Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Veggie Thoughts

I love fresh veggies and eat lots of salads and roasted vegetables. The more green vegetables the better. I was not always this way.

Growing up all I really liked was canned peas and corn. I had to at least 'taste' everything on my plate, though. I still hate rutabagas and turnips and absolutely will not put a beet in my mouth. And it is such a gorgeous veg. My mom said I even spit out beet baby food.

Larry's mother said she used to dice hard-cooked egg and bits of bacon on top of tossed salad so her boys would get some of the lettuce and carrots, etc, as they picked off the egg and ate it. Whatever works, I say.

Larry and I got married and were stationed in Iceland for two years, during Vietnam War. No vegetables except canned ones imported from Great Britain, and those were pretty bleak. We could drive over the mountain to a greenhouse complex and buy tomatoes and cucumbers. I guess the PX had iceberg lettuce and probably carrots. Don't really remember.

The one thing I do recall, when we moved back to U.S. neither of us could get enough fresh vegetables. During our sojourn salad bars had appeared in restaurants and we were in heaven. My Dad grew a garden and we ate and ate and ate that stuff. My mother was absolutely stunned (and pleased).

This probably goes to prove that once you cannot get something, you really want it.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Exploring Other Blogs

I just found a book Blogging for Bliss that gives some information on the technicalities of blogging, but mainly introduces the reader to many creative blogs. As I check them out they will appear on the Creative Blogroll for you to check out, too. Most of these blogs will not be foodblogs, but being creative in the kitchen is being creative in life, so you should enjoy them.

Never Throw Good Kitchen Utensils Away

I never throw kitchen utensils away. My cooking methods change with the seasons and the years and the decades and whatever utensils I am currently using a lot go in my kitchen drawers, the others go into a large drawer in my dining room buffet chest.

This is what I pulled out about a month ago. I bought this chinese cleaver back in the early 1970's when I took a chinese cooking class. This knife is seriously ugly. And it rusts unless you dry it after you wash it. But it can hack through a chicken carcass in absolutely no time!

I got fancier chef knives in the 90's and in the new millenium and consigned the cleaver to the big storage drawer. The other day I decided to give it another chance at life in my kitchen and it has moved back in to stay.

So this is a tip: find a place to store good kitchen utensils that are currently out of just might want to bring them home again.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Good Chicken Broth

Somewhere on the internet I found the secret of a good chicken broth. The secret is 'caramelize'. Just boiling a chicken carcass in a pot of water with onions, carrots and celery is not enough. That is what I have done for years and would taste the resulting bland liquid and pour it down the drain and open a can.

You have to take the time to put the chicken carcass into a pot with diced carrots and onions and olive oil and maybe garlic and sautee it for awhile. Caramelize. THAT is where the flavor comes from. How simple. It also helps to hack up the bones with a meat cleaver before you put them in the pot with the oil, because all the flavor is in the bone marrow. (That is why boneless chicken has no taste without sauces or bones.)

I also used the pressure cooker (I need one that is not warped on the bottom) to speed the broth part up, and (my secret) I added the defatted drippings from the actual roasting of the chicken. As Emeril would say "that kicked it up a notch" for sure. It was a lovely golden color, surprise, surprise. It even tasted good plain.

Birthday Wine Tasting

A local restaurant, Cosmos Cafe, sponsored a Columbia Crest wine tasting event on my birthday. How lucky was that?! My neighbor also has a birthday this month and we often get together for a celebratory dinner.

As luck would have it, the start time was changed, so we got to the venue half an hour early and had a lovely conversation with the vitner, a very charming man. The wine distributor was also very nice and the restaurant manager gave us a lot of attention; even the chef came out to talk to me when I complimented the dessert. What a lovely birthday experience!

The wines and food were lovely. The first wine with dinner was a Chardonnay. OK, Chardonnay not my fav. Well, we tasted it, our eyes got real wide and we all asked "how do you get coconut cream flavor in a wine? It was amazing. The vitner said he used American White Oak. Anyway, it was gorgeous.

The wine tasting had about 40 reservations and about 20 people showed up. So, they poured wine....and poured wine...and poured wine. My goodness, I think I drank the equivalent of a bottle. Ouch.

A lovely "35th" birthday celebration, all in all.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Light and Crispy Waffles

I love waffles but had never made one,except in the toaster! When those cute little single, round wafflemakers came out, they made the big, thick Belgian waffles which I just do not like. Then I noticed the other day I could buy a Cuisinart one with "regular sized grid" so I got it.

The first waffles I made was from TJ's Pumpkin Waffle Mix and they were delicious, but nothing crispy about them, due to the ingredients (pumpkin). Then I made waffles from a whole grain waffle mix, still trying to be 'healthy'. Better, but still not crispy since whole grains add a lot of moistness and texture. then I used TJ's Buttermilk Waffle Mix (no whole grains) and those waffles floated off the iron onto my plate and crunched when I took the first bite. Here is an interesting video clip about the mix. I am sure any other brand of ready mix, or homemade waffle batter would be just as good as long as no whole grains were in there.

Yes, whole grains are good for you, and they give baked items a lovely rich taste, and are perfect for pancakes, evidently not so much if you want crispy waffles. And I do. Sorry, whole wheat.........I'll keep you around for muffins, pancakes and bread, but you won't be welcome in my waffles.

Recipe Organization

OK, I am the last one to preach organization. I spend my life trying to get organized and never quite succeed. Recipes are really hard to organize, although it seems a simple thing. I cut them out of newspapers, I tear pages out of magazines, I print web pages, I copy recipes off the internet and paste them onto Wordpad and print them out. And on. And on. I have tried accordion files, looseleaf notebooks, plastic filing towers, recipe boxes. The clippings grow like mad, you get piles here and there, and when you want to cook something you remember clipping last week, you spend 1/2 hour or more digging around for it.

Currently I might have a method that is going to work for me. I have an accordion file divided up by vegetables, chicken, fish and I shove clippings in there that interest me for 'someday'. Since looseleaf notebooks have generally been the only method I could stick to, I have my basic one that is still kind of like a clipping file, but a bit more formal. Recently I decided to try to start over with a notebook that was neat. I am slowly switching from the messy looseleaf to this neater one. I am trying to avoid 'loose bits' by either printing off recipes and use a hole punch or I glue the clipping to a sheet of notebook paper. So far so good.

Now if I can figure out how to place photos on this blog. These are the photos of my new notebook, the dividers, and a page with glued on recipes and one printed off. I promise I will get better on placing photos.

Where are the Recipes?

My blog is going to be more of a conversation than a listing of recipes. Recipes are everywhere, in magazines, in the newspaper, and all over the internet. I find that 99% of my recipes come from these sources and I can link you to them. So I'll be posting photos, links, and comments. I'll tell you if I made any changes and if we liked the dish. You'll be able to see the finished result and sometimes some of the steps.

I will only occasionally record the actual recipe on this blog for two reasons. 1) I am lazy and don't want to type it into the blog. 2) If I give you the link to the recipe and you click on it, not only can you almost always get a printable version (for your personal looseleaf cookbook), but you have now found another online source for ideas for YOUR food journey. You can just keep clicking on links on each successive website and begin learning new things and finding new ideas for stuff to cook.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

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Old Cast Iron

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I inherited several lovely old cast iron skillets from my Mom. For those of you who don't know, old cast iron skillets are nice and smooth; new cast iron skillets are rough, or kind of dimpled. I have read articles that swear you can season the new ones to get them just as nonstick as these old ones, but I am hoarding my old ones. I have also read articles that say search estate sales for these old black iron skillets and treasure them.

I had not used mine for awhile, until I discovered that they are grand for roasting food and roasting food is absolutely the best way to develop flavor with little effort. I am fortunate to have a convection roasting feature on my oven and I make use of it all the time. Nothing turns root vegetables into bliss faster. For this dinner I roasted a whole chicken in one skillet side by side with another skillet filled with sweet potatoes and onions. Wonderful winter meal.

I have since seen the idea to scrub sweet potatoes, slice them into chunks and roast them in their jackets. That way you get all the nutrition from the skin. And if you buy the lovely small sweet potatoes from Trader Joe's, all the better for sweetness.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Tale of Two Trout

Both of these are called steelhead trout, according to the fish market inside Harris Teeter. Sometimes they are called rainbow in the ad. So what is the story?

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The one on the top left is a fillet that is a single portion size, white fleshed and quite mild. The one on the right is a much larger, redder flesh and takes like a milder, flakier salmon. The one pictured bottom left is 'whole, dressed steelhead trout" that is the same size as the one above it, but cooking it with the bones inside made for a much richer flavor. So just WHAT is a steelhead trout?

The first internet search only showed only the larger fish and I was puzzled as to what my small fish had really been. However, another search informed me: because of new research, scientists have developed environmental raceways and improved feeding conditions to encourage the production of fast- rowing, healthy trout. Improved production practices, selective breeding and utritionally complete feeds now make it possible to produce market size (10- to 14-ounce) trout in as little as 10 months.

I went to HT on Friday expecting to see those nice, small fillets. Seeing none, I asked the attendant if they were sold out, and he pointed to what I had assumed were salmon fillets. I was disappointed, my vision of a nice sweet fillet finished off with mushrooms in butter sauce fading away, but decided I wanted fish and was curious as to why some different fillets had the same name.

The large fillet was outstanding. We liked this fish better than salmon. I seasoned the fish with coriander, pepper, salt, and paprika. I have recently discovered that I love coriander seasoning. I browned the flesh side of the fish, tossed it onto a baking sheet, skin side down and roasted it.

The topping on the large fillet is chopped navel orange segments mixed with lemon juice and sweet chili sauce. An idea from a tv cooking show and it was really, really good. Navel oranges are now at peak season, which is why they are so sweet and juicy.

Friday, March 19, 2010


I have a tendency to be a dishaholic. Whenever we were shopping at a department store in Germany together, I would head to the Villeroy Boch china section and he would head to the crystal section. We brought home a set of china and a set of crystal, both bought from factory outlets for little money.

I spent almost the whole three years in Europe deciding which pattern of Villeroy Boch china to choose. When I had finally made up my mind, an Australian friend of mine and I drove to the factory and shopped in the store attached. The day we went I was sick with a really bad cold, but went anyway. Bought my china and then I sat on the stairs in the shop while she decided on hers. It was worth it. I chose this pattern:

I use the plates as everyday china. Also have platters and cups and serving dishes. Mostly having this lovely china to enjoy keeps me from collecting other dishes. Mostly.

I bought these several years ago at the Dollar Store. Unfortunately they barely fit in my dishwasher.

These bowls came from the Dollar Store, too:

Then, Crate and Barrell opened and I bought some bowls. White goes with any dish.

I bought these bowls in the HL Supermarket in Oberursel. Kitsa used these for years.

I found these dessert saucers at the Villeroy Boch outlet on one of my trips.

In a nod to Larry I bought these bowls on my crystal buying trip with the ladies club in Germany.

We go to Soup on Sunday every winter (a fundraiser for Hospice) and one year I donated a bit more and bought two pottery bowls made for the fundraiser in outreach classes held in local pottery shops.

I held off for several years and finally succumbed to the siren song of china when we redid our kitchen walls. And yes, those are my collectible things. The painted plates on the top two rows are inherited from my mother. A neighbor painted those for her back in 1948. The Fairy Plates came from Germany (of course) Most of the other pieces also inherited from my mom. The green pitcher, peeking out in the middle of top shelf, was bought by my grandmother at the Worlds Fair, when she was a teenager. The bottom shelf is pottery.

Back to the newest dishes. Decided I needed to go with brown. Bought four of these dishes at Target...they are called 'salad plates' and I got them because they fit really well in the DW. The standard size for dinner plates in U.S. now is 11" in diameter (and we wonder why we are all on a diet) and since the plastic arm that swirls the water around in my DW is just below the TOP rack, it won't spin if the dishes are more that 10" diameter.

Could not resist these. Since they are melamine, and Larry does not favor plastic dishes, I only bought two. But they are gorgeous in the kitchen and feel like spring.

And we will end with my mom's Biscuit Bowl.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Yadkin Valley Wine Trail

The first of March we spent a lovely weekend on the Yadkin Valley Wine Trail, visiting tiny boutique wineries, tasting a special selection of winter reds accompanied by a small bite of food. There was no snow, just a chilly wind, so the Wine Trail Weekend was a huge success, selling out all 200 available tickets.

As everybody knows, North Carolina grew lots of tobacco in the past. Many of these small farms have become vineyards over the past decade. Families with a dream either inherited the land or purchased acreage, studied viticulture, planted their choices of grapes, and are currently bottling lovely wines redolent of the mineral rich clay in this valley along the banks of the Yadkin River.

When we first returned from Europe, in 1991, we tasted a NC wine at a Trade Show and I made an awful face and Larry dragged me out of he tent in embarrassment.....two decades later and I did not make one awful face; NC is certainly on the wine map, at least at far as these vineyards in the Yadkin River Valley.

We spent 1 1/2 hours on the interstate out of Charlotte and the big city gave way to country roads. As we drove between wineries in the valley, we passed old tobacco drying barns, reminiscent of past glories. Some of these barns have been recycled. such as at this delightful Pilot Knob Inn B&B. We stayed in one of the cabins in the spring and they are charming.

Our first stop was Buck Shoals Vineyard

We tasted Vito's Pride, accompanied by an amazing beef chili. Vito’s Pride, named for Joanne's Grandfather, offers a red cherry aroma and taste, with notes of pepper. Tannins were noticeable on the crisp finish. The beef chili, residing in the crockpot pictured to the right, was the real thing...the beef was shredded London Broil that had been braised with onions and red wine. Red wine was also added to the chili.

And, yes, we bought a bottle... ...and served it with wild Alaskan salmon and green beans baked in parchment....

We continue on our merry way, wine glasses in tow.......

Next stop was Shadow Springs.

As we drove the country roads between wineries, I kept my glass ready for the next stop.

Next up on the trail was Dobbins Creek Vineyard. The tasting room is up on top of a hill and the road up that hill was very steep; you would not want to visit with a lot of snow on the ground. The land was originally a tobacco farm, then simply used for pastureland. The vines are planted exactly where the tobacco plants were grown. The bar was constructed from 100 year old cherry harvested on the land.

Laurel Gray Vineyards served bbq sliders along with a yummy 'strawberry shortcake' wine. And yes, we brought some home. And, no, it was not sweet, just very fruit forward. And a very pleasant atmosphere to enjoy tasting it.

Divine Llama Vineyards was a pleasant stop; the wall behind the bar was an aquarium. The owners also raise llamas. The owners enjoy blending their own wines.

Cellar 4201 Here is what to do with your garage if you own a winery: turn it into a tasting room!

Moving on, we went to Flint Hill Vineyards.

They even give directions to other vineyards:

Perhaps my favorite vineyard is Ragapple Lassie. We visited this tasting room before. I love the cow and I love the wine.

Of course the photos to the left and in the middle are of the Lassie herself! And, no the photo to the right is NOT the tasting room!!

Sanders Ridge was in a delightful setting. There is a restaurant and tasting room, plus a local naturalist holds monthly birdwatching nature walks. Larry especially loved the food served here....spring rolls stuffed with bbq.

This is the last of the photos; we did visit other wineries as well. Some wines were very fruit forward, some more mineral. We bought wine at several; the bottles were all priced between $15 and $19. We chose the wines to buy based on my comments: if I said mmmmm........or yummm........we bought a bottle. All the wines I chose had a lovely bouquet or 'nose' and had a nice finish.