Thursday, January 31, 2008

Is Your Cupboard Bare?

Referring again to the book “An Omelette and a Glass of Wine” by Elizabeth David, I came across an article she had written for The Sunday Times that was never published, but I found interesting and a bit funny. The article was titled “How Bare is Your Cupboard?” – Pot-Luck Cookery; original cooking with what you have in hand, in the cupboard or refrigerator by Beverly Pepper (Faber & Faber, I8s.), which Elizabeth was reviewing. Beverly’s book deals with cookery ‘for a room full of unexpected guests – or perhaps just that awkward moment when the larder seems completely bare’.
I think we have all experienced this situation where you get home from work, open the fridge and stand there and stare at the contents. Then mosey on over to the cupboard, open its door and stare. At this point the brain is on “major food mode” as your tummy is telling it “feed me!”
I had this experience the other night as I had fixed some pork shoulder in the oven, but had no side dish to have with the pork. Yes, I had a small salad fixed, but to put the pork on top of that, not happening. So I went to the fridge and noticed I had a couple of sweet potatoes that needed to be used so here is what became of those sweet potatoes.

Deb’s Sweet Potato Hash ?

2 Sweet Potatoes – beautifully cubed if I must say so myself
1 Onion chopped
3 Cloves of Garlic chopped
1/2 of Red Bell Pepper, chopped
Olive Oil
1 Whole Cayenne Pepper Chopped
A Very Generous teaspoon of cumin
A Bit of Chicken stock to keep things moist
Salt and Pepper To Taste
A Generous sprinkle of freshly chopped parsley, needed some green

First thing I did was heat the olive oil and add the potatoes, onions and garlic. I let them sauté a few minutes and noticed that it was tasting a bit bland and also needed some added color to that beautiful orange color of the taters! So that is when I added the red bell pepper and cayenne. Ah, that gave it some personality! At this point I let the potatoes cook till just fork tender; then stirred in the cumin.

I wanted to hold this dish and, since it seemed to be drying out, I added a nice splash of stock to keep it moist. Perfect, but it still needed a bit of color, so towards the end I added the parsley. Sorry, I did not get a photo of that addition as it was time to plate up and the dinner guys were hungry!

So, needless to say, check that fridge when you are in a hurry. You will always find a potato, piece of broccoli or something lurking in the veggie drawer that is begging to be spotlighted on your dinner plate!

I would like to hear your story of “How Bare Is Your Cupboard?”
Hey, do I sense a cookbook waiting to be compiled on recipes just from the leftover stuff in the fridge and "larder"??? Hummm… Or maybe you already know of one!


Monday, January 28, 2008

"An Omelette and A Glass of Wine" Book Review #8

Elizabeth David is one of my favorite food writers. Oh there are many more that I cherish also, such as M.F.K Fisher, Simone Beck, Laura Shapiro and of late, Ruth Reichl and Anthony Bourdain. My list is actually pretty extensive and sometime soon, maybe it would be fun if we all did a post on our favorite food writers. I am always looking for a new good book on food and wine.
If you like the writings of the “old gals” may I suggest “An Omelette and A Glass of Wine” by Elizabeth David. This book was originally published in 1952 and is an enchanting collection of pieces and essays written over the span of 35 years for a variety of publications that she submitted her work. Even though Elizabeth’s home was England, her favorite countries were France and Italy and many of the essays in this book take place there. Take for instance the essay “An Omelette and a Glass of Wine”. Elizabeth takes us to a celebrated restaurant called the Hotel de la Tete d’Or on the Mont-St-Michel just off the coast of Normandy. Here the menu never changed and, of course, one of the items was an omelette. Madame Poulard, proprietress of the hotel, was known for her exquisite lightness and beauty of her omelette which brought lots of tourists flocking to her table. Further on into the essay, Elizabeth explains what a good omelette consists of and then talks about wine with an omelette. Elizabeth states “Although there are those who maintain that wine and egg dishes don’t go together I must say I do regard a glass or two of wine as not, obviously, essential but at least an enormous enhancement of the enjoyment of a well-cooked omelette. In any case if it were true that wine and eggs are bad partners, then a good many dishes, and in particular, such sauces as mayonnaise, Hollandaise and Béarnaise would have to be banished from meals designed round a good bottle, and that would surely be absurd. But we are not in any case considering the great occasion menu but the almost primitive and elemental meal evoked by the words “Let’s just have an omelette and a glass of wine”! In the rest of this essay Elizabeth takes us with her in her travels in the south of France and talks about her simple meals of omelttes. Her descriptions of her surroundings makes you feel like you are right there with her, “On market days when I was living in a rickety old house in a crumbling Provencal hill-top village…” Now close your eyes and you can actually picture her rickety old house in that hill-top village! I really enjoyed her last sentence in this writing on omelettes and wine, “But one of the main points about the enjoyment of food and wine seems to me to lie in having what you want when you want it and in the particular combination you fancy.” How right you are Elizabeth!

So may I suggest, if you are looking for a good read on a cold wintry evening, pour yourself a nice glass of Shiraz or Merlot to get the chill out and kick back and join Elizabeth David in her colorful explorations of food, cooking, wine and very interesting characters.

I know, now you are wondering where my omelette recipe and recommendation of a wine to pair with it happens to be. Well, the two gentlemen that I dine with every evening would not hear of having eggs for dinner and, serving a glass of wine with my omelette for breakfast, well that will have to wait till I am on vacation! Or hey, maybe not…

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Wine That Is Not Upside Down!

Tucked away between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean lies the wonderful Casablanca wine region of Chile. This area of Chile is known for its high quality white wines, which brings me to my latest find Kono Baru Sauvignn Blanc. Of course, it’s quirky upside down label drew me to this bottle. ( Actually it was making me crazy as I was turning my head upside down to read the bottle. Hey Deb, why not just pick up the bottle and turn it upside down – OK!) I like the little tab on the bottle which states “SAUVIGNON BLANC Intentionally misplaced labels from well-placed vineyards throughout THE SOUTHER HEMISPHERE.” This is, I believe, is the fourth Chilean wine that I have tried and I am totally enjoying the wines from this part of the world. They differ in flavor from my favorite Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand, as they do not have that grassy full herbal note to them, but I believe in expanding my palate and why not do it with this expanding wine region. They are producing some darn good white wines!

Kono Baru 2006 Sauvignon Blanc from the Central Valle of Chili is no upside down wine! With aromas and tastes of tart gooseberry, hints of grapefruit and the lively citrus taste of Key limes, this is a party happening in your mouth! I was surprised to find such a nice wine behind this crazy label. It is a dry white wine with a nice acidic balance to it which paired very well with our grilled grouper. At $12.00 a bottle, it is worth going upside down for!


Oops, I almost forgot, check out the cool plastic cork!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Key West Garden Update

New seed packets arrived !!! Yahoo!!! I love when a package comes in the mail, even if it is something I ordered. Still, I feel like it is a present. I ordered these seeds and a new seed starting book from "The Cook's Garden", the premiere seed source for European Garden Vegetables. They have a fabulous catalog and will gladly send you one free of charge. But beware, you will want to order one of everything when you see the photos in the catalog. Another reason I like this seed company, they scatter a few recipes throughout their catalog which makes you want to order even more seeds! And, as you can see in the photo above, I am trying to do a bit more research on container gardening for 2008, attempting to produce a bigger crop and more variety in those pots. I have been "surfing the web" looking for information and am finding some help by checking out different university extension services. If anyone of you know of a good source for container gardening information, please let me know. Appreciate all the help I can get!

Now, for all of you who are tuned in that are freezing in the north, February is a good month to start some seeds inside so you will be ready for planting after your last frost! Spring will be here before you know it and, even if you do not have much space like me, one nice size pot on your deck or back porch would love to be the home of a few fresh herbs that would be begging to be added to your next fantastic recipe!

But before I start planting again, here is an update of what is happening outside my door today!

Nice bowl of lettuce is coming right along!

And the bananna hot peppers are ripe for the pickin'!

New batch of pole beans are finding their poles!

And a greeting from a newly bloomed hibiscus this morning!


Friday, January 18, 2008

Key West Sculpture

Each year during the middle of January there is much hustle and bustle down at the park on the beach. Why? Because sculptor's from around the world bring a piece of their art to our tiny island and install it near the beach for a month. This great event is called "Sculpture Key West". Some of these installations are enormous and are made from many materials such as metal, fiberglass, cloth and even stone. Creativity and imagination of these artists always amazes me. Also, besides being at the beach, artists are installing some of their creations throughout the town of Key West. I was on a bike ride today and noticed a monster of some sorts being installed in the pond in front of the police department and their was "heavy equipment" installing some type of metal piece in the Garden Club area. I am looking forward to the event which starts soon.

Just to give you an idea of "Sculpture Key West", here are a couple of photos from last year. I surely will have photos for you this year when the event is complete.

This is a "very big bird" made of metal.

Check out these "guard dogs"!

A very tall horse made from fiberglass and yarn.
Metal hawk heading for a landing.
Head in the sand!
I have been working, mostly painting woodwork, around the house this week getting ready for the gang from up north to arrive in February so not much cooking going on here. Hope you enjoyed a few photos from "Sculpture Key West" and I look forward to showing you more of this year's show.
More food and wine in the near future!!!!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Healthy Muffins

Company is coming in February! There will be 7 of us gathering in our great room in the mornings for coffee, tea and something to satisfy their tummies after evenings of "many beverages". After reading Wendy's posts the past week and her appetizing muffins, I thought "muffins" would be an easy early morning treat. At the time I was thinking this, I was paging through one of mine and Valli's favorite magazines "Cooking Light". In the December issue, I saw a recipe by Deborah Madison for "Whole Wheat Oat Muffins". Checking the ingredients, I was surprised that I had all of them on hand. So off to the kitchen I went and made these terrific little muffins. Now granted, they are not your bakery-style muffins that look like small snow capped mountains. These little gems are just plain and healthy. I served them to myself with a bowl of fresh fruit and Sher's "Seasoned Eating's" gift to me, cinnamon spun honey. Oh what a breakfast party in my mouth!

Deborah Madison's Whole Wheat-Oat Muffins
1-1/2 cups fat free buttermilk
1 cup regular oats
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2 cup oat flour (about 2 ounces)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (about 2-1/2 ounces)
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Cooking Spray
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Combine first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl, stir well.
Lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flours, sugar, soda, and salt in a large bowl; make a well in center of mixture. Add buttermilk mixture; stir just till moist. Spoon batter into 12 muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from pans and cool on a wire rack.
These are great breakfast muffins! They have just a hint of sweetness to them, so they pair well with a fruit salad. The only thing I would do different next time is add a bit of cinnamon to the batter, just because Sher has me on a cinnamon kick!
If any of you have an EASY breakfast dish that I could use while having a crowd at breakfast, please let me know!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Cool Weather Cooking

In my last post I spotlighted Sarah Leah Chase's "Cold-Weather Cooking" cookbook. We had a soul satisfying warm mushroom salad which is a great starter salad for a winter's evening or it could stand alone for a simple dinner just adding a nice chunk of crusty bread, a piece of cheese, and of course a glass of wine.

Another soul satisfying dish from Sarah is her "Poverty Casserole". The inspiration for this dish came to Sarah while she was living in her drafty apartment above her shop "Que Sera Sarah" during a winter evening. Instead of going out and purchasing ingredients for a dinner she used what she had in her pantry. I myself can attest to that, as I am sure you can too. You know, those evenings where you have been so busy all day that you have not even thought of dinner and when you arrive home you think "what am I going to eat"! So "Poverty Casserole" is the dish! Following in her steps, this is my adaption of a satisfying casserole. I like to call it "Poverty Pasta"!

A few tablespoons of olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
4 cloves of garlic minced
1 lb. of ground turkey
8 whole sundried tomatoes packed in oil and minced
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
2 good tablespoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried marjoram
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 large bay leaf
Salt and Pepper to taste
About 12 ounces of penne pasta
2 large eggs
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
2 cups shredded mozzarella
4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 350 degrees
Heat your oil in a medium size skillet and add the onions and garlic till soft.
Stir in the ground turkey and cook, breaking it up with a spoon as it cooks until all the pink is gone.
Add all of your dried herbs and bay leaf, stir and then add the sundried tomatoes, and your can of tomatoes. Let these simmer for about 15 minutes so all the flavors meld.
Cook your pasta al dente and drain.
Whisk the eggs and cream together in a large bowl. Quickly add your pasta and toss, then add your meat mixture, stir to combine. Fold in 1-1/2 cups of your mozzarella cheese.
Take your pasta mixture and put it in an oven proof casserole, top with remaining mozzarella and then the Parmesan.
Bake until the cheese is melted and all is bubbling hot, about 30 minutes.

This is a wonderful comfort food for your "Cold-Weather Cooking"! And of course, serve it with a glass of your favorite red wine!


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Book Review 7 "Cold-Weather Cooking"

Winter arrived in Key West, believe it or not, last week one day. We actually set a record low one night of 45 degrees. The lizards were slow, the iguanas were stuck in trees and one of my succulent plants is about ready to bite the dust because of it. So with our little cold snap that occurred, I hit the bookshelf for the perfect book “Cold-Weather Cooking” by Sarah Leah Chase.

A few months ago when I decided to start reading and cooking from my collection of cooking and wine books and reviewing them for you, one of the first ones I reviewed were her books on Pedaling Through Provence and Pedaling Through Burgundy. "Cold-Weather Cooking" is one of her earlier books that I acquired back in the early 90’s and have enjoyed since. Sarah is an excellent writer and “Cold Weather Cooking” provides us with interesting recipes and stories that celebrate the foods that keep us warm! This book came together from Sarah’s stay during winters on Nantucket while she owned her food shop “Que Sera Sarah”. Her business boomed during the summer while all the tourists were enjoying her soups and salads, but the question put to her by many tourists was “what do you do during the winter on this island?” That is when “Cold-Weather Cooking” was born. I just want to list the names of the chapters in Sarah’s book as I think they are very creative!

So Long Summer
Recipes to straddle the seasons, combining foods for summer’s
grand finale with autumn’s chilly beginnings.
Finger Foods For Frosty Weather
Warming little morsels for a chilly evening’s cocktail party.
Thinking Thanksgiving Part 1 – Savories
Thinking Thanksgiving Part 2 – Sweets
Soups For The Solstice
Hearty Soups to fortify body and soul against deep freezes and
other inclement ills.
December Dazzle
Great culinary extravagances that are integral to the holiday
Holiday Cheer
Winter’s warm libations accompanied by favorite cookies and
Cold Weather Comforts
Breakfast fare to provide the incentive to face the world on
the chilliest mornings.
Stormy Weather and Magic Mountains
Simmering stews, crackling roasts, and mounds of carbohydrates
that can be guiltlessly indulged after an invigorating day outdoors.
The Brumal Fire of the Viands
Hearthside grilling to dispel epicurean doldrums and set the soul
on fire again.
Piscean Platters (My favorite as I also am a Pisces’)
Fish dishes from a cook with a taste for astrology.
The Tease of Spring
Recipes that signal the first signs of spring, yet allow for the chill
of fickle March winds.
Easter Feasts
Our last eclectic and ethnic extravaganza.

Sarah starts out each chapter with a story regarding the dishes in that chapter. Also within the chapters she highlights in a box a dinner she would prepare for let’s say “A Harvest Night To Remember” or “January Enthrall”. Sarah also includes “helpful hint” boxes throughout like “Chestnuts Not Roasting On An Open Fire” where she finally makes friends with her microwave on preparing fresh chestnuts!

"Cold-Weather Cooking" is a delightful easy cookbook of which I have some of my favorite recipes. She has a recipe for “Grilled Tuna with Florida Avocado Butter” that has pleased many a dinner guest in my house. And in the spring when we can get our hands on the first harvest of asparagus, I have prepared her “My Very Favorite Asparagus Vinaigrette” and “Oven-Roasted Asparagus with Minced Mushrooms” with much success. But since I am on a salad kick this week, I thought I would try her “Warm Mushroom and Arugula Salad” and share it with you.

Sarah Chase’s “Warm Mushroom and Arugula Salad”

7 tablespoons fruity olive oil
8 oz shitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps thinly sliced
8 oz domestic white mushrooms, prepared the same way
(I used baby portabella mushrooms instead)
2 cloves of garlic minced (I used 4 as we LOVE garlic in our house)
2 anchovy fillets, minced
¼ cup pitted Nicoise olives, finely minced
2 tablespoons of capers
2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
2 bunches of arugula, trimmed, rinsed and patted dry
Salt and Pepper to taste
4 oz crumbled Gorgonzola Cheese (I used Maytag Blue)

1. Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic, anchovies, olives, capers, lemon juice and vinegar. Simmer a few minutes to blend the flavors.
2. Toss arugula with remaining olive oil in a large salad bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the warm mushroom mixture to the bowl and toss until thoroughly blended. Mix in the cheese and plate. Serve at once.

This is such a great salad for a cold evening as the warm mushrooms slightly wilt the salad and the cheese just sets it off! Oh Yum!
I served this with a nice light red wine and crunchy bread. A meal in itself!
Later this week, I will highlight another one of Sarah’s recipes from her "Cold Weather Cooking" book that is extremely simple and very soul satisfying on these “cold winter” evenings.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Healthy Salad With A Crunch

As we are all trying to adhere to our "New Years Resolutions", especially if one of your resolutions like mine is trying to lose a bit of extra poundage, you may find this salad that we had the other night perfect. I don't know about you, but when I am trying to loose weight I need something crunchy and lively with a hint of vinegar to satisfy my taste buds. A nice healthy salad to fill you up, not out.

The ingredients are fairly simple. Watercress, daikon radish, cucumber, thinly sliced red onion and a dash of sprouts on top. The dressing was simple consisting of seasoned rice vinegar, with just a drop or so of olive oil. Crunchy heaven in your mouth!

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Food Friendly Wine

Now that the rush of the holiday season is over, I found myself lingering in the wine aisle a bit more this past week. Spending more time looking at labels and getting acquainted with a few bottles that I have been “eyeing” but not paying much attention, I pulled off the shelf a Pinot Gris that has been wanting to come home with me. Pinot Gris is a white wine that has the same grapes as found in Pinot Grigio, which by the way is the number 1 imported white wine here in the U.S.

I highly recommend, if you can find it, a 2006 Erath Pinot Gris from Dundee, Oregon. Dundee is located in the famous Willamette Valley of Oregon, which is a wonderful wine growing region of that state. On the back of their bottle is a statement from their winery that says it all.
"Grapes from the EARTH, wines from the HEART...ERATH"

On unscrewing this gem, the aromas were a mix of melon, apple and citrus. My first sip brought my mouth a wonderful surprise of a lively, bright, clean, lip-smacking mouthful of citrus flavors with a hint of crisp green apple on the finish.

Erath Pinot Gris is one of those food-friendly wines that you could pair with many dishes. I think it would go well with all kinds of sea food, fish, turkey, pork and chicken. It has such a nicely balanced acidity that I would even serve it with Asian dishes, or even those dishes that are a bit spicy. Nora from Life’s Smorgasbord is visiting her family in Singapore, and if she could find this wine there, it would pair well with those yummy dishes Nora and her mom are preparing!

Hope you all are enjoying your new year and stop back and see me next week as I am working on my next cookbook review! Perfect food for these cool winter evenings.


Thursday, January 3, 2008

First Wine of 2008 and Hoppin' John!

Could not start out our New Year without tasting a New Wine! So to usher in 2008, I choose one of my favorite wines, a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. Sometimes it is hard to find a new wine to try that will fit into my wine budget. Oh sure there are MANY wines out today, but quite a few have price tags over $20.00. Those wines I surely like to try on special occasions, but for a bottle to pop open for a sipper in the evening, I must curtail my spending to under $15.00 and preferably under $10.00 for a week night. But this wine caught my eye as something new around $13.00. Gotta have it!

What a great find! I am talking about the 2006 Giesen Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand. Giesen grows their grapes in the Wairau Valley and their winery is located in the town of Blenheim which is situated in the southwest part of New Zealand. Unscrewing this one, aromas of vibrant citrus and intense tropical fruit weaved their ways to my nose. On my first sip of this wine I new it was going to be a favorite, as my palate enjoyed tastes of sweet gooseberries and that classic grassy, herbal flavor that is so distinct in New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. This is a nice, medium bodied wine with crisp, refreshing acidity that gives it a nice zip in your mouth on the finish. I think this wine would go great with a nice chicken dish with a side of asparagus. Yum!

Not only did we have a new bottle of wine to bring in the new year we also had a traditional dish that I serve every year on New Year’s Day – “Hoppin John”! This is one of those great Southern dishes with a fuzzy origin. Some say it was a staple of the African slaves on the plantations and, before that, was found throughout the Caribbean. In American folklore, one theory is that friendly hosts would invite their guests to stay for supper by saying “Hop in, John”. Today "Hoppin’ John" is a traditional dish served on New Years Day to bring luck in the coming year.

Deb’s Take On "Hoppin’ John"

Cook 1 lb. of black eye peas in 6 cups of cold water with a small onion quartered, a couple of bay leaves and 4 cloves of smashed garlic, and a ham hock (optional) for about an hour. Do not over cook the beans as you do not want them mushy. Drain removing bay leaves, onion and ham hock.
In a Dutch oven, cook about 4 slices of bacon, drain bacon on paper towels and chop. Then add 1 big chopped onion, 1 chopped green bell pepper, lots of fresh chopped garlic, 3 stalks of chopped celery and a couple of chopped but seeded jalapeno peppers to the pot. Sauté for about 7 minutes. Then add some seasoning – 1 tbsp of store bought Cajun seasoning, ½ teaspoon each of garlic and onion powder, 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, 1 tablespoon cumin, 2 bay leaves and 1 tablespoon dried thyme.
Add a can of chopped tomatoes with their juice and a pound of sausage, your choice of smoked or kielbasa, sliced. Add peas back into Dutch oven, chopped bacon and pour a bit of chicken broth over all just to keep everything moist while baking.
Put lid on Dutch oven and place into a 325 degree oven for an hour and a half.

This dish is sooo good and comforting! I serve it with rice, as you can put the Hoppin’ John over the rice, and a nice skillet of corn bread. You surely can make this a vegetarian dish by omitting the ham hock and sausage and could use veggie broth to moisten the stew for baking.
I know this sounds like a lot of work, but actually it is not, just a lot of ingredients. Perfect for a cold winter evening as your oven will be cranking away!


Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Welcome To 2008

Happy New Year Everyone!

Here we are with a whole new year ahead of us!

May it bring peace and happiness to all of you. Thank you for being there!