I’ll start with appliance hell.  Our dishwasher from Hell (Frigidaire) died about a year ago, and we finally got fed up of hand washing.  Why did we put off the decision to buy a new dishwasher for so long?  Easy, we did buy a Bosch but it wouldn’t fit in the cabinet.  Years ago I hired a tiler to redo my kitchen floor and he tiled in the dishwasher.  Contractors in California are interesting, many got started in their trade to support a drug habit.  Now they are all reborn, but definitely brain cells are missing especially when tiling kitchen floors.

For a year we angst’ing whether to pull out our tiles from around the dishwasher, which I have no replacements of the old tile, or to pull out the old dishwasher by making a hole through our stucco wall.  Both solutions were expensive and imperfect.  Finally we decided to get a shorter dishwasher that would fit our space.

Now our choice was limited, shorter dishwashers are ADA-compliant, and for the most part, hard to buy since no one keeps them in stock.  Plus they are either super-expensive such as Miele or Asko, or have an old fashion design.  I really wanted a stainless steel front, steel tub, low noise and lower water usage, plus a hidden control panel.  All that was left in my price range was a Blomberg, a brand similar to Bosch, but not well established in the US.  With a leap of faith after reading the reviews (no one brand stands out), I ordered the Blomberg at HomeEverything.com.

One month later, no dishwasher.  I called HomeEverything.  “Yes, it will be here in 7 to 10 days”.  Two weeks later, (total of 6 weeks) same old story.  In fact until yesterday, the lovely guys at customer service were singing every two weeks the same song.  Yesterday, I called again and found out that there was a “Master” back order.  “What is a Master back order”, I asked Mr. HomeEverything customer serviceman.  “Well, it seems that there is a major amount of product that is overdue”, said the calm voice on the phone.   “And does this mean that I should expect my dishwasher in SEPTEMBER?” I said with a slight panic in my voice.  “No”, said Mr. HomeEverything, “but it will probably take another 2 to 4 weeks”.

That’s it.  These guys at HomeEverything have been stringing me on the line for 3 months.  They have totally lost their credibility with me.  I’ll never try buying anything from them again. Tomorrow I’ll go talk to the guys at Sears (you can haggle with them and the warranty is good) and get a Bosch.  Do you have another idea that might work?  Comments are really appreciated.

On another subject, here is the recipe for Shrimp and Celeriac Remoulade.  Celeriac (Celery root) is a celery bulb, a hairy, incredibly unattractive object that is wonderfully mild.  You’ll need to peel it with a very sharp knife, like a pineapple and use a food processor, a god-send to cooks around the world, to make the thin strips.  I first had remoulade at the Carlyle Hotel during a Sunday Brunch.  It was one of those perfect weekends in NYC, caught the evening show at Café Carlyle with Bobby Short, drank lots of champagne and luxuriated in a room at the hotel.  I felt like an adult “Eloise at the Plaza”, only I was at a better hotel, the Carlyle.

I like to add poppy seeds to my remoulade and you can substitute the shrimp with crab or lobster.  This 5 minute recipe is delicious, exotic and elegant.  But it ain’t cheap so make it for a special occasion.

Shrimp and Celeriac Remoulade – Serves 4 – 8 people.  Prep time:  10 minutes,  inactive refrigerator time:  ½ hour.

1 lb of cold cooked and peeled shrimp

1 – 2 peeled bulbs of celeriac – bulbs are usually slightly under 2 lbs each

1 cup of good mayonnaise – I use Best Brand or Trader Joe’s Organic

2 lemons – make sure that they are full of juice

2 tsps white vinegar such as white wine or white balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard

1 tsp kosher salt

½ tsp freshly grounded pepper

1 tsp poppy seeds

Directions

Using the food processor and the shredding disk, feed chunks of the celeriac thru the machine.  You can also use a mandoline on a matchstick setting.  Place the celeriac shavings in a large bowl, add the lemon juice and kosher salt, mix well, and allow mixture to stand for 30 minutes to soften the bulb and add flavor.

In a small bowl whisk mayonnaise, white vinegar, Dijon mustard and pepper.  Pour over celeriac mixture, add cold shrimp and poppy seeds.  Refrigerate until serving time.  Garnish with additional poppy seeds.

This dish makes a delightful cold main course, with a light dry white wine, good bread, steamed asparagus and a light green salad with a shallot vinaigrette. Don’t forget to use your SaladSuccess Shaker!

When I moved out from Colorado to California, Warren – he who should be king – sneaked in his favorite plant, a flowering clover that would test any green thumb with its finicky and sensitive nature.  Quickly in California we discovered that our delicate hothouse exotic was considered a common weed called oxalis or sour grass, and it’s the bane of every gardener.  I now spend hours in the garden carefully extracting this nuisance and its horrid seeds from the rich earth.

So you can imagine my surprise, while reading Point de Vue (an idiotic French weekly about the European royals and their social calendars, balls, gowns and jewels) I came upon an article titled “Oeufs Coque Mousseuse de Muscade Piqure d’Oxalis.  And there in the picture, was my little hated weed.  Zut alors, there is something you can do with this infernal weed and I am Queen of the Crop.  So, amuse-toi bien (go have a blast) and try this number that I’ve just finished translating, especially if you have oxalis in your backyard.  I’m going to check it out too.

Coddled Eggs with Nutmeg Mousse and a Shot of Oxalis – This is a 3 part recipe: preparing the yolks, making the cream and boiling an extract of oxalis.  Plan a good hour to test this thing.

4 eggs

8 grains of Salt from Guerande or grey French sea salt

½ grated nutmeg nut

2 ounces of vegetable bouillon

5 ounces of heavy cream

Salt & Pepper

50 stems and 15 leaves of Oxalis

DIRECTIONS

Preparing the Yolks

Decalotter (Nice word, means to take off the top) of the eggs with an egg topper (oh no, a new tool to buy)

Clarify and separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and reintroduce each yolk back to an egg shell

Heat the eggs (obviously with shells standing up) in a bain-marie for 3 minutes.  Water should not boil but should slowly cook the eggs.

When the yolks are lukewarm add Guerande salt to the  measuring cup of cream.  Now fill each egg with the cream (but leave a little space at the top).  Using a syringe filled with the oxalis and bouillon extract, pierce through the whipped cream and yolks and inject the extract of oxalis at the bottom of the shell filling the little opening that you’ve made. (Oh yes, this is definitely a recipe for beginners)

Preparing the Nutmeg Mousse

In a small pot, boil 1 ounce of the vegetable bouillon, take pot of off the fire and add the nutmeg. Cover and let it sit for 15 minutes. Mix and put it thru a coffee filter so all you get is the essence of the nutmeg.

Whip heavy cream until stiff, then add cream to nutmeg essence and salt & pepper to taste.  Put it in a pastry bag  in the refrigerator.

Extract of Oxalis

Boil the remaining ounce of bouillon, add the 50 stems and 15 leaves of oxalis, couple pinches of salt and a pinch of pepper. Cover and heat for a minute, then mix well and filter (coffee filter once again unless you have a fine sieve).  Fill the syringe and follow the instructions on the last paragraph of Preparing the Yolks section.

That’s it.  All that work for 4 eggs, you’ve got to be crazy.  On the other hands, what a great use for the oxalis.

Hurray, I am done with 2009 taxes and sending out financial packets to my daughter’s potential colleges.  So now things can get back to normal with recipes and writing.  Thanks for your patience.

I like re-gifting; it makes sense and is economical.  No more guilt about receiving a present that is useless to you or hangs around in your garage, waiting to be broken.  I’ve got a lovely 2 foot brass corkscrew that I have no use for since I like tools that are small and multi-functional.  Right now the damn thing is in its box and being used to hold up a bunch of crap.  But it was given to us by my husband’s best friend and so we are torn up about what to do with a tool that is the size of furniture.

This year my cousin gave me or really, re-gifted me a garlic press.  It has got to be the weirdest tool  I’ve ever seen and probably was last year’s hot kitchenware product.  I’ve worked with it and here is the  summary on the little monster; this tool is stupid unless you have arthritis or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in your wrist and hands, which I have.

It presses and slices garlic very well, but you cannot fill the individual wells more than half way, otherwise it doesn’t work.  It also is a bitch to clean, since the pressed garlic gets stuck in the little metal holes. It is hard to set up with the swinging metal pressure pieces, and you need to be careful with the slicer, since it has VERY SHARP BLADES.  In all, it is a crappy and badly designed product.

However, if you are like me and have pain in your wrist from squeezing or whisking, this tool works.  I don’t like using it since it is cumbersome to set up and clean.  But I have no more pain when I use this press, and that is worth its weight in gold.

Now here is my bad news.  Since we are going to Hawaii for spring break, I’d like to lose some weight and get into a moderately pleasing looking dress.  Right now, I feel like the mother blimp and I need to get this lard off of my body.  It came on from eating great food, and now it is time to come off.  Which means that I’ll be hallucinating new recipes that my family gets to try, while I go back to protein shakes,2 per day.

I’ve tried most of the protein powders, and in my humble opinion, the protein/whey powder from Herbalife tasted great, but the price tag was nuts.  Not only do they charge 3x as much for a container of the stuff, you also have to pay $11 for shipping.  Forget it.

So I use the products at Trader Joe’s and it is fine.  But since I still get hungry in the first couple days, I also add oat bran and flaxseed (love that omega-3) to help fill me up.  So here is my Caribbean Cooler recipe.    If you have any great protein shake recipes, please email me.  I am so bad at sticking to any diet or lifestyle change and can get all the help possible.

Caribbean Cooler Shake

In a blender add:

8 oz. Almond low-fat milk

½ cup frozen pineapple – Trader Joe

½ cup frozen mango – Trader Joe

1 medium or small banana in 3 pieces

2 spoonfuls of your favorite protein powder

½ cup of water

1 tsp flaxseed

1 tsp oat bran

Liquidate mixture, and voila – a wonderful filling shake.

But come evening, I can’t wait to make myself a HUGE salad with avocado, feta cheese, cucumbers and of course, a salad dressing using SaladSuccess shaker.

Today David Lebovitz sent out a new blog about Cahors, France, that was so rich and loaded with mouthwatering pictures, I almost left my computer inebriated from the thought of the superb wine and food.  Then I saw the picture of Cahors menu and read it; Joue de Boeuf.  This doesn’t mean “game of beef” but refers to the cheek of an ox.  And the French don’t make up silly marketing names to enhance the sale of meat, but tell it like it is.  Concerning food, the French have no sense of whimsy.  I am quite sure that average Americans would reel away from a dish made from the check of a cow, brains or kidneys.

Which reminds me of a time my husband, Warren, and I spent a month in France.  Now I don’t just speak French, I’m fluent (thank you Mommy for being French) and I always pride myself to try anything as long as it doesn’t wiggle.  We had dumped my five year old daughter with Grandmere in Paris, and had three days to tour through the Chateaux de la Loire countryside drinking, sightseeing, smooching and most importantly, eating.

While spending time in Amboise, I saw a little sign for menu fixe that looked charming.  I had given up on the tour book restaurant suggestions since it seems that place listed required reservations and that is not my style of traveling light and cheap.  My main criteria for choosing a restaurant is that air must smell good, the restaurant must be populated by locals and it needs to be crowded.  This little place in Amboise fit the bill and into the abyss we went.

We sit down in this charming restaurant and the first thing that hits my eyes is lamb.  Lamb is taboo our house when my husband is around.  He hates the stuff and I love it, so I’m always a lamb sucker.  Warren probably ordered some chicken dish and when the two plates came out, we were delighted.  Truly a menu fix dream that we moaned and groaned over.  At the end of the meal, I asked the server about my lamb plate, since I’ve never had lamb before made in that manner.  The server went into great detail about the type of GLAND and its secretions that were used in the meal and at this point, I decided not to understand French.  So when in France, don’t try to understand too much when ordering a meal.

Being a cheap and reluctant cook makes me always want to economize on the amount of cooking I do, the complexity of recipes and the number of dishes to clean.  So three nights ago I roasted 2 chickens, one for the dinner and one to go.  Yesterday night I cubed ¾ of all the chicken and made Chicken Pot Pie with Sherry and Leeks.  Warm and delicious, it was the perfect meal accompanied by a glass of white wine and a mesclun and avocado salad topped with shallot vinaigrette.   This recipe is based on Ina Garten’s Chicken Pot Pie but with less work and with a French twist.

Chicken Pot Pie with Sherry and Leeks – Courtesy to Ina Garten

Ingredients Serves about 8 people, Prep time: 1 hour, Cooking time: 1 hour, remember you’ll need at least ½ hour to chill the dough

  • ¾ of a cooked chicken or 3 whole (6 split) chicken breasts, bone-in, skin-on
  • Olive oil
  • Salt &  ground black pepper (I use Costco)
  • 5 cups water or chicken stock.  Using water I add 3 heaping tablespoons of “Better than Bouillon
  • About 10 sliced mushrooms
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 4 medium-diced carrots, blanched for 2 minutes
  • 2 leeks – cleaned and sliced
  • 1 bag – 10 to 14 oz. frozen small whole (pearled) onions
  • 1/2 cup of sherry – don’t use the expensive stuff

For the pastry: – This only makes enough for a top which is enough for use.  If you want a top and bottom, make the pastry recipe 2 times (don’t just double, it will break the food processor)

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1/4 pound cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup ice water
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash – optional

Directions

For the pastry, mix the flour, salt, and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the shortening and butter and mix quickly with your fingers until each piece is coated with flour. Pulse 10 times, or until the fat is the size of peas. With the motor running, add the ice water; process only enough to moisten the dough and have it just come together. Dump the dough out onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a medium saucepan, heat the water and add the “Better than Bouillon (or just heat up your chicken stock).

In a large pot or Dutch oven with enough olive oil to cover the bottom, sauté the mushroom over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until the liquid is reduced. Add the flour and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the hot chicken bouillon and sherry to the sauce. Simmer over low heat for 1 more minute, stirring, until thick. Add 2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and heavy cream. Add the cubed chicken, carrots, leeks, onions and parsley. Mix well.  If mixture is a little too thin, add a little more flour.

In a deep oven-safe casserole dish, pour in the mixture (remember, if you want to have a bottom crust, you need to roll and prepare the dough. Place the rolled dough on top and trim to 1/2-inch larger than the top of the casserole. Crimp the dough to fold over the side, pressing it to make it stick. Brush the dough with egg wash (optional) and make 3 slits in the top. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour, or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling hot.


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.