Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mashed Potatoes My Way

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A dish doesn't have to be complicated to be heavenly.  Take mashed potatoes.  I have been making them the way my mother taught me since I started cooking.  They are simple and fast but everyone raves about them, particularly guests.  I think it has to do primarily with the kind of potatoes I use.  Unlike most recipes that call for Yukon gold, I use Idaho baking potatoes and I whip them with butter and hot milk.  My mother swears it's the white pepper. I think it's the type of potato and the whipping.  Whatever...

There is nothing like Yankee Pot Roast or Meatloaf with mashed potatoes.  Nothing.

Serves 4 - 6


Use baking potatoes, or Russets, for best texture. 

•4 large Russet, or baking potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks

•1/2 cup milk , or more to taste

•1/4 cup butter

•3/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

•1/4 teaspoon white pepper


Place potatoes in a 4-quart saucepan or Dutch oven; bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

Drain potatoes thoroughly.  Transfer to mixer bowl. Add butter, white pepper and salt to the bowl. In the same pan you boiled potatoes add milk and warm up. Beat potato mixture until light and creamy.  Slowly add the hot milk until you get the consistency you want.  Continue beating for another minute or 2 until they are fluffy.  Serve.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Rustic Plum Tart

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Now that the cooler weather is upon us, it's time to get back to Sunday dinners with the family.  This is the perfect dessert.

The star here is the buttery free-form crust which, together with a lucious fruit filling, makes the perfect seasonal dessert. Don't roll the crust out too thin to prevent leakage which was a common complain in the original recipe. If it does, no's supposed to be rustic!

6 to 8 servings


For crust

2 cups all purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

5 tablespoons (about) ice water

For filling

1 1/2 pounds red-skinned plums, sliced

1/3 cup plum jam or preserves

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

3 tablespoons sugar

1 egg, beaten to blend (for glaze)

Vanilla frozen yogurt or ice cream


Make crust:

Mix flour, sugar and salt in processor. Add butter and cut in using on/off turns until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add water by tablespoonfuls and process just until moist clumps form. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled. Let soften slightly at room temperature before rolling.)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Roll out dough on large sheet of floured parchment paper to 1/4-inch-thick round. Trim dough to 14-inch diameter. Transfer dough on parchment paper to large baking sheet (edges of dough may hang over edges of baking sheet).

Make filling:

Mix plums, jam, vanilla, and allspice in large bowl. Mound plum mixture in center of dough, leaving 3-inch border. Sprinkle fruit with 2 tablespoons sugar. Fold dough border over fruit, pleating loosely and pinching to seal any cracks. Bush dough with beaten egg. Sprinkle dough with 1 tablespoon sugar.

Bake tart until crust is brown and filling bubbles, about 45 minutes. Transfer baking sheet to rack and cool tart slightly, about 20 minutes. Slide metal spatula under all sides of crust to free from parchment. Using large tart pan bottom as aid, transfer tart to platter. Serve warm or at room temperature

Check out the recipe for Plum Crumble in the lake blog.

 photo steve giralt

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Bucatini With Mushroom Ragu

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Now that Fall is almost here and the nights are somewhat cooler, it's time to change gears and concentrate on the Autumn harvest.  I am sad to see our local fresh market shift from peaches and tomatoes to pumpkins and squash for I know that before the month is over, the tents will come down at least until the Spring.  If truth be told, though, I am getting tired of the peaches in spite of the fact that it has been one of the best harvests I can recall.

Pennsylvania  is the top-producing mushroom state in the United States, and celebrates September as "Mushroom Month".  It's incredible what you learn when you write a food blog and have to come up with seasonal recipes for your readers! That I didn't know...

If you can't find fresh mushrooms at your supermarket, dry ones are great and available all year long.  They should be in every serious cook's well stocked pantry for sauces and quick meals such as this.  For this sauce,  try to use at least three different types of mushrooms and experiment with a couple you haven't tried before.

While I prefer the thicker bucatini to spaghetti in this recipe, I realize the former is not usually available at most grocery stores in this country.  You can substitute spaghetti, linguini or pappardelle but stay away from bows and shells.  Remember the shape of the pasta is important depending on the sauce you use! 

Serves 4 to 6


2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small carrot, finely chopped

1 small celery stalk, finely chopped

1 small onion, finely chopped

3 1/2 ounces prosciutto (sliced 1/8-inch-thick), cubed

1 1/4 pound mixed mushrooms, such as shimeji, shitake, chanterelle, trumpet or blue foot, trimmed and halved

1/4 cup vegetable broth

1/4 cup water


Freshly ground black pepper

1 pound bucatini or spaghetti

1/2 cup, plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream


Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add carrot, celery, onion and prosciutto; reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, about 7 minutes. Add mushrooms, broth, water, and pinch salt and pepper; stir gently to combine. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook, stirring once or twice, until mushrooms are very tender, about 30 minutes.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente. While pasta is cooking, place cream in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer; remove from heat. Drain pasta, transfer to a large serving bowl, add hot cream and mushroom mixture, and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

Recipe and photo from La Cucina Italiana

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Empanaditas de Guayaba... Baked Cuban Guava Pastries

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You could say that guava is the national fruit of Cuba.  We eat it morning, noon and night.  There is nothing like stopping at a Cuban joint mid morning and getting a cup of Cuban coffee with a small guava pastry.  I had an uncle who ate nothing else for dessert but guava paste* with cream cheese and Cuban crackers.  Every single night. My personal favorite is guava shells in syrup with cream cheese but these little guava pastries are a very close second.

Unlike the guava pastries you buy from street vendors or coffee shops which have a flaky "millefeuille" type of pastry and are called pastelitos, the ones we make at home are baked in a pie like crust...with cream cheese!  For some reason which I haven't been able to decipher, the kind sold in the streets are not made at home and these you can't find on the streets.  Go figure

This is my mother's recipe and the one I have been making for years.  It is so easy, you can make it with your eyes closed.  The only drawback is you must make the dough the day before and refrigerate for 24 hrs. If you think of them at the last minute, you can't make them that day.

Tomorrow night we have a friend of my daughter's for dinner.  He is studying at the Cordon Bleu to be a chef.  When I asked him what he wanted for dinner, without missing a beat, he said Cuban.  That is always the case when I ask and it is a wise choice.  Cuban food is at its best when cooked at home; so find yourself a Cuban friend who will make it for you.  The menu tomorrow? Picadillo with white rice, green banana chips and Cuban Guacamole salad.  I think these guava pastries will make a great dessert.

I will prepare a full dough recipe today, use half for the guava empanadas tomorrow, and freeze the other half to make savory empanadas  (with leftover picadillo) at a later date. They are great for cocktails or to bring along on a picnic.


 3 cups flour
 1/2 lbs. butter
 1 regular cream cheese

 2 egg yolks

 guava paste*


Prepare the dough the day before.  Mix everything except the guava in a food processor or with a pastry blender.  The dough will look like pie dough. 

Roll into a ball, wrap in Saran Wrap and refrigerate overnight.  If you are saving some for a later date, divide the dough and put  half in the freezer.

Bring the dough out and let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes.  Roll it out using a floured rolling pin to about 1/8 inch thick.

 Cut the dough into circles, with a cookie cutter or small bowl. (I use a coffee cup). Size the circle according to how large you want your empanadas. I like a 4-inch diameter circle.

Put a small quantity of guava paste in the center of the circle (about 1/2 inch square) and fold over to make a half circle. Don't over-fill!

 Seal the edges with a fork to make a scalloped edge. Pierce them once in the middle with the fork tines.

 Brush with egg yolk and place in preheated 350 degree oven until brown... about 30 minutes, depending on your oven.

 * you can find guava paste in the Latin section of most grocery stores or order online

Guava paste is a combination of guava pulp, sugar, pectin and citric acid, which is cooked slowly until exceedingly thick and rich. It comes in individually wrapped bars that are firm enough to slice. Guava paste can be found in Latin markets and some specialty gourmet stores. Slice and serve this low-fat, low-cholesterol sweet as a snack or with cheese for dessert.

Ancel Guava Paste With Guava Jelly Center 18 oz

Photos Google

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Grilled Beer Bratwust And Warm Potato Salad

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Tonight, while I sat at the kitchen counter savoring my "light" Sunday evening fare, I couldn't stop thinking of all the occasions I could serve these at.  Here at the lake I would serve them on Friday night, arrival time for weekend guests.  How about for a tailgate picnic or a steeplechase?  Football night with the boys? Saturday lunch with hubby after golf game? Saturday evening's poker game? Dinner at the sky house? I could go on forever, but it is getting late and I want to get back to my book,  Queen of the Desert...Gertrude Bell...have you read about her? you don't know what you are missing!) 

Contrary to what you may think, this was not a heavy meal.  At least I haven't reached for the Pepto Bismol yet.  It is going down rather nice.....

Like cooking with wine, you don’t want to use the cheapest beer here, but don’t use your nice one either — just something good that you’d want to drink, preferably German and dark. The handy thing about cooking the bratwurst this way is that if you’re having a big crowd, you can grill the brats a bit ahead of time and put them back in the warm beer for awhile until you’re ready to serve them.  By the way, the brown sugar is my idea so omit if you want.

Warm Potato Salad

1 1/2 lbs. red bliss potatoes

1 cup leeks, sliced

2 TBs olive oil

3 TB.s chopped white onion

2 TBS. chives

2 mashed and chopped garlic cloves

1 TB apple cider vinegar

2 TB white wine

2 TB Dijon style mustard

1/2 cup olive oil

salt and pepper


Boil potatoes until tender depending on size.  In the meantime. to a skillet add the 2 tbs. oil and leeks and sautee until soft.  Remove to a bowl.  Add the mustard, chives, vinegar, garlic, wine and the 1/2 cup olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.

When the potatoes are done, let them cool a bit.  Slice them in 1/2 inch and toss with the dressing, being careful not to over toss and break the potatoes.  They can be served mildly hot or room temperature.

You can add the wurst to the potato salad or serve separately.

For the bratwurst or knockwurst


12 bratwurst (or more, depending on how many people you’re serving or how many sausages per person you want to serve)

1 onion, peeled and halved

1 or 2 cans/bottles of beer (enough to cover the bratwurst)

2 to 3 TBS. dark sugar (optional)

Saurkraut (optional) *

toasted hot dog buns or pumpernickel bread to serve


Prick each bratwurst a few times with a fork. Place them in a large pot or saucepan with the sliced onion.  Cover with the beer, add the brown sugar and stir. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until the bratwurst are cooked through. Remove the brats from the beer and grill them on a hot BBQ for about 5 minutes, turning to make sure they’re golden brown on all sides. Boil down the beer, brown sugar, onion sauce and sauerkraut (if using) and return brat to skillet.  They can stay warm on top of the oven. Serve on lightly toasted hot dog buns or brown bread.

Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell: Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia

All photos Lindaraxa

on 2/15/14 I added sauerkraut* Next day cooked the leftovers on Naan for a delicious German pizza. Preheat oven 425.  Bake the naan until it puffs up a bit. remove from the oven.  Top with leftover sauerkraut, brats and potatoes.  Back in the oven for about 10 minutes until nam is crisp.

Reprise...A Restaurant To Remember

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For those of you who missed it

I don't think there is a single New Yorker or former New Yorker who doesn't miss the World Trade Center.  I, for one, can't believe those towers are gone forever.  Every time I fly back to New York, whether it's from the air or from the streets of Manhattan, somehow the memory of those two imposing towers seldom leaves my mind.  Most of all, I miss them when I'm downtown.  They were such a point of reference...all you had to do was look up and you knew exactly where you were.  Now there is nothing, nothing to guide you back to where you came from.

More than New York, New York. The Twin Towers were the symbol of New York City, The Big Apple.

One of the best restaurants in the city was at the World Trade Center.  It was appropriately named Windows On The World and it occupied the 106th and 107th Floor of the North Tower.  It offered majestic views of the New York City skyline and boasted one of the best wine lists in the city. Every month they sold 10,000 bottles of wine as accompaniments to their dinners. Attached to the main restaurant was a popular wine bar called Cellar in the Sky and at the time of the attack the restaurants $37,000,000 in annual revenues made it the top grossing restaurant in America.

O the morning of September 11, 2001, there were 78 employees serving breakfasts on the two floors to approximately 100 guests. When the plane struck the North Tower, all of them perished in either the initial crash or within the hour when the tower crumbled.

Click here to view the menu

Kevin Zraly, Wine Director for Windows On The World. Zraly conducted classes at the restaurant for those interested in learning more about wine. He now publishes the immensely popular Windows On The World Complete Wine Course which has sold over 3 million copies. Andrea Immer, noted wine critic and author Great Tastes Made Simple had been a sommelier at the restaurant.   I highly recommend their books and should you find yourself with some time on your hands, go take the course.

Windows on the World Complete Wine Course: 25th Anniversary Edition

As a food and sometime wine blogger I wanted to use this day to remember those who perished at the restaurant and the towers, as well as those in the Pentagon and the fields in Pennsylvania.  May you rest in peace.

Schwartz Project - my favorite

All photos Getty Images

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Shredded Chicken Tacos with Fresh Tomato Salsa

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So I had some leftover roasted chicken and some gorgeous tomatoes, an avocado and a red onion...all I needed was some corn tortillas.  After a weekend of cookouts, all I could think of was Mexican or Chinese, anything but BBQ!

When my children were little and we had Picadillo for dinner,  they loved nothing more than having tacos for leftovers the next day.  In those days, all we could get was the kit with the prefab corn tortillas and the rest of the fixings. These days, there is a wide variety of tortillas in all colors and sizes.  I spray them with a small amount of oil and put them in a 400 degree oven for 2-3 minutes for a light crisp. If you prefer, warm them in the microwave but my way is better!

Just shred some chicken*, without the skin,  thinly slice the avocados and top with salsa and sour cream.  If you want to get more creative, black beans, corn and grated Cheddar or Monterey Jack  are nice additions.  Keep the Tabasco on hand for more heat and check for salt and pepper.

The star of the show here is the fresh salsa so make sure you get some nice tomatoes from the farmer's market this week.  This may be the last time you see them until next summer.  Everything else is part of the supporting cast so don't go overboard!

At the end of tonight's meal my daughter wondered if we could have picadillo tomorrow so we could have leftovers with tacos.   Old habits never die...

You will need

Roast chicken
Corn tortillas
Sour Cream
Shredded lettuce (optional)
Sharp cheddar cheese (optional)
Canned Black beans (optional)
Canned Corn (optional)

Fresh Tomato Salsa

*heat the shredded chicken on medium high in a skillet with a couple of TBS. of tequila or vodka if you have it.  Once the liquor is absorbed it's ready!

Photo Lindaraxa 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Fresh Tomato Salsa

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There are two reasons why I'm posting this recipe now.  One is the fact that this week and possibly next are the end of the tomato season; so if you want good salsa,  this is your last chance.  That is, unless you prefer the pinkish, waxy tomatoes we get in the winter...

Second, I have some leftovers from tonight's roast chicken (it poured so we couldn't grill);  so can you guess what's for dinner tomorrow?

The only drawback about this recipe is that it doesn't keep overnight.  It is best eaten soon after it's prepared so only make what you will need for hors d'oeuvre or for what's coming next.

Time: 10 minutes


2 large fresh ripe tomatoes, chopped

½ large red onion, peeled and minced

¼ teaspoon minced raw garlic, or to taste

1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed, seeded and minced, or to taste

¼ cup chopped cilantro leaves

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Salt and freshly ground pepper.


1. Combine all ingredients, taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

2. Let the flavors marry for 15 minutes or so before serving, but serve within a couple of hours.

Photo Lindaraxa

Friday, September 2, 2011

Labor Day...Fast And Easy Barbecue Chicken

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Having just returned from a tough trip, the last thing on my mind is cooking for a large group of people.  Moreover, it is supposed to pour on Labor Day as we are projected to receive quite a bit of rain from a tropical storm coming in from the South.

This chicken caught my eye as I was browsing through the Fine Cooking website.  It looks perfect for the iffy situation this weekend.  I do not like to grill boneless and skinless pieces of meat as I find they usually come out on the dry side.  Instead, remove the skin after cooking if you want.  To me, it is the best part.

Serve with coleslaw on the side and the blackberry cobbler featured on the country blog. 


6 Tbs. dark brown sugar

1 Tbs. chili powder

2 tsp. dry mustard

Kosher salt

8 chicken thighs, rinsed and patted dry (original recipe calls for boneless and skinless)

3/4 cup tomato ketchup

1/4 cup low-salt soy sauce

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1 Tbs. Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp. Chipotle Tabasco or other chipotle hot sauce; more to taste


Heat a gas grill to between medium and medium high. In a small bowl, combine 2 Tbs. of the brown sugar with the chili powder, dry mustard, and 1 Tbs. salt. Spread the chicken thighs on a large baking sheet and rub the spice mix all over them.

In a small saucepan, whisk the remaining 4 Tbs. brown sugar with the ketchup, soy sauce, cider vinegar, and Dijon mustard; bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes to dissolve the sugar and blend the flavors. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Taste and add a pinch of salt, if needed. Stir in the Chipotle Tabasco, adding more to taste.

Spread the chicken thighs out on the grill, cover, and cook on the first side until they turn a deep reddish brown and begin to blacken in places (they'll also shrink and plump up), 4 to 5 minutes (rotate the thighs once 90 degrees on each side for the most even cooking). Flip the thighs and continue to cook on the second side until they're firm, deeply colored, and slightly blackened in places, 3 to 4 minutes. Using a brush, dab a generous amount of sauce over the top of the chicken, cook for 1 minute, flip, slather the other side with sauce, cook for 1 minute, and remove from the heat. Arrange on a platter and serve with any remaining sauce.

Recipe adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine.

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