Friday, June 27, 2008


This is a tradition that I brought over from my parents. Owning and operating a restaurant often means that cooking was the last thing on my parents' minds. We would often have what my mom always called "picnic", even if it was the dead of winter. In fact, this was our normal New Year's Eve dinner! The actual picnic (in the mountains at a picnic table) was something altogether different, and consisted of a bucket of my mom's gazpacho (I'll post about that soon) and peel/eat shrimp. "Picnic for dinner" is more of a concept than a meal.
We generally just do this in the summer months, when we have an ample supply of rose wine such as Commanderie de Peyrassol. Sadly, importation of this wine was super limited this year, we are already down to our last bottle and we haven't even had a paella party yet. But, I digress....
The idea behind "picnic" is just to sort of graze, usually while watching a movie or sports on TV, or just hanging out in the back yard listening to music and talking about random stuff. Items can include salumi (prociutto, bresaola, sopressata, salame), cheese (usually at least 2 or 3 varieties of varying style, I like cambozola, aged cheddar and gouda-type as a good combo), olives or tapenade, and sometimes pate & baguette croutons. I like to include one instant cooked item that I can pop in the toaster oven, Trader Joe's is great for these - escargot in brioche, mini crab cakes, or those shrimp in the rice paper wraps (these are awesome with Thai sweet chili sauce, toss the packet that comes with them).
Tonight's bill of fare: Trader Joe's mushroom puffs (basically duxelles loaded into little pastry moons), sopressata, prociutto, aged cheddar, cambozola, gouda and wheat crackers. I didn't bring out the olives for some reason, but I had them. I'm the only one that eats those anyway. Topped off with some rose wine, a perfect meal for a hot evening. (Sorry about the blurry picture and the ugly cutting boards and the missing mushroom puffs, they were in the toaster oven)

Tuna noodle casserole for grownups

Last night there was NO BASEBALL! No travel team practice, all star team was eliminated Wednesday, and the College World Series is over. We actually ate at the dining room table for a change, and at a normal hour.
I made tuna sauce from John Ash's excellent book Cooking One On One. It is traditionally vitello tonnato sauce (cold veal sliced with this sauce) but it is super on pasta. The author's comment: "This is the best tuna noodle casserole you'll ever eat", and he is correct. The sauce is creamy and blended - simply olive oil, oil packed tuna, garlic, anchovy, lemon juice, capers, parsley and a bit of cream and chicken stock. This is great hot or cold since the sauce is uncooked.

One night a week we eat pasta or rice-based meals, especially before baseball games/practices for our growing 9 year old (eep, almost 10!). It means that us adults need to get a bit more exercise to burn off the extra carbs!
Tonight after baseball practice is one of our great summer traditions - "picnic". More on that next post.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Too hot to cook!

It has been a sweltering week. Sunday, The Grillmaster did all day REAL barbecue of a 14 pound beef brisket (I love Smart & Final!!). It was a huge success, we invited the coaches & manager of the Little League team. Somehow I managed to not take any photos though. I looked at my camera and all I had were baseball photos.
The brisket was trimmed up a bit of fat on Saturday night, and rubbed with dijon mustard, brown sugar, garlic, and the super secret spice rub. Left in the fridge overnight, then put on the cooker at about 8:30 am. Cook over smoke & periodically mop with a mixture of sauce, vinegar, apple juice and some rub possibly. I think the chips in the firebox were a mixture of pecan & hickory, but I am not too sure. 4 hours later, the meat goes into foil and stays on the grill for 4 more - to an internal temp of about 190 and falling apart. It was absolutely fantastic, with home made cole slaw, with or without sauce.

There was not too much left over, but we made quesadillas with BBQ sauce & shredded mex mix cheese last night for dinner. YUM!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A new addition and a quote to share

After picking this book up many times, I finally bought The Whole Beast: nose to tail eating by Fergus Henderson now that a nice sleek paperback edition is available. Mainly in the hopes of broadening my horizons on food, but mostly to make the much lauded Bone Marrow & Parsley Salad. And to get some tips on preparing sweetbreads which I adore. Anyhow, I just wanted to share this quote from the introductory chapter:

"Do not be afraid of cooking, as your ingredients will know and misbehave. Enjoy your cooking and the food will behave; moreover it will pass your pleasure on to those who eat it."

Better late than never......

Kate over at The Clean Plate Club hosts a monthly Cookie Carnival. The May selection was Blueberry Drop Cookies. My guys can't resist blueberries so I joined the club. Well, May sort of got away from us in many ways, so I made these the other day. June 10th. Oh well, they were good anyway. I left out the lemon zest, didn't have a lemon, and used vanilla instead of almond extract. They were not beautiful, kind of a cross between a scone and a cookie actually. But here it is Thursday and they are all gone! To be honest I did share with the neighbors, and the recipe made only about 2 dozen (mine must have been to big, they were supposed to make more).

Friday, June 6, 2008

Too many cookbooks, too little time

My cooking time has been cut into a bit this spring by Little League. That season is over, but baseball is now a permanent fixture. Our son loves it, so we signed him up for a travel team. Check out my husband's well written blog about it here. He's the narrative guy, I'm too much of a technical writer (he says and I tend to agree).

That being said, you might see quite a bit of easy make-ahead type of stuff since we have practice from 5-7pm 2 nights a week and all day tournaments 2 weekends a month. If I find something I particularly like, I'm going to include it on this blog for anyone out there with the same predicament - kids in baseball, swimming, soccer, band camp etc. that need something substantial that can be made ahead & even taken along without much fuss.

On Monday I made spectacular sandwiches (no pics sorry), these were make ahead & wholesome: I took a single pork tenderloin, marinated it for a few hours in 1/4 cup bourbon, 2 Tbs. sugar (dissolve in liquid) & 1/4 cup soy sauce. I cooked at 350 for about 40 minutes (to about 145-150), let it cool, then thinly sliced it. I made a spread of equal parts mayo & Greek yogurt, added some Colman's dry mustard to taste. Spread 1 side of a wheat French roll with the spread, the other side with guacamole. Placed some meat & a slice of munster on the spread side, and some salad greens on the other. Rolled up tightly in foil, put in a bag with drinks to keep cool. These sandwiches really got raves from the guys while we watched a tournament game.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Portobello Mushrooms w/Bread Crumb Salsa

Another installment from The Flexitarian Table.
I really did love the "salsa", I used panko instead of bread crumbs. For the 3 of us I used 3 big portobellos, but probably should have used 4, and oven roasted them instead of grilling them.

The flavor was nice & meaty, we all liked this dish. For the "salsa", I used a bit of parsley, some thyme, and some cilantro. You can mix with basil, mint & tarragon as well.
A super easy weeknight meal, served with brown rice with greens & asiago cheese (2nd time with this nice rice side dish).

A famous Australian Dessert

A few years ago my son's class did an International Recipes book as a heritage project. On his request, I baked (yes, BAKED) great-grandma's Date Raptures. Here's the recipe, they are really good:

1 cup flour
1/2 tsp each of baking powder, baking soda & salt
1/4 cup shortening (do not substitute, please use Crisco - it will not kill you)
1/2 cup sugar plus 1/4 cup sugar set aside
1 egg
1/3 cup buttermilk (I used the powdered kind: 1/3 cup water where you would add the buttermilk & add the appropriate amount of powder along with the flour mixture)
1 Tbsp grated orange rind
1 cup chopped dates
3/4 cup orange juice strained of pulp

Preheat oven to 350
Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda & salt
With a mixer or beater, beat the sugar (1/2 cup), shortening and the egg.
Add the dry ingredients, then the buttermilk & orange rind. Beat until smooth.
Stir in the dates.
Pour into greased muffin tins about 2/3 full and bake for 25-30 minutes.
Mix the orange juice with the 1/4 cup of sugar & stir to dissolve sugar (don't cook)
Pour the juice over the individual cakes when serving - serve hot.

I baked these early and then heated up in the toaster oven briefly before pouring the juice over. What a nice, light treat! Perfect for proper afternoon tea or a not-too-sweet dessert. Try it!

I did have to buy Crisco, and then had a good laugh when I found an unopened package that expired in 2006 in the pantry. Now you can see that I really don't bake! No idea why I bought the first can. I also noticed that on the package it says "not intended as a spread". Eeek.

Farfalle w/Smoked Salmon & Vodka Sauce

We've been on a bit of a pasta kick. The 9 year old is in serious baseball workouts right now for league all star team and a travel ball team, so I figure he needs the carbs.
I tried this recipe which I have had in my loose leaf binder for quite some time. I have no idea which magazine it came from or when. The big difference in this one for me was that there is an egg/cream emulsion that is added at the end, off the heat. That made the dish nice & rich tasting but still simple.
1 lb farfalle, cooked al dente
2 Tbs butter melted, add 1 small minced shallot & cook until golden
Add 1/4 cup vodka & cook until evaporated
Add 2 cups of heavy cream & simmer until reduced by half
Stir in 4 oz salmon cut into strips
Season and remove from heat

Beat 3 egg yolks with 1/4 cup cream

Add the pasta (drained of course) to the skillet & combine well, then add the egg mixture & stir over low heat until just warmed through. Season again & serve with some minced chives as garnish (optional).

I would probably make this again. The method called for thinly sliced (lox style) smoked salmon, but I used a cut up chunk of wild smoked salmon instead. I think the lox style is too salty.