For The Love Of Honeybees

I am a stitcher.  For you non-stitchers that means I needlepoint.  If you know anything about needlepoint, depending on the size and complexity of the canvas and the stitches you choose, you spend what seems like countless hours creating your personal work of art.  Last Fall I stitched a smaller canvas that was a tea cup with the caption “Tea For My Honey”.  When you spend so much time stitching a canvas it gives you a lot of time to think not only about the technical parts of stitching, counting, compensating, etc., but why you picked that canvas and why you love it.  When I selected the tea cup canvas, I thought is was beautiful, but I have always liked honeybees so this seemed one that would suit me.  After I finished the tea cup canvas, I selected a canvas of a Beehive – a little bigger and more ambitious – but I loved the idea of the honeybees flying in and out of the hive in their life’s work of making the rich, golden confection of honey, not only for themselves, but for us to enjoy too.  This got me to thinking that I didn’t really know that much about honeybees and I wanted to learn more.

 

On my quest to learn about honeybees, one day I was at my favorite nursery in the Hamptons, Marders, and the woman who was helping me was wearing a pin that said she was a beekeeper.  I was in luck!  A real person to ask about honeybees!  I learned a lot from our short discussion, but the most interesting thing that I took away from it was how responsible we humans are for the survival of the honeybee population, or its extinction.  Here are a few facts about honeybees and what we can do:

 

  • A 2010-11 honeybee survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Apiary Inspectors of America reported a 38.4-percent winter honeybee loss. The average yearly loss of honeybees has been about 30 percent, and the decline is steady.  We now have the fewest honeybees since 1950.
  • We can propagate the plants that honeybees love and need to survive. Honeybees will travel up to six miles from their hives on foraging trips. They look for a few things on these trips. Like almost all living creatures, honeybees need fresh water to survive. They drink water and store it in their hives for later use. You can help honeybees by placing a birdbath or shallow container with some rocks or seashells in the bottom so honeybees can rest on them while they have a drink. If you see honeybees in your pool filter, this means they are using your chlorinated pool water as their water source. It would be better to provide a supply of fresh water instead.
  • The main source of energy for honeybees is nectar, a liquefied natural sugar. Honeybees gather nectar from flowers and make it into honey. Each worker bee makes about one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in her entire lifetime, which is only about six weeks. Honeybees will travel 55,000 miles and visit almost two million flowers to make just one pound of honey.
  • Besides providing honeybees with food and water, a very important thing you can do for them is to stop using pesticides. Pesticides are poison and do not discriminate; they kill the good bugs and the bad ones.
  • Honeybees need food in the winter, and plants that flower late in the fall give them one last chance to gather food for the cold winter months. Asters, autumn-flowering crocus and clematis, sedum, and Shasta daisies provide a variety of food choices for honeybees in the fall.

There are many responsible beekeepers dedicated  to small-scale beekeeping using sensitive, non-invasive care to promote the honeybee’s survival.  There are a couple of such beekeeping operation is here in the Hamptons. “Bees’ Needs” in Sag Harbor and can be found at http://www.newyorkmouth.com/products/bees-needs-early-summer-honey.

The other is East End Apiaries with Robin Blackley as the beekeeper. Robin Blackley of East End ApiariesRobin is a regular at the various farmers markets here on the East End of Long Island and is a great source of information about bees and their production of honey. Visit her website and read all about her Adopt-a-Hive Program. East End Apiaries

 

Now each morning when I have my english muffin with honey, it reminds me to thank our Creator for these smallest of creatures and the sweetness of their labors.

 

 

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A Perfect Setting for the Waldorf

If I had to rank my favorite holidays, Thanksgiving would be No. 1 and Easter No. 2.  Easter is right up there because I have very happy childhood memories of it being about Spring, new shoes and a dress for church, Easter baskets and the occasional chick or rabbit to raise until it was time to find them their permanent home.  Today, it is about having family and friends together to enjoy a meal to celebrate the freshness of Spring and a wonderful time of renewal that Spring brings us.

 

Most of our family dinners are very casual, but Easter is different.  It’s time to break out the good stuff – china, silver, crystal, linens and champagne.  I love a beautiful table setting…it is a feast for the eyes and a worthy destination for all of the delicious and thoughtfully prepared food for the Easter gathering.  I had a big surprise this year though.  My husband, Howie, said “he” wanted to set the table this year.  My first thought was, he will ask me a thousand questions about where everything goes, but ok.  I was wrong.  He did his research about formally set tables on the internet and set to work.  As he placed the different pieces, he would continually consult his research diagram and go back to work.  I was too busy cooking to go and check on his progress, so I waited until I was “invited” to survey his work.  It was perfect!  He instructed me on where the champagne glass was to be placed and the proper angle of the butter knife on the bread plate.  I couldn’t wait to sit down and enjoy such a thoughtful Easter present from him.

 

 

Now I needed to serve something that was elegant enough for such a table.  My friend Kathy had shared her Easter menu with me and one of her dishes caught my eye.  Waldorf  Salad.  I was trying to decide on another side dish, something cold and fresh, but I’m not a big fan of Waldorf Salad, but Howie loves it.  Okay, Waldorf Salad it is.

 

The history of Waldorf salad is a famous one.  It was developed by the maitre d’hotel at the Waldorf Hotel in New York City in 1893.  The salad was so famous that Cole Porter featured it in his song, “You’re The Top” from the musical, “Anything Goes”.  The original recipe does not have nuts in it, but like most recipes, they are tweeked over time.  And that is just what I did.  I liked Kathy’s version because it used greek yogurt as well as mayonnaise which gave it a little bite and a different kind of creaminess.  I added my own touches by toasting the walnuts and I added the raisins and soaked them in Riesling to give the salad a sweet and distinct flavor.  The end result was enthusiastically received as the star of our Easter meal.  I think it is great for any Spring or Summer lunch with the addition of poached chicken to make it a special entree.  Waldorf Salad….You’re The Top!

 

Swanky Waldorf Salad

 

1 1/2 cups diced celery

1 1/2 cups diced Granny Smith apples (unpeeled)

1/2 cup diced McIntosh apple or other red apple (unpeeled)

1/2 cup diced fennel

3/4 cup blond raisins

1/2 to 3/4 cup of riesling wine

1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

2 tbsp lemon juice

3 or 4 tbsp finely chopped fresh Italian parsley

3/4 cup Best Foods Light mayonnaise

3/4 cup plain greek style yogurt (I used Fage Total 2%, which is widely available)

salt & pepper to taste

Soak the raisins in a bowl with the riesling wine for about an hour.  Toast the walnuts in a skillet on the stove and continually stir to make sure they do not burn.  When you can smell the walnuts are toasted IMMEDIATELY remove the nuts from the skillet to a bowl to ensure they do not keep cooking.

 

Combine celery, apples & fennel in a large bowl, toss with the lemon zest & juice.  Drain the raisins.  Add drained raisins, walnuts and parsley.  Combine mayonnaise and yogurt in a bowl and fold about 3/4 of it into the celery and apple mixture,  add the rest if you it needs a bit more.  Cover and allow to sit in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.  This is important to give the time for all the flavors to come together.  Before serving allow to slightly come to room temperature, but is still cold.  Enjoy!

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A Picnic for Breakfast

Growing up I did not like egg yolks…and I still don’t.  My father would indulge me and just make fried egg whites for breakfast.  I don’t mind eggs in prepared dishes, but don’t have that yolk sitting there by itself!  One thing that I made an exception for was deviled eggs!  Deviled eggs were a staple at every picnic, church social and 4th of July holiday and were always the first thing to be snapped up.

 

Breakfast can get a little boring and you don’t always get enough protein.  I started to keep an supply of hard boiled eggs in our refrigerator for us.  I don’t boil eggs often so I did a little research on how to boil the perfect hard boiled egg.  Believe it or not, there actually is a trick to getting the shells to slip right off and it all has to do with the cooking method.  First, place all the eggs you want to boil in a pot and cover with cold water.  Bring the water to a boil and then cover the pot and turn the heat off immediately.  Let the eggs sit in the hot water for 17 minutes.  Then drain the water and use a wooden spoon to tap the egg just to crack the shell slightly.  Then put the eggs in a bowl and cover with ice to chill the eggs in the refrigerator with the ice covering them and let the ice completely melt.  This is the part that helps the shells come off easier when you peal them.  The cooking time doesn’t vary with the number of eggs you boil.

 

Every time I had my egg white for breakfast I looked at the lonely egg yolk in the trash and thought what a waste it was when there is such good nutrition in the yolk (take a look at my blog “Eggs Help You Lose Weight???  Who Would Have Thunk?”. One morning I thought, I’m going to make myself a deviled egg for breakfast!  I just take a small ramkin as my bowl for the egg yolk and smash the yolk with a fork.  Then I add a small amount of low fat mayonnaise and a little pickle relish, a pinch of salt and pepper and combine it with the egg yolk to a creamy consistency and stuff the egg white halves and dust with a little paprika – instant deviled egg!  I takes just minutes to prepare and its like a summer picnic every morning with great nutrition to boot!

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A Taste Of Thai With A Crunchy Pal

In Los Angeles we have so many different kinds of ethnic cuisines, you get spoiled having almost anything you want readily available not too far from where you live.  It also serves as an inspiration to try different things in my kitchen to see if I can “get it right” with the technique and spices.

 

I have been thinking about making something with a Thai influence, but not too involved. I came up with a Thai Scallop & Shrimp Curry.  It is so flavorful and can be easily made for a quick week night dinner.  As with all stir fry dishes, it does require some chopping, which takes the most time, but I try to do it in advance in the morning so I can throw it together when we are ready to eat.  I shared this recipe with my friend Jim to try.  He improvised and added a few ingredients of his own, asparagus and Hungarian Peppers, to make it a one pot dish, and he said it was the best seafood stir fry he had ever eaten!  

 

I also try to figure out what a great complement would be to a main dish like my Thai curry.  In coming up with one for this meal, I wanted a side dish that was crunchy and fresh.  My Tomato, Mixed Sprouts and Cucumber Salad was just that – a healthy and refreshing pal to the Thai Scallop & Shrimp Curry.  It is also great with indian curries as well.

 

So, take a trip to Thailand in your kitchen!

 

Thai Scallop & Shrimp Curry

 

Ingredients

  • 3 large limes
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 cup chopped shallots
  • 1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch dice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste (such as Thai Kitchen brand)
  • 1 13 1/2- to 14-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)
  • 16 to 18 oz. sea scallops
  •  10 oz. peeled deveined uncooked large shrimp
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
  • Salt & pepper
  • Cayenne pepper (if desired)

 

Finely grate enough peel from 2 limes to measure 11/2 teaspoons. Squeeze enough juice from 2 limes to measure 2 tablespoons. Cut third lime into wedges.

 

Heat vegetable oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add chopped shallots, diced red bell pepper, and minced ginger and garlic; sauté until shallots are tender and peppers soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in curry paste, coconut milk, fish sauce, 11/2 teaspoons lime peel, and 2 tablespoons lime juice. Simmer gently, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle scallops and shrimp with salt and pepper. In a separate skillet, sear the scallops on both sides and then add along with the shrimp to curry sauce. Return to very gentle simmer and cook just until scallops and shrimp are opaque in center, 5 to 6 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and cayenne for a extra kick if you like. Gently stir in cilantro and basil; serve over basmati rice with lime wedges.

 

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Tomato, Mixed Sprouts and Cucumber Salad

 

Ingredients

  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 ¼ lb. mixed fresh sprouted beans and lentils (can usually get them at Whole Foods), can also use edamame along with the other sprouted beans
  • 1 small red onion, very finely diced
  • 1/3 cup grated carrots
  • 1/3 cup diced red peppers
  • 4 small persian cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 to 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • Juice of 1 or two lemons (depending on your taste)
  • 1 ½ tsp toasted cumin seeds
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh mint
  • Salt & pepper

 

 

Place the tomatoes, sprouts, red onion, carrots, red peppers & cucumber in mixing bowl.  Mix together the olive oil, lemon juice and cumin seeds and pour over the salad.  Stir in the chopped herbs and season well with salt & pepper.  That’s it!

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A Tale of Two Soups

Ok, so this is my third blog in a row about soup.  I guess you can tell how much I like it. Especially in the winter, there is something so homey to have a pot of soup simmering on the stove. My first soup is one that you make from scratch, Green Split Pea.  The second soup is a lazy cooks version of Creamy Tomato Bisque.

 

Split peas are a great source of protein and are also very lean and healthy.  The split pea is known to be a natural food source that contains some of the highest amounts of fiber which is known to help the digestive system and to make people feel full and satiated.  So there is a reason your mother told you to always eat your peas!  This soup has a couple of important ingredients that you won’t find in most recipes.  Cayenne pepper – a good dose of cayenne pepper, just enough to give the soup a little zing.  Cloves – a dash of ground cloves really enhances the flavor of the soup.  Grains of Paradise – also known as Guinea or Melequeta Pepper.  Grains of Paradise are the seeds of a pyramid-shaped pod grown primarily on the coast of West Africa. A relative of cardamom, they have a peppery taste with a lingering heat.  You grind the Grains of Paradise just like you do freshly ground black peppercorns and are a good substitute for ground black pepper when you want a more subtle pepper flavor.  Check out “My Spice Cabinet” to see where you can find Grains of Paradise.  If you can’t find them or don’t want to go to the trouble, just substitute a little ground cardamom and freshly ground black pepper.

 

My friend, Marjorie, shared with me her recipe for roasted tomato soup.  I made it this summer when tomatoes were plentiful and full of sun-ripend flavor.  In the winter it is hard to find tomatoes that taste like anything, so I decided to cheat and make a Creamy Tomato Bisque Soup using canned soup with my own additions.  I used Amy’s Organic Soups Chunky Tomato Bisque which on its own is a little sweet for me.  I added several things to the soup that got it to the flavor I was looking for.  Balsamic vinegar and red wine vinegar – the balsamic vinegar gives the soup a deeper tomato taste and the red wine vinegar brightens up the flavor and reduces the “sweet” taste somewhat.   San Marzano tomato paste – this comes in a tube and it only takes a little to give it a sun-ripend tomato flavor. Cayenne pepper – just to make it a little sassy.  Fresh thyme – I think basil is “expected” and thyme is a little more subtle.

 

I hope that you will give them a try for a easy and pleasing lunch or dinner for your family and friends.

 

Green Split Pea Soup

1 lb. green split peas

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped onion

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 ham shanks (about 2 or 3 lbs.)

1 large potato, peeled & diced

8 cups chicken broth

2 bay leaves

1/4 cup creme fraiche

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Dash of ground cloves

Salt and ground black pepper to taste or use combination of freshly ground black pepper and freshly ground Grains of Paradise.

 

Rinse  peas.  In a heavy dutch oven, saute celery, onion and garlic in olive oil until onion is tender but not browned.  Add rinsed peas, ham shanks, potato, ground black pepper and/or ground Grains of Paradise, chicken broth and bay leaves.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat.  Cover and simmer until peas are very tender, about 1 hour.  Remove and discard bay leaves.  Remove ham shanks, allow to cool and cut the meat from the bones and discard the bones.  Dice the meat and set aside.  Puree the soup with an immersion blender or in the food processor and return to pot.  Stir in meat and creme fraiche.  Cook over medium heat about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.  Check for salt (broth and ham shanks have salt in them so don’t add any salt until the end of the cooking process) and add cayenne pepper, start with a little less than 1/4 tsp. and check for heat before adding more – to your taste.  Serves 6 to 8.

 

Creamy Tomato Bisque Soup

 

1 large onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tbsp. olive oil

4 cans Amy’s Organic Soups – Chunky Tomato Bisque

1 tbsp. San Marzano tomato paste

1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, chopped

1 tbsp. good balsamic vinegar

2 tbsp. red wine vinegar

2 or 3 dashes of tabasco sauce

1/4 cup creme fraiche

Cayenne pepper, just a dash or to your taste

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

 

In a large pot, saute onions and garlic in olive oil until the onions are tender, not brown.  Add all 4 cans of soup to onions and garlic along with tomato paste, chopped thyme leaves, balsamic and red wine vinegars and tabasco.  Bring to a simmer and cook, covered for 30 minutes.  Use immersion blender or food processor to puree the soup.  Add creme fraiche, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.  Add a few dashs, or more if desired, of cayenne pepper.  Serve in bowls with a crostini with a spread of goat cheese floating on the top.

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Go Wild – Mushroom Soup, That Is

When I was growing up in Tennessee, the only soup I knew existed was Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup.  I loved the little pieces of mushroom and the creamy consistency.  I don’t think I ever saw a fresh mushroom until my late teens or early 20’s – hard to imagine these days.  Anyway, I love mushrooms and always look to see if the grocery store has some of the more exotic varieties, usually in the Fall.

 

A couple of weeks ago while we were in the Hamptons, I was thrilled to see a great variety of wild mushrooms.  I had no idea what I was going to do with them, but I purchased almost every thing they had.  When I got home, I went through my recipes and then it dawned on me.  How about making a cream of wild mushroom soup?  I developed this recipe years ago and it tastes just as good with the button or cremini mushrooms.  So if you don’t have any fresh wild mushrooms, dried ones when reconstituted are a great addition as well.  This recipe calls for dried morel or porcini mushrooms since fresh ones are hard to find.  Make sure to add the Madeira – it gives it a deep flavor that is a great complement to the earthiness of the mushrooms.

 

So take it from my sous chef, Wallis, this is a warm treat on a cold winter night!

 

 

 

 

 

Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup

 

1 – 1/2 oz. dried morel or porcini mushrooms

7 cups chicken broth

6 tbsp. unsalted butter

5 cloves garlic, minced

10 – 14 oz. fresh wild mushrooms (oyster, chanterelles, shitake, trumpet) or button mushrooms, chopped

2 leeks (white part only) thinly sliced

2 medium shallots, thinly sliced

7 tbsp. all purpose flour

3 parsley sprigs

3 fresh thyme sprigs

2 bay leaves

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 tbsp. Madeira

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Freshly ground pepper

 

Place the dried mushrooms in a large bowl.  Bring the chicken broth to a boil and pour over the dried mushrooms.  Set aside to rehydrate for about 20 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the mushrooms and reserve the broth.  Rough chop the mushrooms and strain the broth in case there is any grit from the mushrooms.

 

Heat the butter in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Add the fresh chopped mushrooms and the rehydrated chopped mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and somewhat dry, about 5 or 6 minutes.

 

Add the leeks, shallots and garlic and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 4 minutes.  Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or more.

 

Pour in the reserved mushroom/chicken broth, and bring to a boil while whisking constantly.  Tie the parsley sprigs, fresh thyme and bay leaves together with a piece of kitchen twine and add to the soup.  Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat, and discard the herb bundle.  Use an immersion blender to puree the soup or working in batches, puree in a food processor until smooth.  Return the soup to the pot and heat over medium heat.

 

Whisk in the heavy cream, Madeira, salt, cayenne pepper and freshly ground pepper to taste.  Serves 4 to 6.

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Welcoming Fall with a Steaming Bowl of Soup

Fall is my favorite time of year.  I love the cold crisp morning air, wearing heavy sweaters and boots and the smell of autumn leaves and damp soil in the sunlight.  Fall also gets me in the soup cooking mood.  Like any other time of year, there are certain foods that just are right for the season.  While I was surfing around on my iPad a couple of days ago, I saw a recipe for Butternut Squash Soup with Sherry that looked interesting.  I went to the grocery store and bought all the ingredients, but for some reason I held off on making the soup for a few days.  In the back of my mind, I felt like the recipe was missing something and I needed to figure that out before I launched off to make my pot of soup.

 

After doing some research of other Butternut Squash Soup recipes, I finally decided what I needed to add to this recipe to give it a more earthy, less “pumpkin pieish” flavor. There are a couple of ingredients in my soup recipe that should not be skipped, otherwise it will not have that “walked in the woods” feel to your meal.  First, don’t skip the Sherry – Sherry adds a depth of flavor to the soup.  I personally like to drink Sherry, so I always have a very good bottle on hand.  If you don’t have Sherry at home, many liquor stores sell very small bottles of good Sherry that will be perfectly fine for your soup. Second, don’t substitute sour cream for the creme fraiche. Creme fraiche has such a unique texture and distinct taste – I think about it as somewhere between sour cream and marcapone cheese.  If you can’t find it at your grocery store, then use real sour cream, not light or fat free.  The creme fraiche gives the finished soup a silkiness and a little “sour” bite.  Lastly, just a little pinch of cayenne pepper gives the soup a little lift.

 

This soup is easy and quick to make.  A handheld immersion blender is the best invention for soups like this.  If you don’t have one, just puree it in a couple of batches in a food processor – the result will be the same.   So, set the table, open a bottle of red wine, and serve this Creamy Butternut Squash Soup with Sherry with some warm crusty bread for a delicious Fall meal with someone special.

 

Creamy Butternut Squash Soup with Sherry

 

3 tbsp unsalted butter

2 large leeks, white and light green part only, chopped

1 large carrot, peeled and diced

1 large celery stalk, diced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 4 to 4 1/2 lb. butternut squash, peeled and cubed

1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp. salt, more to taste at the end of the cooking process

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped

3 tbsp dry sherry

1 quart chicken stock

1/2 cup or slightly  more Fat Free Half & Half

3 tbsp creme fraiche

Pinch of cayenne pepper (more if you like a little more of a “kick”)

 

Melt the butter in a large stockpot/dutch oven over medium-low heat.  Add the leek, carrot, celery and garlic and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until softened – about 5 – 8 minutes.  Do not let brown.

 

Add the squash, nutmeg, pepper and 1/2 tsp salt and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add the sherry and cook for a couple of minutes to reduce, then add enough of the chicken stock just to cover the squash and the thyme.

 

Increase the heat to high and bring the soup to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for about 20 or 30 minutes, or until the squash is tender.

 

Using a handheld immersion blender puree soup in the stockpot/dutch oven until smooth.  If using a food processor, puree soup in batches and return to pot.  Return to a simmer, add the Fat Free Half and Half, taste for salt and pepper.  Stir in 2 – 3 tbsp of creme fraiche and add a pinch of cayenne pepper.  Adjust for salt and pepper if needed.  Serve with  a small drizzle of creme fraiche to garnish each bowl if you like.  Serves 4 to 6.

 

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Salmon or Halibut with A Little Surprise

Every time we go out for dinner I always order fish.  I love fish, but I have never really been good at cooking fish at home.  It seemed my lack of fish cooking skills wasn’t a good enough reason to wait to eat fish so I decided that I had to learn how to cook it at home.

 

Living on the West Coast we have so much wonderful seafood and fish to choose from.   My first decision was what fish to start with.  My husband, Howie, likes salmon so that was my first experiment.  I “interviewed” Howie to find out how he liked his fish prepared.  He said that he liked a good “crust” on it.   I thought about it for a while and realized what he was describing was a good sear on the fish.  Being from the South, the way you get a good pan sear on anything is with a black cast iron skillet.  So off to the fish store to get two salmon fillets.

 

After a few tries, here is the secret to my pan seared salmon.  First I rub each salmon fillet (I usually have the skin removed when I purchase it to reduce amount of oil in the cooking process) with olive oil and give them a liberal sprinkle with kosher salt and ground pepper.  I preheat my oven to about 450 degrees while I heat my cast iron skillet on top of the stove until it is very hot.  Once the skillet is very hot, I place the salmon with the seasoned side down and let it cook on the top of the stove for about 2 or 3 minutes and then put it in the oven for about another 10 minutes or so.  Depending on if you like your fish cooked through, maybe a more time or little less time if you like it rare inside.  This is where some experience comes in because depending on the thickness of the fish, you may need to cook it longer or not quite so long.  DO NOT turn the fish during the cooking process – let that wonderful crust develop.  This is a great technique for any firm flesh fish such as halibut.

 

While pan seared fish is good, it needed a little something to give it a restaurant quality dish.  What I usually look for when I order fish out is an interesting texture and flavor combination to give the dish that extra something.  My friend, Marjorie, sent me a recipe that she found for halibut with summer vegetables.  It sounded great so I decided to do my own version which was a tremendous hit with Howie.  I hope you enjoy it!

 

Pan Seared Halibut or Salmon with Summer Vegetables

 

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp good balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves

Kosher salt and pepper

2 tbsp unsalted butter

4 halibut or salmon fillets, about 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick

2 tbsp lemon juice

2 shallots thinly sliced

6 baby zucchini, quartered lengthwise

1/4 tsp or a little more to taste of ground cumin

1 pinch of cayenne pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  In a bowl, toss the tomatoes with the olive oil, vinegar and thyme.  Arrange the tomatoes on a baking sheet cut side up and season with salt and pepper.  Bake the tomatoes for 45 minutes, until slightly dried.

In a cast iron skillet, “pan sear” the halibut or salmon as described above.

In a large skillet, melt 2 tbsp butter and cook shallots over moderate heat until they start to slightly brown.  Add the zucchini, cherry tomatoes, lemon juice and cumin and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until the zucchini is just cooked through.  Season with salt and pepper and a pinch of cayenne pepper.

 

Spoon the zucchini and tomatoes on each plate and place halibut or salmon fillet on top of the vegetables and serve!


 

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What To Do With All Those Tomatoes? Marinara Caprese Style!

Fresh tomatoes are the best gift of summer.  As a small girl, I spent many summers with my grandmother at her house in the country.  For lunch she would go out to her garden and pick a big ripe tomato and make us a tomato sandwich with swiss cheese and mayonnaise.  I can still taste the sweet ripe tomato warmed from the sun.  Ever since then, I always look forward to the variety of fresh tomatoes available in the summer.

 

This year our landscape designer, Jill Harris, built a square foot garden where I could grow my favorite summer vegetables.  It is amazing how much such a small area can produce.  In my garden this year I had 3 different types of tomatoes– San Marzano, roma and yellow cherry tomatoes as well as several basil plants.  Usually I pick only enough to eat for that day.  Today the tomatoes seemed to be growing at an accelerated pace and the basil was starting to seed.  All of the sudden I had A LOT that needed to be harvested.  So what was I going to do with all those tomatoes, especially the little cherry tomatoes?  Jill suggested making a tomato sauce. I also had a few heirloom tomatoes that someone had given me last week that were too soft for a salad so they were candidates for my sauce.

 

I haven’t made a marinara sauce before from scratch with fresh tomatoes.   I decided to experiment by using lots of fresh fragrant basil from my garden.  Most marinara recipes have you peel the tomatoes before you chop them.  I didn’t have any interest in peeling the tomatoes.  With all the cherry tomatoes, it just wasn’t practical so I put all the tomatoes in the sauce with the skins on.  The real secret to this sauce is the balsamic vinegar and touch of red wine vinegar.  With all of the sweet tomatoes, the fresh basil and the vinegars, the finished sauce reminds you of a caprese salad, except with a little kick (the red pepper flakes).  The sauce takes a little time to prepare.  It took me a little over an hour to the final cooked sauce.  I think it is best if you let it sit a while before it is served so that the flavors fully develop.  My Marinara Caprese Style is perfect just over linguine or you can add slices of grilled chicken breast or grilled shrimp.  It makes a lot so there is plenty to put in jars for another day or to share with a friend. 

 

Marinara Caprese Style

 

1/4 cup good olive oil

2 large onions, chopped

8 –  10 cloves of garlic, minced

4 lbs. or so of fresh tomatoes – a mix of heirloom, roma, yellow cherry tomatoes or whatever is available

1/2 cup fresh basil, julienned

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 tsp. sugar

2 bay leaves

3 tbsp. tomato paste (preferably San Marzano brand in a tube)

2 tsp. very good balsamic vinegar

1 tsp. red wine vinegar

1 tsp. red pepper flakes, or to taste

salt and pepper

 

Sauteed Onions and Garlic

In a large dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Saute the onions and garlic together over medium or medium low heat until translucent and soft, about 5 to 10 minutes.

 

Chop the tomatoes and half the cherry tomatoes.  When onions and garlic are cooked down, add all the tomatoes, basil, oregano, sugar, tomato paste, bay leaves and salt and pepper.  Cook over medium heat and stir frequently, breaking up the tomatoes as they cook down.  When tomatoes start to break down, stir in the balsamic and red wine vinegar and red pepper flakes and continue cooking for about 45 minutes to an hour.  Taste to check for salt and pepper and whether more vinegar is needed based on your preference.

Marinara Caprese Style

The sauce will be a little chunky and will have some tomato skins, so to smooth it out, use an immersion blender to break the sauce up or put in a food processor and pulse a few times to your desired consistency.

 

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A Cure for the Summer Grilling Blues

Grilling is the culinary rite of summer.  As the summer progresses, it is hard to come up with new and tasty ways of grilling your favorite foods.  My goal in the summer is to not have to cook anything on the stove, so it has pushed me to be more creative on the grill.

 

One of the easiest ways to add more flavor to a recipe is a marinade.  Marinades can be simple or elaborate – I always opt for simple.  One of the simple marinades that I have developed that adds big flavor is a Sherry Vinegar marinade.  This marinade is great because most of the ingredients are staples usually in your pantry, refrigerator and in your herb garden.  I have used my Sherry Vinegar marinade with chicken or shrimp with rave results from family and friends.  Sherry Vinegar is not widely used, but has such a depth of flavor that once you start to cook with it red wine vinaigrettes may become a thing of the past for you.

 

An updated version of a standard side dish to your grilling menu makes your meal a little more interesting.  Being from the South I love slaw, but it can be a bit “mayonnaisee” or heavy and doesn’t hold up well in the heat.  I have experimented with several variations of slaw recipes and finally landed on one that delivers great crunch and big, bold flavor – Green Onion Slaw.  The secret to this slaw is the dressing.  It is best if you make it fresh, but works just as well if refrigerated for a day or two before you use it.  When you look at the recipe don’t be turned off by the two Serrano chilies.  The chilies give it just a little kick without a lot of heat – trust me on this one.  Also, this slaw is not only delicious it is a beautiful addition to any grilled menu and table.

 

So if you have the summer grilling blues, give my Sherry Vinegar Marinated Chicken and Green Onion Slaw a try!

 

Sherry Vinegar Marinated Chicken

 

3 tablespoons aged sherry vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts pounded thin or 1 pound of extra jumbo shrimp shelled and deveined

Salt and pepper

 

Whisk together vinegar, mustard, garlic, olive oil and thyme in a bowl.  Put chicken breasts or shrimp in a gallon plastic bag and pour marinade over the chicken or shrimp.  Seal tight and coat chicken or shrimp with the marinade and refrigerate for 1 hour.

 

Heat grill to medium high.  Remove chicken or shrimp from the marinade and season with salt and pepper.  Place chicken or shrimp on the grill and cook chicken 3 to 4 minutes on each side with 2 minutes turning once more.  If cooking shrimp, grill in an even layer and grill until golden brown 1 1/2 or 2 minutes.  Turn the shrimp over and continue to grill until just cooked through, 45 seconds or 1 minute.

 

Green Onion Slaw

 

1 cup coarsely chopped green onions, white and green parts

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons honey

2 Serrano chilies

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1/2 cup canola oil

Salt and pepper

1 small head purple cabbage, finely shredded

1 small head Napa cabbage, finely shredded

1/2 green and red bell pepper thinly sliced

1/2 cup julianed carrots

1/2 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced

2 teaspoons poppy seeds

1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves (depending on you liking)

 

To make the dressing for the slaw, combine the green onions, vinegar, honey, chilies, mayonnaise, oil and salt and pepper to taste in food processor and blend until emulsified.

 

Combine the cabbages, bell peppers, carrots, red onions and poppy seeds in a large bowl, add the dressing (you may have more dressing than is needed so just add enough to coat and add more if needed) and stir until combined.  Fold in the cilantro and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes.

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