Category Archives: Cooking Adventures

Strawberry Fields Forever

It’s St. Patrick’s Day!  I suppose I should be posting a great blog on Corned Beef and Cabbage or Irish Stew or green beer (blech!).  But the truth is that St. Patrick’s Day isn’t generally celebrated much any more at my house.  Too many years, I’ve slaved in the kitchen only to spend the evening rolling my eyes in irritation as my husband almost literally gagged on dinner.  To say he’s not a fan of the traditional Irish fair would be an understatement.  To say that he’s probably inwardly jumping for joy that I’ll be working tonight and not trying to be festive is hardly an exaggeration.  Me not cooking Irish cuisine saves me a lot of frustration and stress so I just don’t do it.  But I’m jealous of those of you who are.  I love the stuff.  Eat it and think of me, post pictures.  I’ll live vicariously through you.

That being said, I did have a few days off last week.  These days it’s rare for me to have 2 consecutive days off.  My chef has been great at trying to give me days off for Collin’s baseball games but that means I get a day here, a day there.  But last week there were three days in a row and I needed every one of them.  The first, I slept most of the day, the second, I did those things that needed to be done and the third, I had a little time to play.  One of my favorite things to do is go to the grocery store (a good grocery store – not a crappy one) and see 1) what looks good and 2) whats on sale then take it home and create a meal.  Sometimes (as in this past week) I strike gold.  Sometimes, not so much but it’s always fun and I usually learn a something in the process.

So on my third day off, I headed to Publix with no ideas of what I was looking for.  The first thing that caught my eye were strawberries.  When I moved to Florida, I had imagined that oranges would be everywhere.  I had dreamed of oranges trees, farm stands and thought about what I could do with them.  Sadly, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Due to some pesky insects and heavy, heavy regulations, every grove I’ve seen has been surround by electric fencing and every orange I’ve seen has been shipped in from California.  But what we DO have are strawberries.  Just 45 minutes west of here is a town called Plant City – the Winter Strawberry Capitol of the World.  These strawberries aren’t your overgrown, nearly tasteless Driskolls.  They’re smaller, tarter and more delicious.  And they’re peaking.  Publix had gorgeous local strawberries on sale as well as Salmon fillets.  I grabbed both, and a little fresh basil and headed home.

My boys had been asking for strawberry shortcake but instead I whipped up a fresh strawberry pie.  If you’d like the details on that, you can check out the blog here:

https://thegourmetgirls.wordpress.com/2011/05/30/berry-good-memories/

It’s an old standard but so delicious and easy.

download-1As for dinner, I knew I’d be short on time, wedging it between Collin’s baseball game and having to pick Ty up from work.  So I did some prep early.  I pulled out the salmon and spotted the bottle of Jack Daniels’ Tennessee Honey sitting on my counter.  If you haven’t tried this stuff, you’re missing out.  We’re not big drinkers and a bottle of liquor will usually last a year or more in my house.  But I have a hard time keeping this whiskey around.  I’ve put it in everything from barbecue sauce to pecan pie.  I’ve mixed it with water and sipped it slowly, I’ve added a bit to coffee.  It’s amazing stuff.  On this night, I decided to make a glaze for my salmon.  I spent a few minutes making the glaze in the afternoon and just left it sitting on the counter.  Then I started to work on the sauce.  This is where those gorgeous strawberries were going to pay off.  I chopped them up in the food processor, added some balsamic vinegar, water, brown sugar and let it reduce.  I then finished it off with a bit of honey and fresh basil.  A little more reducing and the sauce was ready.  I popped it in the fridge and headed out for the game.

When we got home, all that was left to do was season the salmon with salt and pepper, broil it for 5-6 minutes on each side, brush on the glaze, broil another minute or two, warm the sauce and serve.  The result was amazing.  So good, so easy, so full of flavor.  Collin even said he wanted to cook it for his girlfriend.  It was pretty and seemed like a special meal.  Company worthy indeed.  Even my pickier Camden thought it was great.

Not sure when I’ll get another day to play with my food but I hope when I do, it’s turns out as well.  In the meantime, give this a try.  Strawberries should be coming to you soon!

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Tennessee Honey-Glazed Salmon with Strawberry-Balsamic-Basil Sauce*

For the glaze:

3/4 cup Tennessee Honey

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon mustard powder

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and whisk to combine.  Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to simmer and cook 6-8 minutes or until reduced by about half.  Pour into a bowl and set aside.

Strawberry-Balsamic-Basil Sauce

2 cups finely chopped strawberries, plus additional sliced strawberries for garnish

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup honey

1/4 cup fresh basil, chiffonade

In a small saucepan, combine finely chopped berries, balsamic vinegar and water.  Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and allow to reduce by half.  Stir in honey and fresh basil and simmer another 2-4 minutes.  Keep sauce warm or make it ahead and chill it, rewarming before use.

For the salmon:

Preheat broiler and place salmon on a baking sheet lined with foil or a Silpat.  Season both sides with course salt and freshly ground black pepper and broil 5-6 minutes on each side.  Remove from oven and brush with Tennessee Honey Glaze.  Return to broiler and cook an additional 2-3 minutes.

Spoon Strawberry sauce onto plate and top with glazed salmon, add additional sauce and garnish with fresh strawberries.

*Unless you’re cooking for a crowd, you’ll have both glaze and sauce left over.  It would be wonderful on chicken  (or chicken wings as I’m going to try).  The glaze can be used as a dipping sauce and the strawberry sauce would be excellent over ice cream.  Be creative!

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Bleu for You

I wasn’t going to write tonight.  I’m truly so tired that it hurts to think.  But then I remembered all of those times that I searched for a blog from the Culinary Program and came up almost empty.  People have good intentions but then they get here and they get busy and they get tired and the blog slips away.  I won’t let that happen… not yet anyway.

My favorite sandwich of the day. Grilled steak with caramelized onions, bleu cheese, lettuce, tomato & horseradish sauce. Yum!

Today was my first day in the kitchen.  I dressed out in my chef whites and headed to Port Orleans Riverside.  Upon arrival, I met one of the chefs and was told that I would be working on the salad/sandwich/soup/carving station with Shannon.  I was then issued an instant read thermometer, a box cutter and a cutting glove and sent to my station.  Shannon was great.  She is a culinary student from New Jersey and is headed back there soon.  The salad/soup/sandwich stations are action stations so prep basically involved getting everything ready to go.   We loaded up the salad station items, grilled off 10 flank steaks (for the wonderful Beef n’ Bleu sandwich), grilled about 2 dozen chicken breasts, made turkey pinwheels, cut ciabatta bread and caramelized a rondeau full of onions.  Then we got our first break of the day.

Breaks here are interesting in that you don’t clock out.  Am I getting paid for them?  I don’t know.  I find it weird that we have an hour of on the clock breaks.  Not what I’m used to.  After break we loaded up our station and headed out to spend the next 5 hours making guests happy.  At this point, I was mostly slicing beef, dicing chicken, making sandwiches, etc.  Nothing difficult or stressful and within a couple of hours, I felt comfortable.  I did really love getting to be out with the guests and hearing about the fun they were having.  By the end of my shift, I was taking orders, filling them and even occasionally chatting with my coworkers.

Speaking of coworkers, I have some wonderful ones.  Several are LCB students.  My favorite so far is Victoria – a lady who is older than me and from LCB in Austin.  Sadly, she leaves soon and I will miss her.  She lives in the same apartment complex as me and I’m certain that we will become fast friends.  And she has a car.  This means I don’t have to take the 90 minute bus ride home as long as we’re working the same shift.  This is a VERY good thing.

When I start a job, what always amazes me is how tired you are for the first couple of weeks.  Eventually, you get used to it and the fatigue doesn’t get you but at first, well… I almost feel sick after just one day.  My arm is aching from slicing beef, my feet are killing me and my legs and back…… oofta.

I also need to figure out my eating.  I run in the early mornings and then have a banana or something before I leave.  Our first break is at 10:00 a.m. and I’m not really hungry.  Today I had an orange.  But then, we don’t get another break until 4:00 p.m.  By then I’m starving.  We actually take our second 30 minute break  30 minutes before we clock out.  This gives us a chance to go to Cast Services, use our daily meal ticket to get a snack and change our dirty uniforms in for clean ones before we stop getting paid.  Not terrible.. but wow those 6 hours in the middle seem long.

 

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The Fastest Week Ever

School is going well and finishing with a bang.  Wednesday we made our final presentations of our final project, Thursday we took our individual knife skills practical and made Caesar Salad and Eggs Benedict without the aide of recipes.  It all went well.  On Monday we have our final group practical – a large buffet (my group is responsible for the crepe action station) and on Tuesday we take our written final exam.  And I’m done.  So hard to believe that it’s been 9 months since I started classes.  School has been everything I hoped for and more.  It’s given me opportunities and the confidence to explore opportunities that I wouldn’t have had before.  My classmates have become dear friends and I will miss them horribly. I’m ready to be done but not ready for it to be over.

Finishing classes is significant but school won’t really end until I complete my 12 weeks of externship.  And externship starts in 4 days.  I have four days to wrap up my life here in North Texas and get ready to start a new one in Orlando, Florida working for a mouse.  Everyone keeps asking if I’m excited and look incredulous when the answer is, ‘no’.  I will be, I think.  Once I arrive and check in and learn my location and meet my roommate(s) and find a way to get to the grocery store.  Then I might be excited.  Right now, I feel more like this:

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In going through and packing up boxes, I came across the scrapbook that my mom made me after my first stint at Disney World.  Some of the literature that they sent was fun.  I miss hard copies of things like congratulations emails, road maps and such.  Everything now is done by email and a “portal” that I log into to get information.  The 23-year-old scrapbook has the smell of old library books, the papers are yellow and the ink is faded on many of the letters and cards that I received while there.  One thing that I did learn is that I remembered correctly.  When I went before, I did NOT have to pack bedding, towels and such.  Hotel linens were issued to us when we checked in and we turned them back in at the end.  I’d like to get my hands on the stupid kid(s) who ruined that for everyone.  Packing is still an issue through I’m feeling better about it.  Thankfully, summer clothes don’t take up much room, even if the Keurig does.

Here are a few photos of me from 1989.  I don’t think I’ve changed at all, have I? 😉

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For Those Who Just Can’t Wait – The Gingerbread Latte

I have to admit that one of my favorite parts of the holiday season is the annual offering of the Starbucks’ Gingerbread Latte.  It’s like the world’s greatest regift of the Holiday Season.  No doubt it will be out soon but I want it now.  For those of you who just can’t wait, or love the taste of ginger year-round, here is a recipe for you.  It may not be exact but it’s close.  You will need an espresso machine for this but they aren’t expensive.  Especially not compared to a $4.50 cup of coffee several times a week for a month.

The Gingerbread Simple Syrup (makes enough for 7 lattes)

2 cups water

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine everything in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and allow mixture to simmer for 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and place in a container with a lid.

To make a Gingerbread Latte:

Make 1/2 cup of espresso (a double shot).  Steam and froth 8 oz. of milk (most espresso machines do this.  If yours doesn’t, just heat milk in microwave).

Put 1/4 cup Gingerbread Simple Syrup in a cup, followed by espresso and steamed milk.  Top with whipped cream and freshly grated nutmeg.

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Breaking in the Crock Pot for Fall

It’s a busy time in the life of the Walls family.  With 3 of the 4 of us returning to school in the next week or two and the fourth one starting to book gigs again (thank GOODNESS), we’re in a flurried state of “getting ready”.

Tomorrow morning will mark my first day at Le Cordon Bleu.  I’m not nervous (yet).  Tomorrow is simply orientation.  I’ll get my uniforms and tool kit and hopefully be ready to hit the ground running (or should I say chopping) on Monday morning.  My first two classes will be Food Sanitation and Culinary Foundations I.  I have little real idea of what to expect but I’m ready.

Collin and Camden start a week from Monday.  Collin will be going into the 9th grade (HIGH SCHOOL… EEK!) and Camden gets one more year in Intermediate school as a 6th grader.  We’re on a short baseball break and Collin is already chomping at the bit for it to begin again.  With the crazy heat this year, I’ve not missed it the way I expected to but I think he’s oblivious to the soaring temps when it comes to his passion.  Camden is now participating in the First Lego League.  It’s a robotics competition.  I think he’s very well suited for this and am excited to see him learn things that will interest him.

Ty had a very dry summer work-wise but things are picking up.  Tomorrow night, he’ll be painting Dirk Nowitzki for a big event at the Crescent Hotel.  He then has gigs on Saturday in Marlin, Texas and on Sunday in Dallas.  Next weekend, he’ll head to Grand Junction, Colorado, then back to Southfork and, before he has a chance to catch his breath, Odessa.  We’re busy and breathless but glad things are looking up.

With all of this going on, I’m obsessing over being able to get everyone where they need to be and also finding time for things like homework and sleep – not to mention getting everyone fed.  Last night I pulled out the crock pot.  I’ve decided it may be my best friend for the next year.    I took a pork roast and plopped it in the slow cooker with onions, garlic, seasoning and some salsa verde.  I paired it up with a slaw that was dressed with citrus and the result was beyond delicious.  I’ve included the recipe.  So easy, fairly healthy and everyone in my family was happy.  We actually can’t wait to get to the leftovers today.  It was that good.

Slow Cooker Carnitas with Citrus Slaw

1 pork shoulder (butt) roast, trimmed

1/2 yellow onion, chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 small can chopped green chilies

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon mexican oregano (or marjoram)

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 jar salsa verde

Place everything in a slow cooker, cover and cook on high 6 hours or until pork shreds easily.  Shred pork.  Serve with corn tortillas, shredded cheese and Citrus Slaw

Citrus Slaw

1 bag slaw mix (I used one from Kroger that is broccoli, carrots and a little purple cabbage)

1 red bell pepper, julienned

1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped

1/3 cup frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed

juice of 1/2 lime

1/3 cup rice vinegar

1 teaspoon cumin

1/4 cup olive oil

Combine slaw, red bell pepper and cilantro in a bowl.  In a separate bowl combine all dressing ingredients except olive oil.  Then slowly drizzle in olive oil while whisking.  Chill for an hour or so to allow flavors to blend.

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Life’s Still a Peach!

A couple of years ago, I wrote this post on peaches.  Yesterday I had my first peach of the season.  As the juice dripped down my chin and my eyes rolled into the back of my head from the sweet tang on my tongue, I thought it was time to remind everyone… it’s peach time in Texas.  I decided to repost.  Make peach cobbler tonight.  You can thank me later.

There are many different things that come to mind when one thinks of Texas.  Cowboys, ranches, Longhorns and boots are probably the first things outsiders would associate with our state.  Some might even think of the weather, which can certainly be given to extremes.  Intense heat, intense thunderstorms, tornados, hail and the occasional cold snap that leaves us frozen and dangerously icy are simply confirmation that things in Texas are indeed bigger and, often better.

The intense variance in weather makes it difficult for us to grow some produce.   It’s too cold for tropical fruits and too hot for certain fruit trees.  It rains too much for some and not enough for others.  But what we do, we do really, really well.  Watermelon loves the heat and the especially sweet Black Diamonds start pouring into stores around Labor Day.  In late June and early July, berry farms open and the blackberries and blueberries are plentiful and ready to pick.  No fruit, however, seems to be a suited to Texas as the peach.100_1954

In Texas there are more than a million peach trees planted statewide.  Average annual production exceeds one million bushels, making peaches the leading deciduous fruit crop in our state.  During the late spring and throughout the summer, fruit stands selling peaches will set up along major highways, offering the sweet, juicy fruit to all who pass by.  In good years (and this is definitely one of them) there is little to compare to the taste of a perfectly ripened peach.  So if you live in the state, or near enough to make a trip, take advantage of this year’s spectacular crop and buy yourself a bag from a roadside stop.  Enjoy the juice as it drips down your chin, taste the sunshine on your tongue, feel the warmth of the day that contributed to that amazing fruit.  It’s some of the best Texas has to offer.

It probably comes as no surprise that peaches are a summer staple at our house.  Some are kept for eating and others are used in recipes that range from sauces and jams to salads and desserts.  The most popular use here, however, is the traditional peach cobbler.  Few things are better than good peach cobbler and this, indeed, is a good one.  It’s simple and delicious and, with the exception of the peaches, only contains things that are probably already in your kitchen.  So grab a few peaches and make it.  It’s sure to please all who try.

Texas Peach Cobbler

  • 1 cup butter (I actually prefer salted here, and you won’t hear me say that often)100_1947
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup milk (low fat or non fat are fine)
  • 3 cups peaches (usually about 3 normal-sized peaches), washed well and sliced with skin left on.
  • generous sprinkle of cinnamon and a sprinkle of nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup packed golden brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350F.

100_1948In a small sauce pan, melt butter over medium to medium-high heat.  Continue to cook until butter turns a golden brown.  Watch the butter carefully as it can go from brown to burned and ruined in just a few seconds.

Pour butter into an 8×8 glass dish.100_1949

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, white sugar, baking powder and milk until combined.  Pour batter on top of butter in dish and DO NOT STIR!

100_1950

100_1951Place sliced peaches evenly on top of batter/butter mixture.

Sprinkle cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar evenly over top of peaches.100_1952

Bake for 40-45 minutes or until edges are browned and center of batter has set.

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Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.100_1958

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Berry Good Memories

One of my favorite memories of my mother comes from when I was in high school, and even into college. Mom and I both loved the theater (or, if you prefer, theatre). Each year Mom would buy us season tickets to the Dallas Summer Musicals at Fair Park. All of our tickets were for Sunday matinee shows so, during the summer, every couple of weeks, we’d put on our Sunday best (people still dressed up for the theater(re) then) and drive to Dallas to join all of the blue-haired folk in enjoying the musical that was showing.
Of course since the shows always started at 2:00 p.m., lunch was considered to be a big part of the day. Near the Fair Park Music Hall is a restaurant called the Old Mill Inn. I’ve not been a very long time but then, they served a lunch buffet before each and every show at the Music Hall. This became our place of choice. One of the odd things about the place was that there was no dessert on the buffets. One afternoon we asked about this, thinking a little something sweet would be great. Our server informed us that they had a handful of dessert offerings. He ran through a short list and then said, “But our best, most popular dessert is the Strawberry Pie.” Mmmmm. Strawberry Pie. Nothing sounded better on that warm day than a cool slice of Strawberry Pie.”We’ll take two of those!” my mom said with enthusiasm. “Sorry”, said the waiter. “We’re sold out. If you want to get the strawberry pie, you have to order it when you get here and we’ll reserve you a piece. But they go quickly” We were understandably disappointed and settled for a less thrilling dessert. We then went to see the play, already looking forward to our next trip to the Old Mill Inn.

Several weeks later, we were back but this time, we were ready. We sat down at our table and immediately told the server that we wanted two slices of strawberry pie. She quickly went to the kitchen and returned with two beautiful bright red slices of strawberry pie. So summer-y. So delicious. It was difficult to let it sit there as we ate our lunch. I’m pretty sure we both snuck in a bite during our meal.
One of the things that always struck me about that was how we loved that pie so very much but neither my mom (nor I) ever attempted to learn to make the pie at home. Maybe it’s because we knew that those moments were special for a reason greater than a recipe. Two people who loved each other and were connected in the most lovely of ways were sharing a day, sharing fun. Not just as mother and daughter, but as the friends that we had become.
A few years ago, I had a day when I was missing my mom. It was spring and I was fondly remembering those times and that pie. I decided to learn to make the pie, in her memory. Knowing that when I ate it, it would be more than just a pie. It would be a part of my life. Part of my story. After a few tries, I found the recipe that tasted just as I remembered. Uncomplicated, fresh….. delicious. I now try to make it once a year, at least. I took two to a Memorial Day celebration last night and came home with two empty pie plates. It was a hit.
If you have strawberry lovers in your house, give it a try. And as you eat it, think back on your special food memories. What foods remind you of special times with special people? What recipes carry special meaning for you? I’d love to hear about them. I’d love to hear your stories and try your recipes. Food is more than just a way to sustain life. Food defines so many of our memories. Please share. I’d love to sit at a table with you.. even a virtual one.

Strawberry Pie

2 pounds strawberries, cleaned

baked pie crust (see No-Fail recipe below)

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 cup white sugar

3/4 cup water

Halve 1 1/4 pounds of the strawberries.  Mash the remaining 3/4 pound.  Place halved berries in the prepared pie crust.

In a medium saucepan, combine mashed berries, cornstarch, sugar and water.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.  Allow to boil for 2-3 minutes or until thickened.  Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.  Pour mixture over halved berries in crust.

Refrigerate until set (about an hour).

Makes 1 pie.

No-Fail Pie Crust

4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 3/4 cups Crisco

1 egg

1 teaspoon cider vinegar

1/2 cup cold water

In a large bowl, combine the flower, baking powder, salt and sugar.  Add the shortening and cut with a pastry blender or knives quickly until the mixture is crumbly.

In a small bowl, beat the egg well and add the vinegar and water.  Pour most of hte mixture over the flour-shortening mixture and mix until combined.  At this point the dough can be divided, wrapped in plastic and refrigerated or frozen.

Use according to your recipe’s directions.

Makes 2 single crusts or 1 double crust.

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