One of my most favorite children’s books is Farmer’s Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  When my children were young I use to read to them the entire series, and always looked forward to Farmer’s Boy, the story of Almanzo Wilder who grew up on a wealthy farm in upper New York State.  Not only did Almanzo have a wonderful childhood playing and raising animals, but he also had a ferocious appetite and the book goes in great details about his meals.  One that often comes to my mind is his love for fried onions and applies.

For years I thought that was an odd combination, until out of total cooking boredom, I decided to expand my dinner repertoire and start experimenting.  Yes, apples and onions go well together and so does fennel and pork.  Add a bit of Calvados (apple brandy – you can also substitute with brandy or cognac) and voila – a gourmet meal on the cheap.  Don’t forget a glass of wine with your meal and of, course a salad using the SaladSuccess shaker to make your dressing.

Pork Loin Roll with Apples, Onions, Fennel and Calvados – feeds 4-6:  Prep Time-20 minutes, Inactive Cooking Time – 1 to 1.5 hours

1 ½ – 2 lbs of pork loin (you can also use chops, shoulder etc)

6 cored and sliced apples – granny smith, pippin, mix of what’s in your fruit bin, just don’t use red delicious

2 sliced onions

2 cored and sliced fennel bulbs

1 shallot

½ cup of Calvados

½ cup of water

½ tsp of fine cinnamon – I use Costco’s Saigon Cinnamon or go to Penzey’s

½ tsp of freshly grounded nutmeg

Olive oil

Salt & Grounded Pepper to taste

In a BIG Dutch oven or cocotte (I’ve got 30 year old favorite from Le Creuset), pour enough olive oil to cover the bottom. Using a med-high heat, sear the pork on all sides, thus trapping in the juices – 1 to 3 minutes per side.  Add water & Calvados and cover firmly with a lid.  About 10 minutes later, add apples, onions, fennel, shallots, cinnamon, nutmeg and lightly salt and pepper.  Cover and wait 10 minutes, then reduce heat to low.  Cook for about 1 hour – 1 ½ hours.

Before serving, I’ll garnish the veggies with cranberries and perhaps some chopped nuts.  It adds a little color and texture to the meal.

Enjoy and hugs………………………Nadine

I just love it when the kids take over.  That’s what happened to me on Valentine’s Day.  My youngest took over the kitchen (yes baby, keep it up) and made us dinner which was a doctored pizza.  But more importantly, she called up a girlfriend and made Ina Garten’s Beatty’s Chocolate Cake.  So for all of you out there who worry about not being able to bake, listen to me.  A 12 year old baking novice was able to make this beauty without the help of Mom.  So go for it.  This is the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had and like all of Ina Garten’s recipes, this one is foolproof.  Just remember to first line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper, and then grease the pans including the paper.  Due to health reasons, I do not add the extra large egg yolk that is called for in the frosting – who needs salmonella?

And I truly apologize about picture.  By the time I had decided to fete the cake, my family ate 3/4’s of it.  To make the matter worse, after I took these pictures, I realized that they were awful and THE CAKE WAS ALL GONE!

Recipe courtesy of Ina Garten “Barefoot Contessa”

Ingredients

  • Butter, for greasing the pans
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans (King Arthur’s Flour)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cups good cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, shaken
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

Directions

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting, recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 2 (8-inch) round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Place 1 layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting:

6 ounces good semisweet chocolate (recommended: Callebaut) – I use Ghiradelli

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract – I use the Vanilla Company

1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

1 tablespoon instant coffee powder

Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy. Dissolve the coffee powder in 2 teaspoons of the hottest tap water. On low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don’t whip! Spread immediately on the cooled cake.

Once upon a time, a young man (he who will not be named) and a young lady (Me, who else) went out to a Valentine’s Day dinner at the finest restaurant in the Philadelphia Main Line area (which is where the rich and the very rich once lived).  The food was bland, the service was pretentious, and the prices were astronomical.  The young lady and the young man spent the best part of the snickering and laughing about the dinner especially when the obsequious waiter opened their bottle of champagne, which was done with a flourish of a white serviette and ended with a shooting cork and a spray of the bubbly.

However when the dessert was brought to the table, it was a different story.  Sweet, creamy and tantalizing, the young man and lady lapped up their delectable goodie and purred at the end of the meal over glasses of Grand Marnier.  “Now that was perfect”, said the young man sitting comfortably in his chair.  “Yes, and it was a no-brainer to make.  Plus fast and easy”, added the young lady.

So here it is, a delectable morsel from my past to bring love to you and your partner.  Or just make it for yourself and cherish it while taking a warm soak in a hot tub.

Berries in the Snow – Prep – 10 minutes, No cooking – for 2 to 4 people depending on the size of your goblets

2 pints of sliced strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, or any combination – cleaned.  Save a couple for decoration

3 tablespoons of raspberry or cassis liquor – I used Chambord

Sugar

2 pints of heavy whipped cream

1 tsp of vanilla – I love the vanilla from  the Vanilla Queen

Wedge of chocolate or a cookie – I used a wedge from Ghiradelli Chocolate (hazelnut)

In a medium glass bowl mix liquor with a teaspoon of sugar, and add berries.  Let sit while making whipped cream.  Using a mixer, put cream in a bowl and add 1 tablespoon of sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla.  You can add more sugar if you want it sweeter.  Whip until the cream is stiff enough to hold up a spoon.

I used glass wine goblets from Cost Plus that were large and have an open  mouth, unlike some goblets that are tulip-shaped.   This allows you to get the berries into the goblet easily.  If you want to be really fancy, run the liquor around the rim of the glass, and then on a plate with sugar, place the mouth of the goblet into the sugar (same technique used for margaritas).  Put the berries into the goblet, and any of the remaining liquor.  Then using a tip and plastic pastry bag filled with the whipped cream, fill the rest of the goblet (or skip the finer touch and drop in spoonfuls of whipped cream into the goblet).  Decorate with the remaining berries and a wedge of chocolate or cookie.  Put into the refrigerator until serving time (about 1 hour).

On that tension-filled day, I never was the girl that got piles of cards on my desk.  Nor did I have boyfriends who smothered me with gifts of jewels, furs, trips and chocolates.  So over the years, Valentine’s Day has been a ho-hum holiday.  In fact, it really means that it is my best friend’s birthday, and she is a real sweetheart.

When we, my husband and I, moved out to California in the late ‘80’s, we made a pact never to spend a lot of money on flowers.  Plants grow so quickly and easily in California, it seemed ridiculous to plunk $60 on a dozen long-stem red roses.  Soon we found out that roses were to be had for $3.99 a dozen, and that sealed the deal: he could only buy me roses if he found them for under $7 a dozen. It was a smart decision.

He also found out that I’m not a chocoholic and that for people that are poor at planning, reservations on the California coast seem to be impossible to get on Valentine’s Day.  And so are babysitters.  So we’ve changed game plans; we have a day of love.  The kids make valentines for all of us, my husband usually finds a card at the last moment, and I cook to sweeten up the evening.

About that chocolate thing of mine; it is not genetic, the rest of the family loves the stuff.  But we have recently found a central ground.  We just can’t resist those Cella’s Milk Chocolate Covered Cherries with 100% liquid filling.  I know that they are crap but in three days, they’ll all be eaten. Being a cheap bitch, I already bought them on sale – one box per family member.  Happy, sweet indulgence.

And so I part with you a sweet recipe for Amaretto Shrimp.  It’s fast, easy to make, and irresistible to your crowd. My family of 5 powers through 2 lbs of shrimp, but for an intimate dinner of 2, I’d suggest ½ to 1 lb.  I make it with white rice, but you could use any delicate-tasting grain.  Top it off with a green salad, shallot vinaigrette and an Alsatian Gwerztraminer wine.

Sweet Shrimp in Amaretto – Prep time:  20 minutes, Active Cooking: 10 minutes or less, rice takes 50 minutes

2 lbs of raw shrimp

½ lb sliced bacon (pan fried or even better, roasted)

1 clove of finely chopped shallots

Olive oil

½ cup Amaretto

½ cup of heavy cream

Salt and Pepper to taste

For rice: 1 cup rice for every 2 cups of water.  In a pot, boil water and at full boil, add rice.  Come to a second boil, lower heat to a simmer, and cover pot with a tight lid.  Ready in 45 minutes to 1 hour.

For roasted bacon:  set oven at 400 degrees.  Cover a sheet pan with parchment paper and place a rack on top of it.  I use a cooling rack.  Cook until crisp – about 20 – 25 minutes.  Be careful getting pan out of the oven since the fat from the bacon has dropped down to parchment paper.  When cool enough to handle, chop bacon and set aside.

For shrimp: In a large frying pan, add enough olive oil to cover bottom and place on a medium heat.  Add shallots and sauté for 1 – 3 minutes.  Add amaretto and cream, and cook until it begins to bubble (don’t boil).  Add shrimp & bacon – cook until shrimp turns pink – 3 to 5 minutes.  Take pan off of the heat, and serve over a bed of rice.  Add salt and ground pepper to taste.

For those of you without a SaladSuccess shaker, use 3 parts olive oil, one part sherry, wine or balsamic vinegar, a tsp. of Dijon Mustard, 1/2 finely chopped clove of shallots, 2 dashes of salt and a dash of pepper.  Toss into a jar with a closed lid, and shake until about 20 times.

We are in the middle of the rainy season here in central California and sniffing the air has become an art form.  I was driving my little daughter to a play date and just as I pulled into the driveway, I smelled it everywhere.  What was that delectable odor, what was that perfume?”  Finally, it dawned on me; and field of bay leaf trees growing wild.  So, as a good little cheap bitch, I quickly tore off a few branches, thus saving myself a small fortune in bay leaf purchases.

There are other freebies that are located in my garden and grow all year ‘round; parsley, mint, oregano, thyme and rosemary. Rocket (arugula,rockette, roquette), mache (rapunzel, field salad, or lamb’s lettuce), and chives are free too, since they reseed themselves.  We call them volunteers.  When I am in the grocery stores I’m stunned how much they are charging for a small packet of herbs and forget buying mache, it’s exorbitant.  And they are all so easy to grow.  So the next thing I am putting on my gardening list, is to buy a bay tree starter.  Just think of the years of enjoyment we’ll get from this one small purchase.  And it’s a real cheap bitch purchase.

Now talking about cheap, white fishes such as Dover sole, tilapia and skai are very inexpensive at the moment.  I found both skai and tilapia on sale at my market for $3.99 a pound and decided that for under $8 dollars we would eat regally, all 5 of us.  So instead of pan frying, I want this delicate white fish to be cooked in its juices with wine, lemons, onions and herbs.  To do that, and to have an easy cleanup, I cooked the fish “en papillote” or less elegantly, in parchment paper.  This is the best and healthiest way to cook a fish other than grilling which can dry out a low fat fish.  Parchment paper from the grocery store is expensive, but a large roll (don’t worry, it’s no larger than the 200 ft of aluminum foil at the grocery store) is cost-effective and I found it at Costco.

I also made a chicken and rosemary flavored polenta which is so more exciting than rice and once again, cheap.  Polenta is one of the simplest grains to cook, but if your cupboard is bare, okay, bring out the rice.  Of course don’t forget a nice salad – greens, rocket, mache, feta crumbles with a shallot vinaigrette and a glass of Reisling (if you want to go nuts, spend the wad on Jos. Meyer’s family of Reisling wines – they are from the Alsace region of France and totally to die for).

Poisson Blanc en Papillote (White Fish cooked in Parchment Paper – sounds better in French):  Prep – 5 minutes: Cooking time: ½ hour:  Serves 4-6

2 lbs of a white fish – Tilapia, Skai, Dover Sole

¼ cup of white wine – I use 2 buck Chuck from Trade Joe’s

¼ cup chicken broth

3 -4 bay leaves

1 -2 lemons

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Set oven to 375 degrees. Place fish on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cut a similar sized piece of parchment paper.  Pour chicken broth and white wine over fish, place onion slices, lemons and bay leaves on fish.  Sprinkle salt and pepper.

With the 2nd piece of parchment paper, place over fish and fold 2x both edges of parchment papers together and staple edges so that it makes a sealed package.  When complete, pop into the oven for 30 minutes.

Chicken and Rosemary Infused Polenta: Prep – 5 minutes,  Cooking time – 20 minutes, Serves 4 – 6

4 cups water

1 cup polenta

1 tsp. of chicken broth –  Better than Bouillon found at Costco or better grocery stores. (If you have liquid broth, substitute 2 cups of the water for 2 cups of the chicken broth).

1 sprig of rosemary

Boil 4 cups of water (or 2 cups with 2 cups of chicken broth, bouillon, or stock) with “Better than Bouillon” in a medium size pot.  At full boil, gently add polenta, lower heat to a simmer and whisk mixture until there are no lumps.  Add sprig of rosemary. Serve in 20 minutes.

Last night, while making Dover Sole en Papillote, I reached far back into my herbs, and brought out a huge bag of dried Herbes de Provence.  I open the bag and took a whiff – Yuck, dead herbs.  As per my rule of cooking thumb:  If it don’t smell, it don’t taste!

Years ago I was invited, along with my mother and Aunt Jessie, to a wedding shower, which is not where I shine brilliantly.  My sister-in-law grabbed me by the arm and told me to behave, and being a good woman, I quietly sat in the back while the dome of boredom surrounded my body.  We were at the worst part of the party; the party games.

Why in the hell do 20-something year old women and their mothers like these stupid games? And to make it worse, I’m suppose to join in and pretend I am having a great time.  What makes it really bad, is that if I really concentrate and play, I win EVERYTHING.  Then everyone hates me more.  So there I am, on a couch, wasting another beautiful California Saturday playing children’s games.  Then the hostess announces that the next game is Guess the Spices.  My spirits rally, I have a little fun playing this game since I know spices, and I have a great nose.

Proudly, the hostess brings out the unmarked bowls which were then passed around. In the corner, I start to hear the sounds of shock and low snickering.  The sound started to get louder and louder, and suddenly a large outburst of laughter came out of my mother, followed by my aunt (a very gentle and kind person), who said indignantly “How old are these herbs!  They’re dead.  Is this game a joke?”  Needless to say, the hostess, her daughter and my sister-in-law’s faces turned red.  They were terrible cooks who rarely used spices, let alone fresh ones. Well, all of a sudden the party got interesting and for once, I wasn’t in the hot seat.

So if you don’t want a red face or to be known as a terrible cook, throw out those dead spices and herbs and buy some new ones.  Spring is coming, plan an herb garden, and if you need herbs for the winter (mine grow year round), dry them or have fresh herbs growing by a window sill.  There are great on-line sites such as Penzey’s that sell wonderful spices, herbs and mixes.  There is no excuse for putting that dead crap in your wonderful meals.

Here’s Broccoli Soup – low fat, low cal, inexpensive and will satisfy most the picky eaters

BROCCOLI SOUP

6 large sprays of broccoli

2 quarts of water, chicken broth ($$) or chicken stock ($$$$)

2 heaping tablespoons of Better Than Bouillon (don’t use if you are using broth or stock)

4 potatoes – if you want a thicker soup

Salt and pepper to taste

Creme Fraiche, sour cream or parmesan cheese to garnish with a tab of butter

DIRECTIONS

In a large soup pot boil water with bouillon/water/stock, potatoes, and broccoli. Once soup has boiled, cover pot with a lid and reduce to a low flame for 45 minutes.  Once the potatoes are cooked, take out cooked and pulse thru the food processor, then return to soup.  Salt & pepper to taste. Garnish with a tab of butter and crème fraiche, parmesan cheese, or sour cream if available.

INGREDIENTS – for a single salad or use the Sherry-Shallot Vinaigrette in Salad Success container
1 minced shallot
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 heads Belgian endive, halved lengthwise, cored, and very thinly sliced (about 2 1/2 cups)
3 small fennel bulbs, halved lengthwise, cored, and very thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
1 large Fuji apple, halved lengthwise, cored, and very thinly sliced (about 2 1/2 cups)

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Whisk together shallot, mustard, vinegar, salt, and pepper in a wood, or glass salad bowl. While constantly whisking, add oil by pouring in a thin stream down the side of the bowl. Whisk until all oil is incorporated. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

Add endive, fennel, and apple slices to the vinaigrette and toss to coat. Taste again and adjust seasoning as desired. Serve.

Courtesy from Chowhound, Recipe of the Day, 2/3/2010

Okay, I’m a sucker for bargains and seem to have a jacket fetish.  When I saw this Adrienne Vittadini jacket dangling in front of my eyes at Ross (what was it doing there?), I thought it was darling, and then my eyes zeroed in on the price: 10 dollars.  Who could resist owning a little white jacket at that price?

My darling friend, Dee Dee Bowman was recently bemoaning the fact that in NYC, the high level stores have contracted with the city to DESTROY the designer clothing.  What a waste.  I understand that the designers don’t want every bag woman and man walking around in top of the line designer originals, but the idea is kind of intriguing.  Can you imagine panhandlers wearing outfits from “Sex and the City” or “Gossip Girls”?  They’d be out of business in no time (I think I’m being politically incorrect).  But instead of destroying these outfits, can’t we just have a national CHEAP BITCH on-line auction. OMG, the outfits I could stuff away in my closet. And the profits could go to charity, like Haiti or to the NYC needy. But on to soup, beautiful soup.

Watercress is a wonderful green that doesn’t get its due share.  All anyone thinks about, when they hear the word “watercress” is those damn tea sandwiches which take forever to make.  But watercress makes a wonderful soup.  My mother use to make it for us in the summer since it can be served hot, or chilled.  More elegant and delicate in flavor than Vichyssoise, add a little cream, a sliver of butter, garnish with freshly cut chives and a leaf of the watercress.

Watercress Soup – makes 4 – 6 cups.  10 minutes prep, 20 minutes cooking

32 ounces (1 quart) of water

Chicken bouillon – a soup spoon worth of Better than Bouillon (you can use chicken broth but reduce the water accordingly)

3 peeled white potatoes

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 bunch of watercress, chopped and trimmed – save a few leaves for the garnish

Milk or Cream

Sweet butter – use Plugra if you can find it

Tablespoon of chopped chives

DIRECTIONS

In a soup pot, add water (or broth), bouillon (don’t add if you are using broth) and potatoes.  Come to a boil; reduce heat until potatoes are cooked (stick a fork into the potatoes to test).  Remove potatoes and put them through a pulse cycle of a food processor (a blender will make them too mushy) until they are finely mashed up.  Return potatoes to the pot.  Add chopped watercress and return to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer for 1 minute.  Add salt and pepper to taste.   In the soup bowl, put a little cream or milk, add soup and garnish with a sliver of fine butter and chives.  Serve cold in the summer.  And don’t forget to make a fresh salad using the SaladSuccess Dressing Shaker.

They stare at me in the veggie store, waving their little green stems. Like a woman possessed I rush to the bin with my bag.  I give one a quick snap.  Crisp, most and verdant, I pop the two pieces into my mouth.  They are nearly perfect.  Quickly I stuff 2 pounds worth into a bag and rush to the baby Roma tomatoes.  They are just as tasty as the cherry tomato mix but at one third the price.  I put a dozen in my bag: four for our meal, four for the salad and four to end up in my mouth.

Easy and elegant, I love sauté green beans Provençal.  It can be a meal in itself (just add some tofu to the mixture), the perfect accompaniment to a leg of lamb, or in my case, a fine trout.  All is needed is a fine dry Riesling and a mesclun salad with feta cheese crumbles and a shallot vinaigrette.

I know it is winter and I should only eat local, but I’m tired of broccoli and root vegetables.  Forget kale, an indigestible plant that can only be consumed with copious amount of oil, butter and potatoes, I’m breaking out to eat French-style green beans simmered in a tomato sauce.  After all, we hit a high of 50 degrees, which means its summer to me.  And I’m making a great meal at $2.50 per person since trout is fairly inexpensive.  If you can’t find fresh green beans, I’ve used in the past Trade Joe’s frozen French green beans which can be found in the freezer section.  They are almost as good as the real thing.  So celebrate summer in the winter and enjoy!

Sauté Green Beans Provençal Prep: 5 minutes, Cooking time: 30 – 45 minutes

1 -2 pounds of fresh or frozen green beans, with tips removed and washed

Olive Oil

1 large clove of garlic – crushed, pressed or finely chopped

1 large tomato or 4 baby romas quartered

¼ cup of water

1/4 tsp. Salt & 1/8 tsp. Pepper

Directions

With enough oil to cover the bottom of heavy pot or Dutch oven, heat (medium fire) and toss in garlic.  One minute later, toss in green beans, tomatoes, water, salt & pepper and cover tightly.  Wait until pot is steaming (about 10 minutes), then lower heat to a simmer.  Serve when ready. Add more salt & pepper to taste.