Tag Archives: Cooking

Summer Menu. Or What’s Cooking?

I’m a fairly good cook. Not entirely self-proclaimed. Being a decent cook certainly has its plusses. Friends will happily accept dinner invitations, and nobody orders delivery just before meal time. But it also has its minuses. You see, I love eating out. Hubby might say It’s your birthday, let’s go out. Or maybe it’s Mother’s Day. Or a special meetup with out-of-town friends. That’s about it.

So what does a girl do? She develops an array of effective strategies to get out anyway. This week, for example, I have two lunch appointments in reputable restaurants. Cheers to that.

Happy hour 3 ud71To tell you the truth, deep inside I love cooking. But I’m not into following recipes. I find it boring. Following a recipe leaves no room for creativity. It also requires all kinds of measuring devices and detailed mathematical conversion skills. And I’m a big picture person. So that’s not for me. But don’t get me wrong, I love reading recipes from all over the world. They give me ideas.

flounder fillets ud71Anyway, last night I invented a new dish, suitably light for hot summer evenings. Filet de Flet à crabe. Or flounder fillets topped with a crab meat concoction (a heap of crab meat, one egg, olive oil mayonnaise, a few drops of Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, mozzarella cheese, breadcrumbs, one poblano pepper, one shallot, black pepper and salt). To be served with spicy baked zucchini, tomatoes and if preferred, some cheese-lemon sauce on the side. After 35 minutes in 400F/200C oven – bon appetite.

filet de flet UD71Everyone will survive and accolades will follow. I know.

Tonight it might be pizza. I like the artistic freedom to throw tasty toppings on a super thin crust. After so many years in Africa, my favorite is the Kilimanjaro. BBQ-alfredo-mustard sauce and extra cheese to remind us of the yellow grass on the surrounding savannah, then small heaps of thinly sliced beef fillet for mini-mountains, topped with snow of feta cheese. A few chopped green bell peppers for bushes and some pineapple chunks for lions lurking around. And mushrooms for other animals. So yummy it requires a long after-dinner walk on the savannah….or at the salt marsh.

So that’s what’s cooking at my place.

island in the bay ud71Figuratively speaking, more things are cooking in the summer heat. Like a meetup with a bird photographer/blogging friend and his family early this week, family visits, photo hikes and overseas travel to cooler latitudes. And also on the summer menu: just relaxing. Recharging mind, body and soul.

What’s cooking at your place? Literally or figuratively.

Hey, Where’s My Turkey?

Gratitude is one of the most powerful means of attracting positive energy and good things to our lives. So I try to remember to be thankful all year long for all I’ve received and all I’ve been able to give others. But in the little northern corner of the earth where I was born and raised, we did not celebrate Thanksgiving holiday in the same way it’s done in the US and Canada. That makes me an implant into this strong tradition.

As you may guess, there’s been many trials and tribulations over the years in adapting to this tradition, particularly in regard to the center piece at the dinner table, Mr. Turkey. He’s not always been very cooperative, to say the least.

During the first Thanksgiving holiday here in the US, just a few months after moving here, Mr. Turkey was missing in action in our home. I didn’t realize that he is an invited guest, no matter what. So I made a nice steak dinner. What a mistake! Our son who was in the fifth grade at the time couldn’t believe his eyes – no turkey on the table! He had already picked up this tradition from all his friends, whose mothers had been preparing their turkey the previous night. He was visibly disappointed and I felt really bad. The next day he went to his best friend’s house and had turkey…and I promised we’d have a turkey the following year.

The following year came and to make good on my promise, I bought a huge frozen turkey well in advance. I was extremely busy at work and travelled a lot, so I didn’t take the time to read the instructions. Early on Thanksgiving morning, I took it out to allow a couple of hours for thawing. But the bird didn’t want to be thawed! By the time I had planned to put it into the oven, its skin was just about free from frost. It was solid frozen!

I made all the mistakes described in the turkey cooking books! To cut the long story short, we had a Thanksgiving dinner that night with the turkey on the table. It was about 9 p.m. and the poor turkey was…very dry. Our son was hungry and very kind, he just poured a lot of gravy and ketchup on the turkey. My hubby quietly asked me if it was supposed to be that dry. What did I know? I remember we managed to eat about half of the bird by the time the weekend was over. Luckily I had not invited any friends over to taste my first ever baked whole turkey.

Then, of course, little by little I became a master of the turkey cooking art, and we enjoyed a well prepared turkey for many years. Until one year much later…Our son was away in college and flew home for Thanksgiving. As all mothers know, it’s so wonderful to have them home again! That particular year, I had found a nice whole smoked turkey that would only need to be heated up just before dinner time. It was small, like 6-7 pounds, but it would only be the three of us that year, so that should be fine.

On the night before Thanksgiving, our son went out with a group of his closest friends, all of whom we knew well, and told me that they would be coming back later in the evening to play pool in our basement, like they had done so often in the past. I had prepared the turkey and left it in the kitchen fridge on a plate, so when the guys came back home, our son asked me if they could make some cold sandwiches of the turkey later on. I said why not as it would be only the three of us eating it the next day, and I had plenty of other stuff prepared as well.

In the morning, I came down to the kitchen to make coffee. Everything was nice and tidy, no sign of the guys making sandwiches, no dishes in the sink. Nice, I thought, they are all in college and have finally learned to take care of things. Then I looked into the fridge. No turkey! We had another large fridge as a reserve in the storage area so I ran there. And there it was! The plate with the turkey bones, nicely covered in aluminium foil. It still had the wings. I had to laugh!

Later that morning, our son said he was sorry they ate so much, the turkey had been too delicious! I couldn’t be angry, just went back to my grocery store. I could no longer find a whole smoked turkey so I settled on two large smoked breasts, put them creatively on both sides of the breast bone and heated it all up for dinner.  With some imagination it looked like a turkey. And it was just fine!

A few years ago I met the exactly same group of our son’s friends. They were all grown up now, out of college, and stood there in the church as handsome groomsmen at his wedding. I smiled again, reminded of the disappearing act of the smoked turkey!

I’m all adapted now. And giving thanks for everything in my life, including the turkeys, past, present and future. Gratefully signing off for about a week in the northern wilderness – with no internet connectivity. Take care and Happy Thanksgiving to those of you celebrating this wonderful holiday later in the week!

Baked Tilapia Anyone?

We learned to love Nile Tilapia when we lived in Uganda. This fish was the only one we could get guaranteed fresh every day. Now of course we have a huge variety of fresh fish and other sea food right here at our doorstep, and we can only get farm raised tilapia, but I still buy it every now and then. Normally I would just pan fry it (parmesan crusted!) and serve with small potatoes and a cold dill-based mayo-sour cream sauce, but last night I decided to prepare it in the oven. This is a recipe I created many years ago, but had not tried recently. It’s truly simple to make and guaranteed delicious! Here’s how I threw it all together.

As you may know from my previous cooking posts, I cook creatively from the ingredients I find in the fridge, so here’s what I had (for two people – you can scale it up by counting one large fillet per person and adding more wine, cream & cheese to the sauce):

3 small/medium-sized tilapia fillets

little less than 1/2 pint/2 dl cream

about 1/2 bag (4 oz/110 g) shredded part-skim mozzarella/Philadelphia cheese ( you can also use shredded swiss/Philadelphia mix or any light swiss cheese spread, like Laughing Cow wedges)

2 leeks

about 1/2 glass of white wine, and

spices.

First I preheated the oven to 350F/175C. Then seasoned the tilapia fillets with lemon pepper and lemon & herbs spices (add salt if needed), put them into an oven dish,  sprinkled over the leeks (cut in small pieces), poured in the white wine to almost cover the fish, and “pre-baked” the fish under lid for about 15 minutes.

In the meantime, I prepared the cheese-cream sauce. I mixed 2 table spoons of flour (vary depending on how thick sauce you want) with olive oil, added the cream before the flour browned and then mixed in the cheese slowly. I let it all simmer together for a couple of minutes (you can add salt and pepper to taste if desired, I didn’t). The sauce should be very thick at this point.

When the tilapia had pre-baked, I took some of the liquid/wine and added it to the sauce to achieve desired consistency, and discarded most of the rest. Make sure you don’t leave too much wine around the fish – it doesn’t need to swim any more!  Next, I poured the sauce over the fillets and baked for an additional 25 minutes so that the cheese was lightly browned on the top.

You can serve this dish with wild or brown rice or small potatoes, sautéed asparagus and a fresh salad. I happened to have a few previously boiled small potatoes so I put them into the oven to heat up and sprinkled some of the shredded cheese on the top.

Very simple and yummy tilapia dinner. Enjoy!

When You Need to Be Delighted

Yesterday was not a very easy day for me due to health issues in the family. To express my gratitude that everything went as well as one could hope, and honestly because I needed to be delighted, I decided to make a nice pasta dinner. There is something hearty, mood-lifting and comforting about pasta. So there I was throwing together ingredients again. If you do the same moves, I promise the end result will be a real feast for pasta lovers.

This is what I had:

1 small pork tenderloin

4 large tomatoes (boil quickly, peel and mash – or you can use a small can of crushed tomatoes)

1/2 pint (little more than 2 dl) whipping cream

1 oz (28g) dried chanterelles, or fresh if you can pick them in your forest 🙂 or buy them (rinse quickly and swell the dried ones in cold water for about 2 hours before you need them, save the water)

4-5 large tbsp of wheat flour

2 garlic gloves

1 beef cube (optional, but I like it)

1 red bell pepper (optional, sliced or cubed)

olive oil

salt, pepper and herb spices to taste.

I browned the pork tenderloin slightly in olive oil before putting it in the oven (350F/180C) for about an hour. In the meantime, I prepared a light pasta sauce by first slightly browning the chanterelles, (bell pepper) and garlic slices in olive oil, adding the flower to brown just a little bit, then adding the cream, mashed tomatoes, (a beef cube) and most of the “chanterelle water” – to achieve the desired consistency. I let it all simmer together for about 15 minutes on low heat.

After the fillet was ready, I sliced it in thin (like 1/3 of an inch/1 cm) slices and mixed them into the pasta sauce. And to be honest, I also took a little bit of the juice from the pan and mixed it into the sauce. While the low carb penne rigate was cooking, I let the sauce simmer for about 10 minutes more.

Another way to do this is to prepare the sauce and put it into the oven pan over the meat for about 20 minutes at the end of the cooking time. And then slice the meat after it’s all done. If you do it this way, you can serve it nicely and even cut bigger pieces directly onto the plates. A little bit messy though, but equally good.

The result is an easy to love pasta dinner for 2-4 depending on the appetite and the size of the fillet! Enjoy with a side salad and a glass of smooth red. If you love pasta and need to be delighted, here it is, simple but delicious. Bon appetite!

A Warming Soup for a Stormy Night

I’m an intuitive cook. Most often I cook whatever will improve my mood – and the mood around here, provided that my pantry and fridge cooperate. So when the weather is beautiful, my mood is usually light and I tend to prepare lighter fare, such as dinner salads, fish or other seafood. When my mood is heavier for whatever reason, I tend to prepare more “warming”, hearty foods. Food therapy, so to speak.

So last night when it was very dark, gloomy, windy and rainy under the feeder bands of TS Isaac, I though I’d make an old-fashioned sausage soup. One that I used to get on chilly winter evenings in my childhood up north. It represents comfort and all things familiar. And it’s easy to make – in many variations.

So last night I found many vegetables and mild Italian sausage in my fridge. I had potatoes (3 large), carrots (3), celery (6 sticks), leaks (2) and parsnips (3) and garlic (2 gloves). I put them on the kitchen counter so my hubby would see them. He loves this soup…and after about an hour I found all these ingredients neatly chopped, cubed and sliced. Voila!

I simply added all but potatoes in a large sauce pan, covered generously with water and added 4 beef cubes and a few whole black peppers. Let it simmer for 20  minutes. Then added mild italian sausage (you can make it hot too, or use wieners or frankfurters) in small “balls” and the cubed potatoes. Let it cook again for about 15-20 minutes until the potatoes were ready, and tasted it off with some salt and a few drops of Tabasco.

The result is a really tasty and soul warming soup that you can eat with an open-faced cheese sandwich. Delicious, and even better the next day if you don’t finish it up. A really simple mood raising dinner in about an hour. And if you can trick another family member to do the peeling, slicing and cubing, you’ll just need to do the creative cooking – throwing it all together. Doing the prep together is fun too, just don’t do fencing with the kitchen knives. Then you  just watch the pot putter and soon you’ll enjoy some food for both the body and soul.

Simple Happiness at Sunset, Anyone?

I told you previously that I love cooking. But I have this issue of not being able to follow a recipe. So today my challenge was to recreate a dinner I pulled off a few weeks ago. It’s called popular demand, but not very popular with me for obvious reasons. I just can’t remember what exactly I threw in there last time. That can be quite embarrassing.

Today’s request was for meatloaf. And it’s not been a staple dish at our dinner table previously. That’s probably because I’ve been a bit suspicious of ground beef for other than Swedish meatballs and spaghetti sauce. Somehow associated it with bad-for-you food, like really fatty hamburgers. But of course that’s not necessarily the case, a few of my ideas obviously need some tweaking.

So a few weeks ago, I made a meatloaf and it was a huge success.  Which, I’m sure, was news only to me. I kind of liked making it because the loaf bakes itself once you have made the dough and put it in a loaf pan, and the mixing only takes a few minutes. I can do something else while it’s baking.

So this afternoon I raided the fridge and found about 2.2 lbs/1 kg skinny ground sirloin, eggs (needed 2), a couple of onions (chopped finely), little cream (about 3 oz/1 dl), some feta cheese (used maybe about 6+ oz/180g), bread crumbs (I use very little, maybe 3-4 tsp) and sugar-free syrup (needed only about 2 or so tsp). So I mixed all that together with some salt, pepper, garlic and some herbs. All measures are of course approximate…if you want to try, just create, whatever feels right! I can think of throwing in mushrooms, bell peppers or even super finely chopped ham.  This was intended for 6 people, so half of everything would make about a normal sized loaf pan.

I mixed it again and again until it was fluffy and moist, then spooned the mix into an olive-oiled baking dish. Covered with a thin layer of ketchup, honey mustard and syrup mixed together, and put it to bake in 350 F/180 C oven for an hour. Voila!  I could work a little bit and Skype with our  son while the dinner was cooking itself.

Then made a modest house salad to go with the loaf. Tasty, low-cost, low carb and no sweat dinner. A little simple happiness with a glass of  red on a Friday night. And any rests can be nicely wrapped with some veggies for lunch tomorrow.

Ordinary can be good, even delicious. And that’s how I’d like to see life turn out in general. More time to admire the sunset.

Sockeye Salmon and the Unwanted Visitor

Phew…what a Sunday night it was! All kinds of excitement, in addition to the Olympics. You see, my husband’s birthday is this week, but since our friends work late that day, I planned a small surprise party for early evening yesterday. It remained a surprise until about an hour before our friends arrived.  My husband happened to walk into the kitchen and saw me working on a whole fillet of sockeye salmon, you know the one that originates from northern Pacific Ocean but also jumps upstream in Alaska. The bear-dinner salmon. He wondered what I was making and who on earth would eat all that? Then he also saw the plates and cutlery I had prepared in another corner of the kitchen, and he said something smelled fishy, and it was not the salmon. So I had to tell him that some friends were on their way and he’d better change from his worn out turtle t-shirt to something more representable. Oh, well.

So I prepared the salmon fillet in the oven with lemon, herbs, salt and pepper and a few drops of olive oil (350F/175C and 40 minutes), boiled some fingerlings potatoes and broccoli, and made a fresh salad. And mixed my specialty salmon sauce. So the dinner was nicely at hand. Or so I thought until the FBI intervened.

My husband had been reading some newspapers online and was about to close his laptop when he asked me to come from the kitchen to take a look. Since nothing was going to burn, I went to see what was going on. And there it was, an official looking FBI warning that he had downloaded some illegal materials on his computer, IP address so and so. That was ridiculous and we smelled a rat right away. The site was very elaborate and warned my husband that such activity was criminal, punishable by a fine up to $100,000 and/or jail time. Click here to see the typical jail terms. And now his computer had been locked and all his activity was being recorded. In the left corner of his screen I could see myself peering over his shoulder. We tried to close the page with no luck and were immediately told that our computer might be subject to a virus attack, click here to update your virus protection.  We kindly declined the additional virus download and read further. Since it was my husbands first offense, he would be forgiven if he paid a fine of $200. He could conveniently do this by going to a store, buying a $200 Moneypak, then come home and enter the Moneypak code into the computer to unlock it. How convenient! But it wasn’t convenient, or funny, at all. His computer was hostage to a virus, all functions completely disabled, and we had to force it to close. I was tempted to get a meat cleaver from the kitchen, I have to admit. Anyway, we finally resigned to the hostage situation and decided that in the morning we’d take it to the Geek Guard or some similar place to be cleaned.

It was a nice and warm birthday celebration. The sockeye was delicious and we had a really good time. It would have been perfect if the laptop hadn’t been sitting there as a lame duck staring at me. So when our friends left, I tried all the tricks I had taught myself through trial and error in my early years in Africa. You know, when I had a PC with the flickering black and green monitor, Windows 1.05 and I was the only computer wiz around. My handicap now was that viruses had not yet been invented at the time, I had no exposure, so to speak. I tried the safe mode boot, boot from the system disk, and I also tried to boot from the command prompt to be able to restore the system to an earlier, healthy point. But the virus just laughed at my face and, I imagined, ate up more and more of the insides of that laptop.  Mums mums. I even did diagnostics and managed to get the antivirus program to run in the safe mode, just to discover that the virus had already made it incapable to find it. Then I went online in my own computer and visited all the obvious places for support, then roamed numerous programmer forums discussing this virus – FBI Moneypak Ransomware Virus, belonging to the malware family. Good to know. But the advice was useless because I could not even get access to the restore file, and the command prompt did not recognize anything I wrote there. The virus had disabled all these functions and some of the keys on the keyboard as well. Should I give up?

You’re not a quitter, think positive. It was close to midnight and Mr. Bolt had just won the men’s 100 meter olympic gold, when I discovered a small website hailed by the programmers as specialized in removing malware. A really good blogger (thank you!) had discovered, and was kind enough to clearly explain all the different options to remove this unwanted visitor. One of them looked suitable to our very disabled situation. And it worked! By midnight the laptop was up and running again, like new! I am sharing this story just in case you get the same unwanted visitor wanting to taste your sockeye salmon. It’s more and more common now in Europe and also in the US, but many reputable antivirus programs still open the door for it. Good evening Mr. Virus. You don’t need to be a specialist to follow these instructions, just a homemade non-quitter willing to save a trip and some money. Or maybe just eager to blog immediately…