Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sprigs of Rosemary: Food Blogger Unplugged

Several weeks ago, Susan @ The Spice Garden, invited me to participate in "Food Bloggers Unplugged," where bloggers share a bit about themselves and their food (and blogging) inspiration.  I've been delighted to get to know Susan and her blog.  I imagine Susan's life is much like mine -- living in a rural part of the country and, after working a lifetime, having the time and freedom to do much of what you want, one of which  for me is spending time exploring food and writing about it.

So, here I go . . .  unplugged:

1. Who or what inspired you to start a blog?
Not a very original or epiphany-like start, I'm afraid.  I read Orangette and merely said to myself:  "I'd like to do something like that."  And after reading a few other blogs and letting a few months lapse, Sprigs of Rosemary was born.

2. Who is your foodie inspiration?
Probably my Aunt Mary, although my sister Lynn has a lot to do with it, too.  They both were very adventurous in the kitchen, not satisfied with the ordinary and always inspired to try something new.  And they always seemed to do it well.  I've certainly also been inspired by many a food blogger and a handful of TV cooks.  I was watching Rachael Ray when she had just one show and before she became an enterprise.  Back then she seemed so fresh and had a free-spirited way of cooking I admired.

3. Your greasiest, batter-splattered cook/drink book?
The first cookbook I ever bought for myself is one I still turn to often.  It's Gourmet on the Run, published by Glamour magazine, edited by Jane Kirby.  The spine is cracked and it has many smeared and dog-eared pages.  I loved the book because more than giving you recipes, it taught a way to cook with charts that showed this could combine with that or that with this.  I am a cookbook addict, though, and I'm always adding to my big, fat and still growing collection.  (And to think if I didn't weed it out once in a while!)
Glamour's Gourmet on the Run
4.  Tell us about the best thing you've ever eaten in another country.  Where was it and what was it?
I was lucky enough to go to London once, the only time I've been outside the country, except for Canada (which doesn't really count -- same continent and all!) and we catch our own walleye there!

The London trip was for business.  (Lucky me!)    We flew over on the company's private jet (one formerly owned by Arnold Schwarzenegger -- it still had a stenciled "I'll be back!" on the door!)  My boss took me to a Russian restaurant where we ate really good caviar, but my most vivid memory is her taking me to Harrod's Where I gazed open-mouthed at the Food Halls. Then she took me to a sushi restaurant there and  taught me  to use chopsticks, although I could still use some practice.  I felt so very cosmopolitan that day!


5.  Another food blogger whose table you'd love to sit at is . . .
Very tough question.  There really are so many!  But if I really, really could only pick one, I'd pick Marie@ Proud Italian Cook because she seems to be equally creative as traditional, making a roasted vegetable tart one day, then hand-made pasta the next.  She also balances rich dishes with light ones. Maybe she's a Libra, too!

6.  What's one food gadget on your wish list (price is no object)?
I'm really not much of a gadget person.  (When you have a small kitchen, you can't afford it!) I have my Kitchen Aid mixer (and a few attachments), got a pasta machine, a new salad spinner I love.  I need a new food processor, but I think if I could splurge, I'd get a good mandoline and hope I don't cut myself. Or maybe Wusthoff knives.

7.  Who taught you to cook?
My mother taught me all the basics even though she spared me the correct terminology.  I learned how to braise, cream, chop, brown, make gravy, test a cake, how to season, plan a meal, etc.    I still can't get her pie crust down, though.  (She was one of those who didn't need a recipe for pastry!)  But the rest of it is self-taught, just from reading magazines and cookbooks and experimenting.

8.  I'm coming to dinner.  What's your signature dish?
I love to make cannelloni! Making the crepes is a pain, but I love it.  The filling I like best is a mixture of spinach, ground beef and chicken livers bound with cream (and a little nutmeg!)  Then there's two sauces, a simple marinara and a bechamel, and lots of cheese  Delicious, rich, a definite treat.

9. What's your guilty food pleasure?
Chocolate chip cookie dough.  Nuff said.  I feel guilty just thinking about it.

10.  Reveal something about yourself others would be surprised to know.
I wish I could say something like I worked my way through college as a pole dancer, but I don't have very many surprises or secrets.  I wish I would have been a librarian.  That's it.

In addition to sharing some of your self, part of Food Bloggers Unplugged  game means inviting other food bloggers who intrigue you to do the same.  That's probably harder than baring your foodie soul, because there's so much inspiration out there, so many new blogs I pop in to see.  I have my favorites, of course, and some just seem like old friends (who happen to be good cooks.)  And I visit some of the food blogger luminati occasionally, too.  But here are a handful of  "new to me" bloggers I've been reading routinely lately.   Please visit . . .

      Melissa @ I Was Born to Cook
Heather @ girlichef

Thanks for reading and letting me indulge in a little storytelling!  And thanks for the invitation, Susan!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Better Beer Batter Bread

Although I haven't given up on making good bread -- that is, real bread, not quick bread, not bread machine bread, not no-knead bread -- I  needed to shore up my confidence a bit with a couple little successes before I tackle it the real deal again.  And that's where this beer bread comes in.

My stepdaughter introduced me to beer bread and, I have to admit, that although it's not traditional bread, it's very good.  It's denser, heartier and heavier but it's not the brick I've manufactured in the past.

And I've successfully made it a few times.  The last time our granddaughter came to stay for an overnight, she had a hankering for the beer bread and was hoping we'd have it toasted for breakfast.  (We didn't. I'm sure I had  something infinitely fancier planned.  Had I known she would have been tickled with beer bread!)

Not too long ago, I shared this recipe with an acquaintance.  Alas!  It didn't turn out too swell for her!  She wasn't blaming me but she did quiz me a lot about all the steps.  And after I'd told her how easy it was!

So I promptly went home and made a loaf.  I was afraid I'd done the unthinkable -- had the measurements written down wrong or the temperature, or even forgotten a step.  I'd revisited what I'd given her, and it was all correct.  So I had to prove to myself that it was all right and make it again.  And it was great.

I have to emphasize  -- just as the original source of this recipe did --  that sifting is very, very important, particularly in this recipe.  (But my friend told me she did sift, so I'm still puzzled.)

Without further ado, here's the recipe, and baker beware!

Beer Batter Bread
Makes one loaf, six to eight slices

3 cups flour, sifted
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup sugar
1 (12 ounce) can beer
½ cup melted butter (1/4 cup is enough)

Preheat oven to 375 and grease a loaf pan.  Mix the dry ingredients.  Be sure to sift well.  Even though this is an easy recipe, you cannot skip the sifting.)  Blend the beer into the dry ingredients.  Spread into the prepared pan.  Pour melted butter over the top. 
Bake 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.  Let cool in pan 10 minutes, then remove from pan and cool another 10 minutes before slicing.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

This produces a thick and hearty bread; it’s not a biscuit and it’s not traditional bread.  But bread it is and I’ll take it!  Shredded cheese and herbs are great additions.  This is a perfect companion to chili or any kind of soup.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Instant Karma Broccoli Chowder

"Instant Karma" was playing on the car radio and I asked Mr. Rosemary what he thought "instant karma" meant.  His first response:  "Love at first sight."

Now that's not the real definition of instant karma, John Lennon's version or not, but that's what I thought of today as I made this chowder:  It was meant to be, especially on a frigid day like today.

As we were headed out the door this brisk morning, layering ourselves in our barn clothes to much the horse stalls, Mr. Rosemary told me the thermometer read 10 degrees.

Pretty dang cold.

After we finished our chores (and it was indeed dang cold!), he told me that he'd misread the thermometer without his glasses on:  It really had said minus 1.0.  Now that's real dang cold.  (Sometimes it's better not knowing actually how cold it is.)

Soup is the only cure for that many degrees of frigidity!

I'm still in the post-holiday mode of lightening up, though, and where I would ordinarily make broccoli soup with cream, or at least half-and-half, I adapted a recipe I had plastered to the fridge earlier in the week for a less rich soup from Eating Well.

This soup gets its thickening from a little flour and potatoes and the creaminess from  non-fat yogurt. (The original recipe uses reduced fat sour cream.  I also subbed chicken broth for  vegetable. I also used whole fat cheese; just less of it.)   Of course all the good effort was probably negated when I had a piece of buttered beer bread on the side  -- the beer bread's for another post -- but, after all, it is my karma.

Broccoli Chowder
adapted from Eating Well
makes 6 (1 cup) servings
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large carrot, finely diced
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, peeled and diced
1 large potato, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon AP flour
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
28 ounces chicken broth
1 bunch broccoli, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup non-fat plain yogurt
1/4 teaspoon salt

Heat oil in a Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium high heat.  Add onion, celery and carrot and cook, stirring often until the onion and celery soften, about 5 minutes.  Add the potato and garlic; cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes.  Stir in flour, dry mustard and cayenne; cook, stirring often again, for another 2 minutes.

Add broth and cut up broccoli; bring to a boil.  Cover and reduce heat to medium.  Simmer, stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes.  Transfer 2 cups of the chowder to a bowl and mash and then return to pan.

Stir in cheese and yogurt and cook stirring until the cheese is melted and the chowder is heated through.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Popeye Powered Green Rice

I'm sure it was just subliminal brainwashing that I love spinach because of watching Popeye cartoons as a kid because it certainly wasn't because of the first way I learned to eat it.  My mother used to serve very well cooked leaf spinach from a frozen block.  It was sprinkled with vinegar and garnished with hard-cooked eggs.  I liked it okay, but that was the only way I knew it.

"It's full of iron," she'd say.  It's good for you."  My first super-food, because Mom said so and because it performed miracles for Popeye. (My mom even managed to find Popeye shaped spinach noodles at the store!)

If you think Popeye is just the name for a restaurant chain, let me give you the real lowdown:

Popeye was a skinny, seemingly hapless sailor with a corn cob pipe who was in love with an also skinny girl named Olive Oyl.  The object of his affection was relentlessly pursued by Bluto, a burly bully of a villain.  When put into all kinds of fanciful situations, our hopeless hero becomes magnificent  -- smart, strong and fast -- after downing a can of spinach!  His biceps tripled in size, his chest puffed out and he sped away like a locomotive to save Olive Oyl from some traumatic fate, usually involving the conniving Bluto. Popeye could do anything, overcome any obstacle, all because he was empowered by that spinach.

Since my Popeye days, I've had spinach a hundred or more different ways.  My first spinach salad, a wilted salad with bacon dressing, was a real eye opener. Then there were quiches, and lasagne filling and souffles, frittata, omelets, pizzas.  That's one versatile green!

I wish I could say I had the same love for rice.  Rice has to pretty well dressed up for me.  Naked won't do.  Rice is just a bed for something else.

But when I marry rice and spinach?  Now that's something.  And when you add coconut milk, well that's almost risotto!  Creamy and nutty and speckled with green punches of power!

Spinach and rice sounds prettier in Spanish -- Arroz Verde -- and usually is jazzed up with cilantro and onion, among a few other additions. But I liked my coconut milk addition; I used a light version so still got the richness without too many extra calories.

I thought I was clever by not adding too much moisture to the pan as the rice cooked, thinking that the frozen spinach would add what was needed besides the milk, but it needed a little more moisture and I wrote up the recipe to reflect that.

And if you do decide to make some kind of green rice you just might join me in singing the Popeye refrain:

I'm strong to the finich,
cuz I eats me spinach,
I'm Popeye the Sailor Man!

Green Rice
makes 6 to 8 servings
1 (14 ounce) can light coconut milk
1/4 cup water
1 10 ounce package frozen chopped spinach
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, or 4-5 scrapes of a nutmeg with a grater

Place rice, coconut milk, water and salt in a pan with the frozen block of spinach.  Bring to a boil.  Break up the spinach with a wooden spoon.  Reduce heat to a simmer and cover until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender, about 25 minutes.  Add the nutmeg, stir again, and serve.

Friday, January 6, 2012

It Worked! Six Pounds Lighter!

It worked!  I'm six pounds lighter after starting the Four-Day Wonder Diet Monday.  YAY!

It's just the jump start I need; now, if I just stay mindful I can keep myself on track and feel svelte enough to don a bathing suit when I head to Florida at the end of the month.

I can see that there's plenty of encouragement out there . . . every magazine I pick up and every website I visit has tons of great recipes and tips for eating healthy and shaving calories.  Foodista  even had an article about these funny "Intervention" plates that just might be the reminder I need!

So today, in spite of my strong desire to have peanut butter toast for breakfast, I still had half a grapefruit and a bowl of cereal with skim milk.  But plenty of coffee.  For lunch there will be a pear and chicken noodle soup.  For dinner, broiled fish with rice and spinach.  Nothing fancy . . . yet.  I just don't want to lose the momentum.  But the weekend does hold a couple parties in store so I need to keep myself in check.

Best thing?  I feel great!

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Four Day Wonder Diet -- Day One

I know the right way to keep my weight in check, really I do. You can't read about, and write about, food as much as I do, as all food bloggers do, and not learn a thing or three about nutrition and healthy eating.

Every once in a while, though, like after the holidays or before a special event, I need a swift kick to get me back on the right track.  And so I've become a big fan of the The Four Day Wonder Diet.  It's exactly what I need to get me jump started back into mindful eating.

I'm headed to Florida at the end of the month to see my daughter and I'm feeling just a bit too dumpy for Florida weather. (Even Pennsylvania weather!)  And my jeans firmly attest to that.

The Four Day is a crash diet but it is a pretty healthy one. (An oxymoron isn't it? Healthy crash diet!) It is strict, very strict.  And I feel oh so noble when I finish the four days of this pretty spartan diet.  It's cleansing.  Nothing but fruits, veggies, and protein.  And all foods I like. No fats, no carbs (except from the fruit).  And it is very filling.

I first learned about this diet about 15 years ago.  My sister-in-law slipped it to me after she saw me gasp after a gander at my behind in the three-way mirror of a dressing room!  Holy moly!  Where did that come from?  When did that happen?

Since then, the Four-Day, as I fondly call it, has been my lifesaver.  Each day begins with half a grapefruit and you're allowed all the black coffee and tea you'd like.  And lots of water.  Then lunch and dinner is well prescribed. Take a look here to see:  Four Day Wonder Diet.(It's also printed below.)

There's no calorie counting, no weird foods.  Just sticking to the planned menus.  And at the end of the four days, you'll have lost at least four pounds; some people as much as 10.  There's just something about the mix of foods and the order in which you eat them that really works!  I have to admit that the first time I did it, I lost about seven pounds and the last time, only five. (It's that age thing and that slowing metabolism.)

The copy of the diet plan my SIL gave me was clipped from a Ladies Home Journal in 1985.  My copy became very well worn.  I have since bought the book from Amazon and last I looked you could still find it there pretty cheap.  

And so I'm off!  I'll let you know at the end of the week how it went.  In the meantime, you just might want to tuck this diet away.

Margaret Danbrot 

½ grapefruit
Black coffee or tea

Broiled steak or hamburger
Lettuce & tomato salad
No dressing
1 apple
2 hard-boiled eggs
Green beans
½ grapefruit

1 medium-sized lamb chop
Lettuce & tomato salad
No dressing
6 ounces tomato juice
Squash and cauliflower, steamed or raw
Green beans
1 cup unsweetened applesauce

Lettuce and celery salad,
No dressing
Hamburger patty
1 apple

Broiled chicken
Stewed tomatoes
6 ounces prune juice

2 hard-boiled eggs
Green beans
6 ounces tomato juice
Broiled steak or hamburger
Lettuce & tomato salad, no dressing
6 ounces pineapple juice

DAY 5 and after
After you’ve got your head start, and if you want to lose more weight, aim for a loss of 1-2 pounds a week by eating balanced protein heavy meals.  You can repeat the 4-Day, but only after 4 weeks.

Tips to Be Sure the 4-Day Wonder Diet Works
  1. Pick the right time, not when your schedule includes a string of parties.
  2. Shop ahead.  Make sure you have everything you need beforehand.  Don’t get caught in a situation in which you have to eat something fattening just because there’s nothing else in the house.
  3. Remember, do not vary, substitute or delete any of the foods, unless you’re allergic to something.  In that case just replace it with a similar food; e.g., substitute an orange for a grapefruit.
  4. Don’t eat anything between meals.  There are no “free’ foods you can eat anytime.  AND although you’re allowed an unlimited amount of vegetables at meals, you cannot save them for snacking later.
  5. Don’t drink alcohol at all.
  6. To integrate your diet into family meals, just add a starch and a dessert for the rest of your family.
  7. Try to drink at least eight 8-ounce lasses of water a day.  Try having a glass of water before a meal.
  8. Eat vegetables raw, steamed or boiled.  It’s a good idea to eat them first so you fill up on them instead of protein which is higher in calories.
  9. Always broil all meat or chicken
  10. Remember to remove all traces of high calories fat from meat and chicken.
  11. You may only use pepper or lemon juice to season food.  (Use salt only sparingly because it tends to increase fluid retention.
  12. If you don’t already have one, invest in a good bathroom scale.  It will give you confidence to watch the needle monitoring your rapid weight loss.   
  13. Don’t talk about it!  The less you say about your diet, the better. 
  14. Keep a diet journal to record your weight and what you eat.  It will help you gain insight into the circumstances and times of day when you may need to make an extra effort to stay on course.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

My Fantasy New Year's Dinner Party

When people are asked  "Who would you most like to invite to a dinner party?" they typically answer that they'd enjoy the company and conversation of famous figures from history or politics or entertainment.  I guess I might, too. I know I'd enjoy an evening enjoying the company of people like Ruth Reichl or Anthony Hopkins or Sean Connery or Helen Mirren.

But  since I've been blogging, my little world has opened up to a great  big one that I've learned is full of very interesting, creative and talented people with whom I have a lot in common!   So were I asked that question today I know that I'd answer that I'd like to sit down with my blogging friends and those people who come to visit and read and comment on my blog.  What a party I think that would be!

So on this New Year's Day, I want to wish everyone who visits here a very happy new year, full of health, happiness, prosperity and most of all good food and good company.  And if we were all sitting around this table, I'd tell you so in person.  Let's just imagine it.  It would be wonderful!

Best wishes for a happy new year.  May you get all you wish for.