diced red pepper added to the bag, so the olive oil coated it all. The potatoes were roasted until done and browned in a 450 degree F. oven. I stirred them well once, about half way through the cooking. The veggies were broiled, turned over about half way through the broiling.

Here is the recipe for the chicken. The chicken really benefited from the cheese and herbs and looked nice when sliced and fanned out, too. This makes a nice entree' for a buffet, too.

From Parties! Menus for Easy Good Times by Melanie Barnard and Brooke Dojny

Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Basil Ricotta

1 1/3 cup ricotta cheese
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup minced scallions, including green tops
1/3 cup slivered fresh basil
1/3 c chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon nutmeg
12 chicken breast halves, about 6 oz each, boneless, with skin intact
3 tablespoon olive oil
Additional salt & pepper

In a mixing bowl, combine the two cheeses, scallions, basil, parsley, salt, pepper & nutmeg. Mix thoroughly. (Can be prepared 2 days in advance.)

Loosen the skin from 1 side of each chicken breast and insert about 1 ½ T of filling under the skin. Smooth skin around the filling and meat, tucking the 2 ends under to form a rounded dome shape.

Place filled chicken breasts side by side, close together, in an oiled 9 by 13 inch baking dish, drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Uncover the chicken and bake in the center of the oven for 35 to 40 minutes, until skin is lightly browned and juices run clear when pierced with a sharp knife Baste once during the cooking time with pan juices. Cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing (Can be baked 2 hours ahead. Hold at cool room temperature.)

Serve warm or at room temperature. Cut each breast crosswise into 3 slices and fan out on a serving platter. Garnish lavishly with basil.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Onions and Fish

Busy, busy week.This time of year is when things seem to start building up...nothing super important in itself, but lots of small things that add up.

Some are great fun, like walking the dog and playing golf. Some are organizational...committee meetings and regular meetings and organizing next Wednesday's meeting.

Sweetie has been working hard to get ready for winter. We both spent a lot of time on Friday digging up the 'floor' of the woodshed...really two layers of decomposing wood well mixed with dirt. That mix was shoveled onto a screen placed over a wheelbarrow to separate out the large bits. The dirt and smaller bits were used as fill on some low spots by the front walk. Then the remaining dirt in the woodshed had to be evened out.

Saturday while I was at a meeting, he put down some plastic pallets and covered them with plywood. Now when we go to get the firewood (neatly stacked in the holder he built) we won't be slogging through mud. He has also spent time during the last week putting in some lights. No more flashlights! It's always fun juggling an armload of firewood and the flashlight. photos.

We have also been watching episodes (via Netflicks) of a British show called 'Foyle's War'. It is set in Hasting during World War II. Foyle is the chief Inspector of the police and solves crimes, including murders. It also gives an authentic, well=researched view of life for all classes of people during the war.

In a recent episode, there was a raffle for a large, beautiful yellow onion. It is hard to imagine paying for raffle tickets for an onion of all things! Many foodstuffs were rationed or just plain unavailable. When a neighbor brought over some yellow onions, fresh from the garden and still with soil clinging to them, I had to photograph them. Then, of course, I had to cook with them.

Tonight's supper was a warm and filling Salmon Chowder. The yellow onion, plus some other veggies, forms the flavor base for the chowder. It is a fairly quick and easy soup, aside from some chopping. The potatoes can be boiling while you saute' the onions, celery, carrots and mushrooms. If you have some, you can also add some corn toward the end. Although the day was warm, the fog rolled in by evening, so this chowder was a treat. If it's too hot or it where you live, bookmark it for late fall or even the winter.

Sweetie cooked the salmon fillet about half way on the barbecue yesterday, then put it in the fridge. If you have leftover salmon that is fully cooked, the meal will go together even faster because once you add the fish, all you do is heat it through and serve. The photo was taken after dark and is not the best quality, but you can see that is has lots of good things in it. I made it up as I went along.

Salmon Chowder

2 tablespoons olive or grapeseed oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
½ cup sliced mushrooms
1 can low fat evaporated milk
¼ cup half and half or whole milk
¼ teaspoon oregano
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon (or more, to taste) cracked black pepper
2-3 medium baking potatoes, washed, quartered and sliced in ½ inch slices
1 salmon fillet, about ¾ pound, grilled part way, skin removed

In a large pot, saute’ the vegetables in the olive oil until the onions are translucent. Add the evaporated milk and the whole milk or half and half. Stir to scrape up any browned bits. Add the oregano, thyme, and pepper. Stir.

Meanwhile, boil the potatoes in another pot, with just enough water to cover, until tender when pierced with the point of a knife. When tender, use a large spoon to scoop the potato slices into the pot with the mil and vegetables. It’s OK if some of the potato water goes into the pot, too. Discard the rest of the potato water or use for bread baking.

Take the salmon fillet and cut into bite sized pieces. If the salmon has been cooked fully, break the fish into large chunks. Add salmon to the pot, stir, and heat through, making sure the salmon simmers long enough in the chowder to finish any cooking needed. Taste for more pepper or for salt.

Serve hot. Serves 3 - 4.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Melty Cheese

I love things with melted, gooey, warm and runny cheese. Grilled cheese sandwiches come to mind. Pizza, too. Even a slice of good bread, topped with cheese and run under the broiler can be real comfort food.

The other day I saw a recipe by Donna Hay that Patricia had posted on her blog Technicolor Kitchen that sounded SOOOOO good, particularly because it had a layer of melted cheese sandwiched between two layers of polenta. I knew I had to try it. Thanks Patricia!

I decided to make some pasta sauce to go along with the Polenta with Cheese and Basil. I had a pound of Willy Bird's ground turkey, so half was devoted to the pasta sauce, along with some very seasonal zucchini.

Half of the turkey was browned and made into a pot of chili. Since I regularly use packaged chili mix for the seasonings and canned kidney beans and tomato sauce, too, I’m not including a recipe for the chili. The secret of making it taste like “home made” is to simmer it for a long time, stirring frequently. Making it a day or so before you plan to eat it is great, too. Kept in the refrigerator, then re-heated, the flavors get even better.

The second half of the pound of ground turkey went into my favorite pasta sauce. The recipe was previously posted here.

Both the chili and the pasta sauce ended up in the fridge and were eaten this weekend. The polenta recipe needs to be made ahead by at least an hour because it needs to chill, too.

Usually I change something significant about a recipe, but this time I just used less butter and used regular instead of instant polenta. This polenta, a whole grain, was purchased at the Bale Grist Mill in the Napa area. I had enjoyed watching them use the huge mill stones to grind the dried corn into the coarse polenta, so eating this particular polenta was a double treat.

Regular polenta needs to be cooked longer than the instant polenta. I simmered mine ten minutes or more, stirring frequently to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning. The cooked polenta was thick and had little darker flecks as the corn had dried with some darker bits. It made a nice, firm cake to cut and grill in my trusty cast iron skillet. I used a round 9 inch cake pan, lined with foil, instead of a square pan.

The fresh basil leaves added a nice jolt of flavor that went so well with the tomato based pasta sauce. The mozzarella cheese in the middle melted ... mmmm, melty cheese! ... so there were lots of great textures and flavors going in this dish.

You could also serve this grilled polenta by itself, as a side dish with some pan fried chops or grilled chicken breasts, or garnished with some pesto sauce.

Here is the recipe for the polenta with cheese and basil:

Grilled Cheese and Basil Polenta
A Donna Hay (#40) recipe as posted on Technicolor Kitchen blog

3 cups (750ml) water
1 cup (170g) instant polenta (I used an equal amount of regular polenta)
60g butter, chopped (I only used a tablespoon of butter)
½ cup (50g) finely grated parmesan
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup basil leaves
2 cups (200g) grated mozzarella*
olive oil, for brushing

Place water in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to the boil. Gradually whisk in the polenta and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes or until thickened. Remove from the heat and stir through the butter, parmesan, salt and pepper. Pour half of the polenta into a 20cm square pan lined with non-stick baking paper (I used foil) and spread to smooth. Top with the basil, mozzarella and remaining polenta. Refrigerate for 45 minutes or until set.
Cut into squares/rectangles and brush with oil. Heat a char-grill pan or barbecue over high heat. (I used my cast iron skillet, well heated) Cook the polenta for 3-4 minutes each side or until golden and the cheese has melted.

Serve topped with a generous serving of the pasta sauce or a ragu of your choice. A nice green salad completes the meal.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Heat Bound

When the blizzards come in the winter in the snowier parts of the world, people become snow bound...forced by the cold to stay home where it is warm.

During this past week, the heat has broken records around here in the North Bay near San Francisco, climbing each day near or past 100 degrees. Today we got out early and walked the dog and went to the hardware store, but once we got home I decided that I was going to be heat bound. The night cooled our concrete floor enough that the closed up main floor stayed cool through lunch time. Now the air conditioner is on, but at the Smart Cool setting. No baking today!

Instead of baking, I made some pancakes for breakfast, topped with perfectly ripe, juicy peach chunks. I added some nutmeg to the batter since nutmeg and peaches have a true affinity for each other. Since we had gone out early without breakfast, I decided that using the low fat biscuit mix to make the pancakes was OK...I was already pretty hungry after all the errands and didn't want to take the time to measure out a lot of dry ingredients. I used egg substitute and skim milk, too. Some rolled oats whirled in the blender to flour added a little fiber and gave the pancakes a nice texture. They were delicious with the peaches.

In the afternoon Sweetie and I hung the eight pieces of watercolor I've painted that I feel are worthy of being hung. Wednesday I matted and framed seven of them. The last one had been in the group show in the summer, so it was ready to hang. Today Sweetie added eye hooks and picture wire to the ones that needed it.

Here is how it looked as we began. The wall is the unbroken hallway wall that leads from the front entry to the living room.

Here is a shot taken after most were hung. These are closer to the front door.
Here is a shot taken of the group closer to the living room.
When there was only one left, I realized that the painting of my daughter would look better in the living room under a photo taken by her grandfather, so where that painting had hung we substituted a painting of a vista in fall. The view was from a photograph I took from a winery's deck, looking off over the Dry Creek valley in Sonoma County.

It's pretty heady seeing a wall filled with paintings I have created...and ones that I'm OK with hanging. I still think that they all are far from great works of art, but they are decent works, and I had fun making them.

It's supposed to be really hot tomorrow, too. Wonder what I can find to do to keep busy? If it turns out to be interesting, I'll let you know.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Coobook Corner Cake

One of the things about not feeling well, as long as you avoid the dreaded stomach flu, is that you have lots of time to read through cookbooks. There are old favorites that I haven't look at for a long time that ended up on the bedside table. Time for Cookbook Corner.

I even found a recipe that was simple enough for the Labor Day weekend and took advantage of some of the ripe blackberries on the monster berry patch that has overtaken the chicken coop. We've never had chickens...Sweetie had enough of that in the Peace Corps according to him...but there was one already built when we moved in. The kids used to use it as a sort of playhouse once I cleaned it out, but for years it has resembled Sleeping Beauty's castle...covered with briars. That means lots of blackberries, but most are out of reach.

The recipe started out as Peach Cake in the Silver Palate Cookbook written by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins in 1979. The Silver Palate was a specialty food store in New York. The idea behind it was to have "simple food prepared in a special way" for working women, bachelors, families to stop in and pick up for a meal, a picnic, or as part of their own feast or entertaining. Since it's been forever since I was in New York, it might still be there...who knows?...but the book is still full of interesting recipes.

This is a single layer simple cake covered with fresh fruit and a sugary, buttery, spiced nut topping and baked in a cast iron skillet. I changed peaches to blackberries and jazzed the topping up a bit. It is good the same day and was even better for breakfast the next day. I served it as is, with just a few more blackberries on the side, but I'm sure it would benefit from a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream, too. If you prefer to make it with peaches (or nectarines or plums) the original recipe calls for 3 ripe peaches, peeled and slice.

Simple Cake with Blackberries

4 tablespoons sweet butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoons alt
1/4 cup milk
1 pint fresh blackberries, washed, drained and picked over

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter well a heavy 9-inch skillet that can go in the oven.
Cream butter and sugar until light. Beat in egg. Scrape beater and bowl.
Sift dry ingredients together. Beat half into creamed mixture, beat in half of the milk, Repeat, beating well.
Pour batter into prepared skillet. Arrange blackberries on top of batter...a pint pretty much covers the top.

Bake for 25 minutes. While cake bakes, prepare the topping.

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 cup finely chopped toasted pecans
4 tablespoons sweet butter

Cut ingredients for topping together in a small bowl with a fork.

Here is how the cake looks after it has baked 25 minutes but before the topping goes on:

After cake has baked for 25 minutes, open oven and quickly crumble topping over blackberries.
Close oven and bake for another 8 minutes, or until cake is firm and has pulled away from edges of the skillet.

Doesn't that look yummy!?
Serve warm or cooled. More fruit, ice cream, and/or whipped cream can accompany slices of this cake.