Choices

Growing up Friday night meant dinner out. As a small child, it was take-out pizza. As I got older and my father more successful, it was dinner at the local Italian diner where the food was amazing and the waitress knew our names and orders by heart. Tonight is Friday night and as dinner time approached I began contemplated dinner and dinner out. Pre COVID, I’d meet friends at a local restaurant for a lovely dinner and fellowship.

I digress here to share that friends and family tell me I’m an excellent cook. My default is to cook. This makes my endocrinologist happy, is figure and pocketbook friendly. With COVID there is the additional incentive to support the local restaurants and be safe.

Around 5:30, I happily reached for my iPad to place my “to go” order. My favorite local pizzeria is wonderful, safe, and makes me want to support them. I duly entered their name and began to place my order. Then I stopped, my normal order is a salad and a slice. With beverage, service, and tip, I usually eat for around $15.00. As I stared at my cart and the total, I paused. Take out with tip would be double my usual. To be fair, I suspect the portions are greater but the reality is I didn’t want more. The more would only be thrown out which seems wasteful. It also started me thinking. This was a choice. How did I want to spend my money? Did I want to spend my money in that manner? How much was I willing to spend on take-out pizza? Was that the best use of the money? What about all the food already in the house?

My Mother always councils that life is a series of choices and the resulting consequences. Some are small others of greater import. Even small choices can build on one another for greater significance.

I opted for the kitchen. Another night I’ll want that pizza more than I did tonight. In the mean time, my piggy bank is a bit fatter tonight.

It’s the little things

2020 is the year of the zombie apocalypse. That’s were I am with this year. I joked to a good friend that I was stamping it defective return to sender. That’s truly what I’d like to do. I love New York and visit there often. Now, I cringe in horror as I consider a visit at some point in the distant future.

Then there are the things that I’d forgotten, the things that make you smile, the things that matter, the little things. Working from home has reminded me how much I love the light in my kitchen. Something so simple but something that puts a smile on my face when I walk into the room. Same with a quick chat with my neighbor. BC (before COVID-19) I was always racing somewhere. There was the office, an appointment, an errand, something that I had to get to. Now there is time to breathe. Things are slowed down which lets me appreciate the blessings in my life – and I am truly blessed.

So what are the little things I’ve rediscovered?

  • Cooking – I’ve always loved to cook but there is a difference between cooking to simply eat a meal and cooking to enjoy.  The former is quick and usually involves a microwave and something quick.  The latter, is slow.  It is a process to be enjoyed. I love contemplating what I’m going to serve, sourcing the ingredients, preparing the meal and then serving it with china and linen and, most importantly taking the time to enjoy the fruits of my labor. Also, its probably healthier than the other option.
  • The fur ones – It struck me that it had been ages since I’d taken a long walk with the pups or played a game of fetch.  To be certain they were not neglected.  In point of fact they are spoiled rotten but somewhere the weekend walk on the trail and the evening play disappeared into life.  What a treat to get out in the fresh air with the pup and exercise my legs after being at my desk for hours.  Sun also helps.
  • Organizing my home  – I literally hear my Mom in my head each evening.  Are there dishes in the sink, did you hang up your coat, put away whatever – well, you get the picture.  At the end of each day she straightened each room before she went to bed. Everything in its place for the start of the next day.  I’ve adopted her habit.  Not that I’m messy or generally disorganized but, again, the little thing of waking up to a straight house is a wonderful feeling.
  • Writing letters, talking to someone on the phone, arranging cut flowers, planting my container pots, taking a moment to breathe and enjoy rather than rushing through to get to the next thing on my to do list.  

 

I think I’m reclaiming my life.  Or, maybe I am remembering to live my life.  This “pause” as someone called it the other day, has given me the freedom to manage my own schedule.  I still have a ton of work that must be done, if anything, those responsibilities have increased.  Still, it doesn’t quite feel like it because I can manage my life in a different way.  A way that lets me enjoy the work, the career, and my life.   The talking heads say this is a black swan moment.  I don’t know if that is true but I hope that as we move to what is next we manage to take some of the good this time has brought with us.

 

It may be the zombie apocalypse, but I’m learning to live my life again.  

 

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Life at home

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It’s been ages since I posted.  Between family illness, work and now a pandemic, something had to hit pause and unfortunately this was it. Now I’m determined to reclaim  normalcy.  Okay, maybe now is not the time for “normal” but I have to start somewhere.

I’m cooking more than ever now.  A trip to the grocery is an adventure and I’m missing my Saturday morning routine of farmer’s market and tennis.  Still, there is so much for which I’m grateful.  My endocrinologist recommends eating on the “outside” of the market, no processed foods, so what better time to embrace her advice?  This means I’m cooking.  Breakfast is mini frittatas, buttermilk biscuits, or sausage muffins. Waffles and Bloody Mary’s for Sunday brunch.  Lunch is salad  – chicken, tuna, egg, chef, or taco- or soup – taco, chili, potato.  All homemade.  Dinner is where I’m embracing my creative cooking gene.  New experiments include chicken meatballs, meatloaf, and baked chicken breasts.  Pinterest is my often my inspiration.

 

 

Embracing my new normal!

Breakfast prep for a weekend get away

The fun in a weekend get away is not having to work while you are getting away.  At the same time you want to eat and eat well so what is the answer to the question?  I have two favorite make ahead breakfast items that I make, freeze and take with me.  Both are perfect for the guest who gets up early and the guest who sleeps in late.

Sausage muffins:

Take one pound hot Italian sausage (either pork or chicken will do) and fry it until it is done.  In a separate bowl empty two jars of Kraft Old English cheese.  Scoop the done sausage hot from the pan and pour over the cheese.  Let the heat of the cooked sausage melt the cheese as you stir the two together to combine the sausage and the cheese into a spread.

Take one package of English muffins and slice each muffin in half.  On a cookie sheet spread the sausage and cheese topping on top of half of an English muffin.  Pop tray of muffins into freezer and wait to serve.  When you are ready to serve, pop the now frozen muffin into the microwave or the oven to heat until bubbly.  In the microwave eat for about 30 seconds.

Mini frittata:

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Dice onions, green pepper, and tomatoes and sauté them in olive oil in a fry pan. Do the same for prosciutto.  Set vegetables and prosciutto aside.  In a bowl add six eggs, salt, half a teaspoon of lemon juice, and several dashes of hot sauce.  Whisk together. Add in half a coup of grated cheddar cheese and whisk again.   In a cupcake  pan, preferably a silicon one, add the vegetables and meat into each cup then pour the egg and cheese mixture over the vegetables.  The egg mixture should reach the top of each cup.  Bake at 350 degrees for thirty minutes.  Once done let cool.  Pop each mini frittata out and place in a ziplock bag.  Microwave to reheat when ready to serve.

Project cheese soufflé

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My last trip to New York included visits to two of my favorite French restaurants.  I’ve long loved a butter lettuce salad with a smile vinaigrette.  On that trip I had the most delicious and simple butter lettuce salad with a sherry and shallot vinegarette.  This inspired me to attempt to make my own.  Salt, pepper, sherry vinegar, good olive oil and shallots thinly diced turned into a wonderful dressing for my salad.


Next up was the soufflé challenge.  I’ve made cheddar cheese soufflés for years to varying success.  The soufflé I had for lunch at Cognac sent me back to my kitchen determined to surpass the disappointing soufflé I’d made the last time.  It should be simple, right?  Separate your eggs, whip the whites, make a cheese sauce, fold the sauce into the stiff egg whites and bake.  Nothing to it?

Well, the last soufflé I’d made seemed to separate and left a ton of sauce at the bottom of the dish.  Not what I’d intended to serve.  So inspired by my visit, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving I tried again.  This time success was in the air.  I think I’d add a bit more pepper and salt but, overall, the soufflé was a hit and tasty too!

Maybe one more experiment?  Next time, I’m going for individual souffle’ dishes for each person rather than one large to share.

Heirloom cooking, vegetable soup and leftovers

IMG_9257My Mom’s vegetable soup is  a favorite.  I have fond memories of a bowl of soup, a grilled cheese sandwich and a rerun of an episode of Perry Mason with my Mom.

I’ve never quite mastered Mom’s recipe for her soup.  I think part of the reason is she used leftovers.  Ever the home economist, nothing was left to waste.  At the same time, my Dad was not fond of leftovers.  He called them reused food inferring that it was less than appealing, even when it was.  Mom’s trick was to repurpose her leftovers in a disguised manner that would pass muster for even the most discriminating, thus pot roast became vegetable soup.

I’ve come to appreciate Mom’s thrifty character.  Her table was always wonderful and healthy.  She was rail thin and I credit that to not only her genes but the way she cooked. Her ability to create wonderful meals that were inexpensive was brilliant and led to many “extras” as I grew up.  She was born just before WWII and her parents instilled in her that Depression era thriftiness and waste not philosophy.  I think she was on to something, spend wisely and save for a rainy day.

Mom’s vegetable soup / pot roast

1 two-pound roast, salt and pepper to taste and flour lightly

potatoes diced

carrots diced

onion diced

Place in Dutch oven with beef stock and cook slowly for several hours until done.  Serve for dinner.   Refrigerate left overs in pot over night.  Shred remainder of roast with a fork. Add two large cans diced tomatoes and juice, beef stock, one bag frozen mixed vegetables, one bag frozen white corn, one medium diced onion, one large potato diced, one rib celery diced and additional carrots, salt and pepper to taste.  Cook on low for several hours.

My Red, White, and Blue Holiday Supper

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There is no better way to spend an evening than with friends. So what better way to celebrate the 4th, than with a supper with friends grilling out on the patio.

I decided to go with a red, white, and blue dinner, London broil cooked on the grill, blue cheese scalloped potatoes, a salad for the main course, and raspberry sorbet with chocolate chess pie for dessert.

Dinner began with a simple tray of cheese and crackers as we waited for the steak to grill. My first “red” was my London boil. I started preparing my London broil the evening before with a rub of garlic salt and chili powder. Pat the meat dry and lightly spray with olive oil. In a ziplock bag combine garlic salt and chili powder. Close the bag and shake, add the meat, close the bag again and shake until the meat is coated. Put the meat into the refrigerator to sit until an hour before you are ready to grill. Take it out in time to bring the meat to room temperature before you begin to grill. I like my meat on the rare side so on the grill or in a cast iron skillet on the stove, cook five minutes on a side (adjust time based on size of meat and how done you wish it).

 

The first course of the meal was a simple garden salad of butter lettuce with black and red tomatoes and a purple onion. I used a simple vinaigrette to dress the salad and sprinkled oregano and basil on top.

For my “blue” and “white”  portion of the supper, I prepared scalloped potatoes with blue cheese. Peel and thinly slice Yukon gold potatoes and set to the side in a bowl of water. Make a white sauce (flour, butter, milk, salt and pepper). Once the white sauce is made add sharp white cheddar cheese and blue cheese crumbles to the white sauce stirring slowly as you add to keep the sauce from burning as the cheese melts. I recommend a low heat. Spray your casserole bowl with olive oil, drain the potatoes, and layer the slices alternating potatoes and cheese sauce until the bowl is full. Pour the remainder of the cheese sauce over the top. As your final layer, cover the top with a thick layer of Parmesan cheese to create a crust. Bake at 400 for an hour.

 

The dessert course was a chocolate chess pie (see my Heirloom Cooking post for the recipe) and another “red,” a scoop of raspberry sorbet. Perfect for a July evening on the patio.

Happy Independence Day!

 

 

The Farmers Market and Stuffed Squash

 

 

I love a good farmers market and am fortunate to have several near me. My favorite is the Nelson County Farmers Market. Open from April through October and involving a short drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway, it never disappoints. The trick is to get there early and score a delicious chocolate croissant or blueberry muffin. The pastries are mouthwatering and range from muffins to pies, cookies, and artisanal breads. Locally raised meats, cheeses, vinegars, and vegetables round out the offerings. Produce is seasonal. In the fall squash, apples and pumpkins are plentiful. In the summer, berries, melons, tomatoes, and greens stock the stalls. My greatest challenge is to exercise self control over selecting the delicacies I have time to cook over the upcoming week.  I often fall into the trap of my eyes being bigger than my appetite and time in a busy schedule.

On my most recent visit, I found blueberries for a snack, onions, kale, spring onions, and squash. Oh, and I scored my blueberry muffin! I was too late for the chocolate croissant.  The larger squash I decided to serve as stuffed squash for dinner that night.

There are so many good reasons to shop your local farmer’s market.  Fresh, locally grown produce and supporting the local business community are two, but my favorite reason is social. I always run into someone I’ve not seen for a time and get the opportunity catch up with a brief, or not so brief, visit.

Stuffed squash

 

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This recipe may serve as the main entree or a side dish. At cook’s choice, you may include, or not, genoa salami, applewood smoked bacon, or prosciutto ham.  When I add meat I use this as the main entree rather than a side dish.

Ingredients:

large zucchini or yellow squash sliced in half length wise;
tomatoes diced;
onion diced;
pecorino romano cheese;
salt, black pepper, basil, and oregano to taste;
panko breadcrumbs (Italian preferably); and
olive oil.

Scoop out the center of the squash and place in a bowl. I use a grapefruit spoon to do this. Make certain this is broken up.  For larger chunks you may want to dice with a knife.  In the bowl add the diced tomatoes, diced onion, cheese, breadcrumbs, salt pepper, basil, and oregano. Mix thoroughly and stuff back into the squash shell. Drizzle the now stuffed squash shells with olive oil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. If you wish to add salami, ham, or bacon, cook, drain, and crumble into the bowl to be mixed in with the rest of the ingredients.

For me, this receipe gets added points for being both tasty and healthy.