Smears and Dips, Slathers and Spreads; Ode to the Condiment by Kelly Sears

I confess, I have a condiment problem.  At any given time, our refrigerator looks more like an apothecary than a cooling unit, filled mostly with big jars, little jars, half-filled jars, and jars chock full. There are smears and dips, slathers and spreads all just begging for the star protein or vegetable to give it life and make it shine.

 

We all have our favorites.  Bright, spicy, smooth, silky, or chunky, condiments are the pop, the surprise, the little something extra that elevates ordinary to extraordinary.  Condiments work because they help us achieve balance.  When making any dish, we strive for balance to make that dish a success.  Balance comes from the ying and yang of tastes like bitter vs. sweet (dark chocolate brownies) or sour vs. salty (sour cream onion dip with chips).  Richness, temperature, and texture also play a part in keeping the palate scale level.  Yet balance can’t always be achieved by one component alone; enter the condiment!

 

Let’s start easy.  Ketchup and mustard are two of America’s most popular condiments so let’s examine why they work.  Vinegar give both their tang, both are bitter and acidic with sugar, salt and spices in the blend.  Usually served with burgers, brats, sausages or other grilled meats, the richness of the meat gets relief from the acidity (so you don’t feel like you are eating a stick of butter straight up!).  The meat is usually hot, the condiments cold; ketchup and mustard are smooth while the meats have some tooth.  Thus without even knowing it, balance is achieved just by eating a burger with the works.

 

Now let’s take another step up, relish, pickles, mayonnaise, and barbeque sauce. Again, these work just like ketchup and mustard to even out the flavors of the base component.  Fatty ribs love barbeque sauce, creamy mayonnaise and blt’s are great friends, and what perfect Chicago dog isn’t topped with a pickle or relish.  Starting to make sense?

 

Okay, we’re on a roll, so let’s not stop there.  A condiment doesn’t have to be just a store-bought accompaniment to food; a condiment can also couple as a solid component to a dish.  A condiment can be a dip, drizzle or dollop over a vegetable, a slice of meat, or on grilled toast to add sparkle and spice to the final dish.

 

I feel you starting to apply the brakes – work zone ahead!  I know its summer and the last thing you want to do is spend a ton of time in the kitchen. So don’t!  Make a stop at the butcher and pick up some proteins for the week, visit your favorite farmers market for fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables and you’re almost there. We can whittle the kitchen time down to about an hour for two of my favorite condiments. Each one can be made and stored in the refrigerator for at least a week and each has multiple uses depending on your main course selection and meal time constraints.

 

Pepperonata plays nice with chicken, beef, and pork; it’s delicious added to Italian sausage, both on a bun or on a plate.  It can be a stand-alone side dish (although the true definition of a condiment is that it isn’t eaten by itself. Sssh, I won’t tell) or I like to serve it on grilled toast with a smear of ricotta or burrata.

 

The green goddess, although technically a dressing, qualifies as a smear, a dollop or a slather. It wears so many hats. This creamy green goodness is the perfect match for summer’s first bacon, lettuce and tomato; add a slice of avocado and a hard-boiled egg for an extra dose of flavor. Green goddess skips happily along when drizzled over garden fresh (or someone else’s garden!) lettuce, dolloped on cold shrimp, slathered on a roast beef sandwich, or served as a dip for roasted or raw farmer’s market fresh vegetables. A great way to utilize those fresh herbs in your garden, green goddess will make your taste buds happy.

 

The simplest definition of a condiment is that “it imparts flavor onto another food.” Beyond that, it gets subjective.  Make your own rules, combine your own flavors, find your own balance and enjoy a dip, a drizzle, a smear or a dollop of your favorite condiment.

Pepperonata (Caramelized Onions & Peppers) & Green Goddess Dressing
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Ingredients
  1. Pepperonata
  2. 2 large onions, julienne
  3. 3 large red peppers, julienne
  4. 3 large yellow peppers, julienne
  5. 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  6. 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  7. 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely diced
  8. 5 basil leaves, chiffonade
  9. 1 tablespoon fresh flat leaf parsley
  10. 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
  11. Green Goddess Dressing
  12. 1 ½ cup mayonnaise
  13. ¼ cup chopped fresh chives
  14. 3 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
  15. 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  16. 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  17. 1 garlic clove, rough chop
  18. 1 anchovy filet
  19. Buttermilk for thinning (or regular milk works fine too but I like the tang buttermilk brings to the dish)
Instructions
  1. Pepperonata
  2. Heat olive oil in a sauté pan and sauté the onion, oregano, red pepper flakes, and peppers until lightly golden; this should take about 20-25 minutes, longer if you want them super caramelized and sweet. Add garlic and sauté for another minute. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and stir in basil, parsley, and thyme.
  3. Green Goddess Dressing
  4. Blend mayonnaise and all other ingredients in a food processor or immersion blender. Thin with buttermilk. The consistency should work for your intended purpose. This will vary per application, thicker for a smear or a dollop, thinner for a dressing. Season with salt and pepper. Taste, adjust and enjoy!
Marcel's Culinary Experience http://www.marcelsculinaryexperience.com/

The Deep Blue Sea by Cherise Slattery

I woke up at 4 am. My bed was rocking back and forth. Images of the movie The Perfect Storm came to mind. I was sure my life was over! Too scared to open the balcony doors, and too dark to see anything anyway, I imagined the 30 foot swells that were going to tip us over as I fitfully fell back to sleep. I awoke the next morning to sun peeking through the blinds, and ventured a look outside. With the boat still rocking, imagine my surprise to see tiny, 3 foot waves of the most beautiful blue you could imagine. Yes, I survived my first Caribbean cruise.

When I mentioned I was taking my first cruise, everyone said “You won’t even feel the boat moving, and the food is fantastic.” Well, they were half right!

The food on our ship was abundant. I wandered through the offerings before choosing my meal every day.   There was fresh fruit, grilled vegetables, carving meats, salads, cheeses, breads, pastries, plus prepared foods. You have a taste for Italian food, check. You want Mexican, check. Asian, Caribbean, German, American, check, check, check and check.  In addition to that, you could go to one of the restaurants on board, sit down, and order off a menu that changed every night. Besides being perfectly prepared, the food was displayed beautifully, with fruit and vegetable carvings at every turn. Even with all these choices, I found myself being drawn to Souvlaki almost every day for lunch. I currently have an obsession for Tzatziki sauce!   Please enjoy my version of Chicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki.

Chicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki
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Chicken Souvlaki
  1. 1 ½ pounds chicken breast, cut into bite size pieces
  2. 1/4 cup olive oil
  3. Juice from 1 fresh lemon
  4. 2 cloves garlic, minced
  5. 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  6. salt and pepper
Tzatziki
  1. 1 small cucumber, peeled and grated
  2. 1 cup plain full-fat Greek yogurt
  3. 1 large garlic clove, finely minced
  4. 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  5. 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  6. ½ teaspoon salt
To serve
  1. pita
  2. tomatoes, thinly sliced
  3. red onions, thinly sliced
Chicken Souvlaki
  1. Combine all ingredients, marinate in refrigerator for two hours, occasionally stirring.
  2. Thread chicken onto skewers, discard marinade. Grill chicken over medium heat until cooked through and slightly charred.
Tzatziki
  1. Grate the cucumber and drain through a fine mesh sieve. Combine all of the ingredients. Cover and refrigerate.
To serve
  1. Wrap chicken and sauce in a pita with thinly sliced tomatoes and red onions.
Marcel's Culinary Experience http://www.marcelsculinaryexperience.com/

3 Things in the Kitchen to Teach Your Kid Before Going to College by Lynn Dugan

My oldest daughter Becca (on right) and her friends started cooking together in high school and have made many delicious treats in our kitchen!

Do you have a high school senior? If so, are you going through a mental inventory of what he/she needs to know before going off to college? I’ve been wondering myself if my own senior son has the laundry skills, checkbook balancing know-how, and the motivation to clean a dirty bathroom before he goes off to college at the end of the summer. There is so much to learn in so little time! While all of that is swirling in my head, what I can feel good about is that he is equipped in the kitchen with basic skills. Here are three things in the kitchen to teach your own child before going off to college:

Basic knife skills and safety
Make sure the chef’s knife you are using is sharp and is being held with fingers wrapped around the knife’s handle and the index finger and thumb gripping the knife’s base. Practice first by cutting some fruits and vegetables. Discuss a few pointers while enjoying the process: cutting downward and away from your body, always using a cutting board and never cutting on metal surfaces, Formica counter tops, stoves or in your hand. Remember, too, that knives should be hand washed and never thrown into a dishwashing sink amongst other dishes.

Food safety
This lesson is a very important topic for a cook of any level. Cutting boards used for raw meat should never be shared with produce (or anything else) before they are washed and sanitized. Pay attention to ‘use by’ dates on packaged foods. Know proper cooking temperatures (cooking poultry to 165 degrees and ground meat to 160 degrees). When thawing frozen food, it should always be done in the refrigerator overnight (instead of on the kitchen counter), and perishables should be refrigerated as soon as possible when brought home from the grocery store or when used in a recipe. Practice regular hand washing and keep work surfaces clean before and after food prep.

Stove Top Skills
Basic instructions go a long way when navigating a stove top. This new know-how should include how to turn on each burner, how to match burner size with pot size, and when to use the different low, medium and high heat settings. Together, you can start with boiling water on high heat for pasta or rice and then turn down the heat for the remainder of the cook time. Basic pan frying or sautéing skills are also helpful as a quick method for cooking protein and vegetables. For example, diced chicken cooked in a skillet can be added to the pasta or rice made in the steaming/boiling lesson (add marinara sauce or pesto and some shredded cheese for an easy meal). Try sautéing vegetables in a little olive oil like the sliced zucchini and onion you may have cut in the knife skills lesson. It makes a delicious side dish. Below is a super easy recipe you can use to further develop stove top skills!

Most importantly, enjoy this time in the kitchen with your child. It will be time well spent!

Cheesy Beef and Tomato Noodle Skillet
Serves 4
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Ingredients
  1. 1 pound lean ground beef
  2. 1 medium onion, chopped
  3. 1 clove garlic, minced
  4. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  5. 14 ounces water
  6. 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  7. 1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
  8. 1 medium sliced zucchini, cut ½ inch thick
  9. 1 cup uncooked egg noodles
  10. 1 can (14 ounces) fire roasted, diced tomatoes
  11. 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Instructions
  1. In a 10-inch skillet, brown ground beef, onion, and garlic over medium heat for 8-10 minutes or until beef is no longer pink, breaking into crumbles. Remove beef with a slotted spoon; pour off drippings. Season with salt and set aside.
  2. In the same skillet, add water, tomatoes, Italian seasoning, red pepper, zucchini and egg noodles. Push pasta into liquid. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 15 minutes until pasta is tender, stirring occasionally. Return beef to skillet and heat through. Sprinkle dish with cheese and serve.
Marcel's Culinary Experience http://www.marcelsculinaryexperience.com/

Weekend in Santa Fe by Robin Nathan

I’m a Western girl at heart. Any chance I get, that’s the direction I head, and I’ve just returned from a long weekend in Santa Fe, one of my favorite cities in the American west.

I met a couple longtime girlfriends there (I can’t say “old girlfriends” anymore, since we’re now actually OLD), and we ate and shopped (but mostly ate) our way through the town. If you’re unfamiliar with northern New Mexico and it’s cuisine, there are three ingredients which really define it: Hatch chilies, both green and red, and both HOT; piñon nuts, AKA pine nuts; and blue corn.

As a heat-freak, I love the fire-y Hatch chilies in everything from salsas and enchiladas to pizza and burger toppings. Locals string the red chilies together in the early fall to form ristras, allowing the chilies to dry and provide a ready supply all year. As for piñon nuts, I’ve been munching on them all my life — living on the west coast and spending time in the southwest provided easy access. One of my girlfriends on the trip, a native Midwesterner, was surprised to learn the nuts are actually harvested from pine cones. But not just any old pine tree’s cones will do – they must be from a piñon pine, the short, scrubby looking pine tree that prefers the higher altitudes of northern New Mexico and Arizona.

What’s Left of my Pancake…

Blue corn, however, is perhaps the most exotic of the cuisine’s native ingredients. Originally cultivated by the Hopi tribe of New Mexico and Arizona, blue corn is ground into a powder for use in tortillas and native breads. In the hands of white folks, it’s found it’s way into muffins, pancakes, and even pizza crust. Blue corn provides 20% more protein than white or yellow corn, and has a sweeter, nuttier flavor. Sunday morning found me and my friends feasting on delicious and lightly crunchy blue corn and piñon pancakes at the Plaza Restaurant, one of the oldest restaurants in Santa Fe, and as depicted in the name, right on the main plaza, across from the Native American artisan market. You don’t have to travel to Santa Fe to pick up some blue corn meal – look for Bob’s Red Mill at your local specialty store! Get your hands on some and try these pancakes some weekend morning soon!

Blue Corn and Piñon Pancakes with Piñon Butter
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For Pancakes
  1. 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  2. 1 ½ cups blue corn meal
  3. 1 tablespoon baking powder
  4. 3 tablespoons sugar
  5. Salt to taste
  6. 2 eggs
  7. 2 ½ cups milk
  8. ½ cup buttermilk
  9. ¼ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  10. ½ C. Piñon pine nuts
  11. Additional melted butter for griddle
For Butter
  1. 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
  2. 1 tablespoon honey
  3. 3 tablespoons piñon pine nuts
  4. Salt to taste
  5. Confectioner’s sugar or maple syrup for serving
Make the Butter
  1. Using a small spatula, combine the butter, honey and piñon nuts in a small bowl and season to taste with salt. Set aside at room temperature. (Refrigerate if making more than an hour in advance, bring to room temperature before using.)
Make the Pancakes
  1. Place dry ingredients in a large bowl and whisk to blend. Combine the eggs, milks and melted, cooled butter in a smaller bowl or large glass measuring cup. Whisk to blend, then pour into dry ingredients. Stir with a wooden spoon until just incorporated, the batter should still be a bit lumpy.
  2. Preheat a griddle to moderate heat (350 if it has a thermostat.) Lightly butter the griddle and ladle the batter onto the griddle to form the pancakes. Sprinkle with a few of the pine nuts and cook until the underside is golden, about 2-4 minutes. Turn and cook the other side. Transfer to a platter and hold in a warm oven until all the batter has been used.
  3. To serve, pile onto plates and dollop with the soft piñon nut butter. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar or drizzle lightly with maple syrup and enjoy.
Marcel's Culinary Experience http://www.marcelsculinaryexperience.com/

Dining in the American Riviera by Jamie Bordoshuk

Santa Barbara is known as “America’s Riviera” for good reason. The lush Mediterranean climate, picturesque Pacific coastline, red tiled roofs and sophisticated culture make you feel like you’ve been magically transported to Spain or Italy. In addition to all of this, it also holds the title for having the most restaurants per capita on the central coast – 450 to be exact.

My wife and I were lucky to call Santa Barbara ‘home’ for the entire month of January. And we had one goal – to try as many of Santa Barbara’s restaurants as possible.

First on our list was Brophy Brothers, a Santa Barbara staple for the past 30 years that is located right in the harbor with views of mega-yachts and playful sea lions. Brophy’s wins the Best Seafood title year after year, but it’s their award-winning Brophy’s Clam Chowder that keeps the locals coming back. My bowl was brimming with big chunks of clam, russet potatoes, onions and celery in a perfectly creamy base. Top all of this off with a basket of warm sourdough and a local craft brew and I was in heaven.

For Taco Tuesday we ventured out in search of a Cali-Mex restaurant that served homemade chips and salsa, fresh flavors and strong margaritas. Walking up State Street, we came upon Sandbar, an outdoor restaurant with fire pits, heat lamps and a wonderful ‘come as you are’ vibe. The stars were aligned again as we were pleasantly surprised to hear that Happy Hour included 2-for-1 margaritas and $5 appetizers. Sandbar became our weekly ‘spot’ for the rest of our Tuesdays.

On our final weekend (with my sisters in tow), we visited Paradise Café – the first and only Santa Barbara restaurant to grill their prime steaks and fresh seafood using live wood oak. Live oak imparts the unique and pungent flavor to meats, seafood and vegetables while allowing the quality of these ingredients to come through. The savory flavors brought out by the oak allow them to keep additional seasonings to a minimum. For an appetizer, we ordered the fresh local mussels steamed in wine, butter, garlic and Pernod. Unbelievable! In addition to the flavor, each mussel was literally the size of a silver dollar. No two ways about it, we just had to order another bowl!

Although we didn’t make it to all 450 restaurants, we did put a dent in the list. You can bet that we will be picking up where we left off next year. While at home, I make this New England Clam Chowder and imagine we are harbor-side at Brophy’s.

New England Clam Chowder
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Ingredients
  1. 2 (10 oz) cans clams, with juice reserved or 2-3 pounds fresh clams
  2. 2 cups bottled clam juice
  3. 4 cups seafood broth
  4. 3 tablespoons butter
  5. 2 cups onions, small dice
  6. 2 cups celery, small dice
  7. 2 carrots, small dice
  8. 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
  9. 6 sprigs of fresh thyme
  10. 2 bay leaves
  11. 3 cups potatoes, peeled and medium dice
  12. 2 cups heavy cream
  13. Salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. In a Dutch oven, over medium heat, sauté onions, carrots and celery in butter, until translucent, about 6-7 minutes. Add garlic, thyme and bay leaf and sauté for 1 minute more. Add potatoes, seafood broth, reserved clam juice and bottled clam juice. Simmer until the potatoes are cooked - about 20 minutes. Add clams and heavy cream and cook another 5 minutes. If soup is too thin, mash a few of the potatoes to thicken. Season with salt and pepper.
Marcel's Culinary Experience http://www.marcelsculinaryexperience.com/

 

A New Year and a New Focus in the Kitchen by Paul Lindemuth

The holiday decorations are taken down and packed away. The last of the Christmas cookies are eaten. And now I’m finally able to move forward to the first weekend that does not involve the responsibility of entertaining or being entertained! It was a very busy season of holiday cooking and baking with so many lists that needed checking and re-checking with a work-related event on the calendar nearly every day.

If you’re like me, a New Year brings a new focus to so many aspects of everyday life and it’s a good time to bring that focus to our homes and kitchens. Here are some thoughts (OK….resolutions) that I’m bringing into our kitchen and home in 2017:

BRIGHTEN UP YOUR KITCHEN

You’ve spent so much time in the kitchen and looked at the same four walls and all the surfaces for hours on end. January is a great time to give your kitchen a good cleaning from top to bottom. And when you’ve finished that chore, create a new focal point with a planter of bright green herbs on the counter or a new food photo hung on the wall or a new cookbook displayed in a book holder.

GET ORGANIZED

This is a great time to open all the cabinets and drawers and take control of the clutter. Kitchen tools are often thrown into a drawer in haste when you’re busy, so pull everything out to clean up and organize. The same holds true for cabinets and drawers with ingredients and spices that may be past their prime. Toss that stuff out and get a fresh start.

EAT MORE HEALTHILY

 Begin with small goals that are easily achievable on an everyday basis. Start packing a healthy lunch to take to work. Grab an apple for your snack to ease into eating more nutritiously. Once you’ve conquered the small steps add more healthy habits like cutting back on bad carbs and sugar until you’re eating more healthily regularly.


MAKE TIME FOR FAMILY

I think we’ve all had our fill of office parties, holiday feasting and revelry. Before the New Year gets too busy, make sure to set aside time for family. Block off some time that’s reserved just for activities at home. Eating together around the dining table is a great way to bring focus back to home and family.  Please enjoy this beautiful and vibrant recipe around the table together!

Baked Whitefish with Coconut-Cilantro Sauce
Serves 4
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Ingredients
  1. canola oil spray
  2. four 6-ounce whitefish fillets
  3. 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  4. 1/2 cup light reduced-fat coconut milk
  5. 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
  6. 1 teaspoon peeled chopped fresh ginger
  7. 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  8. 2 garlic cloves
  9. 1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped
  10. fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Spray a 9x13-inch baking pan with canola oil spray. Sprinkle the fish with the salt and place it in the pan.
  2. In the jar of a blender combine the coconut milk, cilantro, ginger, garam masala, garlic and jalapeño. Pulse until fairly smooth.
  3. Pour the mixture over the fish. Bake until the fish is just opaque in the center, about 15 minutes.
  4. Transfer the fish to heated plates. Garnish with more cilantro and serve right away.
Marcel's Culinary Experience http://www.marcelsculinaryexperience.com/

Christmas Cookies, Advent Calendars, St. Nick and Chipped Ornaments by Kelly Sears

The pumpkins, platters, and roasters are put away, the final turkey sandwich has been eaten and we turn the corner to the decorated trees, spinning dreidels, shopping, gift wrapping, and a packed December schedule. But sprinkled among the have-to-dos are the traditional want-to-dos. Those “started-when-I-was-a-kid” holiday traditions that happen only once a year but are traditions we carry on with our own families.

kellyblog2I spent the majority of my early life living in a condominium. We met our neighbors at the mailboxes or in the garage with a passing hello, and many became friends. Every year, we would gift boxes of homemade Christmas cookies to these friends and others. Not just one kind, that wasn’t how it worked in our home. It was dozens of varieties and dozens and dozens of cookies. Cookie cutters, icing the colors of the rainbow, cookie tins, wax paper and huge Tupperware containers littered the kitchen. Mom would make hot chocolate and put on a pot of chili and around that small kitchen table we would fill cookie tins until the lid would barely fit. My dad would burst into the chaos, snatch a cookie (usually the angel whose wing would always break off as you tried to ease her out of the cutter), slather it with frosting and make a quick exit. The best part was delivery. The cookies never tasted as good as the look on the gifted recipient’s face when they opened the tin; pure joy. Baking is for sharing. A recipe makes enough for you and for others. Pack lots of tins.

kellyblog3One year, when my sister’s kids were toddlers, I went to a charity auction and bid on a quilted advent calendar. It had twenty-four sewn little pockets to fill and so it began. Each year, I would fill the pockets with candy or notes, little hot chocolate packets, shoe laces, Christmas pencils, and snowflake socks. Today my niece is 15, my nephew 14. Around the middle of November they start hinting as to the status of this year’s calendar; “you’re doing it again, right?” These days, the gifts are Starbucks cards, hockey tape, and giant marshmallows. But there are still notes, candies and little hot chocolate packets. Just about every day they text me and let me know what was in today’s pocket. They are excited by a candy cane; my heart is bursting that they chose to reach out. There are 24 days before Christmas each December; reach out and just see what you get back.

In the German tradition, children leave their wooden shoes outside on December 5th. If they were good, in the morning they would find them filled with fruits, nuts, a smattering of candy and a bread-man made of sweet dough. Every year my sister and I would leave our shoes outside the door in the hallway and forget about them. Late in the night there would be a loud pounding on the door and a jingle of bells and we would run trying to catch a glimpse of St. Nick as he darted off. As I got older, I got faster. As mentioned, we lived in a condominium. I got to our front door just as the stairwell door was closing. I ran to the door as fast as I could, looked up and looked down the staircase. I saw him, I saw St. Nick! And then it hit me, I didn’t want to know St. Nick. I didn’t want to know that it was really the neighbor from upstairs who had been pounding on our door for the last ten years. He was older now too and couldn’t make it up the stairs as fast anymore to escape his identity being unveiled. My sister was right behind me but missed the viewing. “Did you see him, did you see him?” Nope, I missed him, I said. Sometimes it’s better to believe than to know.

kellyblog1When I got married, one of my wedding gifts was a box of ornaments from our family tree. Some I had made throughout the years, some representing vacations or events, some just favorites. In amongst the old was a new bride and a groom ornament. The bride and groom hung proudly on our first tree front and center that year. Over the next couple of years, our marriage hit some speed bumps. We decorated the tree, it fell over and some of the ornaments broke. The bride and groom got chipped. She lost an arm, he had a cracked neck. We could have scooped up those ornaments in the dust pan and tossed them in the trash but we chose to wrap them in tissue and try to bring them out again the next year. Twenty-eight years later, the bride and groom are still on the tree, one armed and cracked neck. Life is fragile, handle with care.

Whatever your holiday traditions, keep them going. Presents are less important than being present. Pack lots of tins, reach out and just see what you get back, sometimes believing is better than knowing. Life is fragile, handle with care.

Happy Holidays!

My Mom’s Sugar Cookies
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Ingredients
  1. ½ cup butter
  2. ¾ cup sugar
  3. 1 egg
  4. 1½ teaspoons vanilla
  5. 1½ cups flour
  6. 1 teaspoon baking powder
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cream together butter and sugar; beat in egg and vanilla. Add flour and baking powder.
  3. Chill dough for at least one hour or overnight. Roll onto a floured surface and cut out with cookie cutters.
  4. Place on parchment lined sheets and bake for 6-8 minutes.
Marcel's Culinary Experience http://www.marcelsculinaryexperience.com/

Just Jump In by Cherise Slattery

There’s more than one way to skin a ______. You can fill in the blank. I was thinking cat. Recently we were on a family vacation and spent an entire evening having an idiom contest. There are thousands once you start paying attention. But I digress.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat. And there’s more than one way to mix a vinaigrette, or cook a steak, or bake a loaf of bread. When I teach a cooking class, I learn too. So many of the people who come to cooking classes love food and are already great cooks. Some people are learning how to make something for the very first time, and some are taking a cooking class because that is what they love, that is their hobby, and they immerse themselves in the experience.

panzanellaOne comment I often get is, “but I heard you were supposed to do it this way.” I believe there isn’t one right way, only your favorite way, or the way that has always worked best for you. If what you’re cooking looks delicious, and tastes delicious, the road that got you there doesn’t matter. The trick is finding your best way. I do that by continually reading, taking classes, and experimenting. You just have to jump in and start cooking!

And after some experimenting, here’s my favorite way to use up the very last of those summer tomatoes.

Panzanella
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Ingredients
  1. 3 cups crusty bread, broken into ½ inch cubes
  2. 2 pounds fresh, ripe tomatoes, ½ inch dice
  3. 1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
  4. 1 minced garlic clove
  5. ½ cup pitted black olives
  6. ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  7. ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  8. ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  9. salt and pepper
  10. handful of fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
Instructions
  1. Combine all ingredients and let sit at room temperature for one half hour before serving.
Marcel's Culinary Experience http://www.marcelsculinaryexperience.com/

Take it Slow by Lynn Dugan

Savor – Relax – Reflect – Connect – Cherish – Celebrate – Delight – Share

lynnblog1These words are often compromised in our fast-paced culture.  But last month, when I had the opportunity to visit my Great Aunt Angie in Italy, I was reminded of how important they are to remember to prioritize in our busy lives. Angie and my Uncle Gino used to own a neighborhood restaurant in Chicago.  After Uncle Gino passed, she returned to Lammari, her small Italian hometown in Tuscany.  In August, I was able to see her for the first time since she left Chicago twenty years ago!

Angie lives on a property that she shares with her sister Renatta, Renatta’s grown children, and their families. They invited my oldest daughter and I to their homes for dinner and we had the chance to meet and share a meal with Angie’s extended family for the first time.

We spent several hours at the alfresco dining table, surrounded by all of the family, greeting each other, eating, talking, laughing, and reminiscing. In fact, if it had not lasted several hours, we would not have been able to enjoy all of the delicious food they prepared for us. The first course was a hearty lasagna followed by a pair of salads – tomato with red onions and leafy greens. Next we were served plates of thinly-sliced roast pork and roast beef with gravy, and sides of oven-roasted potatoes and a zucchini frittata. Of course we enjoyed local wine and to top off the feast, we indulged in almond tart and coffee for dessert.

lynnblog3It was magical to be part this multi-generational meal; everyone brought a plate to the table that they had prepared in their own kitchen.  There was a little competition between everyone’s dishes, a little teasing of the presentation, but lots of love. It was remarkable to see the way they lingered at the table, even the young children, all enjoying each other’s company. There was not a single distraction during dinner from any electronics. I treasured the culture surrounding the meal and hope I can bring this Tuscan experience into my own family by slowing down at mealtime, allowing more time for conversation, and taking time to connect, relax, reflect, and celebrate.  Although an experience like this cannot be fully recreated, even a little change towards taking it slow would make a big difference. And now that my own kids are getting older, this is more doable than a few years ago!

As you try to do the same, enjoy this recipe for Renatta’s Zucchini Frittata.  Even more recipes from Tuscany will be shared at Marcel’s Midday “Tuscan Country Kitchen” that I am teaching on October 26th.   I hope to see you there!

Renatta’s Zucchini Frittata
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. 5 large eggs
  2. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  3. Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  4. 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  5. 4 tablespoons olive oil
  6. 1 large onion, diced
  7. 1 pound zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and into 1/4–inch slices
  8. 2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  9. 2 tablespoons fresh basil, cut into chiffonade
Instructions
  1. Preheat broiler.
  2. Crack and beat eggs in a bowl. Add grated cheese and season with salt and pepper, set aside. In a 10-inch skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil. Sauté onion until it begins to caramelize - about 5 minutes. Add zucchini to the skillet and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes until zucchini is tender but not soft, and excess liquid is cooked off (drain off any extra liquid if present when zucchini is finished cooking). Add parsley and basil. Drizzle remaining olive oil around pan and heat while evenly distributing pan contents.
  3. Give eggs a quick stir and pour into pan. Immediately reduce to low heat and cook until eggs are just set, about 12-15 minutes.
  4. To finish the cooking, slide pan 6 inches under broiler until the top is golden (1-2 minutes). Please be careful not to overcook.
  5. The frittata can be slid onto a serving plate after edges are loosened with a knife. Serve warm or cold, cut into wedges. Enjoy slowly, just as Renatta, Angie, and all of my family in Italy would do!
Marcel's Culinary Experience http://www.marcelsculinaryexperience.com/

Herb Garden Harvest by Robin Nathan

I live in Roscoe Village, a great neighborhood in the city, a little west of Wrigley Field, in a house that was built in 1904. While many houses in my neighborhood are either new construction or gut rehabs, our house has only been updated over the past 116 years.  By city standards, we have a very large backyard – one of the biggest on the block, and the only one with the original trees. The oak tree is as old as the house, with an enormous trunk and towering branches. Our maple tree is a baby – a mere 60 years old. These trees provide lovely shade – but there is one downfall. Not enough sun for a true garden.

HerbPotsInstead, every spring, I line the stone fence surrounding the trees with pots of herbs.  They get enough sun to keep going through the summer months. There’s always basil, cilantro, and mint, sometimes rosemary, and this year there is also lavender and oregano. These herbs form the basis of many a weeknight dinner. Sometimes I’ll grab three and puree them with a little white wine vinegar and olive oil to drizzle over quickly grilled chicken, fish, or steak. Or I’ll throw in pine nuts or pistachios and make a quick pesto. Often I don’t even bother with the pureeing and just mince two or three herbs with a little arugula to toss into a quick summer sauté of grape tomatoes, sweet onions and bi-color corn. The fresh taste and color are welcome and delicious, and give new life to old weeknight standbys. You really can’t miss when you combine fresh herbs – just go a little easy on the mint so you don’t end up feeling like you’re eating toothpaste. Have fun and go a little herb crazy! In a few months, this freshness will be a only a memory.

5 Herb Purée
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Ingredients
  1. 1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
  2. ½ cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
  3. ½ cup packed fresh arugula leaves
  4. 2 T. packed fresh mint leaves
  5. 1 T. packed fresh oregano leaves
  6. 2 T. white wine vinegar
  7. 1/3 cup olive oil
  8. salt to taste
Instructions
  1. Chop all the herbs. Place in a blender or coffee grinder (my favorite, because it really pulverizes the herbs) with the vinegar and oil. Process until completely smooth and creamy. Season to taste with salt.
Notes
  1. To turn it into a pesto, add a couple tablespoons of a nut and some Parmesan cheese.
  2. Serving Ideas: Drizzle on freshly grilled chicken, steak, fish, or pork. Stir into ratatouille or any other fresh veggie sauté. Drizzle over veggie crepes or breakfast eggs. Drizzle over goat cheese and serve with crackers.
Marcel's Culinary Experience http://www.marcelsculinaryexperience.com/