Sunday, March 27, 2011

Pasta E Fagioli or Pasta with Beans ~

For those of you looking for a simple, yet delicious meal, I think this dish will fill the menu. It comes from the Cooking Channel's David Rocco, who is Italian and makes it look easy peasy. I'm sure you've realized that if you want to make dishes that taste good, you'll often have to saute a few vegetables, probably onions, carrots, celery and some herbs together, whatever dish you're making. This recipe is no different in that way, but it seems to me that you get a lot of good flavor from this dish with very little effort. I don't know about you, but I was raised eating different kinds of beans--mainly because times were hard and there were 5 ravenous children to feed. This dish of pasta with beans reminds me of the advantages of eating so that both taste and hunger are filled.


Pasta E Fagioli
Serves 4

  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small carrot, finely chopped
  • 3 ounces pancetta (or bacon), diced
  • 3 fresh sage leaves
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups cannellini beans (or large white beans)
  • 4 1/4 cups water
  • 1/2 pound spaghetti
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (parmesan cheese)
  • Fresh parsley, finely chopped
In a large pot, heat up the extra-virgin olive oil and saute the garlic, onion, celery, and pancetta (or bacon) for 5 minutes. Add the fresh sage and rosemary, allowing the olive oil to absorb the flavors of the herbs. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add the beans (drained, from the can or from cooking) and cook for a few minutes. With the back of a fork, mash up a quarter of the beans and add 1 cup water. Break the uncooked spaghetti into thirds using your hands and add into pot. Stir for about a minute. Add the remaining 3 1/2 cups water and bring to a boil. Cook for about 15 minutes, allowing the water to reduce until it becomes a thick consistency. 

Let rest for 10 minutes off the heat. Add the freshly grated Parmigiano (parmesan) cheese, parsley, and finish with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Serve warm.

I don't  use all the fresh herbs because they're so strong and pungent, but the dried versions would be fine for me. I know that's backwards, but strong herbs just don't agree with me. But a good bread agrees with me, and that's what I would add to this dish. And try to get some fresh Parmesan cheese because it makes a difference!

I hope you're having a nice weekend with the family. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Chicken Stew with Biscuits on Top ~

Are you having a good week? I hope so! I've been working on the house because Paula and her family--Paula, Jim, Jamie, Phil and Jon--may be coming by from Arizona, and I don't want to be caught with a messy house! When I saw this recipe in Barefoot Contessa Family Style, I was thinking about a lot of people eating here and decided to share a family style dish with you.

Ina's take on this recipe is this: "I'm a big believer in recipes that can be served in lots of ways. It takes the stress out of cooking when I know how to make a dish. This is essentially the filling for a chicken pot pie topped with homemade biscuits; you can substitute any pot pie filling, such as the one for lobster pot pie or vegetable pot pie." So see if you think that you and your family would enjoy a big dinner of chicken stew. And don't let the process  of chopping vegetables scare you. You only have to chop onions and carrots, since you can buy the rest frozen. And it's definitely worth the effort!

Serves 8
For the stew
3 whole (6 split) chicken breasts, bone in, skin on
3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
2 chicken bouillon cubes
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 cups medium-diced carrots (4 carrots), blanched for 2 minutes
1 10-ounce package frozen peas (2 cups)
1 1/2 cups frozen small whole onions
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley

For the biscuits
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced
3/4 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water for egg wash

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Please the chicken breasts on a sheet pan and rub them with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, or until cooked through. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then remove the meat from the bones and discard the skin. Cut the chiken into large dice. You will have 4 to 6 cups of cubed chicken.

In a small saucepan, heat the chicken stock and dissolve the bouillon cubes in the stock. In a large pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and saute the onions over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until translucent. Add the flour and cook over low heat, stirring constantly for 2 minutes. Add the hot chicken stock to the sauce. Simmer over low heat for 1 more minute, stirring until thick. Add 2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and the heavy cream. Add the cubed chicken, carrots, peas, onions, and parsley. Mix well. Place the stew in a 10 X 13 X 2-inch oval or rectangular baking dish. Place the baking dish on a sheet pan lined with parchment or wax paper. Bake for 15 minutes. 

Meanwhile, make the biscuits. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is the size of peas. Add the half-and-half and combine on low speed. Mix in the parsley.

Dump the dough out on a well-floured board and, with a rolling pin, roll out to 3/8 inch thick. Cut out twelve circles with a 2 1/2-inch round cutter. 

Remove the stew from the oven and arrange the biscuits on top of the filling. Brush them with egg wash, and return the dish to the oven. Bake for another 20 to 30 minutes, until the biscuits are brown and the stew is bubbly. 

To make in advance, refrigerate the chicken stew and biscuits separately. Bake the stew for 25 minutes, then place the biscuits on top, and bake for another 30 minutes, until done. 

And I'll add this thought to the recipe: I watched Nigella Lawson make individual pot pies today with filo dough on top. So if you aren't inclined to make biscuits, think about buying frozen filo dough. Or if you prefer, regular frozen pastry. Or even frozen or canned biscuits. Several choices and all good! 

I think you and your family will enjoy this recipe. Now...what in the world for dessert? 


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Buttermilk Angel Biscuits ~

Good Tuesday morning~ I've made a lot of biscuits and rolls over the years, but one of the family favorites is a yeast biscuit. They're called Alabama biscuits, but the recipe doesn't call for buttermilk or shortening. I made some for Quinlyn and Michael last weekend. This weekend, I made some Butter Rich Dinner Rolls--a recipe from an old Pillsbury cookbook. But the problem is that my biscuit recipe is on an index card and there are no instructions. So when I saw this recipe from Virginia Willis for yeast biscuits in the April issue of Country Living, I decided to give it to you in case you want to make some of these biscuits for your Easter dinner.

Virginia Willis has a new cookbook titled Bon Appetit, Y'All, and she has a website about her cooking and recipe adventures. Her comment about this biscuit recipe is: "A trio of leaveners--baking soda, yeast, and baking powder--guarantees that my biscuits always come up light and fluffy. Plus, the dough's foolproof enough that it can be made ahead, then rolled out, cut, and baked right before dinner." Maybe I've just missed something in all these years, but I've never heard of a biscuit dough that would allow you to do that! So just in case you're planning your Easter dinner already, here's the recipe for your bread. 

Buttermilk Angel Biscuits                                                           
1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/4 cup warm water (100-110 degrees F)
1/4 cup sugar
6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
   and rolling pin
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup solid vegetable shortening (Crisco preferred)
   cut into bits
2 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

  1. In a liquid measuring cup, combine yeast, water, and 1 tablespoon sugar. Set aside until mixture becomes creamy and foamy, about 5 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together flour, remaining sugar, baking pwder, baking soda, and salt. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut shortening into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse meal.
  3. Add yeast mixture and butter and stir until dough just comes together. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead 5 or 6 times: dough should be soft and moist. Return dough to bowl, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight or up to 1 week.
  4. Turn dough out onto a heavily floured work surface. Knead dough about 10 times. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll dough out to 1/3 inch thickness. Using a 2 1/4-inch cutter, cut biscuits as close together as possible. Gather dough scraps and place one on top of the other. Knead and roll out dough again. Stamp out as many biscuits as possible. Discard remaining scraps. 
  5. Arrange biscuits, with sides touching, on an ungreased baking sheet. Brush with melted butter and set aside to rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes. 
  6. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Bake biscuits until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Serve warm. 
Makes 3 dozen biscuits. Your working time is about 30 minutes. Your Total time is about 1 hour and 20 minutes. 
So the time has come round again to think about a menu for Easter dinner. I'm sure I'll be adding to the many recipes that are already available to you--just to make sure you are on your toes. 

Have a wonderful day!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Signposts on Life's Path ~

Along unfamiliar paths I will guide him.  Isaiah 42:16

Good Sunday morning~ Today in Chapter 29 of Meeting God in Quiet Places: The Cotswold Parables by F. LaGard Smith, we're gently reminded that one of our goals in life is to be an example to others. This parable comes from the many footpaths which are in the area where LaGard takes his daily walks. These paths have many signposts--yellow arrows on gates, posts, trees, and rocks--arrows pointing the direction to the next crossing or turn. And, not surprisingly,  there are also maps and guidebooks to help walkers manuever hill and dale.

Sounds easy, but it isn't always as clear as it sounds. No matter how many signposts and maps are in place, both time and nature may have managed to hide the signposts and cause confusion about which direction to turn, especially for someone who is new to the area. No one is going to get completely lost, but searching for hidden signposts can cause walkers to become disoriented and confused, taking them in a circular pattern for a while, or even into a wall of rusty barbed wire. But once the footpaths and signposts become familiar, they're like old friends waiting to greet you. In fact, LaGard has become so familiar with both, he can now direct visitors toward the right footpath. Taking directions from an American may come as a surprise, but even British walkers are grateful for help  in making their way across the area. In the end, his experienced direction means the ramblers no longer feel lost and confused. 

How does this create a parable that has meaning for our lives? Well, for one thing, we can remember that Jesus is our personal guide when our written instructions seem unclear. Jesus, as the incarnate Word, helps us when we have decisions to make, or are having a confusing time in our lives. In a spiritual sense, He is our friend and personal guide toward the right path. So, where does that leave the written word? Well, we know that Jeremiah said that it isn't within us to direct our own steps. And when we try, we get lost and confused. So even though the Holy Scripture is full of stories, drama, and poetry, it also contains signposts which point us to God. And that's why God's revelation is so important to us.
But, we should also be aware that the written Word can give us an opportunity to take spiritual shortcuts with the meaning of the text, or find loopholes which take us off the beaten path; therefore, God has given us a personal Guide in the written and spoken Word made flesh. Jesus is our reliable guide--a guide we can safely and confidently follow. Remember when Jesus called the twelve apostles, saying, "Follow me"? He was also calling you and me, saying, "Follow me, for I am the Way." Yes, you're right...following Jesus does mean taking the highest path, and the highest path stretches us to points we never thought to go. At least we can know for sure that it's the right path!

But there's more to following Jesus than simply staying on the right path. Jesus has given us an example to follow in daily life, as well as in death and the life to come. We follow by faith because He is the personal expression of all the written biblical precepts. And we follow in his footsteps because He is the One who has gone before us as our example. 

LaGard says: "But here the metaphor must change. No longer are we 'following' Jesus--as if separated by some distance--but we have Christ in us, bringing life, and strength, and hope. With Christ in us, never is the destination clearer!" So it isn't as easy as it sounds--just like being on a footpath--the path seems easy, but may become confusing without knowing the directions. So we may begin to wonder why more people don't want to follow Jesus and have him intimately involved in their lives. One answer might be that they don't know they're lost! And that makes sense, if those who claim to be leaders are actually following the lost. If people can't tell that you're doing something different, how do they know you're following Jesus? If people are watching you, what do they see?
As we make our daily walk, we might want to ask whether people who have never read the Bible for themselves, or people who can't make sense of it on their own, can read the Bible by looking at our behavior. LaGard says: "Whether or not we think of ourselves as spiritual leaders, the truth is that, day by day, we are leading people either to or away from a relationship with God." You might even say that you're a human signpost--a yellow arrow pointing down one path or another. And what makes the biggest difference is whether you are simply following Christ at a distance or whether you have Christ in you!

Ask yourself these questions: Is Christ really at the center of my life? Have I been transformed by his strength and power? Does my relationship with Christ make a difference, moment by moment, in what direction I take? If people follow my example, will I be leading them in the right direction?
Have a blessed Sunday~



Friday, March 18, 2011

Thinking Like Einstein ~

It's Friday already! In looking around for something to share with you, I found an interesting chapter on Albert Einstein in Michael Gelb's Discover Your Genius: How To Think Like History's Ten Most Revolutionary Minds. In his book, Gelb focuses on  the lives of 10 amazing and influencial people. I find Einstein an interesting character and will simply give you some information to consider. And you may get help with your child's learning style.  All of the material is from Gelb's book. Pictures are by Mary Cassatt, 1844-1926.
Where are you when you get your best ideas? Over the past twenty years I've asked thousands of people this question. Most people answer that they get their best ideas while resting in bed, driving their cars, or relaxing in the shower or bath. It is very rare for people to say tht they get their best ideas at work.
What happens in the car, in bed, or in the shower that isn't happening in the workplace? Relaxation. And the freedom from the fear of criticism that allows our natural process of combinatory play to flourish. How can we create an atmosphere in the workplace that encourages the generation and application of our best ideas? Experiment with the following.
Take Brain Breaks

Punctuate meetings and problem-solving sessions with ten minutes of play every hour or two. Juggling, stretching exercises, or a whistling contest will not only lighten up the proceedings and stimulate creativity but will also improve recall.

Take a Child to Work

Many companies sponsor "Take your daughter/son to work" days. The idea is to help childen understand their parents' jobs and to educate them about the world of work. All in all, an admirable activity. If Einstein were in charge, however, he might suggest a different emphasis: invite your children to the workplace and ask them to offer ideas on how to make work more like play. 

Create an Einstein Room

Einstein's parents encouraged his natural talent for imagination by creating a stimulus-rich, brain-nourishing environment. Psychologists have known for many years that the quality of stimulation provided by the external environment is crucial to brain development in the early years of life. Brain researcher Dr. Richard Restak emphasizes that this holds true for adults as well. 
     "Throughout life, not just during the first few months, the brain's synaptic organization can be altered by the external environment." Alter your external environment to liberate yourself from "cubicle-consciousness" and promote creativity in the workplace. Take over a conference room and transform it into an Einstein Room. Replace the standard office furniture with comfortable chairs and a couch, bring in fresh flowers and live plants, and hang inspiring art on the walls. Install a stereo and assemble a collection of favorite music (Einstein particularly loved Bach and Mozart). Fill the room with large whiteboards and flip charts and stock it with colored pens. Use this room for combinatory play sessions on important work issues.                                                      

David Chu, president and co-founder of Nautica, comments on thinking like Einstein in his work: "The concept of Nautica arose from creative daydreaming sessions. The idea was to create an exprssion of a vibrant and fulfilling lifestyle that would be universally appealing. In playing with this blueprint for a design philosophy the image of the ocean kept surging to the front of my mind. Suddenly it became clear--water is everywhere--the ocean represents adventure, life, and unlimited possibility. After Einstein intuited his theory he had to do the math to prove it, just as we had to do the business, stragetic, and financial planning to make the dream of Nautica real. The balance of imagination and play with hard, disciplined business thinking is what we've tried to create as the basis of our culture, and Einstein provides the perfect inspiration for balancing these two sides."

ATTENTION PARENTS                                                                             

If you have a child with adjustment problems in school, a little boy who seems lost in his own daydreams, or a little girl who marches only to the sound of her own idiosyncratic drumbeat, take heart! You may be raising another Einstein or Darwin. Over the course of his formal education, Einstein failed a number of subjects, was told by one of his teachers that he would "never amount to anything," and was expelled from one of his schools for being "a disruptive influence." 

Nevertheless, Einstein's parents were consistently supportive and nurtured their son's highly individual approach to learning. Einstein's parent's understood, intuitively, that their son had what we now call an alternative learning style.
If you have a child with a different style of learning, you'll want to guide that child's education accordingly, as Einstein's parents did when they found the alternative school in Aarau that was based on the educational philosopy of Johann Pestalozzi. Three modern geniuses of education--Maria Montessori (who was inspired in part by Pestalozzi), Rudolph Steiner, and J. Krishnamurti--created developmental curricula that are particularly valuable for children with learning differences.

You may also find that the ten geniuses [from this book] form the core of a powerful curriculum for nurturing the genius potential in your children. You can easily modify most of the exercises in this book for use with them. Children's natural orientation to question everything makes them highly receptive to your using the Socratic method to guide them through the pantheon of genius. And you'll find that, in many cases, your children are already applying the exercises from the book, such as "practice wonder" from the Plato chapter--on their own. You may be surprised and delighted to discover how much more you can get our of the exercises by doing them with your kids.

Gelb writes two more pages about the way these 10 geniuses can help you teach your children. I'm not giving you that information because it is very long. But I'll give you a final word from Einstein, who counseled his students at Princeton to regard their studies "as the enviable opportunity to learn to know the liberating influence of beauty in the realm of the spirit for your own personal joy and to the profit of the community to which your later work belongs."

And, by the way, Einstein believed that having a sense of humor was paramount. After receiving the Nobel Prize in 1921, Einstein was an international icon for genius, besieged by autograph seekers, fans of all kinds, and the world's press. In a note to an old friend, he sent along a poem that he wrote which reflected his more humble, playful, irreverent, and humorous side.
Whever I go and wherever I stay,
There's always a picture of me on display.                                     
On top of the desk or out in the hall,
Tied round a neck, or hung on the wall.

Women and men, they play a strange game,
Asking, beseeching: "Please sign your name."
From the crudite fellow they brokk not a quibble,
But firmly insist on a piece of his scribble.

Sometimes, surrounded by all this good cheer,
I'm puzzled by some of the things that I hear,
And wonder, my mind for a moment not hazy,
If I and not they could really be crazy.

So, say whatever you think, I hope that you found these thoughts interesting and applicable to your life. 


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Happy St. Patrick's Day!!! I hope you have on something green so you don't get pinched today! The Irish are a gregarious group and enjoy the frivolity of a holiday! There are all kinds of traditions, which I won't go into here...I'm sure you've heard them all. But I've become interested in the food of Ireland ever since Lisa gave me Darina Allen's Irish Traditional Cooking. And today I want to share the introduction to the section on potatoes in Darina's book. It's not the complete history of potatoes, but just some bits of information that you might enjoy knowing. And then there's a recipe for a potato dish called Champ that will be somewhat familiar to you. Here's part of what Darina has to say about potatoes in Ireland.


There is a long-established belief that Sir Walter Raleigh introduced the potato into Ireland in 1588, planting the first crop in his garden at Myrtle Grove, in Youghal, Co. Cork. However, Redcliffe Salaman, in his authoritative work The History and Social Influence of the Potato, suggests that potatoes may have been introduced into Ireland from plundered ships of the Spanish Armada which were wrecked on the west coast. Within a century of its introduction, the potato was a common item in the Irish diet. Commentators such as John Stevens in his Journal of 1689-91 noted that it was the staple food of the poorer people:
     The meaner people content themselves with little bread but instead thereof eat potatoes which with sour milk is the chief part of their diet.

The potatoes beloved of the Irish are not the waxy varieties, but the dry ones, whose skins  crack towards the end of cooking--referred to as "balls of flour" or "smiling spuds." Damp waxy potatoes are still scorned in Ireland as being "wet or soapy." Favourite varieties of potato are Home Guard, British Queens, Kerr's Pink, Golden Wonders, Aran Banners, Records and Champions. One of the finest sights in Ireland around the end of July and the beginning of August is fields of Golden Wonders and British Queens in full bloom--a sea of pale purple and white blossom. The famous "Ballycotton potatoes" are much sought after in the former English Market in Cork.

Like many other simple peasant dishes champ has stood the test of time. It now features on the menus of more fashionable restaurants in London, Paris and New York. As with Ireland's other great potato dish, colcannon, there are many regional variations.
A huge quantity of potatoes were boiled for each meal in the big black pot over the open fire. The pounding of the potatoes, using a heavy wooden pounder called a beetle, was usually men's work. Florence  Irwin, in Irish Country Recipes (1937) gives a wonderfully evocative picture of the laborious procedure.
          The man of the house was summoned when all was ready, and while he pounded this enormous potful of potatoes with a sturdy wooden beetle, his wife added the potful of milk and nettles, or scallions, or chives, or parsley and he beetled it 'till it was as smooth as butter, not a lump anywhere. Everyone got a large bowlful, made a hole in the centre, and into this put a large lump of butter. Then the champ was eaten from the outside with aspoon or fork, dipping it into the melted butter in the centre.

One of the best-loved ways of cooking potatoes was (and is) to mash them with boiling milk, add chopped scallions or chives and serve this creamy, green-flecked mixture with a blob of yellow butter melting in the center. Leeks, nettles, peas and brown crispy onions are all delicious additions.

Serves 4
6 to 8 unpeeled baking potatoes,
e.g. Russet or Yukon Gold
1 bunch scallions (use the bulb and green stem)
1 1/2 cups milk
4-8 tablespoons butter
salt and freshly ground pepper

Scrub the potatoes and boil them in their jackets. Finely chop the scallions. Cover the scallions with cold milk and bring slowly to a boil. Simmer for about 3 to 4 minutes, then turn off the heat and leave to infuse. Peel and mash the freshly boiled potatoes and, while hot, mix with the boiling milk and scallions. Beat in some of the butter. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve in one large or four individual bowls with a knob of butter melting in the center. 
Champ may be put aside and reheated later in a moderate oven at 350 degrees F. Cover with foil while it reheats so that it doesn't get a skin.

I have taken only parts of Darina's narrative about the history of potatoes, but as interesting as it is to me, I thought it was too long to put on here. And the recipe for colcannon looks good as well, but it is also long. Maybe later.

Have a great day celebrating! I'm on my way to meet Alice for lunch. Maybe I'll eat something green~

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Eating In Ireland ~

Well, it seems that I almost forgot about St. Patrick's Day because I said so much about Ireland last week. But I want to say something about the Irish way of eating these days--not that I know so much about it myself, but a search on the internet brought up a wonderful culinary history on And you already know that I have Darina Allen's Irish Traditional Cooking. My father's family is from Ireland, and there is plenty of history about the Roarks in material gathered by Peggy Scott Holley, a cousin. My mother's family is English, and there isn't much of their history anywhere. But I enjoy both sides and want to share some of the history which has created a strong and peculiar people. So here is the information in the article.

Eating in Ireland

For most of the last two centuries, Irish cooking has been dominated by one terrible event: the dreadful famine of the mid-1840s, when the failure of the potato crop--on which the peasant population depended--led to a savage death toll and a global diaspora of Irish people. After this experience, traditional staples came to be regarded as "famine food"--a necessity, and nothing more. The idea of an indigenous fine cuisine seemed ridiculous, and the country's native ingredients were held in low regard.                                                             

For thousands of years before the potato famine, however, Ireland's people enjoyed an atmosphere of bounty. According to the folklorist Brid Mahon, the first settlers "hunted and trapped the red deer and wild pig; they fished the rivers for salmon, trout, and eels, and snared pigeon, duck, and grouse." When agriculture began, farmers exploited a benign climate where grass grew year-round. Even when, around 500 BC, temperatures cooled to their current levels, soft rains and the moderating influence of the Gulf Stream created a temperate land where wheat, barley, oats, and rye were easily cultivated and grazing cows, sheep, and goats produced superior dairy products.

Abundance, Then Deprivation

Throughout the Middle Ages, Ireland's population exploited this land of plenty. The medieval tale of The Vision of MacConglinne is full of rhapsodic descriptions of hearty sausages and blood puddings, crusty bread and sweet butter, fresh milk and strong ale. A tradition of unsurpassed hospitality reflected this abundance: A traveler crossing the country could expect to be welcomed with food and lodging at every farmstead he passed.

But then everything changed. Introduced from the New World in the 17th century, the potato became not just a food but the staff of life itself. Easily grown, it enabled a population explosion--as Irish food writer Darina Allen writes, "With only an acre or two of land a farmer could grow enough potatoes to support his whole family." There were rumblings of trouble before the famine, but as the scholar Redcliffe Salaman notes, "So completely had the potato woven itself into the web of the life and thought of the people, that no greater attention was given to such warnings than would have been the case had they been told that the rains would cease to fall from heavens on their fields."

The rains did not fail to fall. But the potato did fail, when a fungus called phytophthora infestans destroyed several successive crops, leading to widespread starvation.

In the aftermath, a pall was cast over Irish attitudes toward food. For the lower classes, traditional recipes were eaten--and enjoyed--but never discussed. For the bourgeoisie, "fine dining" meant imitating French cooking, a habit that remained until the latter part of the 20th century.

Modern Innovation                                                                            

So what changed? How can we, today, talk about a dynamic, creative contemporary Irish cuisine? One vital factor was the decision of Myrtle Allen to open her home, Ballymaloe House in eastern County Cork, to diners in 1964. Unlike most chefs at the time, Allen cooked simple--and superb--Irish food. She did not imitate French cooking, and she sourced her ingredients from her immediate locality. Mackerel and scallops came from nearby Ballycotton Bay, beef and lamb from local butchers. Ducks and geese--reared just up the road--were simply roasted. Oysters were served hot and buttered. Soups were of simple things such as watercress, carrot, or cucumber. Crisp apples were made into tarts.
                                                                                                                       Ballymaloe Cookery School
Thus began a new confidence about the foods the Irish could produce and cook themselves. Allen has remained a torchbearer for native Irish cooking, and her imprimatur has been seized on by a subsequent generation of family members. Today, while her restaurant still thrives, her daughter-in-law, Darina, runs a world-renowned cooking school just a few miles away, and her granddaughter, Rachel, has become a homegrown television cooking star. 

Dining In and Out

While Ireland still does not have a food culture comparable to those of Italy or France, home cooks are starting to give greater value to their culinary heritage. It helps that Irish cooking never became as industrialized as in, for instance, England, where some products such as artisanal cheeses nearly disappeared during the 20th century. In Ireland, traditional dishes such as roast leg of lamb still form the centerpiece of weekend family dinners. Cooks still combine simple ingredients such as mashed carrots and parsnips and rich, golden butter to produce wholesome, delicious dishes free of elaborate sauces or exotic spices. And now, more and more people are concentrating  on those simple ingredients, shopping at farmers' markets for top-notch dairy products and rediscovering forgotten native specialties such as venison. 

At the same time, as the Irish economy has exploded over the past decade, 30 years worth of financial and social change have been squeezed into just 10. This has opened up the country to global influences, for better or worse. Living in modern Ireland is a helter-skelter experience, and everything can be adapted and adopted, from Thai green curry to Spanish tortillas. There is much more processed and "fast" food, but there are also dynamic chefs with well-heeled patrons happy to pay high prices for their cooking. 

Many of these restaurateurs borrow techniques from around the globe, bringing them back home to bear upon superb local ingredients. At Michelin-starred Chapter One in Dublin, chef Ross Lewis serves such fare as pheasant soup with chestnuts, pig's trotter boudin, and Crozier sheep's milk blue cheese from Country Tipperary. At Roscoff Brasserie in Belfast, Paul Rankin is equally creative. 

Today, if you choose carefully, you can eat superbly well in Ireland, both at home and in restaurants. For recipes from Paul Flynn, another local chef cooking innovative modern Irish cuisine, read on. 

Except that I'm not adding Paul Flynn's recipes just now. Maybe tomorrow, if I think it isn't too late, I'll give you some recipes for Irish food from Paul Flynn and Darina Allen. And I appreciate this article and hope that Epicurious doesn't mind my lifting it in total from their site. You may believe me when I say that I was surprised and pleased when Bobby Flay's Ireland, which aired on the Cooking Channel,  went to Ballymaloe Cookery School, and Bobby interviewed and cooked with Darina Allen. It was so interesting to watch after all my reading on the place. And the organic gardens there are breath-taking.

Have a great day!


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pineapple Tarte Tatin ~

Good morning everyone! I did my taxes on Monday all by myself--Turbo Tax. And not for the first time. Painfully and carefully, I filled in the forms and electronically mailed them. Both have been accepted. The government has realized that all the people who have a fixed income can be made to pay estimated taxes, so that's what I've been doing for a few years now. This year for the first time, the IRS sent me little checks to fill out and envelopes to mail them in. Unfortunately, the postage isn't paid. I've decided that as soon as they can figure out a way to take everything I have to live on, they'll send me even nicer envelopes and maybe even pay for the postage. Sorry! I'm not a fan of tax invasion.

But I AM a fan of tennis, and this week the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament is going on in Indian Wells, California. So far, Federer is looking good and playing very well. He's also playing doubles with his countryman, Stan Wawrinka. They aren't showing the doubles matches on television, but I think they should. Hmmm...for some reason, they aren't asking me what to do! The owner of the tournament is working to make it the best tournament around, and hopes to bring mixed doubles to the format soon. Sounds good, except that the new way of scoring doubles is icky.

Okay, now to the recipe. I was looking back at Avner Laskin's blog, because I saw a dessert that I thought we'd all like. The dessert is a Tarte Tatin, which has a story behind it. Whether it's true or not, it's funny and relatable for anyone who loves to cook. This is how Avner tells it.

The Story of Tarte Tatin

Tradition says that the Tarte Tatin was first created by accident at the Hotel Tatin in Lamotte-Beuvron, France in 1898. The hotel was run by two sisters, Stephanie and Caroline Tatin. Stephanie Tatin, who did most of the cooking, was overworked one day. She started to make the traditional apple pie but left the apples cooking in butter and sugar for too long. Smelling the burning, she tried to rescue the dish by putting the pastry base on top of the pan of apples, quickly finishing the cooking by putting the whole pan in the oven. After turning out the upside down tart, she was surprised to find how much the hotel guests appreciated the dessert. The Tarte became a signature dish at the Hotel Tatin and the recipe spread through the Sologne region. Its lasting fame is probably due to the restaurateur Louis Vaudable, who tasted the tart on a visit to Sologne and made the dessert a permanent fixture on the menu at his restaurant Maxim's of Paris. 

Avner's Tarte Tatin uses apples, but I can't give you his recipe because it's in metric. So I looked up other recipes and came up with a pineapple tart which I think you'll like. And, of course, you can use apples or any other fruit your family likes. I like the fact that you can use any fruit you have since it's so simple and can be pulled together quickly. This recipe is from Here is what the site has to say about making this recipe:

Tarte Tatin is an upside down tart made in a skillet, with a crust made of puff pastry. They're typically made with apples, but the tarts can actually be made with a wide variety of fruits. This is a Pineapple Tarte Tatin made with cubes of fresh pineapple. The tart has a great combination of buttery pastry dough, sweet caramel and even sweeter pineapple. 
The tarts are extremely easy to make because of the way they use a skillet. A caramel sauce is cooked in the skillet on the stovetop and fruit is added into it. A sheet of puff pastry is then draped over the cooked fruit and the edges of the pastry are tucked in around the filling mixture like a blanket. The whole skillet is then popped into the oven to allow the pastry to crisp up and then it is inverted onto a serving plate, revealing a beautifully caramelized fruit tart. 

It is imperative that you use an oven safe skillet to make this tart, so I recommend using an all-metal pan--stainless steel or cast iron--to cook and make sure you have a heavy duty oven mitt available when it is time to take the tart out of the oven. 

I used fresh pineapple for this tart--a medium-sized pineapple should give you enough fruit, but you can also use canned pineapple. The tart goes exceptionally well with extra caramel sauce and with coconut ice cream, although it is very nice to eat on its own. This kind of tart is best when it is fresh out of the oven and the pastry is nice and crispy, so make it at the last minute whenever possible. 

Pineapple Tarte Tatin
Serves 6-8

1 10-12 inch sheet puff pastry (homemade or storebought and defrosted)
16 ounces fresh or canned pineapple, cubed
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
pinch salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Place butter in a 10-inch oven-safe skillet over medium heat and let it melt. Add in sugar, fresh lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Pour the lemon juice around the outside of the pan to moisten the sugar. Bring mixture to a boil and cook until it turns a deep golden color, 3-5 minutes.
Add in pineapple chunks and stir with a spatula to coat. Cook 2-3 minutes to soften pineapple. Remove from heat. 
Roll out pastry sheet on a very lightly floured surface until it is large enough to cover the fruit when laid over the pan. If there is excess pastry, that is fine. It should be slightly larger than the pan. 
Drape the pastry over the pineapple and tuck any excess pastry in around the edges of the fruit. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, until pastry is crispy and a very deep golden brown. Allow to rest for about 2 minutes on the stove top.
Working very carefully, place a large serving plate on top of the skillet and invert the tart onto the serving plate. 
Serve immediately, with ice cream or whipped cream, if desired.

And amazingly, one of those surprising coincidences happened in the evening after I'd looked up many recipes for Tarte Tatin. I was watching Jamie Oliver's show, and he made an Apple Tarte Tatin! So I got to see exactly how he made it. The difference is that he doesn't use puff pastry, but makes his own pastry crust. So I was going to give you his recipe for pastry, but decided to let you use one of your own. Get all your ingredients together and decide which pastry you want to use on your tart. The family will enjoy this dessert this weekend! The picture of the flowers was taken by Quinlyn. Thanks, Q!



Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sunsets & Reconciliation with God ~

Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive. 
1 Kings 8:30

Grace and love like mighty rivers
Poured incessant from above,
And heaven's peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love.
                    ----Robert Lowry (1826-1899)

Today we're in Chapter 27 of Meeting God in Quiet Places: The Cotswold Parables by F. LaGard Smith. In this parable, sunsets represent reconciliation to God. LaGard says that "sunsets are a daily declaration of the majesty of God. They speak of infinite beauty and of the power of Him who created the incomparable realms of heaven and earth. They tell of God's greatness and, by comparison, my own smallness." What does he see in sunsets that we can also find? The gentleness that comes with getting older, a clearer meaning of life and loved ones, and an understanding of the end of a life of faith on earth and an expectation of a life to come. All of these are touching and meaningful, but there is an even more appealing image.

No writer captures the imagination as well as the psalmist, and in his vision of sunsets, he sees "heaven reaching down to kiss the earth, and in that rapturous moment bring peace." If the image of heaven kissing the earth is hard to grasp, think on these words of the psalmist: "Love and faithfulness meet together, righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven." Beautiful imagery which brings God and man together, imagery which is at the heart of Christian's very essence caught in a sunset--heaven has kissed the earth! The King James version says that "Mercy and truth are met together." In other words, the truth of man's unrighteousness and sinfulness meets with God's mercy in the salvation of man.
Modern translations speak of "love and faithfulness" meeting together rather than "mercy and truth." But that doesn't mean, as we might think, that our faithfulness meets God's love. We are NOT faithful. We aren't good at keeping our promises to each other, much less to God. We fail miserably at keeping our marriage and other social contracts. In truth, it is God's faithfulness and merciful love that brings us peace. 

And here, I quote LaGard: "The peace of God is not the mere peace of tranquility, as in the 'peacefulness of the Cotswolds.' God's peace is harmony where there was disharmony; acceptance where there was rejection; rightness where there was wrongness. Because of God's own righteousness, whatever is wrong can be put right." And the source of God's righteousness is seen in His love and faithfulness.

And where is the love of God most profoundly seen? In the life and sacrificial death of Jesus Christ: "For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son!" Now that's an image we can all relate to! Christ dying for our sins is a phenomenal event which had been promised by God for centuries. Only God's faithfulness brought about the birth of Jesus. And with this event, God came near. Heaven and earth rejoiced. The heavenly hosts sang, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests." No longer was the abyss of sin standing between heaven and earth. Like the sunset kisses the earth, God had come down to earth, bringing peace between God and man--heaven kissing the earth. 

All of this is mysterious and full of wonder, but in searching for inner peace, we know that it can only be found in reconciliation with God. It is the death of Jesus Christ which makes this possible; we are no longer alienated by sin. Not that we won't have trouble in our lives, but that we can find inner peace in spite of our troubles. Because of God's love and faithfulness, we can even transform our troubles into triumph! And remember--a time is coming when we will have eternal peace living in the presence of God. In the meantime, let the sunsets you see each evening remind you that heaven is kissing the earth!

Have a wonderful Sunday!


Friday, March 11, 2011

Roasted Chicken Thighs with Black Olives ~

It's Friday and many of you are planning a nice weekend with family or friends--a time when you can let go of the work week and enjoy good food in a relaxing atmosphere. The weather has turned  Spring-like here, teasing us with nicer, warmer days.  So there may be some of you who can get outside to work on the yard, plant some flowers, or just watch the clouds roll by. A weekend can be as private as a bath sometimes, so it's really up to you how you spend your weekend. A lot of our life is lived on the weekends!

I haven't seen a recipe for roasted chicken that appealed to me so much as this one out of Avner Laskin's cookbook Olives: More than 70 Delicious & Healthy Recipes. And, by the way, this little cookbook is interesting because it has information about both black and green olives, recipes for tapenades, ratatouille, pizzas and pastas--all given the unique flavor of this versatile fruit. Avner gives directions for making flavored olive oils, spiced olives, and olive spreads. And there are recipes for vegetable dishes, rice dishes, breads, and fish or chicken dishes. The recipes aren't complicated and create a whole new taste sensation for our American palates. 

Now I'm bound to say that chicken is my favorite meat, and roasting brings out all of its wonderful flavor. Somewhere in my mind, I can still taste the fresh chicken that my mother used to cook on Sundays. This recipe calls for thighs, but the picture in the book shows legs as well, so that's definitely up to you. I believe that olives bring a unique and special flavor to all the dishes that I've given you this week. And I want to say that while I was on Avner's website, I saw a recipe for a dessert that I want to share with you sometime. It reminds me of an upside down cake. But I'll go back and decide about it later. For now, here's a recipe you might enjoy cooking for the family this very weekend!

Serves 4

12 chicken thighs, cleaned
5 medium potatoes, quartered
1/3 cup pitted black olives
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
1/2 teasoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Place all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
  3. Transfer to a deep baking dish and cover.
  4. Cook for 40 minutes.
  5. Uncover and cook for 15 more minutes.
  6. The chicken and potatoes should be golden brown. If they aren't, return to the oven for 5 more minutes.
  7. Serve hot or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Reheat before serving.
Now I ask you, "How easy is that?" And I believe that everyone who eats this dish will be thankful that you woke up their tastebuds in such a Mediterranean way. They may even dream of being on a Greek Island with white sandy beaches and gorgeous blue-green water. And if they ask you to make baklava for dessert, I'll give you the recipe, along with the easiest way to make it. There are all kinds of possibilities that didn't exist before you met the versatile olive!

Make the most of your Friday, Saturday and Sunday!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Penne with Broccoli and Green Olives ~

Hello everybody~ I have found many good recipes in this little cookbook by Avner Laskin. It isn't unusual for me to get curious about a writer and look him up, then buy everything he's written. That might be profitable with someone like C. S. Lewis, but I won't do that with Avner and his 11 cookbooks, even though they all look interesting. But I went to his blog and tried one of his suggestions that was delicious, though I could hardly believe I tried it. Avner's advice was to take 3 oranges and slice them up on a plate. Salt and pepper them. Then drizzle olive oil of a good quality over them and let them sit for 30 minutes. The picture of sliced oranges is from his blog site. Now I have to tell you that my olive oil was not of high quality, such as the McEvoy I had from California, but the oranges tasted very nice and fresh. I really enjoyed them. It would be a perfect summerish "dessert."                                                      

The recipe from Avner Laskin's cookbook Olives: More than 70 Delicious & Healthy Recipes is not a bread this time. It's a simple dish with pasta, which we all love to eat, partly because it's so easy and delicious, and partly because it's both tasty and filling. Personally, I'm still eating the soup and olive bread that I made yesterday, but I'm going to make this recipe soon. The picture is from the Martha Stewart website and her recipe looks good, but not as good as this one to me. Sometimes you just have to go with your sense of the ingredients all taken together and let your heart take you into the recipe to decide! I got into many sites before it was over, and some of the blogs were all about curing your own green or black olives. I don't think that will be me, but one never knows where their curiousity will take them before it's over. Avner says: "When cooking the broccoli for this recipe, be careful not to overcook. It should be bright green and only slight tender." So here's the recipe.


Serves 4

12 cups water
2 tablespoons coarse salt
1/2 pound broccoli                                                                                     
1/2 cup pitted green olives, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
One 16 ounce package penne pasta
1/2 cup ricotta cheese, crumbled


  1. Bring the water and the coarse salt to a boil over high heat.
  2. When the water is boiling, add the broccoli and cook for about 4 minutes.
  3. Remove the broccoli from the water with a slotted spoon and transfer to a large bowl.
  4. Add the olives, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and mix well.
  5. Add the uncooked pasta to the boiling water and cook over low heat for 12 minutes.
  6. Drain the pasta and add to the other ingredients. Mix well and transfer to plates to serve.
Sprinkle ricotta cheese over each serving and serve immediately.

I couldn't get yesterday's blog to post on Facebook, but it should be beneath this one on my blog. The olive bread that I made has a good taste and is very good with the soup. I want to try the olive bread recipe with olives and cheese stuffing. Today I'm going to lunch with Alice at Cracker Barrel, and might even get to see Quinlyn and Michael, who haven't felt well in a while. Please try a new recipe today!