Back with an appetite ;)

Apparently having nerve surgery takes longer to heal than I expected.  But now I’m back, and with an appetite for life and food that if anything, has increased.

What’s driven me to come back to posting is chocolate covered bacon…most definitely NOT a vegetarian offering.  I first saw this idea on the Food Network during an episode on unusual treats.  It peaked my curiosity but not enough to do anything about it.

Fast forward to my most recent foray into the supermarket, where while perusing the chocolate bars my eyes landed on Mo’s chocolate covered Bacon bar by Vosges Haut Chocolat.

It’s a study in contrasts.  Salty and sweet.  Crispy bacon and melting chocolate.  Savory and rich, this is a decadent delight.  Definitely not an every day treat.

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Back soon

Typing one-handed is challenging. Teaching The Husband to cook, equally challenging.

Hope to be back on track soon.

illustration: Neil Squire Society

A Puerto Rican Feast

In addition to being a life and executive coach, I also do retreats and live events that are personal and business development oriented.  That means that several times a year I get to travel to wonderful places and work with the chef’s to create magnificent meals for our attendees.

I recently returned from a site visit to the Rio Mar Resort and Spa in Puerto Rico.  One things I try very hard to do is to create menus that appeal to the vegetarians as well as the omnivores.  Gone are the days when an attending vegetarian was stuck with whatever the day’s “vegetarian option” was (usually pasta or tofu).  Now, the vegetarian option (at least on my menus) appeals to omnivore and vegetarian alike.

For an upcoming banquet menu we are featuring a Rainbow Salad to begin with followed by a choice of:

Grilled Vegetable Strudel with Roasted Tomato Basil Coulis, Saffron Emulsion and Sautéed Yuca and Spinach—  or

Tornado Churrasco with Plantain Mofongo, with diced tomatoes and red onions on top,  queso de hoja with chimichurri sauce served with Caribbean ratatouille with asparagus, baby carrots and chimichurri sauce.   or

Pan Seared Grouper with arroz mampostea and papaya mango chutney served with juliene vegetables.

And for dessert, a sampler plate of Mini Chocolate BananaTart, Mini  Cream Brule, Key Lime Tart served with brushed sauce of chocolate, cream anglaise and raspberry sauce with the puff pastry garnish.

Truly, a feast for the eyes and tastebuds.

Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash

There I was in Whole Foods when I spied this mound of beautiful white Acorn Squash.  Enthusiastically, I bought two.  The first one I just baked with a little maple syrup and served as a side dish.  But last night I wanted to make the second one the star of dinner, and rather than do a bread crumb/celery/nut stuffing, I decided to play with a Quinoa stuffing.  The result was delicious!

Quinoa isn’t the first grain that comes to mind when I am preparing dinner.  But every time I do remember to make it, I enjoy it’s crunchy, nutty flavor.  It’s particularly excellent in a vegetarian meal since it is a relatively complete protein source.  I’m always looking for interesting ways to use it.

INGREDIENTS

1 acorn squash, cut in half lengthwise, seeds removed
Olive oil
2/3 cup of water
1/2 tsp salt (I use sea salt, kosher salt is good too)
1/3 cup quinoa
1/3 cup whatever nuts you have on hand (I used pecans), chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
4 TBS dried fruits (I prefer dried cherries or cranberries, but you can also use apricots, raisins, even a mix of dried fruits), chopped if the pieces are large
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 TBS maple syrup

  • Preheat oven to 350F.
  • Rub squash with olive oil on both cut side and skin.  Place skin side down in a glass baking dish. Bake for approximately an hour.
  • Combine water, salt and quinoa in a medium saucepan. Reduce temperature and simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover and set aside.
  • Toast nuts in a saute pan for a few minutes (don’t let them burn).  Remove and set aside.
  • Add about 1 TBS of olive oil in the same pan.  Saute onion and garlic until soft and translucent.
  • Add dried fruits, nuts, cinnamon, chili powder, salt and cumin. Stir.
  • Add the cooked quinoa.  Stir and taste to adjust seasonings.
  • Remove acorn squash from the oven and fill with the quinoa mixture. Drizzle with maple syrup.
  • Return to the oven for about 10 minutes.

I served this with a baby greens salad with chopped pears, pignoli nuts and goat cheese, and a raspberry vinaigrette.

Can I cut it?

Kitchen Aid Santuko KnifeAny good cook worth her salt has a love affair with knives.  Dad, as a butcher, treated his knives reverently. And I learned at an early age how important a really sharp knife was, as I watched him use the sharpening steel before carving a roast.

Through the years, I’ve had my favorites.  My Wusthof knives held that place for a very long time.  And I still really like them.  I have an inexpensive boning knife that is lethally sharp, and glides through tomatoes, fish and more.  It’s a pleasure to use.

But lately, my devotion has been to my Kitchen Aid Santoku knife that I picked up on sale at Linens n Things just before they closed.  It’s a 7 inch knife with a pink silicone handle (an extra bonus, Kitchen Aid donated 10% of the retail price to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.)  I love the comfort of the silicone handle…it’s soft and non-slip.  It has a nice heft, and both the weight and the shape make this knife user-friendly.  I use it for everything!  Chopping vegetables, slicing tomatoes, carving a chicken.

What I like about the Santoku knife is it cuts like a knife, but can also chop like a cleaver, and with it’s relatively wide blade, also can scoop the onions I just diced right into the pan.

I think it’s time to add some more sizes of Santoku knife to my (ever-) growing collection.

Santoku Knife on Foodista

Everywhere a cookbook….

Have I mentioned I am obsessed with cookbooks?  I love to read them, especially old ones, because they give you a glimpse into the lifestyle of that era in much the same way as fashions of the times do.  But new ones can make my heart go pitter patter just as well.

I guess you could say I am something of a cookbook connoisseur.

I have my preferences and my dislikes.  I love cookbooks that are ethnic, regional, or favorites in other countries that have been translated into English and include a cultural context. I adore love stories to a particular cuisine of one’s heritage.  I love chef-centric cookbooks that are written without pretension and have a point of view.  I enjoy cookbooks that explore one food in all it’s glories…whether it’s a book about risotto, soups, or an ode to zucchini.

I am not a fan of overly complicated cookbooks, where each recipe has 20 or more ingredients, and an equal number of steps.  Save me from compendiums, with generic recipes that can be found in dozens of others.

I prefer ingredients listed in the order they are referred to in the recipe instructions.  I like it when nutrition values are given, and when suggested accompaniments appear.  Photos are nice, but not so many that it turns the cookbook into a coffee table book.

I want the index to list recipes by ingredients, and not (as in one book I own) by cute recipe titles. If it’s important to use a certain size or type of pan, pot or baking dish–tell me so.  I want the layout of the book to make sense.  I prefer it by course, rather than by season or menu.  And I admit to a fondness for sidebars with tips, tricks and substitutions.

When I read through a cookbook, I am looking for inspiration, new ideas, unique use of common ingredients, or simple use of ingredients that are new to me.

Most of all, I want a cookbook to be user-friendly.  I want the recipes to be accurate, easy to follow, and for the most part, not take all day to make (although cooking all day without the need for my intervention, as in a crockpot, is fine with me.)  Yes, I am perfectly capable of making a Beef Wellington from scratch (pastry, pate, duxelles and all…) but I prefer dishes that I can prepare after a busy day and put on the table at a reasonable hour.

People often ask me why I don’t write a cookbook.  It’s on my bucket list.  But for now, I’ll share some of my favorite recipes and cookbooks with you here.

Panzanella Salad

Panzanella (Italian bread and tomato) Salad

In my efforts to finally learn to bake bread (other than using a bread machine) I made two loaves of French bread the other day. We ate a half loaf at dinner that night, but there I was with a loaf and a half…what to do?

The lightbulb went off in my head…I had some leftover mozzarella from the Caprese salad I’d made the day before, as well as some very ripe tomatoes. Panzanella Salad was the perfect recipe, especially since this rustic Tuscan salad was originally devised to use up stale bread.

Ingredients:

  • A loaf and a half (approx. 6 cups) stale French or Italian bread, torn into bite-size pieces
  • 1/3 cup olive oil (some recipes call for extra virgin, but I like something that has body to it)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 TBS balsamic vinegar
  • 1 lb (approx 4) ripe tomatoes, cut into chunks
  • 2 small red onions, sliced
  • 1 cup fresh mozzarella, cut into bite-size pieces
  • a handful of fresh basil, hand torn into small pieces
  • s & p

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine the 1/3 cup olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic.

Add the bread to the bowl, and toss to coat.

Spread the bread on a baking sheet, and bake about 5 to 10 minutes.

Whisk the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Remove bread from oven, and allow to cool slightly.

Toss together the bread, tomatoes, onions, basil, and mozzarella cheese.

Pour on the oil and vinegar mix and let stand for 20 minutes before serving.

Prepare for rave reviews! [The Husband asked for more.]

If you have any leftover, serve it again the next day with the addition of more fresh tomato chunks, a sliced up avocado, and a little more balsamic vinaigrette.