Monday, April 23, 2007

Never return a plate empty

Behind our home in Charlottesville was a dumpster. It was actually really convenient. We never had to figure out what to do with our large pieces of trash. We had an old desk and chair. We put it out by the dumpster and by the time we got to our back door our neighbors were bringing it into their own house. Our neighbors were Kurdish refugees from Uzbekistan. They were a nice contrast to our white-trash-stalker neighbor. One night there was a knock at our back door and in a thick accent someone yelled, "S., S.!" It was our neighbor with a plate full of food. I was amazed. Here was a family, living in a foreign country, struggling to make ends meet, using our unwanted furniture, bringing us a delicious meal. It's because of S. He can make anyone feel good. He is so personable and charismatic. He could hold conversations with them and neither one spoke the other's language.

S. would literally give you the shirt off his back, or tie. We have been married for almost 7 years and he has had some nice looking ties over that period of time. Well, others liked them, too, so he gave them to them. We would come home from church and I would say, "Where is your tie?" or "Where did you get that tie?" He had either traded ties (because the other person liked his tie, not that his "new" tie was cool) or just given his tie to someone. In fact, a friend of ours in C-ville had commented S. on a certain tie so many times that he was going to give it to him if he was in church one particular Sunday. Too bad for him, it was graduation day and he skipped out.

So, being married to S. I have had to kick it up a notch in the friendship/giving area. Sure, in college if a friend needed me I would drop everything (I'm talking classes, homework, papers, the works), but I also got something out of it--fun, because we'd to do something exciting. It wasn't really selfless. After our neighbors gave us this food I of course had to return their plate with something yummy. In about a hour, S. was knocking on their door returning their plate with a scrumptious Flourless Chocolate Cake.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

(FOOD magazine Jan 2004)

6 T unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (or 8 oz chopped)
6 large egg yolks
6 large egg whites
1/2 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 275 degrees, with rack in center. Butter a 9-inch springform pan. Place butter and chocolate in large bowl. Microwave in 30-second increments, stirring each time, until melted; cool slightly. Whisk in yolks.

In another bowl, beat egg whites to soft peaks. Gradually add granulated sugar; beat until stiff and glossy. Whisk 1/4 of whites into chocolate mixture; gently fold mixture into remaining whites.

Pour into prepared pan; smooth top. Bake until cake pulls away from sides of pan and is just set in center, 45-50 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack. Serve dusted with confectioners' sugar.

This is actually really quick to make and always turns out. And who doesn't have these ingredients? We add whipping cream and fresh raspberries, too.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Fountain of Youth Soup

I just discovered I am 5.8 years younger than I thought I was. I took the Real Age test and I feel more youthful already. If I actually rewound 5.8 years I would be living in Mexico City, taking vacations with Sam on weekends, and riding the posh bus with my American School Foundation students every weekday morning.

The Real Age test has motivated me to live healthier. Questions range from your dental habits, to how often you see your friends and family, to how many veggies you eat a day. Hence, we had Yellow Squash and Carrot Soup and Salad tonight.

I made this soup last summer when my family was vacationing in the OBX (that is how the cool people write it). We rented a beach house together: 13 adults and 12 kids. It was a blast, even with hurricane Ernesto's visit. Each family took a night cooking and for our night I made this soup. Those 12 kids gobbled it up. Who knew? At first the oldest grandchild, Dixon (10), was a little skeptical, but once he tried it he was hooked.

Soup is not something you normally think kids are going to be hip on. Or maybe it's the parents who don't want it spilled. Take a risk, see if your kids will eat these veggies. Maybe then they can take the Real Age test. I figure, if my kids took it they would be around -4 years old and -2 years old.

Yellow Squash Soup with Basil Cream

Adapted from Good Friends, Great Dinners

3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped
4 cups sliced yellow squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 cup finely chopped carrots
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 cup fat free half and half
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Basil Cream (optional)

Heat the oil in a heavy, deep saucepan over low heat. Add the onion, cover and cook until the onion is limp but not brown, about 10 minutes. Add the yellow squash and carrots and stir to coat with the oil. Cover and cook undisturbed for 10 to 15 minutes or until soft.

Bring the chicken broth to a boil and add to the vegetables. Simmer, uncovered for 15 minutes more or until the vegetables are tender but retain some firmness. Remove to a food processor or blender and puree to a smooth consistency. Return the mixture to saucepan. Pour in the half and half and season with salt and pepper. If the soup is too sweet, add a little lemon juice to taste. Bring to a simmer over low heat before serving.

Ladle the hot soup into individual serving bowls. Add a teaspoon of Basil Cream.

Basil Cream

1/2 cup fresh basil
1/2 cup heavy cream

While the soup is heating, finely chop the basil in a food processor or blender. Add the heavy cream, a little at a time, until a thick sauce is formed.

We added croutons and crumbled bacon to ours tonight, but it's not necessary (and not as healthy). I also didn't have half and half so I used 3/4 cup skim milk and 1/4 cup whipping cream. It still tasted yummy.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The last drop

I love finishing things. I'm not talking about a 100 page paper (that would just be a relief). I delight in using the last drop of shampoo, eating the last chocolate in a box, or crossing off the last of the tasks on my "things to do list." When is shampoo and soap finished at our house? Not until water has been added, and the bottle shook (at least two times). Yes, S. finds it pretty annoying and sometimes just gets a new bottle with the other still sitting on the bathtub ledge for me to finish. It's not even that I love opening a new shampoo bottle or that I want my money's worth (though I am pretty cheap). It's just that I love the end of things. Well, not the end of the milk jug, or the end of an Orangina that I have shared with my kids.

Ahhh, a clean refrigerator. I have memories of cleaning out our family fridge and finding fungi that should only be in a science fair. With a family of eight you never knew when food was put in the fridge. You'd leave it there for the next person to figure out. The fridge would get so full and somehow my sister, Mary and I always ended up with the duty of purging. I have seen a tupperware lid fly off as if a poltergeist was leaving it (10 feet across the room), a potato in five shades of pink, and a whole salsa jar filled with colorful mold. I try to make sure that my fridge doesn't get to that point (no offense, Mom). Tonight, I used up two jars in my fridge. Now they are washed and ready to be recycled. What a great sense of accomplishment! (Hey, I've got to take what I can since I'm not going to see the result of my mothering until my children have kids of their own!)

Here is the result of using the last drop:

Artichoke, Sun-dried Tomato, Red Pepper and Chicken Pasta

2 T olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 chicken breasts, pounded to 1/4 inch thick
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 oz canned artichokes
2 T sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
3 T chopped roasted red peppers
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup skim milk
2 T fresh basil
Freshly shaved parmesan cheese

1/2 lb whole wheat pasta

Heat olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and saute 1 minute. After pounding the chicken breasts, season with salt and pepper to taste on both sides. Add the chicken breasts to the olive oil. Cook about 5 minutes on each side, until cooked through. Remove from pan and slice diagonally.

Combine artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes and red peppers in skillet used for the chicken. Saute about 2 minutes. Add cream and milk. Add sliced chicken and basil. Stir until combined (add more milk if needed). Serve over cooked pasta with fresh parmesan.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007


We had book club at my house last week. It was reminiscent of my days as the co-pastry chef of our Book and Dessert group in Charlottesville. Every month Amy and I would cook the dessert for our book group and everyone would pitch in some money. I don't know if we ever came out even, but it was a lot of fun. Some things we made were Pear Cranberry Sorbet in Frozen Pear Cups, Coconut Tarts with Lime Curd, Chocolate and White Chocolate Fondue, Crepes...the list could go on.

This month the book was Jane Austen's Persuasion and I will tell you that I didn't have to persuade anyone to eat the food I made:

Spinach and Artichoke Dip with Chips, Carrots and Cucumbers
Chocolate Flourless Cake

Are you wondering what Pavlovas are? My mouth is watering just thinking of them. My mother-in-law found this recipe for her only daughter's (M.) wedding reception. M. got married in New Zealand in November, so the reception was in VA in December. Her five brothers couldn't make it to New Zealand (let me tell you how SORRY I was that WE couldn't). But, what would one expect with Dr. Oldest Brother, Attorney S., Law Student 3rd, Missionary in Japan, and Freshman at Princeton. We're all either creating debt, in debt, or paying off debt.

These Pavlovas are great for Easter because they look like little nests.


2 egg whites at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Put the egg whites in a large, clean bowl and whisk until soft peaks form (I use my electric mixer).

Add the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, whisking well after each addition. Continue whisking until eggs are stiff and glossy. With a rubber spatula, fold in vanilla and additional flavoring, if you are using.

Meringue variations:
Fold 2 tsp sifted cocoa powder in with vanilla
Fold 2 T ground blanched hazelnuts in with vanilla
Fold 1 T dark brown sugar in with vanilla
Fold 1 T chopped, unsalted pistachios with vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use the tip of two teaspoons to place small walnut-sized spoonfuls of meringue 1 inch apart on parchment paper. Make an indention on the center of each meringue with the back of a teaspoon. Bake for 5 minutes, then turn temperature down to 250 degrees. Continue baking until firm to the touch, 20 minutes. Cool completely before removing from parchment paper.

**You can make up to this point two days in advance. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

1/3 cup whip cream
1 T sugar
1 kiwi
20 raspberries, blackberries or strawberry pieces
2 tsp powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

Whip cream until it holds soft peaks. Add sugar. Set aside. Peel and cut kiwi into 6 slices, then each slice into fourths. Wash and dry berries. Place whip cream on meringues, and top with one kiwi slice, one berry and dust with powdered sugar. (Can be assembled up to 3 hours in advance, store at room temperature. I usually just have everything cut and whipped, and put them together just before serving). These are SO easy, but they are such a hit. My kids can DOWN them!

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Popcorn popping on the CHERRY TREES!

Ahhh, l love Washington D.C. in the spring. When I think of the downfalls of Washington: traffic, housing costs, crime, all I have to do is go downtown and walk around the Tidal Basin around the first week of April. Last night we were eating at PF Changs and I said, "...cherry blossoms." A server that was walking by said, "Oh, did you run that race?" Umm, no. She said, "I did. I am so sore." I started laughing to myself, someone wanted others to know she ran a race.

One time S and his good friend, Mark, were driving home from college when their car broke down. They had to ride the Greyhound from Kansas to Washington D.C. If someone really wants to get to know the U.S. apparently they should ride the Greyhound. Well, they have lots of funny stories from this trip, but one of my favorites relates to that server. Sam sat down next to a guy on the bus. First thing out of this stranger's mouth? "Are you in a rock band?" Sam smiled and said, "No." His reply, "Cuz, I am." So next time you go on the bus, ask someone this. It's a great conversation starter. Or killer.