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Life Should Be Beautiful

A blog about simple ways to make your life more beautiful. Things you can surround yourself with that stimulate your senses and create memories. Especially good food, wine and cocktails.

Updated: 2018-03-19T13:06:39.728-06:00


Hamburger Stroganoff


I decided this was the perfect recipe for a cold, rainy day here in North Texas.  After huddling last night in the hallway as tornadoes battered parts of the region, comfort food was in order.  I realized I hadn't posted this recipe online before.  Luckily, I found a blurry recipe card in my old-fashioned index card file.

Now, full disclosure: This is NOT a gourmet version of  stroganoff.  The beef is ground, there are no vegetables involved, and the hardest tasks are opening a couple of cans.  What it IS is that wonderful nostalgic kind of food that those of us who grew up in the 1970's remember fondly.  (I will admit that I have increased the seasoning and tinkered with the healthfulness of the ingredients a bit.)

Try it and see what you think.

Hamburger Stroganoff
Serves 6-8.

1/4 cup unsalted butter (You could use olive oil, I guess, but I don't.)
1/2 cup minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced (I substitute 2 tablespoons garlic pepper to kick up the flavor.)
1 pound ground beef (I use a mix of lean ground beef and ground turkey.)
2 tablespoons flour
8 ounces sliced mushrooms  (The original calls for a can of "Broiled in Butter" mushrooms, but I don't think they are made anymore.  You can use fresh.  I split the difference and used a jar of Green Giant sliced mushrooms. Don't drain them.  If you use fresh, you might add 2 or 3 ounces of water. You want the liquid.)
1 can cream of mushroom soup (I know, I know.  But at least I use "Healthy Request.")
1 cup sour cream
Salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium-low heat.  Add the onion and a pinch of salt.  Cook for 3-4 minutes.  Add garlic (or garlic pepper) and continue to cook for 30 seconds.  Add the ground meat and cook until slightly browned, stirring occasionally to break meat up.

Add flour and mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes.

Add soup and cook for 10 minutes.

Taste and add salt, pepper and/or garlic pepper to taste.

Stir in the sour cream and heat through.  Taste once more and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Serve over rice (my preference) or buttered egg noodles.

Food and Wine Says, "Make, Don't Buy" These Things


Here's an interesting interactive feature from Food & Wine on things you should make yourself, rather than buy.  I would agree, especially on mac and cheese and vinaigrette.  I would also add ricotta to this list.  So easy.

What would you add to the list?  Post in the comments below.

"What's in the Refrigerator" Soup


I am sick and tired of throwing food away.  Even if it's just into the compost bin, I hate it.  So, in the spirit of "Clean Out the Refrigerator Quiche", I've been salvaging bits of veggies from the produce share to make soup about once a week.  It's a healthy lunch...and sometimes for me, even a quick breakfast.)  Here's this week's edition.  But remember, it's a technique, not a recipe.  Riff on it to your heart's content.

"What's in the Refrigerator" Soup
Servings?  Depends on you...

Take one link smoked sausage (I used andouille.) and chop into half-inch pieces.  Put in a stock pot over medium-low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until barely browned.  Add one onion, chopped; four stalks of celery, thinly sliced; and four carrots, thinly sliced. Continue to saute, stirring periodically, for 4-5 minutes.

Add one bunch coarsely chopped collard greens and one-half head of cabbage, chopped.  Stir until incorporated.

Add 6-8 cups liquid.  (I used a combination of storebought chicken stock and water.) Season with whatever moves you...a bit of salt and pepper, some Italian seasoning, thyme, a bay leaf or two.  Like I said, whatever moves you.  Bring to the boil and then simmer until vegetables are softened, about 25 minutes. (If desired, add one can of white beans, rinsed and drained, during the last 10 minutes of cooking.)

Enjoy with some crusty bread and feel superior because you didn't throw food away.

Momofuku Ssam Sauce


(image) I've not been big on recipes lately.  Instead, have been experimenting.  Or just cooking simply with good ingredients.

But one way to add interest is new sauces and seasonings.  I wrangled an on-sale pork shoulder into the Dutch over last week for a braise and decided to make it Momofuku Bo Ssam style. Made the two sauces that come with...but did lettuce wraps instead of steamed buns.

And the wonderful surprise?  Plenty of Ssam sauce leftover.  I put it in a squeeze bottle and threw it in the fridge.  So far, it's been great on seared tuna, roasted asparagus and steamed new potatoes.  The possibilities seem endless. Post your ideas/successes in the comments below.

This one is definitely worth the trip to an Asian supermarket.

Makes one cup.

2 tablespoons fermented bean-and-chili paste (ssamjang) (Pictured.)
1 tablespoon chili paste (kochujang)
½ cup sherry vinegar
½ cup neutral oil (like grapeseed)

Salmon with Greek Yogurt Sauce


I know, I's been a while.  Sorry.  Sometimes the beautiful life doesn't include being chained to a blog posting schedule.  That said, I'll try to do better.

While it's only spring, we're already starting to see talk of Alaskan wild salmon.  (Which is the only kind you should eat, by the way.  It's the most sustainable of all.)  And even if you're not seeing the fresh stuff yet, "previously frozen" is perfectly fine.

I found some beautiful fish on big-time sale at our local supermarket and couldn't resist.  We've been into Greek flavors lately.  (Even found our favorite gyros place that delivers!)  So I took some of those ubiquitous ingredients and created this cool (literally and figuratively) sauce/relish to top salmon called however you like it best...whether roasted, steamed or poached. Hopefully, you'll have leftovers that you can flake over spinach with some additional cucumber, maybe a cut-up tomato, and the yogurt sauce as a creamy dressing.  Let me know what you think.

Greek Yogurt Sauce
Makes enough for 3-4 servings of salmon. (Use don't overwhelm the delicious salmon you're craving.)

1 cup yogurt (Plain and non-fat preferably.  You can use Greek, but it makes the sauce a little thick for my taste.)
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1/2 cucumber, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon oregano (more if you want)
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped dill (if you have it)
Pinch of kosher salt
Generous shake or two of ground pepper

Mix all ingredients.  Refrigerate, but let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving on the salmon.




I enjoy playing a little game of Chopped with myself as I fix dinner.  What's in the pantry/fridge/freezer that can be combined in creative and delicious ways?  Mind you I don't throw myself the loop of some weird ingredient that doesn't go with anything.  (Ted you're just cruel.) Lord know I should do it more often...given three freezers worth of stuff to work with.  But I digress.

The latest game was a victory.  I had: 1) chicken breasts (Just stop reading now if you don't have chicken breasts somewhere in your house.) 2) Prosciutto (Too much purchased for a party vacuum-packed and frozen afterwards.) 3) Spinach (Those huge containers are just too tempting at Costco.) 4) Ricotta cheese (Yes, I make my own.  Don't you???)

Now mind you I didn't concoct this on my own.  Just used my well-tagged Evernote recipe database and found this one...

Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Prosciutto-Wrapped Chicken Breasts
Makes 4 servings.

4 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon  minced garlic
4 cups baby spinach
A pinch freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 cup drained fresh ricotta
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
8 slices prosciutto, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butterfly the chicken by slicing horizontally into the thick, long side of each breast, taking care not to slice all the way through. Open each breast like a book and place on a work surface. Using a mallet, pound the chicken to even it out a bit. Season both sides with salt and pepper.

In a medium skillet, heat one tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the spinach and stir until wilted, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the nutmeg.. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drain the spinach well, let cool, then finely chop. (You should have 3 to 4 tablespoons chopped spinach.) In a medium bowl, mix the spinach with the cheeses; season to taste.

Spread some of the spinach mixture on one side of each chicken breast, leaving a small border. Close the other half of the chicken breast over the filling to cover. Wrap each chicken breast with 2 slices prosciutto.

In a large, ovenproof skillet, heat the remaining two tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook until the prosciutto is just browned, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the chicken is cooked through, about 12 minutes.

Remove from oven let chicken rest 10 minutes and serve.

Buttermilk-Goat Cheese Dressing


Here is a tangy dressing that is easy to make and great on just about any kind of salad you can think of.  Romaine.  Just some sliced tomatoes.  Even as a dip for a snack of crudite.

Buttermilk-Goat Cheese Dressing
Makes a scant 2 cups.

1 teaspoon minced garlic, mashed into a paste with a little salt
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons finely chopped tarragon (substitute chives if you'd like)
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (red wine vinegar also ok)
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1 1/2 cups buttermilk (you can sub regular milk with a tablespoon or so of lemon juice)

Place all ingredients in a jar. Close lid tightly and shake until well-combined.


Seared Scallops with White Wine-Butter Sauce


I am in that zone nowadays where I haven't been using a lot of recipes.  (Might I use that as my excuse for not posting regularly?  Or at all?)

Anyway...when I DO use recipes, it usually means checking the table of contents of several of the hundreds of cookbooks I have and laying them side-by-side.  A little bit of this. (ooo...I like that it calls for goat cheese.) A little less of that.  (No tarragon, thank you.)  The result is a wonderful amalgam.  And I have given myself permission not to try and codify them and write them down.

Right now, the kitchen is my laboratory.

That said, I DID follow this recipe step for step. It's fussier than I am up for these days, but it was a pairing for a bottle of Chardonnay that I received in my Food & Wine wine club shipment.  After going through all the steps and tasting the sauce on its own, I was disappointed.  Tasted a little tinny...too acidic.

But when all the components were put together, it was wonderful.  Use them all.  Spinach, pine nuts, and Aleppo pepper if you have it.  The dish was sublime with an almost tropical French Chardonnay.  (2013 Domaine de Grezen)

And you wonder why I still call Food & Wine my favorite foodie publication...

Seared Scallops with White Wine-Butter Sauce
From Food & Wine magazine.

2 tablespoons pine nuts
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium shallots, minced
2 cups white wine
2 thyme sprigs
1 cup fish stock
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
1 tablespoon minced chives
Salt and ground pepper
1 packed cup baby spinach
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
16 large sea scallops
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper flakes (optional)

In a skillet, toast the pine nuts over moderate heat until golden, 2 minutes; transfer to a plate and let cool. Lightly crush the nuts.

In a medium saucepan, heat 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Add the shallots and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until browned, 4 minutes. Add the wine and thyme; boil until reduced to 1/4 cup, 15 minutes. Add the stock and boil until reduced to 1/4 cup, 9 minutes longer. Add the cream, bring to a boil and remove from the heat.

Strain the wine sauce into a clean saucepan. Whisk in the butter, 4 pieces at a time, until the sauce is thickened and smooth; set the pan over low heat as necessary to help melt the butter. Stir in the chives and season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat.

In a medium bowl, toss the spinach with the lemon juice and the remaining olive oil; season with salt and pepper.

In the skillet, heat the vegetable oil. Season the scallops with salt and pepper, add to the skillet and cook over high heat, turning once, until browned but barely cooked through, 2 minutes per side. Transfer the scallops and spinach to plates. Garnish with the pine nuts and pepper flakes. Gently reheat the sauce, spoon on top and serve.

New Potato Salad with Creamy Dill Dressing


Have a picnic or cookout coming up for Labor Day or some other end-of-summer occasion?  You won't go wrong taking this creamy and brightly flavored potato salad.New Potato Salad with Creamy Dill DressingMakes eight servings.3 pounds new potatoes, halved2/3 cup sour cream2/3 cup mayonnaise4 tablespoons Dijon mustard2 tablespoons white wine vinegar1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped6 scallions, thinly slicedKosher salt and black pepperFill a large saucepan with 1 inch of water and fit with a steamer basket. Steam the potatoes until tender, 15 to 18 minutes; let cool.Mix the sour cream and next four ingredients in a mixing bowl until combined.  Toss the potatoes and scallions in the dressing and season to taste. Chill for at least eight hours.Note: If you like a creamier potato salad, mix an additional 1/3 cup each sour cream and mayonnaise with one tablespoon Dijon, one tablespoon white wine vinegar and a bit more dill and chill separately.  Stir in right before serving. [...]

Parmesan Cream Sauce


Yes, I like to make things from scratch.  But there's no need to make EVERYTHING yourself.  I have made ravioli before, but don't shy away from buying high-quality filled pasta from a pasta purveyor or even a warehouse store.

I draw the line with the sauce though. I am scared of the tubs of Alfredo and other sauces you can buy at the grocery store.  Too many preservatives, gums and -ates for my liking.  Plus, when a sauce can be easily and quickly made with ingredients you're likely to have in the pantry, why bother?

Here's a rich creamy, cheesy sauce I concocted for some spinach ravioli we had last weekend.  It would be wonderful as a mac and cheese base too, I am betting.

Parmesan Cream Cheese
Makes about 2 cups.

1/4 cup butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon garlic pepper (or freshly ground black pepper to taste)
Kosher salt to taste (You might not need any thanks to the saltiness of the Parmesan.)

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk in flour; cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk. Bring to a boil, and cook, whisking constantly, 1 to 2 minutes or until thickened. Stir in Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper

Grilled Romaine and Shrimp Salad with Roasted Garlic Caesar Dressing


It's the time of year for grilling...everything.  Even salad.  Yes, salad.

The other night, having been tempted for years to try it, we grilled our Caesar salad.  We cut the romaine hearts in half lengthwise (leaving the root end intact so it didn't fall apart on the grill) drizzled them with a little olive oil and put them on a hot grill for about three minutes on each side.  Just long enough to wilt them a bit and give them a little bit of smoke.

I gilded the lily by grilling onions and shrimp as well.  Then served it all up with this roasted-garlic Caesar dressing.  Yummy.

Roasted Garlic Caesar Dressing
Makes about one cup dressing.

1 head garlic, top third cut off
3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
3 anchovy fillets, minced

Drizzle the garlic head with olive oil and wrap in foil.  Roast in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 1 hour.  Set aside and let cool slightly.

Squeeze softened garlic out of peel and into a mini food processor.  Add the buttermilk, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and anchovies. Process until smooth.

With the motor running, drizzle the olive oil into the processor until the dressing is combined and emulsified.  Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.  (You might not need any salt since the anchovies are salty to begin with.)  Pulse again until combined.

Avocado-Arugula Pesto


We've been buying beautiful avocados on the cheap lately.  I love eating them simply--sliced with some good olive oil and flaky salt. Also added to sandwiches and, obviously, salads.

But I've been branching out recently and including them as ingredients in less-expected ways. (Including the green goddess sauce I posted earlier this week.)  Here's a great pesto inspired by Giada.  (I am still not completely on the arugula bandwagon so went with more basil in the ratio than she suggests.) It was great on pasta with a generous sprinkle of Parmesan and a few toasted sliced almonds.

Avocado-Arugula Pesto
Makes around 2 cups of pesto.

1 large (or 2 medium) ripe avocados, halved, peeled and pitted
2 cups baby arugula
2 cups fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil (You don't really need this from a liquid standpoint...I just like the richness it brings.)
Pinch of salt
Grind of black pepper

Place all ingredients in the food processor and blend until smooth.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and pulse to combine.

Green Goddess Chicken Pitas


I was thrilled to run across Food52 not too long ago.  It's become one of my favorite websites and their regular e-mails of recipes and great products for foodies inspire on a daily basis.

Recently, they sent a recipe for a chicken sandwich dressed with a zingy, herby green goddess sauce. I adapted it slightly and served it in a puffy pita pocket.  GREAT summer dinner.  Try it for yourself.

Green Goddess Sauce
Makes about 1/ 1/2 cups.

1 clove garlic
3 tablespoons fresh basil
3 tablespoons chives
3 tablespoons flat leaf parsley
1 avocado, peeled and pitted
1 cup yogurt (preferably Greek)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
salt and pepper

Into a food processor, place a roughly chopped garlic clove and the torn herbs.  Pulse until finely chopped.  Add the avocado (cut into large chunks will help the food processor do its job), yogurt, lemon juice and vinegar.  Process until combined (I liked mine slightly chunky with nice flecks of herbs still visible).  Taste for seasoning and blend in salt and pepper to taste.

This would make a great dip for pita chips or crudite.  It was delicious in a pita sandwich with a little rotisserie chicken, thinly sliced tomato, baby spinach and swiss cheese.  The other half's was just as good with cheddar cheese, bacon and some sliced red onion.  Combine away and enjoy!

Balsamic Fig Jam


Those of us who think Life Should Be Beautiful know all about summer produce. Here in north Texas, I can't get enough of the tomatoes, cucumbers, yellow squash, and peaches that are on offer at local farmers markets.  But rather than fall into the proverbial rut, I am pleased to say that I have expanded my horizons with a new favorite: figs.

I first discovered them at the upscale grocery store, but as our locavore offerings have broadened I have more often been able to find them at the market.  They are delicious eaten out-of-hand, grilled alongside chicken, or sauteed and drizzled with honey and dolloped with mascarpone cheese.

Here's a recipe I tried this afternoon with some gorgeous figs in our produce share.  Its jammy goodness is going to be great with crackers and blue cheese.  I am also thinking a grilled panini of prosciutto and fontina with a bit of the jam spread on sourdough.

You could easily multiply this recipe and then can in a hot water bath, but I settled for a single batch this time.  It should last me just about two weeks and then it will be time for more figs.

Balsamic Fig Jam
Makes about 1 1/2 cup

8-10 ounces figs, stems removed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Over medium-high heat, combine the figs, sugar, balsamic vinegar and water in a 12-inch saute pan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and add lemon juice, rosemary, salt and pepper.  Simmer, stirring occasionally until thickened, 25-35 minutes.  You'll know its done when you drag a wooden spoon across the bottom of the pan and it leaves a trail without the liquid coming back in to cover.  Watch it carefully for the last 10 minutes or so.  It can go from wonderful jam to burned sugar quickly if you're not careful.

Let cool slightly and place in food processor.  Pulse 3-5 times; you want a slightly chunky consistency.  Transfer jam to glass jar or container and let cool to room temperature.  Cover and refrigerate for up to one month,

Mixed Berry Buckle


This time of year, on my weekly produce runs to Sprouts, the berries seem to jump into my shopping basket.  (And at 3 pints for $5 this week, I am betting they will again very soon.)  Yes, they are wonderful in smoothies, stirred into yogurt, dropped over ice cream or pound cake.  But there still seems to be plenty leftover. Here's a delicious way to use up a bounty of berries.  As you can see from the photo, it got the office's seal of approval.

Mixed Berry Buckle
Makes 9-inch square cake.

Streusel Topping
1/2 cup pecans
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Pinch salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed

Pulse pecans in food processor until roughly chopped. Add the brown sugar, flour, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Pulse several times to combine. Add the butter, and pulse until everything is incorporated and the mixture looks damp and clumpy. Set aside..

Cake Batter

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup sugar
1 large egg, cold
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cups buttermilk, room temperature
2 pints of berries (for the one in the photo, I used a mix of mostly blueberries and blackberries with a few raspberries thrown in for good measure.)

Preheat oven to 350º F. Butter and flour a 2-inch deep, 9-inch square baking pan.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl.

Put melted butter in separate mixing bowl. Add the sugar, egg, and vanilla to the bowl, then whisk until combined. Gradually beat in the buttermilk.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir just until the batter is smooth.

Gently fold in the berries.  (Be's all right if a few berries break, but it's nice to have the contrast of the golden cake and the dark berries.)

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, spreading it evenly. Sprinkle with the streusel topping.

Bake for 45-50  minutes. When done, the top will be golden and a toothpick inserted in the center will emerge clean of batter, although it might have a bit of berry on it.)

Let cool on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes before serving and serve warm or at room temperature.

It's pretty great at any time of the day...breakfast, snack or dessert.

Tomato Pie


If you're like me (OK...if you're SMART like me), you're dropping 15-20 bucks at Farmer Lemley's tomato stand at the Dallas Farmer's Market once a week.

And, if you, like me, can't use or share all those beauties soon enough, you look for recipes with tomatoes (lots of them) in the ingredient list.  I have a couple of gazpacho-type cold tomato soup recipes I'll post soon, but here is a hearty tomato recipe that is easily a main course.  If the meat eaters in your house revolt, you could always serve a grilled chicken breast alongside.

Tomato Pie
Makes 6-8 servings.

1 refrigerated pie crust
2 3/4 pounds assorted large tomatoes, divided (It's great if you have a couple different colors i.e. golden and red)
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 1/2 cups grated Cheddar (or Colby-Jack) cheese
1/2 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons fresh dill sprigs
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon apple cider (or white or white wine...whatever you have) vinegar
1 green onion, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons plain yellow cornmeal
(If you'd like, you can add 3-4 tablespoons of crumbled cooked bacon to the filling before baking.)

Press pie crust into 9-inch pie plate and set aside.

Cut 2 pounds (2-4 biggies) tomatoes into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place tomatoes in a single layer on paper towels; sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Let stand 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425°. Stir together Cheddar cheese, next 10 ingredients, and remaining 1 teaspoon salt in a large bowl until combined.

Pat tomato slices dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle cornmeal over bottom of crust. Lightly spread 1/2 cup cheese mixture onto crust; layer with half of tomato slices in slightly overlapping rows. Spread with 1/2 cup cheese mixture. Repeat layers, using remaining tomato slices and cheese mixture. Cut remaining 3/4 pound (1 big one) tomatoes into 1/4-inch-thick slices, and arrange on top of pie.
Bake at 425° for 40 to 45 minutes, shielding edges with foil or a pie shield during the last 20 minutes to prevent excessive browning. Let stand 1 to 2 hours before serving.

Tomato Mozzarella Bliss


This isn't a recipe as much as it is a preparation.  Although with summer tomatoes plentiful at Farmer Lemley's stand at the farmers market, it's really a mandate.

Thickly slice a couple of tomatoes...if they are heirlooms or you have a variety of colors, all the better.

Slice the best-quality mozzarella you can get your hands on.  Although I will confess, when tomatoes are wonderful, I can even settle for the stuff you can easily find at the supermarket.  You'll want one slice of mozzarella for each slice of tomato.  And a serving will be 2-3 slices of each.

Overlap the slices on your plate.  Drizzle with high-quality olive oil and scatter some shredded fresh basil on top.  Season with flake salt and freshly cracked black pepper. If you are so inclined you can add a drizzle of balsamic vinegar...I skip it. I feel like it overwhelms the tomatoes, the stars of this delicious show.


Dilled Tartar Sauce


You don't buy bottled tartar sauce, do you?  All you need to do to make it yourself is mix a little pickle relish (or even better chowchow) into some mayonnaise.  Or a little chopped dill pickle.  Diced onion is a nice add-in.  This recipe kicks it up a notch further with some fresh dill.  Use it on the crispy halibut recipe I posted yesterday. 

Dilled Tartar Sauce
Makes about 1/2 cup.

1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons chopped dill pickle
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
4-6 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (according to your taste)
Freshly cracked black pepper to taste.

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.  Season with black pepper to taste.

Crispy Panko Halibut


Long time, no see. has been beautiful, but busy.  Still trying lots of recipes and picking up ideas.  Promise to do a better job of sharing them with you.  Starting with this easy delicious dinner.

Got an e-mail from The Other Half yesterday saying "We're having cod for dinner."

Translation: "I bought cod at the grocery store.  Now you need to figure out what to do with it and make it so."

I'm used to this routine, so pulled up recipes tagged "cod" in my Evernote files.  (I haven't told you about Evernote, have I?  Well, I will soon.)  We passed on a couple of interesting poached ideas.  Also set aside one made en papillote for very soon.  Settled on this easy way to make it crispy but keep it light.

Crispy Panko Halibut
Serves 2.

2 portions halibut (5-6 ounces each)
2 egg whites
1 cup panko
3 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Beat the egg whites until frothy and set aside.  Season the panko whatever strikes your fancy...salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika, thyme, you get the idea.  Dip the halibut into the egg whites and then dredge in the seasoned panko.  If the coating seems light, press a little more panko onto the halibut.

In a large ovenproof skillet, heat the olive oil until shimmering.  Place the halibut in the pan and allow to fry until browned on one side.  Turn fish over and place skillet into preheated oven.  Bake until fish is cooked through and panko browned on top, another 6-8 minutes.

Remove from oven and serve.  You can top it with a little salsa, some sauteed summer veggies, or the tasty dill sauce I will post here tomorrow.

A Downton Abbey-Inspired Cocktail of the Week: An Earl Grey Gin Cocktail


Hear ye, hear ye...that program that we colonists have grown to love return for a fourth season tonight.  How will Lady Mary cope as a single mother...with only a household of servants to help out?  What cause will Matthew's grieving mother take up next?  Which outfit will Cora wear to dinner? In just a few hours, we'll know...

Such an auspicious occasion cries out for a dignified oh-so-English tipple.  When I think of British beverages, two leap to mind.  Early Grey breakfast cup most mornings. (Two lumps and milk, please.)  And gin.  But none of that cucumber-infused boutique stuff.  Dry London gin. My favorite is Bombay Sapphire...there's a picture of Queen Victoria on the label.  Can't be much more authentic than that.

This cocktail, inspired by several I found online, combines the two.  Serve it in your best cocktail class-a 1920's style coupe if you have it.  After a couple of these, you'll be throwing off bon mots that would make the Dowager Countess envious.

Earl Grey Gin Cocktail
Makes one cocktail.

In saucepan, heat 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water over medium heat until the sugar dissolves.  Remove from the heat and add two Early Grey tea bags.  Or even better, 1 tablespoon of loose Earl Grey tea in a tea ball.  Let cool completely and strain into a small jar or bottle.  This is the Earl Grey simple syrup the recipe calls for.

2 ounces London dry gin
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 ounce Earl Grey simple syrup

Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled shaker.  Shake until well-combined and the outside of the shaker is frosty.  Strain into a cocktail glass.  Garnish with witty repartee and a disdain for the working class.    

Chinese Chicken Salad...Recess Between Bacchanalias


As usual, the other half and I have eaten our way through the holidays...Tex-Mex on Christmas Eve, brunch and prime rib on Christmas Day.  Still to come: champagne and pasta on New Years Eve, eggs benedict in the morning and fried catfish and black-eyed peas for dinner.

Today then was the break in the storm. Breakfast was green juice and an English muffin. Lunch was a hard-boiled egg and half a roast beef sandwich on multi-grain.  And dinner was this delicious Chinese chicken salad.  As luck would have it, we saw the recipe on television yesterday.  As I am wont to do, I adapted it slightly, but kept the cooking method--which gives the chicken lots of flavor.  With crisp veggies and a tangy/spicy dressing, it's a healthy meal that you'll be using well into 2014 to keep up with those New Years resolutions.

Chinese Chicken Salad
Makes 4-6 servings worth of chicken.  Alter the vegetables as you see fit.

For the chicken and dressing:
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons minced ginger
1 tablespoons minced garlic
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoons sambal oelek
3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons canola oil

For the salad:
Napa cabbage, thinly sliced
Romaine lettuce, thinly sliced
Carrot, peeled and grated
Celery, very thinly sliced (best done on a mandoline)
Red bell pepper, cut in very thin julienne
Scallion, thinly sliced
Chopped toasted cashews, peanuts or sliced almonds

Season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper and set aside.

Combine the orange juice and the next six ingredients (through sambal oelek) in a bowl.  Whisk until thoroughly combined.  Remove 1/2 cup mixture to use to cook chicken.  To remaining dressing, add sesame oil and canola oil, whisking until emulsified.

In a medium saute pan over medium-high heat, add the 1/2 cup reserved dressing mixture and heat until simmering.  Add the chicken breasts and cover pan.  Cook until chicken is done, about 12 minutes, turning several times.  Remove the chicken to a plate and continue to simmer the liquid in the pan until reduced by half.  Turn off the heat.

After the chicken has cooled slightly, shred it and return to the saute pan, adding 3 tablespoons of the finished dressing.  Heat over low heat just until heated through and liquid has been absorbed by the chicken.

The chicken can be served over the salad warm, at room temperature or chilled.  Add additional dressing to your liking and garnish with the nuts of your choice.

Getting Ready for New Years...


New Years Eve and New Years Day are just around the corner.  And I have your list of how to get ready. you have your bubbly yet?  I've become quite partial to Schramsberg, a lovely sparkler from California.  We're in the wine club and have a wonderful bottle in the wine fridge waiting for us.  But if you still need to to hit the liquor store, here's a list to consider.

Next...what are you serving with your New Years toasts?  I think it's a night for delicious bites.  Whether you're throwing  a party or just sitting on the couch watching movies, I think it's a night for grazing.  I am thinking about making these delicious little canapes with ricotta and chive puree. Also perhaps this hot crab dip.

And, of course, you need to get the black-eyed peas ready for New Years Day.  We've decided to go really Southern with fried catfish and oysters, cole slaw, and my easy, but delicious, black-eyed (really purple hulled) peas.

Enjoy and....Happy New Year!

Cabernet and Balsamic-Caramelized Onions


Made up a batch of these flavorful onions to go on--and actually IN--some burgers we fixed the other night. But it would make a wonderful relish for roast pork or chicken, on a roast beef sandwich or even heated and used to wilt a spinach salad.

Cabernet and Balsamic-Caramelized Onions
Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 cups thinly sliced red onions
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon garlic pepper (or freshly ground black pepper)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup Cabernet Sauvignon
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Over medium-low heat, heat olive oil and butter in a saute pan.  Add the onions, thyme, pepper and salt and cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are golden and very tender. (Low and slow is your friend here.) Add the wine and balsamic and continue to cook, until the liquid is almost completely reduced.

Thanksgiving Leftovers: Turkey, Swiss and Apple Sandwich


We all have our favorite sandwich recipes which include leftover Thanksgiving turkey.  Cranberry and dressing.  Mayo and veggies.  Whatever.

Here's a new one you MUST try.

Thinly sliced apple.
Coarse mustard.
Swiss cheese.
Multi-grain bread.

Coat the outsides of the bread with a little butter/margarine and throw into a sandwich press/George Foreman grill until nice and toasty.

You love me now, right???

Cocktail of the Week: Pumpkin Martini


Happy Thanksgiving!

At our family feast, pecan pie is the dessert of choice.  But that doesn't mean I don't like a nibble of pumpkin pie.  I don't really want to take the time to bake one for just a bite though.

Here's the solution.  The tastes of pumpkin a cocktail glass.  It's the perfect nightcap to a day of eating and drinking.

Pumpkin Martini
Makes one cocktail.

1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
3 tablespoons vodka
2 tablespoons half and half
1 tablespoon canned pure pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Combine the sugar and ⅛ teaspoon of the pumpkin pie spice on a small plate. Dip the rim of a chilled martini glass in water, then dip in the sugar to coat.

In a martini shaker filled with ice, combine the vodka, half and half, pumpkin puree, maple syrup, vanilla extract, and the remaining ⅛ teaspoon of the pumpkin pie spice. Shake vigorously, then strain into the prepared glass.