Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Four lovely words: Vanilla Bean Buttermilk Pie

I have paid homage to Jen the Bakerina before, but I must give her props again. We must be on a similar wavelength lately, because when I post about a couple of my favorite frozen drinks, she goes out and buys a new blender. Then when I have a hankering to make a pie, she posts about a favorite of hers that is now going to be one of mine as well: Vanilla Bean Buttermilk Pie!

It's a deceptively simple recipe, but there are pitfalls to be avoided. The first thing you need to do is to track down some parchment paper and pie weights (dried beans will do--or lentils, in my case, as that's all I could find in a pinch), because you must parbake the crust. Then you must be very careful not to pierce the crust or create any other cracks or fissures, or the custard that you eventually pour into it will leak underneath, creating a strange custard-crust-custard strata formation, and all your hard work pre-baking the crust will be for naught. (I found this out the hard way, despite the Bakerina's warnings.) Also, mind your temperatures! I pre-baked the (lined/filled) crust for 15 minutes at 400 degrees, then removed the parchment and weights and baked it for another 10-12 minutes at 375 until it was a pale, golden color. But once you pour the custard in, it bakes at 350. Well, I missed that finer point and left the oven at 375, and ended up making my crust too dark, while threatening to turn the custard into scrambled eggs as well! GOOD GRIEF! And lastly, for heaven's sake, don't be tempted as I was to touch the top of the pie to see if it's done, or you'll rip off some of the tender top, leaving an unsightly hole in the middle of an otherwise photogenic pie. ;-) Still, with all of these shortcomings, the pie was just WONDERFUL, so homey (mine was also bit homely!) and unpretentious and just darn tasty! This recipe is definitely a keeper, and one I'll return to again and again. Thanks, Jen!

Vanilla Bean Buttermilk Pie
makes 1 9" pie

pie crust of your choice, partially baked

1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 vanilla beans, split and scraped (or I like vanilla bean paste from Nielsen-Massey, 2 teaspoons)
3 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
3 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set an oven rack toward the bottom of the oven.

Place the sugar, flour, salt and vanilla seeds in a blender or food processor and process for about 1 minute. Add the eggs and egg yolk and process just until blended. Add the buttermilk and melted butter and process just until blended once more. (Use a spoon or ladle to skim off any foam if you are bothered by little pockmarks on top of your pie!)

Pour the filling into the pie shell, and place the pie on a lined baking sheet. Bake for 40 minutes, carefully rotating halfway through so that it bakes evenly. If the edges begin to brown too quickly, wrap them with foil or use a pie shield. The pie is done when it is still a little wobbly in the center; the residual heat in the pie will continue to cook it after you take it out of the oven. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

In Celebration of Rhubarb!

A three-day weekend can only mean one thing--more time to bake! And what springtime delicacy is now offering itself up to me in the back yard? RHUBARB! What's that you say? You can't just walk into your back yard with some scissors and return with some delightfully tangy innards for a pie, crisp or crumble? More's the pity! Oh well...get thee to the grocery or farmer's market post haste and acquire some of this delicious, old-fashioned vegetable. And while you are there, grab some strawberries. You're going to need some of them to make the following crisp which my roommate proclaimed "heaven in a bowl" (especially if you top it with Breyer's Double-Churned Extra Creamy Vanilla)!

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

3 cups rhubarb, cut into half-inch pieces
4 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice (or orange juice)
zest of an orange (or 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier)
3 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
1 tablespoon corn starch

1 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cold, cubed
1/2 cup quick (or referably, rolled) oats
1/2 cup sliced almonds, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a deep baking dish and set aside.

Gently toss the strawberries and rhubarb with the sugar, lemon or orange juice, orange zest or liqueur, tapioca, and corn starch. Pour mixture into prepared dish.

In a separate bowl, cut together the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt with the butter until the pieces are pea-sized (I prefer to use a pastry cutter to do this). Then gently mix in the oats and nuts by hand. Carefully and evenly spread the crumbly topping over the fruit mixture, trying not to compact it.

Place the baking dish on a lined sheet pan (as it WILL bubble over!), and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is golden brown. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

This crisp only used up half of the rhubarb that I cut today, so my next effort will be an easy and time-honored recipe from my dear friend, Kurt. And this one is truly fabulous! Not only is this great with rhubarb, when that season is over and the summer stone fruits are abundant, try it with peaches for a delicious peaches-and-cream pie. Wonderful stuff!

Rhubarb Cream Pie

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups cream
2 cups chopped rhubarb
1 unbaked pie shell

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Beat eggs and add sugar, flour and salt. Add cream and rhubarb. Pour into pie shell and bake for about an hour, or until set. Cool and serve.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Memorial Day Weekend is Upon Us: Bust Out the Blender!

My post yesterday about the beloved hot fudge sauce reminded me of another chocolatey treat that I should share with you. I first heard about it at least a year ago on...gulp...Oprah. If the old girl dieted for days just to be able to have one of these, I knew I had to try it! It is the signature drink from an eastside cafe in New York City called Serendipity. Apparently, it was a favorite spot of Jackie O's back in her day, and she used to take Caroline and John-John there after an afternoon of shopping for this special frozen treat. I have since been to Serendipity in person, and I believe that my version is better! Plus, it took us three trips and a two-hour wait just to get into the tiny place, and then the drink itself set us each back ten bucks. So as always, making this yourself is less of a hassle and much more affordable. What follows is based on the actual recipe from Serendipity, but I have tinkered with it a little, as is my way. The key ingredient, I believe, is the Ghiradelli cocoa mix with the chocolate bits in it--yum! It's about five bucks, but it will last you a long time--unless, of course, you get hooked on frozen hot chocolates! And I think you might. :-)

Frozen Hot Chocolate

1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon Ghiradelli ground sweet chocolate and cocoa
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups milk (preferably, whole)
3 cups of ice cubes
whipped cream
chocolate shavings (optional)

Place chocolate chips in the top of a double boiler over simmering water. Stir occasionally until melted. Add the cocoa mix and sugar. Stir until completely melted. Remove from heat and slowly add ½ cup of milk until smooth. Cool to room temperature. In a blender, place the remaining cup of milk, the room-temperature chocolate mixture and the ice. Blend on high speed until smooth and the consistency of a frozen daiquiri. Pour into a giant goblet and top with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Drink with a straw, or a spoon, or both!

The next recipe for another one of my all-time favorite frozen drinks has been on a faded and stained card, magnetted to my fridge for at least a decade. It came from a student of mine named Camille Thornock (her name is still on the card, too!) who took my basic communication course back in the day. At the end of that class, we do a little bit of public speaking, and one of the assignments is to do a persuasive sales speech where they try to sell the class a product that can't cost more than a nickel. Well, Camille sold her own copycat recipe for Orange Julius. If I remember correctly, I think she used to work in a mall near an Orange Julius and was going broke buying the frozen orange confections every day, so she developed her own homemade version. Indeed, many of my favorite recipes have come out of the COM 100 course. Often, the student will bring a sample of a delicious treat and then sell the recipe for five cents. Of course, if they know what's good for them (and their final grades!), they'll give the teacher a freebie! ;-) I save their recipes from year to year, and I still make many of them. In fact, in the post of March 5th when I shared my best recipes featuring lemons, the dessert called Lemon Freeze came from one of my communication students and remains a summer potluck staple. My other favorites from that class include an excellent salsa with pinto beans, a traditional Scottish shortbread (one of my student's mom was a Scot and made reknowned shortbread for Scottish festivals), a yummy chocolate chip cookie made with vanilla pudding in the dough, the BEST teriyaki jerky in the world, and delicious pesto made with spinach and walnuts, Buckeyes (chocolate-covered peanut butter balls), fudge, a cake filled with a marvelous pastry cream, and even some tasty cookies made with, of all things, Cool Whip called Lemon Whipper Snappers. Oh, and one of my more recent students worked at an Italian restaurant in town, and he shared the recipe for a great pasta dish with chicken, tomatoes, olives, artichoke hearts, lemon and white wine, among other things. (By the way, if any of these recipes are of interest to anyone, just make the request in the comments section, and I'll post them.) But every summer, when the weather starts to warm up, I bust out the blender and start making my old stand-by, the Orange Julius. And you can vary it according to your tastes, of course. I like the orange unadulterated myself, but I will admit that throwing a handful of fresh blueberries into the mix makes for a very pleasing result as well. HAPPY BLENDING, EVERYONE!

Orange Julius à la Camille Thornock

1 cup milk

1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
6 oz. orange juice concentrate
4-6 drops almond extract (Camille swore that this was the secret ingredient that made the drink taste authentic! I also like to add up to a teaspoon of vanilla myself.)
1 tray ice cubes (14 in your standard Rubbermaid-type tray)
strawberries, banana, or blueberries (optional)

Blend until thick and smooth. (This makes more than enough to share, if you're willing to!)

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Who needs $10-a-jar fudge sauce???

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with the post to follow...but I brought in an armful of lilacs this morning to make an impromptu bouquet for the table, and I thought they were pretty enough to photograph! Don't you agree? :-) And now, onto the topic of the day: HOT FUDGE!

At the end of each October, I faithfully attend the Essex Fall Craft Show near Burlington, Vermont. (There's apparently one in the spring, too, but not on as grand a scale.) Not only will you find wonderful works of art and all sorts of handicrafts, you will also get to sample TONS of gourmet food products. There is a man from Maine who makes the most AWESOME fruit salsas you've ever tasted--my favorites are blueberry, razberry, and mango tango, but some people swear by the peach. And I also stock up on Halladay Farms' excellent seasoning/dip mixes--my favorite is their Vermont Chardonnay mix. In fact, my neighbor just a couple of miles up the road in Mooers, NY who is both the local dog catcher and the best jam-maker in the whole world (and I can say that as I make some fine jam my own self!), has started selling his preserves there. His business is called Suprenant's Berry Farm, and he has over 150 varieties of jam in inspired and unconventional combinations, but his signature item may be the Quad Raspberry made with four different kinds of raspberries that he grows himself. Incredible!

But one of the products that I no longer buy at the craft fair in Vermont is Sundae's Best Fudge Sauce. This delectable product has been featured on the Food Network and one of the food magazines I get just had a blurb about it, too (I think maybe Rachael Ray's mag? I can't be sure right at the moment--my brain is already on summer vacay!). But if it's so good--and it is truly decadent!--then why don't I buy it anymore? Because you'd have to take out a second mortgage to be able to afford it! It comes in a small jar that's hardly worth your trouble (read: single-serving for a chocoholic!), and their large, 15-oz. jar is TEN DOLLARS! OUCH! So I decided to take it upon myself to develop my own version for much, much less. Plus, it is so easy, anyone can whip up a batch in no time. I gave some jars of the sauce away as Christmas gifts last year, and the recipients gushed over it! In fact, every time I see my friend, Angela, who is a dynamite Italian cook in her own right, she begs me to make her some more--which is only fair, as she gives me many jars of homemade applesauce every year. :-) I gave her the recipe, but she said it didn't turn out as well when she made it. I don't really get that, as you just dump everything in a saucepan, stir it well, and cook it over low heat until it all melts and comes together. Then pour it into a jar and stick it in the fridge. You can nuke it and serve it over ice cream, use a couple of tablespoons in a mug of hot milk for hot chocolate, throw some in your latte, or as Angela prefers, just grab a spoon and tuck in! Scrumptious!

Decadent Chocolate Fudge Sauce

12 oz. (1 1/2 cups) semi-sweet (or bittersweet) chocolate chips

4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup sugar

pinch of salt
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
3/4 cup half-n-half (or since you're already living dangerously, use cream!)
1 teaspoon vanilla

(Ok, maybe some basic procedures should be followed to be on the safe side.) Melt the chocolate chips and butter together over low heat (if you don't trust yourself not to scorch it, do this over a water bath). In another pan, whisk the sugar, salt and cocoa into the cream or half-n-half and bring to a boil. Add the hot cocoa mixture to the melted chocolate and butter and blend together thoroughly. Remove from heat and add the vanilla, mixing well. Jar it up, refrigerate, and then try not to devour the whole thing in one sitting!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Pancakes and Meatloaf, or Too Much Food Network!

See? This is what happens when you finally get a day off and you end up watching too much Food Network! You end up with a dinner menu consisting of pancakes and meatloaf! (If they can do chicken and waffles, why not pancakes and meatloaf?) I was watching some show about diner cuisine, and I was subsequently possessed by the desire--no, the desperate need--for pancakes and a meatloaf sandwich! (Obviously, I am restricting my carbs. Tee hee.)

The pancakes were good, but were not from scratch (don't judge me!). They were made from a lovely organic buckwheat mix that I picked up somewhere on my travels. (I prefer edible souvenirs when I road trip...or cookbooks. But I digress...) However, please allow me a short discourse on meatloaf. Previous to this evening, I thought that I already had the very best meatloaf recipe in the whole world, given to me by my wonderful friend, Twonky Bellonkamy (aka Tony Bellomy). But recently, I was forwarded a meatloaf recipe from one of my PBGV acquaintances, highly recommended by another friend who deemed it a "killer meatloaf!" So I thought I'd give it a whirl. Well, bygum, I think our house meatloaf has been supplanted! This really was the best meatloaf I've ever had! I know meatloaf can be very subjective, so I guess I'll just say that it's exactly how I prefer my meatloaf to be. Tender and moist, but not falling apart, and flavorful without the spices and other additions overpowering the meat itself. To be fair, the recipe was VERY similar to my friend Tony's, with two notable changes. One is the omission of a topping. You know, that ketchup/brown sugar/worcestershire affair, which I enjoy, but don't really need--especially if my goal is a meatloaf sandwich. And then the one ingredient that sets this recipe apart is the inclusion of Bloody Mary mix (as opposed to ketchup or tomato soup or the like). Now, as I am not a drinker, I didn't have any Bloody Mary mix on hand, but I was able to locate a few recipes on the 'net that I integrated to create a tasty homemade version. It made about six cups of the stuff, so I froze the leftovers for future meatloaves--of which there will be MANY following my new favorite recipe! And here 'tis...


1 pound ground beef (sirloin, if you can swing it!)
½ pound Italian sausage (I like a garlicky version--and this is my addition, by the way, as I prefer a beef/sausage mix for my meatloaf. The original recipe called for one pound of beef only.)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 green pepper, finely chopped (OPTIONAL, as I do NOT prefer it! But I did mince a few jalapeno slices and threw them in for good measure and a bit of a kick. Yum!)
1 cup quick oats (NOT instant!)
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½-1 teaspoon granulated garlic (to your preference--"never too much garlic" is my motto)
1 egg
1 cup Bloody Mary Mix* (preferably, a spicyand/or beefy variety!)

Mix all ingredients together well by hand. Form an oblong-shaped loaf on a lined cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour.

*Spicy Beefamato-like Bloody Mary Mix

46 oz. tomato juice
8 oz. beef bouillon
½ teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons celery salt
½ teaspoon onion powder
juice of one lemon (or lime juice would be great, too!)
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons juice from jalapeno/nacho slices
3 tablespoons vinegar (I like apple cider vinegar, but white is fine)
2 tablespoons sugar
Tabasco to taste (several good glugs—don’t be timid!)

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Happy Flea and Tick Season!

I rarely divert from my format of recipes-with-stories. But it's May, and my thoughts have turned, not to romantic love, but to the love of my animals. Now I do love them, but having so many of them on a teacher's paltry salary, it can be a challenge to provide the best possible medical care. Don't get me wrong--I would go without groceries for myself before they would lack for food or a necessary trip to the vet. But some of the medications that you get from your vet are just ridiculously expensive! For example, at my vet, Frontline Plus for flea and tick controls has just gone up to $17 a dose! And I have FOUR dogs! That would be $68 a month! Now, I don't blame the vet themselves, but it's the drug companies--the same type of company that loves to gouge us humans--that jack up their prices, knowing they have us over a barrel. And every year, when it's time to stock up on Frontline and Heartguard, I become quite cranky about it! :-(

But one major benefit of being involved in the world of purebred dogs over the last few years is that I have learned LOTS of tips from breeders who maintain a large number of dogs in their kennels and need to keep costs down. The first concerns flea and tick control. I use Frontline Plus, as do most people I know, though there are other good products out there like Revolution and Sentinel. And each of these can be purchased for about HALF PRICE (that's including the shipping!) if you order these medications from Australia where you don't need a prescription for them. The company that I order from is called IPet International (Pet Shed is another popular one), and they have a website from which you can order directly. But I think I may have saved another couple of bucks by bidding on Ebay instead of ordering directly (actually, I didn't really bid--I chose the "buy it now" option). This is the same product made by the same manufacturer, Merial. The packaging is slightly different, as the dog's weight is expressed in kilos rather than pounds. Also, the seller has 100% positive feedback on Ebay and has thousands of feedback responses. Most of the posts speak to the speed of delivery from Australia to the States. It usually takes 7-10 days from Sydney, and they promise to ship within 24 hours of placing your order. I just ordered six doses of the largest size (89-132 lbs.), and that will take care of my four 25-45 pound dogs for the whole flea and tick season!

What's that you say? Six doses for four dogs for six months? How does that work? Well, this is the other tip that I got from several of my dog breeder friends--splitting the doses. One extra-large dose (the red box with the Bernese Mountain Dog, I believe) can be split between all four of my medium-sized dogs. The dose for an 89-132 pound dog is 4.02ml. Based on weight, Prunelle needs .67 ml, Rosie needs double that (1.34 ml), and Percy and Grady need approximately 1 ml. Do the math, and you'll find that that works out perfectly when you split the extra-large dose. One breeder I knows just kind of eyeballs the application, but I couldn't do it. One dog would always end up with way more than his/her share, leaving another dog short-changed. So I squeeze out the dose into a small ramekin and again, use a syringe (with the needle removed) to measure the correct amounts, and then squirt the medicine from the syringe between each dog's shoulder blades. Ta-dah! Four dogs treated for the price of one (HALF the price of one if you get your Frontline from Australia)!

So that takes care of your fleas and ticks, but what about heartworms? Typically, Heartguard is the drug of choice for heartworm preventative (or Interceptor is also used). But I stopped using Heartguard a couple of years ago when I got my youngest dog, and his breeders explained how they safeguard their dogs against heartworms for pennies a month. Following their advice, I bought a vial of injectible ivermectin (this is cattle wormer, but it's the same drug as in Heartguard) from my local feed store. It was about $40, but it lasts forever--I've had mine for two years and have barely made a dent in it! Then I already had 1.0 cc syringes from one dog's allergy shots, but I bought a 3 cc one as well. I also bought a liter of propylene glycol (the ingredient that keeps soft dog treats soft like Pupperoni and Jerky Treats) from the Wal-Mart pharmacy. Now there is some discussion that propylene glycol (in ENORMOUS quantities!) may be a carcinogen, so you could use olive oil or vegetable oil instead, but ivermectin won't mix in water. Each month, I take 3 cc's of either propylene glycol or oil and mix it with just .1 cc of the ivermectin (pay attention to that decimal point, please--that's one-tenth, not one whole cc!). Many sources online will tell you that the formula is .1 cc of ivermectin (undiluted in a base) per 10 pounds of the dog's body weight is correct. But that would be an appropriate dose if your dog were INFESTED with internal parasites! But as a simple monthly heartworm preventative, you need only a tiny fraction of that amount. That's why you dilute it in a base. Anyway...once you dilute the invermectin and mix it well, then you administer it at .1 cc per 10 pounds of doggie. You can squirt it onto a piece of bread or a favorite treat, but I just open their mouths and squirt it onto their tongues to be sure that they got it. And that's it. I have my dog's blood tested for heartworm regularly as directed by their vet, and they are heartworm-free! I actually think that my dogs are more protected now, as I keep them on heartworm preventative all year round, not just May-October like I used to when I was buying Heartguard. Oh, I should tell you that ivermectin can be fatal to collies and related herding breeds (shelties, for example). I don't know all of the breeds that might be affected, but if you already use Heartguard on your dog, you would be fine, as it is the same drug. Of course, it is always in your best interests (and your dog's!) to check with your veterinarian before trying any of the ideas that I have shared.

Have fun with your pets this summer, and give them a smooch from me and mine! :-)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Where's MY gingham apron?? GRRR!

I have a dream, friends. (I know it's almost Memorial Day, not Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, but bear with me.) I know some would think it's a silly dream, but it's MY dream nonetheless. I do not dream of WINNING the Pillsbury Bake-Off, no. But I DO dream of mincing in with the rest of the Bake-Off finalists, cheerily garbed in our blue-and-white gingham aprons, eager to craft innovative things with crescent rolls and such, with my beloved friend, Kurt (who shares my Bake-Off dream), cheering me on. But, sigh, it seems it is not meant to be. I enter faithfully every year (now that it has become an annual event), but I just can't seem to come up with anything that uses fewer than six mainly pre-fab ingredients (with a minimum of two "eligible" products per dish) and can be made in 15 minutes or less and is healthful to boot! Indeed, that's not really cooking is it? It's really just assembling (or re-assembling) preprepared foodstuffs, and I have no idea why someone would pay a million dollars for THAT! Ok, the cynical side of me knows why...a million bucks is chump change after they get a bunch of suckers like me to go out and buy a ton of Pillsbury products that we wouldn't normally purchase just to experiment with recipe ideas. It's just sad that it's not a REAL cooking contest like when it started and all that was required was that you use Pillsbury flour! Ok, I take it back. Last year's winner was close to real cooking. It was a takeoff on pecan pie made with bashed-up granola bars. In fact, I keep meaning to try it, as it sounded very good. But this year, the winner made chicken and stuffing, and GUESS what the stuffing was made out of? Prefab waffle sticks! And the chicken was glazed with the maple-flavored pancake syrup that comes with the waffle stix! Now I must admit, it was very creative and EXACTLY what usually wins the contest, namely, an unusual use of qualifying ingredients. And it was very simple and perfect for a work week dinner, which they also look for, and I wouldn't even doubt that it actually tasted good. I myself enjoy that combination of sweet and savory. Still, the bottom line is, what the Bake-Off has become just flies in the face of everything that I hold dear--that is, my main cooking philosophy that good food made with real ingredients takes time and effort, just as do all important things in life.

But every year, I try again, to no avail. And I think some of my ideas have been darn good! I can fashion many a wonderful thing out of a can of crescent rolls, let me tell you! The Salmon en Croute I devised was extremely tasty, and the Cherry Almond Bread Pudding was nothing short of decadent! But would they accept me into the holy gingham sisterhood? Noooooo! Well, screw them, I say! I will share my ideas with you dear people instead. The recipe I was thinking about today that is perfect for your Memorial Day barbecue and all of the other summer cookouts coming up is a marinated bean salad. And I must admit, this is dangerously close to not cooking at all, in the PBO tradition. It mostly involves opening up a lot of cans, which the marvelous Nigella Lawson claims is truly satisfying, and I agree--even if it seems like cheating. The original recipe was an homage to a delicious salad that I had from the salad bar at the wonderful Wegman's flagship store in Syracuse, NY. I adapted it to include edamame which was a qualifying ingredient in the Bake-Off last year (as were Green Giant corn and Progresso black beans!). But I have also been known to replace the edamame with whatever bean or legume that I have on hand. Along with the black beans, one might consider dark red or light red kidney beans, cannellini beans, or my fave, chickpeas/garbanzos/ceci beans. Ooh! Fresh, springtime fava beans would be excellent, too! But you do what you feel led to do. As always, I encourage you to play around with the ingredients and amounts until the resulting dish pleases you...and not those damn Bake-Off Nazis! Tee hee.

(Now don't you go entering this recipe yourself next KNOW I will try, try again! The pain of rejection fades like that of childbirth...and you find yourself doing it again! My gingham dream never fadeth...though, come to think of it, last year, it was some off khaki-and-red number designed by Todd Oldham, of all things! Bring back the blue-and-white apron, I say, and bring back actual COOKING to the contest! Hear me, oh guardians of the sacred Bake-Off!)

Soy Good Edamame Salad
(Bake-Off entries HAVE to have cutesy's de rigeur, as Martha would say!)

2 quarts water
generous pinch of salt
2 10-oz. bags (frozen) shelled edamame*
1 15 oz. can corn
1 19-oz. can black beans, drained
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 cup roasted red peppers (about one large one from a jar), chopped
1/4 cup onion, chopped (about a quarter of a large one)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper (or to taste)
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, very thinly sliced

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (enough to cover the soybeans--at least two quarts) with a good pinch of salt. Add the frozen edamame and bring them back to a boil. Boil for 6-7 minutes or until tender. Drain, and cover with cold water for a few minutes to cool. Drain again. (This would also be the drill for fava beans, though you'd need to peel the skins, too. And obviously, skip this step altogether if you are using all canned beans.)

2. Combine edamame, corn, drained black beans, minced garlic, chopped red peppers and onions in a large bowl. Dress with the olive oil and white wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Mix well so that everything is coated.

3. Cover salad and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours or overnight. Just before serving, toss with the shredded parmesan cheese and thinly sliced basil.

*Switch out the edamame for any bean(s) you like!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Yeah! She lives!

Well, I never would have thought it possible just a day ago, but it's OVER. At long (VERY LONG!) last, the school year has come to a close. And my immediate plans include, after finishing this entry, taking a shower, falling into bed, and waking up maybe Monday morning? I was at my desk every night this week until 11pm or midnight, and last night was the longest haul. I left school around 10:30 (the night janitor, Wolfgang--nope, not making that up--teased me about slacking off and leaving "early!"), but I still had to go to the store and get things for a party at school the next day. As usual, I had volunteered to bring the birthday cake. But I had a vision for a lemon-blueberry creation that I was worried might freak people out a bit. Plus, the chocoholics sometimes take the staunch position that it's ain't dessert without at least some chocolate! So I decided, since we were celebrating several summer birthday people at once, to make TWO cakes. Ok, so perhaps this was not the wisest decision, considering that I arrived home to begin baking around midnight! (Why do I do it to myself? Someone please explain it to me?)

Now I must confess something to you, my friends, and I know I have made this confession to you before. (Five months into a blog, and she's already repeating herself? Sheesh! But I'm just that serious about it!) Although I have many excellent from-scratch cake recipes that I often rely on, I am a big fan of the box cake mix. (Oh, take your hands off your hearts and stop that silly gasping!) It is really difficult to get a cake from scratch that rivals the texture of the box mix, as giant machines process the ingredients until they are super-fine, producing that feather-light quality. However, I do believe in doctoring up the mix, riffing on it, and making it one's own. And I hold nearly religious convictions about frosting! I will allow the box mixes, but please skip the can o'frosting. What kind of space-age polymer must bind up all that cloying goo so that it might have a stable shelf life? ICK! No, indeed, make your own frosting, I implore you!

For the lemon-blueberry affair, I began with French Vanilla cake to which I added extra vanilla, the zest of one lemon, and I swapped out some of the water for the juice of the lemon. I didn't want an extremely tangy cake, but something just gently lemony. I baked two 8-inch cakes, and when they were cool, I levelled them off, split the layers each in half, and filled them with some of the wild blueberry jam that I make every summer (about 1 -1/2 cups total). I was also careful not to take the jam too close to the edge of the cake so that it didn't leak out of the layers as I assembled the cake. For the frosting, I used a lemon-cream cheese recipe from Bon Appetit . It was very delicious, but very, very soft, even after setting up in the fridge, making it devillishly difficult to pipe. So perhaps it needed a little extra powdered sugar? And I definitely should have cut the recipe in half! In any case, here it is:

Lemon-Cream Cheese Frosting

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in powdered sugar. Beat in lemon peel and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate until just firm enough to spread, about 30 minutes. Makes about 4 1/2 cups.

Bon Appétit, August 2001

I must tell you, though when I first told people that the cake was blueberry-lemon, I was met with a continuum of responses from surprise to suspicion to mild disdain. But after they tried it, well, the whole cake quickly DISAPPEARED! It was gone long before the chocolate cake was, much to my amazement. And it looked really, really pretty with four layers sandwiched together with all that blueberry goodness! (The picture doesn't do it justice as that was the last knackered piece that I managed to save for my roomie. And I had to wrestle it away from the others before smushing it into my tiny office fridge all day, and then transporting it all the way home between two flimy paper plates. I'm surprised it hadn't become lemon-berry crumble by the time I thought to photograph it!) was delicious, and it's definitely a combination that I'll make again. Very summery.

For the chocolate-peanut butter cake, I prepared a Dark Chocolate Fudge cake mix, adding some extra vanilla (see a pattern here?) and about a teaspoon of espresso powder to make the flavor even deeper. I baked two 9-inch layers, and had it not already been obscenely late, I might have split those layers, too, but I simply didn't have the will. For the frosting, I used a peanut butter-cream cheese recipe from Godiva. And I sprinkled a generous amount of chocolate and peanut butter swirled chips on both the middle and top layers. It looked cute, but I must say, I didn't care for the faux peanut butter flavor of the chips. The next time I make this cake, I will decorate it with miniature Reese's cups like I normally would (the store was out of them last night, so that's why I went another way--oh well, live and learn!). Nevertheless, people were duly impressed, and I was happy to return home with two empty cake carriers!

Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frosting

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature

2 ½ cups confectioner's sugar

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2/3 cup chunky peanut butter (or smooth is fine, too)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Beat cheese, confectioner's sugar, butter and peanut butter in a large mixing bowl with electric mixer at low speed, about 1 minute or until well blended. Increase speed to medium-high and beat for about 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Scrape down sides of bowl, then add vanilla. Beat 1 minute. Spread frosting evenly over cake in pan using a small offset spatula.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Finals Week: ARRRRGGGHHH!!

I am in the thick of it, friends. It's finals week at the two institutions of higher learning where I teach, and the NO SLEEP RULE is firmly in effect until this weekend! Someone remind me again why I thought it was a good idea to be gone for a week recently? DUH! But I am taking a moment away from the eternal grading of papers (running screaming away from the mountains of work is more like it!) to share with you two of my stand-by recipes for when there is precious little time to craft great works of culinary genius. These are recipes for any old "no news is good news, middle of a mid-year day" (bonus points to the first person who gets that reference!). And your minimal efforts will be greatly rewarded, I assure you.

Since I seem to be in a layered dish/casserole kind of place lately, let me start with one of my all-time favorites, cavatini. This recipe originally came from one of my favorite people in the world--a former student and also roommate of mine--Karen. I have tinkered with it a bit, but it's easy and delicious, and always a crowd-pleaser at potlucks and such. Really, it's a great dish to turn to when your family grumbles that you've made spaghetti yet AGAIN! I myself could happily eat spaghetti once a week, but this is a nice variation on that theme. It's also similar to lasagna, but MUCH less labor-intensive! In fact, this is the Taco Bell philosophy of food, whereby you simply rearrange the same ingredients to give the illusion of a new menu item! ;-)


1 lb. ground beef (or Italian sausage)
32 oz. jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce
7 oz. box pasta shells (or whatever shape pleases you!)
2 cups shredded mozzarella (at least!)
8 oz. can of mushrooms, drained
1 pkg. pepperoni slices (look for Emeril’s if you can find it—yum!)

Brown ground beef (or sausage). Drain the meat and add spaghetti sauce and mushrooms. Prepare pasta and drain. Layer pasta, then meat mixture, then pepperoni slices, then cheese, and repeat the layers. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

*Note: You can throw in any desired veggies with the meat mixture. I sometimes sauté an onion and/or garlic with the beef or sausage. I also use real mushrooms instead of canned when I have them on hand (sautéed with the meat, of course). Further, you could add something like cubed zucchini or yellow squash to the mix, which I often do in the summer when I have too much squash around! So vary this recipe according to whatever you have around and feel like adding in.

The next recipe is another great one for the busy work week. It looks involved (mostly because it won't let me single-space the ingredients for some reason!), but it doesn't take that long to put together, and it makes an enormous VAT of food that can be used for leftovers the second night, or to throw into a plastic container and take to work for lunch the next day. And it's actually pretty healthy to boot! (I know that healthful food generally goes against our philosophy at Lindsey's Luscious, but call this a happy accident!) I shared this recipe with my work colleagues a few years ago, and to this day, my division coordinator makes the sauce and keeps it on hand for an Asian dressing to put on pita sandwiches and the like. Her family refers to it as "Gina's Sauce!" :-D I hope you'll enjoy it, too.

Chicken Sesame Noodles

1 pound box vermicelli (or thin spaghetti), cooked and drained

4 breasts boneless chicken, poached and sliced

2 large carrots, peeled and shredded

1 small bunch green onions, sliced thinly

1 cup (or more) green peas (or pea pods or sugar snaps), blanched

1 red pepper, cored, seeded and sliced thinly

1 jalapeno pepper, cored, seeded and minced

1/4 cup peanut butter

1/2 cup rice vinegar

2 large cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

1 tablespoon hoisin sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil (or to taste)

2 1/2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil

1 teaspoon chili paste (or to taste--I prefer two myself!)

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger (a grating of fresh would be even better!)

salt and pepper to taste

2/3-1/2 cup roasted, dry roasted, or honey roasted cashews, halves or pieces

1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Poach chicken breasts in the same pot with the vermicelli. Drain pasta, rinse with cold water until cool, then drain again. Slice chicken when cool enough to handle.

2. Put cooled pasta and chicken in a large bowl. Add prepared vegetables. Mix gently with hands to combine everything well.

3. In a blender or food processor, puree the peanut butter, vinegar, garlic, hoisin, oils, chili paste, sugar, and spices until smooth. Pour over other ingredients. Make sure everything is coated thoroughly.

4. Serve at room temperature or chill in the refrigerator. Garnish with cashews before serving.

*Note: You could add or substitute anything you like in this dish, such as some shredded Napa cabbage, bean sprouts, sliced water chestnuts, etc. And I'm sure that it would be good with, say, shrimp instead of chicken. Be creative!

Sunday, May 07, 2006


So...I made the Potatoes Dauphinois to go with dinner tonight, and I thought folks might like to see how they turned out, especially since I've been going on and on about them! :-) Oh, and I realized in making them that the recipe didn't say what temperature to bake them at. I went for the standard 350 degrees for 45 minutes, and they turned out like this. But I should mention that my potato slices were, say, less than a quarter inch, NOT a half-inch (and I wouldn't want them any thicker than that!). So take that under advisement...

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Culinary Sleuth Strikes Again!

In my next-to-the-most-recent post entitled, "After a shocking 11-day silence...," I waxed not very poetically about a most excellent French-inspired banquet that I enjoyed while at my dog breed's annual national event in Sacramento last week. Upon returning home, I e-mailed the very talented and genial caterer named Pam Tobin, herself a breeder of Great Pyrenees (dog people are good folk!), and she was EXTREMELY gracious in sharing the recipes that she used for the menu that night with me. And I, in turn, am "paying it forward" with her kind permission. Now I'm not sure about the original source of each recipe--some are Pam's and some are from other sources as well. But wherever they come from, I'm sure that you will enjoy these dishes--ESPECIALLY the Gratin Dauphinois. Outstanding!

serves 6

4 lb. pork roast, boneless (typical of what you find in the store)

If they aren't already split, then lay them on the cutting board and split them horizontally to the end of the roast but not cutting through the roast. Next turn the roast around and cut it again horizontally so that now you have a butterfly effect and the roast can be laid flat out. Set aside.

Grand Marnier Apricot Stuffing

1 cup finely diced dried apricots (best to use a food processor)
1-1/2 cups Grand Marnier

Combine the apricots and 1 cup of Grand Marnier in a small saucepan. Heat to boiling and remove and set aside.

1 lb bulk pork sausage, cooked and drained and set aside

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
2 cups coarsely chopped celery
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 lb herb stuffing mix
1 cups slivered almonds
2 cups chicken stock or canned chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Melt 1/2 cup butter in skillet over medium heat. Add celery, onion and sauté for 10 minutes. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add the stuffing mix, apricots with the liquid, and almonds. Mix together. Heat the remaining 1/2 cup butter and stock in small saucepan until butter melts. Pour over the stuffing mixture and add remaining 1/2 cup Grand Marnier. Stir well, and season with thyme.

Lay your stuffing mixture, beginning in the center of the pork roast, in a thin layer working within 1/2 inch of the edges. Make sure that the stuffing mixture is spread thinly. That way, after the roast is cooked and sliced, it will reveal a nice even spiral. Roll the roast tightly, fat side out and tie off with string (if you don't have any, ask your butcher at the store for string to roll your roast for cooking).

Herb Rub for Pork Roast

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/4 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon coarse ground pepper

Place the roast on a rack in a roasting pan. Coat roast with 2 tablespoons olive oil and apply the herb coating. Cook at 350 degrees for approximately 1-1/2 hr. Use meat thermometer to determine cooking time.


4-5 lb. tri-tip roast

Oven roast at 350 or cook on the BBQ or rotisserie. Slice roast against the grain and serve with choice of sauces (below).

Peppercorn Sauce (Sauce au Poivre)
4 servings

1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
1 oz. butter (1/4 stick)
1 tablespoon cracked black (or green) peppercorns
1/2 cup red wine (Cotes de Rhone or pinot noir)
8 fl oz. demi-glace (you can use 1-1/2 oz of Demi-Glace Gold reconstituted in 8 fluid ounces of hot water)
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Melt butter in sauce pan and sauté shallots for approximately 2 minutes until transparent. Add peppercorns and red wine, and reduce to an essence (approx 2-3 minutes.) Add the demi-glace and stir with a whisk until glace is dissolved. Add water and simmer until the sauce is thick enough to coat a spoon. Blend in chopped parsley and serve over broiled steak. Sauce is best over steak with all fat trimmed. Steaks can be either pan fried, broiled, grilled or whatever the preference.

Bordelaise Sauce
serves 4

1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
1 oz. butter (1/4 stick)
4 oz. diced beef bone marrow*
1/4 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/2 cup red wine (Cotes de Rhone or pinot noir)
1 cup demi-glace (you can use 1-1/2 oz. Demi-Glace Gold reconstituted in 8 ounces of hot water)

Melt butter in a saucepan and sauté shallots for approximately 2 minutes until transparent. Add red wine and reduce for about 2-3 minutes to an essence. Add thyme and peppercorns and reduce further for approximately 2-3 minutes until almost no liquid remains. Add demi-glace and simmer for about 5-6 minutes until sauce begins to thicken. In a separate pan, simmer diced bone marrow in water for 3-4 minutes. Drain water and add diced marrow to sauce and simmer for approximately 2 minutes. Serve over tournedos, beef tenderloin steaks or rump steaks.

*If bone marrow is not available, you an substitute butter instead. Sauce is excellent over grilled or roast beef as well.

Cognac Mustard Sauce
serves 4-6

1 cup cognac
3 cups manufacturer's cream or heavy cream
3 tablespoons coarse ground mustard

In a saucepan add the cognac and reduce to 1/3. Add the cream, reduce to 1/2 again. Add mustard and whisk. Note: manufacturer's cream will foam and bubble over and needs to be watched carefully but is preferred in this menu for the texture that compliments the pork.

Gratin Dauphinois (Potato Bake)
serves 6

1 clove garlic (minced in food processor)
4 tablespoons butter
2 lbs. boiling potatoes (sliced very thinly, 1/2 inch thick, food processor works best)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 lb. gruyere cheese, shredded
1/2 cup manufacturer's cream or heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk

Spread in shallow baking dish the minced garlic and dot with 1 tablespoon butter. Spread half of the sliced potatoes in the dish, sprinkling with half each of the salt, pepper, nutmeg and cheese. Cut 2 tablespoons of the butter into small bits and use to dog (LOL! canine Freudian slip--I think she meant "dot!") the surface. Spread the remaining potatoes on top and sprinkle them with the remaining salt, pepper, nutmeg and cheese. Cut the remaining tablespoon of butter into small bits and use them to dot the top.

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the cream and milk just to a boil. Pour the milk over the potatoes, sliding knife between the edges of the pan and the potatoes to help the milk run underneath. Bake until the milk is absorbed and a golden brown crust forms 35-45 minutes. The timing depends upon how thinly the potatoes are sliced. Serve immediately from the dish.

Chocolate Mousse

6 oz. semi-sweet dark chocolate, chopped coarsely
4 tablespoons butter
pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (pure)
2 tablespoons strong coffee, or 4 teaspoons brandy or orange-flavored liqueur
4 large eggs, separated
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup chilled manufacturer's cream or heavy cream

Melt chocolate, then whisk butter in one tablespoon at a time. Stir in salt, vanilla, and coffee until mixed well. Whisk in egg yolks one at a time before adding the next, and then set aside. In a clean bowl, stir egg whites over a saucepan of hot water until slightly warm, 1-2 minutes. Remove bowl, and beat with mixer at medium speed until white peaks form. Raise to high speed and slowly add sugar beating until soft peaks form. Whisk one quarter of the whites into the chocolate mixture and lighten, then gently fold in remaining egg white. Whip cream to soft peaks, gently fold into the mousse, spoon into bowls and refrigerate at least 2 hrs. Can be make 24 hrs ahead.

Gorgonzola, Walnut and Pear Salad

mixed greens
grape tomatoes
cranberries, dried
candied or toffee walnuts
pear slices (canned or fresh)
Gorgonzola cheese (crumbled over top of salad )

Dress with red wine vinaigrette or champagne pear vinaigrette or any vinaigrette of your choice.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Maple season continues...

You may have noticed a maple theme running through my blog, as spring is sugaring time here in the North Country. And once all that magical golden amber liquid is is distilled and bottled, what DO we do with it all? Well, I have two suggestions. The first is my favorite granola recipe which I baked and bagged and distributed to my wonderful colleagues at work one holiday season, and there was much rejoicing. I suggest eating it with a mixture of vanilla custard-style yogurt and sour cream, some extra vanilla extract, and sugar to taste...a faux Swedish cream, if you will. Of course, this kind of works against the health aspects of granola, but....WHO CARES?? It's scrumptious!

Gina’s “Never Too Many Nuts!” North Country Granola

½ cup maple syrup (can also use honey, or a combo)
½ cup brown sugar
1 stick butter, melted
½ cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
½-1 tsp. cinnamon

6 cups rolled oats
1 cup wheat germ (or I use wheat “flakelets” from my local co-op)
¼ cup sesame seeds
¼ cup sunflower seeds
½ cup walnut pieces
½ cup whole almonds
½ cup pecan pieces
½ cup macadamia halves

water to sprinkle

Mix the first seven ingredients together. Pour over the oats, wheat flakes, seeds and nuts, and mix to coat thoroughly. Sprinkle the whole mixture with a little bit of water, until nice clumps start to form (help this along by squeezing it together with your hands). Carefully spread the granola out onto a large baking sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes until golden brown, being sure to stir the mixture a few times as it cooks to help everything brown evenly.

*Note: You can obviously increase or decrease the amount/kinds of nuts to suit your taste. And after the granola is baked, you may also want to add your favorite dried fruit(s)!

The next maple recipe was part of a salmon dish that I enjoyed at the divine restaurant at Simon Pierce Glassworks in Quechee, Vermont. (Beth, the Kitchen Mage, HOLLA! I know you are always up for another good salmon recipe!) Lord knows I will never eat there again, because I couldn't possibly afford it. But my roomie won a gift certificate there, and it was one of the most sublime meals we've ever had! They did a cedar-grilled salmon served with the following apple-maple-mustard sauce, and also an autumn vegetable hash and a cranberry coulis. And when I contacted them afterward to commend them for the fine fare, the chef was generous enough to share the recipes. I know, I know! This menu has no business being posted in spring, but once I mention these delights, I know someone will ask for all three recipes. So I'll just post them now and stay WAY ahead of you all! (And yes, I do realize that these are restaurant batches, but I have faith that your elementary school left neither you nor your math skills behind!)


2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 cups apple cider
2 cups maple syrup
3 cups dijon mustard
½ gallon heavy cream

Combine first four ingredients. Reduce by ½, add heavy cream. Reduce until desired consistency. Salt and pepper to taste.


1 cup white sugar
1 cup apple juice
1 cup orange juice
2 cup cranberry juice
4 cup frozen or fresh cranberries

Caramelize sugar. Add juices and cranberries. Reduce by 1/3. Mix in blender. Strain, cool, use.


10 lb potatoes – peeled, medium dice, tossed with canola oil
10 lb butternut squash – peeled, medium dice
2 lb leeks – cut lengthwise then ½ moons
1 lb dried cranberries
1 bunch thyme, minced
½ cup garlic, minced

Roast potatoes and butternut squash at 350 °f oven 20 minutes or until golden brown but still al denté. Sauté leeks with garlic and thyme. In large mixing bowl toss ingredients, add salt and black pepper to taste. Finish with butter and toasted walnuts.

Monday, May 01, 2006

After a SHOCKING 11-day silence...

Hello, dear readers! I am throwing myself at your mercy to beg for your forgiveness for being incommunicado for so long. Here's my story (and I'm sticking to it). Last Friday evening, something suddenly came up (as Marcia and her nose said to Doug Simpson), and I made last-minute travel arrangements to be in Portland, OR on Sunday. I was at my desk working from 3pm to 2am trying to make arrangements to be gone all week, as I also had already planned to be at the PBGV National in Sacramento from Wednesday through Sunday. After flying the red-eye back from California, arriving in Albany yesterday morning and STILL having to drive 2 1/2 hours back home, I only managed to unpack, start a load of laundry, and bathe the incontinent, elderly cocker spaniel (and no, that's not some kind of euphemism) before I passed out and napped for a few hours. Then I was up late just trying to read and respond to all of my e-mail and was back up-and-at-'em for work this morning. My day rushed by at a feverish pace as I tried only semi-successfully to straighten out all of the little (or big!) problems that cropped up in my extended absence at this inopportune point in the semester. And it's almost 9pm now, and where am I? Still at my desk--procrastinating on grading the MOUNTAIN of papers that have collected while I was gone. The moral of this story is, STAY HOME! It's so much easier than being gone!

However, this seems the perfect time to dilly-dally just a bit more and make at least one extensive post to my neglected blog. Of course, I have been gone for a week, and have mostly been eating out sans cooking. But there were a few culinary highlights of my journey that I wish to share with all of you. Let me begin with the Oregonian portion of the adventure. I had business in Portland by day, but afterwards, I would drive an hour and a half south to some little, teeny town out in the boonies called Falls City (near Dallas, which is, in turn, outside of Salem) to visit my delicious friends, John and Keith. I mentioned my beloved friend, John, in the banana bread post of April 14. He has recently moved from Sonoma County, CA with his partner, Keith, and they have a magical little spread of land (2.6 acres, I believe) that they are simply transforming into their own Eden (à la Adam and Steve...tee hee!). There are raised vegetable beds, a berry thicket, flower gardens, orchards, a magnificent greenhouse right off the kitchen, and even a chicken coop and run attached to the house! In addition to much landscaping, they are working feverishly to restore the lovely old Victorian home itself, and while they are doing all of this, they are also making many Adirondack chairs at their workshop "downtown" (across from the new community center and kitty-corner from the town's one little grocery/hardware/video store) to get ready to sell at the Salem Saturday Market in a couple of weeks. Whew! And still they had time to host a surprise out-of-town guest and make me the most wonderful, homemade dinner! Did I mention that the poor things don't even have a proper oven or fridge because of the impending kitchen remodel and some dubious wiring? Nevertheless, they prepared for me a scrumptious meal of shrimp tacos on homemade tortillas with fresh cilantro from their greenhouse, a salad of their own sunflower sprouts (also from the greenhouse) with homemade blue cheese dressing, and a vegetable tart with mushrooms, onions, asparagus, their own sun-dried tomatoes (sweet like candy to my soul), and thyme (again from the greenhouse), and of course, with some fresh eggs from their hens as a binding and then fresh goat cheese on top. That's right! That tart above was baked in a toaster oven--can you imagine? And the tacos were made on an appliance entitled, The BIG G-ASS GRILL! I brought dessert--a trashy pie from the Village Inn to remind John and myself of our days in Salt Lake City, Utah. It was the beloved Caramel Pecan Silk Supreme Pie, also available at Baker's Square restaurants, as they are the same company. The bottom layer is pecan pie, the middle is cheesecake, and the top is French Silk. Then there's whipped cream and a drizzle of both chocolate sauce and caramel sauce and a sprinkling of pecans to garnish. It doesn't compare to a homemade pie, but it was pretty yummy nonetheless! And on top of all of this culinary glory, Keith got up early the next morning and made us maple-oatmeal scones! YUM! Keith, though currently a crafter of Adirondack furniture, is a pastry chef at heart. I can make things taste good, but he can also make them truly beautiful! (See photo above.)

One night, while poor Keith was still slaving away at the workshop, John and I toddled off to the coast which was only about an hour away, and we had a marvelous dinner at The Blackfish Cafe in Lincoln City. After a refreshing Lemon Drop (which I am declaring the summer cocktail of choice this year!), we chose a Saigon noodle salad for an appetizer. It was delicious, though in my opinion, needed more noodles and fewer bean sprouts! But the dressing was great (if I were to guess, I'd say rice wine vinegar and a little fish sauce were involved), and the overall effect of the dish was very fresh and flavorful and tangy. Then for dinner, I had a perfectly cooked skillet-roasted chinook salmon basted with fennel-lime butter and an Oregon blue cheese potato gratin. John had grilled breast of duck with wild huckleberry conserve, a Tillamook white cheddar, sage and walnut risotto, and Granny Smith apples with white cabbage and a housemade huckleberry gastrique. As is our way (and this should be everyone's way!), we switched plates about halfway through to share our choices with one another. Incredible!

Sadly, the Californian part of my travels was less interesting food-wise, as I was at the Red Lion Motel in Sacramento and was mostly at the mercy of their dining room and banquet hall...with one notable exception. My breed club, the Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen Club of America, has an affiliated foundation for health and rescue, and they put on a wonderful fundraising dinner called "The Nose Knows." It was a wine-tasting event and a play on words, as the PBGV is a scenthound. Cute, huh? The (French) menu was outstanding! We began with a cheese course, including a lovely Blue D'Auvergne, a hard/aged chèvre, a triple-crème brie (which was way too horsey for me, truth to tell), and a Gruyère de Comté. Dinner consisted of pork roast with a fruit and nut stuffing, and a very tender tri-tip of beef with three sauce choices--bordelaise, peppercorn, and a DIVINE cognac mustard sauce. But the best thing was a most magnificent scalloped potato affair--truly, the best potatoes that I have ever had, and most of the people at my table said the same thing. In fact, as is my way, I took it upon myself to go in the back and track down the caterer to introduce myself, compliment her on the meal, and browbeat the recipe out of her! She explained that the potatoes were sliced very thinly and layered with a mixture of manufacturer's cream (like English double cream--heavier than heavy cream--which explains why they were so heavenly!), Gruyére, minced garlic, and nutmeg. WOW! In the European tradition, after supper, they served a salad of mixed field greens, sweet Gorgonzola, candied pecans, sliced pears, and either dried cranberries or cherries--not sure which, but it was just excellent. For dessert, we had a very good chocolate mousse that some thought wasn't sweet enough (again, in the European way), but I enjoyed. So even though I didn't do any cooking over the past week, I did some very sublime eating, and I wanted to share my experiences with all of you (especially those like my new blogger friend, Sue, who sent me a well-deserved scolding via e-mail after a week of blog silence). But I'm back now, and if I ever get away from my desk and make it home to my own kitchen, I will post again...