Category Archives: Food

A whole lotta love!

I’m a creature of habit.  Once something works for me, I pretty much stick with it.

I work out every day, so I can enjoy eating and having the occasional glass of wine.  So far, so good.

I do the crossword puzzle every morning.  Exercises my brain.

I wear a lot of black.  Makes it much easier to shop.  One pair of boots goes with almost everything.

I can’t go to bed without kissing my daughter and my husband good night.  It’s good luck.

And I eat the same exact breakfast almost every day of my life.  Two slices of whole wheat toast with jelly and a thin spread of almond butter (the kind you grind yourself at Whole Foods…it’s to DIE for!), and a cup of dry cereal (Mother’s Peanut Butter Bumpers).   I love the pear preserves I buy from the little farmer’s market at Hillsboro High School.  There’s something about homemade jams and jellies…I think they taste so much better because of the love that goes into a batch of seasonal fruit, sweetened and cooked in small batches, just like my Grandma used to make.  I always load up in October, the last month they’re there until the spring.

For some reason, I didn’t get my normal stash this year.  So when I saw a recipe in a magazine for homemade pear-vanilla preserves, it intrigued me.  Looked pretty easy.  So I tried some.  I didn’t have the fancy canning pot that is huge and deep so that you can put the jars in with enough water to cover, so I used my big soup pot.  It wasn’t too bad, except for the huge mess I had to clean up.  **Note:  don’t cook the fruit in a small saucepan…when it boils, it WILL boil over.  The final product was beautiful, but the consistency…more like syrup.  So I dumped it all back in the saucepan, added more pectin (extra, too, just in case), and it hardened so much over the next few days that I had to cut it out of the jars.

So I went back to the drawing board, and read everything I could get my hands on about jams and jellies.  My grandma “put up” everything…fruit, vegetables, pickles, sauces, juice, and never really even used a recipe, but there are so many different recipes, and philosophies about making jelly it makes my head spin.

So I went to Costco and bought three different kinds of pears, some jonagold apples  and four pints of blueberries (I know, not in season, but my husband only likes purple jelly).  Yesterday I spent the entire day in the kitchen, and after a couple of mishaps, I think I finally got it.  The recipes in the pectin box call for only boiling for one minute…recipes without pectin call for cooking for a longer time, to extract the natural pectin from the fruit.  I finally settled on a happy medium.  I use a little less pectin, and boil for about 5 minutes, until I put a spoonful on a cold plate from the freezer and it cools off into a soft jell.  I did use the full amount on the blueberries, since they don’t have much natural pectin in them at all, and they turned out perfectly.  It was actually much easier to do the blueberry, because I didn’t have to peel, core, and chop them, like I did with the pears and apples.

Anyway, for those of you who might want to give it a try, here’s my recipe for Apple Pear Jam.


Apple Pear Jam

Pears
Apples (sweet varieties, not too tart…underripe is better)
(Total of 7-8 pounds, before peeling and coring…equalling about 5-6 cups prepped fruit)
Sugar  (some recipes call for one cup per cup of fruit, but if using pectin I use about 2/3 cup sugar per cup of fruit)
Lemon Juice
Nutmeg
Cinnamon Stick
Allspice
Pectin

  •  Prepare jars.  I usually put in dishwasher on “sanitize” setting, before I start chopping.  That way they’re warm when you put the hot jelly into them.  Or you can boil them in a large soup pot or canning pot with something in the bottom to prevent them from touching the bottom of the pan.  Before I purchased an actual canning pot with bottle insert, I put a metal trivet in the bottom of my soup pot…it worked fine.  Pour boiling water over flat lids in saucepan off the heat, keep in water until needed.  Wash and dry screw bands.
  •  Put about 1/4 cup of lemon juice in bowl, more if needed.  Peel, core and finely dice fruit, tossing with lemon juice as you chop to prevent browning.  If you want smoother final product, you can put in food processor or food mill. 

  • Put small glass bowl or plate and spoon in freezer.
    • Measure exact amount of the fruit (with lemon juice) into a large, deep saucepan.  Don’t make a batch larger than 8 cups, or it will take too long to set. 
    • Measure exact amount of sugar in separate bowl, remove 1/4 cup of measured sugar and mix with a little less than one full box of Pectin in a small bowl.

    • Stir pectin-sugar mixture into the fruit , and bring to a full boil (one that doesn’t go away when you stir).  
    • You need to stir constantly to prevent sticking.  Quickly stir in remaining sugar, and return to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly.  Boil for a minute or two, until the liquid drips off the spoon a little more slowly.  IT WILL NOT SET WHILE IT IS BOILING.  Remove from heat, and drop a spoonful onto the cold plate using the cold spoon.  Put back in freezer for a few seconds, then remove.  If it is a jam-like consistency, it is ready.  If not, return to heat and boil for another minute, then try the test again.
    • *One important point.  The jam will continue to set while it cools.  It won’t completely finish until it’s completely cooled, which will take a day or two.  If it’s too hard, it will be difficult or impossible to spread.
    • When it’s ready to be jarred, ladle quickly into warm jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of the tops.

    • Wipe jar rims and threads, and cover with two piece lids.  Place on elevated rack in canner.  Water must cover jars by 1-2 inches; add boiling water if needed.  Cover, bring to gentle boil and process jam for 10 minutes.

    All I can say, is my kitchen still smells like apple pie and I have a whole lot of love to give my friends this holiday season!



    Where does your family’s food come from?

    The summer I was six years old, my mom had abdominal surgery.  I was shipped off to stay with my grandparents at their farm in McMinnville, TN.  I remember several things about that summer, like fishing in the brook, and when Grandma taught me how to make homemade rag dolls.  We cut the basic shape out of scrap material, turned it inside out and hand stitched almost all the way around, except for one of the feet.  Then we stuffed them with small scraps of material and used the strings from the recently shucked corn from her garden to make hair.  Sewed on buttons for eyes, yarn for mouth, and voila!  A toy!  It was the coolest thing I had ever seen.

    I also remember  going to the garden and apple orchard to harvest whatever vegetables were ready…tomatoes, corn, green beans, apples, okra, strawberries and squash are the ones I remember.  I also remember that I only ate some of those vegetables at Grandma’s house.  For some reason,   they tasted so much better there than at home.

    They had lots of animals…cows (to be milked), kittens (to catch mice), and chickens (for eggs).  At least, that’s what I thought the chickens were for.  I loved gathering the eggs, and feeding them.  I had names for them all…Chuckie, Suzy, Betsy…and would call them by name as we threw the chicken feed all around their feet.  WARNING:  The next few sentences are not for the squeamish. One morning, Papa asked me if I wanted fried chicken for dinner.  “Sure!” I replied.  Never in a million years did I think he was talking about my little friends.  To me, chicken that you ate was the white slimy stuff my mom bought at the grocery store.  While I was busy feeding them,  Papa walked over to Betsy, the biggest, fluffiest chicken of them all.  He grabbed her by the neck, whispered, “Thank you, my friend,”  and before I knew what was happening, had slung her around in a neat little jerk, and popped off her head!  Her body fell to the ground and her legs kept going, like she was trying to run away from what had happened.  I don’t remember much after that…mostly screaming and crying and not understanding at all.  I think he tried to explain the circle of life to me, but I wasn’t having any of it.  It was a long time before I ate chicken again.

    But I did…I ate chicken, steak, pork, bacon, and my favorite…Rudy’s Farm Sausage!  As I got older and became more health-conscious,  I ate less and less of it.  It became a treat, not a normal thing.  But for my parents, and their siblings, and countless others who grew up on farms and when meat was considered a luxury, the last few years of mass-produced, affordable animal products, have resulted in diets that centered around the meat.  I love to cook, and when I cook for family and friends, I never thought I could serve them anything without meat.  It wasn’t a meal, otherwise!  I understood that animals like chickens couldn’t live in the wild for very long, that they had comfortable, loving homes on a farm where they had plentiful food and places to run around in the sunshine.

    Then I saw the movie, “Food, Inc.”  Actually, I watched most of it with my hands over my face in horror.  It showed that a handful of corporations control our nation’s food supply. Though the companies try to maintain the myth that our food still comes from farms with red barns and white picket fences, our food is actually raised on massive “factory farms” and processed in mega industrial plants. The animals grow fatter faster and are designed to fit the machines that slaughter them. The majority of mass-produced chickens are raised in the dark, their breasts becoming so  large that they’re unable to walk. But that’s okay, because they’re not allowed to. The antibiotics they are fed to keep them breathing in such conditions end up right there in every bite of your sandwich.  Even “organic”, grass-fed cows are slaughtered at the same slaughtering facilities as the ones raised in dark barns, eating a diet of corn that fattens them up but becomes breeding grounds for E-coli.  Those slaughtering plants stun the cows, hang them upside down by one leg, and slice open an artery so they quickly bleed to death.  Although the numbers are improving, there is a percentage of cows who are not completely stunned, and are slaughtered while awake.   Tomatoes are bred to be shipped without bruising and to stay edible for months. The system is highly productive, and Americans are spending less on food than ever before.  In the process, the food doesn’t taste like food anymore.  The tomatoes I buy at the grocery store bear no more resemblance to the tomatoes I ate on Grandma’s farm than an orange and an apple.

    “Food, Inc.” is not trying to push vegetarianism.  It is just raising awareness about where our food comes from.  That a small handful of corporations are controlling not only our meat supply, but the seeds use to grow our crops.  They are methodically pushing the small independent farmers who are capable of producing food in a humane way that will safely feed us out of business.  Meat plants are “washing” beef with ammonia and chlorine to guard against E-Coli, even though just five days of feeding a cow grass could safely eliminate the risk.  Americans expect their meat to be cheap and plentiful, so there no easy solution.

    My family is no longer eating meat.   Not that we have an objection to animals being eaten, but because we don’t see an easy answer to how we get it to our table.  When I entertain a group of people who I know don’t consider it a meal unless meat is served, I try to seek out grass-fed, locally produced meat.  There is a growing group of “conscientious carnivores” and a growing number of  farmers who are raising animals for meat and dairy in a humane way and offering concerned consumers a choice about what they eat.  The choices in my area are small…basically it’s Whole Foods, or sometimes I find small farmers at the farmer’s market.  Here’s a great website to find humane sources of food in your area.  http://www.certifiedhumane.org 

    The upside is that more and more people are thinking twice about what they eat, and where it comes from.  The downside is it’s more expensive.  But  I think this is a win/win alternative: Eat less. Who needs a 24 ounce steak?



    Our family is growing…plus Fresh Corn Potato Salad!

    Life at our house has taken a dramatic turn…after much thought, discussion, and debate, we decided to adopt a new baby.  So here we are, beginning our 50’s with a baby in the house.

    Our dog Rosie is now six, and is very active. Three years ago, she had a touch of arthritis and the vet told us she needed to lose weight, so we put her on a green bean diet. (Cut food in half and supplement with green beans). Now she’s 30 pounds lighter and loves to run and play and does so with no limping. We thought it would be a good idea to get a new puppy so she will have a buddy to run and play with. We were told it would keep her young. Although she gets a little annoyed with her right now,  they are already playing together and we can tell they are going to be great friends.


    She has the only child syndrome, though, and needs to learn to share her toys…

    I haven’t had much chance to write, with the housetraining and swim training and walking and cleaning up accidents around the house…

    But I just had to share a recipe that I kind of threw together today with stuff I needed to use up in the refrigerator before I went to the grocery. I’ve been trying to find good recipes that will go with J’s fish and H’s tempeh or tofu or whatever vegetarian protein I can find. I’m tired of the usual rice and veggies. I had a couple of ears of corn from the roadside farmer’s market, a bag of spinach, some cherry tomatoes and half a bag of baby potatoes. This recipe actually has about 10 grams of protein per serving, so it could be a vegetarian entree if you want. This recipe serves 4, but you can double it if you have a larger family.

    Corn and Potato Salad

    4-6 ounces small yellow potatoes
    Two ears of fresh corn kernels (about 1 1/2 cups)
    1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
    3/4 cup chopped red bell pepper

    1/4 cup minced shallots
    1 1/2 TBSP white balsamic vinegar (or rice vinegar)
    1/2 TBSP Dijon Mustard
    1/2 tsp. kosher salt
    1/4 tsp. black pepper
    1 1/2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil

    3 cups spinach, trimmed (or arugula)
    1/4 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced

    feta or goat cheese to sprinkle on top

    Place potatoes in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook for 11 minutes or until tender. Drain and rinse with cold water to chill. Cut potatoes in half. Combine potatoes, corn, tomatoes and bell pepper in a large bowl.

    Combine shallots, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Stir together and slowly pour oil into mixture while stirring constantly with a whisk. Drizzle over corn mixture, and toss. Add Spinach, toss. Sprinkle with basil and feta cheese (if desired).

    I made  pecan crusted trout for J, topped some marinated tempeh with the pecan/bread crumb topping and baked it with the trout, then added some sauteed green beans and it was a big hit with my family.   (**Big time saver for the trout…I found Progresso Italian Style Panko and combined that with some crushed pecans to top the fish and tempeh. )You should try it now, while we can still get some of the fresh veggies from local farmers. Yummy!

    Vegetarian Meat Loaf…it’s delicious, REALLY!

    Last month I downloaded the movie, “Food, Inc.” to my computer, thinking I’d watch it during spring break, but never got around to it and completely forgot I had it, until last weekend. I plugged in my earphones, and watched it on the balcony in North Carolina, mostly through my fingers as I had to cover my eyes for a large portion of it. I must admit, it has completely changed the way I feel about the food I eat, and the food I serve my family. I see my daughter’s point…she has been a pesca-vegetarian for almost a year (she eats no meat but does eat fish), basically because of the way they treat the animals they grow for our food supply. Even my carnivorous husband is coming around. He hasn’t even seen the entire movie, but after seeing the first hour and listening to my recaps, he hasn’t had meat, pork or chicken in over a week. That is monumental for him.

    H really never liked meat very much, so it wasn’t such a difficult thing for her to give up. But the other day she mentioned that even though she never really liked it when she ate meat, she was craving meatloaf. I used to make a really good turkey meatloaf, but it had been years since I’d made it. I looked up recipes for vegetarian meatloaf and they were all over the board…made with lentils, black beans, or vegetarian ground beef. I decided to try the soy crumbles instead of beans, because I wanted to try to duplicate the flavor and texture of ground beef. I just tinkered with my old meatloaf recipe, and it smelled delicious while it was cooking. H loved it and even J said he liked it, and didn’t make me throw the leftovers away…so I would call it a success!

    Vegetarian Meat Loaf

    Click HERE for printable recipe

    Ingredients
    * 1/4 cup Bullseye Hickory Smoke Barbecue Sauce
    * 3/4 cup Heinz Ketchup
    * 1 (12 ounce) package vegetarian burger crumbles
    * 1 red, yellow, or green bell pepper, chopped
    * 1 minced red onion
    * 2 cloves garlic, minced
    * 1 cup Panko bread crumbs
    * 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
    * 1 egg, beaten (or 2 egg whites)
    * 1 teaspoon dried thyme
    * 1 teaspoon dried basil
    * 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (or 1 teaspoon dried parsley)
    * salt and pepper to taste

    Directions

    1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a 5×9 inch loaf pan.
    2. Heat saute pan over medium low heat, add 1 TBSP of olive oil and saute the onion, peppers, and garlic (seasoned with salt and pepper) until soft and translucent. 
    3.  In a bowl, mix together the barbecue sauce and the ketchup. Mix 3/4 of the mixture with the vegetarian burger crumbles, bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and egg.  Add the onion mixture.  Season with thyme, basil, parsley, salt, and pepper. Transfer to the loaf pan (sprayed with olive oil), and press down to make it as compact as possible.

    3. Bake 45 minutes in the preheated oven. Pour remaining barbecue sauce over the loaf, and continue baking 15 minutes, or until loaf is set and sauce is heated.

    I buy these crumbles at Publix, in the produce section where the Tofu is…other stores carry different brands and they’re all pretty similar.

    Eat Less, Move More…


    Years ago I found a really great computer program called Perfect Diet Tracker. It’s a really easy way to keep track of calories in vs. calories out. The program will take your age and weight and calculate your calorie budget for the day. If you want to take off a couple of pounds, you can enter that, along with the time frame you want to lose the weight and it will subtract calories from your budget. I think of the budget as a kind of calorie “checkbook”. I have a certain amount of calories that I can consume daily to either maintain or lose a couple of pounds. Over the years the program has been updated and now, instead of a finite number of foods in their database, it will search the internet for whatever food you put in. It certainly beats writing everything down in a food diary and looking up the calories and serving sizes to keep up with what I put in my mouth. It’s not a fun process. I prefer the “shove it in your mouth by the handfuls and forget you ate it” philosophy. But sometimes, that kind of catches up to you and you notice your clothes are a little too tight. So, I log onto the program, and start weighing and measuring my serving sizes. Gulp. I eat very healthy, but it’s the serving sizes that get me.

    I’m also kind of an exercise nut. Not because I LOVE to exercise, but because I love what it does for me, especially when I’m logging what I put in my mouth. The endorphins from a good, hard workout can work miracles…make a bad day good, make food taste better, give me more patience and energy for the rest of my day, and sharpen my mind. It’s also great when I’m tracking my food…I can enter the exercise I do for the day and voila…the program ADDS the calories burned to my allotted calories for the day!! So I can eat more! Yay!! It even takes into account your Basal Metabolic Rate, or the number of calories you burn in a day doing nothing. All you have to do is enter the exercise and it does all the calculations for you

    Years ago I found a calorie burn chart that showed the calories burned per minute for every exercise you could think of, so I’m well aware of the exercise that burns the most per minute and that is what I focus on. More bang for the buck. Running, jumping rope, and biking will burn almost 600 calories an hour. Back in the 90’s, when the cardio machines at the gym started showing the calories burned as you worked out, I became a slave to the number. I couldn’t stop until I had burned off at least 600 calories. If I were running, I could do that in an hour, but stationary biking took an hour and a half. The Stairmaster and elliptical trainer showed even higher numbers, so I loved those machines. I remember my disappointment when I found out that those machines typically overestimated calories burned. It gets more difficult the older I get. I can’t just jump on a machine for two hours a day and still function for the rest of my day. So I do a lot of cross training. Hard one day, easy the next.

    Generally, I think this is a pretty healthy way to keep track of what goes in my mouth and what I’m doing to burn it off. It’s like a quarterly checkup with your supervisor…just an accountability thing. If I want to eat mixed nuts and drink a couple of glasses of wine, I have to budget for it. Or work out longer. For my weight, the charts show that I burn about 92 calories per mile, so on the days I do a longer run than usual, I can usually have an extra glass of wine. It’s like picking up an extra job to buy something special…You just exercise a little more and deposit more calorie burn in your “checkbook”. A 5-oz. glass of white wine has 105 calories, so I just run a couple of miles to burn it off.

    The problems come as you age. Your BMR drops, so your calorie “budget” drops, just to maintain. If you want to drop any weight, the calories allotted for your day drop to almost dangerous levels, so if you want to eat enough to have energy to exercise, you have to exercise more! It’s a vicous cycle. Add to that the fact that as you age you need more recovery time between exercise sessions and your magic formula of just “move more eat less” gets much more difficult.

    It’s a common sense kind of thing. Moderation is the key. One glass of wine, not three. Eat the dessert, exercise a little more for a couple of days to burn it off. The program is pretty good, but you have to rely on sound principles. If I plug in my height and weight, and enter a target weight loss of three pounds in two weeks, it gives me a calorie budget of 1450 calories per day. If I want to maintain my weight, I can eat 1900 calories per day. All pretty reasonable.

    It doesn’t work miracles. If I put a weight loss goal of 6 pounds in one week, it gives me a calorie budget of NEGATIVE -1010 CALORIES per day! I think it actually forces you to be reasonable about your goals. When you shoot too high in the weight loss category (whether it’s # of pounds or the time you give yourself to lose the weight), you can immediately see that it’s ridiculous.

    I’m a firm believer in moderation and making healthy lifestyle changes, not temporary diets, fasts or banning foods. But every once in awhile you just need a check up, to make sure that your “lifestyle” is still on the right track.

    Easy Homemade Meatballs and Spaghetti!

    I love cookbooks. I read them like novels. Even the recipes that I would never make…too complicated, or with ingredients that no one in my family eats. It’s like a treasure hunt….every once in awhile I find a great recipe. But I must admit, having my laptop in the kitchen has reduced the time I used to spend perusing the books. I can do a search and find an infinite number of interesting recipes. Some I make once, and although they were good, I don’t make them again. Usually because it wrecks the kitchen, takes too many pots and pans, or exotic ingredients that I don’t keep on hand.

    But today I needed to make something to take to a couple from church who just had a baby. When I cook for people from church I usually try to make something that can be reheated or frozen, and also that I can make extra for my family. I found a recipe that I think will be a keeper. Homemade meatballs are usually so messy…you have to mix them, shape them, bake them, and then you also have to make a sauce. These were so easy, and because they simmer in the same pan as the sauce, they make jarred sauce taste homemade. You could use homemade sauce if you wanted, but I put these together in about 15 minutes before lunch, and let them simmer for a couple of hours while I cleaned up the kitchen. Boil up some spaghetti, and voila, delicious spaghetti and meatballs with almost no mess! This recipe made enough for my family, the family from church, and I had enough left over to freeze for another day. You could halve the recipe if you don’t need as much.

    EASY SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS

    2 28 oz. jars spaghetti sauce
    2 28 oz. cans diced tomatoes with basil and garlic
    2 lbs. extra lean ground beef (I used 97% lean)
    2 eggs
    3/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
    1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
    1 clove minced garlic
    1/2-1 teaspoon salt
    1/4 cup parmesan cheese

    2 boxes of spaghetti, cooked al dente

    1. Place sauce and tomatoes in large saucepan and simmer over medium heat.
    2. In large bowl mix beef, eggs, crumbs, parsley, garlic, salt and parmesan.
    3. Mix together with hands, and shape into meatballs. (I made about 1.5 ” thick meatballs and it made about 36).
    4. Place meatballs in simmering sauce.

    5. When sauce returns to a simmer, cover and cook 45 minutes to an hour until cooked through. I simmered the sauce and meatballs for about 2 1/2 hours to make sure they were completely cooked.
    6. Serve sauce and meatballs over warm spaghetti.

    They were a huge hit with J, and the kitchen still smells incredible after the sauce simmered all afternoon!

    Sun Dried Tomato Pesto with Chicken Sausage, homemeade Hummus, and summer in the mountains!

    We’re starting the fifth week at our lake house…the first time we’ve been able to get away for this long. Thankfully, J can work from anywhere, with internet, cell phones and faxes. It’s gone by really fast…I can’t believe it’s been this long. Our days are spent hiking, running, swimming, boating, golfing, playing tennis, reading, and SLEEPING! Both of us are starting to really catch up on last year’s no sleeping.

    My BHRT is kicking in…that, plus the melatonin that I’m taking every night is enabling me to finally sleep through the night-for the first time in years! When I wake up around 6:30 to go to the bathroom, I’m even able to lay back down and sleep for another hour. Unbelievable, when you think that for the last couple of years I couldn’t sleep for more than an hour at a time!

    One of our favorite things up here is the “Music on the Mountain“, which is held at the top of Toxaway Mountain (Meadow Ridge), every 3rd Saturday throughout the season. It’s a potluck, everyone brings food, and coolers with their beverage of choice. Having a glass of wine at the top of a mountain and listening to music is so much fun. We’re even beginning to meet other people who have homes here. A majority of them only spend the summers here, like us, and drive in from places like Atlanta, Greenville, SC, Florida, etc. We started coming last year, and brought our own food and never ventured over to the “potluck table”, but we’ve realized we need to be more social. So even though my family likes to pack our own dinner, I always bring something for the potluck table to share. Gives us a reason to mingle a little bit.

    The BEST recipe I’ve found since I’ve been here is so easy and so delicious. We planted a small herb garden when we got here in June, that has just thrived in this weather, and the basil is big and thick and healthy, so I needed to make some pesto. J and H love sun dried tomatoes, so this is a quick variation on plain pesto that is beautiful and delicious. I added the chicken sausage because J always has to have some kind of protein.



    Penne with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto and Chicken Sausage

    * 12 ounces penne pasta
    * 1 (8.5-ounce) jar sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil
    * 2 garlic cloves
    * Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    * 1 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves
    * 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
    *3 links chicken sausage, cooked and crumbled (**If you want to make this vegetarian, substitute a can of black beans, rinsed, or vegetarian sausage)

    1. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid.

    2. Meanwhile, blend the sun-dried tomatoes and their oil, garlic, salt and pepper, to taste, and basil in a food processor and blend until the tomatoes are finely chopped. Transfer the tomato mixture to a large bowl. Stir in the Parmesan. Mix with cooked sausage (or black beans)  and place in bottom of large bowl.

    3. Add the pasta to the pesto mixture and toss to coat, adding enough reserved cooking liquid to moisten. Season the pasta, to taste, with salt and pepper and serve. Top with finely chopped Italian Parsley, if desired.

    Since the closest grocery store is half an hour away, I’ve had to get creative with things to bring for the potluck. Instead of picking up a tray at the store, I have to make things myself. Luckily, I had a can of chickpeas and some Tahini, so I made a quick batch of hummus and homemade Pita chips. I think the homemade is so much better than what you buy at the store, anyway (less greasy), and it only takes a minute…

    Easy Classic Hummus
    * 1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
    * 1/4 cup tahini
    * 1 TBSP lemon juice
    * 1 teaspoon salt
    * 2 cloves garlic, halved
    * 1 tablespoon olive oil
    * 1 pinch paprika
    * 1 teaspoon minced fresh parsley

    1. Place the garbanzo beans, tahini, lemon juice, salt and garlic in a
    blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. Transfer mixture to a
    serving bowl.
    2. Drizzle olive oil over the garbanzo bean mixture. Sprinkle with
    paprika and parsley.

    Pecan Crusted Trout…or, the end to being a Short Order Cook

    We have one child. Dinnertime has been an evolving situation. When she was a baby, we made our own dinners, usually something relatively healthy, and gave her something she would eat. It was pretty easy for awhile. I could open the baby food jar, or as she got a little bit older, throw some eggs in a pan, or macaroni and cheese, pizza, applesauce, or some other “white” food she would eat. I realized as she got older that she needed to expand her horizons. I started to name the vegetables…”Ernie Green Beans!”, “Baby Bop Broccoli!”, and “Elmo Carrots!”. For some reason, that worked for awhile, and she would gobble them up, as long as they weren’t “spicy” (or in other words, as long as they were devoid of any kind of flavor). The only problem was that J wouldn’t eat the tasteless, watery vegetables that H liked. That meant I was still making at least two different dinners, but often three since J is a meat and potatoes man and I am almost a vegetarian. The short order cook phase lasted longer than I planned, but finally, we chartered a sailboat for a family vacation, when H was 8 years old. The boat came with a chef, who we all fell in love with…Chante’.

    Chante’ was an incredible person…lovely, sweet, adventurous, hard working, inventive, and a wonderful chef. H was totally enthralled with her. The first meal she made for us was a beautiful Cranberry, Almond and Blue Cheese Quiche. H took one look at it and immediately asked for peanut butter and jelly. Chante’ made her a sandwich, lovingly, but I took H aside and mentioned that Chante’ was working so hard that we might need to at least try her dishes, before asking for something else. So that was it…suddenly, H was trying, and LOVING, tuna, lamb, snapper, shrimp, lobster, and all kinds of colorful vegetables that she had never tried before. H never looked back. She will now (at age 15) try anything at least once, and her palate is a lot more adventurous than either of her parents’.

    So my job now became to coerce my husband to try new foods, especially vegetables other than potatoes, corn, or (cringe) canned wax beans. I roast vegetables two or three times a week, and onions, butternut squash, potatoes and asparagus are our favorites. J will eat the potatoes, onions, asparagus (as long as it’s overdone to the point of dry and crispy) and sometimes red peppers. I also steam green beans and saute with a little bit of butter and almonds and he’ll eat that. Until about two years ago, the only protein dishes he would eat included red meat, lamb chops, burned (seriously, black like charcoal) chicken, and sometimes swordfish. Now he’ll eat my sesame seed crusted Tuna, marinated shrimp, and thanks to our favorite restaurant in North Carolina, (The Brown Trout), Pecan Crusted Trout!

    So now, after almost 18 years of marriage, every now and then I only prepare ONE thing for dinner, and we all eat it. Tonight was one of those rare times, and it was fabulous!

    Pecan Crusted Trout

    1 cup lightly toasted pecans, chopped (or any handful of nuts you have around the house)
    1 1/2 cups bread crumbs (plain)
    4 TBSP fresh parsley leaves, chopped
    2 tsp kosher salt
    1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
    1 TBSP chopped rosemary leaves (or 1 tsp. dried)
    4 trout fillets
    4 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
    Spray butter

    Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Combine all the dry ingredients, seasonings, and herbs. Brush each trout fillet with the softened butter. Sprinkle the buttered side of each fillet with the pecan topping and press firmly with your hand to completely cover each fillet. (J likes his Cajun style, so I will sprinkle his with Emeril’s Cajun spice mix also). Spray each crumb topped fillet with spray butter to moisten.

    Brush a foil lined baking pan with the remaining butter. Place the unbuttered side of the trout (skin side down) on the pan. Bake for 10-12 minutes until the flesh is firm and flaky.

    Football, Allergic Reactions, and Sesame Seed Encrusted Tuna

    God, what a weekend.

    Friday night we went to the MBA/Ensworth football game. Two rival private high schools here in town that had huge stakes in the game. Both teams were undefeated. The Ensworth head coach was the MBA coach for years until he left about 6 years ago to defect to Ensworth, which added the high school to it’s K-8th grade lower school. My friend’s son plays for Ensworth, so we went to support them. Ensworth wasn’t favored to win, but they pulled it out in an unbelievably close game. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill sat in the section next to us…they’re huge supporters of the school. At one point, cute Faith walked up the stairs, right towards me, smiling her cute little smile, looking a little more confused with every step, until she stopped next to me and realized she’d come up the wrong section. She had no makeup on, her hair was up in a bun, and she still looked radiant. Oh well.

    J had a couple of clients in town for the weekend. We had dinner reservations to take them out Saturday night, but our very close friends were having a huge party that night as well. She was kind of passive-aggressively giving us a hard time, pretending she was kidding, but not really, about us not being there for the party. So we went by there early, had a drink, then took the clients to dinner for many bottles of wine and champagne (and a little bit of food, I think), then went back to their house for the end of the party. I was a little cold, so I grabbed this yummy blanket that my friend had knitted and wrapped myself up in it. A few minutes later, my eyes started itching. I had the sinking realization that her cat probably liked this blanket, too. I forget that I have developed this really weird allergy to cats that makes my whole face, eyes, mouth, and cheeks swell up like a balloon. And itch. Like you wouldn’t believe. As I started clawing at my face to relieve the itching, my eyes swelled almost shut. I went home to take benadryl and put cold compresses on my face, and by the morning it was almost back to normal. But I feel like I was put through a meat grinder. I wish I had taken a photo to document my loveliness, but here’s reasonable likeness to what I looked like. Pretty.

    Last night we had the clients and their wives over for a small dinner party. The weather this weekend was so glorious. Low 80’s during the day, high 70’s at night, clear skies and no humidity. The clients are from Oregan, and this was their first visit to Tennessee. Now they think we have this weather all the time. It made Nashville look good. I made sesame seed crusted Tuna (seared on the grill), Israeli couscous salad, green beans, and a romaine/cranberry/toasted pecans salad with feta cheese and strawberry basil vinaigrette. It was probably the best meal we’ve cooked all summer. J’s roses were in full bloom, we made a fire in the fire pit, and it was the perfect end of the summer evening.

    Here’s the way to make this tuna. It’s basically fool-proof, except that if you like it rare, it only needs to be cooked for a minute or two, or it becomes medium or medium-well, since it continues cooking after you take it off the heat. You can sear it inside over the stove, if you want, but cooking it outside helps keep the spattering oil mess to a minimum.

    Black and White Sesame Seed Encrusted Tuna with Wasabi Citrus Aioli

    One large jar Black Sesame Seeds
    One large jar White Sesame Seeds
    Salt and Pepper
    Two large Tuna Steaks (the best quality you can get)

    Unwrap Tuna steaks, but do not rinse (otherwise the sesame seeds won’t stick)
    Place in large Ziploc bag, cover with sesame oil and marinate for 30 minutes or more.
    Mix sesame seeds in shallow bowl, take tuna steaks out of oil and press into seeds, making sure they’re completely covering the tuna and pressed in.

    Heat grill to high, place large skillet on grill and heat. Add a couple swirls of olive oil, and sear the tuna on both sides. Serve with wasabi aioli and pickled ginger, if desired.
    *If your pan is hot enough, it should only take a couple of minutes to sear the tuna on both sides, if you want it rare.

    Wasabi Citrus Aioli

    Ingredients:
    1 cup mayonnaise
    1 1/2 tablespoons Paprika, Smoked
    1 1/2 teaspoons Wasabi Powder
    1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
    1/2 teaspoon finely grated lime peel
    1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
    1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
    1 clove garlic, minced

    Directions:
    1. Mix all ingredients in medium bowl with wire whisk until well blended. Cover.
    2. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

    YUMMY!!

    The search for THICK, CHEWY Chocolate Chip Cookies

    At Neiman Marcus in Chicago, you can buy huge, thick, chewy, delicious chocolate chip cookies. They also have white chocolate/macademia nut, snickerdoodles, oatmeal cranberry, toffee, and several different types of chocolate chip. I LOVE them! I had always thought these were the famous Neiman Marcus cookies that are the source of the recipe urban myth. You know, where someone asked for the recipe and unknowingly signed a charge for some huge sum for it. But after failing to find them at Neiman’s in other cities, I asked the Chicago sales clerk this summer about them. She said they’re made by a local baker, and are only available in Chicago.

    For the last few years I have tried to find a good, gourmet-type recipe for thick, chewy, flaky, chocolate chip cookies like the ones in Chicago. I say “chewy”, but they’re not really chewy, per se, but they’re not crispy or cakey. They just kind of break off and melt in your mouth, and they’re not too sweet, or too hard. I’ve researched how to keep cookies from spreading so much when they bake. You have to have the right ratio of butter/shortening to flour and the temperature must be JUST right…to bake them quickly before they spread. I’ve baked up recipes that I thought were going to be perfect, but they were all disappointing-they’d spread out too much, and taste good, but they weren’t the thick, delicious cookies I was striving for.

    This weekend I took a couple of interesting recipes that I had not tried before, and another one that I have tried, and looked at them side by side. I took some things from each recipe and kind of put them together into one batch of cookies. And you know what? They didn’t spread too much, and they were delicious! They just weren’t as thick as the ones from Neiman Marcus.

    If you’ve ever had them, they are like 4 large cookies put together, they’re so big. I was thinking about that, and decided to use the last part of the dough for an experiment. Instead of 12 regular sized cookies, I made 4 really large ones, abut 1/3 cup of dough for each.

    And it worked! They baked up nice and thick, light brown, soft, flaky, and delicious.

    Now I’ve got to go run a marathon or something to work off the calories. But they were so worth it.

    Here’s the recipe:

    THICK, CHEWY, CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
    Preheat convection oven to 375 degrees.

    2/3 cup butter flavored shortening (chilled, cut into slices)
    2/3 cup unsalted butter (cut in chunks)
    1 cup white sugar
    1 1/4 cup PACKED brown sugar
    2 large eggs, ROOM TEMPERATURE
    2 tsp. real vanilla extract
    2 cups bread flour (spooned into cups and leveled off)
    1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour (spooned into cups and leveled off)
    1 tsp. baking soda
    1 tsp. salt
    2 cups milk chocolate chips
    1 cup toffee chips (or butterscotch chips)
    1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

    In stand mixer, cream the shortening, butter and both sugars until smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then add vanilla.

    Combine the flours, baking soda and salt, stir into the creamed mixture. Stir in chips and nuts. Use a large tablespoon to round dough into balls. Don’t roll the balls, just make them rounded. Place onto parchment paper on ungreased baking sheets.

    Bake 10-12 minutes in preheated oven. (I use convection oven and bake two pans at one time). Don’t overbake. Slide parchment paper with cookies off of pan, and let pan cool before scooping out next batch.