Back to the Market Basket

Handsome Husband was out of town last week so I suspended the market basket, but now he’s back and the veggies will be, too!

I am excited to get a special restaurant blend of braising greens (more kale!!), as well as fresh garlic, something called Juliet tomatoes, fresh green beans, zucchini, nectarines, donut peaches, and maybe one more thing.

On the Field Goods newsletter they had some recipes suggestions and one was for blue cheese-walnut green beans. Well doesn’t THAT sound like a little slice of heaven! Braised greens with garlic, blue cheese-walnut green beans – I think that calls for an amazing ribeye or something equally lush.

I know the tomatoes will get used quickly in salads.

The zucchini is one of my favorites. It’s such a neutral food that I can do loads of things with it. Here are some suggestions:

Buffalo-wing Zucchini – quarter a zucchini, toss in a bowl with Frank’s Red Hot sauce, spray with butter-flavored cooking spray, cook on the grill or in a grill pan.

Stuffed zucchini: Hollow out zucchini. Chop the insides and combine with a can of diced tomatoes and a package of ground beef, some onion, garlic, oregano and black pepper. Stuff each half zucchini. Top with shredded mozzarella. Bake at 350 for 25 min.

Ham, zucchini, pesto salad: Slice zucchini into thin ribbons. Cut boiled ham into thin strips. Lightly steam zucchini. Toss with ham and a tablespoon or so of commercially prepared pesto. Light, interesting, and super quick.

Just peachy

I have a LOT of peaches. I have regular peaches and I have White Lady Peaches. And I am getting Donut Peaches, which I am convinced sound a lot better than they really are.

So, right now, I have peaches in the crockpot baking with cinnamon and vanilla and cream. It’s my own take on peaches and cream and one way or another it will taste good and get eaten.

I doubt the same can be said for the eight or so peaches I sliced up for this attempt at a yummy but easy dessert. If I hadn’t made them into SOMETHING they would have sat in my refrigerator until they shriveled up and eventually got thrown away.

I feel very strongly about not wasting food. It just seems wrong. There are very few things that can’t make their way into stock, soup, omelets, or salads. I buy what I use and I use what I buy – that’s the whole premise here.

In about an hour I will find out if the peaches came out well or not!

My wasted opportunity with Julia Child

The fabulous Julia Child would have celebrated her 100th birthday last week. Every food blogger in the universe wrote about it. I, however, waited.

Several years ago I had the distinct honor of meeting Julia Child. Except that I didn’t know what an honor it was. I didn’t cook. My cookbook of choice was from Better Homes and Gardens (not that there is anything wrong with that). I had no idea who the guy speaking with her was (Jacques Pepin – but if you only know that he was in charge of food for Howard Johnson’s, like I did from his bio, you should be thrown out of the meeting). And I was really waiting to hear Bill Murray, who was also speaking that day. (Booksellers conventions are very interesting places and make for strange celebrity combinations!)

So, there I was, in line to get my complimentary copy of Julia and Jacques cooking at home. And there she was – the tallest, loudest and nicest lady to ever cook with butter. I shook her hand and probably said something inane about enjoying her speech. Seriously – I need a time machine!

I wish I could go back in time and be more properly impressed with Ms. Julia and a bit more gracious. I wish I had the good sense to think of a recipe question or to comment on a cooking technique – but in all honesty I still thought the cookbook was going to fix my cooking abilities. I was so unworthy of this brush with greatness that I didn’t bother to wait in line to get my free cookbook signed.

Someone was looking out for me, though! Shortly after that I met my husband. The cookbook didn’t fix my inability to cook anything remotely edible – but my husband did! Better yet, even though he’s the kind of cook who doesn’t use or even need recipes to whip up something fabulous, he happily sat down, paged through and then made braised red cabbage.

I had never eaten cooked cabbage (long story – my mother doesn’t eat cooked vegetables for the most part!) before but once I had the first bite I was hooked. It was spicy and sweet and savory all at once. It was purple! Really, really, really purple. And so delicious.

That giant purple pot of cabbage is my REAL special memory of Julia Child. It was a turning point to realize that the real tribute to that great lady isn’t the missed opportunity to impress her with my witty repartee – the real tribute is to learn about cooking, learn to love the kitchen, and be bold and bodacious in what you cook. Serve your food with love. Be a zealot about something – whether it is cooking with butter, putting your signature ingredient in every dish or just insisting that only fresh is good enough.

I think Julia Child handed me a spatula, too, and I didn’t want to bother dragging it home on the plane so I gave it to my coworker. Time machine – doesn’t even need to be a Delorean!

Amazing Grace’s Chicken Salad

Every once in awhile someone comes into your life and makes a difference. Grace is that person for me.

I belong to an organization of exceptional women – the Junior League – specifically the Junior League of Albany, NY. While the primary mission of the Junior League is to build better communities through the volunteer efforts of women working together for a common goal, the other thing you should know about Junior League is that it is very, very social. We have meetings and do incredible things (in the Albany area Hospice, Ronald McDonald House, Race for the Cure, Gilda’s Club/ACS Hope Club, the Equinox Domestic Violence Shelter and other noteworthy projects are all here thanks to Junior League efforts) – but we also share meals, snacks, drinks, etc. at many of our meetings.

At one particular meeting we had a potluck. The hostess (the lovely Carolyn) always takes great care of me but I was incredibly touched that Carolyn’s mom Grace also made a special dish with me in mind. Grace is a long-time member of the League and made this absolutely amazing hot chicken salad from a Junior League cookbook. (Leagues throughout the country publish cookbooks and sell them as fundraisers. Albany’s cookbook is called The Stenciled Strawberry.)

So, quite taken with this delicious dish, I decided “Hot Chicken Salad” didn’t do it justice and I renamed it “Amazing Grace’s Chicken Salad.” Both Grace and the Chicken Salad are amazing so it really works! (Grace is the kind of person everyone wishes was their mom because she’s so nice and helpful and charming and, well, gracious!)

It turns out that Amazing Grace’s Chicken Salad is MY mom’s new favorite dish. It’s nice to share a recipe – but it’s REALLY nice when you can make a dish for someone and bring it to them and all they need to do is reheat it.

So, here’s the REAL recipe (and then I will note my changes – as usual!)

4 cups cubed cooked chicken
4 cups chopped celery
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 tea tarragon
1/4 cup grated onion
1 tlbs lemon juice
2 cups mayonnaise
1/4 cup extra dry vermouth
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup crushed corn flakes
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Combine chicken with celery, salt, tarragon, onion, lemon juice, mayonnaise, vermouth and almonds. Let sit one hour for flavors to develop.

Scoop mixture into a buttered casserole dish (2 quart).

Top with cornflakes and cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes (heated through and lightly browned).

Note: Grace substitutes crushed potato chips for cornflakes.

___________

Now, for how *I* make it:

When I am in a hurry I make whatever chicken salad I feel like and top with parmesan cheese.

When I am being a little more careful:

Chopped chicken, celery, onion (I chop finely instead of grating) black pepper, about a teaspoon of cumin, a teaspoon of oregano (because I hate tarragon), some parsley if I have it on hand, lemon juice, mayo, and if I remember vermouth or other white wine. I use walnuts quite often and they work very well, but the almonds are great, too, if you have them. I never use the cornflakes or potato chips. I always use Parmesan Romano (in the shaker jar). I usually put mine into individual casserole dishes instead of baking it in a big dish.

It’s important to note that this recipe is adapted from one originally published by the Taylor Wine Company of Hammondsport, NY.

This is such a simple recipe but it is truly amazing! The flavors work incredibly well together and sometimes simple is all it takes. Thank you, Grace, not only for your amazing chicken salad but your friendship and grace as well!

30 Days, No Restaurants

As fabulous foodies we love to dine out. We love to try new things, get inspired and eat something we didn’t make. After a few less than stellar experiences (my lovely husband was splashed with tomato sauce and charged for a drink the server spilled half of on the table) we decided to take a break from dining out. That break turned out to be the month of July.

Staying out of restaurants was easy at first. When I am righteously indignant about something I get fired up and I channeled my energy into cooking, posting, etc. Then it became a matter of principle – and a little bit about holding a grudge against boring menus and bad service. By the third week I was bored but committed so we stuck it out. I tried new recipes and worked hard to make something fun and interesting for Friday night, our usual night out. We even switched the grocery shopping to Friday night to make NOT dining out less of an issue.

By the last Friday of July we caved! We enjoyed a lovely dinner on the water at a place we had never tried. The food was good but the view was spectacular and overall it was a relaxing and pleasant experience. Then we had breakfast out on Saturday – and the food was good and the service was warm, friendly, funny and efficient.

It seems it is safe to return to the world of restaurants once again! (Although I admit – two good experiences in a row has me filled with trepidation that the hot streak could break at any moment!)

Simply wonderful

This week’s market basket was filled with lots of great stuff – but nothing surprising or unusual.

The green beans were spectacular – trimmed the ends, steamed lightly, served with a little organic butter.

The yellow grape tomatoes are sweet with a wonderful snap when you bite into them. They’ve also lasted about a million times longer than anything you can buy in a store!

I am pretty sure it was romaine lettuce – although I confess to not exactly being a lettuce expert!

The cucumbers are crisp and delicious – and don’t have ooky wax on the outside. Imagine that – and un-retouched cucumber is still fresh and delicious. I love the way the market basket really makes me THINK about all the other things we eat.

The head of red cabbage is going to become unstuffed cabbage in the crockpot – although I can think of about a dozen different ways to use it. Another option was to braise the shredded red cabbage with a chopped green apple, some onion and a splash of apple brandy. This is superb served with pork of any kind.

The Walla-Walla onions are neat – they LOOK like big spring onions but they taste like a slightly sweeter version of a regular onion.

The big hit of the market basket this week was the peaches. And oh my were there peaches! I followed my mother’s directions and plunged each peach into boiling water and then immediately into an ice bath. When you do this the skins literally slip off each peach just by sort of grasping it. Very easy! Then I pitted and sliced them, mixed them with vanilla and stevia (use sugar if you like – I prefer stevia) and cooked them in a skillet over medium heat until they were the consistency of compote. We use this as a topping for ricotta cheese. If you’ve never had lightly sweetened ricotta with fruit for dessert I highly recommend it. It’s sort of like a sophisticated cross between ice cream, yogurt and cottage cheese.

Thanks to Field Goods for another week of luscious temptations!

Returning to an old favorite

When I met my husband not only had I not ever tasted Polish food – I didn’t even know there was such a thing as Polish food. Among the many culinary wonders my husband has helped me experience is golabkis (or galumpkis or however you personal spell the word for cabbage rolls). In the early days of my attempts at cooking I pulled out my trusty Betty Crocker cookbook and made the recipe for cabbage rolls. I used a LOT of pots and pans but the end result WAS delicious! Better yet, my sweet husband was thrilled that I could make one of his favorite dishes.

The trick, of course, is that when you have nothing to compare to there is no fear of not measuring up. I didn’t know if my cabbage rolls were right or not. I boiled the cabbage leaves and rolled them like burritos. Turns out that was the right way to do it! Stuffed cabbage is a homey, hearty dish – and because you bake the stuffed rolls in our house it is a winter dish for the most part.

Along the way I combined my new-found love for Polish food with my long-time love for my crockpot. My Unstuffed Cabbage for the Crockpot recipe was a surefire hit. Put all the ingredients for stuffed cabbage in the crockpot (but shred the cabbage). Stir. Cook on low 8 hours or more. Enjoy for dinner – and MANY meals after!! (It makes a LOT!)

When I stopped eating grains I stopped making stuffed cabbage because one of the main ingredients is rice. Recently, however, I realized that there really is no reason to stop making Unstuffed Cabbage. Yes, rice is nice – but not to me. Combining shredded cabbage, chopped tomatoes, slivered onions, minced garlic, and ground beef and letting it all cook slowly and meld together low and slow is going to be great no matter what!