Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Crock Pot: Potato Soup or Vichyssoise or Not?

Thanks to all for your helpful suggestions.  I finally purchased a crock pot.  Since I planned to use it mostly for soups right now, I went with a basic Rival pot because it looked good.  The insert is black.  The outside is silver.  It has a Hi and a Low setting and a lid to see through.  It was cheap!

There are times when I follow a soup recipe fairly well.  Most times, I don't.  So, going with what was on hand, I give you the first effort.  On hand:  Two medium sized leeks, one large sweet onion, one large shallot and two cloves of garlic.  I sliced all the bulbs thinly and sautéed them in a little olive oil, adding the garlic the last minute.  I scraped all into the crock pot, added one large russet potato, peeled and diced, and four cups of chicken stock and a bay leaf.  Most recipes for anything in the pot say "cook on low".  Hmmm, o.k.!

Fairly soon, the pot was bubbling away and the house was filled with delicious aromas.  It was a comfortable feeling thinking all that was left before eating the soup was a quick puree and the addition of milk or half and half.  Some salt and pepper to taste.  I used the immersion blender and pureed it right in the pot.  I tasted.  It wasn't good!  I added more salt, a salt-free blend and pepper.  Then a cup of milk/half and half.  We had a bowl of tolerable potato soup.  There was quite a bit leftover (as planned for the freezer).  Should it just be tossed out?  NO!  The Baker came to the rescue!  I had a late afternoon meeting.  He said he'd take care of dinner.

I give you the once insipid soup after he added about a cup of grated sharp cheddar, heated until the cheese melted and the soup was piping hot.  He topped with crispy bacon bits.


The "paragraph-style recipe" is a throwback to Gourmet when I started subscribing.  One had to read the whole recipe to glean out the ingredients.  It was annoying!  I think it was in the mid-80s before they started listing ingredients at the beginning of a recipe.  So much better.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Still Summer

Sunday was a beautiful day in Chicago.  It was a clear and sunny day.  Big puffy clouds enticed one to find shapes in them.  I picked out a rabbit but Andrew just couldn't see it.  Boats still bobbed in Lake Michigan.  They'll soon be put into dry dock or go wherever boats go in the winter.  There was a chill in the air.  Early morning shadows were longer.  Evidence that we have only one more week of summer.

Lakeshore Drive early Sunday morning.

We were headed to Whole Foods.  The store can be jam-packed on Sundays so we go early.  Not as early as this Sunday though.  Parking on the second level, the doors weren't even open.  The sign said 8 a.m. and it was 8 a.m..  We waited patiently for fifteen minutes.  Andrew finally took the "employee only" elevator down and told someone about the problem.  He came back up the escalator and through the door.  When we headed back to the door, it wouldn't open.  Hmmmm!  Another ten minutes before we go in.  This is so unlike Whole Foods.  The young man who finally opened the door explained that there was a new security guard and someone failed to show him how the doors were to be opened.  He apologized and we were on our way.  First, some breakfast at the "diner".  Excellent omelet and very good coffee.  We then split up for shopping.   Andrew is a "get what is on the list" shopper.  I am a "list user/shelf shop" shopper.  As usual, I finished first.  We meet in the coffee shop.  I was sipping my coffee and people watching when the young man who had let us in walked over.  He again apologized.  I assured him there was no harm done.  He then handed me a gift card.  I assumed it was for a cup of coffee.  When I got home, I checked it out.  It is a $20.00 gift card.  Classy act!

We picked up our whole dinner from the carryout section.  All we had to do was plate it and settle into viewing The Roosevelts.  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Farm to Table

In less than two weeks, summer will pass into fall.  That's o.k..  Fall is my favorite season.  If only it didn't mean the end of our farmers' market.  Saturday afternoons will not find our kitchen windowsills lined with red, green, yellow and orange tomatoes.  Crunchy little cucumbers will not be available for   salads or snacking.  Those lovely green beans that ask for only a little steaming before coming to the table will be but a delicious memory.  It will take a while to adjust!  In the meantime, I'm thinking of every way possible to enjoy it all.

The Baker was enlisted to shop the market this past Saturday.  He's usually very good at selecting produce.  For some reason, he must have had a lapse in judgment and thought soft tomatoes meant ripe tomatoes.  Oh dear!  Thank goodness, only three were almost overripe.

 I turned them into a jeweled bruschetta.

It just so happened there were three tomatoes needing to be eaten right away--a red, an orange and a green one.  I chopped them up along with some basil.  Thick French bread, rubbed with garlic and brushed with olive oil was the perfect base.  

I hope you find yourself in the same predicament sometime.  It's a delicious place to be.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Southern Biscuits on a Summer Sunday Morning

Since I don't want to start right off talking about the weather, let me just say:  How about those Hokies?  A goodly number of my Virginia relatives were at Ohio State to cheer the team on and were rewarded with a big win.  A few remarked on how gracious the OS fans were--before and after the game.  I'm sorry to say that Andrew and I missed the exciting last quarter.  Death in Paradise was on PBS and we couldn't miss the last episode.

Now, the weather.  It is 60 degrees this morning and going up to the mid-70s later.  Perfect!  We celebrated Virginia Tech's win and the weather with a southern (or any place you might be) Sunday breakfast.  

The Baker baked the biscuits.  He has, in my opinion, perfected the biscuit.  The recipe is a combination of recipes that he has worked on for several years.  It might sound odd for one to need to work so hard on such a southern staple.  Remember, he isn't southern!  Whatever, I hope he stops experimenting because this is a winner.


2 cups of cake flour
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
5 Tbsp very cold butter
1 cup plain yogurt

Oven 450
1.  Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  Cut the butter into small pieces and cut into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender until very well blended.  
2.  Stir in the yogurt just enough to form a ball.  You might need a bit more than a cup.  If so, add slowly until the right consistency to form a ball.  If, on the other hand, the dough is too sticky, add a bit more flour.
3.  On a lightly floured board, press (never roll out) into an approximate 3/4 inch-rectangle and cut into 2-inch rounds.  Place on an ungreased baking sheet.  Reshape the leftover dough and cut out more.  You should have 10 to 14 biscuits.  
4.  Bake 7 to 9 minutes.  Your aim is a golden brown biscuit.
5.  Slather with butter (yes, more butter) and jam.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Green Beans with Red Onions and Mustard Seeds

Summer arrived on Sunday.  Hot, humid and not a breeze to be felt.  Sometime during the night, the air conditioning clicked on and mostly stayed on all day.  Potted flowers and herbs needed a second drink of water at bedtime.  Sunday was the first day of 90 degree weather in these parts.  Up until then, it had been very pleasant.  Just enough rain to keep the grass and plants happy.

The down side of this ideal weather--atypical weather to be sure--has been the effect on many farm crops.  What happens in the long term remains to be seen.  Many seasonal crops like tomatoes need warmer temperatures to be at their best and you all know how I love the tomato!  We've managed to stock up each week at our farmers' market but the variety isn't as great.  I particularly mourn the lack of heirloom tomatoes.  We'll see how these "dog days" of August treat the plants.

We have been getting some excellent green beans each week.  And I had just the recipe to try.  I found it in the August 2001 Gourmet.  Once again, I've been trying to let go of some of my many, many issues.  I'm not doing very well.  Not only is this a delicious dish, it can be made ahead a set aside which I appreciate when trying to get dinner on the table.  It is a company worthy dish!

Green Beans, Red Onions and Mustard Seed Vinaigrette from Gourmet

3 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp mustard seeds
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp sugar
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 1/2 pounds green beans

For the vinaigrette:
1.  Heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, until just hot but not sizzling hot.  Add the mustard seeds and stir until they just start to pop and are slightly darkened.  This will only take 2 minutes or less.  Transfer, along with the oil, to a large bowl.
2.  In a microwavable cup/bowl, heat the vinegar and sugar on high for 20 seconds.  Stir to dissolve the sugar.
For the onion and beans:
3.  Heat the remaining 2 Tbsp of oil in the skillet, add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until a deep reddish brown, 8 to 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in the vinegar, then add to the mustard seed and oil.
4.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the green beans and lower the heat.  Cover and simmer until crisp tender--about five minutes.  Drain and toss in the dressing.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve at room temperature.


Friday, August 22, 2014


Thanks to all of you who offered tips on how to produce non-mushy rice.  I'll be incorporating those tips when making my next fried rice dish.  

I'm planning to put up some pesto for the coming winter.  I heard that another Polar Vortex is predicted.  I plan to be prepared.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Goldilocks and the Fried Rice

It all started with leftover pork tenderloin and a taste for Asian flavors.  I made a quick trip to pick up some rice.  Rice is not a staple in my pantry.  Yes, I'm from that great Commonwealth of Virginia, a mid-south state.  No, I didn't grow up on rice (or grits either).  I remember a few times having rice pudding at the home of a relative.  Imagine my surprise when, ending up in Charleston, S.C. a few decades ago, I walked down an aisle in the Piggly Wiggly and saw fifty pound bags of rice!!  It still did not become a staple in my kitchen, but I enjoyed it at the table of others.

Back to my fried rice.  I picked up the store brand of regular white rice and followed the recipe on the bag.

Goldilocks was not impressed.

First try:  Too mushy!
Second try:  Too dry!
Third try:  NOT just right!  Still mushy.

What am I doing wrong?  Wrong rice?  Wrong technique?  How do Chinese take-outs get it right every time?  How do you?

The flavors were good.  The texture was .... mushy.