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Posts Tagged ‘artichokes’

Over the past week or so I’ve been bad about my eating habits, in particular not stopping for lunch.  Today I had a piece of leftover baked catfish and some rich lemon broccoli in the fridge that convinced me to take a break.  Switching on the TV, I found myself in the middle of a court case involving a pet owner and a dog breeder.  The pampered pooch in question was a hybrid breed, a peka-schnau or a snicker-doodle (oh, that’s a candy bar) or some such thing.  Call her what you will, she was cute as a bug.  The owner, an older woman, placed her small furry bundle on the table in front of her to show off the animal’s  confirmation as well as showcase the dog’s designer outfit which included a tutu type skirt, an elastic headband, a matching tank and slippers.  Really?  I don’t dress that well.  In all fairness, I guess if you’re showing up for court a dog needs to look her best.

I have several friends with small dogs who have purchased entire wardrobes for their diminutive pals, including outfits suitable for all holidays and occasions as well as play and party wear.  One even has an extensive selection of footwear.  These outfits go for a sizable price as well, and although cute I can’t help wonder if the animal is as enthusiastic about being dressed accordingly or is it more their humans needs that it satisfies.

This brings to mind an experience I had when I was in high school.  For my thirteenth birthday I was gifted a small bundle of energy who I named Mandy.  Mandy was a Pomeranian by breed, and very well-bred as it turned out with papers bearing regal sounding names like Dunchess Chi-Chi Uahua, Bubba Louie Chewie and his mother, Dame Frinkle Tinkle.

It was love at first sight for us, and soon unless in school, like Tonto and the Lone Ranger one didn’t ride far without the other.  As Mandy was a rather expensive gift, my mother and step father entertained the thought of breeding her and recouping their outlay before we had her neutered. Nothing, however, came of this until Mandy was in her second year.  While walking in the neighborhood park with my dog next to me on her leash, a woman in her sixties (I would guess, at that age I thought thirty was ready for the bone yard) stopped me and was petting and admiring the appreciative dog who was now spinning in excitement at all the attention and would have been grinning if she knew what that meant.

After exchanging words for a few minutes she allowed as she was a breeder of Pomeranians and had a young male that had not yet earned his stripes, if you will, and she was interested in breeding him with a well papered female.  Not being sure about all this I accepted her card and took it home to my mother, who, at first reprimanded me for talking to strange people in the park.

On further examination of the card she found it looked like this lady was, in fact, a legitimate breeder and consulting with my stepfather decided to give her a call.  Over the length of the conversation an appointment was made for us to take Mandy to visit the lady and her sister and discuss this in further detail.  Now, I was young and at the time green as a gourd (I’ve ripened considerably since then), so for me this was kind of an uncomfortable undertaking but didn’t want to send Mandy in without someone guarding her back and all the rest of her equipment.

The following Saturday we piled in the car and located the correct address.  A different female face came to the door although somewhat familiar, that we determined to be the woman’s sister.  Ushered inside, the smell of a house with inside dogs became instantly noticeable as well as other tells with various dishes, a myriad of toys and several small beings of the furry genre scurrying to and fro.

In thinking back I can recall the room was very flowery with an overstuffed couch with a white background and what looked like red cabbage sized flowers strewn across the fabric.  Knickknacks were everywhere.  Small spoons hung from a display rack, decorated plates were arranged in rows along the wall and there were two or three massive china cabinets in dark wood brimming over with every manner of clowns, as I remember, and an estate sale’s supply of glassware and china.  It made me instantly claustrophobic.

The lady I’d gotten the card from in the park entered the room with a tray with cookies and tea.  Sitting around in a circle small dogs hopped up and down like on bungee cords and Mandy was starting to get a bit squirmy.  As it turned out if the dogs liked each other (I didn’t realize that this was a prerequisite in canine unions, but I guess she thought it was) and things went on schedule, she would get the pick of the litter for providing the stud.  Whew, this was way too grown up of a conversation for me, so I loaded up the excellent cookies and tried not to feel overwhelmed by the room.

All was going well until she brought out the wedding album.  I’m not lying here. It was a large padded album with “Our Wedding” engraved in gold on the front.  When opened there were a number of professional wedding pictures in which the bride was dressed in a lovely white dress and veil and the groom wore black tie and tails (tails being the operative word here, as both members of the wedding party were sporting them, as well as wet noses). She then suggested to my mother that Mandy would be required to consent to nuptials with her intended in order to proceed with the program and wondered which photographer would be be using, as she had a number she might suggest.

The look on my mother’s face I can still see in my mind’s eye.  Having just taken another bite of cookie I was whisked out the front door in a swirl of cookie dust suddenly being late for an imaginary appointment quicker than Kim Kardashian signed her divorce papers.

In the end Mandy apparently “got along” with my stepbrother’s dog who was a complete mutt, but a lovable one, and had two sweet little pups we called Mutt and Jeff we were most happy with.

So, that’s my tail for today (argh).

Creamy Alfredo Pasta with Chicken and Artichoke Hearts

10 cherry tomatoes, wilted
1/2 cup oven roasted peppers (green, red, yellow or all three)
2 cups rotisserie chicken, shredded
3/4 cup chopped thawed frozen artichoke hearts
3 cups baby spinach leaves, chopped
1/2 box whole grain spaghetti (6 oz.)
2 cups of Alfredo sauce
Parmesan cheese for garnish

Alfredo Sauce

1/4 cup butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup mozzarella cheese

Melt butter in medium saucepan over med-low heat. Add the garlic, cream, white pepper and bring mixture to a simmer stirring regularly.

Add Parmesan cheese and simmer for 8-10 mins. until sauce has thickened and is smooth.

Add the Mozzarella cheese and stir often until cheese has melted and mixture is smooth and creamy.

To assemble recipe:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cover baking sheet with tin foil and spray with cooking spray. Place tomatoes (whole) and sliced peppers on sheet and cook for 20 mins. until tomatoes

have begun to wilt and peppers are tender. Remove from oven and slice tomatoes pushing seeds to the side. Set aside.

Make Alfredo sauce as directed and reserve 2 cups refrigerating the remainder. In deep large saucepan add 2 cups Alfredo sauce, chicken, artichoke hearts, tomatoes and peppers and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10-12 mins.

Meanwhile bring water to boil, salt, and cook spaghetti according to package directions. Drain well.

Add spinach to sauce mixture and continue to cook for 1 min. until spinach is wilted. Toss with pasta and serve with additional shredded Parmesan cheese.

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Well we made it from point A to point B without having anything weird to write about. Almost feels abnormal after the past couple of weeks where I couldn’t go to the bathroom without ending up as a news item.

Presents are wrapped and under the tree, I’m off antibiotics and my face seems to have discontinued puffing up and down at will. Life is good.

It’s oddly balmy for Northern California this winter. No rain to speak of at all. Personally I like a little of the wet stuff from time to time. I probably couldn’t live in Florida where other than the occasional hurricane to liven things up, it’s mainly just ideal weather most of the time. I need a little change now and again.

Living in the southern states, namely Alabama and Arkansas (seems we started with the A’s and just couldn’t move on), there was lots of rain in the winter. During the summer months, however, a weather man there could have put a recording on every day saying “intense, heart stopping heat, with 100% humidity, and possibility of tornadoes carrying your house over to the adjoining county”, and then gone fishing. Small bursts of rain did show up quite regularly during the heat of the day, as though even mother nature couldn’t let you stew in your own juices without throwing a little water on you to cool you off.

Today it is supposed to be in the mid to high sixties here in Northern California, which means that everything I packed in my suitcase will undoubtedly be too warm. Also, we were going to have a grotesque holiday sweater contest, and now we may have to go with the wet tee-shirt contest originally suggested by my Uncle Mat.  Bad holiday sweater contests are actually gaining popularity across the country.  I used to have one about twenty years ago that had a stuffed Rudolph head on the front and, switch turned on, the nose blinked and Rudolph the red-nosed Reindeer played on the small radio sewn on the inside.  Very annoying.  I’m sure I would have won.

Tomorrow night, Christmas Eve, we’re cooking a small turkey for my mother, who is suffering from a big yen for the yard bird and finds Christmas unfulfilling, no pun intended, without it.  On the big day itself we’re enjoying prime rib with Yorkshire pudding (yum, sorry that was my taste buds doing the pottie dance), twice baked potatoes and asparagus with lemony hollandaise sauce.  For a foodie that’s almost the best present you can get.

What to do with the leftover bird is a new challenge for me every year.  The only year I didn’t have to think about it at all was the year, as I’ve written about previously, that our cocker spaniel, Ginger, simply took the meat left on the carcass, and the carcass itself, off the bread board while we were seated at dinner and dragged it grease and all down the hallway and hid it under my son’s bed.  Problem solved.  Disclaimer:  I do not recommend that you try this at home unless you have an excellent method for carpet cleaning.

Another year while living in West Virginia we were invited to our surrogate family’s house for dinner.  Since our families were on the west coast, they incorporated us into their large and lovely group, so we felt like we were kin, if you will.  All the women in the family were fabulous cooks, and always said about themselves that you just had to look at them to know this to be true.  The men, all hunters, provided unusual and often delicious contributions to the meal so you never knew what might show up on the table.  My dear friend, Cindy, who passed away way too young after we left the state, used to make a venison lasagna that was the best variation of that particular delectable dish I’ve ever eaten.  Once I was there for dinner where possum was on the menu, but I kept thinking of that myopic little creature that I’d found in my backyard several weeks prior with its snout stuck in a tin can we used to catch grease on the barbecue.  Just couldn’t get around that rodent tail to get into the dish itself.  I know, I know, where is my pioneer spirit?  I might have been the only vegetarian on the plains if I’d had to kill my own meat.  Most probably the pigs, turkeys, and assorted farm animals would have had a place setting at the table in my cabin.

We had occasion, on several years during our stay in that beautiful state, to share a table with them over the holidays.  One year in particular all the women gathered in the kitchen and pulled together the most delicious feast, each of us contributing our own expertise to the meal.  It was just button poppin good, to coin a phrase.  After stuffing the last available cavity in our bodies, we put away the food making to-go packages for everyone on their way out.  Ours was piled with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, homemade biscuits and all the fixin’s. As full as I was I was already looking forward to that “day after sandwich” for breakfast the following morning.

The Coles were a gooey bunch, with lots of hugging and sticky goodbyes, something I much cherished about them.  It was late when we finally squeezed our overstuffed selves into the car seats and with only our headlights to mark the way made our way along the back roads in the holler and onto the freeway.  When we arrived home I looked in the back seat for our goodies only to discover that we’d left them on the top of the car when we drove off.

After calling to thank our hosts the next day, they said they found the containers half way down the road with only a few drops of gravy on them to indicate they’d contained food.  Some critter was out there under the stars thinking, “Merry Christmas to me”.  Smile.

This is a great way to use up the bird.  Enjoy.

Turkey, Artichoke and Cheese Gratin

3/4 lb. ground turkey
1 yellow squash, cut diagonally in 1/4″ slices
3 zucchini, cut diagonally in 1/4″ slices
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. bread crumbs
1/2 tsp. dried sage
1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 scallions, trimmed and minced
1 8 1/2 oz. can artichoke hearts, drained
1 1/2 cups Swiss cheese, shredded
3 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese, grated
3/4 cups light cream
1 Tbsp. freshly chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In large mixing bowl mix squashes, bread crumbs, sage, flour, 1 tsp. salt and pepper.

In blender or food processor puree artichoke hearts, scallions, 1/2 cup of Swiss cheese, 1/4 cup cream, the remaining salt and a pinch of pepper.

Spread 1/3 of squash mixture over bottom of a shallow 2 quart baking dish. Spread 1/2 of the artichoke puree over the squash. Top with 1/2 of the turkey. Repeat layering ending with squash mixture.

Mix together the remaining 1 cup of Swiss cheese, remaining bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and parsley. Sprinkle evenly on top. Drizzle with remaining 1/2 cup of cream.

Bake for 50 mins. or until top is golden brown. Let stand for 10 mins. prior to serving.

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Another Thanksgiving behind us.  As usual, the morning after I began my yearly process of dragging the boxes marked “Christmas” out of the closet, starting with the one marked “lights”.  No matter how many strings of working lights I put neatly away the year before, a third of them don’t light when I plug them in the following year.  Must be built-in obsolescence, like computers.  The model of this laptop was probably already obsolete before UPS dropped it off at my front door, my search engine before I opened the box, and certainly my software ten minutes after I installed it.  Maybe that’s a common thread that runs through the larger plan.  Humans come equipped with it.  Aging begins the moment we take our first breath.  I know after the holidays pass these days my body marks the passing of time a little more then it used to.

Tom was a larger bird this year, twenty-three pounds.  Wrestling him out of the bottom shelf of the refrigerator and getting him on top of my counter took three men and a van. Actually, I did it myself and I believe I can now clip my toe nails without bending over.  I don’t stuff the bird these days.  Stuffing gets baked casserole style while the bird is “resting” waiting to sacrifice himself for the whole.  Word is, according to the experts, stuffing the bird the night before may cause severe digestive distress, or worse actually be the last punch in your card if ingested. Who are these experts anyhow?  Anybody ever met one? Have you ever listened to the disclaimers on the prescription drug ads, and yet they’re deemed fit for human consumption.  How on earth did we manage before all the information they provide us?  I can remember as a child seeing meat defrosting in the sink, eggs sat in a wire chicken basket on the counter, stuffing was always put in the bird the night before and yet I can never recall seeing a coroner’s van in front of our house the day after Thanksgiving, and unless I’m having an out of body experience I’m sitting at my obsolete computer writing this blog, and I’m still around.

Way back when, there was no refrigeration. For people living in the now, comprehending life without refrigerators, washers and dryers, ranges, and dishwashers would be like trying to imagine not flipping a switch and having light fill the room.  I know for me when we have an electrical outage I still go into a room and flip the switch out of habit, even it nothing’s going to happen when I do.

As a little girl, my grandmother and I spent a great deal of time together in her kitchen. While chopping, stirring, and cooking, she would share stories of her life, including the fact that she and my grandfather got one of the first refrigerators in their neighborhood.  Before the first refrigerators, people had ice boxes. Large blocks of ice were delivered by wagon, or later trucks to keep food cold.  Halifax, though not a small town, had a small town feel to it.  Neighbors knew neighbors.  Word passed through the phone lines that the refrigerator had been delivered and, one by one, friends and interested parties showed up at my grandmother’s front door to take a look.  It was much smaller back in the day.  There was no side by side, no defrost bin, no filtered water, and if you wanted ice, I suppose the ice man came into play again.  I don’t know, I wasn’t there.  Really.

On the farm where my grandmother was raised, she told me they cured their meat, or smoked it to preserve it, or cellars were dug to keep the meat cool.  During the winter they buried it in the snow.  With my memory, I’d probably bury it and never find it again until the spring.

We’ve come a long way since the milk man delivered milk, butter, and eggs to the back door.  In Egypt, so my other half tells me, when he was growing up a farmer would come by in the morning on a bicycle with large metal containers strapped to the sides.  The servants would come out to the street with pails and fresh milk would be ladled into them.  Once inside, the rich cream would be skimmed from the top and given to the children, or used by the adults in their coffee.  In his memory, nothing tasted as good as a child as that thick, rich cream.

Today I’m making soup out of the turkey, and finishing the tree.  I went out early this morning and picked up two new strands of lights. You know, the miniature lights that used to cost a couple of bucks, and now cost something resembling my last car payment.  I then went to the grocery store and bought two steaks and a baguette and had to take out a second on the house.  To add insult to injury the twelve year old with the braces bagging my groceries, asked if I needed help out to the car with my purchase.  Really?  I’m barely baby boomer age, I think I can still manage two filet mignons and a thin loaf of bread without requiring attention from emergency personnel between the store and the car, but thank you for asking.  For the prices they’re charging for food these days, humor me and I.D. me for the wine. Now, that would make for a satisfying shopping experience.

These green beans are New Orlean’s style, and a really nice change of pace.  As with all good Cajun food it’s rich and gooey and rates a second helping.

New Orleans Style Artichoke and Green Bean Casserole

1 large onion, finely diced
1/2 cup olive oil
8 garlic cloves, minced
1 9 oz. pkg. frozen artichokes hearts, thawed
2 lbs. fresh green beans, trimmed
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup Italian bread crumbs
3 Tbsp. freshly chopped parsley
2 Tbsp. melted butter
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice the green beans lengthwise (French cut). Cover with water (salted) in large deep skillet and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to med-low and continue cooking on low simmer until green beans are tender. Remove from heat and drain. Set aside.

Quarter artichoke hearts. Set aside.

Coat bottom of large skillet with 2 Tbsp. olive oil. Heat until shimmery. Add onions. Brown lightly occasionally scraping bits from bottom of pan. Add 2 Tbsp. of water and scrape all bits. Add remaining olive oil and garlic and chopped parsley. Cook until garlic is fragrant.

Add artichokes and green beans. Thoroughly heat mixture, stirring frequently to coat evenly. Add 1/2 cup bread crumbs, salt, pepper, and cayenne. If too dry add a little more olive oil stirring well to mix evenly. Season if necessary.

Place in greased casserole dish. Pour other half of bread crumbs over top. Drizzle with melted butter. Bake for 25-30 mins.

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Friday afternoon I headed out to make the hour and a half drive south to my daughter’s house. As we’re not going to be together on Thanksgiving, I wanted to spend a few days with her, my son-in-law and my two oldest granddaughters.

During the weekdays their house is taken over by anywhere from nine to twelve little people, also known as preschoolers. Brave souls, in my estimation, she and her employees have been grooming these mini me’s to go forward in their lives for ten years now, and do an amazing job. It takes tremendous patience to deal with the whiner, the screamer, the pouter, the non-stop chatterer, the thumb sucker, the princess, the tough guy and the rest of the characters represented there, but they do it seamlessly.

I arrived towards the end of nap time, and the house was uncharacteristically quiet as all the inmates were in lockup. While the staff was working on a project upstairs scheduled to occupy the rest of the children’s afternoon, I was asked to guard the door against any would-be escapees and notify the staff if anyone needed attention. As I don’t find much time these days to sit and read, one of my favorite pastimes, I poured myself a cup of coffee, took out my novel, removed my shoes and curled up on the couch.

Shortly thereafter, I began to hear stirrings on the baby monitor resting on the table next to me. Minutes later the door to the nap room tentatively opened and a particularly diminutive peanut emerged from behind it, blanket in hand. Seeing me on the couch instead of the usual familiar faces, he stopped in his tracks and surveyed the situation. You could almost hear his little mind assessing whether to scream and run or interact with me. Curiosity getting the better of him, and after eyeing me for a minute or two apparently determining, in his mind at least, that I was harmless, he sidled towards me.  I resisted the urge to say, “I mean you no harm”, but instead sat quietly.

Looking down over my reading glasses and still saying nothing, I gently patted the couch pillow next to me. Handing me his obviously much-loved blanket with faded images of Mickey Mouse printed on it, he climbed up and settled in nicely under the crook of one of my arms. Once again my book was abandoned, as peanuts, for those of you that have them at home, require attention when alert and mobilized. After having a little thumb with his blanket, he spoke. I did not recognize his native tongue, so returned a few words in mine and gleaned that he wanted a glass of water, which I retrieved, handing him a blue plastic cup. After several more sentences in this extraordinary language, I got the feeling this was not the cup he was used to but, at least for this time, he would make an exception and drink from it. It was clear, however, from his expression that I would need to step up my game in the future.

Realizing that my book probably was a little over his head, well, most things probably are over his head, I chose a Dr. Seuss book from the extensive library and read to him while he commented animatedly on the pictures on each page. One word he spoke quite clearly was Jack, his name, as well as Nana, which it seemed, was to be mine.

Soon the rest of the scallywags and pillagers poured out of the room and the house was abuzz with activity. I helped fill glasses, the right ones this time, and sat next to them while they worked on turkeys for their parents made by drawing outlines of their hands, and enjoyed just hanging out with them. Children are so open, for the most part. If they don’t like you, they don’t hesitate to let you know and will unabashedly hug you if the urge moves them. I like that. As adults we’re too worried about what other adults think of us. Children don’t seem to spend much time thinking about that. It’s more black and white and much less gray in their world.

After all charges had been picked up for the weekend we relaxed and had some family time. Saturday morning we hit the stores early as the plan was a family party that night and we were cooking. Intuitive in the kitchen, cooking with a pinch of this and a palmful of that, my kid moves quickly like I do when she’s making a dish and cleans up as she goes, also a trait of mine. Guess we do pass on an occasional piece of good information to our children from time to time. Nice to know some of it sticks.

Dinner was delicious. I’m including one of several recipes she shared with me.  The following would be excellent on turkey day as an appetizer.

Fried Artichoke Hearts with Lemon Aioli

Lemon Aioli

1 cup mayonnaise
4 Tbsp. freshly chopped parsley
3 tsp. lemon zest
4 Tbsp. lemon juice
3 garlic cloves, pressed
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. olive oil
Salt to taste if desired

Whisk together all ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Fried Artichoke Hearts

2  eggs
1 cup whole milk
2 15 oz. cans marinated artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
1 1/2 cups seasoned dry bread crumbs
3/4 cups Panko breadcrumbs
2 cups cooking oil
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese

Drain artichoke hearts on paper towels and quarter.

Heat oil in deep skillet or heavy saucepan to 350 degrees.

Whisk together egg and milk. In large resealable bag mix together seasoned bread crumbs and Panko bread crumbs. Place artichoke hearts in bag in batches and shake to coat evenly.

Deep fry for 2-3 minutes until deep golden brown in color. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Serve with aioli sauce.

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