Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Cornmeal Almond Cake With Berries And Cream

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Contrary to what you may think, this is not a Southern recipe, but one adapted from an Italian cook you know very well, Giada de Laurentis.   I published the recipe awhile back in my country blog which is really a recipe box for recipes that appeal to me from all sources.  Some of them I have tried, others I have not.  I don't know what took me so long to try this one.  It is the best almond cake I have ever had and it is by far the best accompaniment I have ever found for fresh berries.  That includes shortcake.

As a bonus, you will also note it has very little flour, perfect for those of you cutting back on wheat.  This is really what prompted me to try it this weekend and boy, am I glad I did.  Wheat or no wheat, this is a keeper.

Since it seems like ages that I last posted a dessert, I decided to push back the  recipe I had planned for today and share this one with you.  It was enjoyed by all over the long weekend.

On another note, you may have noticed that the latest two posts require you to click to another page to view the recipe.  This is being done for a reason, a good one!  Bear with me for awhile longer and you will see what's in store.....I am sure you will like it!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Grilled Steaks With Sweet Mini Peppers And Cauliflower Puree

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 Sweet mini peppers have just arrived! Everywhere from Costco to Target to your local grocery store they can be found in bags for a fairly reasonable price.  Not only are they one of the easiest side dishes to pull together but they are also full of flavor and will add an element of vibrant color to the plate.

One of the interesting things about mini peppers is that you don’t need to core them. There are practically no seeds making them a cinch to prepare.Just wash them, toss them in a bowl, and drizzle them with olive oil. Season them generously with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Place them on the hot grill and cook them until they are tender and slightly deflated. The skins will blacken in spots, but that is totally okay. You can serve them like that or peel them, toss them in a bowl, add olive oil and lots of chopped basil.  Serve the grilled peppers as a side dish and in salads or sandwiches. They are good hot or at room temperature.






We just had the first steaks off the grill this weekend,  accompanied by Cauliflower Puree and these Grilled Mini Peppers.  A bottle of La Linda Malbec (see below), a gift from our friends at The Blue Remembered Hills, accompanied the meal.  To die for...

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Wheat Belly Revolution...Stuffed Chicken Breasts With Spinach And Brie

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This is a reprint of the earlier post titled Spinach And Brie Chicken Breasts With Yellow Rice And Pimentos which I messed up when posting.  The comments were also erased when reposting.  My apologies.

If you live in the United States you have probably heard of Wheat Belly, the new "diet" bestseller that is taking the country by storm.  In his book, William Davis MD,  a renowned cardiologist,explains how eliminating wheat from our diets can prevent fat storage, shrink unsightly bulges, and reverse myriad health problems.

  After witnessing over 2,000 patients regain their health after giving up wheat, Davis reached the disturbing conclusion that wheat is the single largest contributor to the nationwide obesity epidemic and its elimination is key to dramatic weight loss and optimal health. In Wheat Belly, Davis exposes the harmful effects of what is actually a product of genetic tinkering and agribusiness being sold to the American public as “wheat"and provides readers with a user-friendly, step-by-step plan to navigate a new, wheat-free lifestyle.

Although I found the information to be very educational, well researched and most useful,  I found the book a bit boring and repetitive. Notwithstanding, what I found really alarming was how predominant this new genetically altered "wheat" is in everything we eat.  Just for that alone you should pick up a copy and read it.

Even before finishing the book, I decided to eliminate wheat for a few days and sure enough, after just a couple of  days, I noticed my belly had receded a bit and I felt "lighter".  It wasn't til Sunday night after I cheated with a couple of slices of my homemade pizza that I awoke in the middle of the night with the acid reflux that has been plaguing me for awhile.  If you have had these before you know how scary they can be! Hmmm....

Since I really could use losing a few pounds and bathing suit time is just around the corner, I have made a pact with my cleaning lady to follow this regimen for a few weeks.  We both weighed ourselves (after lunch and with our clothes on!), joted it down and hid it somewhere safe.  We swore each other to secrecy on the penalty of her never coming back to clean my house, which, now that I think of it,  is worse for me than it is for her.

That doesn't mean that this will now become a wheat free cooking blog.  Au contraire.  There are many recipes that we all enjoy and that are wheat free.  It also doesn't mean that if you decide to follow Dr. Davis' advice you can never have wheat again, just occasionally and in moderation, something we American just don't know how to do.  Let's just say we will eat more like the Europeans or Asians and won't think about pie until peach season! 

Tonight we had a delightful dinner, completely wheat free,  made by my daughter and adapted from a recipe by Martha Stewart.  Instead of the orzo that accompanies the dish, I made yellow rice with onions, parsley and pimentos.  As I am writing this, I can tell you I feel full and satisfied, although I'm having a tough time fighting a craving for a bowl of ice cream!

Luckily the next couple of recipes that were already planned for the blog are also wheat free.  And summer is coming...lots of stuff on the grill and fresh vegetables to accompany.  And, if all fails, we can always move to Europe where this genetically engineered stuff is simply banned!

By the way, let me know what you think of the book if you have read it... My son who suggested the book and looks like a movie star says the regimen is so easy it's almost like cheating.

The following recipe has been adapted and perfected by my daughter.  The addition of the bacon is her idea and improves the recipe by a mile.  We have also substituted the yellow rice for the orzo originally in the recipe and not allowed in a wheat free diet.  We hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Lindaraxa's Garden In May

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I can't keep up with everything that is blooming in the garden this month. I am like a kid in a candy store!  I am sure the neighbors must think this is the first house I have ever lived in my life.   Every day something new comes out and I am out there morning, noon and night marveling at it and taking pictures.   More often than not, it is something I have never seen before. 

As a city girl for many years and a commuter business woman/mother of two for the rest, I haven't done any gardening since I left Connecticut in 1995.  Then I had what everyone has up North:  lilacs, azaleas, rhododendrons, pachysandra, a pear tree here, an apple one there:  maybe forsythia, oh yes!  and peonies and many ,many roses, always my favorite.   Except for the latter, beautiful but a real pain in the neck, all those other plants sort of took care of themselves.  A little fertilizer and pruning in the Spring and Fall and, voila! flowers in the Spring.

This is different, though.  The previous owners obviously were serious gardeners,  for the amount of perennials in both the front and back gardens is non stop...week, after week.  I have a feeling it stops in about a month when the heat and the humidity become so unbearable that everything wilts, including me.  The house had been empty for a long time and I am sure most of the plants have not been pruned or fertilized in awhile.  As bushes finish blooming I fertilize and trim a little.  Most of the pruning will be done in the Fall, hopefully by someone who knows what they are doing! 

In the meantime, take a look...I am blessed!



I have no idea what this is.  I think it came from a bulb and it just started blooming this week.



This is gorgeous!  and separates our house from the neighbor's.  No idea or how long it blooms.



Along the front of the house next to the path that leads to the front door I have New Guinea impatients in pots and on the ground...just in case.


This little fellow was having a banquet under my neighbor's oak tree until he saw me coming.  See ya!



In the front garden by the street...no idea.






Day lilies...got one! (my daughter told me) These are under the cherry trees, tons of them, together with some beautiful evergreens and perennials yet to bloom.



Lantana! (my neighbor told me) by the side of the house.


The gardenias here have more blooms than any others I have seen.  Welcome to the South.  Eat your heart out Northeners!



More gardenias in the back




No words are necessary....



These we planted... just a few roses to see how they do.







I know what this is but I am having temporary amnesia



On the right of the path, we have planted oregano, two kinds of thyme, lavender and rosemary.  The rest of the herbs are in pots on the deck.



My daughter's attempt at a wild flower garden...work in process.




My daughter came home one day last year with this birdhouse.  Someone was selling them from the back of their trunk at the Walmart parking lot. It has now found a real home although, to date, no tenants.  The azaleas are looking much healthier now that they have been fertilized.



Look at the details, the dog, cat, shoes and the work on the fireplace.



At long last, the hydrangeas.  I hate blue flowers but have to admit they are gorgeous.



Not the intense blue we had by the lake but still....




See? we have cleared the back.  Well, my daughter has.  She did so much work for the last month!



The king of the weeds, or perhaps a sunflower! BTW, those weed looking things in back are supposedly wild flowers, or so I hope.  There are dahlias too somewhere.




These guys came out last week on the side of the house and they almost gave me a heart attack.  I was weeding and pruning and picking up debris after a rainstorm when out of the corner of my eye.....this huge red flower!


I would love to hear from you and perhaps get a pointer or two on some of these blooms.  I intend to do a lot of reading about perennials and by next Spring I promise you I will be rattling off their names like a real pro!



The sous chef wouldn't let me sign off without showing you her grass! It's come a long way and I am so, so proud, although I have to admit we have a great service that got rid of the weeds and fertilized.  Next, aeration!...another work in process.

On a later note....look who just got busted!

All photos Lindaraxa

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Whole Red Snapper Baked With Potatoes, Garden Herbs And Vermouth

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When my daughter showed up this weekend after her trip to Costco with a whole snapper my face dropped.  We had decided I was not to come so we could keep the bill low.  Famous last words.  All I can say is she really went to town.

I had seen these small snappers the previous week when I went to buy a few staples and I have to admit they looked beautiful.  The other added attraction was their size.  2 1/4 to 2 1/2 pounds.  Now, that can be a plus or a negative.  When I buy whole fish I try to avoid smaller ones as I know I will be paying about a third of the price for the head and the tail.  Unless you are going to make broth for a future bouillabaisse or paella,  that is not economical.  On the plus side, with a fish this size, you will have enough for four people or, if there is only two of you, cold leftovers with an interesting mayonnaise on top of field greens.

Skip to the fish.  I have one rule of thumb when it comes to buying fish.  If I can smell it,  it's a no go.  This time, I'm happy to say, the fish did not smell.  Nowadays fish such as these are immediately frozen after they are caught so plan to cook when you buy it and whatever you do, do not refreeze.

So, I decided to make it whole, just like my grandmother used to make it, with a few twists here and there.  Now I am not going to give you exact measurements for everything.  This way, you can apply the recipe to any size snapper you buy.

The potatoes that accompany the snapper are probably the best you will ever have.  Here their purpose is twofold.  One keeping the fish from sticking to the bottom.  Two, send you into ecstatic convulsions!  They roast under the fish and get all the flavors from it.

By the way, if you are planting an herb garden, do get some lemon balm.  You will be using it all summer.  If you don't have some on hand, just add extra lemon or peel.


Fishing for snapper in Cuba today

June and July  is the time for snappers, at least in the Caribbean.  I know, I used to fish for them off my father's boat in Cuba as a young girl.    Mother and I were quite the fishermen while my father socialized with his friends on the radio.  We would come home with 40 or 50 snappers a night during the time they came to spawn off the coast of Varadero where we had a summer house.  It was like a city both above the water and below. 

We tried to get to the site by dusk so we could pick out a good spot, our "secret" spot.  Then drinks and sandwiches and the waiting began.  Sometimes the madness would not start until one or two o clock in the morning.  But once the full moon came out, watch out...you couldn't bring them in fast enough.  Big ones too, 20 to 30 lbs.   And do you know what we used for bait?? Squid and lobster! Goes to show you where the priorities were in those days.

There is nothing in the world like eating a freshly caught snapper.  I can still close my eyes and remember the times.  But if you can't, and I can't anymore, this is not a bad way to go.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Spaghetti Primavera Sirio Maccioni

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I'm taking the day off from cooking and posting on Mother's Day, but I'm passing along this recipe which I found last night while browsing through a cookbook.  Very timely for this time of the year.  I also thought that some of you might want to see the original recipe for pasta primavera as created by Sirio Maccioni, owner of Le Cirque, a far cry from what is been served these days.  Did you know, for instance, that the original had two sauces?

This poor dish has gotten so bastardized over the years that what you get is but a ghost of the original.    Pasta Primavera has come to define simply any type of pasta with vegetables, olive oil and cheese.

I had the real thing in New York at Le Cirque a lo-o-o-ong time ago and it was marvelous but, unfortunately, it was so popularized that people simply got tired of it.  Every restaurant from New York to Peoria had it on the menu; every hostess at her lunch buffets. The Ladies Who Lunch simply adored it!

Nowadays, it's not even on the menu at Le Cirque, although you can get it if you simply ask for it.  It’s prepared on a cart close to your table and served piping hot so the veggies are still steaming yet crunchy fresh.





Sirio Maccioni's recipe was the signature dish at Le Cirque in the 1970's and 80's.  It was one of those recipes which, like the molten chocolate cake, came by quite by accident. According to food historian and restaurant critic John Mariani, Maccioni was entertaining a group of chefs at a hunting camp in Canada in 1975. It had been a long evening, everyone was ravenous -- but no one wanted to eat anything too heavy because of the late hour.

Maccioni went into the kitchen, grabbed a bunch of fresh vegetables, and made up two sauces, a cream sauce and a fresh tomato sauce. He steamed the vegetables, and served them and the sauces over spaghetti.

The dish was a sensation.

Maccioni dubbed it pasta primavera -- it's a wonderfully light evocation of sunshine and spring growth, and ''primavera'' means spring in Italian. He put it on his restaurant's menu, where it was soon the most popular item and was copied everywhere.

If you decide to make the recipe, make sure you buy the freshest vegetables available and the best spaghetti money can buy.  That's all there is to it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mother's Day Lunch, Retro Style

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Why not surprise Mom this year with something she hasn't had in a long time.  Everything in this menu can be made the day before.

Oh, and if you want to be REALLY nice,  why not invite those of her friends whose children won't be around to take them out to lunch.  Just saying.....





Mother's Day Lunch 2012 







Table setting Carolyne Roehm

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Swiss Chard Tart: Pasticcio di Bietole al Forno

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Now let me warn you, this is not a pie or a tart as we know it but it is so good, I made it two nights in a row! Not having a photo to guide me, when I saw the ingredients I thought it would also be a little puffy but it's not..  The eggs really help to bind the chard together and the tartlike result is due to the crusty top and bottom from the cheese and bread crumbs.

Whatever you do, make sure you get the full two pounds of chard.  It may sound like a lot.  It is not.  Swiss chard, like spinach, reduces to smithereens and you will surprised what you end up with after cooking it.  Also, do not cut back on the ingredients.  You need to make the full recipe to get it right.

The only change I made was cooking the chard initially 10 minutes instead of 15 and baking it for 45 minutes at the end instead of an hour, but I have a convection oven.  Also, after using an oval dish the first time, I decided to use a 9 inch pie pan the second time.  It was much better.

Although it can be served as a main course for lunch or as a starter for dinner, I think it is best as a side dish.  We really enjoyed it with grilled pork chops marinaded in lemon juice, garlic and oregano with apple chutney on the side.  The second time we had it was with filet mignon and a Bearnaise Sauce.  Your pick!

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 pounds Swiss chard, washed and spun dry
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 Spanish onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped to yield 1/8 cup
3 large eggs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 cup bread crumbs


Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Bring 8 quarts water to a rolling boil and add 2 tablespoons salt.

Roughly chop the Swiss chard, discarding the rough stems. Add the Swiss chard to the boiling water and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain thoroughly and set aside.

In a 12-inch saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over a medium flame until hot but not smoking. Add the onion and garlic, and cook until soft and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the Swiss chard and the parsley. Let cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Meanwhile, break the eggs into a small bowl. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Add 3 tablespoons of Parmigiano and, using a whisk, mix until the ingredients are well-blended. Add the egg mixture to the cooled Swiss chard and toss to combine.




Using the remaining olive oil to lightly grease a shallow 9-inch round or oval baking dish. Dust the bottom of the baking dish with 1/2 cup bread crumbs. Carefully place the Swiss chard and egg mixture into the pan. Dust with the remaining Parmigiano and then the remaining bread crumbs.

Bake until the top is golden brown, about 1 hour. Serve hot or room temperature.





Recipe adapted from Mario Battali

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Derby Day, Mint Juleps At The Governor's House (Reprise)

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For those of you new to the blog, here is a reprint of a post I did a couple of year's ago. 

 I love the Kentucky Derby and  whether I am alone, with  friends or giving the party,I always make myself a mint julep to watch the race .  The recipe for the one served at the Governor's House is the one I make and can be found at the bottom of the post.  Joseph The Butler also has one posted in his blog with great pictures. Your choice!

 Many of you are probably too young to remember the Derby in the days of Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed and Alydar. The first three were all Triple Crown winners; the last, Alydar , was Affirmed's  neck- to- neck rival in all three races.  He was beautiful and rumored to have been named after Prince Aly Kahn, the Aga Kahn's son and one of Rita Hayworth's husband.  He was my favorite (the horse, not the Prince) and any other year, he would have also been a TC winner. 

Those were the great days of racing and the most exciting derbys I have ever watched.  No horse has ever come close to the excitement given by those four thoroughbreds.  Since Affirmed took the title in 1978, there has been no Triple Crown winner.

Also in the same year I posted a Derby Menu, something you might want to check out if you decide to have a group of friends at the last minute. Oh, and here is a new hat!






Derby Day, Mint Juleps At The Governor's House
Originally posted April, 2010


It's the drink synonymous with the Run for the Roses, and indeed on Derby Day, vast amounts of Mint Juleps are sipped under cover of splashy hats.


















 The classic Kentucky Derby drink requires the perfect balance of mint, sweetness, and bourbon.  The one you will see below was the one prepared at the Governor's Party after the Derby when John Y. Brown (Kentucky Fried Chicken) was the Governor and Phyllis George Brown (Miss America) the First Lady of Kentucky.  Remember Chicken By George?

Stay tuned for my Derby Party Menu tomorrow!

Preparation

A mint julep is traditionally made of four ingredients: mint, bourbon, sugar, and water. Traditionally, spearmint is the mint of choice used in Southern states; in particular, Kentucky Colonel. In the use of sugar and mint, it is similar to the mojito. In preparing a mint julep, a fresh mint sprig is used primarily as a garnish, to introduce the flavor and aroma through the nose. If mint leaves are used in the preparation, they should just be very lightly bruised, if at all. However, proper preparation of the cocktail is commonly debated, as methods may vary considerably from one bartender to another. By another method, the mint julep may be considered as one of a loosely associated family of drinks called "smashes" (the brandy smash is another example, as well as the mojito), in which fresh mint and other ingredients are muddled or crushed in preparation for flavoring the finished drink. The step further releases essential oils and juices into the mixture, intensifying the flavor from the added ingredient or ingredients.


Kentucky Colonel Mint

Traditionally, mint juleps were often served in silver or pewter cups, and held only by the bottom and top edges of the cup. This allows frost to form on the outside of the cup. Traditional hand placement may have arisen as a way to reduce the heat transferred from the hand to the silver or pewter cup. Today, mint juleps are most commonly served in a tall old-fashioned glass, Collins glass, or highball glass with a straw.



 History

The origins of the mint julep are clouded and may never be definitively known. The first appearance of a mint julep in print came in a book by John Davis published in London in 1803, where it was described as "a dram of spirituous liquor that has mint steeped in it, taken by Virginians of a morning." However, Davis did not specify that bourbon was the spirit used. The mint julep originated in the southern United States, probably during the eighteenth century. U.S. Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky introduced the drink to Washington, D.C., at the Round Robin Bar in the famous Willard Hotel during his residence in the city. The term 'julep' is generally defined as a sweet drink, particularly one used as a vehicle for medicine. The word itself is derived from Arabic: ماء ورد‎ Māʾ ward and Persian: گلاب Golâb, meaning rose water. Americans enjoyed not only bourbon based juleps during the nineteenth century, but also gin based juleps made with genever, an aged gin. However, bourbon based juleps have recently decisively eclipsed gin based juleps.





The Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is a Grade I stakes race for three year-old Thoroughbred horses, held annually in Louisville, Kentucky, United States on the first Saturday in May, capping the two-week-long Kentucky Derby Festival and is widely considered the most prestigious horse race in the world. The race is one and a quarter miles (2 km) at Churchill Downs. Colts and geldings carry 126 pounds (57.2 kg) and fillies 121 pounds (54.9 kg). The race is known in the United States as "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports" or "The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports" for its approximate duration, and is also called "The Run for the Roses" for the blanket of roses draped over the winner. It is the first leg of the United States Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing and is followed by the Preakness Stakes then the Belmont Stakes. The attendance at the Kentucky Derby ranks first in North America and usually surpasses the attendance of all other stakes races including the Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes and the Breeders' Cup.



The mint julep is well-known as the traditional beverage of the Kentucky Derby, a position it has held since 1938. Each year almost 120,000 juleps are served at Churchill Downs over the two day period of the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby. For over 18 years, the Early Times Mint Julep Cocktail has been the designated "official mint julep of the Kentucky Derby". Early Times is a brand of Kentucky whiskey which was first distilled in 1860. The brand became popular during 1920s. During the prohibition in the US, this whiskey was exempt from the law, having been designated as "medicinal whiskey".




Mint Juleps at the Governor's House




Serves 12

3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
2 bunches fresh mint, divided
24 oz. (3 cups) Kentucky bourbon
Crushed ice


Combine sugar and water and bring to a boil. Let simmer for 10 minutes until thick and clear.  While hot, stir in 1 bunch of mint sprigs.  Let cool.  Then strain the syrup into a small container and discard the mint.

When ready to serve, pour two ounces (1/4 cup) bourbon and 2 oz syrup into each ice filled, frosted cup.  Add a sprig of mint.

Some may find this a bit sweet, in which case only add 1 ounce of syrup to 2 ounces of bourbon and that way everyone can be happy! don't forget the sprig of mint!

Photo top Charles Walton
others from Google images

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