Sunday, April 30, 2006

Introducing Raven Ridge Gardens

In the interest of aiding and abetting my new passion for photographing the plants and flowers that thrive on our property, I've started a new blog to house my growing photo collection. Living in such a paradise should not be kept to oneself, should it?

The new blog is called Raven Ridge Gardens and I will be posting photos there with wild abandon. Do add this address to your "favorites" and take a look whenever you'd like. I hope you will enjoy my garden as much as I'll enjoy bringing it to you.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

As Long as I'm on an Herb Roll...

Looking at the 2 bunches of parsley and cilantro left over from making last night's dinner, pesto came to mind. Frozen cubes of it to toss into a soup or with a (low carb) pasta; to thaw and use as a spread on garlic toasts or to dip your favorite veggie into. The list is practically unlimited.

This recipe was adapted from my recently acquired "Seasonal Southwest Cooking" by Barbara Pool Fenzl. A beautifully photographed and presented cookbook packed with mouth-watering recipes of the American southwest persuasion.

Cilantro Pecan Pesto
1 cup toasted pecans
1 cup grana padano, (or other parmesan cheese) broken into pieces
1 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves (some small stems okay)
1 cup packed fresh, flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, depending on your heat tolerance
1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients except olive oil, salt and pepper into a food processor and pulse until blended but still coarse.
Pour in the olive oil and continue to pulse until a beautiful green paste forms. You don't want this too smooth; it should still have granular bits in it. Add salt and pepper to taste, pulsing briefly to blend.

If using the same day, place in a glass bowl and cover with plastic wrap until ready to use. Alternatively, fill non-stick mini muffin tins almost full and freeze, uncovered. When frozen, pop the pesto out of the tins and freeze in
a zip-top freezer bag. Allow to sit at room temperature to thaw.

Fresh Corn, Cilantro & Honey Tangerines Make for ...

...happy flavors!

Our friend Jeff is in residence this weekend so my mini-hiatus from cooking has come to an end. Not that I mind. Sometimes having houseguests is just the thing that's needed to kick-start one's flagging culinary enthusiasm. More about that later.

Fresh corn, cilantro and honey tangerines in the market were my inspiration for dinner tonight. What began in my mind as one salsa quickly morphed into two in the cooking process as I decided that adding black beans to the beautiful corn dish would make it really ugly and, while probably tasty, decidedly not blog-worthy.

As things came together, I thought of Normie's request from some time ago for something spicy with no meat. Leave out the chicken breast, spoon the salsas over steamed spaghetti squash and you've got a fresh, vegetarian explosion of flavors. Just a thought! Either way, this is a company pleaser. Plus, with all the fresh goodies in it, I've decided it's a worthy offering for Herb Blogging Weekend #30 over at Kalyn's Kitchen.

Fresh Corn Salsa
1 red bell pepper, charred, peeled and cut into small dice
1 or 2 jalapeno peppers, depending on their heat, charred, peeled and cut into small dice
3 ears fresh, white corn, kernels cut from cob
1/4 cup sweet onion, chopped into small dice
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
3/4 teaspoon cumin seed, ground slightly in a mortar
1/3 cup red onion, chopped into small dice
1/3 cup packed, fresh cilantro leaves, chopped fine
1 mango, peeled and cut into small dice
1 tablespoon Safflower or Canola oil and 2 teaspoons butter for the pan
Salt & pepper to taste

Char and peel the peppers and place in a paper bag to sweat. Set aside.
Prep the rest of the ingredients before beginning to assemble the salsa.

Melt the oil and butter in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the sweet onion and saute until softened but not browned. Add the corn kernels, garlic, ground cumin seed and coriander and continue to cook until the corn is still crunchy but cooked slightly and the spices give off their aromas, about 5 minutes. Remove to a bowl. (Use the cast iron skillet for the chicken breasts below.)

Add the chopped cilantro, red onion, red and jalapeno peppers and mango to the corn mixture and season with salt and pepper to taste. Adjust seasonings if needed and set aside at room temperature.

Black Bean Salsa
2 cans small black beans, rinsed and drained well
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons red onion, small dice
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
juice and pulp from 1 honey tangerine
Salt & pepper to taste

In a bowl, mix all ingredients until well blended. Adjust seasonings to taste and set aside at room temperature.

Chicken Breasts
4 halves skinless, boneless chicken breast filets, pounded to a uniform 1/4-1/2-inch thickness
1/2 cup no fat, low sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup dry white wine
juice from 1 honey tangerine to measure about 1/3 cup
3 tablespoons cold butter, cut in 1 tablespoon pieces
safflower or canola oil for the skillet
salt and pepper to taste

Place oil in cast iron skillet used for the corn and heat over medium high. When hot, add the pounded chicken breasts, not crowding the pan. Cook for about 3 minutes on one side, seasoning with kosher salt, then flip over to the other side and cook 3 minutes more. Transfer to a plate and tent loosely with foil.

Keeping the heat under the pan, add the chicken broth and stir, loosening the browned bits from the bottom. Add the white wine and tangerine juice and boil until reduced by 1/2. Quickly whisk in the butter, one tablespoon at a time until fully melted and the sauce has thickened slightly. Remove from the heat and add the chicken breasts back to the pan with the juices that accumulated on the plate. Stir to coat the chicken.

To plate, place a breast on each plate with a spoonful of each salsa beside. Spoon pan sauce over the chicken.

[Also on the menu was pan roasted asparagus which is very easy to prepare. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Wash and trim 1 pound or more asparagus spears (can be peeled with a vegetable peeler) and place on a parchment lined sheet pan. Drizzle with a small amount of olive oil then sprinkle with kosher salt and some toasted sesame seeds. Roast in oven for about 12 minutes or until soft, but not mushy, and slightly browned.]

Dessert was fresh, sliced strawberries accompanied by pieces of dark chocolate and very small glasses, thimbles really, of Taylor Fladgate 20 year old tawny Port. Oh, the decadence of it all.

And lest you're wondering what happened to my low carb weight loss regime? That's for another post.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Out Taking Photos...

... not cooking! Food posts coming soon.

A few days ago, when we had some spectacular sunshine, I strolled around my yard snapping photos of flowers, foliage and herbs. The yard is full of these "chameleon" spiders right now. They change from soft yellow to chartreuse to pink and are a joy, and sometimes quite a surprise, to encounter. The rose is Gertrude Jekyll. Click on the photo to enlarge. And since a rose may be used in a number of culinary ways, I'm sending this along to Kalyn's Herb Blogging Weekend #30 as a second offering this week. Kalyn is not only a tremendous cook with a prolific collection of recipes on her blog, she's my favorite low carb guru and an endless source of inspiration.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Weekend Herb Blogging #30

Can you guess what herb this bud is from? The resident worm harbors no clues, but I'll give you one: in olden days it was used in salads. Check out the current Weekend Herb Blogging #30 over at Kalyn's Kitchen this week. Her round-up appears on Sunday night. Click on the photo to enlarge.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Chicken Breasts with Veggies

I came across these photos today of a dinner I made at least a week ago. One of those quick meals made with whatever was on hand at the time, that tasted so good and then, when I go to blog it I can't remember how I made it. This is what drives Clay crazy. He's always telling me to write things down and I always think, this is so simple, I'm going to remember
what I did. Then I don't. Oh well. I know I deglazed with a white wine - a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, I believe. Leeks were involved. Carrots, garlic, spinach and parmesan too. Enjoy the photos while I try to remember it all. Or simply make up your own.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Low Carb Sides - Mushroom and Kale Soup

(As stated here, I'm cooking low carb, healthy meals from George Stella's low carb cookbook, Eating Stella Style,until I reach my target weight of 128 pounds.)
I couIda' done this without George. I make soups all the time - on the fly, off the top of my head, with what's in the fridge and pantry. I'm somewhat famous for my soups and it's hard to credit someone else when I make up a batch. But I have to admit that the recipe I'm about to give you was inspired by George Stella's low carb cookbook, Eating Stella Style. Sometimes just a hint of inspiration, a whiff really, is all one needs to take off with what ingredients are at hand. While this isn't the prettiest soup on the block, it's low carb, low calorie, delicious, wonderfully healthy, filling and easy to prepare.

Mushroom Kale Soup
1-2 tablespoons Smart Balance for cooking
1 pound cremini mushrooms, stems on, sliced
1/4 cup Texas sweet onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon or less kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper, such as Tellicherry
28-30 ounces fat free, low sodium chicken broth (store bought or your own)
2 tablespoons dry vermouth
1 large bunch kale, stem ends trimmed, sliced across leaves to make strips (makes about 4 cups)
1/2 cup fat free 1/2 & 1/2 such as Land O' Lakes

Over medium heat, melt butter in large, heavy pot then add mushrooms, onion, garlic, salt and pepper and saute until soft and tender. Add broth and vermouth and increase heat to high to reduce liquid slightly. Add kale and cook until tender but still green.
Lower the heat to medium, stir in the 1/2 & 1/2 and warm gently. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve.

Alternatively, a la George's suggestion, you can puree half of the soup in a blender and add it back to the pot thereby thickening it somewhat. I like my soup more rustic, brothy and chunky.

To add more protein and make this a main meal, add some diced, cooked, leftover chicken to this soup.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Low Carb Vanilla Delight

(4/24/06: see notes at bottom of post)

Even low carbers need sweets sometime. I hadn't been letting myself indulge in dessert since being on this stricter low carb diet and I was getting tired of it. Something had to be done before I broke down and dove into a carton of Breyer's Vanilla Ice Cream. So, parting ways with George and his cookbook, Eating Stella Style, for just a minute, I made this very low carb, sinfully high fat dessert that I suppose is somewhere between a mousse and a... well, you decide.

I started out with a 6-ounce jar of Devonshire clotted cream that really needed to be used. if you don't have that on hand, proceed with the rest of the recipe and see what happens.
Add 1 8-ounce tub of fat-reduced cream cheese, 1 cup of Splenda granular, and 2 teaspoons of good vanilla extract to the clotted cream and mix using a hand-held mixer on medium speed until blended.
With the mixer running, add 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream (told you, didn't I?), 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, the seeds from a vanilla pod and whip on high speed until fairly stiff peaks form.

Pour mixture into a glass bowl and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

To serve, spoon into demi-tasse cups and garnish with a sliced strawberry.

4/23/06 Notes: Even though I made up this dessert following "low carb" guidelines, it's so high in fat that, in my opinion, it really shouldn't be in a low carb repertoire. I got on the scales this morning and hadn't lost an ounce - and I've been very careful about what I've been eating. Proof enough for me that eating low carb with high fat doesn't mix very well, plus it can't be very healthy for you. Any comments?

4/26/06 Notes: What was I thinking? Erase from your mind the high-fat ingredients in the above recipe. DO NOT go out and buy a jar of Clotted Cream (bad! bad!) Keep the pretty photo image firmly in your brain as you create this low-fat, low carb alternative.

Following the preparation method above, in a mixing bowl place:
8 ounces low-fat or fat-free cream cheese
1 cup Splenda granular
2 teaspoons good vanilla extract (check the label to make sure no sugar has been added)

Blend the above with a hand-held mixer, then, with the mixer running, add:
1 1/2 cups fat free half & half
seeds from 1 vanilla pod
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

This will make a nice, creamy topping for strawberries. Or fill that little demi-tasse cup and shave some good, bittersweet chocolate over the top. Much, much better for you!

Blackened Chicken Breasts

(As stated here, I'm cooking low carb, healthy meals from George Stella's low carb cookbook Eating Stella Style until I reach my target weight of 128 pounds.)

Quite a number of years ago I ordered blackened catfish in a restaurant and after one bite thought my taste buds had been ruined forever. The spices used on the fish were so hot that I couldn't taste anything for a week. That singular experience has kept me from being even mildly curious about Blackened Anything up until now. But George Stella just changed all that. Now, I know if I'd found a recipe somewhere else or if I'd ventured to order Blackened Whatever in another restaurant, I'd probably have had an altogether different experience from my first. Be that as it may, George's recipe for Blackening Spice and the Blackened Chicken that I made tonight has made me realize that not all Blackened Somethings are created equal.

First, the spice:

5 tablespoons kosher salt
5 tablespoons paprika (I used sweet)
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne (I used 1/4 tsp because I'm a weenie)
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper (I left that out)
Mix it all up and store in an airtight container.

Next, the chicken:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded with a meat mallet until uniformly 1/2-inch thick
2 tablespoons blackening spice
2 tablespoons oil for the skillet
Wedges of lemon (optional, but I'll do it next time)

Coat the chicken on both sides with the spice mixture.
Place the oil in a cast iron skillet and place over high heat just until the oil begins to smoke.
Place the breasts in the skillet and sear for about 3 minutes. Flip the breasts over, turn the heat to medium, and continue cooking until done, about 3 minutes more. (I was careful to not let the meat actually get charred as I don't like it that way.)
Place on paper towels for a few minutes to drain and then plate (with the lemon wedges, if using).

Sliced tomatoes, sprinkled with diced fresh mozzarella and drizzled with a black fig vinegar/walnut oil dressing rounded out the plate. This was sooooo good. Thanks George.

Friday, April 21, 2006

HBW #29

After three straight days of sun, my oregano plant has finally put out some leaves and is stretching its little arms skyward. So when I caught sight of it this morning, surrounded by the lovely purple violets that pop up everywhere around here, I immediately thought of Kalyn's Herb Blogging Weekend, ran into the house, grabbed my camera and snapped a photo. Oh, happy day!

Losing Weight the Low Carb Way #3

(As stated here, I’m cooking low carb, healthy meals using George Stella’s cookbook, Eating Stella Style, until I lose 11 more pounds.)

When I wrote that the hard-boiled eggs in the low carb meatloaf I made the other day would have been put to better use being deviled instead, it prompted me to look in George Stella's cookbook, Eating Stella Style, to see if he had a recipe. Yes indeed, he had one. Whipping out my saucepan, I began boiling eggs then and there. The finished product, with just a few minor changes to George's recipe, is very, very tasty. These make a quick, light lunch when accompanied by a green salad or some roasted asparagus spears. Or, take them to your next potluck or beach night. Or, do as I did this morning and pop 1 or 2 in your mouth and call it breakfast.

I have to confess that I almost forgot about the tuna. Having assembled all the ingredients, mixing them up to a lovely, smooth but crunchy, soft, buttery-yellow filling, I took a taste. It was good. In fact, it was great. That was when I turned around and spied the tuna that I’d set in a colander to drain. Oops, the forgotten ingredient. I winced as I looked from the tuna to the beautiful egg mixture; it wasn’t broke, why fix it?

But then I thought about George and my commitment to cooking low carb Stella Style and decided that omitting the tuna would be too big a change to the recipe and, besides, it would add more protein to offset the fat in the eggs. Before I could change my mind, I quickly tossed the tuna into the egg mixture and stuffed the waiting whites. I'm glad I did. Not only do they taste great, they're the perfect low carb ticket.

George's Devilish Deviled Eggs with Tuna

6 large hard-boiled eggs, peeled
1 tablespoon minced red onion
2 tablespoons minced celery
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon celery salt (Haven't had that in my pantry in years. Had to go to the store.)
1/8 teaspoon dry mustard (here's where George and I part ways. This is so retro. How about using 1/4 teaspoon good Dijon mustard such as Maille? That's what I did)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (my favorite is Tellicherry, available on-line at or at Peet's Coffee stores)
1/2 cup full or reduced-fat mayonnaise
6 ounce can albacore tuna packed in water, drained thoroughly
1 small cornishon, minced (available in the pickle section of a good market. This was my addition, and a good one too, if I do say so)
Sweet paprika for garnish

Slice the eggs in half lengthwise, remove the yolks to a bowl and set the whites on a flat surface. Add the rest of the ingredients to the yolks except the paprika and mix well, blending thoroughly.
Fill the egg white halves with heaping mounds of the egg-tuna mixture then sprinkle with paprika.
Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.

These are addictive so be careful. Each stuffed egg has about 100 calories.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Losing Weight the Low Carb Way #2

(As stated here, I'm cooking low carb, healthy meals using George Stella's cookbook, Eating Stella Style, until I lose 14 pounds.)

In George's cookbook, Eating Stella Style, he presents a meatloaf recipe that so intrigued me I had to try it. Whole, hard-boiled eggs stuffed into a meatloaf? Is there a reason for this besides being a bit quirky? George wanted to use up leftover hard-boiled Easter eggs. Wouldn't deviled eggs have been a bit less, oh, I don't know, silly? And more practical? Does one really need all that protein in one dish?

Snarky questions aside, this made for a pretty tasty, low carb dinner. You can bake it with George's Quick and Easy Ketchup on top, or save the catsup to use as a condiment on your plate. Serve with steamed green beans tossed with diced red bell peppers which have been sauteed in Smart Balance and sprinkled with finely chopped basil and you've got a nicely balanced low carb meal. And while the hard-boiled eggs were a hoot, next time I'd leave them out. Unless, of course, you have children who are entertained by such things.

Because I substituted ground turkey for the lean ground hamburger, this dish baked in less than time than called for and was very, very juicy. Be sure to have 5 hard-boiled eggs on hand (or not) before beginning.

George's Crazy Egg Meatloaf
2 pounds lean ground beef (I used ground turkey)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup diced red onion
1/4 cup diced raw red bell pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 garlic cloves, minced (I used three)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (I used dried marjoram because I didn't have dried oregano)
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon kosher salt (I used 1/2 teaspoon and wish I'd used a whole teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (such as my favorite, Tellicherry)
5 hard-boiled eggs, peeled (I only had room for 4 in my glass dish)
4 tablespoons Quick and Easy Ketchup (George says this is optional and I agree. It's much better as a condiment)

Set your oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a 9x5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray.

Mix all ingredients except the hard-boiled eggs in a large bowl; using your hands is best for this job.
Place half of the meat mixture in the pan, pat down evenly and then place the hard-boiled eggs end to end, lengthwise down the center. Cover with the rest of the meat mixture and smooth the top. Spread the catsup over the top if using.

Bake for about 1 hour or until the meat has pulled away from the sides of the dish and the top is nicely browned and an instant-read thermometer reads about 130. Carefully pour the juices off and let sit for about 10 minutes.
Cut into 8 equal portions and serve.

As I said above, I used less salt than called for and wished I hadn't. And maybe because I used ground turkey instead of ground beef, this meatloaf didn't pack much punch flavor-wise. Next time I'd used more herbs and maybe add some sliced, pimiento-stuffed green olives. And while my 19-year old son thought they were "gnarly looking", I'd leave out the hard-boiled eggs.

Low Carb Sides - Curried Walnuts

(As stated here, I'm cooking low carb, healthy meals using George Stella's cookbook, Eating Stella Style, until I lose 14 pounds.)

YUM! These are so good it may be hard to limit yourself to the suggested 1/4 cup serving size. For those of you who don't mind a smidge more carbs, use Splenda-Brown Sugar Blend instead of Splenda granular. I'm betting that would kick it up some and, when I get down to fighting weight, I'll try it myself.

George's Curried Walnuts

2 tablespoons butter (I used Smart Balance)

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 tablespoon Splenda granular

1 teaspoon kosher salt (I used 1/2 teaspoon and they were salty enough)

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I used less, but if you like hot and spicey, go for it)

2 cups walnut halves (or large pieces)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Melt the butter and spices in a saucepan over medium. Add the Splenda and walnuts and toss until the nuts are fully coated.

Spread the nuts on a cookie sheet pan in a single layer and bake 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. May be stored in an air tight container for about 2 weeks - as if these would last that long.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Low Carb Sides - Quick Catsup

George Stella's cookbook, Eating Stella Style, is full of delicious looking snacks and side dishes designed to make a low carb eating lifestyle both healthy and, for me, tolerable. Since I'm going to make an Eating Stella Style meatloaf for dinner tonight (which I'll post tomorrow), I prepared George's "Quick and Easy Ketchup" this morning. The taste is outrageously close to bottled catsup but without all the sugars and salt. And it's so easy to make I may never buy a bottle of catsup again.

Here's George's recipe. My notes are below. You may want to read them before making this.

8 ounces tomato sauce (check the label for added sugars. Bad!)
6 ounces tomato paste (ditto on the sugar)
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1/4 cup Splenda granular (see my note)

Whisk all ingredients together until fully incorporated. Adjust vinegar and Splenda to taste. George says this will keep in the fridge, covered, for up to 2 weeks.

1/4 cup Splenda!!!!???? George, what were you thinking? I used 1 heaping teaspoon and it was more than enough.

Losing Weight the Low Carb Way #1

As stated in my Confessions post, I've decided to cook low carb, healthy meals, using George Stella's cookbook, Eating Stella Style, until I lose 14 pounds. I promise not to give you a minute by minute detailed accounting of how the pounds are (hopefully) being shed. And I'm not going to make boring lists of what I eat each day. What I will do is post the recipes that I make from George's book and give you my commentary - good, bad, or indifferent, plus photos. AND here's the hardest part: I'll weigh myself every two days or so and show you what the scale says. That's calling my bluff bigtime. God, I hope this doesn't get boring.

Another thing I won't be doing is giving the calorie/fat/fiber/carb/protein counts of the recipes I prepare. If you want to know any of these numbers you'll have to buy George's book. Plus I will probably adapt some recipes to lower the fat and cholesterol content. For example, I may use ground turkey instead of ground beef, I may use Smart Balance instead of butter, and I may substitute fat free 1/2 & 1/2 for cream or regular 1/2 & 1/2.

So, all set? Here's the first recipe: adapted from George Stella's low carb cookbook, Eating Stella Style. These little gems could be prepared on a weekend morning when you have time to sit and enjoy them. But don't let that stop you from cooking them up any time of the week. They're a snap to make, heart-healthy, satisfying and delicious.

Low Carb Mini Pancakes
1/2 cup egg substitute, such as Eggbeaters (you can use 2 whole eggs if you're not concerned about fat and cholesterol content)
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract (check the bottle's label to make sure no sugar/corn syrup has been added)
1/2 cup ground almond meal from Trader Joe's . (Eating Stella Style will tell you how to make your own)
1/4 cup milled organic flax seed, such as that from Bob's Red Mill
1/4 cup or less (see note*) Splenda granular
1/2 teaspoon each baking powder and baking soda
pinch of salt

Place a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. As it warms up, rub the opened end of a stick of butter over the bottom of the pan, using just enough butter to make a thin film. Alternatively, swirl a small pat of non trans-fat butter spread, such as Smart Balance**, in the pan.

In a large bowl, place all ingredients together and whisk until fully blended.

Using a 1/8 cup measure, make 3 to 4 small rounds of batter in the skillet and allow to cook for about 3 minutes on one side then flip over and cook 1 minute more on the other side. They will bubble up like regular pancakes do so you will know when to flip them. Don't let them overcook.

Remove to a warm plate and sprinkle with a mixture of 1 tablespoon Splenda and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon. Or you can pour a low or no-sugar maple-flavored syrup. Or, because you've been so good for making these, you could treat yourself to 1/2 teaspoon pure maple syrup and then walk a few miles. See how I am? Always messin' with things.

For a more elegant presentation, add a dollop of creme fraiche, a few slices of fresh strawberries and a small handful of fresh blueberries.

Notes: *The use of Splenda in this recipe is probably meant to smooth out the taste of the flax meal which can be overpowering. Start with less Splenda and adjust accordingly to reach the taste balance you like. I used 1 tablespoon, which was plenty for me.
**You can look up the nutritional analysis of Smart Balance and other butter & oils substitutes here.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Confession: I’ve gained 14 pounds since last summer. There’s no excuse for it. I’m cooking more, eating more and exercising less.

Confession: I love bread. And potatoes. And rice. And ice cream. And butter. And fatty meat. And bread with butter. And butter and cream-laden sauces. And… the list goes on and on and on.

Confession: I have high cholesterol. The inherited genes-type. The kind that’s really hard to get under control.

About 8 years ago I weighed 16 pounds more than I weigh now. That’s a total of 30 pounds over my ideal weight of 128. Back then I went on the Atkins diet, high protein, low carb, and lost all 30 pounds. Turned my cholesterol around and felt better than I had in years. I kept it off too. Well, now and then I’d slip and gain a few pounds, but it was always easy to go back to a really low carb diet for a week or two and take it off again.

But now I’m struggling. I thought that I might gain a few pounds while we were in Europe last fall but that actually didn’t happen. Despite the foie gras, cassoulet, croissants, wonderful breads, pommes Sarladaise and the fantastic, calorie-laden French food in general, to say nothing of the red wine at lunch and dinner, walking 5 miles a day kept me trim.

Nope, I really started to gain when we got back home just in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas and I stopped walking those 5 miles every day. Instead, I cooked a lot, ate a lot and sat at my computer writing about it. A dangerous combination if ever there was one. And even low carb food, which I espouse enthusiastically, won’t take the weight off if you eat too much of it.

This morning I decided (as I have done almost every morning for the last month) that I really have to do something about it (my weight). My problem is, you see, how boring is blogging about being on a diet? Or an “eating lifestyle”, as we’ve been coached to call it. I mean, do you really want to read about low calorie, low fat, boring food? Of course not. And, of course, I HAVE to write about what I cook, obsessed person that I am. So there’s no sense telling me to shut up already, go on my damned diet, lose the weight, and write to you when I'm finished and can go back to REALLY cooking. Hah! Not on your life. We’re in this together people, through thick and thin (ok, bad pun).

Confession: I have a number of “eating lifestyle” cookbooks in my collection. The South Beach Diet Cookbook, the Atkins Diet Cookbook, Dana Carpender’s low carb cookbook, the 40-30-30 low glycemic book, and two of George Stella’s cookbooks: George Stella’s Livin’ Low Carb, and Eating Stella Style. George can also be seen on the Food Network’s “Low Carb and Lovin’ It”.

Confession: I can’t stand George. I mean, I’m sure he’s a really nice guy and all that, and I know that he’s probably helped thousands of people lose weight while eating healthy, delicious, low carb food, but to watch him on television? All that bouncing around. All that enthusiasm. And then there's his writing style. All those exclamation points!!!!! One exclamation point, maybe two if an idea really needs to make it over home plate, per page is about all I can take. But George uses them with wild abandon. They fly off the pages, darting and flitting about in the air like so many annoying gnats. So, even though I own two of his books, I’ve never used a single recipe from them, snob that I am.

Until this morning. Trudging to my cookbook collection, the first book I laid eyes on was “Eating Stella Style”. Okay, I grumbled, I’ll take another look, but first I’m going to apply insect repellent to keep the exclamation points at bay.

Confession: It didn’t take me long to find some really great sounding recipes in George’s book!!!!! (Maybe if I overkill on the exclamation points I’ll flatten that button.) Reading further, I found more really good recipes. Then a thought started taking shape. Could I possibly use the recipes in George’s book to cook healthy, low carb meals, chart my (hopeful) weight loss and blog them with photos and commentary to boot? Not forever, mind you. Just until I lose this 14 pounds. I’m game, are you?

There is the small, teeny-tiny issue of possible copy write infringement. But, George, I promise to credit you every step of the way. I’ll link to your books, to your Food Network program, to your name. I’ll make it all about you while the (hopeful) weight loss will be all about me. It’s a win-win proposition!!!!! Let’s give it a try shall we? Who knows? We may become friends.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Leftovers Fritatta

This is a dish I've been making for years, since my kids were little, and it never fails to satisfy. It uses up meat and veggie leftovers and it's low carb to boot. Use whatever leftover ingredients you have on hand plus eggs, 1/2 & 1/2 (or milk, or cream, or even a bit of water or stock), and cheese. The possibilities are endless. Herbs fit right in to this dish so I'll send it over to Kalyn's Herb Blogging Weekend as an entry. For low carb information in general, Kalyn is a fountain of information on eating low glycemic foods. Her recipes are healthful, delicious and very, very photogenic.

Here, I've used up some leftovers from recent blog posts. So if you want to duplicate this recipe and haven't made the parmesan-asiago cheese dip yet, you'd better get going!

Lamb, Asparagus, Marjoram, Parmesan-Asiago Cheese Fritatta
all measurements are approximate - this is a very forgiving dish

1/3 of a large, sweet onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed through a garlic press

1 pound asparagus, peeled and stems cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths, retaining 2 1/2-inch long tips

8 large eggs, beaten
3/4 to 1 cup fat free 1/2 & 1/2 or regular 1/2 & 1/2 (see above for other possibilities)
1-2 teaspoons crumbled, dried marjoram, or use fresh chopped if you have it
Pinch of sweet smoked paprika (optional)
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

Leftover meat, cut into bite-sized pieces (I used up the roasted lamb from Clay's birthday dinner)

1 cup (about) Parmesan-Asiago Cheese spread (or grated cheese, like jack, cheddar, parmesan - whatever you have on hand that will melt appropriately for the dish

Oil and butter for the pan

Heat an oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl whisk together the eggs and 1/2 & 1/2 . Add the marjoram and paprika and cayenne, if using, and whisk to combine. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Set aside.

In a cast iron skillet large enough to hold the finished egg and meat/veggie/cheese volume, melt equal parts butter and olive (1-2 teaspoons each) over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the chopped onions and saute until they are soft and slightly golden (adjust heat so they don't burn). Add the pressed garlic cloves and the pieces of asparagus and continue to cook until the asparagus is just softly cooked. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Remove from skillet to a plate and set aside, separating the asparagus tips from the rest.

Return skillet to the heat and set to medium-low. Pour egg mixture into pan and let cook gently until the bottom begins to set. Using a spatula, carefully go around the edge of the pan, lifting the cooked egg mixture away from the side and letting the still runny mixture take its place. Keep on doing this, around and around the pan, until most of the eggs are softly cooked. Adjust the burner heat if necessary to avoid burning the bottom.

When the eggs are softly set, add the cooked meat then the veggie saute then the cheese spread. Arrange the asparagus tips on top. Place in the 325 oven for about 15 minutes or long enough for the mixture to fully set and the cheese to melt. Remove from the oven and allow to cool about 15 minutes to set further before cutting.

This makes a very satisfying, low carb meal when paired with a nice salad. Surprisingly, it re-heats in the microwave quite well on about 65% power.

With this particular set of ingredients, the olive oil from the cheese spread melted throughout the dish, giving it a very mediterranean flavor. The slice above, center, was cut 15 minutes after the dish came out of the oven. The one here on the right is a slice from the next day. Not a very photogenic dish, but it's very delicious. (Click on the photos to see a larger image.)

Saturday, April 15, 2006

About Me

It's been over a year since I started this blog and I’ve been thinking about it lately: What it's about, why I'm doing it, how it's changed. I'd like to spiff it up a bit. Add more links and information to the side bar. Flesh out the "About Me" bio. Especially the "About Me" bio. It won't happen overnight. You may have noticed that I keep changing the sub heading under my title block (it's not there just now) and fiddling with the “About Me” section in the sidebar. I just can't seem to settle on any one thing that really sums me up.

This morning, as usual, I woke up thinking about my blog (go ahead, call me obsessive). I got onto this long thought about re-vamping the template, which led to the “About Me” bio, which I’ve never been fond of, not actually liking to write about ME per se, only what I like to DO, which is read about cooking, think about cooking, cook what I've read and thought about, and then write about it, which led me full circle to my blog and what to put in the "About Me" section. I've read the bios of other food bloggers and find them clever and well written, giving me a good idea of each blogger's personality. Mine doesn't do that for me. What's there is somehow lacking in spark and fullness, to say nothing of not being clever.

Is cooking all I’m about? (Surely not, she says with some dismay, how one-dimensional.) I mean right now I should be finishing up some bookkeeping, which is what I do for my husband’s business. And yesterday I proofed a new brochure for the school where I do admin and budget work. And I’ve really got to knuckle down and start on the publicity campaign I said I’d do for a local non-profit. Plus I’ve got to clean out my horse’s stall, prune the claws of our “gray beasties” who are happily and willfully shredding the furniture and, if it ever stops raining, mow our rather large expanse of lawn. Then there’s my vegetable garden, which may never get planted because of the rain, and gardening in general, which I'm generally in charge of, on our 2-plus acres. I also read a lot.

So, this morning (remember?) I was sitting in bed sipping the hot tea that my dear husband brings to my bedside table each and every morning (husbands, take note!), thinking, okay, if I'm going to fill out the "About Me" part of my blog, what should I write? Which, somehow, got me to thinking of all the cookbooks I own (173), which got me to thinking about all the food magazines I subscribe to, which got me to thinking of all the dinners and dinner parties I’ve cooked up. Then my eyes fell on the bookcase that’s firmly anchored to one wall of my bedroom and which contains all of my Bon Appetit magazines,

carefully placed in date order and taking up a full four shelves, the sight of which led me to the inevitable conclusion that, yes indeed, a very great part of me really is about food. (In case you're wondering just where I'm going with all this, I'm putting it down in the order I've thought it. Not the best way to write, but my mind doesn't always follow the rules and I'm letting my fingers follow suit. Besides, this is "About Me".)

Intrigued by the sheer volume of my collection, I went to the bookcase and pulled out the first issue. April 1985. Wow! 21 years to the month. That’s, let’s see, 252 issues... and counting. (That I’ve saved every issue and that I’d never for a moment consider getting rid of any of them may say something more about what I’m about, but I’m not going to analyze that just now.)

I'm sure I inherited the cooking gene from my mother, a well-read, witty, funny, smart-as-a-whip woman who was a consumate cross-word puzzler and could make gourmet cuisine out of hamburger. A homemaker and part-time bookkeeper/retail clerk, she could have been an architect, interior decorator, clothes designer, building contractor (my father called her Mrs. Winchester), haute cuisine chef, pastry chef, landscape designer and artist. I use the word "and" on purpose.

I have many of her recipes, handwritten on 3x5 cards, in an old yellow plastic recipe box. She's the one who gave me my first cookbook. I used to sit quietly and watch her in the kitchen as she was cooking. Quietly because she wasn't a verbal teacher and questions or chatter, when she was trying to create, made her nervous. I didn't start cooking until I moved out of the house after high school. Then I made all the recipes I could remember her making. And when I couldn't remember something I'd give her a call. She was pleased to be asked and gave me detailed instructions. Those were '40s and 50's recipes, influenced by the depression in which she grew up: Meat loaf, tamale pie, green bean casserole, spoonbread, chicken pot pie, peach cobbler, ice box cakes. She made pancakes and waffles from scratch and melted butter, honey and cinnamon together for the syrup, something I did for my own boys as they were growing up. She taught herself to decorate cakes for special occasions and for years people in our town begged her to make cakes for them. Wedding cakes, anniversary cakes, birthday cakes, doll cakes, train cakes, flower basket cakes, what she could do was endless. And every holiday season she made a gingerbread house the likes of which I have not seen to this day. Somewhere between us siblings are slides my father took documenting her achievements. If I find a few I'll post them here.

As I grew older I graduated from the Betty Crocker Cookbook to the Good Housekeeping Cookbook, then to the Joy of Cooking and Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook. For years, those were the only cookbooks I owned. I always had people over for dinner just because I had cooked up something new and had too much of it. Sharing was and is a big part of why I cook. Then, in 1985, I subscribed to my first magazine devoted not just to cooking, but gourmet cooking - Bon Appetit. Totally overwhelmed by the bewildering and intricate techniques the more gourmet recipes called for, for the first two years I went straight to the "Too Busy to Cook?" section where everyday home cooks sent in time-saving recipes and were lucky enough to get published. This is where I honed my culinary skills, developed a sense for food chemistry and gained enough self confidence to take chances, experiment, soar... Right into the RSVP section in the front of the magazine, where famous chefs share their recipes and one had to know one's brunoise from one's mirepoix.

Well, so far this "About Me" is still all about cooking. Should I tell you that I'm self-taught, never took a hands-on cooking class? That I harbor fantasies of going back to college to major in both English and history while mastering the French language? That I've got a growing itch to hold my yet-to-be-conceived grandchildren? That I own a beautiful, gray Arab mare and haven't ridden her in 2 years because we're both getting older and less sure-footed? That most of my day jobs have been in the non-profit sector keeping busy offices running smoothly? That I've written for, edited and published no fewer than 4 weekly and monthly newsletters over the past 18 years? That I've raised three incredible, wonderful, brilliant, capable, loving, kind, did I say brilliant? boys who are now grown and fledged and that thinking about any one of them instantly warms my heart? That I dream of owning and living in a small house/cottage/barn/I'd-settle-for-hovel in the southwest of France? That I once worked in a restaurant for six months as the soup and appetizers chef and KNEW after the first four painfully difficult hours that it was not the job for me? (That I lasted the full six months should say something about me but, you know, I'm not really into the self-analysis thing.)

I could go on, but after more than twenty-one years, 173 cookbooks, binders overflowing with recipes, notes and dinner menus, subscriptions to
Saveur, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Cuisine at Home and Bon Appetit (the May issue just arrived), I guess I'll have to admit that it wouldn't be at all untruthful to say, "Simply put, She loves to cook; She loves to feed people, But that's not all she's about".
Not a bad phrase for a blog either. But enough about me.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Clay's Birthday

Clay’s birthday was yesterday and guess what? We had another Beach Night and, yes, another birthday cake to feature here.

But first I have to tell you about dinner. Gail made a cauliflower and jicama casserole that was supremely delicious. When I get the recipe from her I’ll post it for you. Donna made an onion quiche

that was fully 3-inches high, packed with caramelized, sweet onions, cream and cheese in a flakey crust. It melted in our mouths. Ilene and Mark brought margaritas (yay!) in quart-size jars and a bowl full of roasted baby yellow potatoes that accompanied my garlic-rosemary studded, roast leg of lamb perfectly. And Annie made a ginger with rice soup that had my taste buds dancing for joy. The gingery tastes were so complex and delightful! That’s another recipe I’ve got to get. Last but not least, glory be, we had just one salad.

I did remember to take photos this time but most of them didn’t turn out well. It seems, while I’m still in the learning stage with my camera (and it also seems that the curve is a bit steeper than I though it would be), that I had inadvertently hit a setting that delayed the shutter speed. Most of my photos came out fuzzy. Ah well, they will get better.

Now for the cake: It was like eating a chocolate-almond candy bar. I adapted the recipe from one I saw a long time ago in the New York Times cooking section, called Gateau Reine de Saba. It’s a single layer, dense - but not ponderously so – rich, chocolate cake topped with a velvety chocolate glaze. Made with almonds and no flour, if you use Splenda instead of sugar it’s a low carber’s dream dessert. Here’s my version.

1 ½ sticks unsalted butter
6 ounces of Scharffen Berger’s 70% dark, bittersweet chocolate, chopped
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons strong decaf coffee (you can use leaded, but that would keep me up all night)
4 extra large eggs, separated
A pinch of salt, such as Maldon

1 cup Splenda granular or ½ cup Splenda-Sugar Blend (best for baking) or 1 cup sugar (if you don’t care about carbs)
1 ¼ cups ground almond meal from Trader Joe’s
¼ cup finely ground, toasted slivered almonds (don’t let them become paste-y in the grinding process)

Butter for the cake pan

Heat oven to 325 degrees with the rack positioned in the center. Generously butter the bottom and sides of a 9 ½-inch springform pan. Place a round piece of parchment paper into the bottom of the pan and butter it also.

Place 1 ½ sticks of butter, chocolate, vanilla and coffee in a saucepan and melt it all together over very low heat, stirring to blend. Remove from the heat and let cool.
Using your hand held electric mixer, beat the egg whites and salt until they reach the soft peak stage. Add ½ cup of the sugar, or ¼ cup of the Splenda-sugar blend, or ½ cup of the Splenda granular, and keep beating until the whites are thick and shiny.

In another bowl, with clean beaters, beat the egg yolks with the remaining sugar (Splenda, etc.) until thick and a lovely lemon color.

Fold the egg yolk mixture into the melted, cooled chocolate mixture then add the almond meal and the ground almonds, mixing thoroughly. Whisk in a large spoonful of the egg whites to lighten the batter then fold in the remaining egg whites, using a rubber spatula, being careful not to compress the batter. You want it be light and airy.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the top is dry and a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out with some moisture on it – not wet though, just sticky. Cool the cake on a rack for about 20 minutes then remove the side of the pan. Continue cooling the cake on the rack until it is room temperature. During the cooling process, the top of the cake may crack. This is normal and will be covered up by the glaze.

2 tablespoons sugar, or Splenda Granular or 1 tablespoon Splenda-Sugar blend
1 tablespoon corn syrup (you could use honey I suppose, or rice syrup, but you’d still be getting sugar. Low carb maven, Kalyn, of Kalyn's Kitchen might know of a good substitute for corn syrup)
¼ cup water
4 ounces Scharffen Berger 70% dark, bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Combine sugar, syrup, and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil then remove from heat. Add the chocolate, give it a stir, and allow the pan to sit while the chocolate melts. Stir the glaze until well blended then whisk in the butter.

Pour the glaze over the cooled cake, spreading it out to the edge of the top and letting some of it drip over the sides. Leave at room temperature until the glaze has cooled completely. You can put it in the fridge for a while before serving to firm it up, but I wouldn’t leave it in there for more than a couple of hours. You can, however, refrigerate leftovers, should there be any.

If you wish, place edible flowers (I used fresh-picked violets) on the top then sprinkle with edible glitter just before adding the candles. I thought edible gold leaf would look good on this cake, but I left that thought for the last minute and then couldn’t find any. (BTW: I took this photo inside of the fridge without a flash. The cake is actually darker than depicted.)

The sun shone for Clay's birthday - what a present! He took the day off and spent it outside - rowing, walking on the beach. He said it was wonderful. The full moon rose as we sat around a campfire after dinner sipping our wine. The perfect ending to a perfect day after a perfect dinner shared with, dare I say it?, perfect friends!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Trussed Chickens ... Dinner for 12

Now I know that what we have here are naked, raw, trussed chickens, glistening with lemon juice, rubbed with olive oil and a generous sprinkling of sea salt and pepper, their little bodies stuffed with the squeezed lemon, smashed garlic cloves (skin on, of course) and two long-ish rosemary stems (food porn indeed!). So where is the finished product? Once again, gone the way of lots of dear and fine people milling about, wine flowing abundantly, and me in the kitchen trying to get everything ready at once. Oops! Forgot to take the photos - once again. You'll just have to use your imagination, which I know you can do.

Dinner with our neighbors, a large group of 8, and that's not all of them, had been long overdue. To get back into the swing of sharing meals with them, that we have missed so much due to being overworked and overbooked in general, my menu for the evening was simple. Four trussed chickens a la the description above, two of them grilled on the bar-bie and two of them roasted in a 385 oven, both methods producing golden brown, tender and juicy birds. A big, big tray of coarsely chopped, roasted broccoli, cauliflower and baby carrots, sprinkled with fresh basil, sea salt and butter. And another large tray of diced Yukon Gold potatoes, tossed with about 20 cloves of diced garlic, 1/4 cup of finely chopped rosemary and generous, and I do mean generous, amounts of sea salt and equally generous drizzles of olive oil. Don't forget the freshly ground pepper. All placed in several ovens (385 degrees) at approximately the same time, with fingers crossed that they would all arrive at the finish line together. (A thing that I do to hurry the veggie roasting time along is to cover the trays with foil for the first half of the roasting time then, when they begin to soften, remove the foil and roast until they're golden, slightly caramelized and oh so delicious.) And they did cross the finish line together, except for the salad that I forgot to assemble until I looked around to see that everything was in place and then remembered it. Damn! While everyone was dishing up, I dumped the spring lettuce mix into the salad bowl, peeled and cut the previously roasted red and gold beets, crumbled the Point Reyes Original Blue over the top with coarsely chopped toasted walnuts and tossed it all with my newly beloved vinaigrette made with La Tourangelle Toasted Walnut Oil. C'est ne pas de probleme!

Marjie brought wonderful, homemade chocolate chip cookies and Breyer's Vanilla Ice Cream for dessert, over which we shaved Scharffen Berger dark chocolate. Yum!

Wish I had photos for you all. Hopefully next time.

Walnut Oil Vinaigrette
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon red burgundy vinegar
2 tablespoons good dijon mustard, such as Maille (available at any good grocers)
1/2 teaspoon sugar (my little secret ingredient - Splenda may be substituted)
Coarsely ground black pepper, such as Tellicherry
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup (or more if needed for that rich, walnut flavor) toasted walnut oil, such as La Tourangelle

In a glass jar or measuring cup, whisk the first 5 ingredients together and adjust to taste. Slowly whisk in the olive oil, followed by the walnut oil. Keep at room temperature until ready to use the same day, or refrigerate and bring to room temp several hours prior to use.