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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Those salad days

Please welcome guest blogger Michelle Drier who writes about the salads of summer. Now that we’re at the tail end of summer, this is a good reminder to fix these while we have those fresh tomatoes. Thanks to improved supermarkets, we can generally get pretty good tomatoes all year round—not as good as homegrown but better than the cardboard we used to get in the winter. If you shop carefully, you can really enjoy these salads all year around.
             My salad days are behind me now, but come summer I start planning summer meals around salads and count the days until the homegrown tomatoes are ripe. In my part of California, though, the last two summers have been cooler than usual, meaning the air conditioner didn’t run full tilt but the tomatoes didn’t ripen well, either.
            Last year, I subscribed to one of those farm-to-you services that delivers a box of produce to your door once a week but found that I just could not eat all that was delivered...and in the winter, there was a lot of kale, not one of my faves.  So this summer, I’ve been haunting local farmers’ markets for my almost-home-grown tomato fix.
            As a kid, I used to pick a tomato, slice the top off, sprinkle it with salt, let it sit for a few minutes and eat it like an apple.   Oh, that warm, sweet, salty, tomato goodness.  Now, there’re BLTs; good Swiss cheese and tomatoes on crunchy sourdough; sliced tomatoes, basil and buffalo mozzarella drizzled with olive oil
Lots of salads with tomatoes, and some without.
Over the years, I’ve spent some time in Mediterranean countries, and two of my favorite salad stalwarts, a good Greek salad and a Salade Nicoise, are meals a few times a month.
1 tomato (as ripe as possible; heirlooms are good)
½ - ¾ English cucumber, peeled
½ sweet red pepper
¼ sweet yellow pepper
¼ sweet red onion
12 (or more if you like kalamatas) pitted kalamata olives
¼ pound block feta cheese
Oil and vinegar dressing
The salad should be layered, not tossed. Thinly slice the peeled cucumber (use a knife--I used my mandolin once and the slices were so thin they dissolved) and layer into a salad bowl or decorative plate or platter.  Quarter the tomatoes, juice slightly and cut into bite-sized pieces.  Slice the peppers and the onion into thin strips and sprinkle over the cucumbers and tomatoes. Cut the feta into thicker rectangles (try NOT to use crumbled feta, it just dissolves and becomes part of the dressing.  You want to be able to break up the feta slices with your fork as you eat.)  Toss on the kalamata olives, sprinkle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, grind on pepper and sea salt and enjoy!  Serves two.
There are schools of salade nicoise thought.  Some include tomatoes, some potatoes, some anchovies, some tuna, some artichoke hearts, some cucumbers, but all include baby greens and the young green beans the French call haricots vert.  Because I make this as a main dish, I use potatoes, an adulteration according to one of my cookbooks.  Adulteration or not, when I dish up a helping of this, I’m back on a terrace overlooking the Mediterranean.
1 head butter lettuce
1 medium tomato, juiced
2  medium Yukon Gold potatoes
1 can water-packed albacore tuna (oil packed is tastier, but high fat)
1 ½ cups whole baby green beans (Trader Joe’s sells frozen haricots verts)
2 hard-boiled eggs, quartered length-wise
¼ sweet red onion, thinly sliced
½ cup nicoise olives (kalamata will work)
This salad should also be layered, not tossed. Rinse the potatoes (don’t peel) and cut into 1” cubes.  Boil until fork-tender (about 12 minutes).  Quarter the tomato, juice and cut into bite-sized pieces.  Drop frozen beans into rapidly boiling water and cook about 3 minutes.  Immediately drain. Rinse the butter lettuce and tear into bite-sized pieces. Flake the tuna over the lettuce. Sprinkle the tomatoes, cooked potatoes, green beans, onion, eggs and olives over the lettuce.   Shake olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the salad, grind on pepper and sea salt to taste.  Serves two.
I usually make an oil and vinegar dressing about once a week to use on a few day’s worth of salads.  It’s roughly equal parts of olive oil and balsamic vinegar (maybe 3 tablespoons of each), about a tablespoon of water (just to cut the amount of fat), sea salt, ground black pepper, occasionally some dried thyme or basil .  I put this in a plastic container with a lid and just shake well each time before using.  Keeps in the cupboard.
Michelle Drier  was born in Santa Cruz, California to a family that migrated west to San Francisco in 1849. Unfortunately, they never found gold, nor did they buy (and hang onto) any California land. She is a member of the Society of California Pioneers and Sisters in Crime and lives in California’s Central Valley with a cat, skunks, wild turkeys and an opossum (only the cat gets to come in the house!).
                Her current book is Snap.
SNAP: The World Unfolds
SNAP, a multinational celeb TV show and magazine, is the holy grail for Maxie Gwenoch. When she snags the job as managing editor, she’s looking for fame, fortune and Jimmy Choos. What she finds is a media empire owned by Baron Kandesky and his family. A family of vampires. They’re European, urbane, wealthy and mesmerizing. And when she meets Jean-Louis, vampire and co-worker, she’s a goner.
The Kandesky vampire family rose in Hungary centuries ago. They gave up violence and killing to make a killing on the world’s commodities markets and with that beginning they built SNAP, an international celebrity multimedia empire. Now cultured…and having found food substitutes for killing…they’ve cornered the world market for celebrity and gossip journalism.
Available in ebook format at

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The joys of being a Foodie

No, not the "Foodies" who work at Central Market, though that might be fun too. I've considered it and decided my back and feet couldn't stand those concrete floors for eight hours. I mean the kind of foodie I am--someone who loves to cook and eat. One of the joys is anticipation. I've been a planner all my life, and I used to make lists of what I'd serve the kids each night for the coming week--how else did I know what to buy at the grocery? Now, living alone and eating alone a lot but not all the time, I'm still not the kind of person who wanders into the kitchen at six o'clock saying, "Hmmm. Wonder what's for dinner?" At the very least I pull something out of the freezer at noon. Once on Halloween at my oldest daughter's house we made it to the kitchen at 8:30 and I asked, "What's for dinner?" I was appalled when she said, "I have no idea." I scrambled--she had jarred spaghetti sauce, which I sparked up, a meat patty with jalopenos, and spaghetti plus salad greens. We ate late but well.
But today I really had lunch and supper in my mind, and I ate meals most of my family would shun--though a few would love (well, maybe not the eggplant!). For lunch, I knew yesterday I would have lox, cream cheese, red onion and tomato on toast (I don't really like bagels). Jordan had a tuna salad sandwich and Jacob refused the chicken slices smeared with cream cheese and wrapped around cheddar sticks--didn'tlike the chicken.
For dinner, I had pulled an old page out of my Entrees Tried folder. It has two recipes and the one I tried tonight was tuna tonnato with eggplant salad. I adjusted and substituted as I saw fit and here's what I did:

Eggplant salad
Baked a small eggplant at 400 for 30 minutes and let it cool.
Skinned and chopped eggplant. Added chopped garlic (about a large clove), coarsely chopped parsley, lemon zest (I like a lot, so I probably used two tsp), about a tsp red wine vinegar. Put it all in the blender. What I did wrong: blended it too much so it was eggplant dip instead of salad. To give it a little crunch, I added diced cucumber.

Tonnato sauce:
I opened one of my cans of that special Pisces tuna (7.5) oz. and put maybe a quarter of a can in the blender. Added an anchovy filet (two wouldn't have been too much), a small amount of mayonnaise, lemon juice, a tsp of capers, and a generous splash of olive oil. Blend until a paste.

To serve:
Layer eggplant salad, tuna, tonnato sauce, toasted bread cubes  (I left those out), halved cherry tomatoes sprinkled with chopped mint (my front porch herb garden comes in handy). Drizzle it all with olive oil.

No, it wasn't the best thing I've ever eaten, but it was interesting and the flavors blended well. There are some strong flavors there--the eggplant, the tonnato sauce--but no one overshadowed the others. You're supposed to serve this in a wide-mouth jar--for cute effect, I guess--but I just used a plain old bowl. Actually, for company, it would be fun to use jars but that's another day.
The other recipe on that magazine page layers haricots vert, egg salad, arugula and smoked salmon. I love the combination of egg salad and smoked salmon, so I'll do that soon, maybe tomorrow.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT DAUBE...but were afraid to ask!

Please welcome guest blogger Pat Deuson. Pat has lived in many exotic parts of the world and brings us here a recipe from France. I'm indebted to her for enlarging my cooking vocabulary--I'd never hard of daube as a dish.

Thanks, Judy, for inviting me into your kitchen! If this was a class that Neva Moore was giving at Cooks Inn Cooking School, I’m sure she’d say “Today's class is 'All You Need to Know About Daube,” and, being Neva she might add, “but were afraid to ask.”

And she might begin this way: 

“French cooking is done with a love for food, passion for the right ingredient and a reliance on a readily available, top quality food stuffs. If you’ve ever oohed and aahed [or, as is my case, drooled] your way thru an open air market in France you know what I mean. Fruit and vegetables gleam like jewels, exquisite cuts of meat are displayed proudly, fresh herbs beckon, and flowers are everywhere. But what to do with this bounty? Or the bounty you find in your local farmers market and even big box store?” And then her class at Cooks Inn Cooking School would get busy. 

It's bright and cheerful in that big back kitchen in a old converted house that hangs out over the central California coast and daube is just the perfect thing for that class to be making. But what is daube?

We’d all recognize daube if it a piping bowl was put in front of us. It's stew. A Provençal stew of beef braised in wine, vegetables, redolent with garlic and herbes de Provence, rich black olives, and a zest of tangy orange peel. At one time, and no doubt occasionally still is, daube was cooked in a clay cooking pot called a daubière.  A daubière is an earthenware casserole with a tight-fitting lid used to cook daubes. Originally they had a deep lid in which burning charcoal could be put.  But you could use a modern pot that works quite well called a doufeu, meaning gentle fire, a cast iron round or oval pot with an indented lid. Or what  most of us already have in the kitchen, a heavy stainless steel 6 qt pot, because anyone them will get the job, of tenderizing* beef, done. Once you’ve got your pot and your eager to get started, what then? The yellow pot above is a daubiere; the orange, a doufeu.

I usually turn to Julia Child and here’s her recipe:  or sometimes to Saveur . But none of these recipes, while tasty, are the daube I've had in Provence. They lack Herbes de Provence, they lack orange zest, they lack smoky black olives and so they lack that je ne sais quoi, that we do in fact all know, they lack the essence of Provence. But good news: here’s an online recipe from Veronica Kavanagh on the ‘divinecaroline’ site that has it all.

So if you decide that stew is for you, as Julia would say, bon appetite!

* Here’s a handy article on what braising is and what it does and a bit of history:

Superior Longing, written by P.A. Deuson and published by Echelon Press, will be available 9/15/11 in ebook at, Smashwords, Kindle, and Nook. True, Neva didn't write it, but I know she'd be happy if you look take a look or visit Superior Longing’s blog: or Facebook page:

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Spinach enchiladas

Tres Joses in Fort Worth serves the best spinach enchiladas in town, rich with a sour cream sauce. I never order anything else when I go there. But I've been making spinach enchiladas for years. They weren't always popular with my kids, most of whom don't like spinach. I have two recipes that I like

Spinach-Cheese Enchiladas
2 green onions, chopped, divided
1 Tbsp. butter
1 8oz. pkg frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and drained (best way to do it is have very clean hands and squeeze)
2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, shredded, divided
1 cup sour cream, divided
1 10 oz. can mild enchilada sauce
8 corn tortillas

Saute half the green onion in the butter, add the spinach and cook until it's dry. In spite of squeezing, there will be some moisture left. Take the pan off the stove, and add one cup cheese and 1/2 cup sour cream.

Separately heat enchilada sauce and dip tortillas in it to soften--so much better than using grease. Place about a Tbsp. of spinach mixture in each tortilla and roll. Put seams side down in greased 12x8 baking dish. Pour remaining enchilada sauce over tortillas and top with cup of cheese. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes.

Spread remaining 1/2 cup sour cream over tortillas and sprinkle with green onion. Serves four.

Green Enchiladas
This is great for using up leftover turkey.

1 pkg. frozen spinach
2 cans condensed cream of chicken soup (I prefer Healthy Choice)
3 green onions, chopped
2 4oz. cans chopped chillies or 1/2 c. chopped jalapenos, depending on your taste
1/2 tsp. salt
1 pint sour cream
2 dozen corn tortillas
1-1/2 cups chopped onion
2 cups cooked turkey, preferably dark meat
4 cups Monterey Jack
3/4 cup cooking oil for softening tortillas; I'd rather soften them quickly in the microwave
2 cups grated cheddar

Cook spinach in a bit of water and drain well. Add onions, peppers, and salt. Puree in blender. Then add sour cream.

Separately chop onion and turkey. Soften tortillas and spread each with some of the turkey/onion mixture. Roll and put seam side down in baking dish. Pour spinach sauce over them and top with cheese. Bake at 350 40 30 minutes or until bubbly and cheese is melted. Serves ten.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A trip down my kitchen memory lane

I keep my appalling recipe collection in a series of battered folders labeled Entries Tried, Entrees Not Tried, Vegetables and salads, Appetizers, and Desserts. There's also a ring binder into which I throw soup recipes, sauce recipes, breads, etc.--kind of a catch-all that I don't consult often because it's not as easy to get to as my folders.
This morning I set out to go through my Entrees Tried looking for a recipe for green enchiladas that I haven't made in years. Betty and I went to Tres Joses for spinach enchiladas tonight (I had a Groupon discount--I'm a big fan of Groupon and have enjoyed some good meals with its benefits). Made me think that spinach enchiladas would make a good blog post. And that post coming next Sunday night.
But this morning's prowl brought back so many memories of when I cooked this or that or how good I thought such-and-such was that I pulled a bunch of recipes to cook soon. (My Burton family will be coming for dinner some week-nights since I will be keeping Jacob after school--some of what I pulled are approriate but others would appall Christian.) For them I'll fix things like Judy's Sloppy Joe, which is really a hamburger/red wine casserole.
For instance, I found one page with tuna tonnato with eggplant salad and smoked salmon with egg salad and green beans, a couple of Salisbury steak recipes (I've been meaning to fix that for Christian because it's beefy and rich with sauce, and he'd love it).  I pulled some recipes that I could cook for myself or when Linda comes to dinner on class night--like a simple spaghettis sauce wtih tomatoes in juice, onion, garlic, salt, sugar and olive oil. What could be easier and healthier? (Helpful hint: my mom said to always add at least a pinch of sugar to tomato-based sauces to "round them off.")
 There's a tuna salad I found in the cookbook I dropped in the sink--had to photocopy all the recipes I wanted to save! This salad calls for a can tuna packed in olive oil (I have to much water-packed on hand I simply drain it and add a bit of olive oil), a tomato seeded and chopped, capers, salt, pepper, basil, and olive oil.
How about quick muschroom and bacon pasta? Or a 20-minute black bean soup? The recipe I'll share tonight comes directly from Krista Davis at Mystery Lovers Kitchen--my favorite food blog. Krista got it from Jaden Hair at who apparently got it from Chef Jesse Thomas. As always, I've adjusted it. Krista used chicken legs but I love thighs--and I have two in the freezer. The original recipe calls for ten chicken legs, so I cut to approximate proportions.

1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried rosemary--I used fresh from my luxurious bushes
1/4 tsp. Kosher salt
1/4 tsp. cumin
2 chicken thighs
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/8 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 tsp. seasoned salt

Preheat oven to 425. Put chicken legs on a rimmed baking sheet so juices don't run all over the oven. Krista suggests a broiler pan, but grease it with olive oil first so your chicken doesn't stick. Mix oregano, rosemary, salt, and cumin. Sprinkle on chicken. Bake 45 minutes. Keep an eye that it doesn't get too brown, and decrease heat if necessary.

Just before the chicken comes out of the oven, mix garlic powder, salt, melted butter, and Parmesan. Toss the chicken in it--I usually just smear it on top since thighs don't "toss" like legs.

Tastes great the next day if you nibble on a cold piece.

What about you? Do you have recipes tucked away in your kitchen memory lane that you'd share? I'd love to have them. Send to me at

Sunday, August 14, 2011

What to do with a boiled chicken

Remember all those recipes that began with, "Boil an old hen"? I've surely boiled a lot of hens in my day, and often now when a recipe calls for cooked chicken--like an enchilada recipe--I buy a pre-roasted chicken at the market. And need the broth? Good, low-sodium broth comes in a box at the grocery. I can hear my mom scolding me now for my spendthrift ways--and she's probably right. But when I boil a chicken and want to use the broth, I always have to strengthen it with a bouillon cube or two, even though I add carrots, celery, an onion stuck with cloves--all those traditional things.
You can make great enchiladas with boiled chicken and great casseroles--the web is full of recipes, and I have a few if  you run short. But the recipe that sticks in my mind is for chicken loaf--a cool and perfect entree for hot summer night.
When my ex- was a resident and we were poor as church mice, we made an appointment with a real estate agent to look at a house we could not come anywhere near affording. But the agent, Carolyn Burk, suggested we rent a house in a good part of town--Arlington Heights for those from Fort Worth--that her son had just bought as an investment. We did, and that was the house we brought our first child home to. After that Carolyn adopted me. Years later, she would still call me on the birthday of each of my children--I thought it was touching of her to remember me on their days. She had two sons, and I sort of became the daughter she never had.
Carolyn gave me her recipe for chicken loaf, which her younger son--who lived with us for a while and was a special pal of mine--absolutely loved. I can never remember which of my children like it and which don't.

One hen or two fryers
1 cylinder saltine crackers
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
Chicken broth as needed
Salt and pepper

It honestly begins with, "Boil a hen." Then skin and bone it and cut into tiny pieces. Carolyn did this with scissors--or she had her husband, Burk, do it. I put it in the processor with on-and-off turns and watch that I don't let it go to mush.
Carolyn also crumbed one cylinder of saltine crackers by hand--I put them in the processor and make crumbs.
Mix crumbs and chicken; salt and pepper but  be careful with salt--the saltines have already added quite a bit. Stir in enough broth to make the mixture hold together. It should be moist be not soupy.
Carolyn, being a purist about this, never added gelatin, but my mom, who fixed the recipe often, added two envelopes, softened in water, and the loaf held together better. Megan thought it too "gelatinous," a quality she dislikes (see previous post on meatloaf).
Put the mixture in a loaf pan, cover with plastic wrap, and top with another loaf pan. Put two cans of anything, just canned goods to weight it, in the top loaf pan and refrigerate overnight.
This gives the purest chicken taste ever, and I love it. In fact, just writing about it, I think I might make it. One loaf serves eight for lunch or dinner. Serve it with mayonnaise or make a more interesting topping like blue cheese dressing or mayo with horseradish--let your imagination go! I like plain mayo, but then I'm a mayo fan.
This freezes well but must be used quickly after defrosting.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


I am of the "I love meatloaf" school. I think most people do--it's a comfort food. But I know people who don't like it. My brother used to refuse to eat it because it was peasant food--I won't point out to him it's on some of the most upscale menus. My oldest daughter never liked it, and I remember once when I tried a recipe for cold meatloaf, she said, "Omigosh! You aren't serving it cold, are you?" She claims now mine was always gelatinous (even the word is horrible). Her older brother swears she'll eat his meatloaf these days, but I haven't tried mine on her in years.
Then there are so many varieties of meatloaf. A basic question: do you want tomato sauce on it or not? I never put sauce on it when I make it, but just last night I had one of my favorite meatloaf dishes at the Old Neighborhood Grill: it's heavily covered with a chunky tomato sauce with onions and green peppers (I usually can't eat green peppers but these are cooked to mush--probably canned tomatoes with onion and peppers). At the Star Cafe, they use my friend Betty's recipe which calls for green peppers--sometimes I pick them out, but I love meatloaf day up there.
Then there's buffalo meatloaf, all the rage these days when we've learned that buffalo is such lean meat. You have to use a recipe specifically designed for buffao or else mix in a little ground beef--otherwise your meatloaf will be too dry. I have one recipe that uses chopped musthrooms to add moisture. You can find a variety of bison meatloaf recipes on the internet.
I've even made a stuffed meatloaf, where you spread the seasoned meat in a jellyroll pan, cover it with whatever--I think this was chopped hard boiled eggs, croutons, spinach and herbs--and then roll it jellyroll fashion.
I admit in my salad days I made less than perfect meatloaf. My mom, if I remember correctly, used half pork sausage, half ground beef, salt and pepper, maybe a bit of bread crumbs, and probably an egg. Besides, Megan's accusation of gelatinous (which probably comes from making it in a bread pan where the juices collected at the botom), Colin used to say when I made meatloaf from scrach, I got more filler than meat in it. Then I discovered Hunt's Meat Loaf Fixin's and followed their directions--pretty good.  I've been tempted a time or two by cheeseburger meatloaf, but now I have a standard recipe I really like. I adapted it from one published in Texas Co-op Power several years ago and the big thing is you make it in an iron skillet.

1-1/2 lbs. ground beef (I often use a lb. of bison and 1/2 lb. ground chuck)
3/4 cup white bread crumbs--Panko is you're feeling elegant, otherwise whatever bread is left in your freezer than you can turn to crumbs in the processor
5 Tbsp. ketchup
3 Tbsp. salad mustard (not Dijon or that fancy stuff)
3-1/2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1-1/2 tsp. black pepper
3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
3 garlic cloves, mashed in a garlic press
3/4 tsp. onion powder
2/3 cup chopped celery
4 Tbsp. chopped onion
If mixture is dry, add a little water--never more than 1/4 cup
Note: there are no eggs in this

The only way to mix meatloaf is to wash your hands thoroughly and dig in until all ingredients are thoroughly mixed. Then spray your cast iron skillet with oil and pat the meatloaf evenly into the skillet. Bake at 375 for 45-50 minutes, until it is well browned. Want a sauce? That's up to you, but my family likes it plain. You can use a premade tomato sauce, invent  your own, pour Rotel tomatoes over it--do this for maybe the last ten minutes of cooking. Or make up a cheese sauce with canned cheese soup and white wine and serve on the side. Serves six.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A true potluck--and a cool summer supper

Tonight we had a true potluck--I deviled eggs and made a huge batch of southwestern tuna, forgetting that Beth and Weldon can't eat mayonnaise unless it's made with canola oil--I have a lot of leftover tuna; Beth brought a green salad, and Jean, a luscious bowl of cantaloupe and watermelon straight from the farmers' market. A good, light summer salad. Southwestern tuna is in a previous Potluck post, ifyou're interested.
Yesterday was a lazy day, and two recipes in the morning paper caught my eye, so I decided to cook for one--though, of course, I changed them around. The first was a cucumber soup. I thought it called for a disproportionate amount of yogurt, so I used less, and I substituted buttermilke for almond milk, which is way expensive. The result was too thin, and I probably should have stuck with the original amount.  The recipe, first printed in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, called for a large cucumber, peeled and seeded, a shallot, a "handful" of fresh mint, 16 oz. Greek yogurt, and 8 oz.almond milk. My first problem was defining a "handful" of mint, and I think I got too much mint. Then I obviously didn't use enough yogurt--but I thought I was cutting the recipe in half. In proportion I used too much buttermilk. I think if I'd gotten the proportions right, it would really have been good. What I fixed had a good flavor.
The second was a salmon tartare salad, mixing smoked and fresh salmon. I wasn't going near the only store I'd trust for sushi grade salmon, so I substituted canned and soon discovered how spoiled I am to Pisces salmon, which is deep pink and rich in flavor. The standard commercial salmon I used was pale and did not have anywhere near the flavor, though I stand by my decision to use canned. Here's what I did:
1 7.5 oz. canned salmon
4 oz. smoked salmon
Two chopped green onions
crushed black pepper
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
Juice of one lemon
It was good, but it would have been better with Pisces salmon. I don't undertand the political ins and outs of why the salmon is not available but the cannery missed salmon season in the process of buying a new fishing boat. If I understand it right, salmon fishing for small operations is controlled by the politics of the big commercial fisheries. I'm on the waiting list for spring when they expect to have it available again. As I've said before, Pisces salmon and tuna are canned fresh and cooked only once, after the fish is in the can. No preservatives. Makes a world of difference in the taste and is worth the difference in price.
Even with a few caveats, it was a good, light meal for one. I ate leftovers for lunch and then that nice light meal tonight--I'm feeling quite righteous and healthy.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Piccata this, piccata that, a Dover sole story, and a note about asparagus and eggs

Eons ago, when I was a doctor's wife and on a different budget, we had a favorite upscale restaurant. When I walked in the waiter didn't ask, he just said, "Dover sole and sauteed spinach." It was my favorite ever meal. In more recent years, my then-boss, the dean of the library, included me in a dinner to entertain a candidate for the position of assistant dean. (I really liked the candidate and am pleased to say she's now assistant dean.) But the special of the day--at another upscale bistro--was Dover sole, and I ordered it. To my chagrin, I later learned that it was a $45 dinner item. I apologized profusely to my boss, but she was cool about it.
Now I've learned to cook myself a Dover sole dinner for under five dollars. I simply use the piccata technique on it. Accord to The Food Lovers Companion, a bible for me, piccata is Italian for a veal scallop or seasoned and floured veal quickly seared and served with a sauce made from the pan drippings, lemon juice, and chopped parsley. The note adds that chicken may also be cooked that way , and I've done that.
Years ago I cooked chicken piccata for a very southern man I was dating, and he said, "Bless your heart, you bought boneless chicken." I wondered what his ex-wife had been feeding him. But if you use chicken, you need to use bonesless breast halves and pound them as flat as you can without tearing. Dip in flour seasoned with salt and pepper (or as one recipe suggests a mixture of flour and corn meal), cook quickly in a mix of butter and olive oil (butter burns and olive oil splatters--the mix is supposed to avoid both these evils); remove the chicken breasts from the pan and tent to keep warm. Add a bit more butter if needed and lemon juice--why bother with parsley? But you might add capers--a nice finishing touch.  Pour over the chicken and serve immediately.
You can see the point of this story: I use the same technqiue with Dover sole. Cooking fish, don't get the pan too hot because the fish will stick. It is much more delicate than the chicken and tends to fall apart when  you turn it, so I don't often do it for company except my daughter who loves it and forgives if her fish is in pieces. But if you can get just the right touch of brown on it and turn it in one piece, then drizzle it with that lemon butter, it is a dish fit for kings.
I figure you can use the piccata technique on a variety of meat and fish; in fact, somewhere I have a recipe for lamb steak piccata. But it would have to be pounded flat to come out a lot more tender than the lamb steak I cooked tonight. I doused it with lemon and olive oil, oregano, thyme, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Seared it in a hot skillet and then baked 20 minutes in a slow oven. It was cooked more than I usually like lamb but the flavor was delicious--it just didn't cut with a fork as the recipe advertised.
My note about aspargus and eggs: several days ago I posted about putting scrambled eggs over asparagus. The other night Sue, my former and much-missed neighbor, came for dinner and that's what I fixed. My mom used to serve asparagus on toast, so I started with a base of toasted and buttered sourdough bread. Next came oven-roasted the asparagus (no more than ten minutes at 350, doused with olive oil and salt and pepper), and then the eggs. In spite of suggestions about adding capers and hollandaise sauce (way too rich), I stuck to smoked salmon in the eggs. Sue likes them as I do--soft scrambled, or as she says a Canadian friend calls it, "just caught." It was delicious. Recently I fixed salmon and eggs for Colin, my oldest, and added tomatoes and scallions, which he carefully picked out, explaining, "I want the salmon to be the main event." So that's why I went with simplicity--and I'm glad I did.
Happy cooking.

Monday, August 1, 2011


I'm still not used to having two blogs. Last night's post, Taco Night, on "Judy's Stew" was supposed to go on "Potluck with Judy" as part of my food blog. I'll figure this out eventually!