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.

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.