26 July 2012

Pasta Salad - Perfect Picnic Main Dish - And Onion Goggles


Pasta salad as a main dish is something we especially enjoy during the summer months. Good at any temperature, it's the perfect picnic food. Just add a loaf of crusty artisan bread and a bottle of your favorite picnic wine.

But before we get to the recipe, I have to tell you about a fabulous item I should have gotten years ago--no, decades ago! It's a wonder I still have all my fingers. I haven't sliced or chopped onions with my eyes open since I don't know when. I just chop away, eyes closed, tears streaming down my face, hoping for the best. So far, so good. 

Then one day I decided to try onion goggles (I know! If you are an onion crier like me, you must have just sighed "Yyyess, why didn't I think of that!"). When I announced I would be getting a pair for review from King Arthur Flour, my husband said "I've got some goggles you can try" and dug out some old snorkeling goggles that would have been swell if they didn't cover the nose.

Well, the KAF onion goggles do not cover the nose. They are, in fact, much like a pair of glasses, but close-fitting around the edges to keep the onion fumes out. And, boy, do they work! Funny, the onion slicing didn't take as long as usual. I slice and dice a lot faster with my eyes open!

But back to the salad ... It's really versatile. In fact, I could put the word "optional" after every item on the ingredient list. There was no local asparagus available at this time, so I skipped it. Had some frozen organic peas, so threw those in (no cooking or thawing required). You can even throw in some diced ham, chicken or leftover grilled vegetables.

What is your favorite pasta shape for pasta salad? Mine is the mezze (mini) penne. Do you have a trick for chopping onions, or are you one of the fortunate few who are not onion criers?

Pasta Salad

(Serves 6)

1-pound package mezze (mini) penne pasta
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced lengthwise
1 6-ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained (or not)
8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
Salt and coarsely-ground black pepper
3 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 large red bell pepper, julienned
1/3 cup julienned sun-dried tomatoes, plumped in a little hot water
6 ounces baby yellow squash, halved lengthwise
1/4 teaspoon marjoram
6 ounces thin asparagus, each spear cut into 1½-inch pieces
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan
18 fresh basil leaves (or 0.66-ounce package), thinly sliced


1 In Dutch oven, start boiling salted water for pasta. Meanwhile, in large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and start slowly cooking sliced onion. 

2 Cook pasta according to package directions; drain in colander and return to Dutch oven. Stir into pasta 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar. Add cooked onions to pasta, along with artichoke hearts. You should probably not drain the marinated artichoke hearts; I just do it to get rid of some of the garlic since I am semi-allergic to it.

3 Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to skillet and cook mushrooms, seasoning with salt and pepper and 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce. Add cooked mushrooms to pasta.

4 Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to skillet and cook sliced red bell pepper and sun-dried tomatoes, seasoning with salt and pepper. Add tomatoes and crisp-tender peppers to pasta, along with 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce.

5 Add 2 cups water to skillet, bring to boil, add asparagus (except tips) and cook, covered, for 1 minute. Add tips and cook another minute. Remove from water with slotted spoon and add to pasta, along with 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar.

6 Add Parmesan and fresh basil to pasta. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve immediately at room temperature, or refrigerate for 3 hours or more to serve chilled.

20 July 2012

French Press Coffee and Equipment Review - Bodum Columbia French Press



Coffee will never replace tea in my affections. Coffee is more of an acquaintance I enjoy seeing from time to time, while tea is my constant companion. Never one to grab a quick cup of coffee or drink it bleary-eyed in the morning, I do enjoy a well-made cup of coffee as the perfect complement to certain things.

Like chocolate. Or beignets, which have been on my mind a lot lately. (I'll post my recipe another day.) I remember well the first time I had beignets and cafe au lait in New Orleans. It was several years ago, but I can still smell and taste that classic combination.

Growing up in an English home, my mother was a tea drinker until she met my coffee-drinking Southern-born father (and married him 16 days later!). Of course, she continued to prefer tea but drank coffee in the morning since she was obliged to make it anyway. She learned her coffee-making technique from him just as he had learned it from his parents. 

This will likely come as a shock to you, but it was boiled coffee! Also known as cowboy coffee. Sounds terrible (and probably is most of the time), but can be very good if done properly. And, of course, my mother made it properly.

But I always figured I'd botch the cowboy coffee, so I decided I'd go with the manual filter method and got a 1-litre thermal carafe and a Melitta filter. I've been using that for years on those occasions when I make coffee. 

Then a friend, who once worked as a barista and is a true coffee aficionado, told me she thinks French press coffee is the best. She has the Bodum Chambord glass model and loves it, but I can be a bit of a hazard so I was happy that the model sent to me for review was all stainless steel. 


It is the Bodum Columbia cafetiere/French press. The Columbia comes in three sizes: 17-ounce, 34-ounce and 51-ounce. Mine is the 17-ounce, which is going to be perfect for my dear sister-in-law's morning coffee when she comes to visit. I've only used it a few times so far, but I like it so well I'm thinking of getting the 51-ounce as well. It's so easy to use, and the coffee is perfect. 

Its gorgeous rounded shape suits my traditional style more than the more modern-looking cylindrical shape of some of the other Bodum press pots. Of course, it is cylindrical inside so that the press can work. The double-walled construction helps keep the coffee hot longer. Both the pot and the lid/plunger are dishwasher-safe, though I just wash them by hand.

French Press Coffee

(Makes two 8-ounce cups or three 5-ounce cups)

1 Remove lid/press from pot. Measure 1/4 to 1/3 cup coarsely ground coffee into pot.

2 Heat 16 ounces of water in tea kettle. When almost to a boil, pour into pot; give it a stir. Set the lid/press just loosely on the pot. Let stand for 4 minutes.

3 Place the lid/press properly on the pot. Slowly press the plunger.

What is your favorite method for making coffee? And decaf or regular? Strong or weak? Black or ... ?

12 July 2012

Tapioca Pudding - Not as Boring as It Sounds!

Tapioca pudding is one of those things you can serve to guests and everyone will say "Ooh, I love tapioca, but I haven't had it in years!" Or "since I was a kid!" I know I get on a kick and make it several times and then forget about it for years until something reminds me. What reminded me this time was a chat with my dear cousin Denise. We were talking about our favorite foods our grandmother made when we were kids. 

Denise recalled Ma (that's what we all called her) having, shall we say, mixed results with her tapioca. One time it would be heavenly, and the next time rather gluey (Denise liked it either way). I thought it odd that Ma would have had difficulty with something so simple, but then I figured it out.

Reading. Ma and her daughters (including Denise's mother and my mother) were addicted to reading, just as we are. Growing up in a very large family in the Lake District (northwest England), her favorite task was making all the beds. Not because she especially liked making beds, but that chore gave her the opportunity to be alone upstairs and get a lot of reading done. Can't do much harm there, but ... stuff happens when you're cooking and you can't put your book down. 

So I imagine on those gluey pudding days, the plot was thickening and so was the tapioca.

Tapioca Pudding

(Makes 3 cups, 4 or 5 servings)

1/3 cup small pearl tapioca
3/4 cup very warm water
2 1/4 cups organic milk (I use 2%)
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large organic eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Garnish: Whipped cream and freshly grated nutmeg

1 In heavy 2-quart saucepan, soak tapioca in warm water for 30 minutes. Stir in milk, sugar and salt. Cook over medium* heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then reduce heat. Simmer uncovered, stirring frequently until thickened, about 15 minutes.

* And I do mean medium. No matter how heavy your saucepan, if you try to hurry it along by cranking up the heat you'll scorch it. Then as you stir, the scorched patch will come off in shreds and be all mixed in with the pudding. Not good. (You may ask, Hmm ... wonder how she knows that? I'll tell you--the same way I know that stuff happens when you're cooking and you can't put your book down!)

2 In 1-quart bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Gradually stir hot mixture into the lightly beaten eggs, then pour into saucepan. Cook, stirring, over low heat for two minutes. Remove from heat, then stir in vanilla. 

3 Cool quickly by setting pan in larger pan or bowl of ice and water for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. If not cooling quickly, place a round of buttered parchment paper on the surface of the custard to keep a skin from forming, cover pan, and refrigerate at least 3 hours or up to 3 days. 

05 July 2012

Grassfed Beef - Book Review and Giveaway - Pure Beef by Lynne Curry

Scads of cookbooks are published every year. Some good, some not so good. I'm not here to tell you about many of them. After all, I post to this blog just once a week as a rule. But when I come across one that is truly special in some way, I want you to hear about it. 

I get lots of offers of books, but I accept for review only the few that promise to be exceptional. (And my accepting a book does not obligate me to write about or recommend it.) I read about Pure Beef: An Essential Guide to Artisan Meat with Recipes for Every Cut and about its author before deciding to accept it. One of the things that caught my attention was that author Lynne Curry is a former vegetarian. I've been vegetarian at various times of my life and never felt good about eating meat until ethically, sustainably, humanely raised and harvested grassfed meats became available.


In Part 1, the part I was most interested in, Curry (in her very non-preachy way) makes the case for grassfed beef and covers all the issues beef consumers need to know. Part 2, the part with the recipes, is where the surprise came in. I see so many poorly written recipes and recipes that were obviously never actually made by anyone, let alone tested, that I'm surprised when I find a collection of really good recipes like this.

Curry's recipes for every cut, even the under-appreciated and lesser known ones, are clearly written and represent a wide range of global influences. From perfect grassfed hamburgers to porcini-rubbed tenderloin with saba sauce and braised lentils. Whether you're interested in the grassfed movement or just looking for some good beef recipes, you won't be disappointed.

Pure Beef Book Giveaway 

One winner will receive a copy of Pure Beef from Running Press. All US residents who leave a comment (one entry per person)--and DO make it a "real" comment, something meaningful--on this post before 11:59 pm Eastern time Wednesday July 11 will be put into a random drawing. Winner will be announced here in the comments before noon Eastern time on Thursday July 12. (Note: Those posting comments anonymously must include a valid email address in their comment to be eligible for the drawing.) If I don't hear back from the winner of the random drawing by 11:59 am Eastern time Sunday, July 15, another drawing will be held and a new winner selected from the original entrants (those who commented before the giveaway deadline).

Disclosure: A copy of this book was sent to me for review purposes. I was not required to post about it and received no compensation for doing so.

Note: The burger in the photo is grassfed ground beef on my Homemade Hamburger Buns.
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