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

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.

garlicI absolutely adore cooking with garlic.  What I don’t love about garlic is eating it raw.  For me, it is much too strong of a taste and what it does to one’s breathe should be illegal.  So for my salads, I use a garlic infusion which takes minutes to prep, and has a wonderful soft garlic flavor.  Just peel all the cloves in a bud of garlic (skip those teensy cloves), give the cloves a rough chop, fill a container or a SaladSuccess bottle with a lovely olive oil, and put in the chopped garlic.  If you are in the least worried about any bacteria issues with garlic or any herb, blanch the garlic for a minute before chopping.  Usually after having the infustion for four days, I take out the herbs and garlic.

Sometimes, for camping, I’ll get ready a SaladSuccess shaker just to hold an herbal infusion of olive oil, rosemary, tarragon and garlic.  It adds a wonderful gourmet touch to the campfire when frying trout and potatoes.  I also love having it around for tomato salads, and to rub into steaks before they go on the grill.

Although garlic is available all year round, the bulb gets dug up in the summer.  Some garlic bulbs are exceedingly mild in taste, such as Chet’s Italian Red and Red Toch (both Artichokes garlic bulbs that are often grown commercially). Some are medium flavored like Inchelium Red (another Artichoke) or Burgundy (a Creole ) while others are very hot and strong, such as Metechi (a marbled Purple Stripe) or Chinese Purple (Asiatic).  You can get the more exotic garlic bulbs in fine food stores or at your neighborhood farmers market.  Try them all, and see which ones you love.

close-up-layout-722Remember, a  lunch salad with vinaigrette made fresh out of  SaladSuccess shaker will help you eat better and feel great.  SaladSuccess is just $9.95 and gives you perfect vinaigrette and salad dressings every day with no fuss.