Multi-tasking Is Not Always Good

For the last several days I have visited my mom at her home near Phoenix, Arizona.  Friday night I made her Cioppino for dinner.  It was a success.  My orange marmalade, however, turned out well but making it proved to be one of my worst nightmares.

My mom has a moderately well equipped kitchen with REALLY sharp knives.   I had no problem locating the tools I needed.  She had a really nice size orange; perfect for creating just enough marmalade for one person to enjoy – not so much that the thought of another piece of marmalade toast drives you screaming from the kitchen.

I peeled the rind off the orange, being careful to remove as much of the pith as possible.  Then I sliced the orange and quartered the slices.  I had selected one of her few sauce pans for the job but quickly realized its size would not handle the boiling syrup.  So I “upgraded” to a larger pot (a dutch oven to be exact).  I measured the water as I added it to the orange and peel mixture to make sure I would have an exact measure for the sugar.  The pot with the water, orange peel and flesh went onto the range.

Before I go any further I must say in my defense, that I am not used to cooking on an electric cooktop.  You know the kind I’m talking about – a sheet of glass with elements that heat up.  In addition, we were going through old photographs, some of which featured people from four generations ago, so my mind wasn’t as focused on my cooking as it could/should have been!  It took significantly longer for the orange and water mixture to come to a boil but once it did it seemed to reach volcanic temperature within moments.  This should have been a warning sign to me but I was too busy with other things.

After about an hour the peel and pulp were soft and it was time to add the sugar.  I added the sugar and turned the element up to reach a boil.  Then I lost my mind and returned to picture sorting and identification.  And that’s when it happened – you guessed it – the pot boiled over.

Horrors!  Remember when I mentioned in my original marmalade post don’t let the orange and sugar mixture boil over as cleaning THAT off a stove is never pretty and usually involves some well chosen curse words.

I jumped up from the table and pulled the overflowing bubbling pot off the element.  That’s when the fun started.  I tried using water and a plastic spatula – it took some of the bubbling lava-like mass off the cooktop.  Unfortunately most of it remained in place.   Oh, and by the way, did I mention my mom is selling her house.  All I could think of was “What if I can’t get this off and how much does a new cooktop cost?”  My mom suggested we try using razor blades; it is what her cleaning woman uses when removing stuck on food.  I grabbed a razor blade and started in.  Hoping it would begin to remove the cooked on mess, I was quickly disappointed.  Grasping for straws I suggested to my mom that perhaps we needed sharper razor blades.  I jumped into the car and after a quick trip to CVS was back with two packages of new blades.  The mess appeared to be so monumental I figured I might need two packages of ten blades, and didn’t want to make another trip to the store.

I opened the package of new blades and set to work.  WOW – a difference of day and night. Five new blades and about ten minutes later we had a clean cooktop.  Lessen Learned.

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The Sweet Smell of Success

Today is one of those days where my schedule had me in meetings until at least 5 pm.  It was also the one day on this week that I had not identified the dinner menu choice.  About 11 this morning I thought I had better get at least an idea about a dinner entrée.  I thought about chicken breasts or pork chops; two standbys I always have in my freezer. But I wasn’t feeling the love.  Than I remembered that I bought a package of two thin strips of round steak. What could I do with those.   Rouladen came to mind.  Rouladen takes several hours of braising to make the dish fork tender.  I could start it before I left for my meeting and have it ready for dinner several hours later.  The only concern I had was the stove top cooking.  I always make my Rouladen in a dutch oven on the top of the stove.  But that wouldn’t work today.  Even with the simmer burner I was afraid the liquid would boil out and dry out the meat.  I thought about using the slow cooker but mine tends to get hot and needs to be watched.  So there went that option.

And then I thought about the oven.  The heat can be regulated without any assistance from me.  Three and one half hours have passed and I just returned from my meeting.  The minute I opened the door I could smell the wonderful aroma of rouladen.  I took a quick peek in the oven and saw the meat rolls well on their way to being fork tender with plenty of simmering liquid. I don’t know why I don’t think of my oven more often when making these type of dishes.  That’s a mistake I’ll be correcting starting right now!

You can find my previously published Rouladen recipe here

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Beans, It’s What’s For Dinner

Ok, not just beans.  There’s also rice, green pepper, Spanish Chorizo and onions.  Last might I made Cuban Black Beans with rice for dinner.  My local grocery store had a special on dried beans and, since I have a wonderfully easy to use pressure cooker, I thought “Why not make a bean dish?” I stood in the aisle of the supermarket gazing at the variety of beans available but I had really already made up my mind – black beans went into my cart.

This is one of those dishes that, on a cold winters night, sticks to your ribs without weighing you down.  And, with the addition of fresh lime, brings a bit of summer to the table.  There are a limited number of ingredients so it comes together pretty fast.  A great dish for a busy day! Note: As every pressure cooker is different, and there are even more variations when you factor in altitude, I will not provide exact cooking times.  Please follow the directions for your pressure cooker.

Cuban Black Beans and Rice

serves two with some leftover

  • 1 cup of dried black beans
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 tbl olive oil
  • 2 links of Spanish Chorizo
  • 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped green pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 tsp round cumin
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 1/2 tbl sherry
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • fresh lime and sour cream for serving
Cuban Black Bean Ingredients

Cuban Black Bean Ingredients

Begin by slicing the Spanish Chorizo.  Spanish chorizo, unlike the commonly available ( at least here in New Mexico) Mexican chorizo is cured and can be sliced like salami.  Place the olive oil in the pressure cooker and heat up over medium heat.  Add the chorizo and fry until browned.  Add the onions and the pepper and cook until the pepper is soft and the onions translucent.  Add the garlic and spices and cook for two minutes.  Add the sherry and the sugar and stir to blend.  Place the 1 1/2 cups water in the cooker and add the beans.  Close up the pressure cooker and, following your cookers’ instructions,  bring the pressure up and cook for approximately 25 minutes.  (Because we are over 5000′ I followed the instructions for my cooker,  added additional liquid and increased the cooking time.)  Release the pressure using the natural release method. Serve over rice with lime wedges and sour cream.

Cuban Black Beans with Spanish Chorizo and Rice

Cuban Black Beans with Spanish Chorizo and Rice

Don’t have a pressure cooker?  No problem. There are two different ways to make this dish.  The longer version includes soaking the dried beans at least overnight to soften them and then using them in the recipe.  It will take longer to cook than the pressure cooker version but the result will be fairly similar.  The really fast way to make this dish is to use canned black beans that you’ve drained and rinsed.    You will need to reduce the water to about 1 cup and carefully watch the beans to ensure they don’t break down too much and become soupy – unless you like your beans soupy – I don’t judge!

Posted in appliances, Cooking, Entree, Food, Pressure Cooker, Spanish Cooking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Simple Trick?

I have lived long enough to know that every fad eventually has a second life.  I also know that when it comes to clothing and hairstyles, if you wore it the first time you shouldn’t even think about wearing it again!  But I didn’t know that cooking techniques, like clothing and hair styles, fade in and out.

I learned differently this morning when I logged onto my email account and found an email from Bon Appetit with the subject line of ” The Simple Trick Your Fried Eggs Are Missing.” Running a Bed and Breakfast means I am always looking for new ways to make eggs.  While I usually don’t make fried eggs for guests, I thought this email might reveal a trick that would take a fried egg to a new level.

I excitedly opened the email and began to read.   Imagine my surprise when I discovered the ” Simple Trick” my fried eggs had been missing was….. Basting the egg to cook the white. WHAT???? This was something I learned to do watching my mom many years ago.  Hardly revolutionary and certainly nothing my eggs have been missing,  I’ve been doing it for years.  Were my mom and I ahead of our time?  Should we have marketed this technique years ago?  The article advised the user to hold the handle of the pan with one hand and a spoon in another.  Then the reader was instructed to “gently” tip the pan and spoon the hot fat over the whites of the egg until the whites were completely set.

It’s really a simple technique so I can’t understand why this was raised as a ‘Trick.”  Granted, this technique would be impossible to do in a restaurant where eggs are cooked on a flat top.  Perhaps that is why you hear so many people order their eggs over easy.  But I don’t know too many homes that have flat tops.

At an early age I taught our children how to scramble, fry and boil eggs.  They learned how to baste an egg to completely cook the white.  I can’t believe I was the only one teaching a child the joys of a butter basted egg!

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Is This Heaven????

Two years ago I spent a week in Chicago visiting my daughter, her husband and my very young granddaughter.  This blog post was written while I was there and somehow got lost in the black hole of computing. However, the information is still current and my love for Eataly hasn’t diminished.  Please bear in mind that I currently live in a location where this type of store would be considered “exotic.” The Albuquerque area is becoming more of a food destination – and not just for green chile – but there is a long way to go to match the variety and access to sometimes obscure ingredients that Chicago area residents enjoy.

So here’s my tour of Eataly.

Where to start.  When we arrived we spent a few minutes getting oriented and deciding which of the nine restaurants; Birreria, a beer and rotisserie bistro, La Carne,  a restaurant that features meat from small family farms across the US, Il Pesce, featuring seafood, Le Verdure, offering seasonal vegetable focused dishes, La Piazza, a standing only restaurant that offers tastes of salami, cheeses, pesce and homemade mozzarella, La Pizza & La Pasta, a dining area that features two kitchens  – one serving homemade pastas and the other Neapolitan style pizza, Vino Libero, a wine bar with salami and verdure tastings, La Rosticceria – technically not a restaurant as it serves up hand carved rotisserie sandwiches, I Panini serving, you guessed it, Panini, and two coffee bars – Gran Bar Lavazza and Caffe Vergnano we wanted to visit for lunch.  Those who have been to Eataly before know this is critical.  You want to be in line for the restaurant of choice before it opens to avoid a long wait.  Sam is a vegetarian so the La Carne and a Rosticceria were out.  We decided to eat at La Pizza and La Pasta.  That decision made, we started wandering the store.  Where to start looking is almost as bad as trying to pick a restaurant.  Every where you looked there was an area that offered a different food. Let’s start with the fishmonger offering  glistening fresh seafood.

Fishmonger counter at Eataly

Fishmonger counter at Eataly

There was fresh octopus, shrimp the size of crawfish, beautiful branzino, a variety of clams including razor neck, mussels, and skate – something you don’t see, or can get, any day.

As we wandered through the Salumi and Fromaggi section I thought about all the wonderful picnic lunches one could enjoy with the meats and cheeses available there.


Salumi and Fromaggi at Eataly

Salumi and Formaggi – Meat and Cheese – ready to be sliced and cut to order.

Some of the meats and cheeses were already packed up and ready to go.  Prosciutto, mortadella, salamis all just begging to be scooped up and taken home.  And the cheeses – fresh mozzarella, several different artisanal parmesans. But this cheese really drew my eye –

Crocodile Tears Cheese

Crocodile Tears Cheese at Eataly

Cheeses of all variety!

Cheeses of all variety!

What on earth is Crocodile Tears Cheese.  Unfortunately I won’t know until I visit next again and have time to eat it before I

have to catch a plane.


Prosciutto Ends - the possibilities are endless!

Prosciutto Ends – the possibilities are endless!

And then there were the Prosciutto Ends.  What couldn’t I do with that!  Diced up and stuffed into pork chops – pork inside of pork, yum – or minced and stirred into scrambled eggs, or garlic mashed potatoes or a garlic cream sauce.  The possibilities are endless!

And the fresh pastas just waiting for a homemade sauce – Squid Ink, spinach, ravioli stuffed with veal and beef.  Looking at the case full of wonderful pasta inspired me to add some homemade pasta to the dinner menu next week.
Fresh made pastaThe Fresh Pasta area had a rack of free recipes and I picked up a few of them.  I think I’ll be trying the Ravioli Di Zucca Con Burro & Salvia ( Fresh Squash filled Ravioli with butter and Sage.)  Eataly sells the squash filled ravioli but I’ll be making my own.

Update:  I have been back to Eataly three times since I originally wrote, but did not publish this blog.  Each time the experience has been as good as the first.  I have managed to bring back their home-made Italian sausage, prosciutto ends, cheeses and breads. In fact, on one of our trips George and I purchased bread, cheese and deli meats to make sandwiches to eat on the plane ride home the next day.  We were the envy of everyone on that Southwest flight!  Mario, would you consider opening in Albuquerque?

Posted in Cooking, Family, fish, Food, Italian, Pasta, Pork | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Waste Not….

I grew up in a family of six that tried not to waste anything useful.  For example, my grandmother loved watermelon and, after eating the pulp, would either bury the rinds around her tomato plants or pickle them as a side dish.  I learned from my mother at an early age how to use up leftovers.  I have to admit some of those ideas were better than others – scallop potatoes and ham comes to mind – and not in a good way.  But the message was ingrained in me at an early age and has stuck with me to this day.  Which brings me to the really elegant chicken dish we had recently.

Our New Years Eve entrée was Salmon in Croute.  I only need one half of one sheet of puff pastry to make the entry,  That left one half of a sheet of perfectly good puff pastry behind.  I couldn’t refreeze it and, with all the Christmas cookies and goodies I didn’t want to use it to make a dessert.  I decided to use it in an entrée.  I always have chicken breasts in the freezer, so I decided to start with that.  A further foray into the refrigerator yielded some black forest ham and Swiss cheese.  I had my entrée.

I began by rolling out the remaining puff pastry into a square and cut it in two. I covered it with a damp paper towel and moved on to the meat.

Fortunately I had two chicken breasts that were about 6 oz. each.  A rarity for sure.  Lately the breasts I have purchased seem to be in the 9 – 11 oz range.  One giant chicken! Holding the breasts flat on the counter, I made a horizontal cut almost completely through the breast. I placed a piece of black forest ham and a piece of swiss cheese in each of the cuts.  A bit of brown mustard was spread on the breasts.

I centered each breast on a piece of puff pastry and pulled the edges up to seal.  The packets got brushed with a bit of egg wash and placed, seam side down, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  They went into a 350 degree F oven until the crust was lightly browned, about 25 minutes.  I tested the internal temperature of the chicken and discovered it needed about 5 more minutes.  I rechecked after five minutes and found the pastry was perfectly browned and the chicken done.  All total the dish from beginning prep to plate took about 65 minutes. It looked like I slaved all day!  Not a bad ending for leftovers.

Posted in Chicken, Cooking, Family, Food, ham, meat, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

There’s Something Fishy Here!

I always agonize over what to make as my New Years Eve entrée.  I want it to be special to real celebrate the event. This year I opted for Salmon en Croute.  I made this dish, with a different recipe probably 30 years ago.  I later learned that one of our guests, when asked what we had served replied “Fish in Bread.”  Kinda put me off it for a while.

As I mentioned in a earlier post, this year I shopped first and picked the recipes after.  I was standing in front of the fish counter trying to decide on something for an appetizer and my eyes fell on the salmon.  It was a beautiful piece of fresh wild salmon.  Here was my entrée!

Salmon en Croute with a Dill Cream Sauce

For the Fish:

  • 2 6 oz salmon filets – I got one large piece, cut off the belly area (which I cooked up at a later date and threw into scrambled eggs) then divided the fish in two.
  • 4 tbl butter
  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 3 ounces mushrooms – I used cremini  – thinly sliced
  • 1/2 sheet of frozen puff pastry – defrosted and at room temperature
  • flour for rolling out the pastry
  • 2 tsp fresh chopped dill
  • 2 tbl butter
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 egg beaten

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Season salmon with salt and pepper.

Melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat, add the shallots and cook until translucent.  Do not allow them to darken.  Add the mushrooms and cook until the liquid has evaporated – about 3 to 5 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl and season with salt and pepper.  Allow to cool before enclosing in pastry.

Lightly dust a clean and dry work surface with flour.  Spread the sheet of puff pastry on the flour and cut in half.  Immediately seal up unused half sheet of the pastry and return to the refrigerator.  Roll the pastry into a 7 inch square.  Cut into 2 equal pieces.

Place 1 tbl of butter in the center of each piece of puff pastry.  Place the salmon on top of the butter and top with the shallot mushroom mixture.  Sprinkle with the dill.

Carefully fold the edges of the pastry over the salmon and seal with egg wash.  I crimped the edges of the pastry together to form a good seal. Place the sealed packets, sealed side down on the baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at  least 15 to 30 minutes.  (Note – I made mine well in advance of dinner and took it out of the refrigerator about 3o minutes before I needed to start baking the dish)

Remove the plastic wrap from the salmon and brush with the egg wash. Place in oven and bake until pastry is golden brown – about 20 – 25 minutes. While fish is baking, make the dill cream sauce.

Dill Cream Sauce

  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 1/2 tbl chopped dill
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • fresh squeezed lemon juice – to taste


Place wine in a small saucepan over medium high heat.  Bring to a boil.  Stir frequently until reduced by 1/2.  Add the cream and cook until the sauce is slightly thickened.  Whisk in the dill.  Add salt, pepper and freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste.  Keep warm until the sauce is served over the salmon.

To plate:

Transfer the salmon packets to a plate and drizzle the sauce over the packet.  Serve any additional sauce on the side.

I served this with red, yellow and orange  beets which had been roasted earlier in the day and returned to room temperature.  In the future I will skip the yellow beets as they lose some of their vibrancy during roasting.

Mesa Room  Phil and Jan Scribner

Salmon en Croute with tri color beets


Posted in Cooking, Family, fish, Food, Formal Meals, Holidays, New Years Eve, Recipes, Salmon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment