Saturday, October 18, 2014

A New Puppy and Banana Bread


A few weeks ago we adopted a baby boy. His name is Nicholas. He weighs 6.4 pounds. He is a bundle of energy and joy that has stolen our hearts. We couldn’t be happier with our decision to adopt him. He is fitting in wonderfully with our little family. His brothers, Otto and Jonas, have fallen in love with him too. We think they are thrilled to have a new play friend and cohort in crime. 
Oh, and he is a Dachshund. 
So, needless to say, that is why we haven’t posted anything for a couple of weeks. Life got busy around here.
Over the years, we have made probably a dozen different recipes of banana bread. This one is definitely the best one we have tried.
Bon Appétit published this recipe as their favorite so we thought we should give it a whirl. 
Boy, we were glad we did.
Here’s the link to the recipe:

What Mikey Says:
Yum! This isn’t your mama’s banana bread, at least it isn’t my mama’s. Not saying that my mother's wasn’t good, in fact hers was pretty awesome. Always moist and flavorful. To me it seems like my mom only made banana bread at Christmas time. Banana bread and date nut bread, her two favorite breads at Christmas. Zucchini bread in the summer with that delightful cream cheese frosting. I remember helping my mother bake the breads at Christmas time. We would do the traditional loaves along with using steel vegetable cans to get the round bread affect. One time without thinking, we used a can that had ridges in it, bout damn near never got the bread out. 
So, okay, I got off the subject of this Banana bread. When Edward said he was going to make it, I got really happy. Banana Bread! And it wasn’t even Christmas. I am so lucky. Now this bread, not sure exactly why its a bread, seems more like cake, but who really cares. The bread had a wonderful and intoxicating banana smell and flavor. It was moist and extremely tasty. It also had a secret ingredient. Chocolate, oh my, sorry mom! Who knew? I love chocolate and chocolate in anything only makes it better. Never tried chocolate with rutabaga, nothing can help that. I encourage you to try this recipe. You won’t be sorry. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Eating Like Helen Mirren

Helen's Melons Salad
We went to see the movie “The Hundred-Foot Journey” with Helen Mirren (here's the trailer) recently and absolutely loved it.  If you are into cooking at all, go see it.  There is one scene in which the young Indian chef has made the Five French Mother Sauces (Previous Post about the Five French Mother Sauces) and his love interest is tasting them.  Food nerds will weep...I did.
In it, Helen Mirren plays, impeccably of course, the owner of a very fancy Michelin Starred restaurant in France.  She is elegant, tasteful and very French. 
The other night, after a huge dinner where we almost devoured a whole roasted chicken, along with mashed potatoes and gravy, and green bean almondine, (and wine of course), I was feeling very stuffed and said to Mikey, “I am so full. It is ridiculous how much food we just ate.  From now on, we are going to eat like Helen Mirren!”  With a very puzzled look, he responded, “What the hell does that mean?” 
It means...in that movie, Helen Mirren would have had a modest serving of chicken,  a small amount of potatoes with gravy and un petite quantité of green beans accompanied by a lovely wine. She would have left the table satisfied but not feeling uncomfortably stuffed. 
Julia Child (you knew she would make it into this story, didn’t you?) always said, “Eat absolutely everything, just eat a small amount of it. If you know you are going to have Beouf Bourguignon for dinner, have a salad for lunch.”  She lived to be 91. I think she knew what she was talking about.

My grandmother lived by the same rules.  She ate a small slice of pie or cake almost every day of her life and she lived to a ripe old age as well.  But, she never over ate. 

Prepping the salad
Helen’s Melons Salad

This is more of a guideline than a recipe. Nothing is precisely measured.

A handful of lettuce per person...we used Arugula and Frisse
Assorted Melons, cut into bite size chunks...we used Watermelon, Cantaloupe and     
                              Honeydew...get the ripest you can find
English Cucumber, cut into half moons
French Breakfast Radishes, quartered lengthwise
A handful of Kalamata Olives, cut into quarters lengthwise
About 2 tablespoons of Pine Nuts, lightly toasted
Really good Feta Cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, we used Mt. Vikos
A few leaves of mint, chopped
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 Tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
Sea Salt

Mix together the olive oil, balsamic and a pinch of salt to make a loose vinaigrette.
Drizzle a little on to the salad greens and toss to coat.
Put half of the greens on the plates, then scatter half of the melons, cucumbers and radishes on top. Drizzle with some vinaigrette. 
Top with the rest of the greens, then the melons, cucumbers, and radishes. Drizzle with more vinaigrette.
Top with the Feta, olives and pine nuts. Add a little more vinaigrette. Sprinkle with a little sea salt then garnish with mint leaves.
Serve on chilled plates.


What Mikey Says
So, okay, in life there are certain foods that unusually go together. For instance, chocolate and popcorn, or balsamic vinegar, olive oil and bread or even a wonderful piece of chocolate with a a sip of a fabulous Cotes du Rhone. When Edward suggested this salad, I said sure, lets give it a whirl, while to be honest, I was thinking hmmm, really, hmmm. 

I have to say that I was thrilled with the salad. I couldn’t eat it fast enough. The goal was to get the perfect bite every time, but there wasn’t one. Every bite was perfect and different. On one platter you had so many options to pick from. Goat Cheese and cantaloupe: Yum! A black olive with honey dew melon: who the heck knew. Or goat cheese, cantaloupe, a pine nut and watermelon, sheesh, who made this. Who eats green leafy lettuces with melons? I do, I do. Keep in mind that every bite, as amazing as the one before, was accented with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Although it is late in the year for melons and greens, if you get the chance to plan a menu before the onset of fall, and before the really good melons are not available anymore, I would strongly recommend this salad. If you don’t get the chance till next year, bookmark this page, come back in the dead of winter and think about how wonderful this salad would taste on the first day of summer. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

I’ve decided it is time to blog again!

In the past several months I have been bombarded with events that have caused me to reflect on my life. My wonderful, kind father passed away. His sister, my aunt, had died just a few months earlier. Our sweet, 17 year old Dachshund, Cecilia, became very ill and died abruptly. A beloved friend lost her 38 year old husband to a cruel illness and my dear cousin was diagnosed with, and is battling, that horrible nemesis, cancer. When life throws such significant happenings at you, pondering your own mortality, and what you are doing with the time you have, I guess, is inevitable.  
Our time here is so brief that we better be doing exactly what we love. I’m very lucky in that I have the perfect husband and home life, and even, the perfect job. I just need to make sure that I don’t waste my play time. My very favorite thing to do in my free time is to cook. And it dawned on me that I was missing a lot of opportunities to explore new dishes and expand my cooking abilities. We only get so many meals in our lifetime so we need to make them count. I’ve been in a bit of a rut...making the same meals over and over again. Even though they are delicious, I need to get back to branching out. I have always been an adventurous cook and eater, fearless you might say, but have been taking the safe and familiar path of late.
Some of the things that I have been reflecting on lately are my culinary goals. I, being the cooking nerd that I am, have had an abstract list of objectives in the back of my mind for years. Things such as…not just mastering the five French mother sauces and all of their derivatives but being able to make them all without following a recipe…becoming proficient at pastry and bread baking…exploring terrines, pâtés and charcuterie more in depth than what I already have…delving into a greater variety of ethnic cuisines…digging into a little culinary anthropology by trying to recreate old recipes and dishes. 
So, the new focus of this blog will include achieving those culinary goals. Many years ago I started cooking recipes from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and I truly credit her for teaching me how to cook. Over the years, I have probably made a good 60% to 70% of the recipes in that book.  I am going to go back and explore some of my favorites and tackle a few that I haven’t gotten to yet (no tripe, brains or eel though!). I am going to explore several other French chefs as well. There will be a big emphasis on ethnic food…Indian, Mexican, Thai, Italian and Cajun and, more baking!
Another exciting part of this is that Mikey is going to be a big part of the whole process…not just the eating. He wants to help prep, cook, roast, bake, chop, etc. So, we will be exploring some of the foods of his heritage as well…Czech, German and Swedish.

And it goes without saying, we will be making some Southern food in honor of my grandmother.

Today, we will make Goat Cheese Spinach Lasagna.
Goat Cheese Spinach Lasagna

Shall we begin?

The Five French Mother Sauces:
Béchamel - made with butter, flour and milk
Velouté - made with butter, flour and white stock, such as chicken, fish or vegetable
Espagnole - made with brown stock thickened by a roux, with tomato purée and 
                    mirepoix (a combination of chopped carrots, celery and onions)
Hollandaise - made with butter and eggs
Tomate - made with tomatoes and stock

Each of these has a myriad of derivatives. For instance, by adding eggs, more butter and some Gruyère cheese to Béchamel, you get Mornay Sauce. By adding shallots, tarragon, black pepper and vinegar to Hollandaise, you get Béarnaise Sauce. There is more to it, of course, than just adding these ingredients, but once you know the five mother sauces you can, Voilà!, create dozens of others. 

We will start out with the Béchamel and use it in that wonderful Goat Cheese Spinach Lasagna.

Truth be told...I could eat pasta three meals a day, seven days a week and this lasagna is one of the best things I have ever eaten. The homemade noodles melt in your mouth. The tanginess of the goat cheese with the richness of the bechamel and the spicyness of the marinara (from a previous post) go together amazingly with the spinach balancing it out. Taste bud heaven! 
It is definitely not a weeknight dinner though. It takes a while to make but you could cook the marinara in advance and even freeze it. The rest, though, needs to be made the day you are going to serve it. Have a little glass of wine while you are doing it...put on some cheezy sixties cocktail music, dance around while you cook and it is lots of fun.
That’s the way it is supposed to be!
Supposedly, Julia Child said, “I always cook with wine, and sometimes, I even put it in the food.”

Bon appetit!

Béchamel

2 1/2 cups Whole Milk
1/4 stick Unsalted Butter
1/3 cup All-purpose Flour, sifted
2 whole Cloves
1 small Turkish Bay Leaf
1 small Onion, peeled
Ground White Pepper
Pinch of Ground Nutmeg
Sea Salt

Pour the milk into a heavy bottomed saucepan.

Push the cloves through the bay leaf and then into the onion, attaching the bay leaf to the onion. Add this to the milk, along with a grinding of white pepper, a pinch of salt and a pinch of nutmeg. Bring the milk to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Do NOT let it come to a boil.

In a separate heavy bottomed saucepan (I used a Saucier because it is curved preventing flour from sticking in the bottom edge), melt the butter over medium heat. Do NOT let it brown.

Lower the heat to low. With a wooden spatula or spoon, stir the flour into the melted butter a little at a time,  to make a roux. Stir continuously for 3 minutes; it must cook slowly. 

Remove the onion from the milk. Off the heat, with a wire whisk, add the milk to the roux, whisking vigorously to make sure there are no lumps.

Return to medium heat, add the onion back to the sauce and simmer as gently as possible for 20 minutes, skimming the top occasionally. Stir frequently to make sure the sauce does not scorch.

Remove the onion, strain through a fine sieve. If it is too thick, whisk in a little milk if necessary. 

Check for seasoning.
Yum!

Making the Lasagna

Ingredients:
Lasagna Noodles (cooked if using dried noodles)*
Béchamel
8 oz. Goat Cheese, crumbled
Parmesan Cheese, grated
4 cups fresh Spinach, chopped
1 Shallot, minced
Marsala Wine
Olive Oil
Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a skillet, saute the shallot in a little olive oil until soft. Add the spinach and a splash of Marsala. Saute until the spinach is tender.

Grease the pan you want to make the lasagna in with olive oil. Spread a few tablespoons of marinara on the bottom. Lay noodles to cover the bottom. Scatter with some goat cheese and more marinara. Lay more noodles on top. Spread some béchamel then some spinach. Lay on more noodles, then marinara and goat cheese. Repeat these steps until you reach the top of the pan. Spread on some béchamel, drizzle with some marinara and top with grated Parmesan.
Bake for 30 minutes until top is golden.

*(We will make pasta noodles in an upcoming post.)

At the end of each post now we will have an editorial by Mikey!

What Mikey Says
I’m really very happy that Edward has started to do his blog again. He really is a very good Culinarian and it has been a joy for me to see him grow in talent and enjoy the diverse foods he has made for us. Now I’m helping in the kitchen, after years of being verboten, it will be a fun challenge for me to develop my own skills in the kitchen. I don’t have any expectations other then to have fun and see how things develop. 

This Lasagna dish we made was a true delight. Goat Cheese is something I never tried until I decided it was okay for me to eat something other then steak, potatoes and cheddar cheese and I must say that, now, I am very fond of it. So to have experienced it in such an amazing dish was beyond imagining. Even to make the noodles was fun to do, at least I had fun. We will talk about the “fun” Edward had when we post the recipe and how to make them. 


This lasagna dish had nutmeg in it which is a spice that I have always enjoyed. I found it interesting how just a small amount can add just another layer of flavor to pleasure your taste buds. So I hope you give this one a try, you won’t be sorry. Enjoy.  

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Simply Delicious

Julia Child's Potato Leek Soup
Sometimes the simplest recipes are the best. I have been making this recipe for years and it continues to be one of our favorites. Julia Child remarked many times that this was her favorite as well. It is the perfect soup to warm you up on a cold winter day but, every year, on August 15, no matter how hot it is outside, I make this soup to celebrate her birthday. Potatoes, leeks, butter........simple ingredients......sheer perfection. 

Since Julia did it perfectly, I have provided a link to her recipe.
http://www.splendidtable.org/recipes/leek-and-potato-soup
And if you want to watch her make it....here she is with Jacques Pepin...

Friday, December 27, 2013

Happy New Year!

Hoppin' Edward

It’s been a long time since my last post. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been cooking though. I have made some wonderful food and even photographed some of it. I have decided to start adding a little more than just recipes to my blog in the coming year. It will still always be about food but we are in the planning stages of our garden and I thought it might be fun to follow the food from the ground to the tummy. I wish everyone would take the time to grow food. Even if it is just a few herbs in pots, if you love to cook, you need to grow. It changes your perspective and it changes your respect for where your food comes from. There is nothing like eating a tomato that was just picked a few seconds ago.  Oh, and slap that tomato between two slices of bread that you baked that morning with a little homemade mayonnaise that you made from eggs laid yesterday from chickens down the street. Now THAT is fresh food!
Now, I know that Mikey and I can’t grow everything that we eat but, what we can’t grow, if it grows here, we are going to make sure that it comes from a local farmer. They need our support. We are not going to buy a bell pepper that got here on a plane, a boat or in a semi. Locally grown, by local people. 
I came up with this recipe last year and posted it on my Facebook. I am even using the photo that I took with my phone last year because that was kind of the seed for making me want to start this blog. 
Every good southerner has Black Eyed Peas for New Years so that the coming year will be prosperous. To me, prosperity means enjoying an abundance of love in your life. So, I consider myself a very rich man. 
Here’s to a wonderful 2014! 
May you be overwhelmed with love.
Here is my version of Hoppin’ John.......I call it Hoppin’ Edward!

Hoppin’ Edward

1 onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 small green bell pepper, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 T olive oil
1 tsp smoked salt
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp oregano
1 bay leaf
2 cups dried black eyed peas, soaked overnight or 1 16oz. bag frozen black eyed peas
1 14.4 oz can diced tomatoes
6 cups water
1 cup brown rice
Optional: purple onion or scallions, hot sauce, chow chow

Saute onion, carrot, celery, bell pepper and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until softened. Add smoked salt, smoked paprika, cayenne, thyme, oregano, bay leaf, black eyed peas, diced tomatoes and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, covered for 40 minutes.
Remove beans from heat and take out 3 cups of the bean liquid. Put removed bean liquid and rice in a pan. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 50 minutes.
Add cooked rice back to peas and reheat.
Serve garnished with chopped purple onion or scallions, hot sauce and chow chow.