Sunday, July 5, 2015

Balsamic Vinegar Reduction...Brava!

Watching a Cooking Show can be both relaxing and informative. I can't think of anything better to do on a Saturday morning, than watching KQED's lineup of cooking shows. From old to new each Culinary Artist proves insightful, intelligent and thought provoking recipes and methods of preparing meals.
Case in point was Lydia's Kitchen. I love Italian Cuisine because it versatile, flavorful and easy to prepare. Most of us have discovered in recent years balsamic vinegar. I made sauces and dressing from very little. But, ouch the prices on some of the bottles cause pause or fear in some cases. Well, Lydia had a great alternative to those high priced bottles and one that is so simple you'll make it over and over again.
Take an inexpensive bottle, pour into a saucepan with cut carrots, onions, garlic, celery and dash of salt and pepper an allow to simmer on the stovetop until thick. The aromatics give the otherwise bitter taste of the vinegar flavor and richness. Allow to cool and use as you would with any other balsamic vinegar recipe. Note, if you're new to the blog and haven't read the Mustard article, please do and use that simple idea along with Lydia's creation. Many multiple uses in the kitchen make great recipes and great home chefs.
Remember cooking with love makes any recipe taste better...

Monday, June 1, 2015


  Ages ago I was fortunate enough to be apart of a Family who loved to cook and much as I do. The Burgess Family was my saving grace and vision of what a family unit could be.. 
One of the special recipes they cooked where artichokes They taught me how to trim, cut and prepare artichokes for the best side dish or in some cases meal I love till this day.  
First, cut off the bottom of the artichokes ... don't need the stem. Next cut off the very tip of the artichoke for a flat top. Be sure you have a sharp knife. The waxy texture of the top of the artichoke can be slippery and you might cut yourself. Ouch! Last, use a pair of kitchen scissors to trim the tip of reach leaf. Careful, again.... the thorn at the tip of each leaf are very, very, very prickly and sharp.
Now, you have a artichoke ready for the boil of their lives. Fill a pot with water and toss... and I do mean toss in  1 -2 tablespoons of salt, peppercorns, wax peppers with the juice, one whole onion peeled and quartered, one cut into quarters celery stalk, 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (just a few... don't wanna over power the artichokes) and last but, not least...a splash of red wine vinegar.
Sound like too much. Not at all. The artichokes will have full flavor and irresistible taste. cook until the under belly of the artichoke is fork or knife tender. Depending on the size of the artichokes can take 45 minutes to an hour.
Turn off the heat, pull the artichokes out of the boiling water (tongs work well here or large slotted spoon) and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Room temperature artichokes or cold... uber delicious.
Now, the dip. I like a mayonnaise base dip with freshly squeezed lemon juice. Nothing says welcome to my mouth than a dipped artichoke into mayo. You don't have to stop at lemon juice. Go simple with just salt and pepper. Jazz it up with cayenne. Or eat them plain.
Some might ask... how do you eat these darn things? One delicious morsel at a time. Once cooled, take a leaf, tip into sauce of your choice, and place the soft base of the leaf on your bottom teeth and pull gently and chew away, tossing the remaining leaf aside. Only the underside of the artichoke leaf is edible. Not the entire leaf.... you'll be chewing for days... no, maybe forever.
Once you've eaten one... you won't be able to stop. At the end you'll find that your vegetable is a cooked flower and the base has thistles. DO NOT...I repeat, DO NOT eat the thistle. Can you imagine thistle stuck in your throat. Your larynx will thank you later that you didn't.  The good news is to remove the thistle use a metal spoon... one designed for grapefruits is best, and remove the thistle and clean the base of the artichoke. What you have left is the moist, tender heart of the artichoke that can be eaten, stuffed with shrimp and tarragon, sliced and put on sandwich of roasted turkey.... I could go on and on.
Thank you Burgess Family and thank you God for creating artichokes as one of my favorite seasonal vegetables.
Remember... cooking with love makes any recipe taste better.

Monday, May 4, 2015

From oats to granola....

 So I was wandering the food isle of my favorite super market and came across a large container of Quaker Oats on sale. Not one to pass up a good sale ... and actually realize a food fantasy come true I picked up a canister and ran right home to find a recipe that suited my cooking style and ingredients in my pantry.

Good news! On the internet their are literally hundreds of granola recipes to create homemade granola. Some with less sugar, some with more. Some with coconut and some with nuts I wouldn't eat roasted, salted or even solo.

Whose recipe did I decide to use? Well, being a big, big fan of Alton Brown I choose his recipe. A little syrup and minimal amounts of sugar made the perfect recipe and amazingly easy low roasting of oats on low temperature for over an hours. The scientist in me was shocked the results. Light flaky oats with the hint of toasted flavor and roasted nuts. Yes, I am using the term "roasted" a lot tonight and it's true because the ingredients were cooked low and slow everything was nuttier, richer and more flavorful.

Now, a week later I tried Barefoot Contessa's recipe. More oats, higher temperature, more oil and it seemed to fry, rather than roast/toasty flavor. Not that it was a bad recipe.... it didn't suit my tastes.

I love granola and I'm happy I introduced homemade version to cook often and serve on top of yogurt, sprinkled over fruit bowl or by each spoonful.

Oh and another thing... I'm sure that readers around the world are scratching their heads and wondering why-oh-why is she amazed by granola of all things? We Americans have a tendency to buy, buy, and buy more store bought items than take our culinary talents to the basics. Going forward hopefully that will change.

Remember, cooking with love makes any recipe taste better.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

B'bye Winter ...hello, Spring!

You can always tell the shifting from season to season based on the chill in the air or blistering sun in the sky. Another way... the shifting of seasonal vegetables at your local farm or Farmers market.
I was on an adventure to buy more Brussels sprouts to roast in the oven with honey and balsamic vinegar, but much to my dismay... they were on there way out and fresh spring pea pods were waiting.
So, what's a local girl to do? Adapt. I wouldn't recommend roasting pea pods. They are just fine on their own raw, steamed or tossed in a salad. More importantly shucking them and making a pesto pea pasta salad with roasted chicken. So many recipes, so little time.
Let the imagination run wild from season to season.
Welcome, Spring.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Begin with butter ... and a lot of love

When you're busy, starving or just don't want to go out to dinner... try going back to basics with a simple and classic white sauce known as béchamel. My Mother used to make this sauce and place sliced leftover roasted chicken on toasted bread and pour the white sauce on top. Served with a salad or roasted carrots. Tonight I deviated the recipe and used fat free milk. Gasp! I know, I know, but I've got to cut down on some of the fat somewhere.
What is a béchamel? Is a simple sauce of milk, butter and flour. In a sauce pan melt butter and slowly add flour. Stir until combined and the taste of raw flour is cooked away. Pour in slowly room temperature milk and stir constantly until combined with a wooden spoon or a wire whisk. If the milk is at room temperature the mixture combines easily and prevents lumps. Sprinkle with salt, freshly cracked black pepper. But, wait you don't have to stop there. I added garlic powder, dried basil and a few red pepper flakes, just to spice things up. I also sautéd thinly sliced onions in butter and olive oil and added them. A classic béchamel sauce has simply salt, freshly ground or cracked pepper...either white or black with freshly ground nutmeg. NUTMEG? Oddly, enough the warmth of the nutmeg combined with butter, flour and milk is delicious! For my final touch I added fresh broccoli florets. The florets will cook while the sauce simmers and thickens. Broccoli florets? Yep, cut a section of the broccoli flower off. Then cut a smaller section and cut each stem gently into to smaller pieces.'ve got florets. Sometimes I cut the florets fresh from the Farmers Market and freeze them, use them as a snack or toss them into a salad.
Allow the mixture to simmer until thick. Add shredded roasted chicken and spoon over pasta. Simple, huh? And a small serving is very filling.
A béchamel sauce is easy, creamy and versatile and can be used to make a MEAN wild mushroom lasagna. There is something that I like about the mixture of béchamel with pasta. It's a divine match.
So, if you are having a busy evening and no ideas for a meal or just want to walk on the wild side and create something new.

Cooking with love makes any recipe taste better.... even when going back to the basics with butter.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Low calorie ...and full flavor.

If you love The Culinary Arts as much as I do you might find your taste buds leading you in directions you've never explored.
On this day I was wandering the isles' of my favorite grocery store, Wholefoods, picking up essentials for the week. After picking up a package of pita bread, I paused for a moment to examine the whole wheat version of the same brand. When you take a pause, a breathe and listen to what the universe has to offer... unexpected pleasure come through.
In the case the pleasure was an idea for a satisfying, yet low calorie, version of pizza. I adore pizza! But have you ever considered the calories one single slice has? Let's take Round Table for instance which has over 290 calories... JUST FOR ONE SLICE alone! If you're trying to lose some weight. That's it for that meal. No vino for you.
However, using my trusty Fitness Pal app a similar version which is more filling with one slice and homemade has about 185 calories. Big difference. And the great thing is you can make a veggie version, all meat, Caprese version... the culinary world is unlimited.
1 lengthwise slice of whole wheat pita bread.
2-3 sliced mozzarella bocconcini balls
1-2 tablespoons of Italian sweet sausage link
2-3 sliced mushrooms
1 tablespoon of sliced red onions 
Sockarooni, Newman' Own sauce
First, slice the pita bread carefully around the edges and open up much like open faced sandwich or pizza. Then, lightly toast the bread on 375 for 5-8 minutes until lightly brown. If you skip this step then all you'll have is soggy bread with a lot of stuff piled on it. Toasting seals the bread and prevents the sauce from soaking through the bread.
Next, cut and season with salt and pepper your veggies. I like to toss them in a heated pan until warmed through. Even the sauce... it'll cook faster. Then, spread the sauce on the bread, sprinkle the cheese, sausage and veggies. Heat in the oven at 375 for 8 to 10 minutes until bubbly. BTW, if you haven't tried Paul Newman's sauces... then, go immediately to the store and buy a bottle. Simply... it's just tasty on just about everything. Pasta, pizza, dipping sauce even veggies.
Allow it to cool slightly, to prevent from burning the roof of your mouth, and then slice, fold, roll... however you eat your pizza.
So extra yummy and full of flavor.
Can't wait to try this with fresh seasonal basil and summer tomatoes.
Hope you'll try this quick easy version of a college to retirement food. Pizza.
Remember, cooking with love makes any recipe taste better.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Valentines Day ...

Valentine's Day is one of my favorite days of the year. It's the celebration of love, sharing and giving. Not that we don't do this everyday, or is it set aside for "couples-only". It's a day that everyone can celebrate the idea that love is eternal. Love is magical. Love heals all things.

So, how do I celebrate the magic of the day? I typical wander to Wine Country to pick up shipments, admire the shifting from Winter to very early Spring. And I hope to do this on that day as well.

What do I like to create for the trip? Start out with Cranberry Sparkling Wine Sippers. Simply enough. Take frozen cranberries and make a cranberry simple syrup.

1 cup cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 cups water
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Bring to a boil until berries are pooped and sugar is dissolved. Allows to cool to room temperature and sift out all the berries either with a cheese clothe or strainer. Squeeze in 1 tablespoon of fresh orange juice and 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice. Place the cranberry simple syrup in to a vessel and let cool in refrigerator for an hour. To make the cocktail pour 2-3 tablespoons into a chilled Champagne glass. Then pour your favorite Sparkling Wine or Champagne to the top. For decoration float frozen cranberries or a twist of lemon or orange.

Now for the food. IT'S CRAB SEASON ... so anything with crab is a great idea (unless you're allergic). If allergic, shrimp can be a wonderful substitute. I like to roast the chosen seafood with salt, pepper and olive oil at 400 degrees for 8 - 10 minutes. Mind you if you are doing the crab version ... it has to be shelled, cleaned and placed on a sheet. And use some parmesan cheese lightly sprinkled for texture and a retain moisture.

After roasting the seafood than serve with crackers, toasted baguette slices, or just a plate of the wonderful and delicious is good too with a salad or veggies. My favorite lately is to roast crab, toss lightly with mayonnaise, scallions, pickled peppers and a good slaw and serve on a lobster roll or Hawaiian bun. Recipes to follow on another blog post for Summer picnics.

To me the idea is less food and more connection with the people you love and surround yourself with on this special day. Use the food an enhancement, rather than the center piece.

Remember cooking with love,makes any recipe tales better ...and on Valentines' Day allow your heart to soar.