Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sesame Garlic Green Beans

Maniac by Michael Sembello
It's the BIG game day this Sunday - the Super Bowl.  It's that day when many people get together to eat great "football" food, anticipate some unbelievably clever advertising campaigns, catch up on the latest, and watch some football in between all of that.  Well, that's been my experience anyway!  My team, sadly, isn't involved this year so my interest is going to be mostly fixed on the food and the commercials.  And the halftime show.  Which will be in my kitchen making these green beans!  And this should be your game plan as well!  Halftime shows are notoriously bad.  Not all of them, mind you.  But the sound is usually off, the choreography either ahead or behind the beat.  If it's an artist you really like, you're usually not happy with the smidgeon of time you get to see them as there are so many things going on on that field that the camera has to be too many "other" places than on them.  I find I get frustrated, wanting to grab the camera through the screen and do it myself.  Nope.  The halftime show should be wherever you're watching.  You turn on this song, grab your wok, and do your own kitchen dance.  It works.  I know because my daughter figured out the choreography for me last night.  She used the entire space, including the fridge and sink area.  It was intriguing.  Trust me.  These green beans are done in a flash!  And they're beautifully crisp tender and, at least for me, they're finger food!

I discovered the Mustard Seed Asian Cafe in Spokane, Washington on one of my first trips to visit the city.  It's located in the Northtown Mall on Division Street.  I'm always on Division Street when I go to Spokane.  It's miles and miles of great shopping.  And this particular time I ended up being exhausted and ready to eat at this point along the way.  A quick look at the menu and peek inside the door told  me that this place had possibilities.

Possibilities?!  Wow.  Have you ever cried because something you were eating was so good?  Outside of a Chocolate Chip Cookie, I mean.  The first time there I didn't order an appetizer.  I ordered the Shrimp Osaka and, seriously, wanted to cry.  I have yet to figure that sauce out but have no problem driving two hours to Spokane to "work on it."

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Red Leicester Cheddar Spread

You're So Vain by Carly Simon
I needed a song about pride today.  And prejudice.  You see, the  28th of this month marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of "Pride and Prejudice" - that glorious novel written by Jane Austen.  It is uncanny how this song fits right in - especially the scene at the Lucas' ball - where Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet meet for the first time.  If you take the Keira Knightley movie version, the crowd is enjoying a rather boisterous dance with all attendees laughing and clapping.  Suddenly, Mr. Bingley, his sister, and Darcy make their entrance.  The music ceases and all dancing stops as all turn to stare at the wealthy new tenant of Netherfield Hall.  A way is parted for them to make their way to the top of the room.  I'd have You're So Vain start here - with that premonitious (I think I just made that up) bass riff.  There's a very quiet whisper at the intro to the song saying "Son of a gun."  I fancy Elizabeth is saying this more to herself than anyone out loud.  She's taken with Darcy although she instantly translates his aloof manner into aristocratic arrogance - made certain when she overhears him discussing her rather "average" first impression on himself.  Their entrance to the ball in this adaptation is most certainly like they were "walking onto a yacht."  Now, whether they watched themselves gavotte in a mirror or not, I'm not sure, but they certainly were very aware of themselves.  This song has garnered a huge amount of speculation as to just whom Ms. Simon was referring when she wrote it.  I'm beginning to wonder if this song was a tribute to Austen's Mr. Darcy.  I'd say let's throw his hat into the ring of possible contenders - along with Warren Beatty and Mick Jagger and who knows who else!

I fell in love with English food within hours of arriving in London.  My daughter, Becca, and I were in England to attend some courses at Cambridge University (and make a pilgrimage to Bath for the Jane Austen museum) but decided to see the sights in London before we headed over to Cambridge.  We hauled our suitcases from the airport onto the tube and up the staircases to street level.  This remains glued in my memory because we were exhausted from the red eye flight and hauling those suitcases up all those stairs is one of my worst traveling moments - ever.  And some of those tube stations are waaaay underground!  Luckily, our hotel wasn't far from the tube stop and we found our room, in the basement, which was, as it turns out, not far above the very tube tracks from which we had just departed!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Cottage Pie with Creamy Polenta

Someone To Watch Over Me by Sting
Another great collaboration by George and Ira Gershwin, and recorded by a very long list of artists.  I have two artists' renditions in my library - Chris Botti and Sting.  They are equally compeling and hauntingly beautiful.  Both make me sigh and fill me with a longing to be cared for.  But, you see, in my world of preferences, there are maybe one or two artists that can beat out Sting in a coin toss when it comes to whose music will be chosen.  Those would be Pink Floyd and, depending on the day, James Taylor.  As far as I know, neither James Taylor nor Pink Floyd have recorded the song. . . . But I had to just stop typing for a moment and let my brain wrap around how lovely it would be to hear David Gilmour sing this song to me . . .  Ahem - ANYWAY!!!  Sting wins the feature with this recipe.  A recipe also known as "Shepherds Pie" but which I've chosen to call by its original name - for reasons I will explain further.  Comforting and delicious - and labeled "really good" by my husband.  High praise, indeed!

After my eldest daughter married she was frequently telling me about this dish that both she and her husband liked quite a bit.  And then I started hearing about this dish from her younger brother who would enjoy it while being a dinner guest at their home.  The dish was called Shepherd's Pie.  I'd heard of it before.  But to my recollection I had never made it - mostly probably because it sounded like something that my children wouldn't have liked!  Also, probably because somewhere in my mind I had categorized it into something that required too much monkeying around.

Considering the fact that this particular daughter was my "most selective" eater out of the brood, I guess I would have to scratch the excuse of "nobody will eat it" as reason not to try making it.  And considering the fact that a newly established cook in the kitchen was making this dish with excellent results nixed the notion that it was time-consuming and/or difficult.  The time had come to try my hand at this humble dish called Shepherd's Pie.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Vanilla Bean & Cardamom Cupcakes with Lemon Pistachio Buttercream

When All Is Quiet by Michael Gettel
When New Age music hit the charts I was already a "believer."  There was no adjustment to this "new" genre.  I understood music to be a huge mood enhancer/influencer - even before I acknowledged food in this category!  My mother used music to guide our "cleaning tempo" as kids.  No swaying love songs on cleaning day, no sir!  It was tunes with a marching beat or, to my own preference, rock and roll!  But, at this time of the year, when the holiday rush is over and everyone is introspective, I like songs like When All Is Quiet.  It is pensive while inspiring.  It leads me to thoughts of gratitude and feelings of quiet confidence.  If you haven't already, start a new playlist with songs that take you to a "place."

Christmas decorations have been taken down for almost two weeks now.  The only visible reminders being a stack of received Christmas cards and the remains of the day out in my back yard. 
We were blessed with significant snow exactly on Christmas day this year.  It was a heavy, wet snow.  As people came to call and partake of the traditional Steamed Old Bay Shrimp, the children would not be contained inside with such wonderment going on outside!  Scarves and gloves were found and all headed outside with my daughter, who is 24 going on 8 when there is precipitation outside.  Snow or rain, she has to be out there dancing around in it.  Or building snowmen!  These were gigantic "hairy" snowmen as they were filled with the flying debris of the latest windstorm.  They were "exhausted" by the next morning, throwing in their scarf with the burden of staying upright.  But that lone scarf laying out there in the back yard reminds me of the excitement of the day - the visit with friends and family - the memory of happiness amid the gloomy coat nature puts on in January.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

White Bean and Ham Soup

Fix You by Coldplay
Soup.  Warm, nurturing, comforting soup.  Am I the only one whose thoughts turn to soup when a cold comes to call?  Or when spirits are low?  Or it's just plain gloomy outside and you need some inner warmth?  It's soup today - using up some of that leftover holiday ham.  I've paired it with Coldplay's deliciously comforting song - Fix You.  This song kind of chokes me up in the way that it stirs our basic human need to care and be cared for.  We all soar higher when we know there's someone holding that safety net for us - that proverbial "got your back" person.  Or that "got you soup" person.  Whether you're a "soup-er" or "soup-ee," you'll love this song and soup - to be enjoyed together, naturally!

I received an extraordinary book for Christmas this year from my good friend Lara.  A book that could have saved me a few thousand dollars in tuition for culinary school!  

Well, maybe not quite.  How could I ever put a price on such an amazing experience and the acquaintance of so many wonderful people?  I guess what I'm trying to say is that, if I had read that book a long time ago, maybe I wouldn't have had such a nightmare of a time in the kitchen for so, so long.  Maybe my confidence would have been much higher because I would have known the basics.  The fundamental building blocks of how to create food!