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Sunday, February 28, 2010

83 Days

On cold winter days like today when the sky is grey and the trees are bare, I long for the warmth of summer and particularly, the caribbean.

In 83 days, we will set sail on our tenth cruise to the caribbean. As we count down the days and hours, wondering what great adventures lie ahead, we also reminisce about the adventures we've already had.  For our 20th anniversary, we booked a 10 night Southern Caribbean cruise in a Jr. Penthouse Suite on the Celebrity Summit.

This was luxury and wonder all wrapped into one gorgeous package.  St. Maarten, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, and Nevis were our private little playgrounds, while the ship and our suite were our private oases.
We spent the morning in St. Lucia in the water with a can of Cheez Whiz and tropical fish. The beautiful fish were greatly attracted to the Cheez Whiz, as were we. 

  After a morning of snorkling, swimming, and rum drinking, we drove up the side of the larger of the two Pitons on St, Lucia, both active volcanos.  On this hill was Fond Doux Estate, a working cocoa and banana plantation.  Here we watched St Lucian plantation workers practice cocoa dancing, the method for extracting cocoa from the nut or bean to make chocolate.  They literally stomped and danced on the dried beans, to the beat of live drummers, until it turned into chocolate.  Think Lucy Ball and the grape stomping episode.  And then we ate it. We ate the bare footed, stomped un-sweetened pure, warm, gooey chocolate.  We had lunch  at the old plantation house overlooking the sun-dried cocoa beans. The conch Chowder and Fried Calamari could not have been fresher, gathered, cleaned, and cooked that  day.  Very simple, not spicy, as I was hoping for, yet delicious.

The next morning brought us to St. Kitts and Nevis, two islands that make up one country. After sailing around St. Kitts on a Catamaran searching for ocean turtles and dophins, we sailed across the bay to Nevis for lunch on the beach.  The two choices for lunch that day were Hot Dogs or Goat Water Stew.  Of course, I chose Goat Water Stew.  It was a wonderful curried goat stew with breadfruit, paw paw, and droppers (dumplings) served over pigeon peas and rice.  It was sweet from the tropical fruits, aromatic from the curry, and rich from the well marbled goat meat. As a condiment, banana ketchup was served to the side, and all of this was washed down with Ting, the local soft drink made from grapefruit concentrate, served over ice or with rum.

What made this lunch fun, adventurous, and odd were all the  beach horses. They were there for tourists to ride into the water or gallop through waves.  Ours did neither.  They wanted food.  They wanted my goat stew.  I thought, do horses eat meat?  Or goat?  They were relentless, these horses.  So much so, I gave in and let one have my stew.  It was that or have my arm ripped off.  He enjoyed it.  I watched.

All part of the adventure, I guess.

The last thing we did was to venture into a local supermarket for supplies, one of my favorite things to do.  I got banana ketchup, both yellow and red, mango rum, local whole nut-meg, saffron, curried pork rinds, and Ting.

Most people buy souvenirs, jewelry, or t-shirts.  I buy, food, spices, and snacks.

83 days.  1992 hours.  119,520 minutes.  And counting.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Meatless Friday: deux

Cleaned out the vegetable bin last night for the second week of Lent.  Meatless Friday.
Roasted Vegetable Soup;  Roasted parsnips, onions, garlic, celery, roma tomatoes, and peppers with olive oil, salt & pepper.  Simmered them in vegetable stock until very tender,  pureed to a smooth consistency, and finished with a touch of cream for texture.

Topped the soup with fried brussel sprout leaves,  a good balsamic reduction., a drizzle of olive oil, and a julienne of basil.  Crunchy, sweet, fresh,  and tart.
To the side, grilled shrimp remoulade lettuce cups.

This soup was so velevty and light.  I really exptected a texture and density similar to butternut squash soup, but was surprized how light it was.  The fried brussel sprouts were earthy and sweet, the reduced balsamic gave a bright sweetness, the olive oil a soft mouthfeel, and the aromatic basil gave a needed freshness.

The shrimp remoulade provided a crisp cool foil to all the earthy flavors of the soup.

No meat?  No worries.

At 12:05, I had a slice of  cold pepperoni pizza.  All is good.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


My father, bless his heart and rest his soul, was not a very good cook. He didn't have to be , really, until he retired from the army and we moved back to the States mother-less, nanny-less, housekeeper-less, and cook-less.  He had to learn to be mother, father, housekeeper, and cook.  Tall order for an army major with no experience.

His cooking repertoire was fairly small:  Eggs-in-a-hole, bacon-wrapped baked potatoes, cheese stuffed hamburgers, Campbell's soup, and Boston baked beans prepared in his new gadget, the pressure cooker.  I can still hear the tss-tss, tss-tss, tss-tss from that thing pressure-cooking away in the kitchen.

Being the mid 1960's, new things were coming out every day and were totally embraced by my father.  Every morning for breakfast, we had Kellogg's  new, individual  cereal variety-pack selections.  The ones with the perforated line down the center and sides. All you had to do was cut the box open, pour milk into the box, eat the cereal, and throw the box away.  Perfect.  No clean up.  Breakfast, done.

Aside from the occasional trip to the beach for crabs or the seldom night out at a Chinese restaurant, dinner was pretty predictable.  Beans, burgers, eggs-in-a-hole, soup, or potatoes.

Until he discovered Banquet & Swanson frozen T.V. Dinners.  What an  "Ah-Hah" moment that must have been for him.  The perfect solution for feeding us.
Those aluminum quad-trayed compartments of hot steaming "home-made food" made us happy.

We became frozen t.v. dinner people.  We had them all.  Chopped Sirloin with gravy and fries, Meatloaf with mashed potatoes and peas, Fried Chicken with corn and mashed potatoes, Barbecued Ribs with corn, Turkey and gravy with mashed potatoes, corn and  peas.  The variety was endless.  At any given time, our freezer looked like a Dewey Decimal System categorized library of t.v. dinners, stacked top to bottom and side to side.  Breathtaking, really.

All of these dinners came with a dessert of some kind.  Either cherry pie, chocolate pudding, chocolate cake, or a yellow spongey thing no one ever ate.  Everything always dripped  and spilled over the sides of the compartments, combining foods that probably should not have been combined.  Gravy in the dessert, cherry pie in the potatoes., or gravy in the corn ( my personal favorite).

We would eat these on our t.v. dinner trays in front of the new 12 inch color television my father purchased specifically for the Apllo Moon Landing.  We felt special.  We were special.

To this day, I like t.v. dinners.  I can't help it.  They have gotten better, but I still like the way the gravy sticks into the corners and caramelizes.  I like how the chicken sticks to the bottom of the conatiner like a fancy fond in a saute' pan when scraping is needed to "get to it".  I love the barbecue-sauce spattered corn that is inevitable with faux barbecued t.v. dinner ribs.

I love the memory.

And I still don't mind a little cherry pie in my mashed potatoes.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lasagna Caprese: an ode to Jan and a Roman grandmother

Food can spark  conversations.  Food can tell stories. Certain dishes and recipes can unlock smells and memories that take us to wonderful distant places.

Jan brought this lasagna caprese to a Valentine's Day potluck a couple of weeks ago.  I had one bite and was totally un-done.  It was so unadorned, pure, not fussy, and delicious..  I met Jan over this lasagna at this potluck.  As is my nature, I asked her how she made it, what was in it, and, why was it so perfectly simple?  She told me a story of a Roman grandmother and a recipe for this lasagna.  I think that was what I heard.  I was so overtaken by the flavor, I missed the details.  On her way out the door, I asked for the recipe and meant it.  She sent it a few days later.  I asked for the story again, so that I could connect with the food, the people, and somehow be part of the story.

Her cousin was in Rome with her husband.  They were sightseeing on a summer evening when they found a small cozy restaurant with seating in the back alley.  They were starving and "everyone looked happy" in this cafe, so they sat down, had a glass of wine, and ate.  They ordered the lasagna.  They both moaned so loudly after their first bite, the owner ran to the table to see if everything was ok.  The owner, a kind woman,  invited her cousin into the kitchen to show her how to make the recipe, speaking no English, and likewise, no Italian.

I had to make this lasagna.  I followed Jan's recipe to the letter.  The only difference being I made my own pasta  because, well,  I love making pasta. 

I made the pasta, rolled it out, cut it, shaped it, and left it to dry.

The sauce  was made up of a can of san marzano tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, oregano, onion, salt/pepper, and a pinch of sugar,  simmered for 45 minutes

The meatballs were a combination  of beef & pork, parmigiano reggiano, garlic, parsley, eggs, and milk-soaked toast, gently rolled, fried and simmered in  a separate pot of the same san marzano tomato sauce.
When everything was ready to assemble, it was an easy layering of sauce, pasta, fresh torn basil leaves, fresh thinnly sliced mozzarella, and parmigiano.  The layers were repeated, ending with one last layer of sauce, mozzarella, and basil.  Baked covered for 45 minutes, uncovered for 15 minutes, and 20 minutes to rest & set

It was absolutley delicious.  Pure flavor from  san marzano tomatoes, fresh bursting (almost anise-tinged)  undertones of basil, and  the unequaled melting ooze of fresh mozzarella. 

I have made a new friend with this lasagna.  I even feel as though I know her cousin who discovered it and brought the recipe back with her.  Jan's lasagna was far better than mine.  But,  I could taste it here, could feel the warm Roman summer air, and smell the kitchen where it started.

Food can tell stories.

And this woman?  This Roman grandmother?

Jan wrote me, "So I guess you can consider this woman my Roman grandmother, so to speak.  Little did she know that her recipe would make it's way from her cucina in Rome, across the continents and an ocean, to the bluegrass of Kentucky to make us happy too."


Cin Cin.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Fridge Clean-Out

Usually, about once a week, I make dinner based on a refrigertor clean-out session. It makes room for stocking up and presents a fun road-block challenge for me.  That was the case yesterday.  I had leftover rotisserie chicken that had to be used, some pencil-thin asparagus, heavy cream, and shallots in the vegetable bin.

I thought an old school Chicken Divan using asparagus instead of broccoli would be cozy fun, but really didn't want to go the 80's cliche' route....toast points, gloppy sauce, and swiss cheese.

So, I came up with a Chicken Divan Tart.

I made a very simple pate' brisse pie dough, pressed it into a removable tart pan, blind baked it for about ten minutes to set, shaved gruyere onto the bottom to melt while still warm,  and allowed it to cool.  While it was baking, I snapped the asparagus at their breaking points, trimmed them uniformally, and grilled them with oilve oil, salt & pepper on a stove-top grill pan until al dente.

I wasn't making quiche, so I needed a good sauce to bind the tart together and give it some depth.  I made a Mornay with roux, heavy cream, chicken stock, gruyere, and Edmund Fallet  green peppercorn dijon mustard.

After shredding the rotisserie chicken, I placed it on the melted gruyere in the pie shell, ladled the mornay sauce over the chicken, arranged the asparagus around the tart, brushed it olive oil, topped it with grated gruyere, and salt & pepper. 

I let it bake for about 30 minutes and allowed it to cool before slicing and served it with  roma tomatoes, fresh avacado, and black olives in a robust vinaigrette.

It was luscious.....and rich.
The buttery flaky pate' brisse melted into the dijon mornay sauce  like a savory mousse-laden gateau, with the dijon adding nice balance to the cream.  Each bite let the chicken wrap around the still crisp asparagus for a seductive mouthfeel.  And for crunch, I gilded the lily with toasted almonds.

The vinaigrette-bathed avacado, tomato, and black olive salad provided the requisite acidic punch to off-set the richness of the tart.  They really played off of each other.

I love raiding the refrigerator, with wonderful ingredients always hiding, lurking, begging to be re-made, re-invented, and cleaned out.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Meatless Friday

Fridays during Lent can be tough.  First, you have your what-I-gave-up-for Lent thing going on, which can be hard in it's own right, if done, correctly.  I have to avoid the chip aisle at the grocery now for 40 days, and look away from my favorite tiny sample bags of chips at check out.  If I see them, the back of mouth aches and I salivate.  There are no fainting couches at Kroger check-out lanes, so I have to look away and pretend they are not there.

Fridays are another matter.  Meatless Fridays.  Sounds innocent enough, although I work in a restaurant and there is meat everywhere.  Last year, I failed my solemn Lenten vows by tasting  innocent food nibbles that area purveyors had brought in for samples.  Buttery-hot & sticky chicken wings?  Why, of course.  Porterhouse steak, perfectly char-grilled to medium rare with a pat of maitre' d butter?  Why yes, I'll have a bite of that.   It was ridiculous.  I was in confirmation class, no less, trying to follow all the rules leading up to the Great Easter Vigil.....and my confirmation by the Bishop.

Taken down by a chicken wing.  Sackcloth.  Heavy boots.

So far, this year has been better.  One down.  I was looking through Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc At Home for inspiration and found this beautiful recipe for grilled asparagus with butter-toasted croutons, topped with poached eggs.  It didn't seem substantial enough.  Not meaty enough.

We opted for omelettes with home fries.  I make a pretty mean omelette.  Not the fancy ones I learned in school. Not the ones that Julia Child jiggled about in a saute' pan until they magically formed into  naturally and perfectly turned out omelettes.    Mine are the working man's omelette.  Big, fluffy egg vessels, full of mouthwatering cheese-dripping goodness.

I have a gorgeous pan used only for omelette making.  Michael gave it to me years ago. It is used for nothing else.

I bring the eggs to room temperature, season them with freshly grated nutmeg, and whip them with water.  Not milk.  Milk can make them tough.
(If I have chives growing out back, I'll mince them finely and add them to the eggs.)
After the butter begins sizzling in the pan, I add the eggs and push the sides toward the center, tilting the pan to let the eggs flow underneath.  When almost cooked through, I add the ingredients, top with a lid to melt, and roll the omelette onto a plate.

Last night, Michael made the home fries.  His are far better than mine.  Perfectly cooked, salty, crunchy, and soft on the inside.  A great companion to the bursting omelette.
I filled them with fire-roasted yellow, green, and red bell peppers, aged white cheddar, reggiano, diced roma tomatoes, and sour cream.  The sour cream bumps up the creaminess of the eggs and provides a fresh cool acidity.  Really fantastic. 

I must admit, a few slices of thick-cut maple brown sugar  roasted  bacon would have been a nice touch. 

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Pantry

I am trying to find inspiration to cook.  I have stared inside my refrigerator, pantry, flour bin, spice collection,.and freezer hoping something would jump out and take me somewhere.   I have alomost any and every ingredient  that I would need to create something interesting.

I have the standard refrigerator condiments, mayonaise, yellow/dijon/grainy mustard, ketchup, tarter/cocktail. I also have  Thai & Vietnemese fish sauces, African palm oil,  red curry paste, black bean paste, fiery szecuan stir-fry sauce, toasted sesame oil, Sriracha sauce, garlic chili sauce, French green-peppercorn mustard, salsa verde, Moraccan preserved lemons, eight kinds of jams and jellies, Thomas Keller's Cole Slaw & Potato Salad sauce mixes, and anchovie paste.

The cheese drawer has Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, aged  Wisconsin white cheddar, sharp yellow cheddar, fresh mozzarella, and American.  Tucked underneath all the cheese is a fat brown paper- wrapped  thick-sliced bacon slab from Fresh Market.

The ready-to-explode freezer is full of Mallord duck breasts, veal scallapini, shrimp shells, chicken parts, eight ounce filet Mignons, catfish, mahi, Banquet fried chiken, stocks, and five kinds of Ben & Jerry's ice cream.

I have beautiful olive oils; Nicolas Alziaril, Colonna Granoverde, Olivia Bella numbered Oilo Rustico, and Tartufolia, a preciously used white truffle oil. Next to the oils, smoked hickory salt, pink Himalayan salt, kosher salt, fleur de sel finishing salt, and grey salt.

It seems at times I am a hoarder of grains and flours.  Fast cooking polenta from Valsugava, slow cooking  medium grain polenta from Rolland, Masa, stone ground  white Weisenberger grits, wheat flour, rye flour, bread flour, and  semolina flour. Jammed into the upper cabinets; arborio rice, Valencian rice, Ethiopian Teff, West Afican Attieke, Isreali Couscous, Imported Ciprihani pasta, and elbow macaroni.

I would love to use these wonderful ingredients.  I want to use them.  I want them to inspire me.

Maybe I'm tired.

Maybe pizza will do.

Monday, February 15, 2010

T-Shirts For Sale: I Survived Hurricane Jupiter

We attended a PhatLuvBrunch yesterday that was a combination Mardi Gras & Valentine's Day Brunch.  It was a potluck, which I love, because everyone's tastes differ and there is usually alot of variety.

The food was really unbelievably good, centered around love, Valentine's, or Madri Gras.  Banjo, our wonderful  Hostess & Princess has a gift for bringing the most interesting & intriguing people together in a room.  New friends and old friends alike.  In fact, we are relatively new to this bunch, but you would never know it.  We certainly don't feel new. 
Some I  have known for years, some I have recently met, and some I met yesterday, but all feel like old friends and all are wonderful., fascinating, smart, funny, snarky, and very warm.  Very honest.  Very, very honest, which is cool.

This group of people can produce volumes of chatter and laughter, intermingling with and in rhythm to some very eclectic background tunes.

I had many conversations over the buffet table about food, which is my favorite thing to talk about.  I mean, there aren't many places where two people would have a discussion about the pros & cons of sous vide cooking.  I mean, really.  A new friend made a lasagne caprese that was so simple and so delicious.  A recipe from  a Roman grandmother, layered with fresh Mozzarella, Fresh Basil, and a san marzano tomato marinara sauce.  I asked for the recipe and meant it.
Jason's secret borrowing of the community mandoline produced a Tortilla Espanole with a lovely sofrito.
Banjo's ode to Mardi Gras was a pot of creamy red beans & rice.  Creamy in the way they are supposed be creamy, with a great mouth feel.
I loved the butternut squash soup with hints of cardamom and cumin, topped with double cream and oven-crisped prosciutto, a dish that I like to repeat out loud and one that I wished I had made.

And, then you have Rachel: The Princess of dessert & Queen of cupcakes.  Red Velvet cupcakes with real butter-cream frosting.  Who goes to that kind of trouble anymore?  Rachel.

All of this food was fantastic and washed down with  Jupiter's Hurricanes:  Lethal and delicious.
They set me out to sea in my little sailor shirt.

This warm Valentine's Day brunch on a cold winter's day inside a loving home with friends was fun, snarky, and priceless. 

"I could Have Been A Sailor"..Peter Allen

Friday, February 12, 2010


Valentine's Day is coming up soon.  It is a special day, yes.  As Pollyanna as it may sound, Valentine's Day should be every day, like Mother's Day.  Why wait for the one dedicated day set aside to show love, appreciation, honor, and respect?  Esspecially if you've been in a relationship for a long time....say 26 years. 

Valentine's Day can be a lot of work.  Buying stuff, making reservations in a timely manner,and trying to make the day special.  Guess what? Relationships are alot of work.  Daily work.  They don't just happen willy-nilly.  There are good times and bad times. We should celebrate all of the times that make up relationships; the good, the bad, the ugly, and the devine.

Who needs chocolate on February 14th?

A few days ago during the crippling snowstorm, I had to go to work.  Michael did not.  Snow day for him! Me? Nope.

I was dreading going out into the cold.  Our cars were covered in snow and ice. I don't even have a windshield scraper.  I use a metal spatula.

Michael had swept my car completely clean.  And the sidewalk.  And the driveway. 

Later in the day, he sent me a message that he was bringing home carryout Pho from my favorite  Vietnamese restaurant.  Pho, one of the most soothing meals that could pass one's lips.  Aromatic, sensual, herbal from Thai Basil, crunchy with fresh bean sprouts, and velvety soft from rice noodles that drip down your chin.
The broth alone, triumphant. 

He brought home the mack-daddy super sized version of Pho.  Enough for two.  Michael doesn't eat Pho.  Lucky me.

I ate half of it the first night, savoring every drippy morsel, slurping noodles, crunching fresh fiery peppers, and drinking broth straight from the bowl like an animal.

The next night we waived our weekly pizza ritual in favor of leftovers. 

I had Pho.

I had mussels.

I combined them to create one of the best meals I have ever eaten, anywhere. Period.
Valentine's Day should be every day.
It could be every day.

I believe it already is.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Chincoteague: Not Just Misty, Blue Crabs Too

My family has had houses on Chincoteague Island for as long as I can remember.  We started out years and years ago with a skanky inland house that was too small to accomodate all the people who visit when you have a "beach" house.  In fact, I always slept on the front screened-in porch because there was no room in the inn.  It was nice on the porch and very quiet.

Eventually, my rich-by-marriage brother bought an empty lot on the bay side and built a fancy house with a  wrap-around screened-in veranda. (Screened-in is key in Chincoteague because of man-killing mosquitos). Off the back portion of the porch and five feet from the bay was an oyster bed.  Right there. Ripe for the picking.  At any given time  on any given whim, you could step out back and pluck fresh Chincoteague oysters...for dinner or for a snack. We actually ate them off a brick one time because we couldn't dislodge them from the brick and they were too gorgeous not to eat.  Big, stern and craggy on the outside, yet sweet, plump and briney-lush  inside.  Saltines, a squeeze of lemon, and cocktail sauce was all we needed.

As wonderful as the oysters were, the dining stars on Chincoteage were the Blue Crabs.  I was reminded of this last night when I was watching an Anthony Bourdain episode featuring the Hudson Valley River and their Blue Crabs. It was an odd episode...good, but odd. I watched the blue crab segment without much thought. Rachel and I usually twitter back and forth about Anthony Bourdain when we are watching or reminiscing about episodes, and so it was when she responded with, "Blue Crabs=Devine!".  I loved that!  I loved that someone else not only got it, but really got it.

It made me think about all the blue crabs I have eaten on the Eastern Shore of Maryland & Virginia. in restaurants, on picnics, or better yet, at home.  Nothing fancy... My family would buy our chicken necks by the pounds, tie our strings around their little chicken necks, drop them into the water, slowly pull the string back to shore, and walk them to their ultimate fantastic demise.  Very delicate work, crabbing.  Once in sight, netted!  Into the basket, string thrown back into the water, and repeat.  It was great fun for a kid.  Pre-playing with your food.

We ate them very simply. Steamed, with newspaper on the table, drawn butter and lemons, shell-crackers and wooden mallots strewn about.  We would have several dozen freshly caught crab dumped right from the pot onto the table.  People ate them differently.  My father would meticulously pick and clean several crabs, set the meat aside and eat them with a fork dipped in butter. (very military). I would just simply tear into them, peeling off the apron for easy access, removing the lungs, and burying my face into the sweet Old-Bay seasoned delicate inside.  The body was always eaten first followed by leg sucking for tiny treats, and ending with the claw meat....the prize!

Maryland Blue Crabs. Steamed. Messy. Sweet. Delicate. Delicious.


Rachel, thanks for reminding me.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


It's no secret that I love to cook.  There are, however, different kinds of love that match different types of cooking.  Cooking at home is a passionate love.  A chiffionade of basil, a dusting of flaky sea salt, or a pinch of saffron can transform and change the flavor, color, and texture of a dish.  It's intimate and lovely.

Professional cooking on a large scale is tough love.  Rough love.  Nuance and subtly can be applied  but it is difficult to achieve.  I love cooking at work..  It is hard work, long work.  Brutal work.  I am the Special Event Chef, and my good friend, Tony, is the Special Event Coordinator at work.  This typically means events of 100 plus people and usually off-sight. The last two years we have done the Bourbon Festival's Bourbon Culinary Art Cooking School.  This is our third season serving pre-show/intermission buffets at the Opera House Broadway Series. The list for the past ten years is endless. He coordinates and I cook.  It gets done.

I must admit, with all honesty, that I get somewhat overwhelmed with these events.  Juggling everything in my head makes me crazy.  Wanting to please everybody makes me vulnerable. Weakness makes me mad & sad.  Throw all of that into the mix, and it's tough cooking love.

 I stare down the barrel of the week to come.  I am organized, calm, cool, collected......and
completely overwhelmed.

Mardi Gras Benefit for St Peter & Paul School
                400-500 guests.

Butler Service:
  • Jalapeno Stuffed Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp
  • Petite Pan Fried Crabcakes with Remoulade
  • Skewered Cajun Fried Chicken Tenders
Buffet Service:
  • Maker's Mark Bourbon Margarita Shrimp Cocktail
  • Creole Twice-Baked Potato Salad
  • Grape Tomatoes & Green Peppers in Tobasco Vinaigrette
  • Jambalaya
  • Chicken & Sausage Gumbo
  • Blackened Chicken Penne Pasta w/ a Cajun Cream Sauce
  • Pulled Beef Creole
  • Praline Sweet Potatoes
  • Maque Choux Corn Souffle
Bread Pudding w/ Maker's Mark Hard Sauce

                                     Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler

Saturday, February 6, 2010


Genovese, Purple Ruffles, Mammoth, Cinnamon, Lemon, Globe, Holy, and African Blue. These are the common cultivars of basil.  I love basil.
On cold winter days like this, I start daydreaming about the garden and the herbs.  Of the potential.

Two seasons ago, I shopped at the garden stores a little too late.  All the basil was gone.  No where to be found.  I went that entire summer basil-less, with none growning out back to pick at whim.  It was awful. Sad. Stressful, even.

Last spring, I read an issue of Ace Weekly that had an article written by Chef Dave Overton about growing basil from seed in his home  for his restaurant.  Basil plants everywhere, he said. The possibilities seemed endless. I was utterly inspired.  I went out the next day and bought one of those  peat-pod mini-greenhouses, along with basil seeds, pepper seeds, jalapeno seeds, cucumber seeds, and thyme seeds.

Before long, our house was inundated with tiny little plants.  I still can't believe it worked.  Once transplanted outside, they were everywhere.  I had basil  tucked in with  tomato plants. I had them in my flower beds. I even had them growing beneath jalapeno pepper plants.  Even after giving many of them away, I still had more than anyone could possibly need or use.

I used them for everythingIt seems, looking back, that I put them on or in everything last summer.  It was a very sad day when the first frost came.  Those tall garden herbal soldiers just fell limp.  Done.  Over.

There will always be another spring.  And planting to daydream about.

Basil. Wikipedia:  The word basil comes from Greek Basileus, meaning "king", believed to have grown above the spot where St. Constantine and Helen discovered the Holy Cross.  Basil is considered the "king of Herbs". It is a tender low-growing herb.  Usually an annual, but some being perennial in warm, tropical climates.  It tastes somewhat like anise, with a strong, pungent, sweet smell.

Basil is a very complex plant. I love that discription..  Especially, when I think  how that spunky little herb helped lead to a friendship with a very dear person whose yard guy had accidently whacked down her garden basil with a Weed-Eater.

I certainly had enough to go around.

Sweet basil.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Mofongo with Mango Rum Glazed Shrimp

On our last visit to Puerto Rico, we had a tapas lunch at La Ostra Cosa in Old Jan Juan just yards away  from San Juan Cathedral, and the tomb of Ponce De Leon.  It was a beautiful restaurant with a courtyard that served Spanish and Puerto Rican fare.  We ordered garlic-buttered clams, mussels, and on the advice of our server,...mofongo, a fried and mashed plantain side dish. It was incredible!   Crispy, buttery, and full of pork flavor.  It was the kind of dish you always remember.  The aroma.  The flavor.  The way it feels in your mouth.  With all the beauty of Old San Juan on that blue-sky day, mofungo was the lasting memory.

I have tried to make it and duplicate it here.  Never really turned out right.

I ran into a friend yesterday who had just returned from a family visit to Puerto Rico.  We started talking, and as with most of my conversations, the talking eventually led to food.  I mentioned my love of mofongo, and my failure to reproduce it as we had it in Old San Juan.  The secret, she said, was green un-ripe plantains. Who knew? I had assumed very ripe plantains were needed for mash-abilty.

She gave me very detailed instructions on how to make mofongo.  Armed with this knowledge, I was determined to make it for dinner.

I peeled the green plantains under ice-cold water, cut them into slices, panfried them until they were golden brown, and crushed them into tostones.  I then sauteed onions, garlic, and bacon (in bacon fat) until translucent and tender, added them to the mashed plantains, fried them again, and pressed them into bowls to form.
This is mofongo.

They serve it in many ways throughout Puerto Rico: in soups & stews, as a starchy side dish, filled with chicken or beef, or topped with seafood.

I served it with a mango rum-glazed shrimp, using mango rum we had recently purchased in St. Kitts.  I reduced the rum with lime zest, lime juice, cane sugar, and molasses until it was a transparent amber glaze.
After pan-searing the shrimp and placing it around the mofongo, I drizzled the rum glaze over the shrimp.

Sliced avacado, roma tomatoes, purple onions to the side gave it an island burst of freshness.  Finished with cilantro and lime zest for floral acidity.
It was good.  It was really good.

However, Nothing could ever compare to having it on a hot summer day in old San Jaun, in a courtyard restaurant, with purple bougainvillea petals  falling down like snow.  Onto our plates.  Into our drinks.

And totally into our souls.   That was mofongo