Friday, July 24, 2009

Fine Art Friday

Wow! Truly Remarkable. This is 7 minutes long and you will enjoy all of it. Go get a cup of coffee or BOYC (Beverage of Your Choice) and enjoy!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Asparagus by Request

The Best Rendition of Asparagus I've had in a while!

This is not my recipe. I had this lovely dish on Father's Day at Susan's home. Our son-in-law, Chuck's, beautiful daughter Christy, is a true Italian, and cooks like one! This is just one of her great dishes.

She was kind enough to share this recipe with me. The recipe, as given by Christy, calls for steaming the asparagus prior to prep. But as you already know I prefer all my vegeatables GRILLED when possible. When not possible to grill, let's oven roast them. I'd say a secret to success in this recipe is to not overcook them, however you choose to proceed is up to you!

This photo, and this recipe was prepared by yours truly, for the occasion of the previously documented Lobsterfest. My sister Terry requested this recipe, and so here it is.

Since this photo, I have served this dish other occasions and have put cherry tomatoes around the edge of the platter for an even more festive touch!! I put the cherry tomatoes in a plastic bag with just a touch of olive oil to let them get coated first, then put around the tray. I wanted to save the dressing of this recipe for the asparagus, but didn't want the tomatoes to be dry!

Quantities are also tricky in this recipe. It's all 'eyeballing.' We agreed really big asparagus would not be good. Christy had 4 medium to slim asparagus in each bundle so that is how I did it.

To feed a crowd I purchased three bunches of fresh asparagus, medium toward thinish.
One log of goat cheese, the larger size. I did not quite use all of it, about 3/4 for the two bunches.
Fresh chives. (I had them in my herb garden - thanks again, Marge) If you don't have them on hand, it's almost not worth buying a bunch for, you use such a tiny amount. How about a sprinkling of dried onion flakes?
1 lb of the best Proscuitto Ham available, no substitutes, sliced thinly. I trimmed any excess fat as I went, though from the photo it doesn't look like it.
Olive oil
Balsamic Vinegar (Christy uses Red Wine vinegar, you choose)
Pepper (fresh ground, always)

Process is simple:
Snap off any tough ends of asparagus and prepare according to your choice, as discussed above. Do not overcook. Allow to cool. I use a small amount of olive oil on them in cooking on the grill. No other seasoning is needed. (Proscuitto and the dressing we make will take care of that)

Mix some chives and some pepper into the slightly softened goat cheese and dab a small amount onto your four, cooled, asparagus which you have laid adjacent to one another like a raft. Lay that dab about mid raft. (Dab=approx 1/2 teaspoon size?)

Take your proscuitto* and carefully wrap your asparagus at the level of the goat cheese all the way around so it is completely covered and wrapped thoroughly. There is NO NEED to secure the proscuitto with a pick or anything. It will adhere to itself, just wrap it securely and tuck in any stray ends. Be sure no cheese is extruding.

If my asparagus are not the same length I trim them with a sharp paring knife at this point to make them look uniform, then lay in serving tray or storage container and move on to next until all asparagus, goat, and ham are used up!!

*A note about the proscuitto, if you haven't worked with it before. Usually the slices are oblong with a thin line of fat running horizonitally across the center. I pull that little piece of fat out and I let that spot be my dividing line, to cut each slice in half. So I have two long slices from each slice of ham. These are perfect size for wrapping around the asparagus rafts.

The only thing left is the dressing. I wait to put the dressing on until right before serving. By the way, serve the asparagus at room temperature. If you've made it ahead of time, pull out of frig at least an hour prior.

The dressing is equal parts vinegar (red wine or balsamic) and good olive oil with a grind of fresh pepper, mixed together, prior to drizzling over the asparagus. I have one of those nifty Pampered Chef salad dresssing mixer containers, but a good old whisk will do the job. Even for a fairly large number of asparagus bundles you probably only need about a half cup, in total, of dressing. A little goes a long way, as they say!

Here's the info on my nifty Pampered Chef thingy:
Kitchenware: Measure, Mix, & Pour™
#2265 $11.50
Helps you quickly prepare homemade salad dressings and beverages. Four salad dressing recipes printed on container

Enjoy! Wrap up and save leftovers! This stuff is even good for breakfast... chop them up and put them in some eggs... seriously.

Bon Appetite!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sing it Paul!

Just for today: My new favorite color is PINK!!
Have to post this! Some of you know I'm no longer a Letterman fan and do not watch his show.
But I can watch pertinent clips on YouTube the next day, right?

Editors note:
Correction one - the aforementioned video is no longer from the Letterman show, they pulled all copies. But if you do get a chance to see it with Paul and band performing atop the marquee, do.
Correction two - my favorite color of the day is now - red.

Oh, this was my second post today, don't miss that one below:

Pasta Primer Principles!

I Love Pasta Salads!!

Pasta Principles
(Recipe Below)

Now don't take this the wrong way, but I usually love mine best! Oops, I did it again. Sorry, but some people aren't keyed into the "Pasta Primer Principles."
And mainly that's cause I'm just writing them down right now for the first time, but here we go....

Principle #1 - Cook those vegetables... or grill them, or blanch, or steam… But to bite into a raw, very crunchy, chewy, or hard vegetable, well it's just too much hard work. This is a picnic or a side dish, it's supposed to be easy. Let's make it easy to eat. So whether it’s a red or yellow pepper, or onions, or broccoli --Let's get them heated up, and cooled down, to soften them up before adding them to our pasta. I love, love, love grilled vegetables in my pasta. But don't overdo-it either. Grill, steam, or blanch to al dente. Save some bite for the pasta.

Principle #2 - Hold the mayo... It's fatting. It's dangerous at outdoor events, and it’s too heavy of a taste. (I know I'm going to get sued.) This is all just my opinion. Pretend I'm writing 'in my opinion' at the beginning of every sentence so 'Best Foods' doesn't come after me, please. As a sauce for your pasta I recommend using olive oil and an acidity of your choice. 'Acidity' can be a flavored vinegar, lemon juice, lime juice, salsa... I don't suggest balsamic vinegar (which is normally my fav. for everything), it will discolor your pasta and is too heavy of a flavor. But make the ratio of oil to acidity lean much more heavily to the oil. It will be a softer flavor!

Principle #3 - I use whole wheat pasta. When I say 'whole wheat' I actually mean the kind where it says made with '100% whole wheat.' Not 'whole wheat blend' or any of those tricky things they are doing these days to make it look like you are getting whole wheat. In my local grocery for the type of pasta shape I wanted to use, in the 'alleged' whole wheat variety there were 6 choices. Only one (1) was actually 100% whole wheat, non-enriched flour, pasta, and it was the store brand pasta. Which is just great with me, to save myself reading all those labels again, I bought several boxes. I know I'm going to be making pasta salad a few more times over the summer.

Principle #4 - It's always better with cheese. Usually that's a soft cheese. I like goat, but feta is good. Many others work also. I'd keep it a soft crumbled or cubed cheese. Some of those come ‘seasoned’ and I'm not opposed to those. ‘Feta with herbs,’ etc. It's a great way to add flavor to the pasta.

Principle #5 - Do not overcook your pasta, and be sure it stops cooking when you think it does. I cook it till the minimum amount of time allotted on the box. It's really important to shock it with lots of cold water to stop the cooking process. Really! I feel all the way through the pasta to make certain it is all cold to the touch and there is no warmth left at all. Seriously, if the pasta gets wimpy now, the rest of the salad is going to be sad, sad, sad. Then I kinda pat the pasta dry and put it in a larger temporary bowl (meaning a bowl other than the serving bowl) for mixing.
*Edit - My husband says I have to explain this - well at least I know he reads this, right? To 'pat the pasta dry' yes, I use very clean paper towels, sometimes several. But I buy the most reputable of paper towel brands (Brawny) and am assured of their purity and lack of shredding for this purpose! Alternately, one could use clean, dry, absorbent dish towels and achieve the same result. Which is, I want DRY pasta for this step:

Next step is to add the olive oil. I do that and mix it well before adding any of the other ingredients. I also salt and pepper at this juncture, this way you know you are seasoning your pasta well, before the rest of the assembly gets in there. Don’t overdo the rest of the ingredients, I like to keep it simple. Here is my current favorite pasta recipe.
I promised my friend Amy, I’d post it:

Betsy’s Favorite Pasta Salad
1 box (12 oz) 100% Whole Wheat Pasta – Rotini
1 can artichoke hearts, rinsed, drained, chopped
1 small can chopped black olives, drained. (Omit if my sister Kathy is there)
1 jar roasted Red Peppers, drained and chopped
Handful fresh basil
Olive oil
Lemon Juice
Salt (I use coarse kosher salt, always)
Pepper (I use freshly ground)
Crumbled Goat Cheese, about 9 oz.
Cook pasta to al dente and shock it so it stops cooking. Drain well and pat dry. Coat with olive oil, season with S&P, sprinkle generously with lemon juice. Stir. Adding remaining ingredients except basil , and stir. Check for seasonings. Adjust as needed. If you will be serving in the next few hours, add basil. If making ahead, wait to add the basil until an hour or two prior to serving. Take out of refrigeration an hour before serving, stir and possibly add more olive oil, noodles tend to absorb oils as they rest.
I add cooked chicken, tuna, or salmon to this for a great lunch also!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

21 Years!

The Bread Basket at Nicola's in Cincinnati

Is this the best bread basket in town? I say YES!

Dick and I went to dinner Thursday night to celebrate 21 years of marriage! Nicola's was the obvious choice having had such a fantastic meal there in May for my birthday. Could it live up to that memory? Sometimes restaurants are never quite as good the second time around... never fear. It was every bit as good, and better. And isn't that the best bread basket?

Also we got a little bit of a floor show. The restaurant had prepared a 'salt-encrust Char.' This was ordered by diners at another table, but we were front and center for the grand presentation. They brought the still encased (we're talking at least 2" of hardpacked salt) whole fish, which they flambed and carried around the dining room. It smelled heavenly! Then with a chisel and pick, Nick proceeded to disrobe the Char from it's casing. Wow! It was steaming and fragrant and looked beautiful. (The diners who ordered it kept on talking and paid no attention at all to the work or fanfare on their behalf, but did seem to enjoy the Char.)

Our dinner was equally as delicious and we had the same gracious (and adorable) server we had for my birthday, and had a very nice time. We each had the 4 course tasting menu because we couldn't decide what to have and this way had some of just about everything. No regrets!!

Happy Anniversary Dick, it doesn't seem like 21 years, but I'm so happy to have spent them with you! It has not been 'cartoonish,' but I couldn't resist posting this cartoon-style photo of Dick and Eliot, because I love the effect. (Sorry for the bad pun)


Thursday, July 9, 2009


Happy 4th of July!! Oops! Am I late? Did I miss it? No, I really didn't. It was rainy here on the 4th anyway. So we really celebrated the 4th on the 3rd and the 5th, just to be really confusing. On the 3rd, Eliot was home from his job working at a summer camp. So we grilled out some shrimp and went to watch a great local fireworks display at Old Coney. Eliot had to be back to work when our larger family convened for Lobsterfest...

On the 5th we had our Annual Lobsterfest at my sister Terry's house! This is hosted by my sister and brother-in-law and generously sponsored by our Aunt Elaine, who's birthday we also celebrated that day! Our cousins from Indianapolis and California were also in town for their Mother's birthday and of course, for Lobsterfest!

My brother-in-law, Bob, has the grilling the lobsters thing down to a science now. As you might be able to tell these were tails only. One year we did whole lobsters and did them in turkey fryers. That worked pretty well, but it just happened to be your more typical July weather, and it took a lot longer to get the water boiling in the turkey fryers etc. and well, everyone was boiling by the time the water was ready. This method is better. Also, we had steaks for those who just aren't of the lobster inclination. (not that I get that..) And, of course the usual accompaniments of beautiful summer salads and side dishes. I love those too.

As good of a crowd as this is, this is about half of our family. Even some who are usually here, were away and now some live out of town. The beautiful Shelby, front row - white shirt, is the lone representation of that generation, at this event. Though Ryan, our nephew-in-law, stopped by to eat and get some lobsterfest-to-go to take to Emily at the hospital! Their daughter, the next gen, Susanna, was in the hospital for a mysterious infection. She is fine now. Shelby's other sister Steph, and her family would normally be here, but they were all visiting her husband's family in Poland. Brian lives in town, but was away for a wedding. The remaining cousins all live out of town. Ashley and Sara in L.A. and Zach in New York. I already said Eliot was back working at camp, missed the good stuff.

I'm going to just post this since I have other posts already swimming around in my brain waiting for their turn.

Happy Independence Day!

Here's the whole group except myself and my Aunt: