Tuesday, January 27, 2015

How my Grandmother Learned not to Starve and make Her Chinese Cucumber Salad Recipe

In 1970 my family moved to Hawaii from Jacksonville Florida. It was our third time living in Florida and the move to Hawaii was an exciting and really big adventure for us.

One of the biggest changes was that my maternal Grandmother who we referred to as "Grandma" to differentiate her from my Father's Mother who was called "Big Mama" by the family, came to live with us. That is she moved out of the home she had at the girls school where she was the schools dietitian and ran the kitchens and dining program, and moved in with us to take care of my brother and I while my Mom went back to work teaching.

As a Navy family we were packed up and ready to go in no time at all. My Mom was a master packer and organizer. And my Dad was not too bad either so between the two of them we were so ship-shape when the packers came to put things into the giant Wooden containers which would be shipped to Hawaii, they were shocked as to how easy their job was because of my parents prepping everything. So after the packing the entire contents of our home into brown cardboard moving boxes, each carefully labeled with room and contents as overseen by my Mother, these boxes where placed inside of huge the wooden crates. The purpose of which was at the time two fold. One was to pack them into containers to ship more easily. But the other reason was that once these boxes arrived in Hawaii they would undergo an extermination gassing which was to help eliminate  any non native pests which was a major concern of the Hawaiian State Government. I was more interested and fascinated by the Mayflower moniker on the moving truck, which I somehow thought tied our family's journey to the historic Pilgrims and a journey to a new world. And believe me when I say Hawaii was a new world to our family, it was really truly was.

Nothing could have prepared us for what we would find in all sorts of experiences in Hawaii. We had some of the most powerful cultural, spiritual, and educational experiences that would shape our family and change the way we saw life and even ourselves.  It was a very different world from the Islands today. Still in the development phase of what the Islands would become. For example we were there when wild fields and farms still populated parts of Oahu. In fact there was a famous watercress farm which was under siege by developers the entire time we were in Hawaii. Rather a famous story. Seems the farmer did not want his farm developed and to ensure this upon his death he divided the farm up among every living relative in his family equally. Which apparently was hundreds of people. Thus insuring that it would never be sold.

Hawaii gave our family some amazing experiences. Many of which were introduced to us through our Church. Through Navy friends we were introduced to Trinity United Methodist Church up the hill from us in Pearl City, a suburb of Honolulu.  Now my family was a mixed family religiously and remained so till we moved back to Charleston and ended up in the Episcopal Church and subsequently an offshoot in the form of the French Huguenot Church in downtown Charleston. Which my parents were impressed by because of the amazing Pastor and the fact that the members were so wealthy and so generous that the church never asked for money in the services, ever. Of course there were other great reasons too and great community but that aspect was something to note because it showed such commitment to the church. So how did we end up in the Methodist church for several years? Well now my father had grown up Episcopalian and Baptist and my Mother had grown up Catholic and Methodist. So when they got married they got married in a Methodist church because it was where my Grandparents on my Mother's side belonged and where my Mother had been very involved in the young Adult fellowship. I had asked my Father one time after visiting my Uncle's Baptist Church, where I remember lots of singing and yelling, what the difference between Baptist and Methodist was. And at the time like the ex-Episcopalian he was his answer. "Well Farley, Methodist's are like Baptists that can read". Yes, I loved my Father's sense of humor.

So the other part of the title of this chapter is "How my Grandmother learned not to starve". Well let me explain. So a year or so after we had lived in Hawaii my Grandma decided she needed to get out and learn something. And since she had a culinary background the obvious thing would be a cooking class. So she opted for a course in Chinese cooking that one of her friends introduced her to. So she did indeed learn how to cook alot of really great Chinese food. Some of these recipes I will be disclosed here. But the reason she felt so compelled to learn how to cook Asian food in general came from an experience she had in Japan.

So my Grandmother was actually one of the founding members of Hawaii's first senior citizen social group called the Silver Bells ( Which happened to be her favorite Christmas Song ). And one year the group which included many Asian members decided to take a trip to Japan. The trip which was excellently organized by the Japanese lady members of the group was an amazing experience for my Grandmother. There was just one problem. She came home from this vacation having lost 15 pounds. Why you might ask. Well the answer might surprise you. See in Asia most meals for groups are actually eaten family style. So when they would serve meals on this tour everyone would grab their chopsticks and dig in. Well Grandma did not know how to use chopsticks very well. So by the time she got a few bites in her tour comrades devoured the rest of the food. So she actually lost weight on this vacation! But boy did her chopstick skills improve!

So this recipe is really one of the recipes she learned in the Chinese Cooking School. One of the joys of  sharing this recipe is that is comes from notebook in her own hand that my Mother has kept. There is something really special about sharing her recipes that I am reading in her own hand. It's one of those things that I think is something that speaks directly to my own personal food heritage. I mean I read her recipes and notes written in her own hand. I make this dish and my Grandmother is there serving Egg Foo Young and Chinese Spare ribs. Telling me things about life I would learn no where else. She's in every bite and I am so glad she taught me how to cook and love through food.

So here is her Chinese Cucumber Salad recipe. It's simple and so good. So next time you want to kick up your cucumber salad try this and be happy that my Grandma survived her vacation to teach us how to make this salad.

Irene's Chinese Cucumber Salad




  •    2 English cucumbers, tough skin removed


    • 3 cloves garlic, crushed and minced


    • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes


  •   1 tablespoon Chinkiang vinegar (or rice vinegar)


  •   1 tablespoon light soy sauce


  •   1 teaspoon sugar


  •   1/2 teaspoon salt


    • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil


    • 1 tablespoon mixed black and white sesame seeds


    • 1 scallion white and light green parts sliced on the bias 



Method:

Cut Cucumbers into very thin slices
Mix all other ingredients in a bowl
Right before serving pour the dressing over the cucumbers and mix well
Mix in Sesame Seeds and garnish with the chopped scallions



















Thursday, January 22, 2015

Bacon and Oyster Pot Pie, a Cold Weather Seafood Treat


Ok the Holiday's are over and we are well into January. Now during this cold and unforgiving time of year if you are like me, you like nothing better than to hunker down, and eat some warm and comforting food in this winter weather. If you don't live in a northern clime you still can enjoy food like this but it's not quite the same thing. When it's really cold out there's nothing like yummy warm comfort dishes. And there's nothing like some Pot Pie that says comfort food. And this Pot Pie was born of the holidays but it would be good anytime you wanted to have it. Especially in this Winter weather.

So Oysters, let's talk about oysters. When I go to Charleston for the holidays I always enjoy a New Years Eve feast with Oysters. Creamed Oysters or what is called Oyster Stew in the Low Country to be precise.. I know many people do indeed think of Oysters and Oyster Stew as a dish that is made typically for Christmas Eve dinner. But in my house we have it on New Years Eve because on Christmas Eve we have another tradition. And if there is a time for traditions it would be the Holidays.

Truly the holidays are really always special to me because of the people involved. Since my Father's death we have the tradition of spending every Christmas Eve with our very close family friends who are my adopted "Aunt and Uncle". We have a great time at their house. There is always a good mix of folks at the house when we return from Christmas Eve services. There are some relatives down from Columbia and other close friends from church thrown into the mix. Young and old enjoy the evening together and there's lots of good, good, good old Southern Holiday fare. The buffets groans under squash and vegetable casseroles, cooked greens, hot yeast rolls with salted butter. There's always a grand Holiday Ham, and lots of other goodies. There's a pecan pie and either coconut cake or chess pie or some other incredible southern sweet thing. And as the evening progresses we will hear a political discussion, holiday stories and family chatter. The meal always begins with a heartfelt and eloquent prayer. But what I love the most is just lots of story telling, catching up with each other and laughing. Well at least the laughing in the kitchen where I usually sit with the younger folks. Meaning the younger people with kids who have sent their kids off to the real kids table in another room.

Now my"cousin" Renee is married to a man named Bill. He's an amazing person. And he is a very very Southern person. One of those people who would I would best describe as a Southern gentleman. I think people that did not grow up in the South have the wrong idea of what the term "Southern Gentleman" actually means.

When we say southern gentleman it usually brings to mind someone with good manners and a deep Southern accent. Well Bill has a deep Southern accent and he definitely has good manners but that's not what makes him a Southern Gentleman. No he's a smart fellow, highly educated, well read, well traveled here and abroad, opinionated, deeply rooted in family, community and work.

He's a renaissance man. An architect by trade he works with some of the areas top developers and projects,  He's very modern, and current but also deeply rooted in his heritage. Not confined to the city he loves all things outdoors. When he is not working he will most likely be found with his youngest son out hunting or fishing in the creek. I know many Saturdays for them start out in the boat, hanging with our minister, some bait and whole lot of cold beer. Telling stories and catching fish. Or maybe just telling fish tales.

He is teaching his children to value the South and their life in it. Not just cultural things, but natural things. The land, the water, the air. To value the ocean life, animals and the plants. To understand the human element in all of that and the human responsibility towards it. He is passing on his love of sports and the community that is born out of it in the South. I mean we love out football down here.

He is passing on what he learned growing up and what he has come to believe as an adult to his children. That living involves understanding where you come from, honoring other people, being engaged in your community, having faith in what's beyond, working hard, and giving of one's time and attention to those you love.  Not in a monetary way, but in a get up and do for you sort of way. I admire him. He's a good guy. And that is indeed a Southern gentleman.

He's also a great story teller. One of my favorites involves our Minister who had recently lost his second wife after a long illness.

Seems Bill thought that it would benefit the church checkbook if he dug the grave in the church yard instead of hiring a company to do it. Well while he was down there digging he noticed that the reverend's plot was large enough to hold up to four graves. Now the reverend's first wife was already buried there. The second was coming in and he thought he would be cheeky given his friendship and tell the reverend that he could go ahead and get another wife. Because clearly there was enough room for both him and all three wives.

Well upon hearing this news the reverend turned to him and in his deep southern drawl said.
"Bill, let me tell you something. You know when my first wife died that was sad. And you know that as hard as this illness was on all of us including me, I am sad that my second wife has passed as well. But just so you know. Since my wife died, there have been more than a few ladies who have turned up  at my door several nights in  row with casseroles wanting to comfort me. And let me tell you something mister. After having had two wives. Dealing with all I have had to deal with concerning both those women in life and death. Well Bill, let me put it this way meaning no disrespect to any of those ladies that showed up to comfort me....But there might as well have been condoms in those casseroles those women showed up at my door with. Because that's about how interested I am in ever having another wife!"

"But Bill, thanks for pointing that out. I be sure to sell off the other parcel, I could really use the money!"

Yep. That's my kind of southern home spun story told around the dinner table on Christmas Eve. Just love it.

So getting back to Oysters and New Year's Eve traditions. It's a real low country thing, Creamed Oysters or Oyster Stew. A dish I have made on this blog before. Succulent and sweet right from the waters on the Carolinas, this dish is simple decadent and delicious. But this year I decided to do something a little different. I decided to follow and article I had read in a popular Southern Magazine and of course changed their idea a little bit and came up with this riff on Creamed Oysters. Well it was good. It was so good that my Mama said we should just make this from now on!

And now I will share it with you. If you like Oysters and Bacon you must make this before the weather changes although I imagine this would be good any time of year. It's comfort seafood at at's best. Hope you enjoy it Ya'll!

Oyster and Bacon Pot Pie
makes 6 - 12 ounce individual pot pies

1 qt of drained Oysters (liquor reserved)
4 to 5 slices of Applewood smoked bacon slices chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped carrots 
1/2 cup finely chopped red pepper
8 oz sliced mushrooms
1/2 teaspoon ground Mace ( if you can't find Mace use Nutmeg)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cloves minced garlic
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1 cup seafood stock
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon garlic flavored olive oil
2/3 cup flour
1/2 cups dry vermouth
2 dashes of hot sauce
S&P to taste
2 prepared pie crusts

Method

Cook bacon pieces in a large pot and remove from pan reserving the fat in the pot
Melt butter in sauce pot add oil
saute onions celery carrots and red pepper till softened but not wilted
add mushrooms and lightly cook
add garlic let bloom
add flour cook 2 mins
add vermouth and cook about 2 mins
add seafood stock
add spices
add into pot and stir till mixture thickens and is bubbly
add cream and reduce heat to low
taste and season if necessary
add hot sauce

Spoon mixture into the baking dishes divide Oysters between the dishes pushing them down into the sauce till covered.

On a floured board roll out pie crust and
Cut out into rounds to cover your baking dishes

Brush with egg wash ( one egg mixed with one tablespoon water)


Cover baking dishes and cut a slit if you want to get fancy cut out extra dough into fish shapes and decorate the top. Poke the top with a knife to vent.

Place on baking sheet and bake for 25 to 30 mins or until crust is browned and done, serve hot.

Enjoy ya'll!!






Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Easy Breezy Cherry Berry Crumble the Easiest Dessert Ever!!

There are in my humble opinion only a few desserts one needs to have in one's cooking repertoire. WHAT!!! you say!

I mean aside from throwing a few things into a dish with ice cream or purchasing something store bought to serve. Dessert can be a lot of effort. And I understand that many people are very much fans of  "the sweet" especially at the end of a meal. However it is my humble opinion that unless you are a sweets enthusiast ,which I am not, you might be better served by having a few amazing sweet tricks up your sleeve than trying new things out all the time and making a headache for yourself.

So Mister Sweets hater, you are saying, what might you suggest as some of these dishes that one should have in one's reprotoire? Well I won't give a laundry list here but i will simply state that simple is better in my book. And what is more simple that starting with nature's candy, fruit?

Fruit desserts are a part of my childhood. My Mother and Granmother used to make cobblers from everything from apples and berries to stone fruits. They there easy and simple and usually served up with a big dallop of cool whip topping and love. Then there is my Mom's apple pie that with it's simple and delicious crust is a runner up for best apple pie ever in my book. And let's not forget that one cake that my Grandmother would make from scratch, blueberry cheese cake. Simple and delicious.

So I like the idea of making simple fruit cobblers as an easy alternative to some very indulgent sweet dessert. And now I will teach you an unbelievable and easy way to do this. So hold on.

Step one: Take 2 bags of frozen mixed berries from the store and put it in a small pot
Step two Add 1/2 cup chopped nuts of you choice walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts just not peanuts.
Step three: Add 1/2 cup bottled commercial pancake syrup...yep!
Step four: heat gently over medium heat
Step five: grease a baking dish 9x9 or 6 individual dishes
Step six: Pour in the berry mixture
Step seven: In a mixing bowl mix 3 cups of a tasty favored granola cereal with another 1/2 cup of pancake syrup.
Step eight: Layer on top of you fruit nice and thick
Step nine: Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for about 20 mins
Step ten: remove and serve, topping with a scoop of vanilla ice cream...Enjoy Ya'll!





Sunday, December 28, 2014

What to make for Christmas Dinner, Prime Rib Roast of course, King of the Yuletide Dinner Table

It was the night before Christmas and all through the house we were getting ready for Christmas and running like loons.

Yes that is not the real story but it was ours every year. And for this exact reason I elect to serve the King Daddy of all meat dishes for Christmas Dinner on Christmas day, the Prime Rib Roast. Why you say, well because it's actually easy that's why!

Many people look at large roasts with utter terror. Most of that terror stems from a fear of how to cook a large roast. How long to cook a large roast. And lastly what to do to it to make it delish.

Well the answers to these are actually fairly simple. And here they are.

One what methos do you use?
You can cook a large beef roast in one of two ways, either low and slow or high heat and rather quickly. I like the later cause it gives you a nice crust. That being said let me say it's really all about temperature especially when you do the faster method so buy yourself a good meat thermometer.

Two,  so how long so you cook it?

Well if you start with a 4 to 5 pound roast you would cook it for 30 mins at 450 degrees to sear the outside. Then reduce the heat and cook for 15 to 17 mins per pound after that checking 15 mins before the end of the total cooking time to see what you temperature is. Once it hits 120 to 130 remove it from the oven and cover it with foil. Let it rest as the temp. will climb to between 120 and 130. That should be perfectly Medium rare to rare.

What do you do to make it delish?

Well there are several things but simple salt and pepper can be very easy and delish. If you want you can try to add a rub.
This should be applied 1 hour into the total cooking process. Just remove the roast from the oven quickly slather it with your rub and then place back into the oven.
Resume cooking time from there.
A simple rub I use is mayo, horseradish, dijon, rosemary and salt and pepper. I mix this into a thick wet paste and slather the beast with it after an hour. The reason I don't put it on from the get go is it will burn if it's at the high temparature for too long.

So I hope that help you if you are going to make a roast during the Christmas season. It's all about easy sides and yummy salads and Christmas Dinner is a snap.

Rub for Rib Roast

1/4 cup mayo
1/2 cup Dijon
1/2 cup Horseradish prepared
4 stems of fresh rosemary leaves finely chopped
1 teaspoon of worchestershire
1 big splash of soy sauce
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 table spoon pepper

Mix and slather over the roast after 1 hour of cooking.

Enjoy Ya'll

Monday, December 8, 2014

Tree Trimming Goes Better With Truffled Polenta, Mushroom Ragout and a Basted Farm Egg!! And some thoughts on Christmas.



So it's the holidays and as per usual I am following in my family tradition of putting up the tree the weekend after Thanksgiving.

The period of time leading up to Christmas has always been a magical time for me. It's somehow still magical even though I find myself very busy. I try to catch up a little with friends and enjoy the season even as I find myself sometimes consumed by at work.

Christmas and the season that surrounds it until New Years is a time of relaxing and reflecting in my world. I find that during the holidays one is faced by a myriad of emotions and thoughts. There are the obvious ones like "what a great time of year" or "Gee it's so festive and so great to see people".  Family time seems better... for a moment. And things we alone have come to know and cherish, our own secret Christmas joys, are played out again for us like they are every year. Moments we have perhaps known since childhood or moments connected with a special place, time or person.

Then there is the darker side of the holidays. Time in the quieter moments when we all seek shelter from darker things that can come to light in a time that breeds reflection. Loved ones lost. Relationships not healed. Feelings of loneliness and isolation for some. Dreams not yet realized or shattered. Financial or work stress. Family drama. Kids and the challenges they can bring. Dreams of going elsewhere with no perception of how to get there. Realizing what you want and realizing what you don't have. These can be sobering and especially painful during the holidays.

Yes Virginia, these are parts of Christmas that no one likes to talk about. Is it any wonder that so many people find themselves in what the experts call a state of holiday seasonal depression. It takes what should be a lovely time of year and makes it painful and unpleasant for many people.

But I wonder if sometimes we are missing the point with Christmas. I mean what is this holiday really all about anyway. Certainly not eggnog and brightly wrapped gifts. Neither is it a time set aside for brooding over ourselves and selfishly delving into the dark and comfortable abyss we all like to settle into sometimes cause if just feels good, familiar and easy to do so.

Nope this holiday is about celebrating the birth of Jesus. That's it, that's all. It's not about celebrating with friends and family, giving gifts or any of that other stuff. It's about commemorating the birth or the mystery of the birth of the savior of the world as noted by the Christian religion.

Now that's a big idea. However,  it's certainly not a coincidence I think looking at history that it coincides with the Winter Solstice celebrations from the older and more ancient religions of the world. Nor is it strange that the myth of a god being born to save the world doesn't only exist in the Christian faith. But is predated by many other faiths that held this belief. But regardless of where it came from or what traditions the early church adapted to make people more comfortable with the ideas of the faith it remains today a holiday that celebrates the birth of the baby Jesus.

Born in the cannon of belief to save all men and women regardless of color or race or culture or creed. A universal gift for all people. Now that's really a big idea. I had a minister growing up who taught that God's love is so boundless, all people will have the option to "enter into glory" should they choose. Also he taught that there is no action ever in this life that can separate us from God's love. It took me years to understand something of what that meant. I still don't always understand it. But I think of it this way. That essentially when it says in the bible,"That God so loved the world ( aka. us) that he gave his only begotten son that through him the world might be saved", that's what it meant.

So it was a gift or the concept of a gift that started all of this.  Albeit a big gift, a divine gift it was simply a gift. Thus giving gifts at this time of year represent the larger idea of the gift of Jesus. That's lovely I think. Whether you are a Christian or not it's still "the thought that counts" and understanding why we give each other gifts is a good thing. We give gifts because we care about each other.

Which brings me back to what I like to do when faced with the dark side of the holidays. I like to give. Hospitality, gifts, parties, meals, and sometimes just my most important possession, my time. That's right my time. Something I can never get back. Something that I could choose to spend on anyone, especially myself. But I choose to give it to someone other than myself. In essence I reach beyond my own woes and find that in giving of myself I get more back than if I had just done something nice for myself. Sharing that time with someone else is my favorite thing to do.

Of course my way of doing that often revolves around breaking bread with other people. So this year as I put up my tree I invited a friend who does not put up a tree to join me for a tree trimming party. It was fun and we got to connect and talk about real things in real time. And she got to enjoy a little cheer that she would have not had otherwise.  That's a small example but sometimes just being a listening ear or spending time together with someone you can give more than any gift could ever deliver. It's about loving someone. Cause love is a verb not an adjective.

So no matter what faith you might be as we go through this season lets remember that love is what it's all about. Giving love to those we know and maybe those we don't know. Certainly our country and our world could use a little love and some healing right now. People seem so set on hating. But Christmas is about love. Love that changes. Love that forgives. Love that uplifts. And love that is shared and passed amongst us all. They say that love is a gift. So if you are in possession of it realize you have something amazing that represents the core of what Christmas is all about. So think about that and share some cheer.

Here's a brunch recipe from my Tree Trimming party perfect for a holiday season morning, maybe even Christmas morning. It's fast and easy and it's very tasty. Enjoy Ya'll!

Truffled Polenta with Mushroom Ragout and a Basted Farm Egg ( for 6 )

What you will need:

1 8oz package of polenta ( yellow)
4 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons pepper
2 pound mushrooms sliced
1 medium onion diced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried Rosemary
1 stick butter
2 cups grated cheese ( I used half parmesan and half cheddar)
1 cup ricotta cheese
truffle oil
12 eggs

Directions:

For the Polenta
Boil water and salt liberally
Pour polenta into the pot with a whisk stirring constantly until it thickens
Turn heat to low and cover pot stir occasionally to keep from sticking
When done add butter salt to taste, pepper, Ricotta , the grated cheese, and truffle oil to taste
Hold warm.

For the Mushrooms:
Heat frying pan
Add oil and then onions then mushrooms some salt and pepper and the dried herbs and cook till softened
Hold warm

When ready to serve
Cook eggs as if you were making Sunnyside up eggs. When the whites have just started to firm up add a few teaspoons of water to the pan and cover for about 2 minutes, then serve over the polenta with a little of the mushrooms


  

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanksgiving: Yes Virginia... It is a Real Important Holiday....And the Food!!!

A few days ago a friend I was out with made mention that she was getting overwhelmed by the holidays and all the flurry around them. She then said "As soon as December starts it's all over for me". I looked at her and said well, this week is Thanksgiving aren't you already a little overwhelmed. To which she replied, "Oh Thanksgiving isn't a real holiday". "It's just a day that people overeat and then sit around wishing they were dead and undoing their pants, while they watch sports".

I was shocked but as I asked around what people thought of this line of thinking, several concurred. They thought of Thanksgiving as a non significant holiday and a tradition celebrating American gluttony. I was actually shocked by this. I mean not one of them said, "I don't celebrate Thanksgiving". Not one of them said, "I am not going to overeat and sit around and watch the game". But it was more that none of it had any meaning for them that made me really shocked. I mean, if there if a real American holiday, it would be Thanksgiving in my book.

Not even the Fourth of July has as much clout for me. Thanksgiving is the original day set aside to remember how blessed we are not only in this land but in our lives. The fourth commemorates our country's independence and individual liberty. Thanksgiving commemorates our Country's very survival and Being as well as our individual and collective happiness. If the Pilgrims had not survived the winter and stayed the course in settling here. There would be no USA, no fourth of July, nothing we know as our country would be here.

Is it a made up holiday as we know it today? Absolutely it is! But what holiday isn't. The importance of any holiday depends on what meaning we attach to it. So that is what I set out to think about for myself and the following is what I discovered.

Thanksgiving means many things to many people. For me it is perhaps my favorite holiday. Bigger than Christmas, Easter, New Years, Halloween, etc. etc. And not just because of the food element although of course for me that plays a big roll. The reason it is my favorite holiday is because it makes me stop and ponder such questions as, where am I in my life and the process of living it? Am I happy? Who is important to me? Who do I love and how am I showing it? Who do I remember as being important to me in my past? And Who came before me and made all this possible? What memories and stories of those who came before me do I have? Am I aware of being grateful to them? Am I aware that because of them I have a better life? Am I loving those who are present in my life not just on this day, but everyday?

Thanksgiving is a looking back holiday yes, however it should also be a looking at the now holiday. It is in short a national day of reflection. Reflection over what we have. What we have been given. What we are grateful for and why. It is also a nod to the past. And all those who made it possible for us to enjoy what we have today. It sort of rolls the intention behind all national holidays into one, Memorial Day, Labor Day, The 4th of July, Veterans Day and so forth. Not because those should not be celebrated separately, but because all of them are about gratitude. And Thanksgiving is ultimately about gratitude.

So if Thanksgiving is about more than just national gratitude, how do we make it personal. Well we can make it about being together with people we love and care about. We can make it about celebrating family and friends. Maybe just maybe it's about taking a day and instead of looking at the glass as being half empty, choosing to look at it as half full. In short affirming the positive and the uplifting and sidestepping for a day the temptation to compare and despair and be resentful about anything.

And of course Thanksgiving is about food and bounty and celebrating that bounty. However, I think it's important to recognize that the original intention of celebrating bounty by the Pilgrims was to celebrate having survived a grim and deadly Winter and a hard year. It was not about excess. It was about working through whatever obstacles were in the way. It was perhaps the celebration of the original American work ethic and celebrating the fruits of that ethic. The same work ethic that has been driving this country ever since. Work hard, reap rewards and give back. Those values continue today.
So I think Thanksgiving should be a very meaningful holiday to us as Americans. Not only on a national level but also very much on an individual level.

So this year as you are sitting down to your feast in whatever fashion you might do that. Eating to much and watching the game. Gathering with family and friends maybe, or even just by yourself. Take a moment to be grateful.  Give thanks for something that means something to you. Make it personal and make it positive. Let go of fear, doubt, resentment, and anger for one afternoon and look at whatever God, the Universe or higher power energy you might believe in hath done. Acknowledge that just for you. And be grateful. Peace Ya'll!!


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Late Summer Yellow Tomato Sauce Makes For A Very Yummy Dish

It's that time of year again.You know my favorite time, Fall. The snap in the air happened last week. This time of year always reminds me of three things. Switzerland, College and the Shenandoah Valley, or the first day of school as a kid. I mean those are all random things I realize but the Fall brings memories from those places out. It's a time when we start to draw in closer as the chill demands we spend more time inside. It's a time of great transitional beauty. For the autumn leaves never linger too long. So they must be enjoyed when they happen. A lesson in living in the now. And of course it brings out the cozy fall and late summer recipes using the last of the season's bounty or relishing the new heartier crops which will see us into winter. For some reason tomatoes are a vegetable that transcends Summer and embraces fall. Moving from summer tomato salads and salsas to soup and sauces. And where there is tomato sauce there is Italian food.

Now I was raised in a Southern American home. Not an Italian American one. And like most Americans in the 1960's and 70's we did not know from Italian food. Spaghetti and Meatballs or Red Sauce and Lasagna were the dishes that we really knew about. There were others like Chicken Parmesan and of course Italian Salad dressing via the "Good Seasons" dressing mix. But for the most part Italian food in all it's glory was not a known quantity unless you lived in the northeast or near some Little Italy in some larger city.

As I have said before on this blog my Italian food epiphany came when I was in Switzerland. It was there as a young man I made acquaintance with a a lovely young family from the Italian part of Switzerland who took me under their wing and taught me all about making delicious Italian food at home. Lasgana and Spaghetti were never the same. And the new dishes like polenta and gnocchi gained a place in my appreciation of all things Italian.

Now while I learned a great many new things I also learned that spaghetti sauce has various incarnations ingredients and flavor profiles. But the classic sauce that American Italian home cooks transformed into what we know today as American Style Spaghetti and meat sauce was a sauce called Bolognese sauce. Classic Bolognese sauce which is credited to the city of Bologna in Italy is a rich vegetable laden tomato sauce flavored with wine into which is incorporated ground veal, pork or beef. It's rich hearty consistency makes it perfect with tube pasta such as penne or long flat noodles such as tagliatelle and even in some versions has a touch of cream in it to enhance it's rich meaty flavor and mouth feel. It is pretty much what we as Americans would consider Spaghetti sauce or Ragu although our version bears little resemblance to the original sauce.

I have been a fan ever since I first tasted it and have tried over the years to come up with a version that I can call my own. This version I believe takes a solid version of this sauce and turns it a little bit on it's head with the addition of yellow tomatoes as a base for the sauce. I first encountered yellow tomato sauce when I ate at Butter in NYC. I thought it was very cool to see this contrast in color with what we normally think of as Tomato sauce. As many of you who read my blog know I am a big fan of color in food. I love it when food make a statement by merely showing up on your plate. And making spaghetti sauce with yellow or orange tomatoes will certainly achieve that for you.

The other element that I like to add to this sauce is the use of Italian Sausage in the sauce instead of plain old ground beef. I just think it gives the sauce a lift. And to balance the sweetness of the yellow tomatoes I like to add touch of vinegar to give the sauce a background flavor. And of course to add richness a good measure of olive oil.

So here is my humble recipe. It's not fussy I don't remove the skins from the tomatoes or strain it or anything crazy. But it does require a little prep and patience. I hope you enjoy Ya'll.

Forrest's Yellow Tomato Bolognese Sauce for Pasta

  • 4 lbs yellow and orange cherry tomatoes, larger cherry tomatoes cut in half (skins will not be a problem if you use larger tomatoes you will have to blanch and peel them.
  • 4 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery minced
  • 6 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 8 teaspoons fresh basil chopped divided ( some for garnish)
  • 1/2 cup white or vermouth
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  •  1 pound ground Italian Sausage or sausages removed from the casings.
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup good olive oil
  • 1/8 cup cream
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese divided
Heat oil in a medium sized sauce pan. Add onion, carrots and celery and cook for about 6 to 8 minutes. Then add the garlic, and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until garlic blooms and all else has begun to soften. Add tomatoes, basil, wine and salt, and stir well to combine ingredients. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat for 1 hour, 15 minutes, stirring frequently to help break down the tomatoes. You can use the back of a wooden spoon to help break down the tomatoes as they cook.
In the meantime in another pan cook off sausage and drain the fat off. hold till ready to combine.
Once the tomato sauce is done cooking remove from heat. Divide the sauce 1/2 and 1/2. Take the one 1/2 and place in a blender. Whirl till smooth then with motor running slowly add the vinegar, the parmesan and the then the olive oil. Process till smooth.
In a pot combine the pureed sauce with the remaining sauce and stir in the sausage and cream. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Reheat and serve over your favorite pasta.Garnish with more fresh basil and cheese.  Enjoy Ya'll!!