Blond not Bland

Blondie Close-Up 2
Fattening, but worth it.

When I prepared desserts for our dessert party a few weeks ago, my sister-in-law, JC, loved the blondies that I made.

Blondies are without a doubt one of the easiest recipes in my arsenal and never seem to fail to please even the most avid chocolate lover – but they generally contain no chocolate. Unless, that is, you throw in some chocolate chips which is a devilishly good idea, but changes the exclusive focus on chewy ultra-sweet butterscotch to one that includes the complexity of chocolate. Though, obviously, that combination is virtually deadly (which is why I usually, selflessly, poison-test baked goods before serving them to friends/family). This time I added chocolate chips – it is my perogative, after-all. S & I poison tested this batch – we are still alive, happy.

Like many of my favorite recipes, these are not difficult and not intricate. They are pretty homey and come from an old standby: The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. It is another well worn cookbook with basic American recipes (the original book is over 100 years old). I always find that the baking recipes have stood the test of time in these cookbooks. The savory recipes are sometimes past their prime or simplify new cuisine, but these old cookbooks usually give good ideas and guidelines (i.e., how long to cook and how carve a chicken, how to make stock, how to make stuffing, etc.) Cookbooks like Fannie Farmer were indispensible before the advent of the Web, because they are somewhat instructional in nature. When you had just one good cookbook, it was like an old reliable friend and teacher. If you look at really old versions of, say, The Joy of Cooking, you can even get multiple recipes on how to prepare squirrel. Which is nice and may come in handy, someday. But, I just did a search on “cooking squirrel” on Yahoo! and it returned over 9 million hits. The first was a lesson from “eHow”. I do have a point here….

Blondie MixingAdd Flour to BlondiesBlondie BatterPan of Blondies

With food web-sites, food blogs, eHow’s and, basically, social networking through food, a lot of the “old friend” aspect of these venerable tomes has been lost. Which is a shame. These wonderful books have stood the test of time, because these classics are both trustworthy and reliable. I’m sticking with my old friends even as I make new ones.
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Tomatoes + Cream = Yum

Pasta with Tomato Cream Sauce
When we were in Italy, almost 3 years ago, we took a family cooking class in Tuscany. It was a blast. The cooking class took place at the home of the cooking instructor. Some of the participants were staying at the instructor’s home to cook for the week. We were only there for a morning/afternoon of fun. We cooked from about 10 am until about 1 pm, when we all sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labor together – complete with the instructor’s family. Husband, children, grandpa (who grated the parmesan), the whole crew.

We dined on some great food that day, but the recipe that we always come back to is Salsa Agli Aromi: tomato sauce with garlic and herbs. The girls got a chance to do a lot of chopping of herbs that day, with a mezzaluna. The sauce we made had lots of fresh herbs, onions, garlic and tomatoes. We also added a nice bit of cream to half the sauce, so that we could learn that the sauce could be served either way: simple or creamy. The creamy one was our favorite, though the simple sauce was divine, too.

Tonight, I was a little stretched for time. Lots of packing to do – and Open House at school. And, my herb pot is not in full production, yet. I improvised on our favorite sauce and cooked up a quick version. I also used a new pasta for us, Barilla Plus, which has more fiber (but is not totally whole grain). The new pasta is a keeper.

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Medium Well

Chicken and Lentils
Last time I checked, chicken was still supposed to be fully cooked when it was served. Juicy, but well done.

Oops.

Last night, mine came out medium-well. I had to boost the finished product with a little zap time in the microwave. Not the best solution, but if you have to give your medium-well chicken a little extra heat after it has been cooked and sliced, make sure to cook it in short spurts in the microwave so that it doesn’t get rubbery. Check every 15 seconds or so!

And, for a lentil loving family, make sure to prepare more than you think you will need – especially if you are serving undercooked chicken. I made the mistake of having too little vegetables last night. That was a first for us.

We are lentil lovers (“aliteration” – one of L’s vocabulary words this week). In soup, in salads, hot, warm, french green, brown and red. Haven’t tried the beluga lentils yet, but I may soon.

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Menu for the Week

We have harvested our bumper crop of artichokes (I think we got, all told, 11). We will probably have another crop bud in the fall. This week, we need to eat 8 artichokes. What a tragedy!

J asked to have spaghetti with tomato cream sauce, which is a recipe we learned while in Italy. That will be a great dinner for “Open House” night at school because it can be quickly prepared before we race out the door to go see J’s elementary school-work. I love Open House because it gives the parents a little glimpse into the childrens’ day and you see the leap in progress from the beginning to the end of the year. I always feel like the Open House is the beginning of the end of the year because there is not much to show off after that.

S has been reading Michael Pollan’s book, “In Defense of Food”, and we’ve been discussing how to incorporate some of what he has learned into our meal regime. With this blog, I’ve been focusing on healthier fare – it looks like we are moving in the right direction, based on what he is reading. We are not there yet! I think we could add more leafy stuff and focus less on having “protein” be the central feature of the meal. Smaller portions of meats and fish would probably be a good idea, as would larger portions of whole grains.

I am going to the dentist for a filling on Tuesday, so I think I’ll have something soft for dinner that night!

Here goes for this week:

Monday: Warm Lentils with vegetables, grilled chicken, artichokes, strawberries
Tuesday: Carrot Soup, crusty wheat bread or panini sandwiches, applesauce
Wednesday: Fish burritos, fruit for dessert
Thursday: Spaghetti with tomato cream sauce, salad
Friday: Off for Memorial Day Weekend

Next week, I will not be on the hook for dinners. S and L will be home alone, as J and I are going up to Yosemite for a school field trip. Maybe S will post his menus?

Hot Hot Hot Cold

Salade NicoiseDay two of a nice heat wave. Like the last one, it is warm enough to eat outside in the evening, which is pretty unusual for where we live. So, we like to take advantage it.

Tonight, we had a Salade Nicoise, which is something that you put together, more than something you cook. Though, there is more cooking than it would seem – but you don’t need to leave it all to just before you eat. In fact, you shouldn’t leave it all to the last minute because all of the elements of the dish, with the exception of the vinaigrette, should be chilled.

The salad’s cooked ingredients are hard boiled eggs, blanched green beans, boiled potatoes and seared tuna. All can be cooked ahead and put in the fridge for hours before fixing the salad. The main course is the essence of healthy (I guess, that is, if you don’t include the mercury in the tuna).

Seasoned Tuna
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Cornmeal Crusted Tilapia

Tilapia Dinner
When we went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium a few weeks ago, it was noted that Tilapia was a good, sustainable fish to eat. In looking at the aquarium web site, I saw that tilapia farmed in the U.S. is considered a “best choice”, with Central and South American farmed tilapia a “good alternative”. I didn’t pay attention to its provenance when I bought it a few weeks ago (and didn’t get to cook it because of schedule changes). I removed it from the freezer today and made a call to the market where I bought it. They told me their tilapia is from Equador. Still a good choice, but not if you consider the carbon footprint that got it here. Oh, well. It is already here – meaning my kitchen.

I thought I’d do a pretty simple preparation and serve the fish with a wedge of local lemon (a.k.a. picked from my yard).
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L loved the fish, its crunchy corny-ness. J loved her first two bites and then declared that she didn’t like it. This might have been because of the piece of toast that she had about half an hour before dinner, because she just couldn’t wait a second longer.

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Luncheon for 16

Cold Borscht
Throwing a party is very, very fun and very, very low stress when you share the work with good friends. Last Friday, I hosted a luncheon at my house with 2 great friends in honor of another great friend.

The menu was inspired by a Russian theme, but we didn’t stick totally to the theme. Here is what the ladies were served:

Appetizers and drinks: Cold Borscht served in demitasse cups, Cheese Puffs, Crab Salad in Endive, Vodka with Lemonade, Iced Tea
Lunch: Poached Salmon with dill sauce, cucumber salad, orzo salad, black bread
Dessert: Russian tea cookies, raspberry and coconut sorbet

My cooking to-do’s were the Cold Borscht and the Poached Salmon. I also put together the sorbets (Haagen Daz) and the Vodka drink.
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