Friday, November 28, 2008

A Tag and a little about me!

Thank you to everyone who had well wishes for me and visited while I was taking a little break. Nothing really wrong here. I just sometimes need to change things up. In addition, it is also a busy time for all of us and I am getting the Holiday card orders out so there hasn't been much time for blogging anyway. Even though the last week I have been itching to do so.

Now, first things first. I have been TAGGED! Lisa at What We Eat was so kind in inviting me into the game. The object is to list 7 random or little known things about yourself and then tag others to do the same. So here goes.

1) My great great great (not sure how many) grandfather signed the Declaration of Independence! His name was James Wilson. My mother's grandfather still bore the name of James Wilson (Cox) as did his son and grandson.

2) About 12 or 14 years ago, I was in an infomercial for Perfect Smile Tooth Whitening Cream which was hosted by Vanna White.

3) I have had the wonderful opportunity to glide in a hot air balloon across the Masai Mara over Tanzania and Kenya in Africa at sunrise. It was quite an experience. So beautiful to see the earth awakening and all the animals.

4) I am a pretty good snow skier and was on the ski team in college. Unfortunately I have only skied one day in the past six years due in part to the pregnancies and then a husband who doesn't love it as much or want to spend the money to go. I am slightly a snob about it and will only go to the good spots... Mammoth, Tahoe, Park City... I don't like the local mountains.

5) The only body part I have ever broken is my nose. I did it at 18 while water skiing and attempting to jump the wake. (I'm not too bad at water skiing either). It wasn't pretty and now I am afraid to jump the wake.

6) The best concert I ever went to was to see Neil Diamond with my parents. I love his music and he has such an electric quality to his performance. It was amazing. Of course, even as a teenager I preferred his music, folk music, new age, classical, or musicals to top 40 or much of the rock. I know... I am a dork!!!!

7) I have written and illustrated two children's books which have yet to be published. I have a few other idea in my head that I need to work on as well.

Now I am not sure who to tag. So please, if you would like to play, anyone and everyone is welcome. Please join in. I would love to hear more about you.

So here is a little bit of what I have been doing the last few weeks. Food is never too too far from my mind even when I am not cooking a lot or anything too special.

Painting pumpkins and making flower pot turkeys.

Finding unique and fun ways to use kitchen tools!

Silly kids!
Crazy space girl! They think this makes a great space helmet. Not the best picture of here but ooohhh sooo funny.

One of the meals I made. Grilled chicken with some sort of lemon, garlic, cream sauce I think. I don't really remember now.

Hope you all had a fabulous Thanksgiving! The holidays are upon us. Cheers.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Salmon with Tarragon Leek Sauce

I am in a funk. It isn't just writers block or food funk. I just can't seem to be very inspired by much the last few days. There is plenty to do. I need to clean the house, fold laundry, organize, exercise, plan for Christmas, file and more. I could take the kids to the park more or play more. I could write some other ideas that have been rolling around in my head. But really nothing is inspiring me or motivating me beyond the absolute necessary. I cannot even seem very motivated to cook. What is wrong with me? Did the 12 kids and 7 moms I had for dinner and movie last Friday just wear me out that badly? Am I getting sick?

There are just no good words or thoughts. I cannot wax poetic or even offer you anything remotely interesting to think about or to eat. My head is heavy.

So here is a dish I made a couple weeks ago to tide you over until I get some spunk back. I had some leeks and some salmon and was craving Tarragon which is one of my favorite herbs. And what do you know... I found this on the Epicurious site! I modified mine and just threw in rough guesses at the ingredients to make just enough for myself. I didn't have vermouth so substituted some white wine vinegar as per the suggestions on this site:

I served the salmon on a bed of rice with steamed artichoke on the side. I cannot say it was the best I've ever had. But it was a good meal and my daughter did eat a little of the salmon. For a mid-week dinner for me and the kiddos, it was just right.

Salmon with Tarragon-Leek Sauce
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
  • 4 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), chopped (about 4 cups)
  • 1 1/4 cups dry vermouth
  • 1 1/4 cups whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 8 6-ounce salmon fillets
  • All purpose flour
  • Additional chopped fresh parsley
Melt 4 tablespoons butter in large skillet over medium-low heat. Add leeks and sauté until soft and transparent, about 15 minutes. Add vermouth and boil over high heat until liquid is reduced to 2 tablespoons, about 5 minutes. Add cream and boil until thickened to sauce consistency, about 2 minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup parsley and tarragon. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat, cover to keep warm.

Sprinkle salmon with salt and pepper. Dust salmon lightly with flour. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in each of 2 non-stick skillets over medium-high heat. Add 4 salmon fillets to each skillet and cook until opaque in center, about 3 minutes per side.

Transfer salmon to plates. Spoon sauce over salmon. Sprinkle with additional parsley and serve.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Testing 1-2-3, Testing

Have I ever told you about my cooking history? When it all started? Now that I am nearing my 100th post, and in light of the menu at hand, I thought I'd give you a brief synopsis. Okay. As many friends and family can attest, I don't make stories short very often. So let me appologize in advance.

Up until I was a senior in high school, I had helped my mom in the kitchen when I had to. The usual things... chopping this, tossing a salad, making sandwiches, frying up taco shells, making the garlic butter mix for garlic bread and stirring now and then. My mom is a good cook but not experimental too too often. It was all fairly standard things. Oh and there was that one chocolate mousse for French class. But my sisters and I all like to bake cookies and cakes. Mostly so we could eat them! I baked A LOT of cookies in high school! I made them for friends, for fun, for boyfriends, for teachers and for the whole football team!

I am not sure exactly what inspired the decision to cook my first WHOLE meal. At the time I had a serious boyfriend who I loved dearly. His parents and siblings were going to be gone for an entire evening. Now being the good Catholic kids we were (HEY, I am serious! We happened to be the type that actually DID NOT go against the rules or not much anyway), we didn't think of "monkey business". Somehow, we decided or I wanted to make a romantic dinner for him.

My aunts and mother helped inspire the menu based on what we really liked and what they thought wouldn't be too complicated for me. Except the cheesecake. At this time I can't remember if I made the cheesecake at home or over at his parents house. I do remember we were there early in the day and did the grocery shopping together. I felt like such the "couple". The menu was chicken piccata, rice, some vegetable I forget, salad and cheesecake. And do you know what? It came out great! All of it. I mean it may not have been the best I'd ever had but hey, for my first dinner by myself?

Now let's skip off to college. Freshman and sophomore year I lived in a dorm. We made quesadillas and burritos there with our IRON! They were actually great by the way. But nothing was interesting until junior year or senior year. By then I was declared as an art major. My close friend had always cooked with her mom. While they too mostly baked, she also made a lot of pasta dishes. So she and I would bake together and started making more than burritos for dinner and experimenting a little. We started preferring wine to beer or cocktails by senior year too. Often we would paint and sculpt all day and then go home and cook and drink wine and sometimes use the wine in the food. Then go back to the studios and create some more. Good memories. Good times. After graduation, I then dated her brother for about a nano-second. He had dropped out of cooking school in San Francisco and was staying in Santa Barbara for a while. I was in awe with his abilities. Then I started working at a French restaurant. Ohhhh yeah. That was cool.

I think I got my Bon Appetit subscription around that time as a graduation gift from a relative. I started dabbling. By the time I was 25, I was living on Balboa Island and jumping from job to job and cooking more and more. Sometimes just for myself. I loved it. I also started watching Emeril and the cooking channel then. At that time when I wanted a recipe, I had to either send in a SASE (self addressed stamped envelope) or madly write it down. I have a few copies of the later still in a box of recipes. It is funny. I can barely read it. By 30, most who met me knew two things right off the bat. "This girl likes food and wine!" Then came into play another boyfriend. He was happy to eat any experiment I might put before him as were his friends. I had always favored doing sauces as there was room for play and measuring wasn't imperative. Then came the soups. I was making soup right and left for a year or so. And with roommates, a boyfriend and his MANY friends, there were plenty of people to help eat it. They all said they loved it. And since I rarely had left overs I believed them. I was experimenting and making a lot of "everything but the kitchen sink" soups. Or what I called "Mother Hubbard's Cupboard Soup." Just when we thought there was absolutely nothing to eat in the house, I would somehow whip up a soup to satisfy many. It was fun. It was challenging. It was at the height of the Seinfeld show and its popularity too. So as you can imagine, I got the nickname, "Soup Nazi" for a while!

After that life took a few twists, some turns. I went through short period in which I didn't cook too much because I was so busy. But rest assured. This was a time of going out and dining well often. Good food was no stranger for me. It was a fun time. And I started getting some VERY good wine! Then the kids came and a picky husband and little time. Cooking wasn't as often and soups? Almost never.

Now as you can see, cooking is back in full force and as of this fall, so are soups! The soup Nazi is back folks! And I've got a new creation.

Now I am not sure what to call it though. Maybe you can help. It is definitely a Southwestern flavor with some heat. I was in the mood for something in the Mexican family and so I pulled out the trusty stock pot and started dumping stuff in. But this time, I actually considered each ingredient as I did it and guess what? I actually wrote it all down for you (and for me).

Spicy Baja Bisque -- A Southwestern Soup

2 tbls. butter
1 leek chopped
1/2 onion chopped
5 cloves of garlic chopped
1 1/2 jalapeno diced
3-4 whole tomatoes
1 roasted red bell pepper
1 4-oz. can of diced green chiles
1 4-oz. can corn
32 oz. chicken broth
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. Cholula seasoning (available on the spice aisle or Mexican aisle of supermarket)
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup tequila
1 cup heavy cream

In a large stockpot melt the butter and add the leek, onion, garlic and jalapeno. Continue to saute until soft and onion is translucent. Add the tomato, roasted red bell pepper, chiles, corm chicken broth, cumin and Cholula and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1/2 and hour or so. Remove from heat and puree in batches or using and immersion blender until smooth. Return to pot. Add the lime juice and tequila and bring to gentle boil. Add the cream and let boil gently again. Reduce it to simmer and allow the flavors to meld for at least 20 minutes. I often keep soups on the stove for an hour or more on low. Keep an eye on the consistency. If it is really getting thick, remove it from the heat or add more cream or chicken stock. If it seems to thin, let it reduce some. Add salt, pepper and more lime juice to taste.

On this evening I chose to garnish the soup with grilled shrimp and a jalapeno, cilantro lime oil. Unfortunately I didn't write down all those ingredients exactly which is a shame because the flavor was phenomenal but here is what I think I put in the oil.

Jalapeno Cilantro Lime Oil

1 small avocado or 1/2 large avocado
1 large handful of cilantro
juice of 1/2 lime (maybe more)
1 jalapeno
1-2 garlic cloves
1/8 cup or more vegetable oil

In a food processor add the first 5 ingredients until smooth and combined. It will probably be thick and hard to get the cilantro smooth at this point. Begin slowly adding the vegetable oil and possibly more lime (depending on taste preferences) until you get the consistency you like and it is completely smooth. Salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle the soup into bowls and drizzle the jalapeno cilantro lime oil on top. Garnish with grilled shrimp, chicken, corn chips or diced vegetables.

I made homemade flour tortillas for the side with butter and salsa. I found the recipe for these on Orangette. They were delicious and the perfect accompaniment. I also topped with some crumbled tortilla chips for crunch.

My take on the new soup? Good. Very good. It is worth making again for sure. My mom? Mmmm this is good. It is kind of spicy. We like spicy. My dad? After he ate 3 bowls of it, said, "This is pretty good." Not a man with a lot of words mind you. Now should you try it too? YES! And please, help me think of a good name for this. Any and all ideas are welcome.

Ideas on the top of my head:
Spicy Southwestern Soup with cilantro oil
Mexican cream of tomato and jalapeno soup
Southwestern Kitchen Sink Soup
Drunken cream of tomato jalapeno soup with cilantro lime oil

Oh it is late. I don't know. What are your thoughts?

A couple days later I topped the soup with pepper jack cheese, guacamole, tortilla chips and a quickie made-up stuffed jalapeno. There are a ton of things that can top this soup. Have fun with it. I sure did!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Trick or Treat...

Smell my feet. Give me something good to eat!
You can be sure I will do that! Or my sisters and I will. We love Halloween.

The previous post was actually my youngest sister's 30th birthday costume party the week prior to Halloween. This post features my other sister's house where we always go to celebrate the night of the dead. She gets really into it and has a ton of decorations! She really goes all out. And she makes a ton of food too. So adults and kids alike have a blast!

The ghostly dining room table spread for all the goulish guests to help themselves.

The bar. Complete with "blood"! Or red and white wine anyway.

Brie with golden raisins and some sort of sauce as well.

Spinach dip and crackers.

Cream cheese with spicy red jalapeno jelly... mmmmmm!
Cheddar, jalapeno cornbread and spicy nuts in the background.

Soup Station: Tortilla soup with avocado and other good fixin's.

I tried out the popular "almost no knead bread" recipe. And paired it with a pistou.

I also made an Alsatian tart. I made up the recipe for the most part and
want to play with it again soon so I will do a full post when I recreate it.