Musings on Food and Life

Musings on Food & Life


Food is my passion. I create, read, write, breath, eat, photograph, love and live food. As a chef and culinary instructor, each day is a quest to learn something new about a food ingredient, recipe, history, or fact about all things edible. Three silly dogs share my passion for eating and I'm blessed to be married to my best friend Tracy. Tune in for my thoughts on food, recipes, dogs, travel, music and life.



Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Thousand Blogs

It's been several months since my last blog entry.  Not that I have not thought about blogging.  I have written countless blogs in my head on many topics including the Strip district in Pittsburgh, PA, the First Note Music Hall in Santa Rosa Beach, FL, amazing Thanksgiving traditions and celebrations, about the many dogs I have met through dog rescue and have wiggled their way into my heart,  and of course, food, glorious food!  Stay tuned for a new blog entry soon.  Very soon.  And on paper, not in my head!

Meanwhile, please enjoy gearing up for this blessed Christmas season.  Take time for the things that Matter.  Be thankful for your many blessings, especially those that you take for granted.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The No Good Very Bad Week

One thing certain in life other than birth, death and taxes, is that some days are better than others.  Bad things happen.  Remember the book entitled, "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day"?  Occasionally days are despicable.  Some weeks are worse, a string of bad days on steroids.  Last month one of those weeks slithered into our lives.

It started with my husband's job layoff.  He was alerted about definite possibility.  We prepared for it, well, as ready as one can be.  We decided to continue on a trip North in spite of the upcoming announcement.  No matter how ready you are, it hurts to be downsized.  Unappreciated.  Dumped.  By itself, this event was both unwelcome and stressful.  However, it was only the beginning.

Our Pom mix Curly had been ill for a few weeks, suffering from partial kidney failure.  He was our first dog together when we returned from living in Chile and had graced our lives for 11 years.  The day we left town, Curly didn't want to eat, so my wonderful Tracy trekked to several stores in search of a rotisserie chicken.   Poultry was without a doubt Curly's absolute favorite meal.  Leaving town yet feeling hopeful, our kind, sweet dogsitter stayed with the goobers, instructions in hand that if anything went wrong, she should take him straight to the vet.  We didn't have to wait long.  After enjoying his special chicken dinner that evening, he got sick.  The next day he went to the doggie hospital for I.V. fluids and evaluation.  Our sweet neighbor visited him and snapped a photo, which she uploaded to Facebook.  The sweet boy seemed comfortable and was in good hands.  We were only going to be gone a few days. 


Our caring vet gave us an update daily.  After three days his kidney numbers weren't improving as well as she hoped.  I was conflicted about staying, anxious to hold him in my arms to comfort both him and me.  We only had two days before heading home, but we could leave sooner if necessary.  That night I couldn't sleep nor get Curly off my mind.  I cried and cried, praying that the Lord would comfort him in my absence.  To be with the little dog, so he wouldn't be alone.  I left the vet a message saying we could come home the next day, just let us know how he was.

In the morning, Tracy took the call we didn't want.  Curly had passed just an hour before.  We were immediately heartbroken in a way that I could not imagine.  I was not there for my boy.  Did he suffer?  Should we have stayed home?  Did he miss us?  Did his little body just give out?  The flood of tears burst forth and I thought I may never stop crying.  I felt desperate to get home.  There was only one decision left to make. 

Back in Atlanta, I picked up the small, furry body encased in a thick, black plastic bag, It was hidden inside a clumsy, white, “slightly too big” cardboard coffin.  It felt so heavy, just like my heart.  So very heavy.  I didn’t know how I was going to get him to the car.  Hot tears stung my cheeks.  My vision blurred as I stumbled out the vet office door and somehow reached the parking lot.  It seemed right to bury him in the backyard.  A tranquil, shaded place where he romped, sniffed, chased, wandered.  When I close my eyes, I smile and envision him laying on the deck, keeping our home safe from any wayward squirrels, rabbits and deer.  Yes, the backyard was perfect, a place where we could look out the french doors and remember all that he was to us.  Goodbye sweet Curly.  We will always love you.  Thanks for loving us so well. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ripe & Ready!

Ahhhh, the face of summer has arrived. The tomato beckons in all of its shapes, colors, and beauty.  In our raised bed garden, a few plants have grown tall with small yellow flowers to produce this treasured fruit, that is if the deer decide the salad bar in the back yard does not include these luscious gems.  One of my favorite little darlings is the Sungold, a small, orange, delicate variety that is especially scrumptious whole in salads or on top of pizza.  I just can't resist them when I go to the local Farmer's Market; they practically dive into my bag! 

My mouth is watering with the thought of fresh corn and tomato salad with lots of basil (and shrimp!) or a simple lettuce and arugula salad with handmade feta or goat cheese, highlighted with a colorful tomato garnish.  Last night, dinner was gorgeous offering of a simple BLT with peppered applewood smoked bacon, thick slices of ruby red beefsteak tomato, vibrant green leaf lettuce, and a dab of Hellman's mayo.  Not to mention the toasted sandwich bread by Holeman and Finch (the BEST sandwich bread ever, made by a local bakery - thank you Chef Linton Hopkins!).   The BLT will be on my menu plan again soon!  Very soon. 


The versatilility of the tomato ensures its place on our dining table often.  Raw, cooked, pureed, baked, stuffed, you name it.  While living in Chile, the "Ensalada Chilena" became a treasured accompaniment to any entree.  It celebrates the marriage of ripe tomatos and onions with a little chopped hot pepper and a drizzle of oil and vinegar or lemon juice.  Homemade manicotti with marinara sauce uses either crushed tomatoes or fresh, whichever you prefer for your sauce. 

Baking the tomato brings out its delicate flavor and is almost as easy as, well, pie.  While tomato pie would be pulling out all the stops, this subtle scalloped tomato just might rock your taste buds.  Red and yellow tomatoes together are visually stunning - the look of sunrise and sunset!  I think you will make this one again and again.  Thanks to Gena Berry for sharing the original recipe.

Baked Tomatoes with Herb Crust
Yield:  6 -8 servings

6 large tomatoes, cored and sliced 1/3 inch thick (heirloom preferred)
kosher salt & fresh-ground black pepper
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1 clove minced garlic
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons chiffonade fresh basil (about 8 leaves)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (fresh-grated Parmigiana Reggiano is especially good)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat your oven to 400 F.  Lightly oil a shallow 2-quart baking dish.

Place the tomato slices in the prepared dish, overlapping the slices as necessary.  Season the tomatoes lightly with salt and pepper, and then drizzle with balsamic vinegar.  In a small bowl, combine the Panko, garlic, thyme, basil and cheese.  Spread the topping over the tomatoes and then drizzle with olive oil.

Bake the tomatoes for 35 mintues until the tomatoes are tender and the breadcrumbs are crispy and golden.  Serve hot.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Inspired

Chef John Besh & Chef Rosemary

Food, glorious food.  Something very, very special happens when food people come together to share and learn from one another.  Last week I had the extreme pleasure of visiting Austin, TX to attend the 2011 conference of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP).  So many classes and workshops, so little time!  Some of the most vibrant print media writers, bloggers, chefs and accomplished food professionals I have ever seen via books, articles, TV and internet were present.  I lapped up knowledge like a hot, thirsty dog at a cool water bowl!

 Who would not feel blessed to watch the incredible Jacques P├ępin create five dishes from his latest cookbook?  He has such wit and charm, and his recipes were simple with vibrant flavor.   And to hear Ellie Krieger give suggestions and tips for working on camera while doing food segments?  She is so lovely, no wonder the camera embraces her.   To see the beauty and grace in the stories that Penny de los Santos achieves through her photographs about food and culture.  You can feel her respect for the subjects and her love for her craft.  And Chef John Besh, who took inspiration from local college students in New Orleans on adding lemongrass to his Shrimp Creole.  Wow.  I am still processing all that I heard, felt and saw.

In one segment about food writing, I met Meredith Deeds and Carla Snyder, authors of The Big Book of Appetizers, one of my favorite appetizer books.  Hearing writing tips from revered writer and coach Toni Allegra, award winning cookbook author Dorie Greenspan, and Washington Post food writer Joe Yonan.  "Speed Dating for Entreprenurs" allowed those who own and run their businesses to ask questions of three distinctly different panelists whose advice has already proven invaluable.  Learning from people whose blogs now attract over a million readers each day.

I could go on and on about what I learned but one thing became obvious to me at the conference.  These successful people in the food world have passion for what they do.  They had a dream and went for it.  They are simply people with unique gifts and talents who succeed by following through on their dreams.  Taking action one step at a time.  Asking for advise from their peers, friends and fellow foodies.  They strive to learn something new each and every day.  

As the saying goes, so much to do and so little time.  I am continually evaluating who I am as a chef and my fit in this complex food world.  It's time to take action on some of my dreams and put others to rest.  As Seth Godin writes in his book The Dip, you have to quit some things to make room for the right things.  I'm ready....bring it on!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Welcome May!






May is a busy month for most folks with graduations, parties, the end of the school year, and Memorial Day holiday weekend, the official start of summer fun. Personally I'm excited about seeing my neighbors at our local pool, enjoying the sun and fellowship there. I had two really fun events for friends and neighbors this month that included buffet-style meals. Nothing like seeing a very sweet one-year-old boy with his chocolate birthday cupcake, icing in his hair and everywhere! And seeing a family decorate their lovely deck and yard to celebrate two very special graduates. Food really does make these events memorable.

Some of the dishes served at these events were black bean hummus with roasted red peppers, spicy feta dip, turkey sliders, spicy cilantro shrimp with Asian dipping sauce, marinated flank steak with salsa and tortillas, zucchini, corn and herb pasta salad, and Greek village salad. The key to any great buffet is an array of different colors, flavors, textures, and temperatures of the dishes.


At formal or informal gatherings, the food always brings guests together and creates great memories. Enjoy your picnics this Memorial Day in celebration of those who serve and have served in our military. May your food be fun, tasty and memorable!






Monday, March 14, 2011

Lighten Up!


I am often inspired by my chef friends. They teach me, make me laugh, act as sounding boards, give advice, and share my passion for food and serving others. One such chef is Nancy Waldeck. Nancy's a local Atlanta chef who has made healthy cooking both her mission and her lifestyle. As a cancer survivor, Nancy develops classes and teaches at a local hospital wellness program. Her recipes are based on healthy cooking principles and lightening up foods to give all the flavor with less fat and calories. She recently released a great cookbook called Taste and Savor, which is full of terrific recipes and tips - check it out at amazon.com or on her website www.tasteandsavor.com

Nancy and I both do work with Calphalon and recently she was featured on their website for an excellent article on fresh and healthy ingredient substitutions. One item she mentions is heavy cream, one that I like to use in small quantities. So when I recently looked for a recipe for Roasted Cauliflower Soup, the one I found on a reputable website had a whopping 2 cups of heavy cream in the ingredient list. Using Nancy's recommendation of 2 tablespoons for every cup of cream, I revised the recipe, swapping out the 2 cups of cream for only 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup). I made the recipe, pureeing the soup then adding the smaller amount of cream. It was so tasty with roasted cauliflower, garlic, carrot and shallots that I never missed the omitted cream. Pureeing soup allows thickening without the extra calories of additional thickening ingredients.

Enjoy this flavorful and easy recipe, one that features the humble cauliflower in a tasty way. Pair with a simple salad or sandwich for a great lunch or dinner. Adjust the consistency as you wish with either chicken broth or water if it is too thick.

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

2 heads cauliflower, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 large garlic cloves
3 shallots, peeled & sliced into 1/4-inch pieces
2 medium or 1 large carrot, peeled & sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
Kosher salt & either white or black pepper to taste
1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups chicken broth
1 - 2 cups water (or chicken broth)
1 bay leaf (fresh is best)
1/8 teaspoon Penzey's Mural of Flavor seasoning (is salt free)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Chopped chives for garnish (optinonal)

Preheat your oven to 425 F.

In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower, garlic, shallot and carrot with 1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil. Place on a foil-lined sheet pan in an even layer and roast in the middle of the oven for about 30 minutes or until browned.

In a stock pot, place the roasted vegetables, broth, 1 cup water, bay leaf and Mural of Flavor seasoning. Bring to a boil and then turn to medium low, simmering for 30 minutes. Remove bay leaf and discard.

Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until it is smooth. (Or puree in small batches in a blender, taking care when blending hot liquids.) Stir in the cream and fresh thyme. Adjust the consistency with a little more water or chicken broth if necessary. Heat through and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in warm bowls with chopped chives for garnish.
Note: If you don't have Penzeys seasoning available, you can omit it. Their spices are most excellent and available by mail at http://www.penzeys.com/

Friday, March 4, 2011

Oil and Vinegar

Store bought salad dressings are hit and miss in the taste category, especially if they are low fat or fat free. There are a few that I like such as Ken's Light Caesar or Light Vidalia Onion dressing. More often than not though, I make my own salad dressing, vinaigrette style. Vinegar is easy to store and does not have to be refrigerated. It's also affordable and easy to find in any grocery or specialty store. Usually I use olive oil and the type depends on the flavor I want to have. Extra virgin olive oil usually has a more pronounced fruity flavor than does olive oil or light olive oil. Oil and vinegar can be less expensive and you can easily make it fresh each time you need it. Vinaigrettes are also usually less calories per serving than creamy dressings, especially those that include mayonnaise.

A typical ratio of oil to vinegar is 3 to 1, but my palate finds that too oily. To dress lettuce salads, I like a ratio of 2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar (or other acid such as citrus juice). The simplest mix is vinegar with a little salt and pepper, and then whisk in the oil. I use this as my "standard" oil and vinegar dressing recipe:

2 tablespoons vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 small shallot, minced
kosher salt
fresh-ground black pepper
1/4 cup oil (which is 4 tablespoons)

Place the vinegar, mustard and shallot in a small bowl. Add some salt and pepper and then whisk to combine. Whisk in the oil and then adjust the seasoning as needed.

The mustard provides flavor and helps the vinegar and oil to stay combined in an emulsion. Shallots are part of the onion family and add an aromatic background flavor to the mix. Chopped fresh herbs are also a wonderful addition to homemade vinaigrette. Parsley provides great flavor and color as do sage, tarragon, thyme, oregano and others - choose the one or two that you enjoy most.


A few weekends ago I had the pleasure of visiting Houston, Texas to meet up with several amazing, foodie chef friends. We went to many interesting stores but one of my favorites was q store in The Woodlands called Oil and Vinegar. This store sells an amazing array of flavored vinegars and oils. I prefer to buy flavored vinegars rather than oils since vinegar usually has a longer shelf life than oil. I bought date balsamic, elderberry apple lime, and passionfruit white balsamic. They all have different uses but make fabulous, fresh salad dressings for a variety of fruit salad, lettuce salad and even grilled or roasted veggies. For roasted asparagus, I often add a dressing of 1 part balsamic to 1 part olive oil, usually 1 tablespoon of each depending on the amount of asparagus I serve.

Try picking a vinegar you would like to use regularly. I like Champagne vinegar, white wine vinegar, and red wine vinegar for my "standard" vinegar choices. Enjoy making your own dressing - it's easy, fast and flavorful!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Do for One

Somehow I still can't believe that 2011 has arrived, let alone that January is now history. They say the older you get, the faster time flys...there is certainly some truth to that! Now that the Christmas & New Year's holidays are a distant memory, I've been thinking about the new year and it's opportunities. I resist making formal "New Years Resolutions", but I do think about my life and things I would like to do. Some are as simple a reading more books and some as complex as plugging in to serve others in a way that uses my passion.

A few years ago I had the privilege of teaching cooking classes for teenage girls who were victims of teenage sex slavery. This problem - the commercial sexual exploitation of children or CSEC- is huge. Until a few years ago, I had no idea that Atlanta, a place I've called home for 20 years, is one of the largest teenage sex trafficing cities in the country. Not exactly the kind of "dirty little secret" that folks want to discuss or have in their backyard.

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending Lobby Day at the Georgia State Capitol to raise awareness about CSEC. Hundreds of people like you and me came together to be a voice for those who have none. For those who are victims of this unmentionable crime, and to address a legal system barely adequate to help victims, treating them like criminals. They must have services and we must raise awareness. If there was no demand, there would be no supply. Every Econ 101 student knows that concept. I went to meet with the Georgia senator and representative from my district to ask them to lend their support to this very worthy endeavor and to vote for bills that will help to correct this blight. The children are at stake. These could be your kids. Think about it.


I heard a great message in January where my pastor discussed doing for one person what we would like to do for everyone but can't. It's not possible for me to put my time and effort everywhere, but I will choose to lend my voice to help these girls who are forced to sell a piece of their soul and their childhood each day on the street. If you pray, please take a moment to add this to your prayer list.

For more information, you can go to http://www.streetgrace.org/, one of the local organizations who sponsored Lobby Day. And remember, no matter where your passion to serve lies, do for one what you would like to do for everyone.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Blast from the Past

Last month, one of my friends planned a wonderful surprise party for her husband's 60th birthday and asked me to create the food for the festivities. When she talked with me about menu possibilities, she mentioned a 60's theme. Growing up in the 60's, I remember my folks hosting many dinner parties which often included jello salad. Long out of vogue on the culinary scene, I picked up my Mom's recipe box to seek a colorful "blast from the past".

Nothing like a tasty walk down memory lane! As I thumbed through the recipes, I came upon the perfect offering. The recipe card was simply called "Orange Salad", but the description could read "Mandarin Orange Salad with Chiffon Icing". Voila - the salad was resurrected to see the 21st century.

The menu for Dave's party included classics like shrimp cocktail, herb dip with crudite, beef stroganoff with poppyseed noodles, and German chocolate cake. I also made a red velvet cheesecake (so good!) and of course, the mandarin orange salad. The birthday party was a great success as Dave was indeed surprised and the guests had an enjoyable time. As for me, I think the Mandarin Orange Salad will be on a menu at my house real soon. In case you want a blast from the past, I've included the menu below.

Mandarin Orange Salad

1 large box orange jello
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1 pint orange sherbet (I used the no sugar added version)
2 cans Mandarin oranges
1 small can crushed pineapple (undrained)

Dissolve jello in boiling water. Add the sherbet and mix until melted and dissolved. Drain juice from oranges and add 1/2 cup orange juice to jello mixture. Add pienapple and oranges. Pour into a jello mold or a 8 x 11 dish. Chill until firm.

Topping:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup pineapple juice
2 tablespoons flour
1 large egg, beaten
1 package Dream Whip
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Cook the sugar, butter, pineapple juice, flour and egg together over medium low heat until thick. Allow to cool. Once sauce is cooled, mix the Dream Whip with milk and vanilla as directed and fold into the sauce. Spread on top of the firm jello layer and then chill until serving.