No cooking today

It is my birthday today! Happy Birthday to me!


Tree trimming 2010

Tree trimming 2010

Since I was away the first week in December and had the flu upon my return, I didn’t plan a tree trimming party this year. So, it was a quiet year as parties go. 

It occurred to me that I am clueless as to how to decorate my tree, much less put an artificial tree together. Since I have a party every year, other people have handled the details. My job has always been the food and drink.

I still trimmed my tree this year and I still had guests, but only those close to me, my mother, my sister and Steve. I had invited a couple other close friends but both were under the weather.  I was very happy Steve came over because my mother’s interest was watching the football game. My sister thought that was a grand idea too.

Steve and I trimmed the tree, he being in charge of the lights and both of us sharing ornament placement. I must admit I was impressed with Steve’s prowess at putting on the lights, especially since we were a bit short on lights. We also did a darn good job at trimming the tree all by ourselves. Designers watch out!

I normally make “from scratch” food for my parties. This time, with little advance notice,  I took some shortcuts and made some “from scratch” food too.  I made chocolate cookies from a mix, and the same was true for the lemon bars.

I am here to say, it’s just not the same. For most people the sweets would be acceptable but for a foodie that loves to cook from scratch, the mixes really fall short. The cookies were good but not great. The lemon bars didn’t even taste like lemon, they were just sweet.  I had to squeeze fresh lemon juice over them to get even a little discernable taste of lemon.

I also made rosemary walnuts. Those were from scratch and although they are very salty, I really love them.  Normally I use rosemary from my garden.  This year, no fresh rosemary so I used the dried version.  Fresh is much better.

Rosemary Walnuts

2 cups shelled whole walnuts
2 ½ tablespoons butter, melted
2 tsp crumbled dried rosemary (use more if using fresh)
1 ½ tsp salt ( I use less)
½ tsp cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place walnuts in a single layer in a shallow pan. Mix together the remaining ingredients and pour over walnuts. Roast in the oven for about 10 minutes, until browned, shaking occasionally. Yield 6 servings
From The Pink Adobe cookbook by Rosalea Murphy

One thing I did enjoy without disappointment was the dinner I made, Santa Fe Pasta Sauce. You will find it in a previous blog called Southwestern Pasta sauce. It came from a Cooking Light recipe. Several years ago it was among the top rated Cooking Light recipes. It is healthy, filling and tasty.

I normally make changes to the recipes I use. The changes I made to this one are minor. Because I was serving it buffet style, I chose not to use fettuccini. I wanted a pasta easier to handle.  I used a mixed grain, higher fiber curly macaroni.

I was unable to find fresh jalapenos after visiting several stores and sliced pickled peppers just doesn’t work for a former Texan.  I guess this isn’t Texas, but Brazilians have their own hot peppers. I chose some red Brazilian peppers without knowing if they were sweet or hot.  Just so you don’t have the same surprise, they are HOT! They are really good though. I think I like them better than jalapenos (but don’t tell my Texas friends)!

I did not make the chicken as I wanted this to be a vegetarian meal.  The sauce is better after it sits for a day, so don’t be afraid to make it ahead of time. I hope you try this and enjoy it. For the runners out there, it would be a good healthy carb meal.


Helado de Coco

Costa Rica and Beyond

I just returned from my week in Costa Rica, a day late.  My flight was canceled and I was diverted to Dallas overnight. I am happy it was Dallas rather than Houston but would have loved to stay longer and visit friends.

I did manage to have some time with Cory though. He happened to be returning from a Colorado trip so we spent some quality time together and he drove me to the airport. Seeing an old and comfortable friend was a nice way to end my vacation.

In any case, I had been interested to learn about the food in Costa Rica. I had visions of eating all kinds of Central American dishes with lots to report back. That isn’t exactly how things went.

I did have some wonderful fruit. I couldn’t get enough of the juicy, sweet pineapple. I think Costa Rican sugar pineapples are the best in the world (sometimes available at Costco). Although papaya isn’t my all time favorite, I really enjoyed it with some lime squeezed over it. I don’t think the mangoes were in season. They were small so we didn’t buy them.

I did try a Guanabana (Soursop) smoothie  
and enjoyed it. I find it hard to describe the flavor, maybe pineapple or unsweetened coconut. If you have the chance, it is worth trying a smoothie. I got my coconut fix the best way I knew how, coconut ice cream! It’s lucky I don’t have this at home or I would weigh 300 pounds.

Coffee…now that is top notch in Costa Rica and my teeth are ready for a bleaching after all the cups I consumed. It is very rich and strong. Loved it!

Pizza…ha..yes there was a lot of pizza in Costa Rica. French fries too. I had expected Rice and Beans and Plantains. It seemed whenever we asked where to find a good place to eat we were directed to a restaurant that had great pizza! French fries were a favorite side to many meals.

Gallo Pinto is considered the National Dish. I tried it a few times and for a vegetarian that is a good choice only if it isn’t made with meat.  There are versions of Gallo Pinto (http://costa-rica-guide.com/travel/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=282&Itemid=489) all over the Caribbean but with different names, beans and rice, pigeon peas and rice and even Hoppin’ John in the Southern US.  Gallo pinto is made by cooking black beans then frying them with rice, onion, red pepper, spices and cilantro. They are often served with eggs.

I did have eggs and they tasted somewhat different than my home bought Omega Eggs. Given the number of chickens in Costa Rica, I would expect they were free range and quite fresh!  The red peppers are also different, a bit softer and very sweet.

Speaking about birds, Gallo Pinto translates to Spotted Rooster in English. There are a lot of roosters milling around the country. Many which seem to enjoying sending out a Cock a Doodle Do at about 4:30 am when you have your windows open and had planned to sleep in. The hundreds of wild dogs, Howler Monkeys and other birds kick in not to be outdone! You know the “if a tree falls in the jungle” question? Well if it was a Costa Rican jungle, somebody would hear it, I guarantee. It would probably be followed by a monkey howl, a dog bark, some birds singing and possibly a cock a doodle do or two.

One of the foods I really enjoyed eating during my trip was whole fish grilled. My sister and I shared our lunches and this was a special treat. I must say however, the meal I liked the best during my visit was cooked by Shay’s friend Mike. He is on a special anti-inflammation diet and this meal was one of his specialties.

The meal consisted of Mahi-Mahi coated with a rub that was given to him by a friend from New Mexico. It was a  combination of ground dried peppers, spices and who knows what from their farm.  It was delicious on the fish.

Alongside the Mahi, he made a salad of avocado, tomato, cilantro and lime. I watched him make it and it looked like all he did was coarsely mash the avocado, add chopped tomato, chopped cilantro and a good squeeze of lime. He may have added salt and pepper but I don’t remember him using it.  The meal was muy delicioso (don’t be impressed, had I not had my sister with me as translator, I would still be lost somewhere in Central America!)!

My foodie experience in Costa Rica may not been the one I had fantasized it would be, still it was an experience as was my whole adventure. I had a great time but I am glad I am home eating my local favorites.  Still, I will dream about the Helado de Coco http://youtu.be/zxKDDP2c9ts . Now those are Spanish words I won’t easily forget!


A healthy approach

They should just call me the breakfast and soup lady, since I really like cooking both. Here is another healthy breakfast for 2 that is quick and tasty. I found some  yellow corn tortillas that I really love. They taste like the fresh baked tortillas I had in New Mexico. The brand it La Tortilla Factory.  http://www.latortillafactory.com/products-8.aspx  It is a blend of wheat and corn. If you are in South Florida, I bought them at Fresh Market.  They are soft and pliable and don’t dry out quickly. Very tasty.  They are part of my motivation for making this recipe.

Southern California Tortillas

2 egg (I used high Omega eggs, buy egg whites would work just as well)
½ jalapeno chopped (more to taste)
2 slices low-fat sharp cheddar or co-jack cheese,  broken into pieces
A sprinkling of chili powder (Gebhradt https://www.mildbills.com/p-105-gebhardt-chili-powder.aspx  is my favorite)
2 Really good corn tortillas
6 thin slices avocado
4 grape tomatoes sliced or cut into 4ths
Cilantro sprigs if you have them
Cooking spray

Spray 2 custard size bowls with cooking spray. Put an egg in each bowl and beat them. Mix ½ the jalapeno and cheddar pieces with a sprinkling of chili powder in each bowl. Microwave egg mixture individually on medium power, checking at a minute and a half then every half minute until done. If you only have high power you can check the eggs at a minute and go from there until cooked but the eggs will be a little tougher. Alternatively you can scramble the eggs over medium heat on the stove.

Meanwhile warm the tortillas in a skillet or toaster oven.  When the eggs are done top each tortilla with the mini egg omelets sliced . Divide and top the eggs with the avocado, tomato and cilantro sprigs if desired. Add salt and pepper to taste. Wrap and eat with some fresh fruit and a cup of green tea.


Breakfast for One

I get bored with breakfast. I am not a big fan of cereal. I don’t think it is the best choice to start your day. I wish I could eat oats, but they don’t agree with me.  My favorite easy breakfast is to scramble an egg in the microwave and put it on a multigrain English muffin then melt some lowfat cheddar on top (a la McBreakfast).

The other day I had some asparagus in the fridge that I needed to use. Somewhere I had seen a picture of cooked asparagus with a fried egg on top and I had vowed to try it one day. I was unsure if it sounded like a good idea or not, but I thought I would give it a try.

I used to cook asparagus in a pan with water. Then the asparagus cookers came out and everyone was cooking them upright in a pot of water. I never had one of those.  I have since changed my asparagus cooking technique to roasting it in the toaster oven.

What I do is, once the asparagus is cleaned and the tough ends removed, I preheat the toaster oven to 400 degrees.  I then place the asparagus on the toaster oven pan and pour some olive oil over them (not a lot) along with some lemon pepper.  I mix it all up, leaving the asparagus in a single layer and bake them in the toaster oven for 12 minutes.

To make my breakfast, while the asparagus was roasting I fried up an egg (using olive oil rather than butter).  When the asparagus was done, I lay some (3) on a plate, lightly toasted a slice of sourdough (or multigrain) bread, then topped the asparagus with the egg and a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

When you break the egg over the asparagus, it mixes with the lemon juice and lemon pepper and provides a creamy lemony, hollandaise like topping for the fresh asparagus spears, without the fat of a traditional hollandaise. I use the sourdough to soak up the yolk. 
Oh and I made myself a nice cup of Cuban coffee too.

That’s all there was to it. It made a delicious breakfast and a healthy one too.  I hope you get a chance to try this breakfast. I think you will enjoy it.


The soup lady returns

Well for a lot of you fall weather has set in. You might not imagine this, but we have fall here in South Florida, it just doesn’t look like that to most people North of us.

With the Tropical Storm bypassing us and the rains it kicked off, our temperatures cooled but the humidity was still high. This weekend, that changed and we have had beautiful S. Florida fall weather.  What that means is that it has been in the mid to low 80’s during the day and 70’s at night. I love it!

I know in Dallas it is quite a bit cooler and I do miss that crisp fall weather and with it, eating a nice bowl of soup. So in the interest of fall, I have restarted my soup making with a fresh vegetable packed Minestrone.

Back in my housewife days (wow, how many moons ago was that?) I used to watch the PBS cooking shows. One of my favorite shows was The Frugal Gourmet.

The Frugal Gourmet, was Jeff Smith, a former Methodist Minister turned caterer/ deli owner and cookbook author. He was not without some drama in his career as he was accused of sexual abuse of young boys in the late 90’s.

Still, in spite of his personal history, I liked his shows and his cookbooks. His recipes were easy, tasty and no nonsense.  I credit him with my learning to like Tomato Soup.

I always hated the stuff. Canned tomato soup was salty and unpalatable to me. I found a recipe in a Frugal Gourmet cookbook for a fresh tomato soup. I happened to have a glut of homegrown tomatoes at the time, so I tried it. Voila….I am now a tomato soup advocate. The best part is the simplicity of the recipe! Mr. Smith was also concerned about heart health, so the soup gives the option to use less fat laden milk rather than cream.

I had gone to my favorite farm store last week and as I often do, overbought vegetables. This weekend I decided to use the Tomato Soup recipe as a base for a minestrone using the fresh veggies.   My mother sent over some freshly baked cornbread and it made a nice meal, lunch or dinner.

Here is the recipe for the minestrone, using his base recipe.

The soup lady’s minestrone

 The base recipe:

6 ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 tbl butter or oil (I didn’t use that much and I used ½ butter, ½ olive oil)
3 cups Chicken Soup Stock ( I use chicken like broth. You can also use low sodium if you need to)
1 cup milk or cream (I used neither for the minestrone. For the Tomato soup you could probably substitute soy milk for a vegan variation)
Salt and pepper to taste
I added a pinch of thyme to my soup
Celery leaves for garnish

Sauté the tomatoes in the butter or oil until they are tender. Mix the tomatoes with the soup stock and simmer for 20 minutes. Run the mixture through a food blender (I used a hand blender…wow was that easy) Put back into the saucepan and add the milk or cream and a pat of butter if you are making the tomato soup (Omit this step for the minestrone but throw in the thyme).
Heat and serve with celery leaf garnish.

Now wasn’t that incredibly easy for a fresh tomato soup?

What I added for the minestrone

1/2 onion chopped
1 garlic clove minced
I sautéed the garlic and onion in a minimum of oil, then added it to the soup after the tomato soup was blended.

I then added:

1 zucchini chopped in small chunks
¾  Idaho potato cut in small chunks
1 carrot chopped
1 stick of celery chopped

I cooked everything until the veggies were tender then threw in a handful of cooked macaroni and some basil pesto. You can use any cooked pasta you like, even alphabets for that matter (an adult alphabet soup…I like it!) and fresh chopped basil would work rather than the pesto.
Salt and Pepper again to taste.
I grated some fresh parmesan over and it was good that way, but today I tried adding some goat cheese and I liked that a lot too.

One thing I didn’t add but I should have, was some cooked navy or white beans (or any that you like for that matter).

The point is, use the veggies you have and it makes a great vegetable soup.

I hope you will try the tomato soup and later make your own variation. It’s real good. You will like it!

Have a great week….and don’t forget to exercise.


Fall in Florida and some great pancakes

I had a wonderful trip to Dallas last week and enjoyed visiting with my friends. It has been hard to meet new people here in Florida since I have been working virtually and have also been without work since I moved here.  Although the trip was not just for fun, I got my friend/dating fix for awhile!

It has been a hot and humid summer here in S. Florida but this week things have changed. It is absolutely beautiful. I guess those pesky hurricanes have provided us with some cooler weather and a wonderful breeze. It is so nice having the windows open and sitting on the patio. I guess we can call this fall weather in Florida!

Yesterday my mother and sister said they were headed to one of their favorite breakfast spots, Denny’s.  Yes, it isn’t gourmet food but you get a great home style breakfast at a very reasonable price! A little later they called and the place was so crowded that they left and were trying to find somewhere else to eat. I invited them over, not having a clue what I would feed them.  They agreed.

I had 40 minutes to come up with a Mom pleasing menu but also didn’t want a high fat, high cholesterol meal for them.  Well, if you don’t know already, breakfast is my favorite company meal. I have been collecting recipes for company breakfasts for years.

I pulled out my file and tried to decide, based on the few ingredients I had in the fridge, what Mom pleasing breakfast I could come up with.  My mother loves ginger cookies and there in my files was a recipe for Gingerbread Pancakes with a Winter Fruit Compote!! Not only that, it was provided to the December 1993 (yes, I have been collecting for a long time!) issue of Shape magazine by Gayle Shockey Hoxter MPH, RD. A healthy recipe! Hooray, breakfast was on!

As for ingredients, well I had to adapt a little to make it work without going to the store. Who has buttermilk sitting around in the refrigerator anyway? That said, the recipe was a cinch to put together and I was able to ready everything and clean up the kitchen some before my family arrived.

I would like to say it was all healthy, but my family arrived, bacon in hand, so they did add a little protein and fat to the menu. The meal was a hit. We loved the spicy pancakes and the fresh fruit compote. It was nice to have breakfast with and to enjoy some time with my family.

Since I made some real adaption’s to the original recipe, I have provided both the original and my changes.  I would recommend going with the original buttermilk ingredient and also tasting a pancake, then adding some sugar to taste to the rest of the batch. The compote sweetens things but without any sweetener in the pancakes, they are too breadlike. I was happy with my addition of baking powder too. It made the pancakes rise very nicely.

I hope you are able to enjoy these with your loved ones some morning.

Gingerbread Pancakes
4 Servings

1 ½ cups flour
1 tbs ground ginger    
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground clove
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 tbs canola oil
1 ¼ cups nonfat buttermilk
2 egg whites
Nonstick cooking spray

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. In another bowl, combine oil, buttermilk and egg whites and whisk until blended.
Stir liquids into dry ingredients until slightly blended. The mixture should be fairly thick and lumpy. Do not overmix.
Preheat the griddle and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Spoon 4 tbl of batter per pancake onto the griddle and fry until the edges are set. Flip and repeat.
Remove pancakes from griddle and keep warm until all pancakes are cooked. Serve with compote of winter fruits.

Compote of Winter Fruits
4 Servings
½ cup honey
½ cup rum
1/3 cup raisins
½ cup mixture of dried apricots, pears and apples
½ cup diced apples
½ cup diced pears
½ cup orange segments or peeled slices
1 tbs lemon zest
Combine honey, rum, raisins and dried fruit in a large stainless steel saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook until dried fruits are soft
Remove from heat and add diced apples, pears, orange segment and lemon zest, blending until well combined. Spoon over pancakes and serve

Nutritional information
305 calories, less than 1 percent from fat (0.3g), 98% carbohydrate, 1 percent protein

My versions:
Pancakes: I had no buttermilk so I substituted what I had, 1 container okyo pineapple yogurt and enough milk to make the mix wet enough to ladle.  The buttermilk by itself should give the right consistency.
I added about ¼ tsp baking powder and they were nice and puffy.
The first batch with no sugar was only slightly sweet from the yogurt. I added enough sugar to make it sweeter but not really sweet. The compote adds the sweetness. If you use buttermilk you will probably need more sugar than I used.

The compote:
I had no dried fruit so I cut up some golden crisp apple and a Bartlett pear (cored of course). To that I added the maple syrup I had and since I only had a little, I added honey, some orange marmalade, a teaspoon of rum and a stick of cinnamon. I heated on medium until the fruit was just soft, and then served it with the pancakes.