A Taste of Morocco

The other day my neighbor, who is originally from Lebanon, brought over some fresh, homemade red pepper hummus. She gave us so much that there was no way we could eat it all at once. So I made a dinner that would go with and accompany Hanaa’s delicious hummus. I poured through all my Middle Eastern cookbooks and decided upon Moroccan chicken and veggies. I made enough Moroccan chicken that I returned the favor, and gave some to Hanaa and Aziz, her husband as well. Hanaa called me the next day and was so excited. She couldn’t believe I could cook Middle Eastern foods too. She said “When did you start cooking like this? It was so good and the house smelled so wonderful”. I think that means I did a pretty good job. 🙂

Morocco is known for all of its fabulous spices from around the world. Morocco was on the route between Europe, the Middle East and Asia and so acquired a number of spices as Portuguese and Spanish enclaves and ports were established along the Moroccan coast. Arab traders controlled the spice trade between Europe and the East, like China, Indonesia, India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka, my third stop), for almost 5,000 years until Europeans started looking for a new route to the Far East. Spices were so important because they helped mask the flavor of not-so-fresh food. Spices were prized goods in the Middle Ages and the quest for spices saw the development of an early model of globalization. Desired for their culinary, medicinal and cosmetic properties, spices fueled European colonial empires to create political, military and commercial networks to capitalize on the trade. Spices are still valued in today’s world as well, though today, they are much more easily attained than they were back in the days of the ancient spice traders.

Moroccan Chicken and Vegetables

1 1/2-2 lbs chicken pieces

salt & pepper to taste for the chicken

4 TBSP olive oil, divided

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ginger

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 TBSP garlic

2-3 large carrots, cut into large chunks

1 onion, cut into large chunks

1 can garbanzo beans or chick peas, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup olives, sliced

1 1/2 cups mushrooms, quartered

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 450* F or 230* C.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Rub the chicken with salt, pepper and olive oil and place it on the foil.

Combine all the ingredients together and toss together adding the rest of the olive oil and more salt & pepper as needed. Once everything is coated with the spices and olive oil, place it on the foil along with the chicken.

Bake for about 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to about 400* F or 200* C and continue to cook until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165* F or about 90* C. The house will smell so good with the combination of all the spices.

When the chicken is cooked and at temperature and the vegetables are tender, it is done. I served this over couscous, but you can also serve it over rice as well. I also added some warmed pitas and Hanaa’s red pepper hummus, completing the meal with a dry pinot gris on the side. It was so good and full of bold, zesty flavors. It was a very warm and comforting meal from the inside out.

Stay safe sand stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.

Nature Walks – It’s a Bright, Bright Sun-Shiny Day

What a beautiful day. Technically, it is still winter, but not for too much longer. Most of the snow has melted and the ice is thawing. The skies are blue, the sun is shining brightly, and the temperature was just perfect. I couldn’t ask for a more beautiful day. The lakes are still quiet, but it won’t be to long and they will once again be full of life and full of activity.

The geese were out, but then they always are.

There were a few ducks, both mallards and a few common goldeneyes. It won’t be too long and we should start seeing some “duckalings” as our friend’s daughter used to call them.

There was one lone bunny just chilling out in the grass.

and a squirrel playing hide and seek in the tree.

Make the most out of each and every day. Carpe diem!

Steak Toppers

Larry is a Kansas boy, and Kansas is beef country. In fact we have some cattle farmers in the family. One of Larry’s sisters and her husband and their sons, our nephews, raise cattle. I think Larry could eat beef, and particularly steak, everyday if I would let him. But I make him eat a wide variety of foods all the time. He doesn’t really complain though. In fact, he knows he gets fed real well all the time. Anyway, it was yet another steak night. I had a lot more of my caramelized onions leftover from when I made my caramelized onion tart Olive and Caramelized Onion Tart so I put them to good use as a steak topper.

I added mushrooms, red and orange bell peppers and garlic, then I just sauteed them up and added them to the onions.

I have always liked stuff on my stuff. Why just have steak when I can have steak with pizzazz, right????? Besides, by mixing all these vegetables together, I make sure we get enough vegetables in our diet too. I topped both the steak and my green beans with this delicious vegetable medley. So we had 1) onions, 2) mushrooms, 3) red and orange belle peppers and 4) green beans, 5) garlic + the roasted potatoes I served on the side all in one meal. And of course I served red wine on the side, so do the grapes used in the wine count as my fruit intake too? I think so. I think we met our fruit and vegetable requirements for the day. 🙂

Stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.

Missing My Mom

I have really been missing my mom lately. Maybe it is because I am coming up on the 15th anniversary of her passing, although, in reality, I really lost my mom about 25 years ago. She had a massive stroke and had dementia, and for the last 10 years of her life she was in a nursing home. My mom and I were very close. We were good friends and we did a lot of things together. She and I had a completely different close relationship than my dad and I had, but we were still very close. My mom, Evelyn Theresa Wood Jones, was 76, just a couple of months shy of turning 77 and just a few months short of her 56th wedding anniversary with my dad, when she passed away. My dad went to visit her everyday when he wasn’t out here with us. My mom and my dad moved out to Pasadena, California in 1955, where they stayed for the rest of their lives.

This was Mom’s baby picture. She was born May 4, 1929, in Port Arthur, Texas. She was the 2nd born and the only girl, with 3 brothers.

Mom on a pony. She was about 4 years old.

Here, she is about 14.

The Hula Girl, when she was around 16 years old.

A young pin-up girl on the beach. As a red-head, with tons of freckles and very fair skin, this was a rarity. My mom and the beach were NOT the best of friends, unlike my my dad and I. My dad and I have always shared our love for the beach and the oceans around the world.

Her high school graduation picture.

Wedding Day to my dad, June 24, 1950.

After 14 years of just the two of them, I came along.

My college graduation day.

I was a bridesmaid at a friend’s wedding. We really didn’t take too many pictures of the 3 of us, and especially not all dressed up.

Getting Glamorized.

I miss you Mom. I hope you are at peace. I love you always and forever.

Herbed Italian Pork Chops

Pork is the most popular meat eaten in Italy. It is made in many different ways, from sausages to salamis to pork medallions. So because is so popular in Italy, that means there are many, many different and delicious recipes for it. One such recipe is “Costoletta di Maiale alle Erbe” or herbed pork chops in a wine sauce. It always sounds so much better in Italian than it does in English. HMMMM. We need to work on that. 🙂

Italian Herbed Pork Chops

1 TBSP garlic

1 TBSP fresh rosemary, chopped fine

1 TBSP fresh thyme, chopped fine

1 TBSP fresh marjoram, chopped fine

1/2 TBSP fresh sage, chopped fine

2 lbs pork chops

salt & pepper to taste

3 TBSP olive oil + more for cooking

1/4 cup flour

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 cup chicken stock

1 TBSP corn starch

butter for cooking

Pat the pork chops dry with a paper towel. Add salt and pepper on both sides. Mix all the herbs, garlic and olive oil together. Generously coat both sides with the herbed mixture and let set in the refrigerator for at least an hour before cooking.

When ready to cook the pork, completely coat it in the flour and shake off all the excess flour.

In a large skillet, get the olive oil mixed with a little butter nice and hot and brown the pork on all sides for about 4-5 minutes per side.

When the meat is completely browned, remove it from the heat and keep warm. Deglaze the pan with the wine. Be careful for flareups when adding the wine. The flareups only last for less than a minute, so nothing to be worried about, just stay clear of the flames and keep everything else out of range of the flames as well.

Mix the cornstarch into the chicken stock. When the flames die down, add the chicken stock and cornstarch mixture to the wine. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and continue to cook for another couple of minutes. Add the pork chops back into the sauce to warm them up,

When everything is cooked, dish it up and top the pork chops with the wine sauce or gravy. I served it with gnocchi marinara Channeling the Italian Nonnas, Making Marinara and sauteed squash and mushrooms and some toasted ciabiatta, with some more of the dry chardonnay I used for the sauce to make the meal complete. Deliziosa!

Stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.

Blueberry Scones

Scones started off in Scotland as a type of quick bread in the early 1500’s. They are very popular in all of the “British Colonies” and have been for centuries. Scones became popular and an essential part of the fashionable ritual of taking tea in England when Anna, the Duchess of Bedford (1788 – 1861), one late afternoon, ordered the servants to bring tea and some sweet breads, which included scones. She was so delighted by this, that she ordered it every afternoon and what now has become an English tradition is the “Afternoon Tea Time” (precisely at 4:00 p.m.). They are still served daily with the traditional clotted cream topping in Britain. When they made their way “across the pond” to the US, they had a slower start because we like our biscuits over here. Biscuits and scones are very similar, yet just like any “cousins”, they are different too. The differences between biscuits and scones are that scones typically have eggs in them whereas biscuits do not. Scones tend to be a little denser, drier, and not as flaky as biscuits. Just adding oats, fruit, herbs or anything else to a biscuit dough and cutting them in triangles does not make them a scone.

My dad was from Melbourne, Australia and my mother was from Port Arthur, Texas. My dad was used to scones and my mother was used to biscuits. When they first got married, my dad really wanted scones. My mom tried and tried to make them but they just never turned out right. They just weren’t what my dad was used to. So one day, my mom got fed up with trying to make scones and just decided to make biscuits instead. My dad said “Yes! That’s what I’ve been wanting all along”. Fortunately for me, I can easily make both. I have both the scones and the biscuits gene in me. 🙂

I made some blueberry scones to share with friends. They are so light and flaky. YUM! I am going to serve them with a little creme fraiche on the side. A creme fraiche is very similar to a Devonshire cream or clotted cream, which is what they are served with traditionally in England and her “colonies”. Both Devonshire cream and creme fraiche are similar to a soft butter, but are usually a bit tangier and not as sweet as butter. They also tend to be very thick and rich and velvety too. A perfect match for these light and flaky scones.

Blueberry Scones

2 cups flour

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 TBSP baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

4 TBSP cold butter, cubed

1 cup blueberries, coated in flour

2/3 cup heavy whipping cream

1 egg

1/2 tsp grated lemon peel

Preheat the oven to 375* F or 190* C.

Mix the flour, dry ingredients and butter together. To make the scones really light and flaky, use either a pastry cutter of your hands and mash the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles course sand. Then add the blueberries.

Mix the egg cream and lemon peel together.

Add the egg mixture to the flour and blueberries and mix just until a soft dough forms. DO NOT overmix or you will have tough, chewy scones instead of light, flaky ones.

On a lightly floured surface, form the dough into a round ball, then flatten out slightly, either by pressing it with your hands or with a rolling pin, until it is about 1/2 inch thick, then cut into wedges.

Place the wedges on a baking sheet. Coat the scones with an egg wash and sprinkle a little sugar on top of each scone.

Bake for about 25 minutes or until the scones are lightly golden.

Enjoy the scones with either Devonshire cream, clotted cream or creme fraiche or a little butter, and you can even add some lemon curd if you like as well. These light, flaky scones will disappear very quickly, so don’t wait to eat them.

Stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.

Olive and Caramelized Onion Tart

We had movie night at our favorite winery, InVINtions, A Creative Winery, Video #17 – INVINtions, A Creative Winery so of course I had to make something to take with us. More wine = more nibblies. I made a charcuterie platter (cheese, sausage and crackers), packed some nuts and Chex mix, and then of course, I had to actually make something too, so I made a delicious olive and caramelized tart to take with us as well. This is the first time InVINtions has had a wine and movie night. The movie was Bottleshock, A fun wine movie about the true story of Napa Valley’s own Chateau Montelana and the California wine story as a whole. We went with our friend Gabe and met our new friends, Teri and Drew, at the winery. As always, good food, good wine and good times all shared with friends both new and old.

The crust on this tart was very light and flaky and was a modern twist to an old classic, puff pastry. I also used some of my marinara sauce, along with caramelized onions and a mixture of olives. Making Marinara.

Olive and Caramelized Onion Tart

1 cup flour

1/3 cup cake flour

salt & pepper to taste

1 1/2 sticks cold butter cubed

1/4-1/2 cup water

3 TBSP olive oil

2-3 med onions, sliced very thin

1 TBSP garlic

2-3 tsp good balsamic vinegar

1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped fine

1/2 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped fine

1 cup tomatoes or marinara sauce

1/2 cup olives, sliced

This recipe actually called for freezing the butter and the flour for 1 hour before mixing them together. I can honestly say, I have never heard of that before, but the crust was super light and flaky, so there must be something to it.

While the flour and butter are freezing up, cook up the onions and garlic. Slice the onions very thin, then saute them in hot olive oil, along with the garlic and the balsamic vinegar. I used some of my delicious balsamic vinegar I received as a Christmas present, My Fun Christmas Loot.

The balsamic vinegar helps with the caramelization process and adds a ton of bold flavor to the onions and garlic. Once the onions are mostly done, add the rosemary and thyme, salt & pepper and continue to cook until the onions are completely soft and caramelized. If you are using fresh or canned tomatoes, add them to the mixture at this time and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes. I used my marinara sauce and I added it a bit later.

Remove the butter and flour from the freezer and add the butter to the flour. Mix with either your hands or a pastry cutter, adding the water a little bit at a time. This is not going to be a nice neat dough yet. But it will change after the turns.

On a lightly floured surface, form the dough into a rectangular shape and roll it out to about 1/2 inch thick. There will still be big butter chunks. That’s exactly what you want at this stage.

Fold the edges in towards the center, turn the dough 1/2 turn and roll out again. Repeat 2 more times until all the butter has been worked into the dough. After the 4th and last turn, roll your dough into a rectangle and place it on a baking sheet.

Preheat the oven to 400* F or 200* C.

Slightly crimp the edges. I first spread my marinara sauce on top of the dough to about 1/4-1/2 inch away from the edges. Then I added my onion mixture and spread it out evenly over the dough. Add the olives on top. I also added a tough of my new Maldon sea salt flakes before putting it into the oven. Another Birthday Surprise

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown and flaky. Let it cool for a few minutes before cutting and serving.

This tart was so good and paired perfectly with wine. It is a perfect wine nibbly to take with you on your next wine adventure or you can also just enjoy it anytime.

Stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.

Juni Bug’s Latest Progress Report

Can you believe my little Juni Bug is already 12 weeks old? Where does time go? She went into the vet yesterday for her 12-week check up, and once again, the vet said she was “a perfect pup”. A Perfect Pup Only now she is 25 lbs!!!!!!! When she went in for her 8-week check up, she was 16.5 lbs. She is gaining about 2.5 lbs per week. She is going to be one BIG girl, though not nearly as big as Lucie or Vinnie. She will end up around the 100 lb range, give or take a few lbs on either side. She is full of personality and LOVES to play. Although she has a ton of her own toys, in reality, the whole world is a puppy toy for her.

She is a big helper too. She is ALWAYS into everything!

She loves playing in the snow, but then … she is a malamute and malamutes were built for snow.

Juni Bug loves to play with her big brother Vinnie.

But after all that play, it is time for a nap.

Life is short. Live life to the fullest and enjoy it while you can. Carpe Diem!

Leftovers + Pasta + Creativity and Imagination = Dinner

With enough pasta and creativity and imagination anything is possible. Add some garlic, wine and butter into the mix, and you have just created a recipe for success. 🙂

Once again, it was time to invite “The Queen” over, and she and I had a good time raiding the fridge and creating from what we could find. As usual, it was a little bit of this and little bit of that, and … Voila! Dinner was ready. Whenever I create these meals, I never know what is going to end up on the plate. And each time, it will always be a little different too.

I started off with some leftover ham and sausage, plus some leftover vegetables. From there, I just let my imagination take over. None of this would have been enough for a meal on its own, but all thrown together, I made a very tasty pasta dish.

I started off by sauteing some garlic and shallots in olive oil, then I added all the rest of the ingredients. Since everything was already cooked, it was literally just throwing everything in together to heat it up.

Once everything was heated up, I made a light sauce with some dry chardonnay, chicken stock and butter to finish it off.

I cooked up some angel hair pasta and …Voila! Dinner was ready. I served it with more of the wine I used to cook with and some of the excellent baguette Julia made and brought over when she and Bruce joined us for dinner We All Need A Little Help From Our Friends.

It doesn’t matter what you make or how many people you share the meal with. The two most important ingredients for any dish and any meal are fun and love. Have fun making the meal, and always add that special ingredient called LOVE, and no matter what, you will always have a successful dinner. Bon Appetit!

Stay safe, stay well and stay warm Everyone! ‘Til next time.

Every Dog Has Its Day

Vinnie and Juneau are well-loved and some would even say spoiled, but they get their treats and lots of love all the time. I always make their wet food for them. One batch lasts about a week. They get all kinds of goodies. Like our meals, I balance them with protein, veggies and starches, but much heavier on the proteins, since that’s what dogs, particularly working dogs, need. Both Vinnie and Juneau are working breeds, although in our house, sometimes they are only working for treats. This week they are dining on hamburger with carrots and potatoes in a gravy sauce. Juneau, along with her friends Fritzie and Sitka, were busy helping me make their dinner for the week.

I am a few days late with this, but Vinnie and Baby Juneau don’t mind. Fortunately for me, they don’t know how to read calendars (at least not yet anyways). February 23 was International Dog Biscuit Day. Dog biscuits come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and flavors. They serve to reward a man’s best friend for good behavior as part of their training. Dog owners may also give a biscuit to show their canine companions just how much they love them, too. Sometimes, dog biscuits serve to deliver vitamins and medicines we may have difficulty getting our pooches to take otherwise.  Vinnie and Juneau LOVE their treats. In addition to their normal wet food that I make for them all the time, this week, my two loveable canines also got some homemade bacon and cheddar doggie treats too. Making doggie treats is no more difficult than making cookies. The ingredients are different, and not always a combination we would want to eat, but they are perfect for the dogs. My dogs love it when I make them doggie treats. When you make their doggie treats, you know what’s in them and they are generally healthier than some of the store bought treats you find.

Grilled Cheese and Bacon Dog Biscuits

1 cup flour

1 cup wheat flour

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

6 bacon strips, fully cooked and crumbled

1 egg

3/4-1 cup of water

Preheat the oven to 350* F or 180* C.

Cook the bacon strips fully, then place them in a food processor to crumble them into tiny pieces.

Mix all the ingredients together until it makes a dough.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to about 1/4 inch thickness and cut with cookie cutters. Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for about 25 minutes, or until they are firm and crispy. I let mine stay in the oven for about 1 hour after I turned off the heat to make them even crispier. Dogs like things that crunch. At least mine do.

Let the doggie cookies cool completely before giving them to your dogs. Sometimes dogs can’t handle it when they are hot and it upsets their tummies.

The ultimate test …. Give them to the dogs and see what their reaction is. Vinnie is already licking his chops. I think they gave their pawprints of approval.

Stay safe, stay well and stay warm Everyone. ‘Til next time.