Sunday, February 27, 2011

Award and An Update

I recently received a Stylish Blogger Award and according to the rules I am supposed to list 7 things you might not know about me, then pass the award on to 10 other stylish bloggers and let them know they have been awarded. Those are the rules. I told you the first thing about me in my last post, so I’ll continue with #2.

Isaac's reaction to Halloween
2. My grandson Isaac is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Did I even need to say that? He’s not a docile, always happy and smiling baby, but sometimes moody, cranky and demanding - like me (that’s #3 about me, by the way). I love him all the more for it. Isaac has brought out a trait in me I did not know I possessed (ask my husband) – infinite patience. No matter if Isaac laughs or cries, smiles, screams or fusses, he commands my complete and unlimited attention.

4. I love chicken wings. Not the ones you get at those wing shops. The ones I bake in mango chutney. They are a perfect party appetizer. Just pour on the chutney and bake at 300 degrees. The longer you cook them, the better they get. You can leave them in the oven all day and remove and serve as needed. We’ve been serving these wings for 10 years at our Christmas open house to rave reviews.

5. We have a real weakness for wine clubs. Until recently we belonged to five clubs, but we are currently overwhelmed with wines and have reduced it to four for now.

6. Paper plates are often my inspiration for a party. I have to stay out of those party stores or I will come home with a whole theme party (not like Star Wars or Barbie, but something grownup and classy, most of the time). Then I buy glassware to match. I’m out of room for glassware. At least the paper plates get tossed after the party.

7. My secret television vice is “Say Yes to the Dress.” I could watch it all day. Everyone I know hates the show, but I just love watching all those brides try on dresses. I never did that for my wedding, but we had such a wonderful experience shopping with my daughter-in-law for her dress, the show brings back great memories.

My surgery went smoothly on Friday and while I was resting yesterday I made my list of recipients of the Stylish Blogger Award. If it made any sense, I would pass it back to Kim at LivLife who gave it to me, because hers is one of my favorite blogs. I love her stories and recipes and she has the cutest puppies I've ever seen. Plus, her photography is phenomenal. I have several other favorites who have already received the award recently, so I will try to name some new ones in this round.

Willow Bird Baking – I love Julie’s sometimes quirky stories and her photography is amazing.
Food Gal – Carolyn’s blog is a mixture of recipes, book and restaurant reviews, interviews and great photography
Just Eat! – Joshua’s culinary adventures in France are always entertaining
a thought for food – Brian has outstanding photography (are you seeing a theme here in my choices?) and great recipes
Jacob’s Kitchen – more great recipes and photography
Leek Soup – Dina is a food photographer and she also shares stories of travels and cooking
More Than Burnt Toast – I enjoy Val’s stories, recipes and photography
Spicie Foodie – Nancy exemplifies great design, entertaining writing, good recipes and photography
the good soup – Angela writes about serious (and potentially controversial) food-related issues, as well as cooking and the challenges of being a new mom. Her blog design is fabulous!

Thank you all for your different perspectives and bringing excellence and variety to the world of food blogging.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Good News and Bad

First the good news. My blogger friend, Kim at Liv Life bestowed a Stylish Blogger Award on Tastemonials recently. I always feel so honored when someone recognizes my blog with an award. Thank you so much, Kim. And if you think my blog is stylish now, wait until I implement my new design. I’ve had it ready since December, but I’m afraid to attempt installation with my limited technical skills. I have to wait until I can coordinate schedules with my friend and technical consultant, Steve. I’m afraid I’ll blow something up if I try to do it on my own.

The rules of the award are that I should tell you 7 things about myself and pass the award on to 10 other stylish bloggers. I’ll work on most of this in the near future, but for now I’ll start with one thing about myself. That’s where the bad news comes in.

For anyone who has followed my blog for a while, you may remember that the way it began was during a medical leave from my job around this time last year. After two surgeries and while undergoing treatment for cancer, I started writing as a creative outlet. I go for checkups every three months and everything appeared fine in my December appointment. But the lab results came back suspicious.

So tomorrow I am scheduled for biopsies to check out the situation. It’s a short procedure and the recovery should be quick. In a week or so, I’ll know if I have to do another round of treatment. The good news in the bad news is the treatment isn’t terrible, it’s just very fatiguing. More time to cook and write, I guess, if I have to take two months off from work again.  With this kind of tumor, it is almost a given that it comes back, I had just hoped it wouldn’t be so soon. And maybe it won’t be. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tagine or Not Tagine?

Last weekend Larry decided to try out the tagine he gave me for Christmas. I had planned to cook a recipe of chicken and vegetables served over couscous that I had made previously in a regular soup pot, but he took over the experiment. 

He decided immediately there was no way three chicken breasts with bones were going to fit into the tagine. On my last attempt, I had cut the chicken in half and managed to fit in three of the halves. He decided to bake the chicken instead. He opted to cook only the vegetables in the tagine. He didn’t heed my advice to put the tagine on a cookie sheet in the oven. If you remember, on my test run, the liquid ran out all over the oven. And guess what? It did it again. Another big mess. 

When the vegetables were done, Larry shredded the chicken and stirred it into the mixture. The stew was very good but more effort than necessary, especially with the mess!

Tagine or not tagine? I vote no. The same recipe could be made with much less trouble in a large soup pot or Dutch oven. If you decide to buy one, make sure it’s really big. Mine is about 12 inches and it won’t even hold enough for a two serving recipe.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dinner at Alexander's

For many years, we have celebrated Valentine’s Day with our friends who live next door. Some years the neighbors cook and we decorate, other years we switch with Larry and I cooking and they are in charge of the atmosphere.

This year, for the first time, we decided to go out for dinner instead. We had planned a special dinner for Cali’s BIG birthday last fall at Alexander’s Steakhouse, the only Michelin starred restaurant in our immediate neighborhood. But due to their daughter Sarah's teenage scheduling conflicts, the birthday dinner was postponed. Since we had never rescheduled, we decided to make Alexander’s our Valentine’s celebration.

We started the evening by ordering the popcorn crab “snack.” Before the crab arrived, we were treated to an amuse bouche of avocado mousse, cream cheese and trout roe. It was Sarah’s first amuse bouche, but she was not thrilled with the roe. I was impressed that a 16 year old would even try it! The crab bites were light and sweet, lightly breaded and cheesy, served with sriracha mayonnaise for dipping.

After salads, came a hibiscus intermezzo that we all enjoyed. The entrees got mixed reviews. None of us splurged and ordered the Wagyu steaks. The ladies all chose filets and were pleased with their selections. Larry had a NY strip which was more rare than the medium well he requested. Paul’s prime rib had good flavor, but was quite chewy. The sides of two kinds of potatoes and creamed spinach were good, but not outstanding.

The service was the most impressive aspect of the evening. It was impeccable. By the time a glass was half empty it was refilled or replaced. Sarah, with her astute observational skills, noted right away that many of the tables in the restaurant were inexpensive, aluminum folding tables that seemed out of character for the fine dining atmosphere. We decided they must have replaced the usual larger tables with more smaller tables due to the Valentine's weekend couples crowd.

Sarah loved the cotton candy they deliver with the check. But my favorite part of the evening was Sarah’s FaceBook comment the next morning. She said she’d had an awesome dinner with her family the night before. When I commented (she lets me be her FB friend) I was happy she still considers me family, she hit “Like” to my comment. That a sometimes petulant, but always enchanting, beautiful, engaging 16 year old enjoys going out to dinner with me and considers me “family” was my best Valentine gift.  And speaking of gifts,  one year when she was much younger, Sarah gave us her most prized possession as our Christmas gift– the smelly cast that had just been removed from her broken arm!

Valentine Treat

We didn't cook a fancy dinner to celebrate Valentine's Day this year, but we did have a special treat for dessert. There is nothing we love more than good chocolate. So as a special surprise, I brought us a little box of Belgian chocolates from Brussels. I kept it a secret until tonight. I presented the box after dinner to go with a glass (or two) of our favorite port. We celebrated with a toast to health, happiness and long-lasting love.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

World Nutella Day

Who knew there was such a thing as World Nutella Day??!! Who decides on these things? But I happened to have my first taste of Nutella last week on a business trip to Switzerland. Just in time to celebrate the special day! I’ve been reading that Nutella is the trendy ingredient for 2011 and I've seen so many recipes on other blogs. When I saw that little single-serving pouch of Nutella on the breakfast bar at the hotel, I couldn’t resist. I spread it on my breakfast roll for a taste.

Not exactly what I was expecting. I love chocolate, but not usually before 10am. I could see how it would be great for cooking, but I don’t think I want it for breakfast. A little too sweet and chocolatey and not as much of the hazelnut as I had hoped.

So to celebrate World Nutella Day (and avoid the SuperBowl) I decided to select a recipe from someone’s blog and do a little cooking on Sunday. I was only a day late, since the Nutella holiday was actually on Saturday. Not being a football fan and having been out of the kitchen for over a week, a little baking sounded much better than an afternoon in front of the TV.

I selected Spicie Foodie's Nutella Banana BreadAn easy recipe and I had all the ingredients on hand. My loaf came out a little lopsided and my texture was nothing like hers. But it had great flavor and was moist and light. We loved it. The banana somewhat overwhelmed the Nutella flavor, but it had a nice buttery undertone that is not a component of my usual banana bread recipe.

I also wanted to make some homemade granola. I haven’t been happy with my breakfast routine lately and I thought this might improve the start of my day. Again, I have a recipe I’ve used before, but decided to try something new. This time I went to Jason at Ancient Fire Wine for the recipe. I used the second recipe from his post and made a few changes. I deleted the raisins (I don’t like raisins) and added a few extra cranberries. I substituted pecans for walnuts (I don't like walnuts). I also added some cashews since I love cashews and we had a new unopened bag. Does it even sound like the same recipe? I'm not really a picky eater, it's just so simple to customize something like this recipe with your own favorites. The granola is delicious and easy to make. If you go to Jason's website for the recipe, it doesn’t give the baking temperature – it’s 325 degrees.

And while you’re at Ancient Fire Wine, check out another of Jason’s posts on fundraising for the American Cancer Society and his participation in Relay for Life. Like Jason, I am a cancer survivor and I support his enthusiastic commitment to raising funds for cancer research and maybe you would like to as well.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Swiss Surprise

Flying from Zurich to Brussels (business class again) we were served a little “snack.” As you can see, it had a German look with the roast beef, German potato salad and dill pickle, along with the cheeses. Over there on the left with the cheese is a jam that I though was apricot. Every time I’ve been served bread and cheese, there’s been apricot jam. I put a large dollop on my brie and bread and was I ever surprised. HORSERADISH!!!  Who puts horseradish in jam???!!! Apparently Germans do. My host colleague who is German (living in Switzerland) later told me this is orange marmalade with horseradish and it’s not something she eats. I expected the horseradish in the potato salad, but not the jam.

Our first night in Zug, my destination just outside Zurich, I asked my colleague to suggest something on the dinner menu that is traditionally Swiss. Although it was a seafood restaurant, she suggested the rösti. This is a large pancake made of shredded potatoes, vegetables and cheese served here on a bed of spinach salad with pine nuts. It was good, but a little greasy for my taste. We were served several amuse bouches probably because our dinner took forever to arrive, but I have no idea what they were. One was a very rich cheese, drizzled with an even richer, sweet, yet salty sauce. The server literally whispered in my ear “the secret of Pavorotti’s golden voice” before he swiftly disappeared once again.

The following night I dined alone at my hotel and had a frustrating, but amusing (and again very slow) dinner of a cheese plate because the waiter couldn’t understand that he was only bringing me the dessert menu.

On the way to Brussels for another meeting, my host colleague suggested we purchase a box of these macaroons at the airport to take with us for the staff  at the Beerse office. They are quite a treat in Zurich and have become sort of the symbol of the city according to the literature that came with them. Confiserie Sprüngli that makes them is 175 years old. The macaroons* are called Luxemburgerli because they were introduced to the company 50 years ago by a young pastry chef from Luxembourg. They are so delicate, it is recommended they be eaten within a day.

The Luxemburgerli were well received in Beerse. No one there had tried them before. I had one each of hazelnut, lemon and chocolate. The cookie was light, delicate and crisp and the filling was rich and creamy. I should point out that there were two layers and I did not eat most of what I bought. But they disappeared quickly with the chocolate receiving the highest accolades from most everyone. It’s too bad they are so delicate that I couldn’t bring some back to my coworkers at home. They’ll have to settle for Belgian chocolates.

*I'm a little confused by the terminology. I thought these were macarons in French and that macaroons are  coconut cookies. But they call these macaroons. Whatever - they were lovely!