Monday, July 29, 2013

Kitties, Peaches And Almond Torte

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What a dilemma we have in our hands.

Last week two kittens showed up at our doorstep.  Actually one showed up first and two days later his sister was lounging on the doormat when my daughter opened the door. Word gets around quickly in the animal kingdom, especially when there are two suckers involved.

Originally my next door neighbor (the real culprit since she started feeding them first) decided she was going to keep the male and took him to be neutered, only to find he had been fixed before.  I immediately said I wanted no part of it.  Then my daughter got involved and that's when the trouble started.

Here's the one that started it

Ferociously guarding the front door.  When is tea time?

That night there was a blanket for the white one to spend the night.  The next morning she got breakfast in bed.   Then I got involved in spite of the fact I don't like cats.  Now she has me wrapped around her little paws. Yesterday we let her in the house for a few minutes and she was in heaven.  Yes, I can do this.  Dogs? no problem, show me my pad!   Last night was an ordeal hearing her meowing to come back in the house.

I am told sometimes people get the kitties fixed and then release them in neighborhoods like ours where they know they will be taken care of.   I wonder why they don't go the extra mile and find them a place to begin with.  There's no question in our minds that these two once had a home.  Now they have occupied my front door!

The sous chef is having a fit.  She spends all day by the window on alert mode.  We have brought her out to see the kitty and see if she calms down and doesn't chase (see where we are headed?) Everything is fine until the cat moves.

My worst nightmare come true...

Our neighbor is having second thoughts about keeping the male now and the cats, being cats and wise, have picked up on it.  The male is spending more time by our front door, even though the white one keeps him at bay.  Nah, nah, I was here first...these suckers are mine!

I just got an email with pictures of outdoor cat houses.  I think the dice have been cast.

They won't let me out...I am a prisoner in my own house!

On a serious note, if anyone in the Atlanta area is looking for a kitty or knows someone who is,  these two are available.  They are as good as it gets...seriously (that coming from someone who doesn't even like cats). The male has the cutest personality and the white female is a lady and very, very sweet. Lucy will personally escort them to your front door.  Send an email to  We really can't keep them, not with a Westie in the house.   .

Somehow I managed to bake a torte this weekend to go with the beautiful peaches I got from another neighbor.   I have a soft spot for almond cakes particularly served with fresh raspberry or peaches and creme.
The recipe is from the Chez Panisse Dessert Cookbook which is a classic and a must have.  The torte is rich, dense, and very easy to make.  Everything is made in the food processor in less than 10 minutes.

The longer the cake sits the better it gets.  Have it with a cup of tea.

Chez Panisse Almond Torte


1¼ cups sugar
⅞ cup (7 oz./200g) soft almond paste*
1 cup (2 sticks) softened unsalted butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. almond extract (optional)
6 eggs
1 cup (4.5 oz/130g) flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
powdered sugar for dusting


1. Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Beat the sugar with the almond paste until the almond paste is in fine pieces. Or, better, pulverize it in a food processor. Add  the butter and the vanilla, then cream the mixture until it is light and fluffy. Add  the whole eggs, one at a time — the eggs should be at room temperature — and beat or process after each addition so the eggs are thoroughly mixed in.

2. Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt, and add to mix.   Beat just until thoroughly blended.

3. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and turn the batter into it, smoothing the top evenly. Bake for 1 to 1¼ hours (mine baked for 1¼ hours) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the center feels springy when you push it gently.

4. Let cool for about 20 minutes before releasing the sides of the springform pan.

*a 7 oz tube is fine.  Make sure you buy almond paste and not marzipan.  I did not use the almond extract.  I think it is an overkill and the recipe without it has plenty of almond flavor.

Recipe adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts
Photos:  Lindaraxa

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Canning On A Rainy Day...Cantaloupe And Ginger Preserves

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To say that the Fourth of July weekend was a washout is an understatement. A flood is perhaps a better word.  It started raining on Wednesday and it hasn't stopped yet.  Today, in defiance more than frustration, the young people went out on the lake.  Which reminds me, I'd better get started on some hot chocolate before they come in all drenched from the rain. 

On the plus side I watched the entire season of Mr. Selfridge which I had somehow missed and made a big batch of Crab and Corn Chowder and my favorite Thai Shrimp And Pineapple Rice, both of which appeared hot on different nights and cold on subsequent lunches.  I really haven't had to cook much this past weekend and that is what I call great planning.  But then I got bored....and started canning some of the summer fruit. 

This is a post I started and never finished on the holiday weekend at the beginning of the month.   It is typical of what we have been enduring all summer long.  Summer...what summer?! Perhaps instead of Global Warming we should start worrying about Global Drowning!

To say we are depressed is a major understatement.  The garden is in tatters.  All the hard work we did and the money we spent in the Spring to enjoy the fruits of our labor this Summer have been a waste.  It has been raining on and off since the beginning of June with the big downpours reserved for the weekends.  Even when not in the forecast, stray thunderstorms seem to appear out of nowhere to ruin an otherwise decent day.  The herbs are the worst.  No basil left, or parsley to speak of, and the tarragon is hanging in by a thread.  This is the first summer I have had to go out and buy fresh herbs at the store to use in my cooking.  

The Georgia corn this year has been wonderful.  I guess it likes the rain.  I don't hold out much hope for our heirloom tomatoes but we will have to wait on that.  What the rain hasn't killed the rabbit has enjoyed.  I could kill that little monster.  He adores the hostas, particularly the buds just as they are about to bloom.  My daughter, who thought he was cute when we first moved in, has now turned into his worst nightmare spraying anti rabbit stuff in every leaf she can find.  No matter, he couldn't care less.  See the big hosta in the middle with the three spikes?  Those were blooms one day, headless spikes the next. Sometimes I really hate nature.

There is one plant that is really enjoying this weather in spite of the fact it wasn't supposed to make it up here...  the cestrum nocturnum or Night Jasmin that I'm so fond of.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed for blooms in another month or so...that is if we haven't been evacuated in Noah's Ark by then. 

This was him when I returned from New York in late May:

And then there is Sandra's hydrangea, a gift she brought me last Fall:

The gardenias put on quite a show this year.  So did the ferns.  Not so the roses or the geraniums.  All in all a C- .  So I mope and can.

This is an Italian recipe that is quite divine and different here in the States.  The melons have been fantabulous this year, particularly the honeydews.  This one is with cantaloupes and I don't go through all the canning rigmarole but you can if you want. 

Fresh preserves and marmalades are like nothing you buy in a jar and  so easy to make.  You should really try making some in the summer when the fruit is fresh, plentiful and inexpensive.  You won't be sorry.

Makes 2 to 2 1/2 pints

Confettura di Melone e Zenzero

3 medium cantaloupes, seeded, peeled and cut in 1 inch pieces
3 1/2 cups sugar
3 to 4 lemons
2 TBs finely grated fresh ginger
3 whole star anise

Put melon in a large bowl and sprinkle with 1/2 cup sugar.  Let stand chilled and covered 8 hours or overnight.

Drain the melon, reserving the liquid.

Squeeze 1/2 cup lemon juice from the lemons.  Reserve 2 halves of the juiced lemons.

In a saucepan combine melon, melon liquid, remaining 3 cups of sugar, lemon juice, lemon halves, ginger and star anise.  Bring to a boil and cook for about 30 minutes or until the melon is translucent and tender.

Reserving syrup, drain melon and discard lemon halves. Return syrup to saucepan, bring to a boil and cook until thickened.  About 30 minutes.  Remove syrup from heat and stir the melon back in.

Ladle preserves into hot sterilized jars leaving 1/2 inch on top.  (this is where I stop)  Put jars in a pot, cover with about 2 inches of water and boil for 20 minutes covered. Or use your own canning procedure.

Recipe from La Cucina Italiana

Friday, July 12, 2013

Pasta Alla Norma With Roasted Eggplant And Smoked Carolina Sausage

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Legend has it that the original Pasta Alla Norma was created as a tribute to the opera "Norma" composed by Vincenzo Bellini.   He was from Sicily where this dish originated.  This is a Southern twist on this old Italian favorite with the addition of smoked Carolina sausage.  If you haven't tried the latter, you are in for a big treat.

Pasta Alla Norma is essentially pasta with tomatoes, fried eggplant, grated ricotta salata cheese, and basil. The kick comes in the form of chili peppers or red pepper flakes.  Because this recipe has sausages that are already spicy and hot we omit them here.   The idea came after grilling a few too many links on the 4th of July.  Don't omit them.  It is really the game changer that takes this recipe from great to spectacular.

If Smoked Carolina Links are not available in your neck of the woods, try substituting hot Italian ones, but grill them.  Don't be afraid of all the cheeses.  I use a relatively small amount of each but it creates a good texture.  It is also one of the few pastas that reheats well the next day.

Friends and readers are always asking me for new eggplant recipes around this time of the year.  Here is one you will enjoy and one I promise you will be making again and again.



2 medium eggplants, cut into 3/4″ cubes
7 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4 Smoked Carolina Sausage Links or hot Italian sausages.
1 small yellow onion, minced
1/8 tsp. crushed red chile flakes (only use if not using hot sausages)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz. can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, undrained and crushed by hand
16 fresh basil leaves, torn by hand
1 lb. fettucine, bucatini or spaghetti

1/4  to 1/2 cup heavy cream or milk
6 oz. ricotta cheese

6 oz. shredded mozzarella
3 TB. grated Parmigiano


Heat oven to 500º. Put eggplant into a bowl and drizzle with 4 tbsp. oil. Toss to combine and season with salt and pepper. Transfer eggplant to a baking sheet and bake, turning occasionally, until soft and caramelized, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack; set aside.  Grill  the 2 smoked sausage links or hot Italian Sausage. You can also cook them in the oven or in a skillet.  Mine were leftovers from the night before.   When done cut in cubes and set aside with the eggplant.

Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees

Heat remaining oil in a 5-qt. pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring, until soft, about 10 minutes. Add chile flakes and garlic and cook, stirring, until garlic softens, about 3 minutes. I actually added less pepper flakes since the sausages were hot and spicy.  Add tomatoes and half the basil, season with salt, and cook until heated through, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until just al dente, about 9 minutes. Drain the pasta.  In a square casserole dish, smear about 2 TB. of the tomato sauce in the bottom.  Add the pasta and most of the tomato sauce but save about 3 TBS.  Mix a bit but not completely.  Stir in reserved eggplant, the sausage. the ricotta and the mozzarella and toss to combine.  Add about 1/4 cup of heavy cream (or milk) to soften it up a bit.  Stir in remaining basil and taste for with salt. Add the remaining tomato sauce in teaspoonfuls and stagger them on top.

Before going into the oven

Top with grated Parmesan cheese and place in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes until the cheese has melted on top and it's bubbly in the bottom.  To serve, transfer pasta to a platter and garnish with more parmesan cheese if desired..

Monday, July 8, 2013

Picnic Fare...Duck Pate De Campagne

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I know you are going to take a quick look at the ingredients and directions of this recipe and come to the erroneous conclusion that this is not for you.   Thus, you will be missing out on one of the best pates you will ever or in France.

Some of the best things I have ever made have come from what was left over from a previous meal.  This is one of them. It reminds me of recipes I have initially discarded as too complicated and only after a second reading have I come to the conclusion that they can be made in two stages with the first being an original meal and the leftovers the basis for the second. Case in point, the original recipe for this pate involves roasting a duck.  Do you remember the last time I roasted one? If you are an avid follower you will recall that it was at Christmas time when I had to cancel a party and give away a couple of ducks because I had come down with the flu.  Not a flu, THE FLU.   Well one of the ducks did get roasted sometime in January and the leftovers packed and put in the freezer for a summer pate.

About a month ago I got a call from my daughter to clear out "all the body parts" from the freezer to make room for a Costco run.  Guess what I found!   Carefully packed and surrounded by other "body parts" like chicken livers and wings and backs, which I freeze to make broth, was the leftover meat from the ducks together with the livers.  The next day I took out a trio of recipes that had appealed to me and off I went.

Now here's the rub.  The pate is made over a period of a week and laid in the refrigerator to rest for at least another three days, so plan ahead.  The steps are simple and not complicated.  I promise you will not be in the kitchen on any of these days for more than 20 minutes.  The end result will be an amazing pate and one you will be proud to take anywhere, especially on a picnic!

This recipe is for 12 or 14.  You can always bake it in two terrine molds and serve them at different times.  It goes a long way.   Also perfect for when you have weekend guests served with a French potato salad, lightly dressed,  a baguette or toast points, Dijon mustard and cornichons.   The perfect Saturday lunch.   Concert in the park, lunch on the boat?  How about the perfect hostess gift!

My lunch three days in a row!

I suggest you roast a duck, or two, and make a meal of it one night and use the leftovers for this recipe.  I know it can be a pain to roast a duck when it's hot but you have no other alternative if you want to enjoy a duck pate in the summer.  Just looking at these photos makes me want to make it again!

Duck Pate de Campagne


1 lbs roasted duck meat from leftovers
3 cloves garlic minced

4 tbsp. Cognac,  or Grand Marnier (I used Cognac)
9 fresh or dried bay leaves
1/2 cup dry white wine

1 lb. ground pork
3⁄4 lb. fatback, chilled
1⁄4 lb. duck or chicken livers
1/4 finely chopped shallots
1 tbsp. chopped thyme
leaves plus 8 sprigs
1⁄2 tsp. ground cloves
1⁄2 tsp. allspice
1⁄4 tsp. ground nutmeg

3 or 3 chicken livers cut in half
4 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt

1⁄3 cup shelled pistachios
3 tbsp. dried green peppercorns
12–15 slices bacon


Day 1

1. Cut the leftover meat from the duck breasts into 1⁄2" cubes. Transfer duck,  2 finely chopped  garlic cloves, Cognac or orange liqueur,  3 torn bay leaves,  to a small bowl; stir to coat the duck pieces. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 day and up to 3 days, to allow the flavors to come together. (The longer the duck marinates, the better the pâté will taste.)

This is all you will do today.

 Day 3

In a bowl combine the ground pork, the fatback or bacon cut into pieces, the chopped dark meat from the duck legs.  

2. Meanwhile, in the bowl of a food processor, finely chop the remaining garlic and the shallots. Scrape the sides of the bowl with rubber spatula. Add dark duck meat and fatback or bacon and the livers. . In short bursts, pulse until the mixture resembles coarse hamburger meat, about 20 pulses. Add the ground pork and pulse a couple of times until just combined.  Transfer to a large bowl. To this bowl also add the duck breast meat with the marinade. Add the white wine and the pistachios.

Add  chopped thyme, cloves, nutmeg, allspice and salt and pepper. Mix the ingredients together with your hands until well combined. Test the mixture for seasoning by heating some olive oil in an 8" skillet over medium-high heat. Transfer a pinch of the mixture to skillet and cook, flipping once, until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Taste; adjust seasoning accordingly.

 Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 day and up to 3 days, to allow the meats to cure and the flavors to come together.

Day 6

3.When you're ready to assemble the pâté, remove bay leaves from duck mixture; discard. Using a spoon, fold duck mixture and any juices from marinade into the forcemeat along with the pistachios and peppercorns; set aside in the refrigerator.

4. Meanwhile, line the bottom of a 1 1⁄2-qt. rectangular terrine mold with 4 evenly spaced thyme sprigs and 3 bay leaves. Place bacon crosswise along the bottom and up the sides of the mold, covering the herbs.

5. Spoon the meat–duck mixture into the terrine mold and gently smooth the top with the back of a spoon. Lay 4 strips bacon lengthwise across the top of the pâté. Cover bacon with remaining thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Cover the top of the pâté with 2 sheets of aluminum foil; crimp foil around edges of the mold to form a tight seal.

6. Heat oven to 325°. Transfer terrine mold to a 9" x 13" baking dish. Transfer dish to middle rack of the oven. Pour in enough boiling water that it reaches 1⁄2" up the sides of the terrine. Bake the pâté until an instant-read thermometer inserted into center reads 158°, about 2 hours.

7. Transfer baking dish to a rack; remove foil. Cut out 2 rectangles of cardboard to fit inside rim of terrine mold. Wrap cardboard rectangles in foil and place them over pâté. Place three 15-oz. soup cans atop cardboard; let sit in water bath for 1 hour; remove. (Weighting makes the pâté easier to slice.)

8. Refrigerate pâté (in its mold) for at least 1 day and up to 4 days. To serve, slide a knife along edges of pâté to loosen it. Invert the pâté onto a cutting board and slide a butter knife along one short edge to free the pâté from the mold. Cut into 3⁄4" slices and serve with baguette, Dijon mustard, and cornichons.


Cooks Note:  I have a couple of these terrine molds made in France by Apilco.

Recipe and photos Lindaraxa
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