Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Farm


     As a teacher, I’ve taught yoga, ballet, jazz, water aerobics, dance aerobics and of course cooking classes.  But this week’s Blog is loosely based on my years spent teaching kindergarten and pre-kindergarten.  I LOVED doing that!

     Establishing “classroom helpers.”   Always a fun and creative endeavor for teachers working with any age group, especially the very young.  The most coveted job in my classroom was the assignment of “Miss Deborah’s Glasses Monitor.”  For those of us who can remember holding our hands together in prayer to be assigned the job of cleaning erasers, given permission to stand outside in the halls and slap together erasers dispersing the white chalky powder they collected during the course of the day, then run through clouds of dust completely forgetting what we were out in the halls assigned to do, weeell,  Glasses Monitor tops that!  In my classroom Glasses Monitor would stop whatever task they were currently engaged in, painting at the easel, playing dress-up in housekeeping, building with wooden blocks or assembling the newest version of Mr. Potato Head.  This most responsible child of children would stand erect and proud when the call came . . . “Where are my glasses?”   Their work would begin, frantically searching high, (and mostly low), in search of Miss Deborah’s spectacles.  This was the most serious of hide & seek games, no fooling around.   Failure to locate them in a timely manner would mean other classmates were allowed to join the search.  A big disappointment to this Type A child, at the tender age of five.   

     And lest we not forget those “Special Days of The Week” such as Backwards Day, still universally popular.    A half day spent telling others what you “don’t want,”  “where not to stand,”  and of course showing up to school with your shirt on backwards, pants on backwards, (every teacher of the very young knows what a chore that can turn into), shoes on the wrong feet and eating dessert first at lunch time!  My personal favorite “Special Day of The Week” was “Whisper Day.”  A half day of speaking in very quiet tones I declared on the fly during circle time when the noise and chatter of my students was more than my hangover could bear.  Believe it or not they did it.

    But let me tie my pre-K, Kindergarten reminiscences in with food.  One of the most agreed upon concepts among the very young is the idea of “the farm.”  Everything they eat, whether at home or in restaurants, comes from “the farm.”  Eggs, meat, fruit, vegetables, bread, popsicles, cheese , you name it.  When reading stories about food or doing one of my “cooking” sessions, I’d asked about a specific ingredient, “so, where do you think this came from?” the answer was always, “from the farm Miss Deborah.”    And note, not just a farm, it was “the farm.”    Was I to blame for this broad stroke of an answer?  After all I had spent a school year taking them on field trips to apple and orchards in connection with our applesauce making lesson.  A farm, in their young, un-bespectacled eyes.  We visited fish hatcheries, avoiding the end of line as that is usually too graphic for most of us to bear.  Then return to the classroom to prepare “kicked-up” tuna salad.  During our end of day circle time, their best part of the day was visiting “the fish farm.”    Of course trips to small ranches where families had chickens, permitting children to collect fresh eggs, amid free roaming pigs, ducks, dogs, cats and goats so obviously met their definition of “farm” who was I to correct? 

     To those Pre-K and kindergarteners who are now twenty to thirty something, I am hoping you’ve had an opportunity to visit or even work at a real farm.  (If any of you are working on a Monsanto Farm, put yourself in a timeout corner right now).  I recently had an opportunity to visit a farm.  One with almost every type of fruit, vegetable and grain imaginable along with animals raised specifically to harvest for our tables.  Our hosting family was knowledgeable about all aspects of wholesome practices in tending to their food crops and farm animals.  Pleasant and generous to a fault, they insisted my friends and I stay for lunch, their biggest meal of the day.   Working-hands down, the meal we feasted upon was one of the most delicious I’ve ever eaten!   Simple food, simply prepared.  No exotic or hard-to-find seasonings.  No stock or reductions to prepare then push through a chinois.  No special equipment, only a cutting board, which was outside, an actual tree stump, oiled, cleaned and seasoned. I’m certain the board added flavor to the food, a good knife and fresh ingredients that really were “from the farm.”  Recipes?  There didn’t appear to be use of a single one. 

     The tasty pork was boiled until tender in seasoned water, sliced then served on a platter with fresh, sweet white onions.  That’s it.  The side dish of yucca, also known as cassava or manioc, is a staple at  family meals.  Actually a root vegetable with a tough brown skin that when peeled reveals a crisp white flesh, reminded me of jicama.  When cooked, the yucca becomes sticky, with a delicate sweetness to it.  They served it on a bed of rice and black beans.  Our salad, another straightforward presentation consisted of farm fresh tomato slices, rounds of cucumber, shredded cabbage and large leaves of romaine topped with thick slices of Gouda.  The bread was more cracker-like, light with very little salt added.  Fresh papaya was also placed on the table for us to enjoy.   After a hard morning of touring and learning, they poured me nice cold beer to enjoy with my meal.  I ate like a man . . . who was a teacher . . . visiting a farm.  



Sunday, June 22, 2014

  It began as all good things begin.  With a ramekin or small Pyrex bowl and in some cases, a once-empty, now re-used can of juice concentrate.  As I walked through the door he held open, my arms full of grocery bags I asked him if they had any.  Without hesitation, Jimmy said,

      “Yes! – of course.  It’s in the fridge.”

     I had to re-arrange and move several things out of my way, but there, in the far back, on the deep right of the top shelf, was the container that is the foundation of all things savory and wonderful . . . Bacon Fat.  Those drippings of lard, a kind of black and white, yin and yang combination of good tasting/cholesterol bad essence.  I could see the once crunchy bits of the Mother from whence it came, embedded on the top and surely throughout.   Jimmy and Nina store theirs just as I do mine.  My grandmother kept hers in a small coffee can, on the stove between the two back burners. 

     We were all gathering for supper club barbecue.  It was just after five o’clock and it was still over one hundred degrees out.  My friend Jimmy and his wife, Nina, went out to bring in the rest of my groceries, while Colin poured me an ice cold glass home-brewed beer.  When Jimmy and Nina re-entered the house they were immediately followed by Diana and her husband, Stanley, carrying a jellyroll pan of firm polenta, cut into individual squares and ready to put on the grill.  Sophie was already out on the back patio, her feet dangling in the pool, as she sipped a tall hurricane glass filled with white sangria. Her fiancée inspected two plump pork roasts turning and glistening on the spit.  One had been prepared with a spicy French-Cajun rub, the other Texas Smoke.  These  delicioso cerdos didn’t need any tending to, but under Kyle’s watchful eye, were sure to be served at near perfect internal temperature. 

    Meanwhile I had cleaned, peeled and sorted all the ingredients for my contribution to this American past-time of gathering with friends and feasting in the great outdoors.  Diana and Stanley made their way amid the fourteen or so kindred spirits serving the finished appetizer of herbed-grilled polenta now topped with grated Asiago and a small mound of arugula.  The smoky tasting polenta mixed with the rich cheese and bitter greens was superb.  So good, it called for “more beer all around” declared Colin and Jonah. 

     “I’ll have another sangria please.”  Called out Sophie. 
     According to the experienced touch of Chef Bryant, the roasting pork were close to being done, so I had better get my dish on the grill.  With a line of three assistants behind me, we marched out balancing trays filled with an assortment of commercially prepared roasted chicken, pulled from the bone, sausage, vegetables and seasonings.  I started first by grilling the chorizo, onions and bell peppers.  When done, I removed them from the grill and set aside while Chef Bryant and his asbestos hands went about slicing and dicing them.   I then placed my shallow, eighteen-inch cooking pan directly on the grill and spooned in generous amounts of our Treasured Bacon Fat.  When the pan was ready, in went the now diced onions, yellow bell peppers and 5 cloves of garlic, minced.  I then poured in about five cups of short grain rice.  Stirring so almost every grain was properly introduced to the sofrito.   When the rice exhibited a golden-brown hue I poured in about 4 cups of vegetable broth and 2 cups water and 6 grilled tomatoes now cut into quarters.  I sipped my first glass of sangria and allowed the liquid to be absorbed.  About 20 to 25 minutes later I added the shredded cooked chicken, the chorizo with the casings removed and crumbled, salt, pepper and a few threads of saffron, (the most expensive spice in the world).   A few more sips of sangria and a bit more conversation, then in went the clams, the peeled and deveined shrimp and shelled, shelled and roughly cut lobster.  I threw in a small bag of frozen peas too.  10-12 minutes later it was done!  I tossed in a couple handfuls of chopped fresh parsley, tasted for seasoning ; perfect.  Then arranged four whole lobsters Kyle had grilled on the Weber for me while I tended to my dish.  Bryant’s spicy Mexican potato salad, Jimmy’s roasted pork, Patrice’s grilled Portobello sliders, Colin and Jonah’s grilled halibut topped with a sweet & spicy Caribbean relish and my paella was indeed a feast of food amid friends.   We were very, very happy Americans indulging in a melting pot of cuisines.  For dessert, Maureens’sgrilled fresh juicy peach halves topped with Sophie’s homemade  crème fraiche ice cream!

Monday, June 16, 2014

     What to do, what to do.  Not one to buy into the concept of “lack” at least not since I’ve mastered the art of meditation and affirmations, on occasion, upon opening the door of my magnificent Viking , I wonder; how can a self-proclaimed foodie, well-read cookbook, certified chef, have such a sparsely populated refrigerator?  This happens more often than you think.   Why? – You may wonder.  Is it because she lives alone so only buys for one?  Oh, it’s because she’s a state employee. . .$ and she’s between pay days.  Perhaps it’s because she’s always watching her weight and doesn’t like to have too much food on hand?  She bought clothes this month instead of food?  She helped out someone who was in greater need, (sees it as tithing).   On any given week, the answer is “yes” to at least one of those suppositions. 

     But that can happen to any of us.  Add in getting caught unawares when Murphy’s Law weaves his way through a barely visible opening, somewhere, and your find yourself invited to a gathering of friends.  Really good friends, friends we haven’t seen in a while.  Of course we don’t want to miss the event so we accept only to find out it’s a potluck.  What to do, what to do. 

     This was just my predicament the other night.  I found myself short on cash, but as I once told my youngest son, we are never short on creativity.  With my superhero bistro apron tied around my waist and a strong “I can do it” attitude, I scrounged through my refrigerator.  I rummaged through my cupboards.  I peered into the recesses of my spice drawer.  I spied a couple of onions, and a few lemons.  There was a small plastic container, with a little less than half of its original amount of grated cheese, along with four eggs and two sticks of butter.  I discovered I had ONE frozen sheet of puff pastry.  Idea. 

     I’ll prepare a caramelized onion tart, I said to myself.   Impressive to look at and a delicious tribute to the simplicity the French can sometimes adhere to.    I received a text asking if I’d like to bring a salad or appetizer, I immediately texted back “appetizer.” 

    I couldn’t find my rectangular tart pan.  No worries, the surge of confidence in my creative problem solving had bloomed like a package of yeast poured into a bowl of warm-sugary water, I knew I’d come up with something.    I didn’t have much time so I removed the frozen pastry from the box, placed it on a floured board, covered it lightly with a damp towel and set it outside on my patio table, in the Las Vegas sun.  Knowing it would thaw in less than an hour.  Meanwhile I thinly sliced the onions then cut the rounds in half.  I learned this is an important aspect of preparing cooked onions when you don’t want strings of onion hanging from your guest’s mouths.  I sautéed them in a little olive oil and unsalted butter until they were soft and supple, and wore a beautiful rich tan.  I seasoned lightly with salt and pepper and set them to the side.  I went outside to get the pasty, it was soft and ready to use.  In the corner of eye I noticed my thyme and decided to use some along with a tablespoon of fresh lemon zest to my tart. 

     Where is that tart pan?  I found the round ones, but this appetizer has so few ingredients, I wanted the shape to be more interesting than the traditional round.  I found my rectangular serving platter, hmmmm, nope it can’t be used for baking purposes in a hot oven.  What to do, what to do.  Well, puff pastry holds its shape fairly well; I will just roll it out on the floured board to measurements equal with my serving platter!  Using my biggest spatula, I placed the pastry on a foiled baking sheet, lightly sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.   I then pinched the edges of the pastry, so it would hold the filling.  Tasting the onions, they needed a little something.  Oh! ~ My thyme and the lemon zest.   I stripped the tiny leaves from their stems and crumbled them into the skillet with the onions, then added the zest.  I held off using more salt, knowing the Asiago cheese is naturally salty.  I spread the onion mixture over the prepared pastry, sprinkled the cheese over the top, then added little dots of butter here and there.  This is after all, French.  I grabbed one of the eggs, mixed it in a small bowl with a little water, to make an egg wash, and brushed the edges of my tart.  This gives the pastry a shiny and golden tone when it emerges from the oven. 

     375 degrees and 20 minutes later my appetizer was ready.  The girls loved the tart!  The sweetness of the onions mixed with the salty cheese provided my friends with that flavor combination so right with a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc.  The fresh thyme and lemon added a citrusy brightness that was not the least bit over-powering.  With her mouth full one of the girls actually said,

     “Deborah, you always know just what to do.” 

     If she only knew, well I guess she does now. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Here it is all warm and melty.  And half eaten, by me. 

Your Cosmic Muffin’s Lemon Waffles



2/3 cup warm water                      2 tsp freshly grated lemon zest

1 package dry yeast                      4 tblsp fresh lemon juice

2 cups all purpose flour                1 stick unsalted butter-melted

¼ tsp salt                                      2 tblsp sugar

1 tblsp almond extract                 2 large eggs, separated


·        You’ll need about 3-4 large fresh lemons total for this recipe.


1)    Using medium sized mixing bowl, proof yeast in warm water for 5-7 minutes.

2)    Melt butter in small bowl and set aside

3)    Combine flour, lemon zest, salt and sugar in large mixing bowl.

4)    Once melted butter has cooled gently stir into bloomed yeast.  Add lemon juice and almond extract to this mixture. Whisk egg yolks in separate bowl then add them to yeast mixture until all wet ingredients are well combined. 

5)     Add to wet ingredients to dry ingredients, just until blended, cover and set aside.

6)    Beat egg whites until stiff – set these aside until ready to use.  Take this time to clean up kitchen mess.  You can also use this time to prepare your own lemon curd and blueberry compote if you like, or sip your coffee.  I usually allow the batter to rest for about 20 minutes.    

7)    When ready to make your waffles fold egg whites into waffle batter.  When iron is hot and ready, swipe a half stick of cold butter all over top and bottom to prevent sticking.  Spoon about 2 ounces of batter into center of waffle iron, close top and cook until light indicates waffle is ready. 


Top cooked waffle with a pat of butter and dollops of lemon curd and blueberry compote, (or good blueberry jam).  Dust with powdered sugar for a real showing.                                    Makes about 8 waffles                  



     About every seventh Sunday I engage in the simple and well-practiced ritual of making waffles.  While there are no longer any husbands or children to be found in my home clamoring for a Big Sunday Morning Breakfast, it is for me that I create this sense of welcome in my own home.  A much needed reprieve from the slaying of dragons during a week of deadlines, trainings, meetings, planning and cheerleading at the different offices I drive to throughout the Las Vegas Valley. 
     On these special Sundays at 7:00 a.m.’ish you will find me standing in the kitchen embarking upon the creation of yet another unique adaptation of your basic waffle.  A few have turned out badly.   The texture funny, the weight not quite right, too crumbly or too spongy, but most have been amazing. 
     Of course I have perfected your basic buttermilk, blueberry, and chocolate chip, but I have also come up with a plethora of these “Twelfth Night” galettes.  Poppy seed, a rather savory waffle but still, I douse it with syrup, was one of my first, outside-the-box  experiments.   A couple of months ago I was inspired by a friend who loves carrot cake and created my own version of a rapier carrot cake waffle.  My banana-coconut & pineapple waffle makes a terrific snack.  No butter or syrup needed according to my grandson.   This past holiday season, having too much pumpkin puree left over, I decided pumpkin waffles would make good use of this canned gourd.  Now too expensive to just toss in the trash, I combined the puree with cinnamon, maple syrup and crushed bits of walnuts.  Crispy and nutty, these waffles were both rich and savory.  I top them with a combination of applesauce and crème fraiche.  Sublime. 
     But my most favorite waffle concoction is my lemon waffle.  This waffle is light, fluffy and so well balanced in how the citrusy-acidic lemon dances with the sweetness of the sugar, while the delicate almond extract orchestrates their waltz.  They are finished with dollops of home-made lemon curd and blueberry compote.  I’m not kidding; these waffles are so damn good I once ate two!
     I always double the recipe so I have at least a month’s worth of Sunday morning breakfasts to enjoy.  On occasion my waffles are shared with guests should there be any, but that is rare.  Usually it is only me with plate in hand and cup of French-pressed coffee, sitting out on my back patio, sometimes at my long wooden farm table, most often crossed-legged on the bedroom floor with doors open to a more private patio.  I quietly munch away, mindfully savoring the flavor combinations while I ruminate on events of the past week, upcoming tasks, my writing or sometimes, nothing at all.  When I’ve finished eating my breakfast I return to the kitchen to clean up what little is left in the sink or on the counter, postprandial and ready for whatever the Universe presents me with in the days ahead. 
  Give yourself the gift of quiet pleasure a home-made waffle can bring.   

Sunday, June 1, 2014



3 large fresh beets                                     2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth   

½ cup plain yogurt                          ½ cup whole milk-soured (or sour cream)  

1 Tblsp fresh orange zest                                   2 Tblsp apple cider vinegar

¼ cup fine granulated sugar                      ½ - 1    English cucumber - diced

½ cup diced scallions                                                     2 Tblsp + fresh dill

Salt & pepper* to taste                               additional sour cream for garnish


1)    Removed stems and gently clean beets under cold running water, careful not to tear the skins.  In large saucepot, cover with cold water and bring to boil.  Boil until fork tender but not mushy – about 30 minutes.

2)    While beets are cooking, peel and small dice cucumber and scallions.

3)    When beets are done, strain through sieve and reserve liquid.  Using paper towels and working on cutting board lined with parchment, (to avoid staining), gently rub beets to remove skins.  Allow beets to cool slightly.

4)    In large mixing bowl whisk together 11/2 cups of reserved beet liquid, the vegetable stock, yogurt, soured milk, (or sour cream), orange zest, vinegar, and sugar. 

5)    Small dice cooled beets and add to mixing bowl along with cucumber, scallions and 2 Tblsp fresh dill, salt and pepper to taste.

6)    Cover and refrigerate overnight or at least 2 hours.


When ready to serve, drop dollop of sour cream and sprinkling of fresh dill in large serving bowl or into individual serving bowls.


*I prefer white pepper as this doesn’t show up in the soup, but not everyone cares for the flavor.  Use your own preference. 


                                                      Makes 14  4-oz servings 



     Like many cooks, I seem to know my way around the world in terms of food more than actual geography.  I hate to admit it, but like many Americans, I’m weak in geography.  I know my basics; North America sits below Canada above Mexico, Central America and South America.  Wait . . .  the latter are continents. 

     I do know Costa Rica, is in Central America, I’ve been there.  And perhaps like me, when in grade school, you did a report on another country.  Mine was Chile, so I know this long strip of a country, sits on the western coast of South America.  Argentina is directly to the east, I know this because I’ve seen the musical “Evita” five times.  I am aware of Bolivia’s placement north of Argentina while still neighboring Chile, from the movie “Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid.”  I researched Bolivia after seeing Butch and Sundance shot up in that final scene of the film.  I was curious.   

    Westward, should I venture past Hawaii and go waaay out across the Pacific Ocean, I believe I will land in China.  I was one of those kids who, while playing in the backyard actually believed we could dig our way to China.  No one told us about all that water.  As I recall, Japan and Vietnam are in the vicinity.  I became more concerned about that part of world the day my uncle Frank, a proud marine, came to give dad a hug before shipping out.  After that, I watched nightly news coverage of the Vietnam War, desperately searching for my uncle’s face among those thin yet muscular soldiers standing strong and tough with cigarettes in their mouths, the sleeves of their t-shirts rolled up or even cut off.   

     Traveling eastward across the Atlantic, (with a quick stop in the Caribbean), I’d bump into Africa, (opps continent).  Okay further north, lay Portugal and Spain.  I can speak from experience that France sits above Spain and Italy. Beyond that, I have to refer to a world map. 

     I’m thinking Poland, Lithuania and Russia border Ukraine, but I can’t tell you exactly how these countries line up.  However I do know that Borscht originated in the Ukraine.  While Poland, Lithuania and Russia have their versions, it is Ukraine that claims ownership of this crimson potage.   

     This week, armed with my morsel of knowledge about Eastern Europe and inspired by this month’s book club reading, “The Goldfinch” I decided to prepare a tasting congruent with food Boris would have loved; Borscht with blini and caviar.  Besides my brother was in town visiting and I wanted to do something special. 

    My intention was to satisfy my group’s well developed taste buds with provocative flair.  The weather has already warmed to three digits here in Las Vegas, so I decided to serve my Borscht cold.  Of course blini are best at room temperature to prevent the crème fraiche and caviar from sliding off, but the use of frozen lemon slices to serve the caviar would be both refreshing and unique.     

    I did hesitate for a brief moment, worried not everyone would care for the main ingredient in this soup, beets.  I quickly shook off the thought, how can they not?! – I asked.  Beets are chockfull of potassium, magnesium, fiber, folic acid and vitamins, A, B and C.  They contain betaine, a substance sometimes used in the treatment of depression.  And tryptophan the same stuff that gives us that sense of well-being.  Like eating chocolate but with a slower and more deliberate pace of release.  Perhaps I could share the recent newsfeed I read, blaring beets as “nature’s Viagra!”  Yes, it’s true.  Evidently the Romans consumed beets as an aphrodisiac.  The high amounts of boron are directly related to the production of human sex hormones.  Male or female, I don’t know for sure, but who cares, an aphrodisiac is an aphrodisiac!

     I prepared the Borscht the night before, my batter for the blini the morning of.  My table was set and wine was chilling.  When I got home from work I simply spooned the caviar into small bowls along with the traditional offerings.  The Borscht had been given plenty of time to meld and develop its vibrant flavors. 

     I used a traditional recipe for my blini, a combination of yeast, all purpose and buckwheat flour.  The batter had bloomed to twice its original size and was ready to pour into my prepared skillet.  Our Caviar Baron was closed the day before so I used those small jars of caviar we find in our average grocery store.  Even this “common” caviar, when spooned onto a blin spread with crème fraiche, topped with pinches of chive and egg, a small roll of smoked salmon nestled alongside screams AnR Xopwoi ixi!!

     I had no cause to worry.  There was not one among my literary friends who didn’t appreciate my combination of garden and ocean.  The Borscht was rooted in vegetables, with fresh beets, boiled, peeled, cooled and diced.  I added green onion, an English cucumber, along with a zest of orange.  For liquid I used vegetable broth and for richness I added both plain yogurt and soured milk.  Dill from my garden was added just prior to serving.  The blini were perfectly balanced in taste and texture but my last batch were near perfect in thickness.  And my use of frozen lemon slices as a foundation for the caviar caused the tickled excitement I had hoped it would.   

     Our discussion was lively, amid requests for seconds on Borscht and I stopped counting at three blini.  It was a showcase evening for Ukraine’s garnet of the vegetable garden and the golden-yellow Dutch finch.