An Invitation to a Royal Wedding

The year was 1981 and Prince Charles and Diana Spencer were getting married. I was 14 years old and was obsessed with both Diana and the wedding. The shy nanny marrying the older prince was a young girl’s fantasy. And her haircut was something no one had ever seen before. I had a wrinkled photograph of Diana that I would take to the hairdresser’s every visit, hoping they would make me look just like her. Perhaps someone should have been honest and told me my thick and curly hair would never resemble her sleek feathered haircut, but then again, no doubt I wouldn’t have listened.

In the early morning hours of July 29, I got up with my family to watch the royal wedding. It was magical, pomp and circumstance at its almighty, with a wedding dress train that went on for what seemed like city blocks and horns that sounded the rooftops. My mom fixed a proper English breakfast, scones and tea with brown sugar.

So with the latest royal wedding, I got up at 4 a.m. to watch all the festivities. For the special occasion, I created these scones/muffins that my sister, Diana, named “Kate’s Delights.” Full cook’s disclosure, I cooked them too high and for too long, so the bottoms were a bit too done for my liking. No more multitasking when I have something in the oven!

Kate’s Delights
Depending on their size, makes 9-12 scones.
Preheat oven to 325-350 degrees

1 3/4 Cups white flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons white sugar
4 Tablespoons butter-chilled
2 eggs
1/2 Cup buttermilk
1/2 Cup dried currants (I had very small raisins, or you can substitute lemon zest)
Cinnamon and sugar blend for the topping

1. In a bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.
2. With either a pastry cutter or two forks, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles cornmeal.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs.
4. Add eggs  to the flour mixture and stir. Add buttermilk and mix until all ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.
5. Scoop the mixture onto a greased cookie sheet, top with the cinnamon and sugar blend. Cook until done.

French Countryside Salad with New Potatoes and Asparagus

Spring has been taking its merry old time  to arrive this year. One day will be in the 70s, sunny, warm with still a hint of chill in the shade. The next day its in the 40s with a cold rain. This time of year I get excited at the idea of the new vegetables that will appear in the co-op and my weekly Saturday morning visits to the farmer’s market that will begin in June. After a long, cold, snowy winter, the thought of seeing anything that has come out of the ground here as opposed to California is reason for celebration!DSCN0083

So with the impending Easter holiday, I hadn’t really made a plan for dinner, as I had thought I’d be out of town. When those plans changed on Thursday, I started to think what would be on the menu. I always try to make something spring-like to celebrate the new season. With a meal earlier in the day with my family, dinner would be small and at the usual 8 p.m. As I perused the grocery store, I thought of what I wanted to accompany the roasted chicken I was going to make; of course, the carb-addict in me wanted stuffing, but then I thought of potato salad. As I began cooking Sunday morning in preparation for the evening, I noticed I had asparagus, frozen peas in the freezer, a little bit of a leftover shallot, so I created this as a more healthful version of the usual mayonnaise-laden side dish. While I love that, this is a different spin. If I had some fresh herbs or parsley, that would have been a nice addition.

I have had France on my brain for some reason lately and thought this would be a perfect salad to bring along on a country bike ride, since it really doesn’t need to be refrigerated. So with all the French ingredients in it, I decided to have fun with the name!

French Countryside Salad with New Potatoes and Asparagus
Apologies in advance for the approximations. This is a salad for four, but can easily be doubled to more people.

New  (or small) potatoes
Asparagus (about a cup, chopped)
Frozen peas defrosted, about half a cup (or if you have new peas, that would be even better!)
1 hard boiled egg
1 Tablespoon minced shallot

White Wine Vinaigrette
Note: This is my go-to vinaigrette any time I want an easy salad dressing. 

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
White Wine Vinegar (or you can try red wine as well, something flavorful and tart)
Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper

1. If you’re using frozen peas, take out of freezer and let them defrost in a small bowl.

2. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add each potato individually and bring the water back to a boil and cook with the cover off. I checked each potato after about 7 minutes or so and pricked with a sharp knife to check for doneness. Each potato cooked individually based on its size, so each were taken out of the water at different times. Place in a bowl until all are finished cooking to cool. To the boiling water, add the asparagus and cook for 2-3 minutes, just enough time to blanch.

3. In a bowl, cut the potatoes into fourths or sixths. Add asparagus and peas. Mix. Add shallots and mix. Add lots of freshly ground pepper and a dash or two of salt.

4. In a separate bowl, mix the vinaigrette. (I take a little bit of olive oil, more vinegar, and about a teaspoon or so of mustard. Mix, taste, and adjust accordingly.) Add to salad and thoroughly mix. Add to serving bowl. Can be served either warm or chilled.

Scallops with Tomatoes and Olive Vinaigrette


I’ve been making this dish since the late 1990s, and to give proper credit, it originally appeared in the Food Section of the Burlington Free Press, our local daily newspaper. It is so delicious and flavorful and easy to make for a work night supper. I’ve adapted the ingredients through the years, but whenever it’s a special occasion or scallops are on sale, this is what I make and it always gets rave reviews!

Scallops with Warm Tomatoes and Olive Vinaigrette
1 pound sea scallops
4-6 Roma tomatoes (I’ve tried this with other tomatoes, and Romas are definitely the best, other tomatoes tend to get too mushy when cooked)
About 4 cups mesclun mix

Olive Vinaigrette
1/4-1/2 cup Kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
2-3 tablespoons chopped roasted red pepper
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons, red wine vinegar
1-2 teaspoons, Dijon mustard
Squeeze or two of fresh lemon

1. Place all vinaigrette ingredients in blender and whisk until mixed. (Since my blender is on the fritz, everything can also be blended with a large-sized mortar and pestle.)
2. In a warm skillet (I use non-stick) with a tiny bit of olive oil, add scallops and cook until done. This will take about 3-4 minutes, be sure not to over cook or they will be tough and rubbery. When scallops are done, set aside in another bowl.
3. In the still warm skillet, add a little more olive oil and add tomatoes, sauté until warm.
4. In a salad bowl or plate, add mesclun mix. Top with scallops, tomatoes, and vinaigrette.

Get Well Chili

After illness at 1193 Bristol Road extended for more than week, I decided I needed to bring out the big guns: garlic, beef, beans, and spices. Chili! I’ve felt yucky for a week, and I think the cold that was passed to me, has since been passed back! So what better way to rid the beast than garlic, beef, beans, and spices? I discovered as I was making this I didn’t have nearly as much chili powder as I normally use, but felt like I doctored the dish enough to make it tasty. Definitely use more if desired. The real ingredients are the garlic, beef, and beans, protein and garlic can make anyone well, yes? I hope so! I served this atop homemade corn bread, but served with any grain, sauteed or roasted vegetables, or on its own will be delicious.

You may find when you get started it’s a bit on the soupy side, but cooking for about 30 minutes or so allows the chili to absorb some of the water and make it more flavorful.

Get Well Chili
1 green pepper, diced
1 1/2 medium onion, diced
5-7 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno, chopped
1 pound beef
1 28 ounce diced tomatoes
1 15.5 ounce can beans, rinsed (I used pintos, but any bean will taste delicious)
2-3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons chili powder
A couple dashes of cayenne pepper (or to taste)
Chopped scallions  and low-fat sour cream (if desired)

1. In a dutch oven, heat 2 teaspoons of canola oil. When warm, add the peppers, garlic, and onion. Add a dash of salt, cook until wilted. When finished cooking, set aside in a separate bowl.
2. Add beef to the dutch oven, cook until done. Place into a colander to drain any excess juices. Place back in the pan and add the vegetables. Stir. Add tomatoes, chili powder, and cayenne and stir at low heat. Add beans, tomato paste and mix through.
3. Cook until heated through, about 30 minutes or so. Place in serving bowl and add scallions and sour cream, if desired.

Taste…or Lack Thereof

I always have prided myself on my good health. People around me can get sick, but I never do. I credit it to the red grapefruit I eat every morning in the wintertime. Whenever I feel a sniffle or tickle in my throat coming on, I flood myself with orange juice and water and usually can keep it at bay. A serving of Nyquil at night and I’m right as rain in the morning.

Not this time. For the first time in years (was I in college?!), I got a doozy of a head cold. My homemade method of the Vitamin C drip didn’t work and a weekend away from home with little sleep and too much mental stimulation was my undoing. Sunday night I slumped into bed, tired, with an incredibly stuffed nose.

I discovered Monday morning I had no taste when I took the first sips of my coffee. It’s been lost for a day now. I’m home alone tonight, which usually is cause for a solo celebration; I’ll fix whatever I have a hankering for, turn up “my” music, take a walk, and relax and write or read. For tonight’s dinner, what will it be? While the stomach growls, what fun is it to eat if you can’t taste?

This led me to think about Grant Achatz, who was one of the most acclaimed chefs in the country.  He is incredibly innovative, no one had eaten a meal like he has served. His cooking is called “progressive cuisine,” and he was awarded the 2008 Best Chef in the United States from the James Beard Foundation. The top of the top. In 2007, he was diagnosed with Stage IV tongue cancer. He recently chronicled his experience in his book, Life on the Line: A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness. Achatz survived and is still cooking, yet he no longer has the sense of taste. What would it be like to go through life where your livelihood is cooking and not be able to enjoy the flavors?

I’ve lost all desire to cook this week; aside from feeling under the weather, I can’t taste what I’m eating, so for me all the pleasure of food is lost. I’m feeling better each day and I’m sure my ailment will be gone in the morning. But I had to wonder, what if that sense was gone forever? I always said if I had to lose a sense it would be my hearing. But what, as a cook, I could no longer have a sense for flavors?

I have Achatz’s memoir on my list of books to read, and I’ll be curious how, or if, he solves this problem in his own life. It’s an interesting situation I’ve never thought about. I’ve considered how I’d get along if I lost my sight or hearing. But taste? That’s a hard one. So, in the meantime, it’s a sunny side up egg and rye toast for dinner.

Molasses Crinkles (or Crisp Ginger Cookies)

When I was growing up, one of my favorite cookies were Molasses Crinkles; deep, dark, moist, spicy cookies. The other day I noticed I had some molasses in the cupboard and although these cookies are better suited for the fall than the spring, I decided to whip up a batch.

The recipe I found in my grandmother’s recipe box calls them Crisp Ginger Cookies–same cookies, different name, yet with a handwritten note at the top calling them “Molasses Crinkles”; somewhere through the years the name changed.

These are super easy to make and inexpensive, too. There is a local bakery that sells similar cookies for $4 for six, but you can make a whole batch for much less. I grew up making these with Crisco, but this time made them with butter. Either way they are delicious. And the less you cook them, the more moist they will be.

Molasses Crinkles (or Crisp Ginger Cookies)
1  cup sugar
3/4 cup Crisco (or butter)
4 TBS molasses
1 egg
2 C. Flour
2 tsp. Soda (scant)
1 tsp. each salt, ginger, cloves, cinnamon (Note, I used 1/2 tsp. of salt)

1. Sift the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the Crisco or butter, molasses, and egg and mix thoroughly.
2. Take a tablespoon and form into small balls. Dip the end into granulated sugar. Set sugar end up on greased tin. Bake at moderate oven (325 degrees for me) for about 10-12 minutes.

Enjoy right out of the oven with a glass of milk! 

PS. They’re also good the next morning with coffee!

Spring Cleaning #3: Quinoa and Black Bean Salad

Hello, dear readers! This is the easiest of recipes, and is great if you want a shot of summer in the middle of the winter. I don’t even know if I can call it a recipe, basically put everything together in a bowl and mix! Cooking the quinoa is what takes the longest, once that’s cooked throw some beans, shallots, corn, spices, and lime in a bowl and you’re ready! I cooked the quinoa in the morning and created this when I got home from work one evening. In five minutes, dinner was served! I served it over greens as a vegetarian dinner, but it would make a nice side salad with a piece of chicken or pork, too.

Quinoa and Black Bean Salad
2 cups cooked quinoa
1 cup black beans
1/2 cup or so, frozen corn, thawed
1/2 cup or so, frozen edamame, thawed
2 tablespoons minced shallots or sliced scallions
Juice of 1 lime, or to taste
1 teaspoon cumin, coriander, or a combination of the two

1. Bring two cups of water to a boil. Add 1 cup quinoa and gently cook for about 15 minutes, or until water is absorbed. If the quinoa is done cooking and there is extra water, be sure to drain it.
2. In a mixing bowl, add quinoa, black beans, corn, shallots or scallions. Mix. Add lime juice to taste and spices. Mix and serve.

Springtime Challenge 2: Greek Lentil Salad

Another pantry-cleaning recipe. This is loosely based on a Cooking Light recipe from the early 1990s. I have no recollection if this is even close to the original, but this in my take on it. If you wanted to serve warm with watercress, it’s delicious, but it’s also tasty without. I discovered as I was mixing this together I was out of red wine vinegar. Horrors! Then I realized I had only a couple of teaspoons of sherry vinegar left! I figured apple cider would add too much flavor, so I ended up using rice vinegar. It was an decent substitute, but I wouldn’t use it again. This served over greens makes for a great lunch or as a side salad or main dish for supper.

Greek Lentil Salad

Again, apologies for the approximations. I make this by eyeballing the ingredients with frequent tastings.

 

1 cup dried lentils
3-4 garlic cloves, finely minced
Oregano, preferably Greek
Red wine vinegar
Crumbled feta cheese

1. Bring 2-3 cups of water to a boil. Add lentils, and cook in a gentle simmer until cooked, 25-30 minutes or so. While lentils are cooking, mince the garlic.

2. When the lentils are finished cooking, drain off any excess water, and transfer to a bowl. Add garlic and mix. Add 2-3 tablespoons of the vinegar, or to taste. Add a dash or two of the oregano. Be careful, you don’t want the herb to overpower the salad. Add 1/4 cup of feta, or more if desired.

3. Serve warm or cold!

Spring Cleaning 1: Asparagus Barley Risotto

Don't forget the freshly ground pepper and shaved cheese!

Not sure why, but I have a bee in my bonnet these days. Perhaps it’s the interminably long winter we’ve had here, but I want to clean. Not just clean the house, open the windows, and let the fresh air in, but really hoe things out, including the fridge, freezer, and cupboards. So, in this quest to start anew, I’ve started to look in the larder and create recipes from the grains I have waiting to be used. Staring at me in their glass jars are wheat berries, quinoa, barley, black beans, lentils, and whole wheat couscous.  What to do, what to do?

Last Sunday, I had a craving for a risotto I make each spring when I see the first young asparagus in the store, but is made with the usual Italian short grain rice. Instead of rice, I substituted barley. It was delicious and heated up well for lunches during the week. With this recipe, I was able to use some barley and a jar of homemade chicken broth I defrosted from the freezer. This takes some kitchen time, you have to constantly stir the barley, or if you’re like me, try to constantly stir the barley, sometimes my attention wanders elsewhere! There’s still one more cup of barley left for tomorrow night’s dinner, but I’m making headway. Stay tuned, recipes will be coming!

Asparagus Barley Risotto

1 cup pearled barley
1 cup finely diced onion
3 cups-plus chicken broth
Young asparagus
A couple of dashes of white wine or dry vermouth
Freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

1. In a sauce pan, heat the chicken broth and add some chopped asparagus (a cup or more, depending on how much you’d like). Once heated through, turn to low and keep it warm. (Note: I didn’t cook the asparagus before putting it in the stock, it cooked while in the broth. If you find they aren’t soft, you might have to bring the broth to a short boil, then turn down to low.)

2. In a stock pot, heat 2 tsp. of olive oil. Add onion and cook until translucent. With a large ladle, add some of the stock. Stir the barley until the liquid is almost gone, and continue, one ladle at a time adding stock until the barley is cooked. During this time, add a couple dashes of white wine, continuing to stir. Make sure you leave just a touch of moisture in the dish, you don’t want the barley to be completely dry.

3. When ready to serve, top with freshly ground black pepper and a few grates of Parmesan or Romano cheese and serve warm.