Leave a comment

On the Trail With the Amazing Gourmet Girls

by Martha Esersky Lorden

Girls-around-Fire-4-3-1024x768.jpg

https://www.gourmetgirlsonfire.com

When Gail Kearns, Lindsey Moran, and Denise Woolery go camping, they dine in style– and so can you. Now with an innovative cookbook by the Gourmet Girls, you can leave the hotdog-on-a-stick approach to campfire cuisine in the ashes and embrace fine dining al fresco with 140 fabulous recipes offered by these temptresses in a tent.

While the cooking technology featured in these recipes includes cast iron skillets, dutch ovens, and grills, there is no chuck wagon or cowboy cuisine here. The Gourmet Girls have raised the bar, adapting campfire recipes for the gourmet palate.

GourmetTrio.jpg

Denise Woolery (executive chef),  Lindsay Moran (writer/illustrator), Gail Kearns (editor)

Using techniques that go beyond the backyard barbecue, the GGs are inspired by gourmet classics like coq au vin, escargot, or scallops on the half shell with a buttery Bernaise sauce. There’s tagine-braised lamb shanks with quince and a filet mignon dressed in a reduction of red wine. And how about a breakfast of eggs Benedict or French toast made with brioche smeared with mascarpone, swimming in a buttery, brown sugar peach sauce?

Pretentious, you say?  Not in the least. These ladies accomplish all this with wooden spoons, cast iron, and fire, right?  Okay– they want you to bring a bottle opener for the wine as well as whisks, zesters, and milk frothers. But as avid foodies with sophisticated tastes as well as a love of hiking and the outdoors, the women who developed and contributed these recipes take their culinary adventures and celebrations seriously. So you’ll find a dozen creative and quite festive cocktails along with many ooh-la-la appetizers from these campers-who-cook.

Many recipes are inspired  by the Cali cuisine that focuses on vegetarian or paleo-friendly options. There are several sections devoted specifically to this fare: Vegetarian Vittles, Savvy Salads, Very Veggie, and Groovy Grains. Forget the canned baked beans!  Opt instead for grilled brussels sprouts roasted in maple syrup, a medley of grilled market vegetables topped with romesco sauce, or quinoa with cauliflower and walnuts.

Cast Iron Ratatouille prepared over hot coals

There are riffs on burgers, grilled sandwiches, tacos and wraps; curries, chili, and ribs, too. Over 20 sauces will dress up any dish, and for the sweet finish, there are plenty desserts such as strawberry shortcake, lemon ricotta crepes, chocolate fondue, and campfire cobblers. The desserts go way beyond, but include, those iconic and gooey marshmallow, graham cracker and chocolate s’mores which are revisited in a number of creative twists.

These gals don’t mess around in this guide to dining in the great outdoors. Serious camping requires serious gear, and the GGs cookbook provides excellent lists and guidelines for setting up a well-equipped traveling kitchen and campsite. Packing and preparation are achieved by creating bins. There’s advice on the best tools for fire-building, ways to store ingredients away from heat and moisture, what’s needed  for clean up, and more. The Tips and Tricks section explains efficient cooler use, options for heat sources, and cooking methods along with a chart on how to achieve proper cooking temperatures using a dutch oven. Echoes from that  old  Boy Scout motto  “Be prepared” resound; their sage advice is based on years of experience and plenty of scorched marshmallows.

So, the next time you prepare for a camping trip, you just might want to swap out those acrid citronella candles for some tapers and an elegant candelabra. With the Gourmet Girls’ cookbook as your trail guide, you will be on your way to a fine dining outdoor adventure.DSC00006.JPG

Gail Kearns and Denise Woolery at a recent book signing at We Olive in Ventura 

The GGs are currently taking their book on the road to wineries, gift shops, and bookstores in the Santa Barbara area. There will be cooking demos, so don’t miss a chance to sample appetizers and talk recipes. You can also catch them in late April at the SB Business Expo . Then they’ll be getting their grill on in LA in June. They also have plans to pitch a summer campsite in Oregon.

To buy a copy  of The Gourmet Girls Co Camping cookbook please visit https://www.gourmetgirlsonfire.com/shop/.

iBooks.pngbandn.pngAmazon.png

GG-Logo-Wide.jpg

Here’s a link to events for the spring and summer 2017 tour: https://www.gourmetgirlsonfire.com/our-spring-summer-book-tour/

Please check the link for updates for future book signing events.

  • April 15, 2017 • 1-3 p.m. @ We Olive • 294 E Main Street #B, Ventura, CA 93001
  • April 29, 2017 • 8 a.m.-2 p.m. @ 2017 Santa Barbara Business Expo • Fess Parker’s Doubletree Hotel, 633 E. Cabrillo Blvd, Santa Barbara, CA
  • June 3, 2017 • 12-2 p.m. @ The Garden Market • 3811 Santa Claus Ln, Carpinteria, CA 93013
  • June 10, 2017 • 12-2 p.m. @ Buttonwood Winery • 1500 Alamo Pintado Road, Solvang CA 93463
  • June 17, 2017 • 11 a.m.-3 p.m. @ Adventure 16 • 11161 W. Pico Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90064
  • August 19 & 20, 2017 • 12-8 p.m. @ Dancin Vineyards • 4477 South Stage Road, Medford, OR 97501

GGsGailDenise.jpg

Buttonwood Farm and Winery in the San Ynez Valley hosted authors Gail Kearns and Denise Woolery for a book signing with sample appetizers.

Advertisements

Fast Food Can be Slow Food: Cooking Under Pressure

Leave a comment

Cooking Under Pressure
by Martha Esersky Lorden

The Slow Food movement has issued a challenge to the way we eat. Its premise that sustainable, locally raised plants and livestock can transform this nation’s over-dependance on a globalized, national food industry that markets unhealthy fast food products has everyone rethinking what they eat and how they cook.

In addition, the movement celebrates regional and traditional food products along with the personal history accompanying their preparation. Savoring our food, preserving old food ways and cooking methods and reflecting on how we source ingredients is at the very heart of the movement. So when I tell you that you can still march in the ranks of the Slow Food movement while accelerating cooking time, you might be a bit surprised. In this era of speed reading, speed walking, and even speed dating, you really can speed up the cooking process, yet stay true to the school of Slow Food, with an old-fashioned, ingenious piece of kitchen tech known as the pressure cooker.

In today’s home kitchen, cuisine rapido is an obsession and much needed skill in our overbooked lives. The preponderance of cookbooks promising Quick and Easy, Quick and Healthy, or 1-2-3  meals tells us that we desire tricks for getting simple-to-prepare, healthy meals on the table. The set-it-and-forget-it ease of the slow cooker is certainly an option, but you will find that a pressure cooker delivers a complete, nutritional one-pot meal in minutes that is as good as the long, stewing variety.

fagor-duo-6-quart-pressure-cooker-img-300x219

History of the Device

In 1679, during the reign of the English King Charles, a French physicist and mathematician named Denis Papin invented a cast metal furnace with a locking lid that raised the boiling point of water from 215º to 250º. The high temperature cooked and softened meat quickly, but this “digester” posed dangers of explosion, given the difficulty of regulating the steam pressure. Eventually, Papin invented a safety valve, but there was still the problem of cracks in the cast vessel. Despite earning him membership in the Royal Society after a successful demonstration of the device to King Charles and Society aristocracy, Papin never saw the complete success of his concept, though the science and application of his invention were established.

The set-it-and-forget-it ease of the slow cooker is certainly an option, but you will find that a pressure cooker delivers a complete, nutritional one-pot meal in minutes that is as good as the long, stewing variety.

The pressure cooker eventually became more than a science experiment. Commercial cast iron models appeared in the 19th century, and small domestic models came later. By the early 1920’s, home cooks employed them, but some dangers still persisted. With the arrival of World War II, as most manufacturers converted production to wartime industries, commercial pressure canners prepared food for hungry soldiers across the seas. With the war’s end, home cooks could enjoy modern appliances at cheap prices as manufacturers capitalized on the “benefits of using a pressure cooker for preparing meals, cooking in just one-third of the time, preserving vitamin and mineral content of food, and saving both food flavor and color.” (Miss Vickie’s Pressure Cooker Recipes)  

fis_frau-mit-altem-skt_-inhalt-kartofflen

But by the 1950’s, the pressure cooker was overshadowed by products such as frozen foods, boxed preparations, and other convenience foods which touted a “modern” and “healthy” approach to food preparation. When the interest for a natural and healthy approach to eating surfaced in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the pressure cooker re-appeared briefly, only to be overshadowed by the arrival of increasing fast food options, the slow cooker crock pot, and the microwave oven. Once again, the pressure cooker retreated to the bowels of the kitchen cupboard. Considered old fashioned and not a major go-to appliance, some women were simply reluctant to use a mechanical device which sent out a plume of steam from a jiggling valve and sputtering top.

il_fullxfull.286409363

Pressure Cooker Advantages

While most Americans kept grandmother’s pressure cooker stored in the cellar, European and Asian manufacturers perfected the device, still found in most homes abroad.

Why is this old-fashioned cooking method suddenly popular again today? New models have improved with the advent of better safety-valve design, nonstick surfaces, low noise, ease of use, and even electric models. Today, these new generation, high-end pressure cookers are being exported to America. The pressure cooker of old that rattled, belched, and steamed on the stovetop is a thing of the past.

The advantages of this cooking method are many:

1) You will eat healthier food in less time. Food cooks in up to 70% less time.

2) You can save money.  A quick cooking time means saved energy by using two-thirds less energy. Eat faster and pay less.

3) Less heat escapes into your kitchen.

4) Cheap cuts of meat can be turned into tender, better tasting dishes by the enhanced flavor.

5) Economical whole foods like dried beans, grains, root vegetables, and rice are quick dishes.

6) Flavors are preserved as the food cooks in its own juices, not diluting liquids, producing a rich gravy.

7) Modern pressure cookers are a multi-purpose pot and not just for steaming. They can be a Dutch oven, sauce pan, or a baking pan.

8) Pressure cookers are a quick way to can or preserve foods.

Cooks can count on making better tasting, nutritious food in the fraction of the time with a pressure cooker.

My mother’s pressure cooker was a slightly bent, aluminum affair with a dimpled surface. I remember the clickety clack of the dancing safety valve as the steam escaped. She still talks about the pot roasts and potatoes she cooked in it. When she offered me the cooker and food-stained manual with recipes, I declined, foolishly. It just seemed too passé, too complicated. But since then, I’ve enjoyed two memorable meals made in a pressure cooker. I once prepared a succulent pork posole with a Pueblo Indian woman at her reservation home in New Mexico. In fact, I was so enamored of this meal steeped in tradition, and so grateful for her day of cooking instruction, that I gifted her a new pressure cooker to replace her flimsy, worn-out model. Frankly, I’d be surprised if she gave up her ailing, tried and true model for the new one. I enjoyed another memorable dish of a tender, rosemary pork roast braised in milk. It was prepared by a Roman woman who hosted me during my first visit to the city. I still can’t get that dish and its sweet, rich and creamy sauce out of my mind, and I’ve included the recipe below.

The popularity of the pressure cooker is, well, exploding. As a cooking technique, it is wonderfully in sync with the emerging, modern food philosophy. With so many excellent models (see What to Look for in a Pressure Cooker, America’s Test Kitchen, www.youtube.com/watch?v=IiCUKA7dDUs) to choose from, the convenience of a fast, whole food meal is accessible and easy to schedule into our busy lives. A pressure cooker could just be a modern kitchen’s best kept secret.

RECIPE

Pressure Cooker Pork Loin Braised in Milk à la Romana

This recipe is adapted from The Classic Italian Cookbook by the late, great Marcella Hazan. The dish is excellent served on a base of warm polenta with a sauté of Porcini mushrooms. 

It’s hard to believe this company’s coming dish only takes about 40 minutes to cook, thanks to the magic of the pressure cooker.  

INGREDIENTS

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 pounds pork loin in one piece with some fat on it, securely tied

2 teaspoon salt

freshly ground black pepper

about 2 ½ cups or ¾ lt. milk

INSTRUCTIONS

1.In the pressure cooker, with the lid off on medium-low heat, melt butter and oil.

2.When the butter is melted add the meat, fat side facing down first.

3.Brown the roast thoroughly on all sides, and finish on the side where you started.

4.Add the salt, pepper, bay leaf and milk pouring it on top of the roast and adding enough for it to cover the roast by half.

5.Close and lock the lid of the pressure cooker. Turn the heat to high and when the pressure cooker reaches pressure lower the heat and begin counting 30 minutes cooking time at high pressure.

6.When time is up, open the pressure cooker with the Natural release method – move the cooker off the burner and wait for the pressure to come down on its own (about 10 minutes). For electric pressure cookers, when cooking time is up count 10 minutes of natural open time. Then, release the rest of the pressure using the valve.

7.Move the roast to a serving dish tented with tin foil to rest.

8.Let the sauce cool and spoon out the fat, discard the bay leaf and reduce the sauce in the open pressure cooker, if needed.

9.If you do not like the coagulated milk clusters, whisk in some fresh milk or cream or break them up with a stick blender. Taste to check seasoning and add any additional salt, if needed.

10.Slice the roast and arrange on platter. Pour on the warm sauce and serve.

Stock Options: Selecting a Stock for Soups, Sauces, and Simmering

Leave a comment

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 7.08.31 AM

Stock Options:   Selecting a Stock for Soups, Sauces, and Simmering

by Martha Esersky Lorden

The traditional cure-all for whatever ails a body is a bowl of chicken soup. How it acquired such status as a great folk remedy is anyone’s guess.

The effectiveness of this magical broth in un-stuffing noses has been the subject of great study, and the results are in. According to Dr. Stephen Rennard of the University of Nebraska Medical Center (http://fyinutrition.com/mystery-chicken-noodle-soup), chicken soup’s high levels of zinc and cysteine have anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce phlegm. Its disinfecting, soothing heat can alleviate cold symptoms and speed recovery, and versions including garlic and onion pack a powerful antioxidant-al punch. Who knew that there really is such a thing as Jewish Penicillin?

Folks looking to create a made-from-scratch soup stock might turn to Gramma’s recipe of old, but home cooks should not discount utilizing the quality stocks available commercially, which also contain (and may even surpass) the healing potential of the favorite family super soup. The grocery shelves are brimming with options. Where to begin? There are cans, bottles, boxes, and jars—  some labeled as stock, others as broth. There are granulated powders, concentrates, and bullion cubes; low fat, low sodium, MSG free; organic, stock made from free-range chickens, stock with wine and seasonings, gluten-free… it boggles the mind. The makers of stocks and broths are obviously keeping up with the latest  food trends— even for something as basic as soup stock.

food-whybroth1

The creation of a good stock, according to chef Jacob Brun (Stella Culinary School), is the foundation of all great cuisines. Its role in the kitchen is profound. The art of making a stock lies behind any chef’s mastery of the mother sauces of classical cuisine as they are precise reductions of a quality stock.

But what exactly is a stock? And how does it differ from a broth? Many cooks look to richness or thickness as a point of differentiation, with stocks requiring simmering roasted bones to produce a flavorful gelatin. Some identify simmering fresh meat as what renders the lighter broth. Then there are debates about the levels or salt and seasonings. Like much terminology, colloquial usage can confuse the culinary definition. It’s a tedious affair trying to get to the bottom of these differences because, in truth, the differences are not easily standardized.

A quick look in the dictionary of the culinary world, Barron’s Food Lover’s Companion, and we find that broth is defined as a liquid resulting from cooking vegetables, meat or fish in water. The term is sometimes used synonymously with bouillon. On the other hand, a stock (from an old German word meaning  “root”) is simply a strained broth. In other words, a stock is just a broth until it is strained.  As a mere physical, not culinary, refinement of a broth, stock is associated with professional kitchens and serves as as a base for sauce-making or for simmering other ingredients.

When my favorite Food Network cooking diva sings the praises of keeping copious amounts of fabulous stock in the freezer for braises, gravies, and soups, I scoff.  Sure, I envy the luxury she enjoys every time she pops the lid of one of her quarts of stock kept on hand for cooking up comforting soups or braised shanks, but I know that her home made liquid gold takes pounds of ingredients and hours of simmering, usually in pots the size of the Grand Canyon. Or does it?

In just a basic home stockpot, cooks can pull off a restaurant grade stock.The basic building blocks are the classical triad of bones, some aromatics (like onions, carrots, celery, and parsley) and water. The formula seems simple enough, and what a great way to use up odds and ends of vegetables or those bone-in meat parts not usually served up as main dishes—  chicken necks, backs, and wings, or veal knuckle bones. How difficult can it be to roast the bones and vegetables, cover them in water, and simmer them with a sachet of seasonings (bay leaf, peppercorns, thyme, and garlic)?  A little cooling after a 3-4 hour simmer, some skimming of fat, and a thorough straining, and voilá— stock!

For the impatient and busy home cook, there are also excellent quick methods for making stock. I had my doubts, but I’ve finally come up with a recipe, inspired by Mark Bittman, that produces a flavorful, golden stock in just under an hour with some fresh chicken parts that you can get from your butcher. Part stock, part broth, this liquid cooking base can do anything that a stock-in-a-box can do. I love to cook rice in it or use it as a base for my pasta sauces. It also makes a terrific base for soups. You can also make any kind of stock at home in the reliable and convenient set-it-and-forget-it slow cooker.  (See recipes below.)

While many say that homemade stock is much better than anything you can buy in a can or carton, the tongue is the final judge. Yet, many home cooks opt for a commercial brand  that delivers a nice umami from its combination of sodium levels, additives, and meat /vegetable/seafood base. Some choose a prepared stock based on label information alone, not taste, and still other cooks select a variety simply because it has absolutely no additives whatsoever. Seeking to control the level of intensity or salinity in their dishes, many cooks enjoy using granulated bouillon, low salt/low fat stocks, or concentrates. When looking for a quality stand-in for homemade stock, you want a clean and savory flavor of meat, seafood, or vegetables, and you don’t want any lingering chemical tastes or anything overly salty.  And as for shelf life, prepared stock can’t be beat.

Be adventurous in your sampling, and you are certain to find that go-to stock for all your cooking. Though labeled “stock”, these prepared liquids are flavorful factory-made broths designed for the home cook. Unless you are preparing a demi-glace sauce for your master chef class, no worries. Your stock options are plentiful.

RECIPES

QUICK CHICKEN STOCK

(an interpretation of a Mark Bittman recipe from How to Cook Everything)

I use this recipe as the base for my Matzoh Ball soup and pasta sauces as well as for cooking rice and braising chicken.  It is surprisingly flavorful— and fast. You know its done when a golden color is achieved and a rich chicken flavor develops.   —Martha Lorden

Ingredients:

4 chicken wings with skin and meat removed

2 backs of a Chicken with skin removed

1/2 large onion, rough chopped (don’t peel it)

1 large carrot, rough chopped

1 stalk of celery, rough chopped

1 bay leaf

Directions:

1. Combine wings and backbone with onion, carrot, celery, and bay leaf in a large pot with 4 cups of water and turn heat to high.

2. Bring almost to boil, then lower the heat so the so the mixture bubbles very lightly. Cook for 30 minutes, or an hour if you have more time.

3. Cool slightly and strain. Press down the solids to extract as much liquid as possible and discard the solids.

Homemade Vegetable Stock (Slow Cooker Method)

(from Slow Cooker: The Best Cookbook Ever with More Than 400 Easy-to-Make Recipes by Diane Phillips)

Ingredients:

1/4 cup olive oil

4 carrots, cut into chunks

4 parsnips, cut into chunks

2 large onions, chopped

1 bunch (approximately 3 cups chopped) Swiss chard

8 oz slice mushroom

2 cups water

2 tbsp tomato paste

2 tsp dried thyme

1 bay leaf

2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns

Directions:

1. Put everything (and I mean everything!) into the insert of a 5 to 7 quart slow cooker and gently stir to combine. Cook on high for 5 hours or low for 9 hours.

2. Pour vegetable stock through a fine-meshed sieve set over a large bowl. If you desire, remove some of the larger chunks of vegetables first and discard them prior to pouring. Skim off any fat that accumulates.

3. In refrigerator, stock will keep for up to five days. In the freezer this will stay fresh up to 6 months.

Pleasures of the Picnic

6 Comments

by MELorden

woman-kissing-man-on-picnic-blanket-illustration

Whenever I see a red checkered tablecloth, I can’t help but think of a picnic. Turned into a colorful blanket, the symbol of eating al fresco is the classic canvas for a spread of old-fashioned American culinary delights. Add a green hillside dotted with daisies and a woven wicker basket. Now toss in a bottle of wine accompanied by plates of cheese, bread, and fruit. For good measure, bring along a few large brimmed hats, and the picture is complete.

9631361-picnic-basket-and-bottle-of-white-wine-on-red-gingham-blanket-beside-lake With summer now in full swing, the desire to picnic is picking up. This portable and often impromptu outdoor meal is a wonderful option with the increased selection of fresh, seasonal local produce at farm stands and regional cooperatives.  Browsing the produce and prepared food sections of  your grocery store or the stalls of local farmers markets inspires a seasonal picnic menu.

 History

Victorian-Picnic The ideal picnic has a certain romantic elegance. Victorian style picnics came into fashion in America by the 1860’s and were often very elaborate affairs. Designed around lengthy menus and elegantly outfitted hampers, Victorian picnickers filled them with every tool and gastronomic delight imaginable:  Dishes included timbales, stuffed eggs, pressed chicken salad, aspics, jellied roasts, fish balls, and the ever-popular baked bean sandwich. Desserts featured puddings, prune and other fruit whips, custards, and cakes. By the 19th century, the American picnic was a sort of English high tea en plein air.

This stylish “informality” in dining came to America via Great Britain, by way of the French. The origins of the word piquenique, according to Michael Quinon at World Wide Words, describe an outdoor gathering with food, where participants bring a little something to the party. The French piquer enjoyed this leisurely pot-luck meal where attendees gracefully picked at delicious trifles of this and that. Historians find references to the word in the17th and 18th century (the period of Louis XIV – XV), and by 1800 it appears in English.

71eWMl9A-FL._SL1500_ I like to imagine the French nobility at these affairs joyously poo-pooing the cumbersome rules of formal dining at Versailles while eating finger food and romping about in nature days before the French Revolution.

The American Picnic

It is this mildly rebellious spirit of the picnic that makes it such a great match for Americans. Picnics are a collaborative, resourceful approach to enjoying the fruits of one’s labor in the wild.  Busy as bees and as industrious as the ants that march across their picnic blankets, Americans found ways to eat outdoors:  clambakes, the old box social, Texas BBQs, and Louisiana shrimp boils. There’s backyard grilling, tailgating at athletic events, outdoor concerts, the Old-Fashioned July 4th family reunion. Don’t forget the hiking trails, seaside vistas, mountain tops, and national or state parks where picnic tables beckon. Given the cornucopia of fresh food from the American landscape, the options for what to pack in the picnic box are limitless.

Picnic Fare

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to American picnic foods– there are just traditions. Many of us fall back on the reliable cold chicken with potato salad, cole slaw, and rolls, or ham and cheese sandwiches with chips and pickles followed by brownies or fresh fruit salad. Hamburgers, hotdogs, and beans are also perennial favorites for noshing out of doors, and for many folks, cookouts simply feel incomplete without them. On the other hand, there is that extreme form of outdoor dining typical of the professional and competitive picnicker: NFL tailgaters or sophisticated diners on the lawn at Tanglewood light torches and enjoy champagne, entire roast pig, coq au vin, escargots, and chocolate mousse served on real china, eaten with sterling silver and accompanied by linens that are actually made of linen (no folksy red-checkered tablecloths here).

6076

Indeed, today’s picnic venues and menus are getting an extreme makeover, but there is no need to go to such lengths to amp up your picnic experience. What we eat at a picnic can be more than a box lunch but need not be a gourmet tour de force. A picnic can be a break from mealtime routine, a chance to commune with both nature and your company. Most importantly, a picnic can be an opportunity for tasting a number of small portable plates that, once consumed in the fresh air, become memorable culinary experiences and part of your own picnic food traditions.

High on my list of excellent picnic foods are cold soups and tortes, pickled foods, slaws, local cheeses, and crusty breads. Chilled roasted vegetables and salads travel well and offer that refreshing crunch as well as hydration in the hot weather. Grain-based salads (quinoa, couscous, farro, and barley) are nice replacements for traditional pasta-based and mayonnaise dressed salads. Sliced baked ham, or marinated chicken and beef make wonderful contents for wraps or are great rolled around asparagus and red peppers.  Food eaten with your fingers adds to the convenience of the fun we associate with summer picnics.  And you can leave the clean up to the ants.

Planning a Picnic

Regardless of the equipment used to package, transport, or eat picnic fare, you can plan a quality dining experience that is both smart and simple. Pick up a used basket at a thrift store, or drag out that old Scotch Plaid cooler if you want to be stylish or retro.large_PicnicLunch-basket  With the advent of lightweight insulated bag coolers, you can easily hike to your picnic destination and not worry about bringing along ice cold dishes on a summer’s day.

If you are looking for a more intimate and personal picnic experience, and the sound of distant thunder looms, plan an indoor picnic. Move over breakfast in bed! Why not picnic on the porch, or on the floor?  Bring out the basket, the ground cloth, the picnic plates and cutlery and treat yourself to a great picnic menu under your own roof.  Add a few flowers as a centerpiece, and enjoy your own picnic paradise at home.

Sometimes the best picnics are those that are not extensively planned. Beautiful weather beckons, friends are free, and with a destination selected, the meal comes together in a collaborative fashion. Great expense of time or money is not needed for a sophisticated and satisfying picnic adventure. However, with a little planning and a few good picnic-worthy recipes by your side, you can assemble a simple smorgasbord of samplings that are in tune with the available produce of the summer season.

When I got married, a very popular wedding gift was a woven wicker picnic basket. Somehow, that basket with its nestled cups and plates and its snaps and straps for cutlery, a bottle opener, and linens represented the idyllic adventures my husband and I were going enjoy together for the rest of our lives.  As someone once said, “You can plan a pretty picnic, but you can never predict the weather.”  Now that we are both retired, I’ve dusted it off.  For us, eating on the road these days is actually more of a fast food picnic, but I still believe that the stylish wicker suitcase is nothing short of romance in a box.

∞∞∞∞∞

RECIPES

These refreshing cold soups are two of my favorites, and they are just as delicious when served from a paper cup as from a wine glass.  The roasted vegetable torte is an Ina Garten gem.  I was served this elegant but simply prepared layered vegetable dish at a recent luncheon.  It can be served either cold or hot and holds up well.  Top it with a spoonful of your favorite yogurt or tangy vinaigrette.     

Summer Gazpachos

Adapted from Company’s Coming Soups by Jean Paré (2006)

Combine the following ingredients in a bowl; toss.  Then pureé in a blender till smooth.

4 large hothouse tomatoes (peeled, seeded, and chopped)

1 English cucumber (peeled, seeded, and chopped)

1 cup chopped red pepper

1/2 cup chopped red onion

2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 garlic clove (minced)

1/2 teaspoon lime juice

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar

2 dashes Tobasco

Salt and pepper to taste

Serve with chopped cucumber, sliced avocado, croutons, or a dollop of sour cream.

Yellow Summer Squash Buttermilk Soup

Adapted from the Whole Living website

Ingredients:

Curry powder (1-2 teaspoons)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium sweet onion coarsely, chopped

2 medium garlic cloves, minced

2 pounds yellow squash, cut into 1/2” thick rounds

1 large Russet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2” cubes

3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock

1/2 cup buttermilk

Chives, chopped for garnish

Directions:

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.

Cook onion, garlic, squash, and potato, stirring often, until vegetables begin to soften (but not brown), about 5 minutes.

Add curry powder and combine.

Add 3 cups stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, stirring occasionally until potato is tender when pierced with the tip of a paring knife, 20 to 25 minutes.

Remove from heat; let cool slightly.

Puree soup until smooth.

Pour through a fine sieve into a clean large saucepan. Set pan over med.-low hat.

Stir in remaining 1/2 cup stock; stirring constantly for 5 minutes. Slowly pour in buttermilk.

Serve chilled.

Roasted Vegetable Torte

Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cooks (1999) by Ina Garten

Ingredients:

2  Zucchini, cut into 1/4 inch slices

1 Red onion, sliced

1 Garlic clove, minced

2 Red bell peppers, halved, cored, and seeded

2 Yellow bell peppers, halved, cored, and seeded

1 Eggplant, unpeeled, cut into 1/4 inch slices (1 1/2 pounds)

1/2 Cup grated parmesan

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In large sauté pan, cook zucchini, onion, garlic, and 2 tablespoons olive for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Brush the peppers and eggplant with olive, season with salt and pepper and roast on a baking sheet for 30-40  minutes until soft (not browned)

In 6 inch round cake pan, place each vegetable in a single, overlapping layer, sprinkling Parmesan, salt and pepper to taste between each of the layers of vegetables:

  • Begin with half of the eggplant, then layer half of the zucchini and onions, then all of the red peppers,then the rest of the zucchini and onions, and then finally the rest of the eggplant.

Cover the top of the vegetables with a 6 inch round of parchment or waxed paper.  Place another cake pan or bottom of a tart pan on top and weight it with a heavy jar. Place on a plate or baking sheet (it will leak) and chill completely.

Drain the liquids, place on a platter, and serve at room temperature.

14

It’s Mardi Gras! Time for Tastes and Toasts

1 Comment

Are you ready for Fat Tuesday?

The great rite for “letting it all hang out” centered in New Orleans— the mecca of Mardi Gras celebrations–  is arriving February 12. The famous carnival days when the world turns topsy-turvy and the rules of social decorum go right out the window and tumble onto Bourbon Street are fast approaching. How will you celebrate?

 beads

Food is  a focal point for any festival, and a great tradition of eats dominates Mardi Gras celebrations.  At the crossroads of the Spanish, French, and  African people, the regional cuisine of New Orleans is a wonderful combination of  immigrant traditions.   Cajun and Creole worlds come together to create a spectrum of spectacular cuisine.

The Mardi Gras celebration has its roots in the worship of Dionysus, or Bacchus, an ancient religious ritual from classical culture that placed wine, women, and song at the center of intoxicated partying.  Masked revelers engaged in disorderly behavior, and an assumed alter-ego communed ecstatically with the frisky gods and goddesses. That certainly sounds a lot like what goes down in New Orleans during Mardi Gras.bourbon

Historically, during the rise of the Christian era in the third and fourth century, church leaders were wise to dovetail their religious traditions and festivals with those of the pagan world. Unruly behavior was tolerated by ecclesiastical leaders and became part of the holy days celebration leading to Easter.

Mardi Gras is a last hurrah to the life of temptation and sin. What better way to say goodbye to indulging the flesh (carne) and eating of meat on the day before Ash Wednesday than with a big party?  With the start of the Lenten period, it may be time to renounce worldly pleasures and get down to the salvation of the soul, but not before the ritual slaughter of the fatted cow and going whole hog with The Great Binge in The Big Easy.

While the Mardi Gras carnival sounds like a total free-for-all, there are plenty of traditions to make the proper party.  In New Orleans, balls, fund-raisers, social clubs, and parades are formalized ways to celebrate. Neighborhoods in the city prepare all year and re-enforce the importance of community as a result. The history of Mardi Gras is also rich in tradition and symbols. Music, costumes, and spectacle characterize each coalition of revelers as the big soiree and countless parades gets underway. In the weeks before Mardi Gras, the whole city is possessed and poised for the Bacchanalia.

Sacred clowns and feathered strummers and all the bead-gatherers along the parade routes undoubtedly will be thinking about their king cake and cocktails, red beans and rice, étouffee, jambalayas, and gumbos rich in oysters, shrimp, catfish, and andouille sausage.  There’s plenty to eat and lots of Cajun and Creole cuisine to explore.king cake

Plan to get fat on Fat Tuesday.  After all, you’ll have the rest of the year to eat in moderation.  Laissez les bon temps rouler!                 –MELorden

 What are you cooking for Mardi Gras? 

What Mardi Gras merrymaking are you planning?

(You’ll find  two terrific recipes called  Seafood Okra Gumbo Classique and Chicken and Andouille Sausage Étouffee  under  OTK’s Featured Column called Recipes.

 2 MARDI GRAS RECIPES 

And for a great cookbook series presenting an entire range of cuisine from New Orleans, please visit OTK’s Good Books For Cooks column to learn about Kit Wohl’s New Orleans Classics series. )

 

Eating Italy

2 Comments

Sometimes it’s just fun to post a great eating experience here at OTK, and Sunday was a real festa for the foodie meet up group I recently joined.    (Upper Valley Adventures in Food and Wine: (organizer Cindy Blakeslee) )

My husband and I hosted the dinner and welcomed 14 excellent home cooks with their amazing Italian dishes.  The menu was as follows:

Antipasto: Tomato Bruschetta, Cold Platter (artichoke hearts, various salamis, olives, roasted red peppers, lupini, mushrooms ), Artisan Bread with Seasoned Olive Oil

Primo:  Pasta al Forno: Lasagna of Roasted Vegetables, Ravioli: Made-from-scratch Mushroom Ravioli

Secondo:    Roman Style Braised Oxtail Stew with Polenta,  Braised Chicken with Lemons and Olives

Contorno:  Zucchini Layered with Smoked Provalone and Prosciutto, Carote di Stufato

Insalata: Sicilian Blood Orange Arugula Salad with Red Onion, Olives, and Pine Nuts (dressed with white balsamic, olive oil, garlic, and lemon zest vinaigrette)

Dolce:  Fruit and Cheese Plate, Handmade Pizzelle and Cannoli

Wine:  6 Varieties that were opened and consumed so quickly that I never got the names of them.  The empty bottles went directly into recycling. Geesh!

The tangy antipasto dishes were a nice, salty start to our dinner party, and the wine started flowing.

The oxtail ragu was outstanding, and its aroma reminded me of walking through Trastevere in Rome on Sunday mornings. Its perfume filled the streets as it simmered in neighborhood family kitchens.

The chicken dish was a family recipe passed down from the Italian aunties of one of the members, and was drenched in a garlicky, lemony marinade accented with olives and herbs.

Porcini mushrooms created a rich, sweet, and earthy flavor in the fresh ravioli, which was dressed simply in olive oil, fresh thyme, and pepper.

The roasted vegetable lasagna was made with layers of home made pasta, caramelized squash, and other earthy vegetables surrounded in a velvety bechamel sauce.

Blood oranges appeared in both the salad and later on the dessert fruit platter.  A real hit was a sweet and smooth lemon ricotta, which can be described as tasting somewhere between cheesecake and fresh milk heaven.   (I ran out and picked up a wedge today.  Fabulous stuff.)

If you want any of the recipes for these dishes, please contact OTK for copies of them from the meet up members.

Buon appetito a tutti!

Mangia con noi!

Photos by MELorden

Food and Wine Meetup Group Will Party on Sunday

Leave a comment

antipastoFifiteen members of my Food and Wine meetup group are eating their way through Italy Sunday.  The six course meal is in the works and includes , artisan cheeses and antipasti, home made pasta dishes, saltimbocca, braciolone, insalata Siciliana, assorted dolci, torte, and cannoli, and more.  Wine selection will be a surprise.

Visit OTK on Monday for a look at the landscape of Italian food and drink that we consumed.  Mangiamo bene!

528886_10151964213985051_789453892_n