Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and an Asian Dinner

The Muses met on Monday evening to discuss The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up by Marie Kondo.  I think it was the consensus of the group that the book was a worthwhile read.  Each of us seemed to be at certain stages of tidying up.  Quite frankly, I think we were all rather neat and tidy before the book ever came out.

Almost every book chosen through the years has been a great read sparking good discussions.  That said, food is always involved and it is always excellent!!  We all take turns hosting.  Often, the book will suggest a theme.  Muse Cindy treated us to an asian setting that was perfect for our dinner.  I wish I had thought to take a photo of the entire table.

Delicate and beautiful, this teacup was ready for green tea.

Individual bowls of edamame--a perfect appetizer!

Edamame Appetizer

1 bag frozen edamame in the pod

1.  In a pot large enough to hold the edamame, boil enough water to cover.  Add 1 Tbsp salt.
2.  Add edamame and cook for five minutes.  Drain and sprinkle on more salt if desired.

I ate the entire bowl of cool, crisp cucumbers with chopsticks!

Cucumber Salad (Shieldzini)

3 cucumbers
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp white sugar
3 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
3 Tbsp soy sauce

1.  Peel cucumbers and cut in half lengthwise.  Scoop the seeds out and slice into bite-sized pieces.  Transfer to a large bowl.
2.  Mix together the salt, sugar, vinegar and soy sauce.  Pour over the cucumbers and gently toss.  Chill for several hours before serving, tossing occasionally.

The main course was juicy chicken bites served with rice and sesame green beans.  I was so eager to lay down my chopsticks and pick up a fork,  so as not to miss a single bite, that I forgot to get any photos!!

I'll share the recipe for the delightful dish of dessert later.

Thank you, Cindy, for a lively discussion and a lovely meal!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Wheat Berry Salad

"Autumn... the year's last, loveliest smile."
~ William Cullen Bryant

My mother was of the opinion that food, whenever possible, should be colorful and true to the season.  Winter whites.  Spring greens.  Summer was pretty much the same as spring.  But, fall was her favorite season and her favorite colors--in nature, in her dress and on her table.  Mother never put wheat berries on our table so far as I remember.   I think she would have loved the colors of this salad though.  Fall seems to call for bolder salads and this one is certainly that.  It was inspired by Ina Garten.

Wheat Berry Salad

1 cup hard winter wheat berries
1 cup green onions (use the white and about an inch of the green) thinly sliced
3 tablespoons good olive oil
2 tablespoons cider vinegar (or your choice)
2 tsp sugar, stirred into the vinegar
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 carrot, diced
Freshly ground pepper to taste


Soak the wheat berries in water to cover overnight.

Drain and place into three cups of boiling, salted water. Cook, uncovered, for about 45 minutes or until they are soft. Drain.

While still warm, add the olive oil and the vinegar/sugar mixture. Mix well and then combine with the rest of the vegetables. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Allow to sit at least 30 minutes at room temperature. Even better when refrigerated overnight and brought to room temperature before serving.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Tempest and The Repast (Shakespeare at Navy Pier and Dinner at Valley)

Yesterday is right up there with the most perfect late summer day we've had in many years--maybe the most perfect ever.  The weather was glorious!  Sunshine and cool breezes.  We joined our friends, Jane and Jim, for our day at Chicago's Shakespeare.  The drive along the lake was a little slow.  Since we had allowed ourselves plenty of time, it was good to slowly drive past the lake front.  Fewer boats bobbed on the aquamarine Lake Michigan.  Folks were either out enjoying the calm waters or had already dry docked their boats.  Runners and bikers were participating in some event that we weren't aware of but enjoyed watching their participation.

We have had season tickets to Chicago's Shakespeare for close to twenty-five years.  While I prefer the tragedies to the comedies, I think the season opener of The Tempest may be the best performance I've seen anywhere!  Of course, having Teller of the famous Penn and Teller as the adviser for the magic in the play didn't hurt.  An added bonus was the wonderful Larry Yando in the role of Prospero.  In fact, the entire ensemble was wonderful.  Magic, music and comedy all came together and brought the entire audience to it's feet at the end.  What a performance for what is thought to be Shakespeare's final play!

We decided to come home and have dinner locally.  Valley Kitchen and Bar in Valparaiso was an easy choice.  Always delicious, the restaurant uses local sources as much as possible.  It was easy to recognize what my favorite farmer, Linda at LE Gardens had provided.  Her lovely produce appeared in some form on each of our plates!

We all started with a delicious and flavorful tomato soup.  We had a cup and, were it not for other dishes coming, could have eaten a bowl.

I can't remember the last time I (we) ordered French fries.  However, our friends mentioned how tasty they were as an appetizer.  And they didn't lead us astray on that idea.  Crunchy and redolent of truffle oil and showered with fresh Parmesan cheese, we made short work of the bowl while sipping on our wine.

The men ordered meat!  Andrew had a succulent pork roast and Jim opted for the Amish chicken.

I ordered the chicken taco appetizer as my entree and was treated to four flavorful treats.  Amish chicken in crisp shells were deliciously balanced with a sweet chile, basil, cherry tomato and pickled jalapeƱo sauce.  

Jane chose the pizza special.  We asked twice about the ingredients but were so eager to enjoy it that we forgot and were embarrassed to ask again.  I can tell you that chicken, corn, red onion and herbs were involved.

We returned home sated with the perfection of the day!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Fresh Fig Pizza--A Late Summer Treat

We are gearing up to enjoy the last week of summer.  This morning, "gearing up" meant pulling out warm socks and adding another layer of clothing.  It was 48 degrees at 6:30 a.m..  The weekend brought just a bit of rain on Saturday afternoon.  Despite that dampness, I've heard the Popcorn Festival was a success.  That's good since the committee seems to put in a lot of work getting it together.

Around here, fresh figs start appearing in the grocery stores in September.  I've never found any at farmer's markets although they do grow in our zone 5 area.  A few friends have potted the trees and have fairly successful harvests--just not enough to share with many.  In my opinion, the scarcity makes them even more appealing.  While we enjoy eating them fresh, we also make sure to have enough for at least one pizza.  Here is our favorite recipe.

Fig, Prosciutto and Asiago Pizza

  Use you favorite pizza dough recipe or purchase pre-made.
  5 to 6 fresh figs, cut into about 1/3 inch slices.
  2 Tbsp good balsamic vinegar.
  8 very thin slices of prosciutto.
  2 scallions thinly sliced with about an inch of the green included.
  About 3/4 cup grated Asiago cheese.

Preheat oven to 450.

1.  Prepare enough of the pizza dough for one medium or two individual servings and bake until golden, about 15 minutes.
2.  While the dough is baking, put the sliced figs into a bowl and sprinkle the vinegar over.  Set aside.
3.  Remove dough from oven and cover with the prosciutto.
4.  Sprinkle about half of the scallions over the prosciutto.
5.  Sprinkle with the Asiago.
6.  Top with the sliced figs.
7.  Sprinkle with the rest of the scallions.
8.  Bake for about ten minutes, watching carefully, until the cheese is melted.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Orville Redenbacher and A Golden September Morning

The golden hour of a September morning
outside my bedroom window
6:45 a.m..

Today is the Popcorn Festival.  Orville Redenbacher and his partner, Charlie Bowman,  perfected the perfect kernel around these parts back in the early 1970s.  I'm not sure how Orvillle won out in the name department!  I do think it has a better "ring" to it than Charlie Bowman.  Sorry Charlie!!  Anyway, I understand it is a fun-filled day that takes over the city.  As I ran some late afternoon errands yesterday, workers were bustling about setting up colorful tents around town.  We'll be staying home.  We don't even have any popcorn for a private celebration.  Maybe we'll just drive up to the lakefront.  It should be quiet and peaceful.  Everyone else will be at the festival.

Have a great weekend!!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Vegetable Tian

With only two weeks of summer left, the urge to "eat my vegetables" has intensified.  My mother was lucky in that my sisters and I were always members of the clean plate club when it came to vegetables.  Actually, with the exception of beets, my boys were members of that same club.  One of them now eats beets.  The other one still feels threatened whenever I mention the beet.

A few weeks ago,  a Facebook friend showed a beautiful vegetable tian that she had prepared.  It reminded me that I hadn't done one in several years although it is a family favorite.  A tian is actually the pan used in preparing the dish.  The origin is French.  I've never done it with anything other than vegetables but meats are often used.  The hardest part is selecting vegetables that are close to the same size and shape.  However, I could not resist those pattypan (flying saucer) squash!!  The dish has no added liquid and cooks in it's own juices.  Still, Roma tomatoes are better as you don't want too much juice.  

I used a 9 x 12 pan.  When I was "stacking" the vegetables, I thought maybe it was unwise to go so big. However, we enjoyed the dish several times during the week--just add a little more cheese if you like before reheating and always reheat uncovered.  It just got better as the week went on.

Here is a basic recipe.  

Vegetable Tian

1 large onion, sliced
2 fat cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbsp olive oil

Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil for about ten minutes.
Spread in the bottom of an oiled 9 x 12 casserole

5 medium-sized russet potatoes, unpeeled
2 medium-sized green zucchini
2 medium-sized pattypan squash
5 medium-sized Roma tomatoes

Slice all the vegetables about a quarter of an inch thick and, except for the tomatoes,  place in a large bowl.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, olive oil and whatever herb(s) you like.  I used fresh thyme leaves.
Using your hands, mix to coat all.

Start layering, along with the tomatoes, on top of the onions and garlic.  Do only a single layer.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees when you start the layering.  Cover the dish with foil and roast for 35 minutes.  Remove from the oven and sprinkle with a generous amount of cheese.  I used Gruyere.  Return to the oven, uncovered, for another 30 minutes or until browned.
Set before an admiring table of diners (or two)!!

NOTE:  Each time I reheated the dish, I added a little more cheese.


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Oven-Roasted Late Summer Vegetables

I love September!  We still have almost three weeks of summer left but, already, the shadows are getting longer and the days shorter.  A few trees are beginning to show color.  Summer squash are still abundant in the farm markets and fall/winter squash are coming in as well.  It's the time of year I start buying more vegetables than will keep well all week.  The solution is to roast them while at their peak of nutrition and deliciousness.

I simply wash the vegetables (this time carrots, summer squash and sweet peppers) and sprinkle them with olive oil, onion salt, garlic salt and lemon pepper.  They go into a pre-heated 400 degree oven for about forty minutes.

We'll have some, accompanied by a fresh tomato, cucumber and feta cheese salad for dinner this evening.  Tomorrow, I'll roast the beets, potatoes and knob onions.  We'll feast for the rest of the week.