Passionate about Food

A gift from my life-long BFF that adorns my kitchen!
A gift from my life-long BFF that adorns my kitchen!

I’m a foodie and proud of it.  There are those who live to eat or eat to live. I’m in that first group.  There’s something that nourishes my soul when I’m preparing a meal, the creative process, the aromas.  Then savoring that meal – bliss. There’s a joy that I get from reading cookbooks, food magazines and an obsession for the Food Network that hasn’t diminished over time. I’ve always photographed food that I’ve prepared. I do the same at restaurants and have filled many travel journals with detailed descriptions of what Spence and I’ve eaten as we’ve traversed the globe.  When still working (ironically I worked with foodies) time between customers was filled with talk of food, recipes exchanged, restaurants recommended, what we wanted to have for lunch that day.  It was through a co-worker that I learned of Pinterest which further fuels my passion; I have no less than 10 specific food boards. Since retiring, I’m making more things from scratch as I have that luxury of time.  And though my first from-scratch batch of gnocchi wasn’t perfect (but darn good) with my potato ricer spewing potatoes all over the kitchen, I won’t be deterred.  And I’ll learn to make crepes and tamales within this first year of retirement, my to-do list knows no bounds. Stay tuned for more recipes and stories of my foodie ways…..

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Oven-Roasted Smashed Potatoes with Gremolata Topping

For an easy side-dish, great for entertaining, try my new favorite potato dish.

Oven-Roasted Smashed Potatoes with Gremolata       serves 4-6

  • 1 dozen new potatoes (you could also use redskin potatoes)
  • 4 cloves of garlic, whole & peeled
  • sea salt
  • cracked black pepper
  • olive oil

Fill a large pot with water and 2-3 heaping tablespoons of sea salt, bring to a boil. Add the potatoes and reduce heat to medium.  Cook until tender – use a sharp knife to test.  Drain and cool them for 5 minutes.

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Line a large baking pan with aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil. On a cutting board, place each potato under a spatula (or lunch plate would work), I use a heavy meat tenderizer from Williams Sonoma. Press down with even pressure – gently – smashing but not pulverizing.

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My heavy-duty potato smasher.
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Place each smashed potato on the foil-lined baking sheet.

Drizzle the potatoes generously with olive oil, sprinkle sea salt and black pepper over them. (I also put the garlic cloves that boiled with the potatoes on the sheet pan)

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Heat oven to 450 degrees. Bake the potatoes for 18-20 minutes, remove, flip each one. Drizzle with more olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Bake for another 18-20 minutes. Remove the pan from oven, turn off heat. Top the potatoes with Gremolata (see recipe below) and place the pan back in the oven for 5 minutes and serve.

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Enjoy!

Gremolata

  • Zest from 1 orange, 1 lemon and 1 lime
  • 1-2 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 t sea salt
  • 1 t coarse black pepper
  • red pepper flakes (to taste)
  • 1/2-3/4 cup chopped parsley

I use a mezzaluna given to me by my lifelong BFF, to chop the parsley and garlic, having first place the citrus zest, salt and pepper under the parsley and garlic. Cover until ready to serve.

This is what is looks like:

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Gremolata – delicious!

Sentimental Attachments

Mom has sold her home in Florida, moving back to Michigan to be nearer my sister and I. Part of the process is letting go of things she won’t need in her smaller senior apartment. Cupboard by cupboard, drawer by drawer, closet by closet, she’s offered my sister and I numerous items before donating them. Not unexpected, the items I feel most drawn to wouldn’t be of interest to others; sentimentality has played a large part in items that I’ve said yes to.

Mom’s Mixing Bowls

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Formerly Red, Green, Blue & Yellow

Her mixing bowls have seen better days.  Once a vibrant green, blue, yellow and red, they’ve faded to a more “rustic” look.  What I see are bowls used when mom made cookies and cakes, teaching me how to use a rubber spatula with my reward being able to lick off the batter.  I fondly remember the large one brimming with bubbling casseroles of baked spaghetti on Sundays and Six Layer Dinner, my Grandma’s recipe.   She taught me how to measure and follow recipes, sparking my love of cooking and nurturing it.  These bowls were always present.  Years later when I’d visit, those bowls appeared when she cooked a requested family favorite for me or we prepared something delicious together.  Good times.

Grandpa Fox’s Knives

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Seriously sharp knives

My love of food and cooking came from not only my Mom but her father as well.  My Grandpa Fox found his passion and talent for cooking after a long illness in his forties that necessitated early retirement.  Memories of his cooking make me salivate to this day.  He was gifted in the kitchen and on the grill.  His enjoyment was evident, his enthusiasm contagious and he loved feeding his family.  So many memories – the aroma of his fried chicken wafting out the door giving us a preview before we entered. His veal scallopini for which he became a legend (now a recipe I’m known for). His homemade beans, made in a special sunken bean crock built into their stove lovingly stirred and coaxed along over what seemed like several days. His ham glaze and homemade peach jam – divine. His perfectly crispy hash browns made using a potato ricer, dusted with minced parsley from his garden, browned in butter then expertly flipped – in the air.  His famous charcoal grilled, rotisserie chickens that drew neighbors to his yard in awe and to whom he offered “a peek for a nickel” (with a wink and twinkle in his eye).  And then there’s his Lamb Stew, so beautiful that you wanted to photograph it, the pop of green peas, bright orange carrots and perfect pearl onions in a glistening rich gravy with chunks of melt-in-your-mouth lamb.

So when Mom asked if I’d like two of Grandpa’s stainless steel knives is it any wonder that I’d want to inherit those instruments used to create meals ingrained in my memory and so much a part of my happy childhood?

While this photo is not of my Mom nor I, it evoked the mood of this blog.
While this photo is not of my Mom nor I, it evoked the mood of this blog.

Raspberry Walnut Baked Oatmeal

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Within the last two years, a former co-worker turned our little band of foodies on to baked oatmeal, a concept we’d known nothing about but that has since been showing up everywhere.  The variations are endless and delicious and it’s a great way to start the day making enough for a quick breakfast for the rest of the week.

I hadn’t made it for a while yet it’s been on my mind, especially during these cold winter mornings.  So today, culling a myriad of suggestions from Pinterest and other sources, then surveying my ample pantry and freezer ingredients to see what I had available, I came up with this delicious recipe of my own. Enjoy!

Raspberry Walnut Baked Oatmeal                              serves 6

2 cups old-fashioned whole grain oatmeal

  • 1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar packed
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • Mix dry ingredients together, set aside.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter an 8×8 baking dish.  In a separate bowl mix together:
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Add to dry ingredients.  Fold in:
  • 1 2/3 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
  • 2/3 cup coarse chopped walnuts

Pour into baking dish.  Bake for 40 minutes. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.  Serve with or without milk.

Chef’s note:  you can substitute blueberries, strawberries, dates, dried apricots, pecans, almonds, almond or soy milk – you get it.  It is the ultimate easy way to use what you have on hand, what’s seasonal and what sounds good.

Olive Tapenade (for Bruschetta)

This is one of my favorite go-to recipes for appetizers. I had this years ago in a restaurant and it was so tasty I wrote down everything I could identify and have made it ever since.  I’ve even had numerous guests who at first said “oh I don’t care for olives” but trusting enough in my culinary skills to try it and viola! Everyone loves it – not a crumb left at the end of the party.  And this is actually better if you make it ahead – 24 hours minimum or even better a few days.  I serve this atop little slices of baguette, first drizzling a bit of extra virgin olive oil on the slices, giving them a few minutes in a 350 degree oven, then adding a spoon of the tapenade on each slice, then back for 5-10 minutes. I’m making this today for a party on Saturday so thought I’d share it with my followers.

Olive Tapenade 

Weight Watchers Smart Points 1 (serving size 1/2 tablespoon)

  • 1 5.75 oz jar green olives with pimento
  • 1 6 oz can black olives (any size)
  • 3 large garlic cloves
  • 1 T oregano
  • 1 t coarse black pepper
  • 1/3 c extra virgin olive oil

Finely chop both kinds of olives and garlic cloves.  I use a hand-chopper (Pampered Chef) to achieve a very fine texture.  Stir olives and garlic together.  Add oregano and black pepper to olive mix, stir to blend.  Add the olive oil and give a final stir.  Place in a covered container to refrigerate for 24 hours or longer.

Note from Spence’s Girl:  If you have more tapenade than bread, this is excellent tossed into a pasta sauce or used as the olive salad component of a muffalletta sandwich!

Five Bean Salad, my way

Five Bean Salad
Five Bean Salad, my way

I LOVE FIVE BEAN SALAD.  So great to take to a potluck or picnic (no mayo), it’s a favorite of ours to have as our salad or veggie side with any number of meals year round. It makes a lot and only gets better each subsequent day.  It keeps for up to two weeks in the fridge but never  lasts that long!  I use my mom’s recipe but tweak it in my own way to give it a bit more pizazz!

Five Bean Salad, my way

serves 15                      Weight Watchers Smart Points 7

1 can garbanzo beans (or chickpeas as they’re also known)
1 can great northern or navy beans
1 can cut green beans
1 can dark red kidney beans
1 can wax beans
2 large shallots finely minced or red onion finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
4-5 finely chopped peppadew peppers (these come in a jar) or substitute 1 tablespoon chopped pimento
1 teaspoon finely chopped jalapeños (first removing ribs and seeds) or green pepper if you can’t take the heat.

Drain and rinse beans and put into a large serving bowl. Add the shallots, peppadew peppers and jalapeño, stir taking care not to break the beans.

Marinade:

3/4 c red wine or champagne vinegar
3/4 c vegetable oil (canola or olive oil)
1/2 c sugar
1-2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked pepper
sprinkle of red pepper flakes

Mix this together well – making sure that the sugar has “melted” into the marinade. Pour over the beans and stir together. Refrigerate. Stir every 30-60 minutes to further distribute the marinade. This is best made at least 8 hours prior to serving.

Permission to eat dessert first?

My mom makes the BEST PIE CRUST known to man or woman.  And usually while spending the summers in Michigan, she makes several to leave behind in my freezer.  But time got away from us and it didn’t happen this year.  While I’ve made them successfully, using her recipe, it’s been 30+ years since the rolling pin and I have made contact.  With all the other from-scratch cooking this week coupled with my fear of failure for an epic meal such as Thanksgiving, I sought out several yummy new non-pie recipes.

Spence will tell anyone (whether they ask or not) that he doesn’t eat sweets.  And to a degree, that was true for many years – pecan pie was his birthday “cake” or Haagen Daz Rum Raisin Ice Cream were his sweet go-tos.  But slowly, over our 24 years together, he’s been seduced by my tiramisu, Kahlua cake, apple crisp etc. and I notice he’s discovered his sweet tooth.

Through the resources of Pinterest, I went searching for some holiday-ish sounding desserts and found Pumpkin Pie Bars and Gooey Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars.

They’ve just left the oven, the house smells insanely good and I haven’t had breakfast – just tea.  Since it’s just us and dinner is hours away, would it be wrong to try one of each bars?  Right? I knew it – everyone agrees, I can feel your support.   Thank you! And Happy Thanksgiving.

Both of these recipes can be found on my Pinterest Board called Desserts and Sweets!

Apple Crisp

Serves 4-6
For the topping:
1 stick very soft butter
1 c flour
1 c light brown sugar
1 t salt
For the base:
7-8 c sliced or chopped apples – recommend 2 types, I like McIntosh and Empire
1/4 c cinnamon
1/4 c sugar
2 T butter
Combine the flour, brown sugar and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut the dry ingredients into the butter for the topping, until well mixed and crumbly. Set aside.
In a small bowl, mix together the cinnamon and sugar. In a deep souffle dish (or casserole) you will be layering the apples – a cup or two of apples, followed by sprinkling a tablespoon of the cinnamon sugar mixture. Repeat – more apples, more cinnamon sugar. Use all the cinnamon sugar. This will seem like a lot of apples but as it cooks down, the volume will drop by half. Put the topping over the apple mixture, covering completely, pressing down if necessary. Take the two tablespoons of butter and cut into several pieces – place on top of the topping.

Before baking (and this is a full size souffle dish even though it looks like an individual crock)
Before baking (and this is a full size souffle dish -even though it looks like an individual crock)

Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes, until browned and crisp. Cool for one hour and serve.

After baking
After baking

Note from Chef Laura: I make this all the time from memory. I posted a picture on my blog titled Oh Yum. I was immediately asked for the recipe. So today, I made myself write down what I was doing while doing it and voila! A recipe. That said, use more apples if you wish, I recommend good cooking apples. And if I’m honest, I may have downplayed the cinnamon. I grew up with a mom who doubled the cinnamon in every recipe she ever prepared and you could safely do that here. It’s great alone or served warm with vanilla or butter pecan ice cream.

Most Delicious Ever Carrot Cake

I’ve taken my favorite go-to carrot cake recipe and modified it after our trip to Sedona.  At a little gem in Oak Creek Canyon called the Indian Gardens Oak Creek Market we had arguably the most decadent, scrumptious carrot cake muffins in a courtyard garden where you could enjoy a cup of soup, sandwich, glass of wine or bottle of beer with a treat from their bakery.  It was so amazing in fact that after our accidental discovery we purposely went there as we left Sedona.  This time I noted every nuance that made them so delicious.  This is something I frequently do; my journey through life is fueled by my passion for food.  And I’m darn successful at identifying, then re-creating the food that inspired me.  So, now I’m sharing my recipe with you.  Enjoy!

1 1/2 c canola oil
1 1/2 c sugar
4 eggs, well-beaten
3 c grated carrots
1/2 c diced pineapple
1/2 c coconut
2 c flour
1/2 t salt
2 t baking soda
2 t cinnamon
2 t allspice
1 c walnuts – toasted (this is important)
1 t vanilla extract

Cream together oil and sugar.  Fold in eggs, followed by carrots, pineapple and coconut.  In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients.  Blend dry mixture into carrot mixture, blending well.  Once blended, add the nuts and vanilla.   Grease and sugar two 8 x 8 pans.   Bake at 325 degrees for 40-45 minutes.  Cool before frosting.

FROSTING

1/2 c melted butter
1 8 oz package cream cheese, softened
2 c sifted powdered sugar
1 t vanilla extract

Whip butter and cream cheese with sugar.  Add vanilla, mix well at high speed until smooth.  Spread on cake. Top with 1/2 c coarse chopped, toasted walnuts.

Serves 24 (or less if you cut big pieces). Chef Laura’s note: I use two 8×8 pans since the uncut cake stays moister longer.  You could do cupcakes, bake in two loaf pans or a 10×14 pan, just tweak the time baked.  Also, you can use pecans if you prefer them to walnuts, just toast them first, trust me!

Most Delicious Ever Carrot Cake
Most Delicious Ever Carrot Cake

Ode to a Sandwich

Ode to a Sandwich

So you know how you have food memories so profound, just revisiting them in your mind makes you salivate?  This happens to me – a lot. Last night after we hit Spence’s home town of Buffalo New York, there was no question – I’d be having a Roast Beef on Weck sandwich.  I know of nowhere else in the world to get it. The secret is two-fold – the fresh Kummelweck Roll, topped with salt and caraway seeds, then piled high with lean, thinly sliced beef (my choice – very rare). Adding only horseradish to the sandwich, I devoured it before realizing that I didn’t take one split-second to photograph it – and I’m real big on photographing food.  However, given my ravenous hunger, I’ve forgiven myself and thank Google for providing access to an image to share lest anyone think I’m making this up.

Roast Beef on Weck