Monthly Archives: May 2012

Earthy Chicken with Capers and Onions (serves 6)

 In the past week we had settled back into a kind of routine, and part of that routine definitely included a trip out to our friend Tom’s house to see what he had been up to these past few months, (also a nice distraction from unpacking, and weeding the garden). It was a very hot day, and hard to believe that we went from boots and scarves (in Ireland & Italy) to shorts and sandals in 24 hours.

Earthy Chicken with Capers and Onions

He was the same old Tom with a million things going on at once: cleaning out the barn for a possible Art Gallery and Antique Shop, restocking his bee hives, trying to keep up with his blog: Pizza Daily (posting a pizza recipe a day, and using his great pizza paddle invention to get them in and out of the oven), and a million other projects too numerous to mention. His recent retirement had done the opposite of slowing this maniac of a man down!

My daughter at the little formal fountain outside of my friend Tom’s front door

He was invited to dinner that same evening and I was planning on making some variation on a pork spring roll? This kind of meal requires an amount of fiddle-y preparation and so it was important that I get an early start. Usually when Tom comes to dinner he is hungry, and usually when Tom comes to dinner I am invariably late getting the food on the table. I did not want to resort to giving him chips to keep him from passing out, so we kept our visit short and I sped away determined to be efficient.

Eastern Pennsylvania Countryside (taken by sticking my camera out the window of my car coming home from a visit to Tom’s)

Somehow I got distracted (I tend to start reading or doing mindless housework and forget the time) and before I knew it, the idea of making spring rolls was out of the question. I raced into the kitchen and it is no lie to say I had dinner in the oven in about 5 minutes. I felt guilty about not putting in more time, but equally smug, knowing dinner would be pretty darn good either way. When we tasted the dish I was assured that I was correct. Why I wanted to laboriously make spring rolls is beyond me.

The funny part is when Tom showed up and I proudly announced that dinner would be “on time”, he told me he wasn’t hungry yet! Finally, when he did eat, he described the dish as “earthy”, which gave me the name of yet another chicken dish.

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* This dinner is good for blood type A: just omit the capers and brine water. I made this with a romaine salad and fresh pineapple, which is also beneficial for type A’s*

Preheat oven 450*

You will need: 1 whole cut-up chicken, 2 large sweet onions, sliced into half moons, 2 cups veggie or chicken stock (or 1 good quality bouillon cube & 2 cups water), 1/4 cup capers, rinsed, 1 tbs brined caper water, (the liquid from the caper jar), 1 tsp course sea salt (I use Maldon salt), several grinds black pepper, 2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil.

Place onions in bottom of casserole

1 – Place onions in bottom of heavy casserole (with lid) and add the broth (or water and cube). Place the chicken on top in an even (ish) layer and add the salt, pepper and capers. sprinkle chicken skin with oil. place lid on pot and place in oven.

put chicken in pot with rest of ingredients

2 – Cook for 1 hour. Turn off oven and leave chicken in oven for another 15 minutes. Remove and set aside until ready to serve.

1 hour, 15 minutes later; deliciousness

You can serve this with any number of things (or alone). This is good with potatoes, rice, pasta, or bread. Some of us had it with a salad (me) while others choose rice.

Fresh Pineapple and Romaine Salad

Fresh pineapple for dessert was a lovely refreshing end to this meal.

Birthday Potatoes (serves 4)

Of all of the things I have cooked in my life, the lowly potato is the food that I am the most familiar with. I am Irish: need I say more.  Potatoes were part of every single dinner I ate when growing up. They are part of both a triumphant and tragic history. They kept us alive, and they starved us to death. But for now, I want to focus on this vegetable for a different reason.

Roasted potato Wedges with Olive oil, Sea Salt Flakes and Fresh Rosemary

I made this dish to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Every meal I ever saw him eat included roasted potatoes, or some sort of potato side-dish. He is far away, and roasting these potatoes was a way to  be part of his special day.

The world’s joy

is spluttering,

sizzling in olive oil.

potatoes

to be fried

enter the skillet,

snowy wings

of a morning swan-

and they leave

half-braised in gold,

gift of the crackling amber

of olives.

Garlic

embellishes the potato

with its earthy perfume,

and the pepper

is pollen that has traveled

beyond the reefs,

and so,

freshly

dressed

in marbled suit,

plates are filled

with the echoes of potatoey abundance:

delicious simplicity of the earth.

by Pablo Neruda

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You will need: 5 large yellow potatoes, washed and dried, 2 springs fresh rosemary, 2 tsp sea salt flakes (if using fine salt, use 1 tsp), 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil.

Preheat the oven 450*

Yellow or Golden potatoes are best

1 – Cut the potatoes in half lengthways and cut each half lengthways into 3 wedges. Place in a bowl and add the oil. Coat the potatoes well with 3 tbs of the oil (hands work best!). Sprinkle with salt and break up the rosemary and add to bowl.

Mix in a bowl with rest of ingredients

2 – Spread the last tbs of oil on a baking sheet (one that will hold the potatoes in a single, even layer) and place in the preheated oven for 3 or 4 minutes. Take out and immediately spread the potatoes on the sheet. Roast for 15 minutes, before taking out and turning. Return to oven for another 12 to 15 minutes, or until they are golden brown and a knife goes through the center of a wedge easily.

lovely roasted potatoes

Serve with Birthday Cake!

A Puppy Story: Ketut

This is a food blog where I have also taken the opportunity to write about my observations on people and food, restaurants, interesting places and various other topics that divert me. My diversion at this moment is driven by love actually.

Ketut

When I arrived in Ireland in January my sister June was the proud owner of a new puppy. At this point I have to say that the thoughts of my meeting this puppy was not something I was looking forward to. It was not the puppy I was nervous about, but his mother Suki, who is a purebred rottweiler and tried to bite my face off on our last visit (I’m not exaggerating)!

Suki and Ide

June assured me that this was my fault because I was not sensitive enough when I approached her to pet her head , as I was instructed when re-introducing myself. Needless to say the whole trip (6 weeks) was full of my being completely petrified of the 150 lbs of raw muscle all the while everyone telling me to get a grip of myself, and that she wouldn’t harm a fly.

Suki and her 3 week-old puppy

So, meeting her offspring named Ketut was not high on my list of things to do when visiting in January. Have you ever seen a four week-old rottweiler puppy; extremely adorable was the conclusion I was forced to come to , and, another complete surprise is that Suki was too exhausted to attack me. She even wagged her tail and let me pet her. When I touched her head I felt something was different, she was different. Wow, being a mother softened this big strong dog and I was not afraid anymore, truly. What a relief.

Miriam, Suki, Ketut and Ide on the beach in Wexford

Over the course of the next two weeks I became more and more smitten with June’s little dog family. This tiny thing, who dragged his back legs behind him and bumped into furniture, had a captive audience. All seven people in the house would run to see him when beckoned to watch his cuteness in action. We left at the beginning of February (a job in Italy for three months: poor us) and would be returning in April on our way back to the United States. We knew that Ketut would quadruple in size, and were kept well-informed of his progress while away.

Mother and pup playing

Three months later he was a different puppy altogether. He looked like a black bear cub who ran to anyone who gave him a cursory glance or a modicum of interest. He totally ran June’s household, and she let him! One day we came home from town to find a shirt of her’s in absolute ribbons in the front garden. For a girl who practically disowned me every time I misplaced one of her socks in the laundry, I was afraid for Ketut, and how she might admonish him. All she did was laugh and pat him on the head while saying “bad puppy, bad puppy”

Ketut

Suki and Ketut played, ate and slept together twenty-four hours a day. Suki was a mother for the first time at nine, and this was June’s dream. She loved her dog (scary as she was to me) so much she wanted her legacy, her bloodline, a way to hold on to something dear. She now had this miracle of a puppy and life was good.

Miriam, Ketut, Calder

I am writing this because two days before our three-week visit ended Ketut was stolen while no one was home. We spent that first day driving around, calling people and putting up posters, and, on the second day we did something that was a little more extreme, or it may seem so to some people reading this post.

Hanging out at the beach

I come from Ireland and grew up going to Faith Healers to remove warts instead of doctors, and Bone Setters to fix dislocated and broken bones instead of to hospitals and surgeons. It was not unusual, just another option. When we were excavating for water on our property we called a Water Diviner, not an engineer. I remember the diviner walking the land with a stick that looked like a giant catapult frame, and where it pointed to the ground and trembled, that was were we dug and found our water supply.

Ide flanked by Suki and Ketut

When June spoke to her vet she made the timid suggestion of perhaps using a Diviner she knew about, and June, who was very open to trying anything, agreed to give him a call. We arrived at his house on the evening before our plane took off and waited in the farmyard to be beckoned in. When no one came out, we rang the doorbell and waited a little nervously. Eighty-nine year old Mr. Hill answered the door and we all sat in the kitchen.

The land beside the yard where we waited.

He wanted June to sit beside him and tell her story of how Ketut went missing. He took out a little notebook and wrote down information that was important to him. Then, he disappeared behind a door and up some stairs. We were left sitting, waiting, hoping for good news. It was an odd feeling. Here we were, perfectly logical, sane people hoping that this old man would put a pin in a map ad tell us where the dog was right at this moment.

good puppy

We chatted to his daughter-in-law who came in to clear off the dinner things. We talked about how the women are always left to clean the house and how beautiful her fruit trees and bushes were. She complained cheerfully about how she had wasted so much good fruit trying to make jam, and how someone had put chicken bones in the “dog’s bucket” When June asked if her father-in-law liked Divining, she replied, “he revels in it, but he would never tell you that” It made me believe that whatever he said would be gospel.

Mr. hill and his map

He returned with a big map of Dublin, placed it on the kitchen table and pointed to a precise intersection on the outskirts of Dublin City. He was so adamant, so sure. We listened to some of his stories about other cases and left promising to let him know what happened.

When June and I got home, I served everyone dinner and then she, Dave and Miriam’s boyfriend Kevin hopped into a car, map in hand and drove to Dublin. We crossed our fingers and wished them luck. I felt like we had bought a ticket for the grand prize and were hopeful that our number would be pulled. Alas, they came home with no puppy dog. We would all have been surprised if they did, but we were all secretly hoping that Mr. Hill the diviner could work a miracle for us, because we deserved it.

sleepy puppy

It has been ten days since we have seen Ketut. We are back in the United States, while June and my sister Miriam continue their search for this little bear of a puppy dog. We have to think there is still hope, and that finding him is not beyond the realm of possibility. And, if he is lost forever, we have to also believe that he has found his way to people who will love him dearly, and take good care of him.

This is for June and Ketut, because she called him “her new best friend” and she deserved to read something sweet when she woke up this morning.

Come Ketut!

Salmon with Festival Rice Pancake (serves 4)

Again back to the dilemma I am faced with so often in the evening; finishing work late resulting in a late start to dinner. There is nothing worse than cantankerously hungry people snapping at one’s heels.

Salmon with Festive Rice Pancake

My solution for this has always been to grab the eternal bowl of leftover rice from the fridge and some fish from the freezer. This dinner can be whipped up in about 35 minutes, and pleases most palates.

I used salmon, but feel free to use whatever fish you have on hand. I am not a fan of running off to the supermarket to satisfy recipe instructions.

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* Blood Type A friendly Dinner *

You will need: 4 6oz salmon fillets, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1 tbs sugar, 1 tsp sesame oil (omit if Blood type A), 3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil (more for frying rice pancake), 1 lrg sweet onion, diced, 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped, 1/2 lb mushrooms (any type), sliced, 3 stalks celery including leaves, sliced, 2 medium carrots, 12 or so green beans, chopped, (or 1 cup frozen peas), sliced, 1 1/2 chicken cups stock (or 1 good quality veggie stock cube and 1 1/2 cups water), 1 tsp cayenne pepper flakes (optional), 4 eggs, beaten,  4 cups cooked basmati rice (a good way to use left-over rice), salt and freshly ground black pepper as needed.

1 – place fish in shallow dish and mix the soy sauce, sesame oil and sugar in a small bowl and pour over the fish. Let the fish marinate for a 1/2 hour (or longer in the fridge if it more convenient)

2 – If you have no cooked rice, cook it at this point.

Cook onions, celery and garlic

3 – Prep all veggies and put big saute pan on medium heat. add oil and add the celery, onions and garlic. saute for 5 minutes. Add the carrots, mushrooms, green beans (or peas), and pepper flakes and continue to cook for another 10 minutes.

Add rest of veggies and pepper flakes

4 – Add the stock (or water and stock cube), and bring to a boil. Simmer for a couple of minutes. Taste for addition of salt and pepper and add according to your taste.

add stock, then rice

5 – Add the rice and stir. Turn off pan and set aside. In large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the rice mixture and stir until incorporated.

fry salmon

6 – Wipe pan clean and put on med to high heat. Add 3 tbs oil and when it is hot arrange fish on pan. Fry on both sides until cooked through (about 3 to 4 minutes per side). Remove to a place and keep warm.

fry rice pancake

7 – Put small pan on med/high heat (I used an 8″ pan & it can be non-stick) and add some extra-virgin oil to coat the pan. When it is hot add a big scoop (1 1/4 cups) of the rice mixture and flatten down gently to cover the entire surface of the pan. Fry for 3 minutes, flip and fry on other side until lightly browned. Remove to a plate and proceed with the next pancakes.

You can also serve with a little sour cream or hot sauce (or a mixture of both)

Serve each person a pancake, a piece of fish and a drizzle of juice (this juice is from the fried fish after it has rested while cooking the rice cakes).

Coffee Pots and Remembering Tom In Italy

What is the difference between these two identical coffee pots? (I know, identical and difference= oxymoron)

My new coffee pot

When Dave dug this out from his hoard of flea market finds when we got back from Italy (where my love for coffee became intense and more discerning) it looked so familiar to me. He said it was from the 1950’s or ’60’s, made in Italy and is probably not being made anymore; La “Signora” caffettiera.

My friend Tom’s coffee pot in Italy

Then I remembered where I had seen this pot before; at my new-found friend Tom’s house and Agriturismo Colle Puccioli situated in the idyllic Tuscan countryside outside of Siena, Italy. We had been invited to stay the night in March and it was a glorious night and day (clink on link above to read my epic 3 part story!).

Colle Puccioli back courtyard leading to the kitchen door.

When I awoke that morning at his house, and quietly entered the kitchen, my friend John, who made the trip with us, was already sitting at the kitchen table reading. Of course he hadn’t made any coffee so I began to rummage through Tom’s crazy kitchen for coffee and a coffee pot.

A view of Tom’s wild and beautiful kitchen

I found a very used and sturdy-looking pot and made myself and John a nice strong brew. As I was rinsing it out and carefully pouring the grounds into the little perforated container  I began to think about how this pot had seen many mornings in this kitchen. All of the hands on it’s black plastic handle doling out coffee in all kinds of situations; happy, sad and every emotion in-between.

The instructions for the pot were still tucked inside the pot when Dave bought it.

So the difference between these two identical pots is not so much that Tom’s pot is worn and has a permanent coffee patina baked into it’s aluminum body , and mine is shiny and in top-notch condition; I like to think that my pot has a lot to learn if it wants to exude the character and style of its counterpart sitting amid the myriad of treasures in Tom’s kitchen in lovely Tuscany.

Another lovely view of Tom’s kitchen

Spaghetti With Turkey Ragu (serves 4)

Spaghetti with Turkey Ragu

Today was a lazy Sunday. I dubbed it a lazy day when I watched my daughter cutting long strips of pale lilac paper, stopping short at the end, and then cutting another strip until the whole sheet looked like the fringe of a fancy dress. She then cut them across and the pieces fell to the table in a cascade of tiny squares. I inquired if she was making confetti, and if so, “why”? She said “yes”, and “because it was something to do”.  That made it official. If someone resorts to idly making confetti, you can be sure they have nothing to do.

Hand-cut lilac confetti

I didn’t see this as a bad thing. We have been busy for far too long, and this action indicated to me we had begun to exhale, to relax, to breath. The piles of paper dropping from her scissors reminded me of the campo in Siena, where only a few months earlier I watched my daughter collect the tiny colorful confetti that lay in every space between the bricks and then fling it all into the air for the pure fun of it (type “Lunch in Siena; Spectacular” in search box to read more). Now everyone is in bed as I write, all the while itching to fling into the air her painstakingly made confetti that sits on the table beside me. I just can’t do it, as then I will have to clean it all up in case she races down the stairs in the morning to find it.

The confetti-covered campo in Siena

Thinking about Siena, made me think about Italy, and that made me remember how much this daughter of mine always ordered ragu everywhere we went. I had ground turkey in the fridge and a can of tomatoes in my cupboard, and so, I was going to make ragu for dinner, all because of confetti. It was the perfect dish to end our lazy day (and delicious).

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You will need: 3 or 4 tbs extra-virgin olive oil,2 cloves garlic, finely chopped, 1 large sweet onion, diced, 1 thinly carrot, sliced or diced, 1 stalk celery, chopped, 3 slices streaky bacon, chopped, 1 lb ground turkey, 1 28oz can tomatoes and their juices, chopped, 1 tbs tomato paste concentrate, 2 tbs freshly chopped oregano, 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper flakes, 1/4 cup heavy cream (optional), 1 tsp sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, 1 lb spaghetti pasta (I use Barilla brand).

1 – Prep all ingredients as instructed above.

Saute veggies

2 – Put large saute pan on medium heat and add oil. When it warms, add the bacon,  garlic, onions, celery and carrots. Saute for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add oregano, pepper flakes, salt and several grinds of pepper and cook for another 2 minutes.

add turkey, then tomatoes

3 – Add turkey and cook for another 5 minutes (turn heat up if you need to). Add the tomatoes, paste and bring to a boil. Turn heat down until sauce reaches a gentle simmer. Cover and cook for 30 minutes.

*while sauce is cooking, put pot of water on for pasta and cook according to instruction. time the pasta to be ready when the sauce is completely finished. Reserve a cup of pasta water in case you need it to loosen your sauce*

Serve plain or with cheese

4 – Stir in cream and take off of heat.

To serve; place spaghetti in the bottom of a bowl, top with sauce, and add cheese if you like.

Things to do with cut-up paper and a single flower petal!

Pasta Chicken Salad for Lenny’s Annual Picnic (serves 8 as main course)

 My pasta salad was pretty great (I know, very modest), and the picnic was certainly something that needs to be talked about!

Robust and zesty salad for picnic

Dave has a friend named Lenny and he has an annual picnic at his place to hail in the coming of warm days. We were not invited this year as Lenny thought we were still away in Italy (read previous posts), but found out through our mutual friend Tom, that it was happening last night. We decided to picnic-crash as a surprise!

Blacksmith’s Metal Tong Fence

One of the reasons to be excited about going to this picnic was the prospect of wandering around Lenny’s veritable jungle of a sculpture garden. This is a man who sees beauty in the everyday object, and exhibits  them on his land akin to an art installation at the Museum of Modern Art.

Ceramic Chimney tops on the flagstones on the back patio

From the moment we parked the car, (surprising Lenny who playfully greeted us in Italian) my eyes were constantly pleasingly distracted with curious things that upon closer inspection turned out to be things like antique blacksmithing tools (anvils, swage blocks, giant tongs, stakes…), and various architectural elements (like the backdoor frame which looked curiously like a carved wooden fire mantlepiece, which I forgot to ask him about).

The pond

To say the setting was idyllic is an understatement, and to say that his hundreds of iron, stone, wooden, glass, marble and ceramic objects scattered about this picturesque place looked out-of-place and cluttered would be a gross untruth. Lenny is apparently the master of balance. His outbuildings and sheds may be filled sky-high with a boggling amount of “stuff’, but he has learned the art of placement when it comes to the natural unnatural existing harmoniously.

Marble picnic table

It was difficult for me to join the dozens and dozens of people who were congregating around the back porch, and giant bonfire that was blazing almost out of control. But eventually, after much exploring and picture-taking, I headed over to see what kind of spread was laid out on the long tables under the trees beside the kitchen door.

Rum and fresh watermelon cocktail anyone?

The first thing that caught my eye was the freshwater melon with an upended bottle of rum sticking out of it’s flesh, and sporting a spigot to boot! I had never seen such a wonderful invention. The rum seemed to instantly dissolve into the fruit and break down the sugars into a cocktail that was rich, but not too sweet. I knew to keep well away from it if I wanted to enjoy my Sunday.

Lenny’s kitchen sink

There was also a leg of lamb, beef brisket, barbecued pork, a cucumber and dill salad, an amazing guacamole with puffy pastry triangles, baba ganoush, baby chocolate cake sandwiched together with fresh cream and strawberries, along with mountains of yummy things to drink, like…dark and light rums, red and white wines, fresh pulpy pineapple juice laced with dark rum, citrus-y vodkas and lemonades.

Lenny’s kitchen mantle

Myself, Tom, Dave and the kids went for a walk to sit by the river running through the property. As we made our way over, I discovered that quite a few tents were going up. This was apparently an affair that left you so exhausted, staying the night was a prerequisite!

Not a bad thinking spot

After devouring food, and chatting with strangers, the band Lenny had hired began their session on the porch. It was raucous fun and my vodka and watermelon juice felt refreshingly cool as the sun went down.

Crosscut Saw Band jamming away!

Thank you Lenny for the all-encompassing treat!

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My new citrus squeezing tool from Orvieto, Italy

You will Need: 3 chicken breast fillets, 1 small/medium red onion, finely diced, 6 scallions including green parts, sliced, 1 red pepper, finely diced, 1/2 cup celery leaves, chopped, 1/2 cup crushed peanuts, 1 1/2 lbs mini ridged penne pasta (I used Barilla brand), 1 1/2 cups chicken broth, 2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tsp sea salt (I used Maldon), several grinds of black pepper.

For the Dressing; You will need: 6 tbs soy sauce, 1 tsp cayenne pepper flakes, 2 tbs fine white sugar, juice from 1 lime.

Make dressing

1 – Put dressing ingredients into a bowl and mix together vigorously. Set aside.

2 – Put pot of water on high heat and when boiling add penne and cook according to instructions. Drain into a colander and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Place pasta in big bowl and set aside.

Sear chicken

3 – While penne is cooking, put medium pan on high heat and add oil. Season the breasts with salt and pepper and brown quickly on both sides. Turn heat down to low and add chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then cover. Simmer very gently for 12 minutes. Turn off heat and leave in liquid until cool enough to handle. Remove to a chopping board and slice into bite-sized pieces. add to pasta.

diced red onion & celery leaves

4 – Chop remaining ingredients according to instructions and add to pasta. Add crushed peanuts and mix everything together.

Add nuts and other ingredients

5 – Add the dressing and mix again.

Serve at room temperature.

Summer is here.