I am melancholy and philosophical today. We buried my cousin last week after a long, painful and noble battle with bone and breast cancer. She was only 67. And she was the true expression of family. And now we have to find a way to patch the hole she left behind.
The older I get the more I understand how vital it is we know where we came from. It is the only way to reconcile all the things we are with all the things we can be. Possibilities exist among the familiar, and home is carried with you during every decision you make.
Is your family perfect all the time? Of course not. They know you and they're not afraid to call you out! That's allowed because they were your fans before you knew what cheering meant. They were your advocates before you had a voice, and they are certainly your mirror when you need to see yourself clearly.
The paradox is that the cycle of life is most profoundly felt when someone very close to you passes on. Why? Because the sting of loss punctures more deeply, the celebration of birth is more miraculous, and separation becomes proof that we are meant to help each other to thrive. You are riding a swirling tide of maturity when you revisit your kin; floating ever higher in rank as you take your place among the senior generation. Bluntly faced with the prospect that someday you will also have to pass the baton. It reinforces our resolve to look ahead instead of focusing on what has already past.
As you might guess, when I am visiting family, the cooking is my job. Which is good because doing what you love heals you. But most of all I was honored to be able to nourish my family. And what better way to celebrate life than to gather those remaining around the family table. Then all as it should be as we feed those who surround us; connected, seeking to understand, more divine than at any other time.
Fresh, summer plums are the perfect sweet note in my Plum Cucumber Salad with Honey Vinaigrette. Below is the whole meal featuring a delicate serving of Dilled Country Meatloaf and Gingered Yams.
Below are my Fresh Raspberry Scones with Cream Cheese Glaze.
Before I started streaming music, CD's were my shopping weakness. I used to stop at that little CD kiosk in Target Stores that displayed a selection of mood music for every occasion. It seemed time stopped as I let my fingers dance over the preview buttons, starting and stopping the snippets of Rhumba, Waltzes and even the cawing of tropical birds while I imagined myself helpless under the spell of digital dreams. "Music for Dinner!" or "Songs for Your Engagement" and even "Nature Spa Sounds," were only a few of the choices.
If you recall, even Pottery Barn got in the act, creating music to play while you dined on everything from tacos to tuna tar-tar. But never have I ever seen a kiosk with music that is meant to be played WHILE YOU COOK.
Seriously. Don't you think the sound of crisp zucchini slices hitting the hot oil is inspiring? And the rattle and bump of the rolling pin as it smooths out a disc of carefully mixed pie dough is positively toe-tapping! How about the sizzle of a good red wine as you pour it over perfectly sauteed Shitake mushrooms and hear the "aaahhhh?" as it reduces into an intense syrup? See, see? I told you. It's a symphony of sounds and it should have its own soundtrack.
When I cook I think of these things. It is as though I am playing with more than just foods and textures. I am playing with edible arpeggios. From Motets, to Cantatas or even to Oratorios. Each of my creations attempts to hit every high note even before they hit the plate.
Take these selections featured here in this post. All of them colorful, exciting, and they all include a melody that you'll be humming for days.
Start the party, and the dinner for that matter with my Cold Noodle Salad with Ginger Honey Soy Dressing picture above. Or, dig in to this healthy Chicken Vegetable Quinoa Salad pictured below!
How about this beautiful plate? It features a medley of fresh flavors, from Pureed Apple and Cauliflower side dish, to a bright Arugula Pesto garnish, all dancing around Pork Tenderloin with a Cranberry Cabernet Reduction. even the apples are glazed with perfection.
Do not underestimate the ending. These Marsala and Maple Poached Pears will keep the sopranos sitting straight up in their chairs until the Maestro is finished!
When my husband and I sold our first home, and began unpacking all of our stuff in our new home, we pouted over the fact that the wok we owned and loved did not make the journey. Somehow it was either tucked back in the cabinet beyond view, put in the trash, or, as we like to think, it was absorbed into the collective universe becoming a casualty of the move.
Since that day we have moved more than a dozen times. And nearly EVERY time we relocated the moving gremlins cleverly made off with another of our prized possessions.
Clearly you can see we did not die from the incident. And I caution you to lose to much sleep when it happens to you. That is what kitchen stores are FOR: RE-PLACE-MENTS. And if you don't think that sounds fun to shop for a new kitchen gadget, stop reading this blog now and go eat some chocolate to clear your head.
***Glad you're back. Let's get on to the food, shall we? Not surprisingly this short but important post is about a quick, colorful, tasty, and always reliable chicken stir-fry recipe. It was made in probably the 3rd wok we've owned, the others always reaching the point of zero return in terms of performance because we use them all the time. But why not? They always turn every week night meal into a WOW-night.
Check out my Easy Weeknight Chicken Stirfry!
For those of you whose children watched all the Disney movies in the 90's, I know the real truth about who couldn't tear themselves away from the screen. Yes, Mom and Dad, it was you. Face it, you loved these classics as much or more than your tykes. Right? Especially Ariel, from Little Mermaid, whose sassy red lipped independence shifted the Disney princess genre from blushing to brassy in only a few short scenes. She was a klepto, as well. Remember? Damaged as damaged as can be. But WE LOVED HER. (Oh dear. Maybe I should have been renting Ol' Yeller!)
As we reminisce about this fairy tale heroine, I can hear my husband now. "Oh, those shells!" he gushes. A constant reminder that a girl with the right bra can get any guy she wants, even when she has no feet. In fact, the whole movie is full of clever characters that enchanted long before Finding Nemo burst onto the billion dollar kid-movie universe. And one of my favorites was Louie, the Crab. Part worrying crustacean, part carefree Caribbean musician, Louie (voiced by René Auberjonois) catapulted himself to stardom when he belted out the cautionary tale, Les Poissons. Who knows why my kids loved it so much! Perhaps there's a parallel connection to the irresistible nature of toilet humor, because they just kept rewinding and replaying, "...cut off their heads and pull out their bones!" until the VCR started to groan.
But, in spite of the carnage that surrounded our scaly friends, one thing was true: Everyone finds joy in the kitchen. And perhaps, that's my cue to segue to the real reason for the blog post, the meal!
Inspired by a recipe I saw by Jamie Oliver, this dish is easy and beautiful. Crowned by a deeply flavorful salsa, and accompanied by smooth, ginger carrot puree, I'm happy to report I didn't cut off any heads or pull out any bones during the prep of my SEAFOOD STUFFED PUFF PASTRY. Since someone else did the dirty work for me, (fish mongers are highly underrated!) I was instantly able to produce a lovely bowl of pinkish, boneless, sweet fish morsels that along with some tarragon and a little cream, turned into the best little dinner surprise since Beef Wellington.
How did the whole thing turn out? Well, just browse through the slide show to see. Download the recipe as well, here. And don't forget to cue the DVD player, or iPad, so everyone can see our French chef mutilating Ariel's cousins, while they slice into this pretty little purse of yumminess. Just a little extra something to make your meal memorable, eh?
In closing, I'm certain that after Louie, Ariel and friends departed the French kitchen, someone had to have opened a bottle of capers, and a nice white Bordeaux, to compliment our little meal. I know I did.
Hey...before I close, check out a few more lyrics, just so you know all cooks truly need therapy....
...Now I stuff you with bread
It don't hurt 'cause you're dead
And you're certainly lucky, you are
'Cause it's gonna be hot
In my big silver pot
Tootle-loo, mon poison, au revoir!
*Blog title quoted from the song, Les Poissons from Little Mermaid. Walt Disney films.
RECIPE: Seafood Stuff Puff Pastry with Caper Mint Salsa
1.5 C each, chopped, uncooked deveined shrimp, and Dover sole filets
1/3 C fresh tarragon
2 T olive oil
1 T flour
1 T milk
Extra flour for dusting
2, ready to bake thawed puff pastry sheets*, (Pepperidge Farm, 17.3 oz. package)
1 egg and 1 t cream blended, for brushing onto pastry
1 C chopped fresh parsley
1/3 C fresh chopped mint
3 T capers drained
2 small cloves garlic, chopped
1 small can anchovies, oil and all, chopped
Olive oil to moisten, about 3 T
Kosher salt, about ½ t
2 t red wine vinegar
Rough cut the mint, parsley, and the anchovies. Chop the garlic. Add vinegar, salt and oil. Keep chopping and blending until everything is small and blended. Keep in refrigerator for up to 6 hours.
Cut seafood into small ½ inch chunks. You can leave the shrimp intact in you’d like. Season with about a T of chopped tarragon, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, the flour, and the 1 T milk. Keep refrigerated for up to 4 hours.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Follow directions on package to thaw and work with Puff Pastry. When thawed, roll out onto a floured service so that you can cut each square into two pieces about 10 inches by 6 inches. When you’ve done that to both sheets you should then have 4 squares. (*As an alternate, if you want less fluted dough for the finished product, roll out the dough thinner so that you have 4, 6 by 6 squares out of one sheet and you can just fold over the dough and seal as opposed to tying it up like a package.) Now, brush the egg wash onto the entire surface of the dough. Place ¾ C of the seafood onto the dough and fold up into a sack and seal, cutting 3 small slits into each one. Place on a greased cookie sheet. When you put the purses into the oven, reduce the heat to 375 degrees F and cook for about 35 minutes or until the puff pastry is done and browned.
Serve with caper salsa.
I also created a white wine tarragon sauce: Melt 2 T butter in a saucepan. Add ½ C white wine and let reduce by half. Add 1 t flour to 3 T wine, whisk, and then add to heated mixture, whisking until slightly thick. Add some kosher salt and the tarragon and keep warm. Serve ladled over your meal.
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Meet the Cook...
My name is Camine Pappas and I love to create beautiful and delicious food that anyone can make. My signature style centers around a love for combining things in a way you might not expect as I work to find a hidden combination of colors, textures and flavors from the things that are in my pantry and/or easy to obtain.