Falling In Love In Paris

Maybe it was fate, maybe it was luck, but it was definitely love at first
bite. This sandwich and I first met in the Montparnasse train station and
it was a yummy love affair from then on. Maybe it was the crusty bread or
maybe it was the creamy camembert cheese, but you had me from bon jour!

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Super Bowl, Baby!

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Forty years ago, on January 16, 1972, I was born during the third quarter of Super Bowl VI. The Dallas Cowboys won their first Super Bowl when they defeated the Miami Dolphins 24-3.

For weeks, My dad instructed my mother that they would not be going anywhere on Super Bowl Sunday, they would stay at home, watch the game, and eat snacks. Little did he, or the doctor, know that I had much bigger plans for them both. They tried not to let such a little thing as a baby being born get in the way so they had the game “patched” in to the delivery room over a speaker. At one point, I am told, the doctor asked my mom to “keep it down” because she was interrupting his game. What nerve she had being so rude!

Once again, I had my own plan and I was born. While my parents tried to pick out a name for me I actually enjoyed being called Dallas or Miss Dallas by the nurses and staff for the first few hours of life. Can you imagine what I would be like had my mom not decided to name me after the little girl that she babysat. Party girl? Sassy girl? Who knows!

Today, some 40 years later, we are off to Super Bowl XLVI (46). And just like that January day so many years ago at a military hospital in Clovis, New Mexico, I am still not that interested in the game. I have my own plans. Call me what you like, I’ll be there for the fun and the food!

Our host is smoking a brisket and other meats. And we are bringing cupcakes, lollipops, and soft pretzels with horseradish mustard. Sounds yummy to me!

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Colonial Christmas

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The crackling of bonfires as they spray firefly-like embers into the chilled night sky, the sound of Christmas carolers strolling cobbled streets in colonial dress, the sweet tartness of hot cider, the smell of firewood tossed into the flame mixed with a hint of fresh cut greenery and hot gingerbread, feet and hands so cold you think they will never feel again, and an all around excitement filling the air. These are some of my fondest sights, sounds, and tastes of Christmas. The Christmas of my childhood, Christmas at Colonial Williamsburg. This was the annual Grand Illumination.

It’s the Christmas of our childhood to which we compare all other Christmases. It’s a high, almost unobtainable, standard that we set for our future selves. Sadly, I fear, none shall ever measure up. For how can anything ever surpass those memories we create in childhood? Will we ever sit anxiously at the top of the stairs wearing our footed pajamas and an excitement almost too intense to bear? Will we every wake from a sleep so innocent that we think we hear hooves on the roof? Will we ever be so precious as to rejoice over a handful of apples, oranges and nuts in the bottom of our stockings? We can never be certain that what we remember is indeed what happened or a precise recording of our past. Visit your old childhood home and although it looks just as it did back then, oddly it is smaller than you remembered, not as far from the school as you remembered. The fence seems a little shorter, the yard needs some TLC.

I go back every now and then, if only in my mind. One day a chill in the air takes me back all those 1500 miles and another it is simply the crunch of leaves beneath my feet. Mostly, a smell caught fleetingly is my quickest ticket “home.” Sadly, I do not get to visit as often as I would like so, I leap at the opportunity to create a piece of this memory or that every now and then.

We were so lucky as kids to live so close to so much early American history. Jamestown, Yorktown, and Williamsburg were our back yard, with Monticello and Mount Vernon just down the street. Not to mention the ocean, the mountains, and the sky line drives around the corner. Our playground was the first permanent English settlement in North America, Jamestown. Captain John Smith, Pocahontas, Powhatan, George Washington, James Madison, James Monroe, Robert E. Lee, Booker T. Washington, Sir Walter Raleigh and Thomas Jefferson were our playmates. We built replicas of wigwams and learned how to candlewick. We learned about moats, tobacco and peanuts. We danced the Virginia Reel. We ran across the same battle fields where General Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington during the American Revolutionary War and climbed over cannons that today still stand watch over the fields. We wore colonial aprons and hats, bought licorice root, nutmeg, and gingerbread. We learned words like encampment and settlement. We visited cobblers, blacksmiths, bakers, glassblowers, candle makers and type setters. We sailed the James River and the Chesapeake Bay. We tasted the salt of the ocean and screamed as the undertow threatened to steal us away. We watched whitecaps grow angry in the wind. We dodged jellyfish and seaweed. We collected shells and fireflies in glass jars. We visited naval bases and air bases. We built sandcastles and buried each other in sand. We went to bed feverishly sun burnt and happy, with salty dampness in our hair and sand in our ears.

Our feet were tired and dusty from the roads we skipped and the fields we ran. Our minds were filled with memories surely to come.

And come they did; sometimes invited and others unexpected, like a friend request from a friend you never thought you would connect with again.

And so it is, that a batch of fresh gingerbread cookies has brought me home again today. And instead of stealing away for a mere moment in my mind, I chose consciously to put pen to paper, or should I say, hands to keyboard. I chose to record this culinary inspired memory as I might record a recipe, in the hopes that I might return to it more often now that it is written. For when it is written, it shall be neither forgotten nor misplaced with time. It can be read and re read. It can be cherished and savored. It can be shared. As I pull the hot tray of gingerbread from my very modern oven, I realize I only went to Williamsburg’s Grand Illumination a few times as a child and that I only ate warm gingerbread pulled from a very colonial oven a few times, yet I remember them both as if it were yesterday.

So what is a Grand Illumination? According to Wikipedia ” A Grand Illumination is an outdoor ceremony involving the simultaneous activation of lights. The most common form of the ceremony involves turning on Christmas lights. One of the older of such community events began at Colonial Williamsburg, the restored Historic District of the former Virginia capital city of Williamsburg in 1935. It is held there each year on the Sunday of the first full weekend in December. Williamsburg’s Grand Illumination, which also involves fireworks, is based loosely on the colonial (and English) tradition of placing lighted candles in the windows of homes and public buildings to celebrate a special event.” It was how Virginia’s first capital officially kicked off the holiday season

So it was here at these gloriously cold Grand Illuminations that I came to smell, taste, see and feel Christmas. I can feel the almost unbearable heat of the bonfire on my face and the simultaneous cold of my feet and hands even now some 30 years later. I can see the glow of a single candle flickering its warm Christmas welcome in each window along the street, I can smell the wood and the greenery. Each doorway is decorated with fresh fruit, usually pineapple, red apples, and fresh greenery. The pineapple, I have come to learn ,was a symbol of hospitality as well as prosperity in Colonial America. Only the most prosperous of colonists could afford a pineapple that came on ships speedily returning from the Caribbean. Often the hostess would give a pineapple to one of her dinner guests. Some hostesses even rented pineapples in order to make a good impression. The following pineapple history can be found on the Welcome Club of Northern Virginia’s website.

The pineapple’s origins are rather fascinating. According to legend, a sea captain returning from the Caribbean islands would signal his safe return from the sea by spearing a pineapple on a fence post outside his home. This became an invitation for friends to visit, share his food and drink, and listen to tales of his voyage. In larger, well-to-do homes, hostesses would go to great lengths to obtain pineapples for her guests, and would keep them hidden in the dining room behind closed doors to heighten visitors’ suspense. Visitors provided with pineapple-topped food displays felt particularly honored by a hostess who obviously spared no expense to ensure her guests’ dining pleasure.

In this manner, the fruit which was the visual keystone of the feast naturally came to symbolize the high spirits of the social events themselves; the image of the pineapple coming to express the sense of welcome, good cheer, human warmth and family affection inherent to such gracious home gatherings.

As the tradition grew, innkeepers used the pineapple symbol on their signs and even bedposts as a sign of welcome. And today, of course, the symbol is used on all manner of items, from glassware to cutlery to hand towels to tableware, to name just a few.

Like the pineapple, apples evoke my memories of Christmas and the Grand Illumination as well. I distinctly remember one particular house or public building that somehow had red apples in place of a few bricks on the outside of the structure. Just recently I found that that building has a name and a interesting reason behind the tradition of the apples.
Here is an article APPLES, PUTLOG HOLES, AND PROVOST MARSHALS; A Christmas Tradition Added to Palmer House History by Jim Bradleyn as it appeared in the CW Journal: Autumn 99

The tall brick home at 430 West Duke of Gloucester Street has been called the Kerr House, the Vest Mansion, and the Palmer House in its nearly 250 years, but it may be known best today as the house with the Christmas apples.

Try Christmas the regularly spaced niches in the Flemish-bond brick façade wink with shiny red apples. So adorned, the Palmer House—its official Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area name today—becomes a must-see for December visitors. Who puts those apples way up there, and how, and why?

It takes a hydraulically-operated mobile crane—a “cherry-picker”—to carry the crimson fruit up into the brickwork. A long, folding arm, with an oversized bucket at the end, hoists a landscape department employee into the late autumn air. Two stories above the street, bucket and rider visit each niche. The ritual repeats through the month—as often as required by the weather and the appetites of Williamsburg’s birds. In winter, birds make quick work of ripe apples.

The niches are concessions to the 18th-century realities of building two-story masonry walls. Called putlog holes, they supported the scaffolding as masons laid course upon course of brick. Often, putlog holes were filled with mortar when construction was complete. The putlog holes of the Palmer House stayed open for two decades, until 1779 when mortar filled the blanks, but it wasn’t until 1953 that they were filled with apples.

Harold Sparks, retired Colonial Williamsburg vice president of marketing and merchandising, moved into the Palmer House in 1952, soon after it was restored and the putlog holes were reopened. In an interview just before his death on August 28, Sparks said that he began the apple tradition.

Sparks launched his holiday decorating by hanging a Yule log, strung with long-leaf pine boughs and fruit, next to the front door. Colonial Williamsburg’s architect’s office, responsible for the integrity of Historic Area buildings, reprimanded Sparks for drilling a hole in the brick to insert a hook to support the log.

The next year, Sparks decorated the Palmer House’s front-step iron railings and, borrowing a ladder from the architecture, construction and maintenance department, he put apples in the putlog holes. The ladder wasn’t tall enough to reach the highest holes of the second story—something to remember—but it was a start.

He also discovered that apples left exposed to the elements rot. So, he laquered them, along with the grapes and other fruit he used for decorations, with shellac. A shellacked grape garland was the undoing of a neighborhood rooster. The family across the street kept chickens, including a cock that answered to the name, “Mister Armistead.” One holiday season, Mister Armistead braved the stroll across Duke of Gloucester in search of a snack—and spotted the decorative grapes. Mister Armistead must have been hungry and of one mind, because he overlooked Sparks’s dog, a dalmatian named Duke. Duke had his eye on a snack, too—Mister Armistead. Sparks said his friend Ann Robb “captured on canvas the scene in the street: Duke and Mister Armistead, in a battle to the death—all brought on by my shellacked grapes.”

Putlog holes are what remained after 18th-century bricklayers removed construction scaffolding.
Mildred Layne moved into the house about ten years after Sparks had gone, and no one told her beforehand about the apples. She had been with Colonial Williamsburg since 1937, when she accepted a position as an architecture department secretary. But the architecture department was in New York. Twenty-nine years later, Layne was still in New York, but as administrative assistant to President Carlisle Humelsine, and office supervisor.

She came to Virginia late in 1966 as Colonial Williamsburg’s first female administrative officer, the vice president and executive assistant to the president, and moved into the Palmer House on December 23.

Waiting for her family’s belongings to arrive from New York, Layne camped out in the big old place, but, in the spirit of the season, made an effort to decorate the exterior. Early in the morning on Christmas Eve—her second day—a visitor knocked on the door.

“Where are the apples?” the visitor said. “We have been coming here for years, and we have enjoyed seeing the apples every year. This year, we are keeping a promise, and we have brought our grandchildren here to see the apples.”

Mystified, Layne gleaned from the caller what she could about the apples. She stepped outside while the visitor pointed to the putlog holes and described the appearances of Christmases past.

“I’ll get the apples,” Layne said to herself, “but how do I get them in the holes?” She dispatched her brother to the market, and Colonial Williamsburg sent a crane around. No sooner had the apples been mounted, but the birds began their Christmas feast, eating them in place or knocking them to the ground. “At some point, the maintenance department inserted short pegs in the holes to secure the apples in place,” Layne says, “but the birds continued to feast on them.”

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It was in this very little courtyard that I had my first taste of warm gingerbread pulled from a brick oven and handed me by a colonial baker. In retrospect, I’m not even sure I liked the taste of it back then. I was probably more interested in the chocolate Hostess cupcake packed in my sack lunch. Little did I know that I should be savoring that warm slice of heaven, that I would yearn for it as an adult. Little did I know that we would be moving far far away from this colonial playground of ours and that I would only return to it two times in my adult life.

Decades later, I would excitedly purchase a ticket and take the short stroll to the heart of the colonial town. I would look down every street and peer into every store in the hopes of finding that the bakery still existed all these years later. And with a little luck, a nice map, and a good nose I found a little white gate that marked what I had so anxiously anticipated. We entered from the street and went down a narrow little path that led to a lovely little courtyard. It was then that I knew I had arrived to my destination. I recognized this little place and nothing about it had changed. It was a quite little sanctuary hidden from the street. Groups of visitors could rest their tired feet. I found the screened door that led to my prize and pushed it gently open, almost afraid to go inside and learn that what I sought did not exist. My eyes raced ahead faster than my body. They bounced from wall to wall, counter to counter, searching, imploring, pleading. And there they were, coming out of the oven, little circular mounds of goodness. It was crazy hot outside and stiflingly hotter inside and what I really needed was an ice cold root beer but I had only one goal and it was in sight- gingerbread! I quickly made my purchase and raced back the courtyard. It had been at least twenty years since I had last been to this place and all it took was a little treasure hunt and one bite to bring me right back!

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Generations of visitors to Colonial Williamsburg have savored the delectable “ginger-bread cakes” based on Hannah Glasse’s 18th century recipe in “The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy.”
The Raleigh Tavern Bakery sells more than 100,00 ginger cakes annually.

Glasse, Hannah, 1708-1770. Recipes from the Raleigh Tavern Bakery

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Posted in Favorite Places, Travel | 1 Comment

Eggplant Parmesan Stackers

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This is my new favorite summertime meal! It’s spicy, cheesy, crunchy, yummy, and healthy. What’s not to like. It has all my favorite summertime ingredients too; tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, oregano, garlic, and eggplant.

Quick Tomato Sauce

1 large can no-salt-added diced tomatoes
1-2 cloves of garlic, pressed or chopped finely
2-3 sprigs fresh oregano, chopped
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
3-4 fresh basil leaves, chopped finely

Add all ingredients to a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer stove until eggplant is ready.
*If you don’t want such a chunky sauce, run all ingredients through a blender first.

Eggplant Parmesan

3 large egg whites, lightly beaten
3/4 cup whole-wheat panko or bread crumbs
6 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese, grated
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. sea salt
2 globe eggplants ( about 2 1/4 lbs. total)
1-2 cups part-skim, low-moisture mozzarella cheese, shredded
6 slices of tomato
6-12 large basil leaves, plus extra for garnish

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Coat 2 rimmed baking sheets with cooking spray and/or foil. Set aside.

Place egg whites in a shallow bowl. In another shallow bowl, combine bread crumbs, Parmesan, oregano, garlic powder, and salt. Trim ends off eggplants and cut each eggplant into 6, 3/4 inch slices. One at a time, dip eggplant slices in egg whites, then into bread mixture, arranging coated slices on prepared baking sheets. Bake until eggplant is tender and golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven the last 5 minutes, top each eggplant with mozzarella and return to oven until cheese is melted.

To Assemble Stackers:

Place one slice of eggplant ob plate. Top with one slice of tomato and 1-2 basil leaves. Top with another slice of eggplant. Top with sauce and garnish with chopped basil.

Adapted from Clean Eating, September/October 2009

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Bobbie’s Friday Night Pizza

This recipe has been in our family now for at least 4 generations. It has never been written down until this past Friday night. My mom invited all four of us kids, our spouses, three grandkids ( with another on the way), and friends over for pizza night. As kids, we loved Friday night because it meant pizza night. This was the only time that we were allowed to eat in the den. It was a really big deal! We would carefully push the two coffee tables together, protect them with place mats and eat our mother’s homemade pizza while watching the Dukes of Hazard. We were even allowed to watch Dallas and sometimes a small bit of Falcon Crest. We thought it was awesome! Over the years we continued to have Friday Night Pizza Night. Our mom even made as many as 10-15 pizzas for our birthday parties. This was awesome for a crowd of hungry teenagers.

So it was great fun to get together and once again share this family tradition. When I asked my mom for a copy of the recipe she said it was not written down, but in her head. So I quickly grabbed my new toy- the IPad, and typed it out. I surprisingly learned that she got the recipe from our grandmother, Bobbie, who made cheese pizzas every Friday night during Lent in Philadelphia. So, I loving name this recipe after her- Bobbie’s Friday Night Pizza.

Grab your pens, notebooks, phones, computers or IPads and get those family recipes written down today. Preserve and share them with your children and grandchildren. They may not think much of them today, but someday they will. They may not know what Dukes of Hazard or Dallas is, but they will have their own memories of you and the recipes you shared with them.

Bobbie’s Friday Night Pizza

1 package yeast
4 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp. olive oil
About 2 cups warm water (85-90 degrees)
Cornmeal for pans

Combine flour,salt, and sugar. Make a well and add yeast. Combine warm water with olive oil. Pour into the well and mix. Add more warm water as needed to make a firm dough. Should be a little sticky. Knead about 5- 10 minutes. Cover and let rise in a warm dry place for 1 hour until doubled in size. Punch down. Divide into two balls and roll into 2 pizzas. Sprinkle cornmeal on the bottom of pizza pans before placing your dough. Bake at 550 degrees for 10 minutes.

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Here is a picture of my favorite lunch-time pizza for one- the Caprese!

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Caprese Pita Pizza for One
1 whole wheat pita
1 tsp. olive oil
1 Roma tomato, sliced
4 fresh basil leaves
4 slices of fresh mozzarella or 1/2 cup part-skim shredded mozzarella
sea salt/kosher salt or salt, to taste

Set the oven to broil. Spread olive oil over pita. Top with fresh or shredded mozzarella. Top with 4 slices of tomato (one slice per quadrant) and 4 basil leaves. Salt each slice of tomato. Broil for 5-6 minutes, until cheese is melted. Enjoy!

Posted in Food and Drink, Recipes | 1 Comment

It’s all Greek to Me

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Sadly, our culinary, I mean cycling, adventures in France came to an end just as quickly as they began. With heavy heart, and swollen ankles, I awoke my last morning in our surprisingly quaint, yet modern,hotel room. Oddly, I would miss the six floor, un air-conditioned climb to my attic-like room with it’s glossy pumpkin colored armoire and slanted ceiling. Only days earlier I had made the surprising discovery that if I stood on my tip toes, craned my neck and held my tongue just right I could see the tippy top of the Eiffel Tower from our rooftop window. Suitcases bulging with dirty laundry and pockets full of unspent Euros we rolled into the early morning heat of the awakening City of Light. Shop keepers threw pales of water onto the little parcel of land in front of their shops, boulangeries made another baguette and brasseries planned their plats du jour. Life continued in this great city as it always had. And we would sadly leave it behind.

Now, we were miles away from my my little slice of heaven that I had called home for a week and heading towards the airport. Our senses were once again overwhelmingly met by the sights, sounds, and smells of a European airport crowded with anxious tourists and impatient business people. Carts full of luggage surrounded the families that excitedly stood in the long lines to the ticket counter. We too entered this sea of backpacks,passports, languages,and watchful eyes. Our sadness of a trip ended mingled with their excitement of journeys begun.

And so it was that we ate our last French meal in the crowded little airport cafeteria. It was no surprise to find it did not serve the classic French cuisine of Julia Child or Le Cordon Bleu. The eggs were powdered ,the coffee from a machine and the cheese in shiny foil wrappers. Where were the cafe au laits and chocolate croissants that I was now accustomed to eating? I guessed it was time to wake up and smell the Folgers. For once, I was not a member of The Clean Plate Club for I feared the effect of finishing this strange petit dejeuner on my looming 14 hour flight. I dared not chance it. Maybe this airport was the zone between wonderful European vacation and reality; the limbo- like place that held tourists until they came to the realization the vacation was finally over. So I did what any other girl with a pocket full of strange paper money and coins would do to console herself; I went shopping.

French Macaroons, fleur de Sel caramels, and two mass produced pictures of the Eiffel Tower later and I was done. With money still in my pocket and hunger in my stomach I returned to the cafeteria. Maybe it was the sadness or maybe it was the money burning it’s hole, but I threw prudence to the wind and payed the amusement park-like prices of a $2 lukewarm cup of coffee and a $7 cup filled with what appeared to be plain yogurt topped with a fruit puree. To my great surprise the “yogurt” was fabulous! This wasn’t your McDonald’s fruit and yogurt parfait. No, this was something so much more. It was creamy, sweet heaven in a cheap airport cup. It was a taste of France that I had almost missed! What was this stuff and how did it get here? And more importantly, would I ever taste it again? I vowed right there in front of cafeteria workers and God that we would meet again.

I would soon learn that what I thought was yogurt was most likely fromage blanc. According to Wikipedia , fromage frais (also known as fromage blanc, maquée and similar to some kinds of quark) is a dairy product, originating from Belgium and the north of France. The name literally means “fresh cheese” (with fromage blanc meaning “white cheese”). Fromage frais is a creamy soft cheese made with whole or skimmed milk and cream. It has the consistency of cream cheese, but with fewer calories and less cholesterol. Where available, low-fat cream cheese is an acceptable substitute for fromage frais. Pure fromage frais is virtually fat free, but cream is frequently added to improve the flavor, which also increases the fat content, frequently to as high as 8 percent of total weight. Fromage frais can be served either as a dessert similar to yoghurt, frequently with added fruit, or used in savory dishes. It is often served with honey in restaurants, as fromage blanc au miel.

Where can you buy fromage blanc in Oklahoma? I’ve tried La Baguette and Whole Foods with no success. So I have settled, quite happily I might add, on Greek yogurt. It is shockingly similar and very tasty. I even found a recipe for Greek yogurt topped with fruit compote that is pretty close to my long lost airport treat. I have listed the recipe below, along with a few others using Greek Yogurt. It may not be French, but Greek will do just fine.

Apricot-Compote Yogurt Parfaits

1/4 cup honey, plus 2 Tbsp.
3 Tbsp. water
pinch of coarse sea salt
1 pound fresh apricots, pitted and cut into eighths (or 1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved)
2 containers (17 ounces each) nonfat plain Greek yogurt

In a small saucepan, bring 1/4 cup honey, water, and sea salt to a simmer overt medium; stir until honey dissolves, 1 minute. Add 1 pound fresh apricots ( or any other fresh fruit). Raise heat to medium-high and simmer, stirring often, until fruit is soft and liquid is syrupy, 10 to 12 minutes (adjust heat if necessary to keep at a constant simmer). Divide compote among seven small glass jars or airtight containers. Refrigerate, uncovered, until cool, 10 minutes. Stir 1 tablespoon honey into each of 2 containers of Greek yogurt; divide yogurt among jars. (To store, refrigerate in jars, up to 1 week.) Serve with toasted sliced almonds if desired. Makes 7. 143 calories, 0 fat, 12 g protein, 24 g carb, 1 g fiber per serving.

~Everyday Food, June 2011~

Other Greek Yogurt Recipes

Breakfast or Snack-
(1) 5.3 oz nonfat, plain Greek yogurt, 1 teaspoon agave nectar, pinch of pumpkin pie spice
(1) 5.3 oz nonfat, plain Greek yogurt, 1 teaspoon agave nectar, 1 teaspoon raisins or dried cherries, 1-2 teaspoons sliced almonds

Tzatziki
A creamy Greek yogurt sauce that is great served with 100% whole wheat pitas, crackers, wraps, or vegetables. It can be used as a dip or in the place of mayo or other high fat, and high calorie dressings on sandwiches. We like to put it in our pitas along with Greek turkey meatballs, red onion, and cucumber. This makes for a great healthy and yummy weeknight meal. One of my favorites because it is so packed with flavor! Read my Fish Taco post to see the difference between Greek yogurt and regular plain yogurt.

Tzatziki Sauce
1 cup nonfat, plain Greek yogurt
2 Tbsp. fresh mint (I omit if I don’t have any)
2 Tbsp. fresh dill (I use dried if I don’t have fresh)
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1 clove of garlic, crushed with press or finely chopped.
1/4 tsp. salt

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate until serving.

Posted in Food and Drink, Recipes, Travel | 3 Comments

Fish Tacos with Mexican Coleslaw

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Had some really great parmesan encrusted tilapia last week that I bought frozen from Crest. It bakes up really crunchy and yummy. So I decided we should make it into fish tacos. I’m still tweaking everything but I think it’s shaping up into a really tasty and healthy weeknight meal. And did I mention, easy. The only prep you need is the Mexican coleslaw and the cilantro-lime yogurt. The oven does the rest!

If you haven’t started using plain nonfat Greek yogurt in your recipes yet you are missing out. It is a simple way to cut fat and add some healthy protein to your diet. Substitute it for sour cream on taco or baked potato night. I found this interesting response to a reader’s question of “What’s the difference between low-fat plain yogurt and nonfat Greek yogurt?” in the September/October issue of Clean Eating. The dietician says, “The processing of the two yogurts is different. Milk contains two proteins: casein and whey. When making yogurt, the casein stays more solid, the whey more liquid. Low-fat plain yogurt contains both, and so is a “loose” solid. Greek yogurt is thicker and more solid because it is strained and the liquid whey protein is removed as part of the processing, giving it a richer and creamier texture. Nutritionally, Greek yogurt is higher in protein and lower in lactose than regular low-fat plain yogurt.”. 2 tablespoons of my favorite brand of nonfat plain Greek yogurt is about 15 calories , 0 grams of fat, and 2.8 grams of protein. The same amount of a generic full fat sour cream is 60 calories, 5 grams of fat, and 1 gram of protein.

Here’s the recipe I created tonight for the slaw and my faux sour cream topping. The ingredients were not measured but just added by taste. Feel free to experiment. Think I might try to add some jicama next time. Seems like it would add some good crunch.


Mexican Coleslaw

Ingredients
1 package of broccoli slaw
1 bunch green onions, sliced, including tops
2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and chopped
1 avocado, cubed
1 small bunch cilantro, chopped

Dressing:
2 limes, juiced
2 Tblsp. rice wine vinegar
1 Tblsp. fish sauce
1/2 tsp. cumin
Salt and pepper, to taste

Combine all vegetables in a large bowl. In a small bowl combine all wet ingredients, cumin, salt and pepper. Whisk to combine. Pour dressing over salad, gently stir to combine, cover and chill. Refrigerate for 1 hour and serve over tilapia.

Cilantro-Lime Greek Yogurt

(1) 5.3 ounce container nonfat plain Greek yogurt
1/2 lime, squeezed
2-3 tablespoons Fresh cilantro, chopped
Cumin, to taste
Sea salt, to taste

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate until serving.

Fish Tacos

1 package of Parmesan encrusted tilapia, prepared as directed
1 package 100% whole wheat tortillas
Queso Fresco
Mexican Cole Slaw
1/2 lime, cut into wedges

To assemble: Heat tortillas in microwave or oven to soften. Remove and add 1 piece of tilapia, top with a heaping spoonful of Mexican coleslaw and garnish with some crumbled queso fresco and/ or a dollop of cilantro-lime yogurt. Squeeze a fresh lime wedge over taco if desired. This meal would go really great with one of my favorite drinks: the Moscow Mule or a Mojito!

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Posted in Food and Drink, Recipes, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fresh from the Herb Garden

Don’t you just love the smell of fresh basil? I was picking some the other day out of my garden and my husband could tell that I had, just by the smell of it in the air. I love to just pick a leaf and rub it between my thumb and index finger. So basil is a must in our summer herb garden. I planted 4 plants this year and already have more than I can use. Like rosemary, thyme, sage, mint, and chives, it is much much cheaper to plant your own than purchase from the produce section. I’m guessing I have at least $100 dollars worth right now. Pure gold baby!

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One of my very favorite recipes using basil is bruschetta. I originally got this recipe from Giada De Laurentis but can’t seem to find my copy. The recipe that follows is how we made it last night.

Tomato, Basil, and Mozzarella Bruschetta

1 French baguette ( I like to use pre- sliced sourdough bread)
2-3 Roma tomatoes
1 fresh mozzarella, sliced
1 fresh basil leaf per bruschetta
Olive oil
Sea salt, kosher salt, or salt, to taste

Preheat the oven at 350 degrees.

Slice bread into rounds and lay in a single layer on a baking sheet. Brush each piece with olive oil. Bake bread for 5 minutes. Remove from oven. Top each bread with one piece of mozzarella. Return to oven for 5 minutes. Remove from oven. Top each bread with one leaf of basil, then one slice of Roma tomato. Sprinkle each tomato with salt and return to oven for 5 minutes. Remove from oven. Serve. You can also use store-bought or homemade pesto in place of the fresh basil leaf. In this case, I would add the pesto before the mozzarella.

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You can also make my favorite summertime salad using most of the above ingredients. In Italy this dish is typically served as an appetizer and is said to have been popularized in 1950s Capri when it was served to the Egyptian King. Wherever it got its name and whenever you decide to serve it , it will taste fabulous and look so pretty on your summer table!

Insalata Caprese

2-3 Roma tomatoes, sliced
1 ball fresh mozzarella, sliced
Handful of fresh basil leaves
Olive oil
Sea salt, kosher salt, or salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Balsamic vinegar ( optional)
Capers, drained ( optional)

Alternately arrange a slice of tomato, mozzarella, and basil leaf on a serving platter or individual salad plates. Continue alternating until you run out of ingredients or you create a full circle. Drizzle with olive oil ( and balsamic vinegar, if desired) and sprinkle with salt and fresh ground black pepper ( and a few drained capers, if desired).

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Rosemary Lemonade

I planted a rosemary plant a few months ago and haven’t really used it much. My favorite recipe using it is pasta fagioli, but now that it is hot outside I won’t be making it for a while. So I’ve got to start using it for summer recipes. A quick one I found was for rosemary ice cubes that can be used in lemonade or even white wine. Gave it a try the other night and although it was just me, I did feel fancy and very refreshed as I sipped a glass of Crystal Light Lemonade on the back patio. I’ll try to keep a running list of other ideas for rosemary as they come. Using rosemary is very simple; just pick, rinse, and run your hand down the stem in the opposite direction of growth to remove from the main stem. Chop and use in your favorite recipe or as a garnish! Also, you can gather it into a piece of cheese cloth, tie, and drop into your favorite soup or stew as it cooks. Remove and discard when done.

If you have a sunny spot in your yard that is away from animals it is very easy to grow and so much cheaper than buying fresh from the grocery store. A single plant from TLC will only cost you around $2.99. A small, fresh bundle from the produce section starts at $2.29. I bet my single plant has already yielded me at least $50 worth. Don’t even think about hopping my fence!

*Roasted Rosemary Potatoes: simply toss 1 1/2 pounds new, red, or fingerling potatoes that have been quartered with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 3 sprigs fresh chopped rosemary, 1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Roast in a 350 degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes.

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Fit for a King. . . And a Queen

So I was one of those crazy people who set my alarm and my Uverse for 4:00am on Friday, April 29th, 2011 to watch the royal wedding, the wedding of the century. I remember 30 years ago I watched Princess Diana’s wedding. I couldn’t miss this one. So, I lay in bed at 4:00 am, wearing my own wedding tiara of course, and watched all the pomp and circumstance. I watched Kate leave her hotel and ride with her father to the church. I watched as the bride and groom exchanged their vows. I watched as they took a carriage ride through the streets of England and finally saw the famous TWO kisses on the balcony. It was beautiful! A real life fairy tale! That evening I watched all the prime time specials that gave in-depth reports on the gown, the hair, the make up, the vows, the lip reading, the queen, the bridesmaids, the flowers, the uniforms, the hats, the guests, the cake, and even the groom’s cake. It was all so addictive. For once a news coverage marathon that was not a terrible earthquake, flood, tornado, shooting, or terrorist attack. Finally, something with a happy ending. Something with a promise of hope. The next day, the coverage continued. Oprah even had a one hour special, an after wedding tea party, with the studio audience sporting their best fascinators. Still wearing my tiara I watched the continued excitement and curiosity of the world as we craved every detail of the magical wedding. I of course, being the foodie that I am, was very interested in the food of the day. And so I was very curious when Oprah’s chef prepared the chocolate biscuit cake that Prince William had as his groom’s cake. I immediately downloaded the recipe from her website and knew instantly that I had to make it. And after I heard the story of the cake I knew I really had to make it. See, that’s why I love food so much, because food tells a story. This cake told the story of a queen grandmother and her future king grandson who shared afternoon teas with each other so many years ago; much like any grandmother around the world shares an afternoon snack with her grandchild. And this “cake” was the favored snack of the grandson. So it was carefully prepared for him on the day of his wedding like it was so many times before. A simple afternoon snack became the vehicle upon which so many memories between a grandmother and grandchild rode. And it rode to his wedding day, rode into the the spotlight, rode into kitchens around the world. And it pulled up right here in the not so royal kitchen of mine; a world away from that handsome prince and his icy grandmother. Worlds apart in so many ways but oh so similar in the ways that we come together over food.

So I made this flour-less, no-bake cake on Mother’s Day for my own mother and mother-in law in honor of all the afternoon snacks and food memories that they had once prepared and shared with their own children, and now for their sweet grandchildren. I wasn’t expecting much when I saw how few the ingredients were; sugar, butter, dark chocolate, tea biscuits, and an egg (which I omitted). No baking required? That’s it? Why would someone serve this to their wedding guests? This wasn’t a cake in the traditional sense of a cake. But who am I to judge? I served a tower of Krispy Kreme doughnuts as my groom’s cake! And those blobs of dough didn’t have any fabulous story of grandmother and grandson behind them! But I did have a part of my grandmother at our wedding; Italian bow knots. And there lie the beauty of food! In our most special times we use it to celebrate and commemorate our lives; our memories, our ancestors, and our cultures. It doesn’t matter what this royal cake tastes like! It’s what is represents. The future king and queen aren’t so very different than you and I after all! Long live the ……..food! So break out those tiaras and get to serving up those memories!

Chocolate Biscuit Cake
Servings: Makes one 6-inch round cake (8 portions)
Ingredients
Cake:
1/2 tsp. butter , for greasing
8 ounces Rich tea biscuits
4 ounces unsalted butter , softened
4 ounces granulated sugar
4 ounces dark chocolate , for the cake
1 egg
Frosting:
8 ounces dark chocolate , for coating
1 ounce chocolate , for decorating

Directions
To make cake: Lightly grease a 6″ x 2 1/2″ cake ring and place on a tray on a sheet of parchment paper.
Break each of the biscuits into almond-size pieces by hand and set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl until the mixture starts to lighten.
Melt the 4 ounces of dark chocolate and add to the butter mixture while constantly stirring.
Beat the egg into the mixture.
Fold in the biscuit pieces until they are all coated with the chocolate mixture.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake ring. Try to fill all of the gaps on the bottom of the ring because this will be the top when it is unmolded.
Chill the cake in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.

To coat and decorate: Remove the cake from the refrigerator and let it stand while you melt the 8 ounces of dark chocolate.
Slide the ring off the cake and turn it upside down onto a cake wire.
Pour the melted chocolate over the cake and smooth the top and sides using a palette knife.
Allow the chocolate to set at room temperature.
Carefully run a knife around the bottom of the cake where the chocolate has stuck to the cake wire and lift it onto a tea plate.
Melt the remaining 1 ounce of chocolate and use to decorate the top of the cake.

Printed from Oprah.com on May 9, 2011

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Easter

I was surprised to learn that these little cuties are called macaroons. French macaroons that is! I first encountered these colorfully cute little packages in a small bakery near our hotel in Paris. I ran into this bakery every morning to grab a few croissants that we could walk and eat on our way to that day’s sightseeing adventures. To me, gazing into those confectionary filled windows was a sight seeing adventure of its own. To truly visit a place I believe you should experience it in every way, through sights, sounds, smells and tastes. This was the first stop every morning on my culinary travels through Paris. This little bakery we found only a day after arriving in this fabulous city. It was never crowded and far away from most tourists. This is where the local went to pick up breakfast or even a pre-packaged lunch sandwich or salad. It was very inviting from the double doors that were always open to the street to the nice woman, who must be the owner, behind the counter. I simply had to point to a selection of yummy goodness, they were packaged to go and I was on my way to start the day. That was when I first noticed a glass doored refrigerator in the corner, off to one side. I had eyed it each morning but never stopped long enough to truly peer inside. But I stored its contents in they back of my mind’s culinary eye. As we visited the many historical sights of the city I would glance into shop windows as we passed and noticed the colorful button-like pillows in several other locations. Several of the upscale department stores even dedicated entire sections of their in-store grocery stores to them. The attendants behind the counter were like specialists who packaged them up in boxes for 1, 2, 4, etc. They lifted them out of their glass encased beds with special tongs and as much care as one lifting a newborn baby. There must be something to these things I said to myself. Why are they so expensive? What could they possibly be made of? Gold? I had to try one, but not here, at my bakery back by the hotel. So that very evening as we strolled to our hotel I stopped in our bakery; that is what we called it now, “our bakery”, and bought a yellow one, pink one, and brown one. I could only judge on color for I had no idea what they would taste like. And then we tried one. They were delicious! And it was night! And the bakery was closed! And we were flying home in the morning! I had dodged a bullet; what if I had left Paris without buying one of these lovely little cookies? What else had I missed? Not tasted?

And so the next day at the airport, we bought souvenir boxes of four to take back to our families. These macaroons were everywhere, even the airport. I must attempt to make them when I get home.

Very different than the coconut macaroon that most of us know the French macaroon was originally a “small sweet cake consisting largely of ground almonds”, similar to Italian or Moroccan amaretti. The word is itself derived from ammaccare, meaning crush or beat, used here in reference to the almond paste which is the principal ingredient. Most recipes call for egg whites (usually whipped to stiff peaks), with ground or powdered nuts, generally almonds.

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